Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Spacehounds of IPC
Author: Smith, E. E. (Edward Elmer), 1890-1965
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Spacehounds of IPC" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



_Beginning a thrilling New Serial of Interplanetary Life and Travel by
Edward E. Smith, Ph.D._

_Author of "Skylark of Space" and "Skylark Three"_



Spacehounds of IPC


    _A good many of us, who are now certain beyond a doubt that space
    travel will forever remain in the realm of the impossible, probably
    would, if a rocket that were shot to the moon, for instance, did
    arrive, and perhaps return to give proof of its safe arrival on our
    satellite, accept the phenomenon in a perfectly blasé, twentieth
    century manner. Dr. Smith, that phenomenal writer of classic
    scientific fiction, seems to have become so thoroughly convinced of
    the advent of interplanetary travel that it is difficult for the
    reader to feel, after finishing "Spacehounds of IPC," that travel
    in the great spaces is not already an established fact. Dr. Smith,
    as a professional chemist, is kept fairly busy. As a writer, he is
    satisfied with nothing less than perfection. For that reason, a
    masterpiece from his pen has become almost an annual event. We know
    you will like "Spacehounds" even better than the "Skylark" series._


Illustrated by WESSO



CHAPTER I

The IPV _Arcturus_ Sets Out for Mars


A narrow football of steel, the Interplanetary Vessel _Arcturus_ stood
upright in her berth in the dock like an egg in its cup. A hundred feet
across and a hundred and seventy feet deep was that gigantic bowl, its
walls supported by the structural steel and concrete of the dock and
lined with hard-packed bumper-layers of hemp and fibre. High into the
air extended the upper half of the ship of space--a sullen gray expanse
of fifty-inch hardened steel armor, curving smoothly upward to a needle
prow. Countless hundred of fine vertical scratches marred every inch
of her surface, and here and there the stubborn metal was grooved and
scored to a depth of inches--each scratch and score the record of an
attempt of some wandering cosmic body to argue the right-of-way with
the stupendous mass of that man-made cruiser of the void.

A burly young man made his way through the throng about the entrance,
nodded unconcernedly to the gatekeeper, and joined the stream of
passengers flowing through the triple doors of the double air-lock
and down a corridor to the center of the vessel. However, instead of
entering one of the elevators which were whisking the passengers up to
their staterooms in the upper half of the enormous football, he in some
way caused an opening to appear in an apparently blank steel wall and
stepped through it into the control room.

"Hi, Breck!" the burly one called, as he strode up to the instrument-desk
of the chief pilot and tossed his bag carelessly into a corner. "Behold
your computer in the flesh! What's all this howl and fuss about poor
computation?"

"Hello, Steve!" The chief pilot smiled as he shook hands cordially.
"Glad to see you again--but don't try to kid the old man. I'm simple
enough to believe almost anything, but some things just aren't being
done. We have been yelling, and yelling hard, for trained computers
ever since they started riding us about every one centimeter change in
acceleration, but I know that you're no more an I-P computer than I am
a Digger Indian. They don't shoot sparrows with coast-defense guns!"

[Illustration]

"Thanks for the compliment, Breck, but I'm your computer for this trip,
anyway. Newton, the good old egg, knows what you fellows are up against
and is going to do something about it, if he has to lick all the rest of
the directors to do it. He knew that I was loose for a couple of weeks
and asked me to come along this trip to see what I could see. I'm to
check the observatory data--they don't know I'm aboard--take the peaks
and valleys off your acceleration curve, if possible, and report to
Newton just what I find out and what I think should be done about it.
How early am I?" While the newcomer was talking, he had stripped the
covers from a precise scale model of the solar system and from a large
and complicated calculating machine and had set to work without a wasted
motion or instant--scaling off upon the model the positions of the
various check-stations and setting up long and involved integrals and
equations upon the calculator.

The older man studied the broad back of the younger, bent over his
computations, and a tender, almost fatherly smile came over his careworn
face as he replied:

"Early? You? Just like you always were--plus fifteen seconds on the
deadline. The final dope is due right now." He plugged the automatic
recorder and speaker into a circuit marked "Observatory," waited until
a tiny light above the plug flashed green, and spoke.

"IPV _Arcturus_; Breckenridge, Chief Pilot; trip number forty-three
twenty-nine. Ready for final supplementary route and flight data, Tellus
to Mars."

"Meteoric swarms still too numerous for safe travel along the scheduled
route," came promptly from the speaker. "You must stay further away from
the plane of the ecliptic. The ether will be clear for you along route
E2-P6-W41-K3-R19-S7-M14. You will hold a constant acceleration of 981.27
centimeters between initial and final check stations. Your take-off
will be practically unobstructed, but you will have to use the utmost
caution in landing upon Mars, because in order to avoid a weightless
detour and a loss of thirty-one minutes, you must pass very close
to both the Martian satellites. To do so safely you must pass the
last meteorological station, M14, on schedule time plus or minus five
seconds, at scheduled velocity plus or minus ten meters, with exactly
the given negative acceleration of 981.27 centimeters, and exactly upon
the pilot ray M14 will have set for you."

"All x." Breckenridge studied his triplex chronometer intently, then
unplugged and glanced around the control room, in various parts of which
half a dozen assistants were loafing at their stations.

"Control and power check-out--Hipe!" he barked. "Driving converters and
projectors!"

The first assistant scanned his meters narrowly as he swung a
multi-point switch in a flashing arc. "Converter efficiency 100,
projector reactivity 100; on each of numbers one to forty-five
inclusive. All x."

"Dirigible projectors!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Two more gleaming switches leaped from point to point. "Converter
efficiency 100, projector reactivity 100, dirigibility 100, on each of
numbers one to thirty-two, inclusive, of upper band; and numbers one to
thirty-two, inclusive, of lower band. All x."

"Gyroscopes!"

"35,000. Drivers in equilibrium at ten degrees plus. All x."

"Upper lights and lookout plates!"

The second assistant was galvanized into activity, and upon a screen
before him there appeared a view as though he were looking directly
upward from the prow of the great vessel. The air above them was full of
aircraft of all shapes and sizes, and occasionally the image of one of
that flying horde flared into violet splendor upon the screen as it was
caught in the mighty, roving beam of one of the twelve ultra-light
projectors under test.

"Upper lights and lookout plates--all x," the second assistant reported,
and other assistants came to attention as the check-out went on.

"Lower lights and lookout plates!"

"All x," was the report, after each of the twelve ultra-lights of the
stern had swung around in its supporting brackets, illuminating every
recess of the dark depths of the bottom well of the berth and throwing
the picture upon another screen in lurid violet relief.

"Lateral and vertical detectors!"

"Laterals XP2710--all x. Verticals AJ4290--all x."

"Receptors!"

"15,270 kilofranks--all x."

"Accumulators!"

"700,000 kilofrank-hours--all x."

Having thus checked and tested every function of his department,
Breckenridge plugged into "Captain," and when the green light went on:

"Chief pilot check-out--all x," he reported briefly.

"All x," acknowledged the speaker, and the chief pilot unplugged.
Fifteen minutes remained, during which time one department head after
another would report to the captain of the liner that everything in his
charge was ready for the stupendous flight.

"All x, Steve?" Breckenridge turned to the computer. "How do you check
acceleration and power with the observatory?"

"Not so good, old bean," the younger man frowned in thought. "They
figure like astronomers, not navigators. They've made no allowances for
anything, not even the reversal--and I figure four thousands for that
and for minor detours. Then there's check station errors...."

"Check-station errors! Why, they're always right--that's what they're
for!"

"Don't fool yourself--they've got troubles of their own, the same as
anybody else. In fact, from a study of the charts of the last few weeks,
I'm pretty sure that E2 is at least four thousand kilometers this side
of where he thinks he is, that W41 is ten or twelve thousand beyond his
station, and that they've both got a lateral displacement that's simply
fierce. I'm going to check up, and argue with them about it as we pass.
Then there's another thing--they figure to only two places, and we've
got to have the third place almost solid if we expect to get a smooth
curve. A hundredth of a centimeter of acceleration means a lot on a long
trip when they're holding us as close as they are doing now. We'll ride
this trip on 981.286 centimeters--with our scheduled mass, that means
thirty six points of four seven kilofranks _plus_ equilibrium power. All
set to go," the computer stated, as he changed, by fractions of arc, the
course-plotters of the automatic integrating goniometer.

"You're the doctor--but I'm glad it's you that'll have to explain to the
observatory," and Breckenridge set his exceedingly delicate excess power
potentiometer exactly upon the indicated figure. "Well, we've got a few
minutes left for a chin-chin before we lift her off."

"What's all this commotion about? Dish out the low-down."

"Well, it's like this, Steve. We pilots are having one sweet
time--we're being growled at on every trip. The management squawks if
we're thirty seconds plus or minus at the terminals, and the passenger
department squalls if we change acceleration five centimeters total en
route--claims it upsets the dainty customers and loses business for
the road. They're tightening up on us all the time. A couple of years
ago, you remember, it didn't make any difference what we did with the
acceleration as long as we checked in somewhere near zero time--we used
to spin 'em dizzy when we reversed at the half-way station--but that
kind of stuff doesn't go any more. We've got to hold the acceleration
constant and close to normal, got to hold our schedule on zero, _plus_
or _minus_ ten seconds, and yet we've got to make any detours they
tell us to, such as this seven-million kilometer thing they handed
us just now. To make things worse, we've got to take orders at every
check-station, and yet _we_ get the blame for everything that happens
as a consequence of obeying those orders! Of course, I know as well
as you do that it's rotten technique to change acceleration at every
check-station; but we've told 'em over and over that we can't do any
better until they put a real computer on every ship and tell the
check-stations to report meteorites and other obstructions to us and
then to let us alone. So you'd better recommend us some computers!"

"You're getting rotten computation, that's a sure thing, and I don't
blame you pilots for yelling, but I don't believe that you've got the
right answer. I can't help but think that the astronomers are lying down
on the job. They are so sure that you pilots are to blame that it hasn't
occurred to them to check up on themselves very carefully. However,
we'll know pretty quick, and then we'll take steps."

"I hope so--but say, Steve, I'm worried about using that much plus
equilibrium power. Remember, we've got to hit M14 in absolutely good
shape, or plenty heads will drop."

"I'll say they will. I know just how the passengers will howl if we
hold them weightless for half an hour, waiting for those two moons to get
out of the way, and I know just what the manager will do if we check in
minus thirty-one minutes. Wow! He'll swell up and bust, sure. But don't
worry, Breck--if we don't check in all right, anybody can have my head
that wants it, and I'm taking full responsibility, you know."

"You're welcome to it." Breckenridge shrugged and turned the
conversation into a lighter vein. "Speaking of weightlessness,
it's funny how many weight-fiends there are in the world, isn't
it? You'd think the passengers would enjoy a little weightlessness
occasionally--especially the fat ones--but they don't. But say, while
I think of it, how come you were here and loose to make this check-up?
I thought you were out with the other two of the Big Three, solving
all the mysteries of the Universe?"

"Had to stay in this last trip--been doing some work on the ether,
force-field theory, and other advanced stuff that I had to go to Mars
and Venus to get. Just got back last week. As for solving mysteries,
laugh while you can, old hyena. You and a lot of other dim bulbs think
that Roeser's Rays are the last word--that there's nothing left to
discover--are going to get jarred loose from your hinges one of these
days. When I came in nine months ago they were hot on the trail of
something big, and I'll bet they bring it in...."

Out upon the dock an insistent siren blared a crescendo and diminuendo
blast of sound, and two minutes remained. In every stateroom and in
every lounge and saloon speakers sounded a warning:

"For a short time, while we are pulling clear of the gravitational field
of the Earth, walking will be somewhat difficult, as everything on board
will apparently increase in weight by about one-fifth of its present
amount. Please remain seated, or move about with caution. In about an
hour weight will gradually return to normal. We start in one minute."

"Hipe!" barked the chief pilot as a flaring purple light sprang into
being upon his board, and the assistants came to attention at their
stations. "Seconds! Four! Three! Two! One! LIFT!" He touched a
button and a set of plunger switches drove home, releasing into the
forty-five enormous driving projectors the equilibrium power--the
fifteen-thousand-and-odd kilofranks of energy that exactly
counterbalanced the pull of gravity upon the mass of the cruiser.
Simultaneously there was added from the potentiometer, already set
to the exact figure given by the computer, the _plus_-equilibrium
power--which would not be changed throughout the journey if the ideal
acceleration curve were to be registered upon the recorders--and the
immense mass of the cruiser of the void wafted vertically upward at a
low and constant velocity. The bellowing, shrieking siren had cleared
the air magically of the swarm of aircraft in her path, and quietly,
calmly, majestically, the _Arcturus_ floated upward.

       *       *       *       *       *

Breckenridge, sixty seconds after the initial lift, actuated the system
of magnetic relays which would gradually cut in the precisely measured
"starting power," which it would be necessary to employ for sixty-nine
minutes--for, without the acceleration given by this additional power,
they would lose many precious hours of time in covering merely the
few thousands of miles during which Earth's attraction would operate
powerfully against their progress.

Faster and faster the great cruiser shot upward as more and more of the
starting power was released, and heavier and heavier the passengers
felt themselves become. Soon the full calculated power was on and the
acceleration became constant. Weight no longer increased, but remained
constant at a value of plus twenty three and six-tenths percent. For a
few moments there had been uneasy stomachs among the passengers--perhaps
a few of the first-trippers had been made ill--but it was not much worse
than riding in a high-speed elevator, particularly since there was no
change from positive to negative acceleration such as is experienced in
express elevators.

The computer, his calculations complete, watched the pilot with
interest, for, accustomed as he was to traversing the depths of space,
there was a never-failing thrill to his scientific mind in the delicacy
and precision of the work which Breckenridge was doing--work which could
be done only by a man who had had long training in the profession and
who was possessed of instantaneous nervous reaction and of the highest
degree of manual dexterity and control. Under his right and left hands
were the double-series potentiometers actuating the variable-speed
drives of the flight-angle directors in the hour and declination ranges;
before his eyes was the finely marked micrometer screen upon which the
guiding goniometer threw its needle-point of light; powerful optical
systems of prisms and lenses revealed to his sight the director-angles,
down to fractional seconds of arc. It was the task of the chief pilot
to hold the screened image of the cross-hairs of the two directors in
such position relative to the ever-moving point of light as to hold the
mighty vessel precisely upon its course, in spite of the complex system
of forces acting upon it.

For almost an hour Breckenridge sat motionless, his eyes flashing from
micrometer screen to signal panel, his sensitive fingers moving the
potentiometers through minute arcs because of what he saw upon the
screen and in instantaneous response to the flashing, multi-colored
lights and tinkling signals of his board. Finally, far from earth, the
moon's attraction and other perturbing forces comparatively slight, the
signals no longer sounded and the point of light ceased its irregular
motion, becoming almost stationary. The chief pilot brought both
cross-hairs directly upon the brilliant point, which for some time they
had been approaching more and more nearly, adjusted the photo-cells
and amplifiers which would hold them immovably upon it, and at the
calculated second of time, cut out the starting power by means of
another set of automatically timed relays. When only the regular driving
power was left, and the acceleration had been checked and found to be
exactly the designated value of 981.286 centimeters, he stood up and
heaved a profound sigh of relief.

"Well, Steve, that's over with--we're on our way. I'm always glad when
this part of it is done."

"It's a ticklish job, no fooling--even for an expert," the mathematician
agreed. "No wonder the astronomers think you birds are the ones who are
gumming up their dope. Well, it's about time to plug in on E2. Here's
where the fireworks start!" He closed the connections which transferred
the central portion of the upper lookout screen to a small micrometer
screen at Breckenridge's desk and plugged it into the first
check-station. Instantly a point of red light, surrounded by a vivid
orange circle, appeared upon the screen, low down and to the left of
center, and the timing galvanometer showed a wide positive deflection.

"Hashed again!" growled Breckenridge. "I must be losing my grip,
I guess. I put everything I had on that sight, and missed it ten
divisions. I think I'll turn in my badge--I've cocked our perfect curve
already, before we got to the first check-station!" His hands moved
toward the controls, to correct their course and acceleration.

"As you were--hold everything! Lay off those controls!" snapped the
computer. "There's something screwy, just as I thought--and it isn't
you, either. I'm no pilot, of course, but I do know good compensation
when I see it, and if you weren't compensating that point I never saw it
done. Besides, with your skill and my figures I know darn well that we
aren't off more than a tenth of one division. He's cuckoo! Don't call
him--let him start it, and refer him to me."

"All x--I'll be only too glad to pass the buck. But I still think,
Steve, that you're playing with dynamite. Who ever heard of an
astronomer being wrong?"

"You'd be surprised," grinned the physicist, "Since this fuss has
just started, nobody has tried to find out whether they were wrong
or not...."

"IPV _Arcturus_, attention!" came from the speaker curtly.

"IPV _Arcturus_, Breckenridge," from the chief pilot.

"You have been on my ray almost a minute. Why are you not correcting
course and acceleration?"

"Doctor Stevens is computing us and has full control of course and
acceleration," replied Breckenridge. "He will answer you."

"I am changing neither course nor acceleration because you are not
in position," declared Stevens, crisply, "Please give me your present
supposed location, and your latest precision goniometer bearings on the
sun, the moon, Mars, Venus, and your Tellurian reference limb, with
exact time of observations, gyroscope zero-planes, and goniometer
factors!"

"Correct at once or I shall report you to the Observatory," E2 answered
loftily, paying no attention to the demand for proof of position.

"Be sure you do that, guy--and while you're at it report that your
station hasn't taken a precision bearing in a month. Report that you've
been muddling along on radio loop bearings, and that you don't know
where you are, within seven thousand kilometers. And speaking of
reporting--I know already that a lot of you astronomical guessers
have only the faintest possible idea of where you really are, _plus_,
_minus_, or lateral; and if you don't get yourselves straightened out
before we get to W41, I'm going to make a report on my own account that
will jar some of you birds loose from your upper teeth!" He unplugged
with a vicious jerk, and turned to the pilot with a grin.

"Guess that'll hold him for a while, won't it?"

"He'll report us, sure," remonstrated Breckenridge. The older man was
plainly ill at ease at this open defiance of the supposedly infallible
check-stations.

"Not that baby," returned the computer confidently. "I'll bet you a
small farm against a plugged nickel that right now he's working his
goniometer so hard that it's pivots are getting hot. He'll sneak back
into position as soon as he can calculate his results, and pretend he's
always been there."

"The others will be all right, then, probably, by the time we get to
them?"

"Gosh, no--you're unusually dumb today, Breck. He won't tell anybody
anything--he doesn't want to be the only goat, does he?"

"Oh, I see. How could you dope this out, with only the recorder charts?"

"Because I know the kind of stuff you pilots are--and those humps are
altogether too big to be accounted for by anything I know about you.
Another thing--the next station, P6, I think is keeping himself all x.
If so, when you corrected for E2, which was wrong, it'd throw you all
off on P6, which was right, and so on--a bad hump at almost every
check-station. See?"

       *       *       *       *       *

True to prediction, the pilot ray of P6 came in almost upon the exact
center of the micrometer screen, and Breckenridge smiled in relief as he
began really to enjoy the trip.

"How do we check on chronometers?" asked P6 when Stevens had been
introduced. "By my time you seem to be about two and a half seconds
_plus_?"

"All x--two points four seconds plus--we're riding on 981.286
centimeters, to allow for the reversal and for minor detours. Bye."

"All this may have been coincidence, Breck, but we'll find out pretty
quick now," the computer remarked when the flying vessel was nearing
the third check-station. "Unless I'm all out of control we'll check in
almost fourteen seconds minus on W41, and we may not even find him on
the center block of the screen."

When he plugged in W41 was on the block, but was in the extreme upper
right corner. They checked in thirteen and eight-tenths seconds minus on
the station, and a fiery dialogue ensued when the computer questioned
the accuracy of the location of the station and refused point-blank to
correct his course.

"Well, Breck, old onion, that tears it," Stevens declared as he
unplugged. "No use going any further on these bum reference points.
I'm going to report to Newton--he'll rock the Observatory on its
foundations!" He plugged into the telegraph room. "Have you got a free
high-power wave?... Please put me on Newton, in the main office."

Moving lights flashed and flickered for an instant upon the communicator
screen, settling down into a white glow which soon resolved itself into
the likeness of a keen-eyed, gray-haired man, seated at his desk in the
remote office of the Interplanetary Corporation. Newton smiled as he
recognized the likeness of Stevens upon his own screen, and greeted him
cordially.

"Have you started your investigation, Doctor Stevens?"

"Started it? I've finished it!" and Stevens tersely reported what he
had learned, concluding: "So you see, you don't need special computers
on these ships any more than a hen needs teeth. You've got all the
computers you need, in the observatories--all you've got to do is make
them work at their trade."

"The piloting was all x, then?"

"Absolutely--our curve so far is exactly flat ever since we cut
off the starting power. Of course, all the pilots can't be as good as
Breckenridge, but give them good computation and good check points and
you shouldn't get any humps higher than about half a centimeter."

"They'll get both, from now on," the director assured him. "Thanks. If
your work for the trip is done, you might show my little girl, Nadia,
around the _Arcturus_. She's never been out before, and will be
interested. Would you mind?"

"Glad to, Mr. Newton--I'll be a regular uncle to her."

"Thanks again, Operator, I'll speak to Captain King, please."

"Pipe down that guff, you unlicked cub, or I'll crown you with a
proof-bar!" the chief pilot growled, as soon as Stevens had unplugged.

"You and who else?" retorted the computer, cheerfully. "Pipe down
yourself, guy--if you weren't so darn dumb and didn't have such a
complex, you'd know that you're the crack pilot of the outfit and
wouldn't care who else knew it." Stevens carefully covered and put away
the calculating machine and other apparatus he had been using and turned
again to the pilot.

"I didn't know Newton had any kids, especially little ones, or I'd have
got acquainted with them long ago. Of course I don't know him very well,
since I never was around the office much, but the old tiger goes over
big with me."

"Hm--m. Think you'll enjoy playing nursemaid all the rest of the trip?"
Breckenridge asked caustically, but with an enigmatic smile.

"Think so? I _know_ so!" replied Stevens, positively. "I always did
like kids, and they always did like me--we fall for each other like ten
thousand bricks falling down a well. Why, a kid--_any_ kid--and I team
up just like grace and poise.... What's gnawing on you anyway, to make
you turn Cheshire cat all of a sudden? By the looks of that grin I'd
say you had swallowed a canary of mine some way or other; but darned if
I know that I've lost any," and he stared at his friend suspiciously.

"To borrow your own phrase, Steve, 'You'd be surprised,'" and
Breckenridge, though making no effort to conceal his amusement, would
say no more.

In a few minutes the door opened, and through it there stepped a
grizzled four-striper. Almost hidden behind his massive form there was
a girl, who ran up to Breckenridge and seized both his hands, her eyes
sparkling.

"Hi, Breckie, you old darling! I knew that if we both kept after
him long enough Dad would let me ride with you sometime. Isn't this
_gorgeous_?"

Stevens was glad indeed that the girl's enthusiastic greeting of the
pilot was giving him time to recover from his shock, for Director
Newton's "little girl, Nadia" was not precisely what he had led himself
to expect. Little she might be, particularly when compared with the
giant frame of Captain King, or with Steve's own five-feet-eleven of
stature and the hundred and ninety pounds of rawhide and whalebone that
was his body, but child she certainly was not. Her thick, fair hair,
cut in the square bob that was the mode of the moment, indicated that
Nature had intended her to be a creamy blonde, but as she turned to be
introduced to him, Stevens received another surprise--for she was one
of those rare, but exceedingly attractive beings, a natural blonde with
brown eyes and black eyebrows. Sun and wind had tanned her satin skin
to a smooth and even shade of brown, and every movement of her lithe and
supple body bespoke to the discerning mind a rigidly-trained physique.

"Doctor Stevens, you haven't met Miss Newton, I hear," the captain
introduced them informally. "All the officers who are not actually tied
down at their posts are anxious to do the honors of the vessel, but as
I have received direct orders from the owners, I am turning her over to
you--you are to show her around."

"Thanks, Captain, I won't mutiny a bit against such an order. I'm mighty
glad to know you, Miss Newton."

"I've heard a lot about you, Doctor. Dad and Breckie here are always
talking about the Big Three--what you have done and what you are going
to do. I want to meet Doctor Brandon and Doctor Westfall, too," and her
hand met his in a firm and friendly clasp. She turned to the captain,
and Stevens, noticing that the pilot, with a quizzical expression, was
about to say something, silenced him with a fierce aside.

"Clam it, ape, or I'll climb up you like a squirrel!" he hissed, and the
grinning Breckenridge nodded assent to this demand for silence
concerning children and nursemaids.

"Since you've never been out, Miss Newton, you'll want to see the whole
works," Stevens addressed the girl. "Where do you want to begin? Shall
we start at the top and work down?"

"All right with me," she agreed, and fell into step beside him. She was
dressed in dove-gray from head to foot--toque, blouse, breeches, heavy
stockings, and shoes were of the one shade of smooth, lustrous silk; and
as they strolled together down the passage-way, the effortless ease and
perfect poise of her carriage called aloud to every hard-schooled fibre
of his own highly-trained being.

"We're a lot alike you and I--do you know it?" he asked, abruptly and
unconventionally.

"Yes, I've felt it, too," she replied frankly, and studied him without
affectation. "It has just come to me what it is. We're both in fine
condition and in hard training. You're an athlete of some kind, and I'm
sure you're a star--I ought to recognize you, but I'm ashamed to say I
don't. What do you do?"

"Swim."

"Oh, of course--Stevens, the great Olympic high and fancy diver! I would
_never_ have connected our own Doctor Stevens, the eminent mathematical
physicist, with the King of the Springboard. Say, ever since I quit
being afraid of the water I've had a yen to do that two-and-a-half twist
of yours, but I never met anybody who knew it well enough to teach it
to me, and I've almost broken my back forty times trying to learn it
alone!"

"I've got you, now, too--American and British Womens' golf champion.
Shake!" and the two shook hands vigorously, in mutual congratulation.
"Tell you what--I'll give you some pointers on diving, and you can show
me how to make a golf ball behave. Next to Norman Brandon, I've got
the most vicious hook in captivity--and Norm can't help himself. He's
left-handed, you know, and, being a southpaw, he's naturally wild. He
slices all his woods and hooks all his irons. I'm consistent, anyway--I
hook everything, even my putts."

"It's a bargain! What do you shoot?"

"Pretty dubby. Usually in the middle eighties--none of us play much,
being out in space most of the time, you know--sometimes, when my hook
is going particularly well, I go up into the nineties."

"We'll lick that hook," she promised, as they entered an elevator and
were borne upward, toward the prow of the great interplanetary cruiser.



CHAPTER II

----But Does Not Arrive


"All out--we climb the rest of the way on foot," Stevens told his
companion, as the elevator stopped at the uppermost passenger floor.
They walked across the small circular hall and the guard on duty came
to attention and saluted as they approached him.

"I have orders to pass you and Miss Newton, sir. Do you know all the
combinations?"

"I know this good old tub better than the men that built her--I helped
calculate her," Stevens replied, as he stepped up to an apparently blank
wall of steel and deftly manipulated an almost invisible dial set flush
with its surface. "This is to keep the passengers where they belong," he
explained, as a section of the wall swung backward in a short arc and
slid smoothly aside. "We will now proceed to see what makes it tick."

Ladder after ladder of steel they climbed, and bulkhead after bulkhead
opened at Stevens's knowing touch. At each floor the mathematician
explained to the girl the operation of the machinery there automatically
at work--devices for heating and cooling, devices for circulating,
maintaining, and purifying the air and the water--in short, all the
complex mechanism necessary for the comfort and convenience of the human
cargo of the liner.

Soon they entered the conical top compartment, a room scarcely fifteen
feet in diameter, tapering sharply upward to a hollow point some
twenty feet above them. The true shape of the room, however, was not
immediately apparent, because of the enormous latticed beams and
girders which braced the walls in every direction. The air glowed
with the violet light of the twelve great ultra-light projectors, like
searchlights with three-foot lenses, which lined the wall. The floor
beneath their feet was not a level steel platform, but seemed to be
composed of many lenticular sections of dull blue alloy.

"We are standing upon the upper lookout lenses, aren't we?" asked the
girl. "Is that perfectly all right?"

"Sure. They're so hard that nothing can scratch them, and of course
Roeser's Rays go right through our bodies, or any ordinary substance,
like a bullet through a hole in a Swiss cheese. Even those lenses
wouldn't deflect them if they weren't solid fields of force."

As he spoke, one of the ultra-lights flashed around in a short, quick
arc, and the girl saw that instead of the fierce glare she had expected,
it emitted only a soft violet light. Nevertheless she dodged
involuntarily and Stevens touched her arm reassuringly.

"All x, Miss Newton--they're as harmless as mice. They hardly ever have
to swing past the vertical, and even if one shines right through you you
can look it right in the eye as long as you want to--it can't hurt you
a bit."

"No ultra-violet at all?"

"None whatever. Just a color--one of the many remaining crudities of our
ultra-light vision. A lot of good men are studying this thing of direct
vision, though, and it won't be long before we have a system that will
really work."

"I think it's all perfectly wonderful!" she breathed. "Just think of
traveling in comfort through empty space, and of actually seeing through
seamless steel walls, without even a sign of a window! How can such
things be possible?"

"I'll have to go pretty well back," he warned, "and any adequate
explanation is bound to be fairly deep wading in spots. How technical
can you stand it?"

"I can go down with you middling deep--I took a lot of general science,
and physics through advanced mechanics. Of course, I didn't get into any
such highly specialized stuff as sub-electronics or Roeser's Rays, but
if you start drowning me, I'll yell."

"That's fine--you can get the idea all x, with that to go on. Let's sit
down here on this girder. Roeser didn't do it all, by any means, even
though he got credit for it--he merely helped the Martians do it. The
whole thing started, of course, when Goddard shot his first rocket to
the moon, and was intensified when Roeser so perfected his short waves
that signals were exchanged with Mars--signals that neither side could
make any sense out of. Goddard's pupils and followers made bigger and
better rockets, and finally got one that could land safely upon Mars.
Roeser, who was a mighty keen bird, was one of the first voyagers, and
he didn't come back--he stayed there, living in a space-suit for three
or four years, and got a brand-new education. Martian science always
was hot, you know, but they were impractical. They were desperately
hard up for water and air, and while they had a lot of wonderful
ideas and theories, they couldn't overcome the practical technical
difficulties in the way of making their ideas work. Now putting other
peoples' ideas to work was Roeser's long suit--don't think that I'm
belittling Roeser at all, either, for he was a brave and far-sighted
man, was no mean scientist, and was certainly one of the best organizers
and synchronizers the world has ever known--and since Martian and
Tellurian science complemented each other, so that one filled in the
gaps of the other, it wasn't long until fleets of space-freighters were
bringing in air and water from Venus, which had more of both than she
needed or wanted.

"Having done all he could for the Martians and having learned most of
the stuff he wanted to know, Roeser came back to Tellus and organized
Interplanetary, with scientists and engineers on all three planets,
and set to work to improve the whole system, for the vessels they used
then were dangerous--regular mankillers, in fact. At about this same
time Roeser and the Interplanetary Corporation had a big part in the
unification of the world into one nation, so that wars could no longer
interfere with progress."

       *       *       *       *       *

"With this introduction I can get down to fundamentals. Molecules are
particles of the first order, and vibrations of the first order include
sound, light, heat, electricity, radio, and so on. Second order,
atoms--extremely short vibrations, such as hard X-rays. Third order,
electrons and protons, with their accompanying Millikan, or cosmic,
rays. Fourth order, sub-electrons and sub-protons. These, in the
material aspect, are supposed to be the particles of the fourth order,
and in the energy aspect they are known as Roeser's Rays. That is, these
fourth-order rays and particles seem to partake of the nature of both
energy and matter. Following me?"

"Right behind you," she assured him. She had been listening intently,
her wide-spaced brown eyes fastened upon his face.

"Since these Roeser's Rays, or particles or rays of the fourth order,
seem to be both matter and energy, and since the rays can be converted
into what is supposed to be the particles, they have been thought to be
the things from which both electrons and protons were built. Therefore,
everybody except Norman Brandon has supposed them the ultimate units of
creation, so that it would be useless to try to go any further...."

"Why, we were taught that they _are_ the ultimate units!" she protested.

"I know you were--but we really don't know anything, except what we
have learned empirically, even about our driving forces. What is called
the fourth-order particle is absolutely unknown, since nobody has been
able to detect it, to say nothing of determining its velocity or other
properties. It has been assumed to have the velocity of light only
because that hypothesis does not conflict with observational data. I'm
going to give you the generally accepted idea, since we have nothing
definite to offer in its place, but I warn you that that idea is very
probably wrong. There's a lot of deep stuff down there hasn't been dug
up yet. In fact, Brandon thinks that the product of conversion isn't
what we think it is, at all--that the actual fundamental unit and the
primary mechanism of the transformation lie somewhere below the fourth
order, and possibly even below the level of the ether--but we haven't
been able to find a point of attack yet that will let us get in
anywhere. However, I'm getting 'way ahead of our subject. To get back to
it, energy can be converted into something that acts like matter through
Roeser's Rays, and that is the empirical fact underlying the drive of
our space-ships, as well as that of almost all other vehicles on all
three planets. Power is generated by the great waterfalls of Tellus and
Venus--water's mighty scarce on Mars, of course, so most of our plants
there use fuel--and is transmitted on light beams, by means of powerful
fields of force to the receptors, wherever they may be. The individual
transmitting fields and receptors are really simply matched-frequency
units, each matching the electrical characteristics of some particular
and unique beam of force. This beam is composed of Roeser's Rays, in
their energy aspect. It took a long time to work out this tight-beam
transmission of power, but it was fairly simple after they got it."

He took out a voluminous notebook, at the sight of which Nadia smiled.

"A computer might forget to dress, but you'd never catch one without a
full magazine pencil and a lot of blank paper," he grinned in reply and
went on, writing as he talked.

"For any given frequency, _f_, and phase angle, _theta_, you integrate,
between limits zero and _pi_ divided by two, sine theta d...."

"Hold it--I'm sinking!" Nadia exclaimed. "I don't integrate at all
unless it is absolutely necessary. As long as you stick to general
science, I'm right on your heels, but please lay off of integrations
and all that--most especially stay away from those terrible electrical
integrations. I always did think that they were the most poisonous kind
known. I want only a general idea--that's all that I can understand,
anyway."

"Sure, I forgot--guess I was getting in deeper than is necessary,
especially since this whole thing of beam transmission is pretty crude
yet and is bound to change a lot before long. There is so much loss
that when we get more than a few hundred million kilometers away from
a power-plant we lose reception entirely. But to get going again,
the receptors receive the beam and from them the power is sent to the
accumulators, where it is stored. These accumulators are an outgrowth
of the storage battery. The theory of the accumulator is...."

"Lay off the theory, please!" the listener interrupted. "I understand
perfectly without it. Energy is stored in the accumulators--you put it
in and take it out. That's all that is necessary."

       *       *       *       *       *

"I'd like to give you some of the theory--but, after all, it wouldn't
add much to your understanding of the working of things, and it might
mix you up, as some of it is pretty deep stuff. Then, too, it would
take a lot of time, and the rest of your friends would squawk if I
kept you here indefinitely. From the accumulators, then, the power
is fed to the converters, each of which is backed by a projector.
The converters simply change the aspect of the rays, from the
energy aspect to the material aspect. As soon as this is done, the
highly-charged particles--or whatever they are--thus formed are
repelled by the terrific stationary force maintained in the projector
backing the converter. Each particle departs with a velocity supposed
to be that of light, and the recoil upon the projector drives the
vessel, or car, or whatever it is attached to. Still with me?"

"Struggling a little, but my nose is still above the surface. These
particles, being so infinitesimally small that they cannot even be
detected, go right through any substance without any effect--they are
not even harmful."

"Exactly. Now we are in position to go ahead with the lights, detectors,
and so on. The energy aspect of the rays you can best understand as
simply a vibration in the ether--an extremely high frequency one.
While not rigidly scientific, that is close enough for you and me.
Nobody knows what the stuff really is, and it cannot be explained or
demonstrated by any model or concept in three-dimensional space. Its
physical-mathematical interpretation, the only way in which it can be
grasped at all, requires sixteen coordinates in four dimensions, and
I don't suppose you'd care to go into that."

"I'll say I wouldn't!" she exclaimed, feelingly.

"Well, anyway, by the use of suitable fields of force it can be used
as a carrier wave. Most of this stuff of the fields of force--how to
carry the modulation up and down through all the frequency changes
necessary--was figured out by the Martians ages ago. Used as a pure
carrier wave, with a sender and a receiver at each end, it isn't so
bad--that's why our communicator and radio systems work as well as they
do. They are pretty good, really, but the ultra-light vision system
is something else again. Sending the heterodyned wave through steel
is easy, but breaking it up, so as to view an object and return the
impulses, was an awful job and one that isn't half done yet. We see
things, after a fashion and at a distance of a few kilometers, by
sending an almost parallel wave from a twin-projector to disintegrate
and double back the viewing wave. That's the way the lookout plates and
lenses work, all over the ship--from the master-screens in the control
room to the plates of the staterooms and lifeboats and the viewing-areas
of the promenades. But the whole system is a rotten makeshift, and...."

"Just a minute!" exclaimed the girl. "I and everybody else have been
thinking that everything is absolutely perfect; and yet every single
thing you have talked about, you have ended up by describing as
'unknown,' 'rudimentary,' 'temporary,' or a 'makeshift.' You speak as
though the entire system were a poor thing that will have to do until
something better has been found, and that nobody knows anything about
anything! How do you get that way?"

"By working with Brandon and Westfall. Those birds have got real brains
and they're on the track of something that will, in all probability, be
as far ahead of Roeser's Rays as our present system is ahead of the
science of the seventeenth century."

"Really?" she looked at him in astonishment. "Tell me about it."

"Can't be done," he refused. "I don't know much about it--even they
didn't know any too much about some of it when I had to come in. And
what little I do know I can't tell, because it isn't mine."

"But you're working with them, aren't you?"

"Yes, in the sense that a small boy helps his father build a house.
They're the brains--I simply do some figuring that they don't want to
waste time doing."

Nadia, having no belief whatever in his modest disclaimer, but in secret
greatly pleased by his attitude, replied:

"Of course you couldn't say anything about an unfinished project--I
shouldn't have asked. Where do we go from here?"

"Down the lining of the hull, outside the passengers' quarters to the
upper dirigible projectors," and he led the way down a series of steep
steel stairways, through bulkheads and partitions of steel. "One thing
I forgot to tell you about--the detectors. They're worked on the same
principle as the lights, and are just about as efficient. Instead, of
light, though, they send out cones of electro-magnetic waves, which set
up induced currents in any conductor encountered beyond our own shell.
Since all dangerous meteorites have been shown to contain conducting
material, that is enough to locate them, for radio finders automatically
determine the direction, distance, and magnitude of the disturbance, and
swing a light on it. That was what happened when that light swung toward
us, back there in the prow."

"Are there any of those life-boats, that I've heard discussed so much
lately, near here?" asked the girl.

"Lots of 'em--here's one right here," and at the next landing he opened
a vacuum-insulated steel door, snapped on a light, and waved his hand.
"You can't see much of it from here, but it's a complete space-ship
in itself, capable of maintaining a dozen or fifteen persons during
a two-weeks' cruise in space."

"Why isn't it a good idea to retain them? Accidents are still possible,
are they not?"

"Of course, and there is no question of doing away with them entirely.
Modern ships, however, have only enough of them to take care of the
largest number of persons ever to be carried by the vessel."

"Has the _Arcturus_ more than she needs?"

"I'll say she has, and more of everything else, except room for
pay-load."

"I've heard them talking about junking her. I think it's a shame."

"So do I, in a way--you see, I helped design her and her sister-ship,
the _Sirius_, which Brandon and Westfall are using as a floating
laboratory. But times change, and the inefficient must go. She's a good
old tub, but she was built when everybody was afraid of space, and we
had to put every safety factor into her that we could think of. As a
result, she is four times as heavy as she should be, and that takes a
lot of extra power. Her skin is too thick. She has too many batteries of
accumulators, too many life-boats, too many bulkheads and air-breaks,
too many and too much of everything. She is so built that if she should
break up out in space, nobody would die if they lived through the
shock--there are so many bulkheads, air-breaks, and life-boats that
no matter how many pieces she broke up into, the survivors would find
themselves in something able to navigate. That excessive construction
is no longer necessary. Modern ships carry ten times the pay-load on
one-quarter of the power that this old battle-wagon uses. Even though
she's only four years old, she's a relic of the days when we used to
slam through on the ecliptic route, right through all the meteoric
stuff that is always there--trusting to heavy armor to ward off
anything too small for the observers and detectors to locate. Now, with
the observatories and check-stations out in space, fairly light armor
is sufficient, as we route ourselves well away from the ecliptic and so
miss all the heavy stuff. So, badly as I hate to see her go there, the
old tub is bound for the junk-yard."

       *       *       *       *       *

A few more flights of stairs brought them to the upper band of dirigible
projectors, which encircled the hull outside the passengers' quarters,
some sixty feet below the prow. They were heavy, search-light-like
affairs mounted upon massive universal bearings, free to turn in any
direction, and each having its converter nestling inside its prodigious
field of force. Stevens explained that these projectors were used in
turning the vessel and in dodging meteorites when necessary, and they
went on through another almost invisible door into a hall and took an
elevator down to the main corridor.

"Well, you've seen it, Miss Newton," Stevens said regretfully, as he
led her toward the captain's office. "The lower half is full of heavy
stuff--accumulators, machinery, driving projectors, and such junk, so
that the center of gravity is below the center of action of the driving
projectors. That makes stable flight possible. It's all more or less
like what we've just seen, and I don't suppose you want to miss the
dance--anyway, a lot of people want to dance with you."

"Wouldn't you just as soon show me through the lower half as dance?"

"Rather, lots!"

"So would I. I can dance any time, and I want to see everything.
Let's go!"

Down they went, past battery after battery of accumulators; climbing
over and around the ever-increasing number of huge steel girders and
bracers; through mazes of heavily insulated wiring and conduits; past
mass after mass of automatic machinery which Stevens explained to his
eager listener. They inspected one of the great driving projectors,
which, built rigidly parallel to the axis of the ship and held immovably
in place by enormous trusses of steel, revealed neither to the eye nor
to the ear any sign of the terrific force it was exerting. Still lower
they went, until the girl had been shown everything, even down to the
bottom ultra-lights and stern braces.

"Tired?" Stevens asked, as the inspection was completed.

"Not very. It's been quite a climb, but I've had a wonderful time."

"So have I," he declared, positively. "I know what--we'll crawl up into
one of these stern lifeboats and make us a cup of coffee before we climb
back. With me?"

"'Way ahead of you!" Nadia accepted the invitation enthusiastically,
and they made their way to the nearest of the miniature space-cruisers.
Here, although no emergency had been encountered in all the four years
of the vessel's life, they found everything in readiness, and the two
soon had prepared and eaten a hearty luncheon.

"Well, I can't think of any more excuses for monopolizing you, Miss
Newton, so I suppose I'll have to take you back. Believe me, I've
enjoyed this more than you can realize--I've...."

He broke off and listened, every nerve taut. "What was that?" he
exclaimed.

"What was what? I didn't hear anything?"

"Something screwy somewhere! I felt a vibration, and anything that'd
make this mountain of steel even quiver must have given us one
gosh-awful nudge. There's another!"

The girl, painfully tense, felt only a barely perceptible tremor, but
the computer, knowing far better than she the inconceivable strength and
mass of that enormous structure of solidly braced hardened steel, sprang
into action. Leaping to the small dirigible look-out plate, he turned on
the power and swung it upward.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Great suffering snakes!" he ejaculated, then stood mute, for the
plate revealed a terrible sight. The entire nose of the gigantic craft
had been sheared off in two immense slices as though clipped off by a
gigantic sword, and even as they stared, fascinated, at the sight, the
severed slices were drifting slowly away. Swinging the view along the
plane of cleavage, Stevens made out a relatively tiny ball of metal,
only fifty feet or so in diameter, at a distance of perhaps a mile.
From this ball there shot a blinding plane of light, and the _Arcturus_
fell apart at the midsection, the lower half separating clean from
the upper portion, which held the passengers. Leaving the upper half
intact, the attacker began slicing the lower, driving half into thin,
disk-shaped sections. As that incandescent plane of destruction made
its first flashing cut through the body of the _Arcturus_, accompanied
by an additional pyrotechnic display of severed and short-circuited
high-tension leads, Stevens and Nadia suddenly found themselves floating
weightless in the air of the room. Still gripping the controls of the
look-out plate, Stevens caught the white-faced girl with one hand, drew
her down beside him, and held her motionless while his keen mind flashed
over all the possibilities of the situation and planned his course
of action.

"They're apparently slicing us pretty evenly, and by the looks of
things, one cut is coming right about here," he explained rapidly, as
he found a flashlight and drew his companion through the door and along
a narrow passage. Soon he opened another door and led her into a tiny
compartment so low that they could not stand upright--a mere cubicle of
steel. Carefully closing the door, he fingered dials upon each of the
walls of the cell, then folded himself up into a comfortable position,
instructed Nadia to do the same, and snapped off the light.

"Please leave it on," the shaken girl asked. "It's so ghastly!"

"We'd better save it, Nadia," he advised, pressing her arm reassuringly,
"it's the only light we've got, and we may need it worse later on--its
life is limited, you know."

"Later on? Do you think we'll need anything--later on?"

"Sure! Of course they may get us, Nadia, but this little tertiary
air-break is a mighty small target for them to hit. And if they miss us,
as I think they will, there's a larger room opening off each wall of
this one--at least one of which will certainly be left intact. From any
one of those rooms we can reach a life-boat. Of course, it's a little
too much to expect that any one of the life-boats will be left whole,
but they're bulkheaded, too, you know, so that we can be sure of finding
something able to navigate--providing we can make our get-away. Believe
me, ace, I'm sure glad we're aboard the old _Arcturus_ right now, with
all her safety-devices, instead of on one of the modern liners. We'd be
sunk right."

"I felt sunk enough for a minute--I'm feeling better now, though, since
you are taking it so calmly."

"Sure--why not? A man's not dead until his heart stops beating, you
know--our turn'll come next, when they let up a little."

"But suppose they change the width of their slices, and hit this cubby,
small as it is?"

"It'd be just too bad," he shrugged. "In that case, we'd never know
what hit us, so it's no good worrying about it. But say, we might do
something at that, if they didn't hit us square. I can move fairly fast,
and might be able to get a door open before the loss of pressure seals
it. We'll light the flash ... here, you hold it, so that I can have both
hands free. Put both arms around me, just under the arms, and stick to
me like a porous plaster, because if I have to move at all, I'll have
to jump like chain lightning. Shine the beam right over there, so it'll
reflect and light up all the dials at once. There ... hold on tight!
Here they come!"

As he spoke, a jarring shudder shook one side of their hiding-place,
then, a moment later, the phenomenon was repeated, but with much less
force, upon the other side. Stevens sighed with relief, took the light,
and extinguished it.

"Missed us clean!" he exulted. "Now, if they don't find us, we're all
set."

"How can they possibly find us? I seem to be always worried about the
wrong things, but I should think that their finding us would be the
least of our troubles."

"Don't judge their vision system by ours--they've got everything,
apparently. However, their apparatus may not be delicate enough to spot
us in a space this small when their projectors flash through it, as they
probably will. Then, too, there's a couple of other big items in our
favor--nobody else is in the entire lower half, since all this machinery
down here is either automatic or else controlled from up above, so they
won't be expecting to see anybody when they get down this far; and we
aren't at all conspicuous. We're both dressed in gray--your clothes in
particular are almost exactly the color of this armor-plate--so
altogether we stand a good chance of being missed."

"What shall we do now?"

"Nothing whatever--wish we could sleep for a couple of hours, but of
course there's no hope of that. Stretch out here, like that--you can't
rest folded up like an accordion--and I'll lie down diagonally across
the room. There's just room for me that way. That's one advantage of
weightlessness--you can lie down standing on your head, and go to sleep
and like it. But I forgot--you've never been weightless before, have
you? Does it make you sick?"

"Not so much, now, except that I feel awfully weird inside. I was
horribly dizzy and nauseated at first, but it's going away."

       *       *       *       *       *

"That's good--it makes lots of people pretty sick. In fact, some folks
get awfully sick and can't seem to get used to it at all. It's the
canals in the inner ear that do most of it, you know. However, if you're
as well as that already, you'll be a regular spacehound in half an hour.
I've been weightless for weeks at a stretch, out in the _Sirius_, and
now I've got so I really like it. Here, we'd better keep in touch."
He found her hand and tucked it under his arm. "Stabilize our positions
more, besides keeping us from getting too lonesome, here in the dark,"
he concluded, in a matter-of-fact voice.

"Thanks for saying 'us'--but you would, wouldn't you?" and a wave of
admiration went through her for the real and chivalrous manhood of the
man with whom she had been forced by circumstances to cast her lot.
"How long must we stay here?"

"As long as the air lasts, and I'd like to stay here longer than that.
We don't want to move around any more than we absolutely have to until
their rays are off of us, and we have no way of knowing how long that
will be. Also, we'd better keep still. I don't know what kind of an
audio system they've got, but there's no use taking unnecessary
chances."

"All x--I'm an oyster's little sister," and for many minutes the
two remained motionless and silent. Now and then Nadia twitched and
started at some vague real or imaginary sound--now and then her fingers
tightened upon his biceps--and he pressed her hand with his great arm in
reassurance and understanding. Once a wall of their cell resounded under
the impact of a fierce blow and Stevens instantly threw his arm around
the girl, twisting himself between her and the threatened wall, ready
for any emergency. But nothing more happened; the door remained closed,
the cell stayed bottle-tight, and time wore slowly on. All too soon the
unmistakable symptoms of breathing an unfit atmosphere made themselves
apparent and Stevens, after testing each of the doors, drew the girl
into a larger room, where they breathed deeply of the fresh, cool air.

"How did you know that this room was whole?" asked Nadia. "We might have
stepped out into space, mightn't we?"

"No; if this room had lost its tightness, the door wouldn't have opened.
They won't open if there's a difference of one kilogram pressure on the
two sides. That's how I knew that the room we were in at first was cut
in two--the door into that air-break wouldn't move."

"What comes next?"

"I don't know exactly what to do--we'd better hold a little council of
war. They may have gone..." Stevens broke off as the structure began
to move, and they settled down upon what had been one of the side-walls.
Greater and greater became the acceleration, until their apparent weight
was almost as much as it would have been upon the Earth, at which point
it became constant. "... but they haven't," he continued the interrupted
sentence. "This seems to be a capture and seizure, as well as an attack,
so we'll have to take the risk of looking at them. Besides, it's getting
cold in here. One or two of the adjoining cells have apparently been
ruptured and we're radiating our heat out into space, so we'll have to
get into a life-boat or freeze. I'll go pick out the best one. Wonder
if I'd better take you with me, or hide you and come back after you?"

"Don't worry about that--I'm coming with you," Nadia declared, positively.

"Just as well, probably," he assented, and they set out. A thorough
exploration of all the tight connecting cells revealed that not a
lifeboat within their reach remained intact, but that habitable and
navigable portions of three such craft were available. Selecting the
most completely equipped of these, they took up their residence therein
by entering it and closing the massive insulating door. Stevens
disconnected all the lights save one, and so shielded that one before
turning it on that it merely lightened the utter darkness into a
semi-permeable gloom. He then stepped up to the lookout plate, and with
his hand upon the control, pondered long the possible consequences of
what he wished to do.

"What harm would it do to take just a little peek?"

"I don't know--that's the dickens of it. Maybe none, and then again,
maybe a lot. You see, we don't know who or what we are up against. The
only thing we know is that they've got us beat a hundred ways, and we've
got to act accordingly. We've got to chance it sometime, though, if we
can ever get away, so we might as well do it now. I'll put it on very
short range first, and see what we can see. By the small number of cells
we've got here I'm afraid they've split us up lengthwise, too--so that
instead of having a whole slice of the old watermelon to live in, we've
got only about a sixth of one--shaped about like a piece of restaurant
pie. One thing I can do, though. I'll turn on the communicator receiver
and put it on full coverage--maybe we can hear something useful."

Putting a little power upon the visiray plate, he moved the point of
projection a short distance from their hiding-place, so that the plate
showed a view of the wreckage. The upper half of the vessel was still
intact, the lower half a jumble of sharply-cut fragments. From each of
the larger pieces a brilliant ray of tangible force stretched outward.
Suddenly their receiver sounded behind them, as the high-powered
transmitter in the telegraph room tried to notify headquarters of
their plight.

"_Arcturus_ attacked and cut up being taken tow...."

Rapidly as the message was uttered the transmitter died with a rattle
in the middle of a word, and Nadia looked at Stevens with foreboding in
her eyes.

"They've got something, that's one thing sure, to be able to neutralize
our communicator beams that way," he admitted. "Not so good--we'll have
to play this close to our vests, girl!"

"Are you just trying to cheer me up, or do you really think we have a
chance?" she demanded. "I want to know just where we stand."

"I'm coming clean with you, no kidding. If we can get away, we'll be all
x, because I'll bet a farm that by this time Brandon's got everything
those birds have, and maybe more. They beat us to it, that's all. I'm
kind of afraid, though, that getting away isn't going to be quite as
simple as shooting fish down a well."

       *       *       *       *       *

Far ahead of them a port opened, a lifeboat shot out at its full power,
and again their receiver tried to burst into sound, but it was a vain
attempt. The sound died before one complete word could be uttered, and
the lifeboat, its power completely neutralized by the rays of the tiny
craft of the enemy, floated gently back toward the mass of its parent
and accompanied it in its headlong flight. Several more lifeboats made
the attempt, as the courageous officers of the _Arcturus_, some of
whom had apparently succeeded in eluding the vigilance of the captors,
launched the little shells from various ports; but as each boat issued,
its power was neutralized and it found itself dragged helplessly along
in the grip of one of those mysterious, brilliant rays of force. At
least one hidden officer must have been watching the fruitless efforts,
for the next lifeboat to issue made no attempt, either to talk or to
flee, but from it there flamed out into space a concentrated beam of
destruction--the terrible ray of annihilation, against which no known
substance could endure for a moment; the ray which had definitely
outlawed war. But even that frightful weapon was useless--it spent
its force harmlessly upon an impalpable, invisible barrier, a hundred
yards from its source, and the bold lifeboat disappeared in one blinding
explosion of incandescence as the captor showed its real power in
retaliation. Stevens, jaw hard-set, leaped from the screen, then brought
himself up so quickly that he skated across the smooth steel floor.
Shutting off the lookout plate, he led the half-fainting girl across
the room to a comfortable seat and sat down beside her--raging, but
thoughtful. Nadia soon recovered.

"Why are you acting so contrary to your nature--is it because of _me_?"
she demanded. "A dozen times I've seen you start to do something and
then change your mind. I _will not_ be a load on you nor hinder you in
anything you want to do."

"I told your father I'd look after you, and I'm going to do it," he
replied, indirectly. "I would do it anyway, of course--even if you are
ten or twelve years older than I thought you were."

"Yes, Dad never has realized that I'm more than eight years old. I
see--you were going out there and be slaughtered?" He flushed, but made
no reply. "In that case I'm glad I'm here--that would have been silly.
I think we'd better hold that council of war you mentioned a while ago,
don't you?"

"I need a smoke--do you indulge?"

"No thanks. I tried it a few times at school, but never liked it."

He searched his pockets, bringing to light an unopened package and a
tattered remnant which proved to contain one dilapidated cigarette.
He studied it thoughtfully. "I'll smoke this wreck," he decided, "while
it's still smokable. We'll save the rest of them--I'm afraid it'll be
a long time between smokes. Well, let's confer!"

"This will have to be a one-sided conference. I don't imagine that any
of my ideas will prove particularly helpful. You talk and I'll listen.

"You can't tell what ideas may be useful--chip in any time you feel the
urge. Here's the dope, as I see it. They're highly intelligent creatures
and are in all probability neither Martians nor Venerians. If any of
them had any such stuff as that, some of us would have known about it
and, besides, I don't believe they would have used it in just that way.
Mercury is not habitable, at least for organic beings; and we have never
seen any sign of any other kind of inhabitants who could work with
metals and rays. They're probably from Jupiter, although possibly from
further away. I say Jupiter, because I would think, judging from the
small size of the ship, that it may still be in the experimental stage,
so that they probably didn't come from any further away than Jupiter.
Then, too, if they were very numerous, somebody would have sighted one
before. I'd give my left leg and four fingers for one good look at the
inside of that ship."

"Why didn't you take it, then? You never even looked toward it, after
that one first glimpse."

"I'll say I didn't--the reason being that they may have automatic
detectors, and as I have suggested before, our system of vision is so
crude that its use could be detected with a clothesline or a basket
full of scrap iron. But to resume: Their aim is to capture, not destroy,
since they haven't killed anybody except the one crew that attacked
them. Apparently they want to study us or something. However, they don't
intend that any of us shall get away, nor even send out a word of what
has happened to us. Therefore it looks as though our best bet is to hide
now, and try to sneak away on them after a while--direct methods won't
work. Right?"

"You sound lucid. Is there any possibility of getting back, though, if
we got anywhere near Jupiter? It's so far away!"

"It's a long stretch from Jupiter to any of the planets where we have
power-plants, all right--particularly now, when Mars and Tellus are
subtending an angle of something more than ninety degrees at the sun,
and Venus is between the two, while Jupiter is clear across the sun from
all three of them. Even when Jupiter is in mean opposition to Mars, it
is still some five hundred and fifty million kilometers away, so you
can form some idea as to how far it is from our nearest planet now.
No, if we expect to get back under our own power, we've got to break away
pretty quick--these lifeboats have very little accumulator capacity, and
the receptors are useless above about three hundred million
kilometers...."

"But it'll take us a long time to go that far, won't it?"

"Not very. Our own ships, using only the acceleration of gravity, and
both plus and minus at that, make the better than four hundred million
kilometers of the long route to Mars in five days. These birds are using
almost that much acceleration, and I don't see how they do it. They must
have a tractor ray. Brandon claimed that such a thing was theoretically
possible, but Westfall and I couldn't see it. We ragged him about it a
lot--and he was right. I thought, of course, they'd drift with us, but
they are using power steadily. They've got _some_ system!"

"Suppose they could be using intra-atomic energy? We were taught that it
was impossible, but you've shattered a lot of my knowledge today."

"I wouldn't want to say definitely that it is absolutely impossible,
but the deeper we go into that line, the more unlikely intra-atomic
energy power-plants become. No, they've got a real power-transmission
system--one that can hold a tight beam together a lot farther than
anything we have been able to develop, that's all. Well, we've given
them quite a lot of time to get over any suspicion of us, let's see
if we can sneak away from them."

       *       *       *       *       *

By short and infrequent applications of power to the dirigible
projectors of the life-boat, Stevens slowly shifted the position of
the fragment which bore their craft until it was well clear of the
other components of the mass of wreckage. He then exerted a very small
retarding force, so that their bit would lag behind the procession, as
though it had accidently been separated. But the crew of the captor was
alert, and no sooner did a clear space show itself between them and the
mass than a ray picked them up and herded them back into place. Stevens
then nudged other pieces so that they fell out, only to see them also
rounded up. Hour after hour he kept trying--doing nothing sufficiently
energetic to create any suspicion, but attempting everything he could
think of that offered any chance of escape from the clutches of their
captors. Immovable at the plate, his hands upon the controls, he
performed every insidious maneuver his agile brain could devise, but
he could not succeed in separating their vehicle from its fellows.
Finally, after a last attempt, which was foiled as easily as were its
predecessors, he shut off his controls and turned to his companion
with a grin.

"I didn't think I could get away with it--they're keen, that gang--but
I had to keep at it as long as it would have done us any good."

"Wouldn't it do us any good now?"

"Not a bit--we're going so fast that we couldn't stop--we're out of even
radio range of our closest power-plant. We'll have to put off any more
attempts until they slow us down. They're fairly close to at least one
of the moons of Jupiter, we'll have our best chance--so good, in fact,
that I really think we can make it."

"But what good would that do us, if we couldn't get back?" Dire
foreboding showed in her glorious eyes.

"Lots of things not tried yet, girl, and we'll try them all. First, we
get away. Second, we try to get in touch with Norman Brandon...."

"How? No known radio will carry half that far."

"No, but I think that a radio as yet unknown may be able to--and there
is a bare possibility that I'll be able to communicate."

"Oh wonderful--that lifts a frightful load off my mind," she breathed.

"But just a minute--I said I'd come clean with you, and I will. The odds
are all against us, no matter what we do. If that unknown radio won't
work--and it probably won't--there are several other things we can try,
but they're all pretty slim chances. Even if we get away, it'll probably
be about the same thing as though you were to be marooned on a desert
island without any tools, and with your rescue depending upon your
ability to build a high-powered radio station with which to call to
a mainland for help. However, if we don't try to get away, our only
alternative is letting them know we're here, and joining our friends
in captivity."

"And then what?"

"You know as much as I do. Imprisonment and restraint, certain; death,
possible; return to Earth, almost certainly impossible--life as guests,
highly improbable."

"I'm with you, Steve, all the way."

"Well, it's time to spring off--we've both been awake better than fifty
hours. Personally, I'm all in, and you're so near dead that you're a
physical wreck. We'll get us a bite of supper and turn in."

An appetizing supper was prepared from the abundant stores and each
ate a heartier meal than either would have believed possible. Stevens
considered his unopened package of cigarettes, then regretfully put it
back into his pocket still unopened and turned to Nadia.

"Well, little fellow, it's time to shove off, and then some. You might
as well sleep here, and I'll go in there. If anything scares you, yell.
Good-night, old trapper!"

"Wait a minute, Steve." Nadia flushed, and her brown eyes and black
eyebrows, in comparison with her golden-blond hair, lent her face a
quizzical, elfin expression that far belied her feelings as she stared
straight into his eyes. "I've never even been away from the Earth
before, and with all this happening I'm simply scared to death. I've
been trying to hide it, but I couldn't stand it alone, and we're going
to be together too long and too close for senseless conventions to
affect us. There's two bunks over there--why don't you sleep in one
of them?"

He returned her steadfast gaze for a moment in silence.

"All x with me, Nadia," he answered, keeping out of his voice all
signs of the tenderness he felt for her, and of his very real admiration
for her straightforward conduct in a terrifying situation. "You trust
me, then?"

"_Trust_ you! Don't be silly--I know you! I know you, and I know Brandon
and Westfall--I know what you've done, and exactly the kind of men you
are. _Trust_ you!"

"Thanks, old golf-shootist," and promises were made and received
in a clasp from which Nadia's right hand, strong as it was, emerged
slightly damaged.

"By the way, what is your first name, fellow-traveller?" she asked in
lighter vein. "Nobody, not even Dad or Breckie, ever seems to call you
anything but 'Steve' when they talk about you." She was amazed at the
effect of her innocent question, for Stevens flushed to his hair and
spluttered.

"It's _Percy_!" He finally, snorted. "Percival Van Schravendyck Stevens.
Wouldn't that tear it?"

"Why, I think Percival's a real nice name!"

"Silence!" he hissed in burlesque style. "Young woman, I have revealed
to you a secret known to but few living creatures. On your life, keep
it inviolate!"

"Oh, very well, if you insist. Good-night--Steve!" and she gave him a
radiant and honest smile: the first smile he had seen since the moment
of the attack.



CHAPTER III

Castaways Upon Ganymede


Upon awakening, the man's first care was to instruct the girl in the
operation of the projectors, so that she could keep the heavily-armored
edge of their small section, which she had promptly christened "The
Forlorn Hope," between them and the grinding, clashing mass of wreckage,
and thus, if it should become necessary, protect the relatively frail
inner portions of their craft from damage.

"Keep an eye on things for a while, Nadia," he instructed, as soon as
she could handle the controls, "and don't use any more power than is
absolutely necessary. We'll need it all, and besides, they can probably
detect anything we can use. There's probably enough leakage from the
ruptured accumulator cells to mask quite a little emission, but don't
use much. I'm going to see what I can do about making this whole wedge
navigable."

"Why not just launch what's left of this lifeboat? It's space-worthy,
isn't it?"

"Yes, but it's too small. Two or three of the big dirigible projectors
of the lower band are on the rim of this piece-of-pie-shaped section
we're riding, I think. If so, and if enough batteries of accumulators
are left intact to give them anywhere nearly full power, we can get an
acceleration that will make a lifeboat look sick. Those main dirigibles,
you know, are able to swing the whole mass of the _Arcturus_, and what
they'll do to this one chunk of it--we've got only a few thousand tons
of mass in this piece--will be something pretty. Also, having the metal
may save us months of time in mining it."

He found the projectors, repaired or cut out the damaged accumulator
cells, and reconnected them through the controls of the lifeboat.
He moved into the "engine-room" the airtanks, stores, and equipment
from all the other fragments which, by means of a space-suit, he could
reach without too much difficulty. From the battery rooms of those
fragments--open shelves, after being sliced open by the shearing ray--he
helped himself to banks of accumulator cells from the enormous driving
batteries of the ill-fated _Arcturus_, bolting them down and connecting
them solidly until almost every compartment of their craft was one mass
of stored-up energy.

Days fled like hours, so furiously busy were they in preparing their
peculiar vessel for a cruise of indefinite duration. Stevens cut himself
short on sleep and snatched his meals in passing; and Nadia, when not
busy at her own tasks of observing, housekeeping, and doing what little
piloting was required, was rapidly learning to wield most effectively
the spanner and pliers of the mechanic and electrician.

"I'm afraid our time is getting short, Steve," she announced, after
making an observation. "It looks as though we're getting wherever it
is we're going."

"Well, I've got only two more jobs to do, but they're the hardest of the
lot. It is Jupiter, or can you tell yet?"

"Jupiter or one of its satellites, I think, from the point where they
reversed their power. Here's the observation you told me to take."

"Looks like Jupiter," he agreed, after he had rapidly checked her
figures. "We'll pass very close to one of those two satellites--probably
Ganymede--which is fine for our scheme. All four of the major satellites
have water and atmosphere, but Ganymede, being largest, is best for our
purposes. We've got a couple of days yet--just about time to finish up.
Let's get going--you know what to do."

"Steve, I'm afraid of it. It's too dangerous--isn't there some other
way?"

"None that I can see. The close watch they're keeping on every bit of
this junk makes it our only chance for a get-away. I'm pretty sure I
can do it--but if I should happen to get nipped, just use enough power
to let them know you're here, and you won't be any worse off than if
I hadn't tried to pull off this stunt."

He donned a space-suit, filled a looped belt with tools, picked up a
portable power-drill, and stepped into the tiny air-lock. Nadia deftly
guided their segment against one of the larger fragments and held it
there with a gentle, steady pressure, while Stevens, a light cable
paying out behind him, clambered carefully over the wreckage, brought
his drill into play, and disappeared inside the huge wedge. In less than
an hour he returned without mishap and reported to the glowing girl.

"Just like shooting fish down a well! Most of the accumulator cells were
tight, and installing the relays wasn't a bad job at all. Believe me,
girl, there'll be junk filling all the space between here and Saturn
when we touch them off!"

"Wonderful, Steve!" Nadia exclaimed. "It won't be so bad seeing you go
into the others, now that you have this one all rigged up."

       *       *       *       *       *

Around and around the mass of wreckage they crept, and in each of the
larger sections Stevens connected up the enormous fixed or dirigible
projectors to whatever accumulator cells were available through
sensitive relays, all of which he could close by means of one radio
impulse. The long and dangerous task done, he stood at the lookout
plate, studying the huge disk which had been the upper portion of the
lower half of the _Arcturus_ and frowning in thought. Nadia reached over
his shoulder and switched off the plate.

"Nix on that second job, big fellow!" she declared. "They aren't really
necessary, and you're altogether too apt to be killed trying to get
them. It's too ghastly--I won't stand for your trying it, so that
ends it."

"We ought to have them, really," he protested. "With those special
tools, cutting torches, and all the stuff, we'd be sitting pretty.
We'll lose weeks of time by not having them."

"We'll just have to lose it, then. You can't get 'em, any more than
a baby can get the moon, so stop crying about it," she went over the
familiar argument for the twentieth time. "That stuff up there is all
grinding together like cakes of ice in a floe; the particular section
you want is in plain sight of whoever is on watch; and those tools and
things are altogether too heavy to handle. You're a husky brute, I know,
but even you couldn't begin to handle them, even if you had good going.
I couldn't help you very much, even if you'd let me try; and the fact
that you so positively refuse to let me come along shows how dangerous
you know the attempt is bound to be. You'd probably never even get up
there alive, to say nothing of getting back here. No, Steve, that's out
like a light."

"I sure wish they'd left us weightless for a while, sometime, if only
for an hour or two," he mourned.

"But they didn't!" she retorted, practically. "So we're just out of luck
to that extent. Our time is about up, too. It's time you worked us back
to the tail end of this procession--or rather, the head end, since we're
traveling 'down' now."

Stevens took the controls and slowly worked along the outer edge of the
mass, down toward its extremity. Nadia put one hand upon his shoulder
and he glanced around.

"Thanks, Steve. We have a perfectly wonderful chance as it is, and we've
gone so far with our scheme together that it would be a crying shame not
to be able to go through with it. I'd hate like sin to have to surrender
to them now, and that's all I could do if anything should become of you.
Besides..." her voice died away into silence.

"Sure, you're right," he hastily replied, dodging the implication of
that unfinished sentence. "I couldn't figure out anything that looked
particularly feasible anyway--that's why I didn't try it. We'll pass
it up."

Soon they arrived at their objective and maintained a position well in
the van, but not sufficiently far ahead of the rest to call forth a
restraining ray from their captors. Already strongly affected by the
gravitational pull of the mass of the satellite, many of the smaller
portions of the wreck, not directly held by the tractors, began to
separate from the main mass. As each bit left its place another beam
leaped out, until it became apparent that no more were available, and
Stevens strapped the girl and himself down before two lookout plates.

"Now for it, Nadia!" he exclaimed, and simultaneously threw on the power
of his own projectors and sent out the radio impulse which closed the
relays he had so carefully set. They were thrown against the restraining
straps savagely and held there by an enormous weight as the gigantic
dirigible projectors shot their fragment of the wreck away from the
comparatively slight force which had been acting upon it, but they
braced themselves and strained their muscles in order to watch what
was happening. As the relays in the various fragments closed, the
massed power of the accumulators was shorted dead across the converters
and projectors instead of being fed into them gradually through the
controls of the pilot, with a result comparable to that of the explosion
of an ammunition dump. Most of the masses, whose projectors were fed
by comparatively few accumulator cells, darted away entirely with a
stupendous acceleration. A few of them, however, received the unimpeded
flow of complete batteries. Those projectors tore loose from even
their massive supports and crashed through anything opposing them like
a huge, armor-piercing projectile. It was a spectacle to stagger the
imagination, and Stevens grinned as he turned to the girl, who was
staring in wide-eyed amazement.

"Well, ace, I think they're busy enough now so that it'll be safe
to take that long-wanted look at their controls," and he flashed
the twin beams of his lookout light out beyond the upper half of the
_Arcturus_--only to see them stop abruptly in mid-space. Even the
extremely short carrier-wave of Roeser's Rays could not go through the
invisible barrier thrown out by the tiny, but powerful globe of space.

"No penetration?" Nadia asked.

"Flattened them out cold. 'However,' as the fox once remarked about the
grapes, 'I'll bet they're sour, anyway.' We'll have some stuff of our
own, one of these days. I sure hope the fireworks we started back there
keep those birds amused until we get out of sight, because if I use much
more power on these projectors we may not have juice enough left to stop
with."

"You're using enough now to suit me--I'm so heavy I can hardly lift
a finger!"

"You'd better lift 'em! You must watch what's going on back there while
I navigate around this moon."

"All x, chief.... They've got their hands full, apparently. Those rays
are shooting around all over the sky. It looks as though they were
trying to capture four or five things at once with each one."

"Good! Tell me when the moon cuts them off."

       *       *       *       *       *

At the awful acceleration they were using, which constantly increased
the terrific velocity with which they had been traveling when they made
good their escape, it was not long until they had placed the satellite
between them and the enemy; then Stevens cut down and reversed his
power. Such was their speed, however, that a long detour was necessary
in order to reduce it to a safe landing rate. As soon as this could be
done, Stevens headed for the morning zone and dropped the "Hope" rapidly
toward the surface of that new, strange world. Details could not be
distinguished at first because of an all-enshrouding layer of cloud, but
the rising sun dispelled the mist, and when they had descended to within
a few thousand feet of the surface, their vision was unobstructed.
Immediately below them the terrain was mountainous and heavily wooded;
while far to the east the rays of a small, pale sun glinted upon a vast
body of water. No signs of habitation were visible as far as the eye
could reach.

"Now to pick out a location for our power-plant. We must have a
waterfall for power, a good place to hide our ship from observation, and
I'd like to have a little seam of coal. We can use wood if we have to,
but I think we can find some coal. This is all sedimentary rock--it
looks a lot like the country along the North Fork of the Flathead, in
Montana. There are a lot of coal outcrops, usually, in such topography
as this is."

"We want to hide in a hurry, though, don't we?"

"Not particularly, I think. If they had missed us at all, they would
have had us long ago, and with all the damage we did with those
projectors they won't be surprised at one piece being missing--I imagine
they lost a good many."

"But they'll know that somebody caused all that disturbance. Won't they
hunt for us?"

"Maybe, and maybe not--no telling what they'll do. However, by the time
they can land and get checked up and ready to hunt for us, we'll be a
mighty small needle, well hidden in a good big haystack."

For several hours they roamed over the mountainous region at high
velocity, seeking the best possible location, and finally they found
one that was almost ideal--a narrow canyon overhung with heavy trees,
opening into a wide, deep gorge upon a level with its floor. A mighty
waterfall cascaded into the gorge just above the canyon, and here
and there could be seen black outcrops which Stevens, after a close
scrutiny, declared to be coal. He deftly guided their cumbersome wedge
of steel into the retreat, allowed it to settle gently to the ground,
and shut off the power.

"Well, little fellow-conspirator against the peace and dignity of the
Jovians, I don't know just where we are, but wherever it is, we're here.
We got away clean, and as long as we don't use any high-tension stuff or
anything else that they can trace, I think we're as safe as money in a
bank."

"I suppose that I ought to be scared to death, Steve, but I'm not--I'm
just too thrilled for words," Nadia answered, and the eager sparkle in
her eyes bore out her words. "Can we go out now? How about air? Shall we
wear suits or go out as we are? Have you got a weapon of any kind? Hurry
up--let's do something!"

"Pipe down, ace! Remember that we don't know any more about anything
around here than a pig does about Sunday, and conduct yourself
accordingly. Take it easy. I'm surprised at the gravity here. This is
certainly Ganymede, and it has a diameter of only about fifty seven
hundred kilometers. If I remember correctly, Damoiseau estimated its
mass at about three one-hundredths that of the Earth, which would make
its surface gravity about one-sixth. However, it is actually almost a
half, as you see by this spring-balance here. Therefore it is quite a
little more massive than has been...."

"What of it? Let's go places and do things!"

"Calm yourself, Ginger, you've got lots of time--we'll be here for quite
a while, I'm afraid. We can't go out until we analyze the air--we're
sure lucky there's as much as there is. I'm not exactly the world's
foremost chemist, but fortunately an air-analysis isn't much of a job
with the apparatus we carry."

While Nadia controlled her impatience as best she could, Stevens
manipulated the bulbs and pipettes of the gas apparatus.

"Pressure, fifty-two centimeters--more than I dared hope for--and
analysis all x, I believe. Oxygen concentration a little high, but
not much."

"We won't have to wear the space-suits, then?"

"Not unless I missed something in the analysis. The pressure corresponds
to our own at a height of about three thousand meters, which we can get
used to without too much trouble. Good thing, too. I brought along all
the air I could get hold of, but as I told you back there, if we had to
depend on it altogether, we might be out of luck. I'm going to pump some
of our air back into a cylinder to equalize our pressure--don't want
to waste any of it until we're sure the outside air suits us without
treatment."

       *       *       *       *       *

When the pressure inside had been gradually reduced to that outside and
they had become accustomed to breathing the rarefied medium, Stevens
opened the airlock and the outside doors, and for some time cautiously
sniffed the atmosphere of the satellite. He could detect nothing harmful
or unusual in it--it was apparently the same as earthly air--and he
became jubilant.

"All x, Nadia--luck is perched right on our banner. Freedom, air, water,
power, and coal! Now as you suggested, we'll go places and do things!"

"Suppose it's safe?" Her first eagerness to explore their surroundings
had abated noticeably. "You aren't armed, are you?"

"No, and I don't believe that there was a gun of any kind aboard the
_Arcturus_. That kind of thing went out quite a while ago, you know.
We'll take a look, anyway--we've got to find out about that coal before
we decide to settle down here. Remember this half-gravity stuff, and
control your leg-muscles accordingly."

Leaping lightly to the ground, they saw that the severed section of
fifty-inch armor, which was the rim of their conveyance, almost blocked
the entrance to the narrow canyon which they had selected for their
retreat. Upon one side that wall of steel actually touched the almost
perpendicular wall or rock; upon the other side there was left only a
narrow passage. They stepped through it, so that they could see the
waterfall and the gorge, and stopped silent. The sun, now fairly high,
was in no sense the familiar orb of day, but was a pale, insipid thing,
only one-fifth the diameter of the sun to which they were accustomed,
and which could almost be studied with the unshielded eye. From their
feet a grassy meadow a few hundred feet wide sloped gently down to the
river, from whose farther bank a precipice sprang upward for perhaps
a thousand feet--merging into towering hills whose rugged grandeur was
reminiscent of the topography of the moon. At their backs the wall of
the gorge was steep, but not precipitous, and was covered with shrubs
and trees--some of which leaned out over the little canyon, completely
screening it, and among whose branches birds could now and then be seen
flitting about. In that direction no mountains were visible, indicating
that upon their side of the river there was an upland plateau or bench.
To their right the river, the gorge, and the strip of meadow extended
for a mile or more, then curved away and were lost to sight. To their
left, almost too close for comfort, was the stupendous cataract,
towering above them to a terror-inspiring height. Nadia studied it
with awe, which changed to puzzled wonder.

"What's the matter with it, Steve? It looks like a picture in slow
motion, like the kind they take of your dives--or am I seeing things?"

"No, it's really slow, compared to what we're used to. Remember that
one-half gravity stuff!"

"Oh, that's right, but it certainly does look funny. It gives me the
creeps."

"You'll get used to it pretty quick--just as you'll get used to all the
rest of the things having only half their earthly weight and falling
only half as fast as they ought to when you drop them. Well, I don't see
anything that looks dangerous yet--let's go up toward the falls a few
meters and prospect that outcrop."

With a few brisk strokes of an improvised shovel he cleared the outcrop
of detritus and broke off several samples of the black substance, with
which they went back to the "Forlorn Hope."

"It's real coal," Stevens announced after a series of tests. "I've seen
better, but on the other hand, there's lots worse. It'll make good gas,
and a kind of a coke. Not so hot, but it'll do. Now we'd better get
organized old partner, for a long campaign."

"Go ahead and organize--I'm only the cheap help in this enterprise."

"Cheap help! You're apt to be the life of the party. Can you make and
shoot a bow and arrow?"

"I'll say I can--I've belonged to an archery club for five years."

"What did I tell you? You're a life saver! Here's the dope--we've got
to save our own supplies as much as possible until we know exactly what
we're up against, and to do that, we've got to live off the country.
I'll fake up something to knock over some of those birds and small game,
then we can make real bow-strings and feathered arrows and I'll forge
some steel arrow-heads while you're making yourself a real bow. We'd
better make me about a hundred-pound war bow, too...."

"A _hundred_!" interrupted Nadia. "That's a lot of bow, big boy--think
you can bend it?"

"You'd be surprised," he grinned. "I'm not quite like Robin Hood--I've
been known to miss a finger-thick wand at a hundred paces--but I'm not
exactly a beginner."

"Oh, of course--I should have known by your language that you're an
archer, otherwise you'd never have used such an old-fashioned word as
'pounds.' I shoot a thirty-five-pound bow ordinarily, but for game I
should have the heaviest one I can hold accurately--about a forty-five,
probably."

"All x. And as soon as I can I'll make us a couple of suits of fairly
heavy steel armor, so that we'll have real protection if we should need
it. You see, we don't know what we are apt to run up against out here.
Then, with that much done, it'll be up to you to provide, since I'll
have to work tooth and nail at the forges. You'll have to bring home the
bacon, do the cooking and so on, and see what you can find along the
line of edible roots, grains, fruits, and what-not. Sort of reverse the
Indian idea--you be the hunter and I'll keep the home fires burning.
Can do?"

"What it takes to do that, I've got," Nadia assured him, her eyes
sparkling. "Have you your job planned out as well and as fittingly as
you have mine?"

"And then some. We've got just two methods of getting away from
here--one is to get in touch with Brandon, so that he'll come after us;
the other is to recharge our accumulators and try to make it under our
own power. Either course will need power and lots of it...."

"I never thought of going back in the 'Hope.' Suppose we could?"

"About as doubtful as the radio--I think that I could build a pair of
matched-frequency auto-dirigible transmitter and receptor units, such as
are necessary for space-ships fed by stationary power-plants, but after
I got them built, they'd take us less than half way there. Then we'd
have only what power we can carry, and I hate even to think of what
probably would happen to us. We'd certainly have to drift for months
before we could get close enough to any of our plants to radio for help,
and we'd be taking awful chances. You see, we'd have to take a very
peculiar orbit, and if we should miss connections passing the inner
planets, what the sun would do to us at the closest point and where
what's left of us would go on the back-swing, would be just too bad!
Besides, if we can get hold of the _Sirius_, they'll come loaded for
bear, and we may be able to do something about the rest of the folks
out here."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Oh!" breathed the girl. "Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could!
I thought, of course, they'd all be...." her voice died away.

"Not necessarily--there's always a chance. That's why I'm trying the
ultra-radio first. However, either course will take lots of power,
so the first thing I've got to do is to build a power plant. I'm
going to run a penstock up those falls, and put in a turbine, driving
a high-tension alternator. Then, while I'm trying to build the
ultra-radio, I'll be charging our accumulators, so that no time will
be lost in case the radio fails. If it does fail--and remember I'm not
counting on its working--of course I'll tackle the transmission and
receptor units before we start out to drift it."

"You say it easy, Steve, but how can you build all those things, with
nothing to work with?"

"It's going to be a real job--I'm not try to kid you into thinking it'll
be either easy or quick. Here's the way everything will go. Before I can
even lay the first length of the penstock, I've got to have the pipe--to
make which I've got to have flat steel--to get which I'll have to cut
some of the partitions out of this ship of ours--to do which I'll have
to have a cutting torch--to make which I'll have to forge nozzles out of
block metal and to run which I'll have to have gas--to get which I'll
have to mine coal and build a gas-plant--to do which...."

"Good heavens, Steve, are you going back to the Stone Age? I never
thought of half those things. Why, it's impossible!"

"Not quite, guy. Things could be a lot worse--that's why I brought along
the whole 'Forlorn Hope,' instead of just the lifeboat. As it is, we've
got several thousand tons of spare steel and lots of copper. We've got
ordinary tools and a few light motors, blowers, and such stuff. That
gives me a great big start--I won't have to mine the ores and smelt the
metals, as would have been necessary otherwise. However, it'll be plenty
bad. I'll have to start out in a pretty crude fashion, and for some of
the stuff I'll need I'll have to make, not only the machine that makes
the part I want, but also the machine that makes the machine that
makes the machine that makes it--and so on, just how far down the line,
I haven't dared to think."

"You must be a regular jack-of-all-trades, to think you can get away
with such a program as that?"

"I am--nothing else but. You see, while most of my school training
was in advanced physics and mathematics, I worked my way through by
computing and designing, and I've done a lot of truck-horse labor of
various kinds besides. I can calculate and design almost anything, and
I can make a pretty good stab at translating a design into fabricated
material. I wouldn't wonder if Brandon's ultra-radio would stop me,
since nobody had even started to build one when I saw him last--but I
helped compute it, know the forces involved as well as he did at that
time, and it so happens that I know more about the design of coils and
fields of force than I do about anything else. So I may be able to work
it out eventually. It isn't going to be not knowing how that will hold
me up--it'll be the lack of something that I can't build."

"And that's where you will go back and back and back, as you said about
building the penstock?"

"Back and back is right, if I can find all the necessary raw
materials--that's what's probably going to put a lot of monkey-wrenches
into the machinery." And Stevens went to work upon a weapon of offense,
fashioning a crude, but powerful bow from a strip of spring steel strung
with heavy wire.

"How about arrows? Shall I go see if I can hit a bird with a rock, for
feathers, and see if I can find something to make arrows out of?"

"Not yet--anyway, I'd bet on the birds! I'm going to use pieces of this
light brace-rod off the accumulator cells for arrows. They won't fly
true, of course, but with their mass I can give them enough projectile
force to kill any small animal they hit, no matter how they hit it."

After many misses, he finally bagged a small animal, something like
a rabbit and something like a kangaroo, and a couple of round-bodied,
plump birds, almost as large as domestic hens. These they dressed,
with considerable distaste and a noticeable lack of skill.

"We'll get used to it pretty quick, Diana--also more expert," he said
when the task was done. "We now have raw material for bow-strings and
clothes, as well as food."

"The word 'raw' being heavily accented," Nadia declared, with a grimace.
"But how do we know that they're good to eat?"

"We'll have to eat 'em and see," he grinned. "I don't imagine that any
flesh is really poisonous, and we'll have to arrive at the ones we like
best by a process of trial and error. Well, here's your job--I'll get
busy on mine. Don't go more than a few hundred meters away and yell if
you get into a jam."

"There's a couple of questions I want to ask you. What makes it so
warm here, when the sun's so far away and Jupiter isn't supposed to be
radiating any heat? And how about time? It's twelve hours by my watch
since sunrise this morning, and it's still shining."

"As for heat, I've been wondering about that. It must be due to internal
heat, because even though Jupiter may be warm, or even hot, it certainly
isn't radiating much, since it has a temperature of minus two hundred at
the visible surface, which, of course, is the top of the atmosphere. Our
heat here is probably caused by radioactivity--that's the most modern
dope, I believe. As for time, it looks as though our days were something
better than thirty hours long, instead of twenty-four. Of course I'll
keep the chronometer going on I-P time, since we'll probably need it in
working out observations; but we might as well let our watches run down
and work, eat, and sleep by the sun--not much sense in trying to keep
Tellurian time here, as I see it. Check?"

"All x. I'll have supper ready for you at sunset. 'Bye!"

A few evenings later, when Stevens came in after his long day's work,
he was surprised to see Nadia dressed in a suit of brown coveralls and
high-laced moccasins.

"How do I look?" she asked, pirouetting gayly.

"Neat, but not gaudy," he approved. "That's good mole-skin--smooth,
soft, and tough. Where'd you make the raise? I didn't know we had
anything like that on board. What did you do for thread? You look like
a million dollars--you sure did a good job of fitting."

"I had to have something--what with all the thorns and brush, there was
almost more of me exposed than covered, and I was getting scratched up
something fierce. So I ripped up one of the space-suits, and found out
that there's enough cloth, fur, and leather in one of them to make six
ordinary suits, and thread by the kilometer. I was awfully glad to see
all that thread--I had an idea that I'd have to unravel my stockings or
something, but I didn't. Your clothes are getting pretty tacky, too, and
you're getting all burned with those hot coals and things. I'm going to
build you a suit out of leather for your blacksmithing activities."

"Fine business, ace! Then we can save what's left of our civilized
clothes for the return trip. What do we eat?"

"The eternal question of the hungry laboring man! I've got a roasted
bongo, a fried filamaloo bird, and a boiled warple for the meat dishes.
For vegetables, mashed hikoderms and pimola greens. Neocorn bread."

"Translate that, please, into terms of food."

"Translate it yourself, after you eat it. I changed the system on you
today. I've named all the things, so it'll be easier to keep track of
those we like and the ones we don't."

With appetites sharp-set by long hours of hard labor they ate heartily;
then, in the deepening twilight, they sat and talked in comradely
fashion while Stevens smoked one precious cigarette.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was not long until Nadia had her work well in hand. Game was
plentiful, and the fertile valley and the neighboring upland yielded
peculiar, but savory vegetable foods in variety and abundance; so that
soon she was able to spend some time with Stevens, helping him as much
as she could. Thus she came to realize the true magnitude of the task he
faced and the real seriousness of their position.

As Stevens had admitted before the work was started, he had known that
he had set himself a gigantic task, but he had not permitted himself to
follow, step by step, the difficulties that he knew awaited him. Now,
as the days stretched into weeks and on into months, he was forced to
take every laborious step, and it was borne in upon him just how nearly
impossible that Herculean labor was to prove--just how dependent any
given earthly activity is upon a vast number of others. Here he was
alone--everything he needed must be manufactured by his own hands, from
its original sources. He had known that progress would be slow and he
had been prepared for that; but he had not pictured, even to himself,
half of the maddening setbacks which occurred time after time because
of the crudity of the tools and equipment he was forced to use. All too
often a machine or part, the product of many hours of grueling labor,
would fail because of the lack of some insignificant thing--some item
so common as to be taken for granted in all terrestrial shops, but
impossible of fabrication with the means at his disposal. At such times
he would set his grim jaw a trifle harder, go back one step farther
toward the Stone Age, and begin all over again--to find the necessary
raw material or a possible substitute, and then to build the apparatus
and machinery necessary to produce the part he required. Thus the
heart-breaking task progressed, and Nadia watched her co-laborer become
leaner and harder and more desperate day by day, unable in any way to
lighten his fearful load.

In the brief period of rest following a noonday meal, Stevens lay prone
upon the warm, fragrant grass beside the "Forlorn Hope," but it was
evident to Nadia that he was not resting. His burned and blistered hands
were locked savagely behind his head, his eyes were closed too tightly,
and every tense line of his body was eloquent of a strain even more
mental than physical. She studied him for minutes, her fine eyes
clouded, then sat down beside him and put her hand upon his shoulder.

"I want to talk to you a minute, Steve," she said gently.

"All x, little fellow--but it might be just as well if you didn't touch
me. You see, I'm getting so rabid that I can't trust myself."

"That's exactly what I want to talk to you about." A fiery blush burned
through her deep tan, but her low, clear voice did not falter and her
eyes held his unflinchingly. "I know you better than you know yourself,
as I've said before. You are killing yourself, but it isn't the work,
frightfully hard and disheartening as it is, that is doing it--it's
your anxiety for me and the uncertainty of everything. You haven't been
able to rest because you have been raging and fuming so at unavoidable
conditions--you have been fighting _facts_. And it's all _so_ useless,
Steve, between you and me--everything would check out on zero if we'd
just come out into the open."

The man's gaunt frame seemed to stiffen even more rigidly.

"You've said altogether too much or else only half enough, Nadia. You
know, of course, that I've loved you ever since I got really to know
you--and that didn't take long. You know that I love you and you know
how I love you--with the real love that a man can feel for only one
woman and only once in his life; and you know exactly what we're up
against. Now that _does_ tear it--wide open!" he finished bitterly.

"No, it doesn't, at all," she replied, steadily. "Of course I know that
you love me, and I glory in it; and since you don't seem to realize
that I love you in exactly the same way, I'll tell you so. Love you!
Good heavens, Steve, I never dreamed that such a man as you are really
existed! But you're fighting too many things at once, and they're
killing you. And they're mostly imaginary, at that. Can't you see that
there's no need of uncertainty between you and me? That there is no need
of you driving yourself to desperation on my account? Whatever must be
is all x with me, Steve. If you can build everything you need, all well
and good. We'll be engaged until then, and our love will be open and
sweet. If worst comes to worst, so that we can neither communicate with
Brandon and Westfall nor leave here under our own power--even that is
nothing to kill ourselves about. And yes, I do know exactly what we
are facing. I have been prepared for it ever since I first saw what a
perfectly impossible thing you are attempting. You are trying to go from
almost the Age of Bronze clear up to year-after-next in a month or two.
Not one man in a million could have done as much in his lifetime as you
have done in the last few weeks, and I do not see how even you, with
what little you have to work with, can possibly build such things as
power-plants, transmitters, and ultra-radio stations. But what of
it? For the day that it becomes clear that we are to remain here
indefinitely; that day we will marry each other here, before God.
Look around at this beautiful country. Could there be a finer world
upon which to found a new race? When we decided to cut loose from the
_Arcturus_ I told you that I was with you all the way, and now I'll
repeat it, with a lot more meaning. No matter what it's like, Steve, no
matter where it leads to, I'm with you--_to--the--end--of--the--road_.
Here or upon Earth or anywhere in the Universe. I am yours for life and
for eternity."

       *       *       *       *       *

While she was speaking, the grim, strained lines upon Stevens' face
had disappeared, and as she fell silent he straightened up and gently,
tenderly, reverently he took her lithe body into his arms.

"You're right, sweetheart--everything _will_ check out on zero, to
nineteen decimals." He was a man transfigured. "I've been fighting
windmills and I've been scared sick--but how was I to think that a
wonder-girl like you could ever love a mutt like me? You certainly are
the gamest little partner a man ever had You're the world's straightest
shooter, ace--you're a square brick if there ever was one. Your sheer
nerve in being willing to go the whole route makes me love you more than
ever, if such a thing can be possible, and it certainly puts a new face
on the whole cock-eyed Universe for me. However, I don't believe it
will come to that. After what you've just said, I sure will lick that
job, regardless of how many different factories it takes to make one
armature--I'll show that mess of scrap-iron what kind of trees make
shingles!"

The girl still in his arms, he rose to his feet and released her slowly,
reluctantly, unwilling ever to let her go. Then he shook himself, as
though an overwhelming burden had been lifted from his shoulders, and
laughed happily.

"See this cigarette?" he went on lightly. "The Last of the Mohicans.
I'm going to smoke it in honor of our engagement." He drew the fragrant
smoke deep into his lungs and frowned at her in mock seriousness.

"This would be a nice world to live on, of course, but the jobs here
are too darn steady. It also seems to be somewhat lacking in modern
conveniences, such as steel-mills and machine tools. Then, too, it is
just a trifle too far from the Royal and Ancient for you really to enjoy
living here permanently, and besides, I can't get my favorite brand
of cigarettes around here. Therefore, after due deliberation, I don't
believe we'll take the place--we'll go back to Tellus. Kiss me just once
more ace, and I'll make that job think a cyclone has struck it right on
the center of impact. Like Samuel Weller, or whoever it was, I'm clear
full of 'wigor, wim, and witality'!"

The specified kiss and several others duly delivered he strode blithely
away, and the little canyon resounded with the blows of his heavy sledge
as he attacked with renewed spirit the great forging, white-hot from his
soak-pit, which was to become the shaft of his turbo-alternator. Nadia
watched him for a moment, her very heart in her eyes, then picked up her
spanner and went after more steel, breathing a long and tremulous, but
supremely happy sigh.



CHAPTER IV

Ganymedean Life


Slow, hard, and disheartening as the work had been at first, Stevens
had never slackened his pace, and after a time, as his facilities
increased, the exasperating setbacks decreased in number and severity
and his progress became faster and faster. Large as the "Forlorn Hope"
was, space was soon at a premium, for their peculiarly-shaped craft
became a veritable factory, housing a variety of machinery and
equipment unknown in any single earthly industrial plant. Nothing
was ornamental--everything was stripped to its barest fundamental
necessities--but every working part functioned with a smooth precision
to delight the senses of any good mechanic.

In a cavern under the falls was the great turbine, to be full-fed by the
crude but tight penstock which clung to the wall of the gorge, angling
up to the brink of that stupendous cataract. Bedded down upon solid
rock there was a high-tension alternator capable of absorbing the entire
output of the mighty turbine. This turbo-alternator was connected to
a set of converters from which the energy would flow along three great
copper cables--the receptors of the lifeboats being altogether too small
to carry the load--to the now completely exhausted accumulators of the
"Forlorn Hope." All high-tension apparatus was shielded and grounded,
so that no stray impulses could reveal to the possible detectors of
the Jovians the presence of this foreign power plant. Housings, frames,
spiders, all stationary parts were rough, crude and massive; but
bearings, shafts, armatures, all moving parts, were of a polished
and finished accuracy and balance that promised months and years of
trouble-free operation. Everything ready for the test, Stevens took off
his frayed and torn leather coveralls and moccasins and climbed nimbly
up the penstock. He never walked down. Opening the head-gate, he poised
sharply upon its extremity and took off in a perfect swan-dive; floating
unconcernedly down toward that boiling maelstrom two hundred feel below.
He struck the water with a sharp, smooth "slup!" and raced ashore,
seizing his suit as he ran toward the turbo-alternator. It was running
smoothly, and, knowing that everything was tight at the receiving end,
he lingered about the power plant until he was assured that nothing
would go wrong and that his home manufactured lubricating oil and grease
would keep those massive bearings cool.

Hunger assailed him, and glancing at the sun, he noted that it was well
past dinner-time.

"Wow!" he exclaimed aloud. "The boss just loves to wait meals--she'll
burn me up for this!"

He ran lightly toward "home," eager to tell his sweetheart that the
long awaited moment had arrived--that power was now flowing into their
accumulators.

"Hi, Diana of the silver bow!" he called. "How come you no blow the
dinner bell? Power's on--come give it a look!"

There was no answer to his hail, and Stevens paused in shocked
amazement. He knew that never of her own volition would she be out so
late--Nadia was gone! A rapid tour of inspection quickly confirmed that
which he already knew only too well. Forgotten was his hunger, forgotten
the power plant, forgotten everything except the fact that his Nadia,
the buoyant spirit in whom centered his Universe, was lost or ... he
could not complete the thought, even to himself.

Swiftly he came to a decision and threw off his suit, revealing the
body of a Hercules--a body ready for any demand he could put upon it.
Always in hard training, months of grinding physical labor and of heavy
eating had built him up to a point at which he would scarcely have
recognized himself, could he have glanced into a mirror. Mighty but
pliable muscles writhed and swelled under his clear skin as he darted
here and there, selecting equipment for what lay ahead of him. He donned
the heavily armored space-suit which they had prepared months before,
while they were still suspicious of possible attack. It was covered with
heavy steel at every point, and the lenses of the helmet, already of
unbreakable glass, had been re-enforced with thick steel bars. Tank and
valves supplied air at normal pressure, so that his powerful body could
function at full efficiency, not handicapped by the lighter atmosphere
of Ganymede. The sleeves terminated in steel-protected rubber wristlets
which left his hands free, yet sheltered from attack--wristlets tight
enough to maintain the difference in pressure, yet not tight enough
to cut off the circulation. He took up his mighty war-bow and the full
quiver of heavy arrows--full-feathered and pointed with savagely barbed,
tearing heads of forged steel--and slipped into their sheaths the long
and heavy razor-sharp sword and the double-edged dirk, which he had
made and ground long since for he knew not what emergency, and whose
bell-shaped hilts of steel further protected his hands and wrists.
Thus equipped, he had approximately his normal earthly weight; a fact
which would operate to his advantage, rather than otherwise, in case
of possible combat. With one last look around the "Forlorn Hope," whose
every fitting spoke to him of the beloved mistress who was gone, he
filled a container with water and cooked food and opened the door.

       *       *       *       *       *

"It won't be long now; now it won't be long." Nadia caroled happily,
buckling on her pack straps and taking up bow and arrows for her daily
hunt. "I never thought that he could do it, but what it takes to do
things, he's got lots of," she continued to improvise the song as she
left the "Hope" with its multitudinous devices whose very variety was
a never-failing delight to her; showing as it did the sheer ability of
the man, whose brain and hands had almost finished a next-to-impossible
task.

Through the canyon and up a well-worn trail she climbed, and soon came
out upon the sparsely timbered bench that was her hunting grounds. Upon
this day, however, she was full of happy anticipation and her mind was
everywhere except upon her work. She was thinking of Stevens, of their
love, of the power which he might turn on that very day, and of the
possible rescue for which she had hitherto scarcely dared to hope.
Thus it was that she walked miles beyond her usual limits without
having loosed an arrow, and she was surprised when she glanced up at
the sun to see that half the morning was gone and that she was almost
to the foothills, beyond which rose a towering range of mountains.

"Snap out of it, girl!" she reprimanded herself. "Go on wool-gathering
like this and your man will go hungry--and he'll break you right off
at the ankles!" She became again the huntress, and soon saw an animal
browsing steadily along the base of a hill. It was a six-legged,
deer-like creature, much larger than anything she had as yet seen. But
it was meat and her time was short, therefore she crept within range
and loosed an arrow with the full power of her hunting bow. Unfamiliar
as she was with the anatomy of the peculiar creature, the arrow did
not kill. The "hexaped," as she instantly named it, sped away and she
leaped after it. She, like her companion, had developed amazingly in
musculature, and few indeed were the denizens of Ganymede, who could
equal her speed upon that small globe, with its feeble gravitational
force.

Up the foothills it darted. Beyond the hills and deep into a valley
between two towering peaks the chase continued before Nadia's third
arrow brought the animal down. Bending over the game, she became
conscious of a strange but wonderful sweet perfume and glanced up,
to see something which she certainly had not noticed when the hexaped
had fallen. It was an enormous flower, at least a foot in diameter and
indescribably beautiful in its crimson and golden splendor. Almost level
with her head the gorgeous blossom waved upon its heavy stem; based
by a massive cluster of enormous, smooth, dark green leaves. Entranced
by this unexpected and marvelous floral display, Nadia breathed deeply
of the inviting fragrance--and collapsed senseless upon the ground.
Thereupon the weird plant moved over toward her, and the thick leaves
began to enfold her knees. This carnivorous thing, however, did not like
the heavy cloth of her suit and turned to the hexaped. It thrust several
of its leaves into the wounds upon the carcass and fed, while two other
leaves rasped together, sending out a piercing call.

In answer to the sound the underbrush crackled, and through it and upon
the scene there crashed a vegetable-animal nightmare--the parent of the
relatively tiny thing whose perfume had disabled the girl.

Its huge and gorgeous blossom was supported by a long, flexible,
writhing stem, and its base was composed of many and highly specialized
leaves. There were saws and spears and mighty, but sinuous tendrils;
there were slender shoots which seemed to possess some sense of
perception; there was the massive tractor base composed of extensible
leaves which by their contraction and expansion propelled the mass along
the ground. Parent and child fell upon the hexaped and soon bones and
hair were all that remained The slender shoots then wandered about the
unconscious girl in her strange covering, and as a couple of powerful
tendrils coiled about her and raised her into the air over the monstrous
base of the thing, its rudimentary brain could almost be perceived
working as it sluggishly realized that, now full fed, it should carry
this other victim along, to feed its other offspring when they should
return to its side.

       *       *       *       *       *

Barely outside the door of the "Forlorn Hope" Stevens whirled about
with a bitter imprecation. He had already lost time needlessly--with a
lookout plate he could cover more ground in ten minutes than he could
cover afoot in a week. He flipped on the power and shot the violet beam
out over the plateau to the district where he knew Nadia was wont to
hunt. Not finding her there, he swung the beam in an ever widening
circle around that district. Finally he saw a few freshly broken twigs,
and scanned the scene with care. He soon found the trail of fresh
blood which marked the path of the flight of the hexaped, and with the
peculiar maneuverability of the device he was using, it was not long
until he was studying the scene where the encounter had taken place.
He gasped when he saw the bones and perceived three of Nadia's arrows,
but soon saw that the skeleton was not human and was reassured. Casting
about in every direction, he found Nadia's bow, and saw a peculiar,
freshly trampled path leading from the kill, past the bow, down the
valley. He could not understand the spoor, but it was easily followed,
and he shot the beam along it at headlong speed until he came up with
the monstrous creature that was making it--until he saw what burden that
organism was carrying.

He leaped to the controls of the lifeboat, then dropped his hand. While
the stream of power now flowing was ample to operate the lookout plates,
yet it would be many hours before the accumulator cells would be in
condition to drive the craft even that short distance.

"It'll take over an hour to get there--here's hoping I can check in all
x," he muttered savagely, as he took careful note of the location and
direction of the creature's trail and set off at a fast jog-trot.

The carnivorous flower's first warning that all was not well was
received when Stevens' steel-shod feet landed squarely upon its base
and one sweeping cut of his sword lopped off the malignant blossom and
severed the two tendrils that still held the unconscious Nadia. With a
quick heave of his shoulder, he tossed her lightly backward into the
smooth-beaten track the creature had made and tried to leap away--but
the instant he had consumed in rescuing the girl had been enough for the
thing to seize him, and he found himself battling for his very life. No
soft-leaved infant this, but a full-grown monster, well equipped with
mighty weapons of offense and defense. Well it was for the struggling
man that he was encased in armor steel as those saw-edged, hard-spiked
leaves drove against him with crushing force; well it was for him that
he had his own independent air supply, so that that deadly perfume
eddied ineffective about his helmeted head! Hard and fiercely driven as
those terrible thorns were, they could do no more than dent his heavy
armor. His powerful left arm, driving the double-razor-edged dirk in
short, resistless arcs, managed to keep the snaky tendrils from coiling
about his right arm, which was wielding the heavy, trenchant sword.
Every time that mighty blade descended it cleaved its length through
snapping spikes and impotently grinding leaves; but more than once
a flailing tendril coiled about his neck armor and held his helmet
immovable as though in a vise, while those frightful, grinding saws
sought to rip their way through the glass to the living creature inside
the peculiar metal housing. Dirk and saber and magnificent physique
finally triumphed, but it was not until each leaf was literally severed
from every other leaf that the outlandish organism gave up the ghost.

       *       *       *       *       *

Nadia had been tossed out into pure air, beyond the zone of the
stupefying perfume, and she recovered her senses in time to see the
finish of the battle. Stevens, assured that his foe was _hors du
combat_, turned toward the spot where he had thrown Nadia's body. He saw
that she was unharmed, and sprang toward her in relief. He was surprised
beyond measure, however, to see her run away at a pace he could not hope
to equal, encumbered as he was; motioning frantically at him the while
to keep away from her. He stopped, astounded, and started to unscrew his
helmet, whereupon she dashed back toward him, signaling him emphatically
to leave his armor exactly as it was. He stood still and stared at her,
an exasperated question large upon his face, until she made clear to
him that he was to follow her at a safe distance, then she set off at a
rapid walk. She led him back to where the hexaped had fallen, where she
retrieved her bow and arrows; then, keeping a sharp lookout upon all
sides, she went on to a small stream of water. She made the dumbfounded
man go out into the middle of the creek and lie down and roll over
in the water, approaching him sniffing cautiously between immersions.
She made him continue the bathing until she could detect not even the
slightest trace of the sweet, but noxious fragrance of that peculiarly
terrible form of Ganymedean life. Only then did she allow him to remove
his helmet, so that she could give him the greeting for which they both
had longed and tell him what it was all about.

"So that's it, ace!" he exclaimed, still holding her tightly in his iron
embrace. "Great balls of fire! I thought maybe you were still a little
cuckoo. Anaesthetic perfume, huh? Hot stuff, I'd say--no wonder you
bit--I would, too. It's lucky for us I was air-tight--we'd both be
fee...."

"Stop it!" she interrupted him sharply, "Forget it--don't ever even
think of it!"

"All x, ace. It's out like the well known light. What to do? It's
getting darker than a hat, and we're a long way from home. Don't know
whether I could find my way back in the dark or not; and just between
you and me, I'm not particularly keen on night travel in these parts
after what's just happened. Are you?"

"Anything else but," she assured him, fervently. "I'd lots rather stay
hungry until tomorrow."

"No need of that--I've brought along enough supper for both of us. I'm
hungry as a wolf, too, now that I have time to think of it. We'll eat
and den up somewhere--or climb a tree. Those wampuses probably can't
climb trees!"

"There's a nice little cave back there about a hundred meters. We'll
pretend it's the Ritz," and they soon had a merry fire blazing in front
of the retreat. There they ate of the provisions Stevens had brought.
Then, while the man rolled up boulders before the narrow entrance of
the cave, Nadia gathered leaves and made a soft bed upon its warm,
dry floor.

"Good night, lover," and the girl, untroubled and secure now that
Stevens was at her side, was almost instantly asleep; but the man was
not sleepy. He thought of the power plant, even now sending its terrific
stream of energy into his accumulators. He thought of the ultra
radio--where could he get all the materials needed? He thought of his
friends, wondering whether or not they would receive his message. He
thought of Breckenridge and the other human beings who had been aboard
the _Arcturus_, wondering poignantly as to their fate. He thought of
Newton and of his own people, who had certainly given them up for dead
long since.

But above all he thought of the beautiful, steel-true companion lying
there asleep at his mailed feet, and he gazed down at her, his heart in
his eyes. The firelight shone through the chinks between the boulders,
casting a flickering ruddy light throughout the little cavern. Nadia lay
there her head pillowed upon one strong, brown little hand. Her lips
were red and sweetly curved, her cheek was smooth and firm as so much
brown velvet. She was literally aglow with sheer beauty and with perfect
health; and the man reflected, as he studied her hungrily, that this
wild life certainly had agreed with her--she was becoming more
surpassingly beautiful with every passing day.

"You little trump--you wonderful, lovely, square little brick!" he
breathed silently, and bent over to touch her cheek lightly with his
lips. Slight as the caress was, it disturbed her, and even in her sleep
her subconscious mind sent out an exploring hand, to touch her Steve and
thus be reassured. He pressed her hand and she settled back comfortably,
with a long, deep breath; and he stretched his iron-clad length beside
her and closed his eyes, firmly resolved not to waste a minute of this
wonderful night in sleep.

When he opened them an instant later, it was broad daylight, the
boulders had been rolled away, the fragrance of roasting meat permeated
the atmosphere, and Nadia was making a deafening clamor, beating his
steel breastplate lustily with the flat of his huge saber.

"Daylight in the swamp, you sleeper!" she exclaimed. "Roll out or roll
up! Come and get it, before I throw it away!"

"I must have been kind of tired," he said sheepishly, when he saw that
she had shot a bird and had cooked breakfast for them both while he had
been buried in oblivion.

"Peculiar, too, isn't it?" Nadia asked, pointedly. "You only did
about ten days' work yesterday in ten minutes, swinging this frightful
snickersnee of yours. Why, you played with it as though it were a
knitting-needle, and when I wanted to wake you up with it, I could
hardly lift it."

"Thought you didn't want that subject even mentioned?" he tried to steer
the talk away from his prowess with the broadsword.

"That was yesterday," airily. "Besides, I don't mind talking about
you--it's thinking about us being ... you know ... that I can't stand."

"All x, ace. I get you right. Let's eat."

       *       *       *       *       *

Breakfast over, they started down the valley, Stevens carrying his
helmet under his arm. Hardly had they started however, than Nadia's keen
eyes saw a movement through the trees, and, she stopped and pointed.
Stevens looked once, then hand in hand they dashed back to their cave.

"We'll pile up some of the boulders and you lie low," he instructed her
as he screwed on his helmet. She snapped open his face-plate.

"But what about you? Aren't you coming in, too?" she demanded.

"Can't--they'd surround us and starve us out. I'm safe in this
armor--thank Heaven we made it as solid as we did--and I'll fight 'em in
the open. I'll show 'em what the bear did to the buckwheat!"

"All right, I guess, but I wish I had my armor, too," she mourned as he
snapped shut his plate and walled her into the cave with the same great
rocks he had used the night before. Then, Nadia safe from attack, he
drew his quiver of war-arrows into position over his shoulder, placed
one at the ready on his bow-string and turned to face the horde of
things rushing up the valley toward him. Wild animals he had supposed
them, but as he stood firm and raised his weapon shrill whistles
sounded in the throng, and he gasped as he realized that those frightful
creatures must be intelligent beings, for not only did they signal
to each other, but he saw that they were armed with bows and arrows,
spears, and slings!

Six-limbed creatures they were, of a purplish-red color, with huge,
tricornigerous heads and with staring, green, phosphorescent eyes. Two
of the six limbs were always legs, two always arms; the intermediate
two, due to a mid-section jointing of the six-foot-long, almost
cylindrical body, could be used at will as either legs or arms. Now, out
of range, as they supposed, they halted and gathered about one who was
apparently their leader; some standing erect and waving four hands while
shaking their horns savagely in Stevens' direction, others trotting
around on four legs, busily gathering stones of suitable size for their
vicious slings.

Too far away to use their own weapons and facing only one small
four-limbed creature, they considered their game already in the bag, but
they had no comprehension of earthly muscles, nor any understanding of
the power and range of a hundred-pound bow driving a steel-headed war
arrow. Thus, while they were arguing, Stevens took the offensive, and
a cruelly barbed steel war-head tore completely through the body of
their leader and mortally wounded the creature next beyond him. Though
surprised, they were not to be frightened off, but with wild, shrill
screams rushed to the attack. Stevens had no ammunition to waste, and
every time that mighty bow twanged a yard-long arrow transfixed at least
one of the red horde--and a body through which had torn one of those
ghastly, hand-forged arrow-heads was of very little use thereafter.
Accurately-sped arrows splintered harmlessly against the re-enforced
windows of his helmet and against the steel guards protecting his hands.
He was almost deafened by the din as the stone missiles of the slingers
rebounded from his reverberating shell of steel, but he fired carefully,
steadily, and powerfully until his last arrow had been loosed. Then,
the wicked dirk in his left hand and the long and heavy saber weaving
a circular path of brilliance in the sun, he stepped forward a couple
of paces to meet the attackers. For a few moments nothing could stand
before that fiercely driven blade--severed heads, limbs, and fragments
of torsos literally filled the air, but sheer weight of numbers
bore him down. As he fell, he saw the white shaft of one of Nadia's
hunting-arrows flash past his helmet and bury itself to the flock in
the body of one of the horde above him. Nadia knew that her arrows could
not harm her lover, and through a chink between two boulders she was
shooting into the thickest of the mob speeding her light arrows with
the full power of her bow.

Though down, the savages soon discovered that Stevens was not out. In
such close quarters he could not use his sword, but the fourteen-inch
blade of the dirk, needle-pointed as it was and with two razor-sharp,
serrated cutting edges, was itself no mean weapon, and time after time
he drove it deep, taking life at every thrust. Four more red monsters
threw themselves upon the prostrate man, but not sufficiently versed in
armor to seek out its joints, their fierce short spear thrusts did no
damage. Presently four more corpses lay still and Stevens, with his,
to them incredible, earthly strength, was once more upon his feet in
spite of their utmost efforts to pinion his mighty limbs, and was again
swinging his devastating weapon. Half their force lying upon the field,
wiped out by a small, but invincible and apparently invulnerable being,
the remainder broke and ran, pursued by Stevens to the point where the
red monsters had first halted. He recovered his arrows and returned to
the cave, opening his face-plate as he came.

"All x, sweetheart?" he asked, rolling away the boulders. "Didn't get
anything through to you, did they?"

"No, they didn't even realize that I was taking part in the battle, I
guess. Did they hurt you while they had you down? I was scared to death
for a minute."

"No, the old armor held. One of them must have gnawed on my ankle
some, between the greave and the heel-plate, but he couldn't quite get
through. 'Sa darn small opening there, too--must have bent my foot
'way around to get in at all. Have to tighten that joint up a little,
I guess. I'll bet I've got a black spot and blue spot there the size of
my hand--maybe it's only the size of yours, though."

"You won't die of that, probably. Heavens, Steve, that cleaver of yours
is a frightful thing in action! Suppose it's safe for us to go home?"

"Absolutely--right now is the best chance we'll ever have, and something
tells me that we'd better make it snappy. They'll be back, and next time
they won't be so easy to take."

"All x, then--hold me, Steve, I can't stand the sight of that---let
alone wade through it. I'm going to faint or something, sure."

"As you were!" he snapped. "You aren't going to pass out now that it's
all over! It's a pretty ghastly mess, I know, but shut your eyes and
I'll carry you out of sight."

"Aren't we out of sight of that place yet?" she demanded after a time.

"I have been for quite a while," he confessed, "but you're sitting
pretty, aren't you? And you aren't very heavy--not here on Ganymede,
anyway!"

       *       *       *       *       *

"Put me down!" she commanded. "After that crack I won't play with you
any more at all--I'll pick up my marbles and go home!"

He released her and they hurried hack toward their waterfall, keeping
wary eyes sharp-set for danger in any form, animal or vegetable. On the
way back across the foothills Stevens shot another hexaped, and upon the
plateau above the river Nadia bagged several birds and small animals,
but it was not until they were actually in their own little canyon that
their rapid pace slackened and their vigilance relaxed.

"After this, ace, we hunt together and we go back to wearing armor while
we're hunting. It scared me out of a year's growth when you checked
up missing."

"We sure do, Steve," she concurred emphatically. "I'm not going to get
more than a meter away from you from now on. What do you suppose those
horrible things are?"

"Which?"

"Both."

"Those flowers aren't like anything Tellus ever saw, so we have no basis
of comparison. They may be a development of a flycatching plant, or they
may be a link between the animal and the vegetable kingdom. However,
we don't intend to study 'em, so let's forget 'em. Those animals were
undoubtedly intelligent beings; they probably are a race of savages of
this satellite."

"Then the really civilized races are probably...."

"Not necessarily--there may well be different types, each struggling
toward civilization. They certainly are on Venus, and they once were on
Mars."

"Why haven't we seen anything like that before, in all these months?
Things have been so calm and peaceful that we thought we had the whole
world to ourselves, as far as danger or men were concerned."

"We never saw them before because we never went where they lived--you
were a long ways from your usual stamping-grounds, you know. That
animal-vegetable flower is probably a high-altitude organism, living
in the mountains and never coming as low as we are down here. As for
the savages--whatever they are--they probably never come within five
kilometers of the falls. Many primitive peoples think that waterfalls
are inhabited by demons, and maybe these folks are afflicted the same
way."

"We don't know much about our new world yet, do we?"

"We sure don't--and I'm not particularly keen on finding out much more
about it until we get organized for trouble, either. Well, here we
are--just like getting back home to see the 'Hope,' isn't it?"

"It _is_ home, and will be until we get one of our own on earth," and
after Stevens had read his meters, learning with satisfaction that the
full current was still flowing into the accumulators, he began to cut
up the meat.

"Now that you've got the power-plant running at last, what next?" asked
Nadia, piling the cuts in the freezer.

"Brandon's ultra-radio comes next, but it's got more angles to it than
a cubist's picture of a set of prisms; so many that I don't know where
to begin. There, that job's done--let's sit down and I'll talk at you
awhile. Maybe between us we can figure out where to start. I've got
everything to build it lined up except for the tube, but that's got me
stopped cold. You see, fields of force are all right in most places, but
I've got to have one tube, and it's got to have the hardest possible
vacuum. That means a mercury-vapor super pump. Mercury is absolutely
the only thing that will do the trick and the mercury is one thing
that is conspicuous by it's absence in these parts. So are tungsten for
filaments, tantalum for plates, and platinum for leads; and I haven't
found anything that I can use as a getter, either--a metal, you know, to
flash inside the tube to clean up the last traces of atmosphere in it."

"I didn't suppose that such a simple thing as a radio tube could hold
you up, after the perfectly unbelievable things that you have done
already--but I see now how it could. Of course, the tubes in our
receiver over there are too small?"

"Yes, they are only receiver and communicator tubes, and I need a
high-power transmitting tube--a fifty-kilowatter, at least. I'd give
my left leg to the knee joint for one of those big water-cooled,
sixty-kilowatt ten-nineteens right now--it would save us a lot of
grief."

"Maybe you could break up those tubes and use the plates and so on?"

"I thought of that, but it won't work--there isn't half enough metal
in the lot, and the filaments in particular are so tiny that I couldn't
possibly work them over into a big one. Then, too, we haven't got
many spare tubes, and if I smash the ones we're using, I put our
communicators out of business for good, so that we can't yell for help
if we have to drift home--and I still don't get any mercury."

"Do you mean to tell me there's no mercury on this whole planet?"

"Not exactly; but I do mean that I haven't been able to find any, and
that it's probably darned scarce. And since all the other metals I want
worst are also very dense and of high atomic weight, they're probably
mighty scarce here, too. Why? Because we're on a satellite, and no
matter what hypothesis you accept for the origin of satellites, you come
to the same conclusion--that heavy metals are either absent or most
awfully scarce and buried deep down toward the center. There are lots of
heavy metals in Jupiter somewhere, but we probably couldn't find them.
Jupiter's atmosphere is one mass of fog, and we couldn't see, since we
haven't got an infra-red transformer. I could build one, in time, but
it would take quite a while--and we couldn't work on Jupiter, anyway,
because of its gravity and probably because of its atmosphere. And even
if we could work there, we don't want to spend the rest of our lives
prospecting for mercury." Stevens fell silent, brow wrinkled in thought.

"You mean, dear, that we're..." Nadia broke off, the sentence
unfinished.

"Gosh, no! There's lots of things not tried yet, and we can always set
out to drift it. I was thinking only of building the tube. And I'm
trying to think ... say, Nadia, what do you know about Cantrell's
Comet?"

"Not a thing, except that I remember reading in the newspapers that it
was peculiar for something or other. But what has Cantrell's Comet got
to do with the high cost of living--or with radio tubes? Have you gone
cuckoo all of a sudden?"

"You'll be surprised!" Stevens grinned at her puzzled expression.
"Cantrell's Comet is one of Jupiter's comet family and is peculiar in
being the most massive one known to science. It was hardly known until
after they built those thousand-foot reflectors on the Moon, where the
seeing is always perfect, but it has been studied a lot since then.
Its nucleus is small, but extremely heavy--it seems to have an average
density of somewhere around sixteen. There's platinum and everything
else that's heavy there, girl! They ought to be there in such quantity
that even such a volunteer chemist as I am could find them!"

       *       *       *       *       *

"Heavens, Steve!" A look of alarm flashed over Nadia's face, then
disappeared as rapidly as it had come into being. "But of course, comets
aren't really dangerous."

"Sure not. A comet's tail, which so many people are afraid of as being
poison gas, is almost a perfect vacuum, even at its thickest, and we'd
have to wear space-suits anyway. And speaking of vacuum ... whoopee!
We don't need mercury any more than a goldfish needs a gas-mask. When
we get Mr. Tube done, we'll take him out into space, leaving his mouth
open, and very shortly he'll be as empty as a flapper's skull. Then
we'll seal him up, flash him out, come back here, and start spilling
our troubles into Brandon's shell-like ear!"

"Wonderful, Steve! You do get an idea occasionally, don't you? But how
do we get out there? Where is this Cantrell's Comet?"

"I don't know, exactly--there's one rub. Another is that I haven't
even started the transmitter and receptor units. But we've got some
field-generators here on board that I can use, so it won't be so bad.
And our comet is in this part of the solar system somewhere fairly
close. Wish we had an Ephemeris, a couple of I-P solar charts, and
a real telescope."

"You can't do much without an Ephemeris, I should think. It's a good
thing you kept the chronometers going. You know the I-P time, day, and
dates, anyway."

"I'll have to do without some things, that's all," and the man stared
absently at the steel wall. "I remember something about its orbit, since
it is one thing that all I-P vessels have to steer clear of. Think I can
figure it close enough so that we'll be able to find it in our little
telescope, or even on our plate, since we'll be out of this atmosphere.
And it might not be a bad idea for us to get away, anyway. I'm afraid of
those folks on that space-ship, whoever they were, and they must live
around here somewhere. Cantrell's Comet swings about fifty million
kilometers outside Jupiter's orbit at aphelion--close enough for us to
reach, and yet probably too far for them to find us easily. By the time
we get back here, they probably will have quit looking for us, if they
look at all. Then too, I expect these savages to follow us up. What say,
little ace--do we try it or do we stay here?"

"You know best, Steve. As I said before, I'm with you from now on, in
whatever you think best to do. I know that you think it best to go out
there. Therefore, so do I."

"Well," he said, finally, "I'd better get busy, then--there's a lot to
do before we can start. The radio doesn't come next, after all--the
transmitter and receptor units come ahead of it. They won't mean
wasted labor, in any event, since we'll have to have them in case the
radio fails. You'd better lay in a lot of supplies while I'm working
on that stuff, but don't go out of sight, and yell like fury if
you see anything. We'd both better wear full armor every time we go
out-of-doors--unless I'm all out of control we aren't done with those
savages yet. Even though they may be afraid of the demons of the falls,
I think they'll have at least one more try at us."

While Nadia brought in meat and vegetables and stored them away,
Stevens attacked the problem of constructing the pair of tight-beam,
auto-dirigible transmitter and receptor units which would connect his
great turbo-alternator to the accumulators of their craft, wherever it
might be in space. From the force-field generators of the "Forlorn Hope"
he selected the two most suitable for his purpose, tuned them to the
exact frequency he required, and around them built a complex system of
condensers and coils.

Day after day passed. Their larder was full, the receptor was finished,
and the beam transmitter was almost ready to attach to the
turbo-alternator before the calm was broken.

"Steve!" Nadia shrieked. Glancing idly into the communicator plate, she
had been perfunctorily surveying the surrounding territory. "They're
coming! Thousands of them! They're all over the bench up there, and just
simply pouring down the hills and up the valley!"

"Wish they'd waited a few hours longer--we'd have been gone. However,
we're just about ready for them," he commented grimly, as he stared over
her shoulder into the communicator plate. "We'll make a lot of those
Indians wish that they had stayed at home with their papooses."

"Have you got all those rays and things fixed up?"

"Not as many as I'd like to have. You see, I don't know the composition
of the I-P ray, since it is outlawed to everybody except the police.
Of course I could have found out from Brandon, but never paid any
attention to it. I've got some nice ultra-violet, though, and a short-wave
oscillatory that'll cook an elephant to a cinder in about eight seconds.
We'll keep them amused, no fooling! Glad we had time to cover our open
sides, and it looks as though that meteorite armor we put over the
projectors may be mighty useful, too."

On and on the savages came, massed in formations showing some signs of
rude discipline. This time there was neither shrieking nor yelling; the
weird creatures advanced silently and methodically. Here and there were
massed groups of hundreds, dragging behind them engines which Stevens
studied with interest.

"Hm ... m ... m. Catapults," he mused. "You were right, girl of my
dreams--armor and bows and arrows wouldn't help us much right now.
They're going to throw rocks at us that'll have both mass and momentum.
With those things they can cave in our side-armor, and might even dent
our roof. When one of those projectiles hits, we want to know where it
ain't, that's all."

Stevens cast off the heavily-insulated plug connecting the power plant
leads to his now almost fully charged accumulators, strapped himself and
Nadia into place at the controls, and waited, staring into the plate.
Catapult after catapult was dragged to the lip of the little canyon,
until six of them bore upon the target. The huge stranded springs of
hair, fiber, and sinew were wound up to the limit, and enormous masses
of rock were toilsomely rolled upon the platforms. Each "gunner" seized
his trip, and as the leader shrieked his signal the six ponderous masses
of metalliferous rock heaved into the air as one. But they did not
strike their objective, for as the signal was given, Stevens shot
power into his projectors. The "Forlorn Hope" leaped out of the canyon
and high into the air over the open meadow, just as the six great
projectiles crashed into the ground upon the spot which, an instant
before, she had occupied.

       *       *       *       *       *

Rudimentary discipline forgotten, the horde rushed down into the canyon
and the valley, in full clamor of their barbaric urgings. Horns and
arms tossed fiercely, savage noises rent the air, and arrows splintered
harmlessly upon steel plate an the mystified and maddened warriors upon
the plain below gave vent to their outraged feelings.

"Look, Nadia! A whole gang of them are smelling around that power plug.
Pretty soon somebody's going to touch a hot spot, and when he does,
we'll cut loose on the rest of them."

The huge insulating plug, housing the ends of the three great cables
leading to the converters of the turbo-alternator, lay innocently upon
the ground, its three yawning holes invitingly open to savage arms. The
chief, who had been inspecting the power-plant, walked along the triplex
lead and joined his followers at its terminus. Pointing with his horns,
he jabbered orders and three red monsters, one at each cable, bent to
lift the plug, while the leader himself thrust an arm into each of the
three contact holes. There was a flash of searing flame and the reeking
smoke of burning flesh--those three arms had taken the terrific no-load
voltage of the three-phase converter system, and the full power of the
alternator had been shorted directly to ground through the comparatively
small resistance of his body.

Stevens had poised the "Forlorn Hope" edgewise in mid-air, so that
the gleaming, heavily armored parabolic reflectors of his projectors,
mounted upon the leading edge of the fortress, covered the scene below.
As the charred corpse of the savage chieftain dropped to the ground,
it seemed to the six-limbed creatures that the demons of the falls had
indeed been annoyed beyond endurance by their intrusion; for, as if in
response to the flash of fire from the power plug, that structure so
peculiarly and so stolidly hanging in the air came plunging down toward
them. From it there reached down twin fans of death and destruction: one
flaming and almost invisibly incandescent violet which tore at the eyes
and excruciatingly disintegrated brain and nervous tissues; the other
dully glowing an equally invisible red, at the touch of which body
temperature soared to lethal heights and foliage burst cracklingly into
spontaneous flame.

In their massed hundreds, the savages dropped where they stood, life
rived away by the torturing ultra-violet, burned away by the blast
of pure heat, or consumed by the conflagrations that raged instantly
wherever that wide-sweeping fan encountered combustible material.
In the face of power supernatural they lost all thought of attack or of
conquest, and sought only and madly to escape. Weapons were thrown away,
the catapults were abandoned, and, every man for himself, the mob fled
in wildest disorder, each striving to put as much distance as possible
between himself and that place of dread mystery, the waterfall.

"Well, I guess that'll hold 'em for a while," Stevens dropped their
craft back into its original quarters in the canyon. "Whether they ever
believed before that this falls was inhabited by devils or not, they
think so now. I'll bet that it will be six hundred Jovian years before
any of them ever come within a hundred kilometers of it again. I'm glad
of it, too, because they'll let our power plant alone now. Well, let's
get going--we've got to make things hum for a while!"

"Why all the rush? You just said that we have scared them away for
good."

"The savages, yes, but not those others. We've just turned loose enough
radiation to affect detectors all over the system, and it's up to us to
get this beam projector set up, get away from here, and get our power
shut off before they can trace us. Snap it up, ace!"

The transmitter unit was installed at the converters, the cable was torn
out, and, having broken the last material link between it and Ganymede,
Stevens hurled the "Forlorn Hope" out into space, using the highest
acceleration Nadia could endure. Hour after hour the massive wedge of
steel bored outward, away from Jupiter; hour after hour Stevens' anxious
eyes scanned his instruments; hour after hour hope mounted and relief
took the place of anxiety as the screens remained blank throughout every
inquiring thrust into the empty ether. But they knew they would have to
keep sharp vigilance.

       *       *       *       *       *



_Continuing a Thrilling New Serial of Interplanetary Life and Travel
by Edward E. Smith, Ph.D._

_Author of "Skylark of Space," and "Skylark Three"_



PART II



Spacehounds of IPC


    _One of the most fascinating mysteries of the heavens is the comet.
    It goes through space, gets near enough to the earth to be seen,
    and then goes off and disappears in celestial distance. Often it
    has a hyperbolic orbit, which would make it impossible to come back.
    Yet it may return--apparently contradicting the geometry of conic
    sections. This only goes to prove once more that it is risky to say
    anything is impossible--even that our hero of this story manages
    beautifully, with the aid of Cantrell's Comet, to avoid complete
    annihilation while stranded in interstellar space._

    _Read "what went before" and then continue the second instalment._


What Went Before:

    The Interplanetary Vessel Arcturus sets out for Mars, with
    Breckenridge as chief pilot, carrying on board, besides its
    regular crew and some passengers, the famous Dr. Stevens,
    designer of space ships and computer. He checks computations
    made by astronomers stationed in floating observatories, and
    after he has located any trouble and suggests a plan for
    minimizing the hazards of the trip from the earth to Mars,
    he reports his findings and suggestions to Mr. Newton, chief
    of the Interplanetary Corporation.

    Stevens then takes Nadia, Mr. Newton's beautiful young daughter,
    on a specially conducted sight-seeing tour of the Arcturus and
    thoroughly explains to her all of the works of the vessel. Nadia
    has herself had a good science education. While they are down at
    the bottom of the ship--nearing the end of their tour--Stevens
    feels a barely perceptible movement of the vessel from its course.
    When he turns on the visiplate, he is horrified to find that a
    mysterious ray of unparalleled power has neatly sliced the Arcturus
    in several places.

    Nadia and Stevens are completely separated from the rest of the
    crew and passengers of the ship, so they get into a lifeboat,
    which is equipped for a limited amount of space travel. Despite
    the strict and apparently effective vigilance of the enemy
    destroyer, Stevens and Nadia make their getaway in the lifeboat,
    which they aptly call "Forlorn Hope," and finally make a safe
    landing on Ganymede, where Stevens plans to build a power-plant
    and a radio transmitter, to enable him to communicate with the
    earth or with the IPV Sirius, which is used by Westfall and Brandon
    (two of the world's best scientists) as a floating laboratory.

    With the very scant apparatus and material available, Stevens
    sets to work on his power plant. Just as they have it completed
    and ready to start for Cantrell's Comet, where Stevens believes
    he can obtain the necessary metal for his giant transmitting
    tube, they experience a close call with carnivorous plants on the
    satellite and later with savage inhabitants, which precipitates
    their trip to the comet.



CHAPTER V

Cantrell's Comet


Far out in space, Jupiter, a tiny moon and its satellites mere
pin-points of light, Stevens turned to his companion with a grin.

"Well, Nadia, old golf-shootist, here's where we turn spacehounds again.
Hope you like it better this time, because I'm afraid that we'll have to
stay weightless for quite a while." He slowly throttled down the mighty
flow of power, and watched the conflicting emotions play over Nadia's
face in her purely personal battle against the sickening sensations
caused by the decrease in their acceleration.

"I'm sorry as the dickens, sweetheart," he went on, tenderly, and the
grin disappeared. "Wish I could take it for you, but...."

"But there are times when we've got to fight our own battles and bury
our own dead," she interrupted, gamely. "Cut off the rest of that power!
I'm _not_ going to be sick--I _won't_ be a--what do you spacehounds call
us poor earth-bound dubs who can't stand weightlessness--weight-fiends,
isn't it?"

"Yes; but you aren't...."

"I know I'm not, and I'm not going to be one, either! I'm all x,
Steve--it's not so bad now, really. I held myself together that time,
anyway, and I feel lots better now. Have you found Cantrell's Comet yet?
And why so sure all of a sudden that they can't find us? That power beam
still connects us to Ganymede, doesn't it? Maybe they can trace it."

"At-a-girl, ace!" he cheered. "I'll tell the world you're no
weight-fiend--you're a spacehound right. Most first-trippers, at this
stage of the game, wouldn't be caring a whoop whether school kept or
not, and here you're taking an interest in all kinds of things already.
You'll do, girl of my heart--no fooling!"

"Maybe, and maybe you're trying to kid somebody," she returned, eyeing
him intently. "Or maybe you just don't want to answer those questions
I asked you a minute ago."

[Illustration: _At the bottom of a shaft a section of the rocky wall
swung aside, revealing the yawning black mouth of a horizontal tunnel.
At intervals upon its roof there winked into being almost invisible
points of light. Along that line of lights the life-boats felt their
way, coming finally into a huge cavern...._]

"No, that's straight data, right on zero across the panel," he assured
her. "And as for your questions, they're easy. No, I haven't looked for
the comet yet, because we'll have to drift for a couple of days before
we'll be anywhere near where I think it is. No, they can't trace us,
because there is now nothing to trace, unless they can detect the
slight power we are using in our lights and so on--which possibility is
vanishingly small. Potentially, our beam still exists, but since we are
drawing no power, it has no actual present existence. See?"

"Uh-uh," she dissented. "I can't say that I can quite understand how
a beam can exist potentially and yet not be there actually enough to
trace. Why, a thing has to be actual or not exist at all--you can't
possibly have something that is nothing. It doesn't make sense. But
lay off those integrations of yours, please," as now armed with a
slate-pencil, Stevens began to draw a diagram upon a four-foot sheet of
smooth slate. "You know that your brand of math is over my head like a
circus tent, so we'll let it lie. I'll take your word for it. Steve--if
you're satisfied, it's all x with me."

"I think I can straighten you out a little, by analogy. Here's a rough
sketch of a cylinder, with shade and shadow. You've had descriptive
geometry, of course, and so know that a shadow, being simply a
projection of a material object upon a plane, is a two-dimensional
thing--or rather, a two-dimensional concept. Now take the shade, which
is, of course, this entire figure here, between the cylinder casting
the shadow and the plane of projection. You simply imagine that there
is a point source of light at your point of projection: it isn't really
there. The shade, then, of which I am drawing a picture, has only a
potential existence. You know exactly where it is, you can draw it, you
can define it, compute it, and work with it--but still it doesn't exist;
there is absolutely nothing to differentiate it from any other volume of
air, and it cannot be detected by any physical or mechanical means. If,
however, you place a light at the point of projection, the shade becomes
actual and can be detected optically. By a sufficient stretch of the
imagination, you might compare our beam to that shade. When we turn our
power on, the beam is actual; it is a stream of tangible force, and as
such can be detected electrically. When our switches here are open,
however, it exists only potentially. There is no motion in the ether,
nothing whatever to indicate that a beam had ever actually existed
there. With me?"

"Floundering pretty badly, but I see it after a fashion. You physicists
are peculiar freaks--where we ordinary mortals see actual, solid,
heavy objects, you see only empty space with a few electrons and things
floating around in it; and yet where we see only empty space, you can
see things 'potentially' that may never exist at all. You'll be the
death of me yet, Steve! But I'm wasting a lot of time. What do we do
now?"

"We get busy on the big tube. You might warm up the annealing oven and
melt me that pot of glass, while I get busy on the filament supports,
plate brackets, and so on." Both fell to work with a will, and hours
passed rapidly and almost silently, so intent was each upon his own
tasks.

"All x, Steve." Nadia broke the long silence. "The pyrometer's on the
red, and the oven's hot," and the man left his bench. Taking up a long
paddle and an even longer blowpipe, he skimmed the melt to a dazzlingly
bright surface and deftly formed a bubble.

"I just love to talk at you when you've got your mouth full of a
blowpipe." Nadia eyed him impishly and tucked her feet beneath her,
poised weightless as she was. "I've got you foul now--I can say anything
I want to, and you can't talk back, because your bubble will lose its
shape if you do. Oh, isn't that a beauty! I never saw you blow anything
that big before," and she fell silent, watching intently.

Slowly there was being drawn from the pot a huge, tapering bulb of hot,
glistening glass, its cross-section at the molten surface varying as
Stevens changed the rate of draw or the volume of air blown through the
pipe. Soon that section narrowed sharply. The glass-blower waved his
hand and Nadia severed the form neatly with a glowing wire, just above
the fluid surface of the glass remaining in the pot. Pendant from the
blowpipe, the bulb was placed over the hot-bench, where Stevens, now
begoggled, begloved, and armed with a welding torch, proceeded to fuse
into the still, almost plastic, glass sundry necks, side-tubes, supports
and other attachments of peculiar pattern. Finally the partially
assembled tube was placed in the annealing oven, where it would remain
at a high and constant temperature until its filaments, grids, and
plates had been installed. Eventually, in that same oven, it would be
allowed to cool slowly and uniformly over a period of days.

       *       *       *       *       *

Thus were performed many other tasks which are ordinarily done either
by automatic machinery or by highly skilled specialists in labor--for
these two, thrown upon their own resources, had long since learned how
much specialization may be represented by the most commonplace article.
Whenever they needed a thing they did not have--which happened every
day--they had either to make it or else, failing in that, to go back and
build something that would enable them to manufacture the required item.
Such setbacks had become so numerous as to be expected as part of the
day's work; they no longer caused exasperation or annoyance. For two
days the two jacks-of-all-trades worked at many lines and with many
materials before Stevens called a halt.

"All x, Nadia. It's time for us to stop tinkering and turn into
astronomers. We've been out for fifty I-P hours, and we'd better begin
looking around for our heap of scrap metal," and, the girl at the
communicator plate and Stevens at their one small telescope, they began
to search the black, star-jeweled heavens for Cantrell's Comet.

"According to my figures, it ought to be about four hours right
ascension, and something like plus twenty degrees declination. My
figures aren't accurate, though, since I'm working purely from memory,
so we'd better cover everything from Aldebaran to the Pleiades."

"But the directions will change as we go along, won't they?"

"Not unless we pass it, because we're heading pretty nearly straight at
it, I think."

"I don't see anything interesting thereabouts except stars. Will it have
much tail?"

"Very little--it's close to aphelion, you know, and a comet doesn't have
much of a tail so far away from the sun. Hope it's got some of its tail
left, though, or we may miss it entirely."

Hours passed, during which the two observers peered intently into their
instruments, then Stevens left the telescope and went over to his slate.

"Looks bad, ace--we should have spotted it before this. Time to eat,
too. You'd better...."

"Oh, look here, quick!" Nadia interrupted. "Here's something! Yes, it
_is_ a comet, and quite close--it's got a little bit of a dim tail."

Stevens leaped to the communicator plate, and, blond head pressed close
to brown, the two wayfarers studied the faint image of the wanderer of
the void.

"That's it, I just _know_ it is!" Nadia declared. "Steve, as a computer,
you're a blinding flash and a deafening report!"

"Yeah--missed it only about half a million kilometers or so," he
replied, grinning, "and I'd fire a whole flock of I-P check stations
for being four thousand off. However, I could have done worse--I could
easily have forgotten all the data on it, instead of only half of it."
He applied a normal negative acceleration, and Nadia heaved a profound
sigh of relief as her weight returned to her and her body again became
manageable by the ordinary automatic and involuntary muscles.

"Guess I am a kind of a weight-fiend at that, Steve--this is much
better!" she exclaimed.

"Nobody denies that weight is more convenient at times; but you're a
spacehound just the same--you'll like it after a while," he prophesied.

Stevens took careful observations upon the celestial body, altered his
course sharply, then, after a measured time interval, again made careful
readings.

"That's it, all x," he announced, after completing his calculations, and
he reduced their negative acceleration by a third. "There--we'll be just
about traveling with it when we get there," he said. "Now, little K. P.
of my bosom, our supper's been on minus time for hours. What say we
shake it up?"

"I check you to nineteen decimals," and the two were soon attacking the
savory Ganymedean goulash which Nadia had put in the cooker many hours
before.

"Should we both go to sleep, Steve, or should one of us watch it?"

"Sleep, by all means. There's no meteoric stuff out here, and we won't
arrive before ten o'clock tomorrow, I-P time," and, tired out by the
events of the long day, man and maid sought their beds and plunged into
dreamless slumber.

While they slept, the "Forlorn Hope" drove on through the void at a
terrific but constantly decreasing velocity; and far off to one side,
plunging along a line making a sharp angle with their own course, there
loomed larger and larger the masses which made up the nucleus of
Cantrell's Comet.

Upon awakening, Stevens' first thought was for the comet, and he
observed it carefully before he aroused Nadia, who hurried into the
control room. Looming large in the shortened range of the plate, their
objective hurtled onward in its eternal course, its enormous velocity
betrayed only by the rapidity with which it sped past the incredibly
brilliant background of infinitely distant stars. Apparently it was
a wild jumble of separate fragments; a conglomerate, heterogeneous
aggregation of rough and jagged masses varying in size from grains of
sand up to enormous chunks, which upon Earth would have weighed millions
of tons. Pervading the whole nucleus, a slow, indefinite movement was
perceptible--a vague writhing and creeping of individual components
working and slipping past and around each other as they all rushed
forward in obedience to the immutable cosmic law of gravitation.

"Oh, isn't that wonderful!" Nadia breathed. "Think of actually going to
visit a comet! It sort of scares me, Steve--it's so creepy and crawly
looking. We're awfully close, aren't we?"

"Not so very. We'd probably have lots of time to eat breakfast. But just
to be on the safe side, maybe I'd better camp here at the board, and you
bring me over something to eat."

"All x, Chief!" and Stevens ate, one eye upon the screen, watching
closely the ever-increasing bulk of the comet.

       *       *       *       *       *

For many minutes he swung the _Forlorn Hope_ in a wide curve approaching
the mountain of metal ever and ever more nearly, then turned to the girl.

"Hold everything, Nadia--power's going off in a minute!" He shut off the
beam; then, noting that they were traveling a trifle faster than the
comet, he applied a small voltage to one dirigible projector. Darting
the beam here and there, he so corrected their flight that they were
precisely stationary in relation to the comet. He then opened his
switches, and the _Forlorn Hope_ hurtled on. Apparently motionless, it
was now a part of Cantrell's Comet, traveling in a stupendous, elongated
ellipse about the Master of our Solar System, the Sun.

"There, ace, who said anything about weight-fiends? I was watching you,
and you never turned a hair that time."

"Why, that's right--I never even thought about it--I was so busy
studying that thing out there! I suppose I've got used to it already?"

"Sure--you're one of us now. I knew you would be. Well, let's go places
and do things! You'd better put on a suit, too, so you can stand in the
air-lock and handle the line."

They donned the heavily insulated, heated suits, and Stevens snapped the
locking plugs of the drag line into their sockets upon the helmets.

"Hear me?" he asked. "Sound-disks all x?"

"All x."

"On the radio--all x?"

"All x."

"I tested your tanks and heaters--they're all x. But you'll have to
test...."

"I know the ritual by heart, Steve. It's been in every show in the
country for the last year, but I didn't know you had to go through it
every time you went out-of-doors! Halves, number one all x, two all x,
three all x...."

"Quit it!" he snapped. "You aren't testing those valves! That check-up
is no joke, guy. These suits are complicated affairs, and some parts
are apt to get out of order. You see, a thing to give you fresh air at
normal pressure and to keep you warm in absolute space can't be either
simple or fool-proof. They've worked on them for years, but they're
pretty crude yet. They're tricky, and if one goes sour on you, out in
space, it's just too bad--you're lucky to get back alive. A lot of men
are still out there somewhere because of the sloppy check-ups."

"'Scuse it, please--I'll be good," and the careful checking and testing
of every vital part of the space-suits went on.

Satisfied at last that the armor was spaceworthy, Stevens picked up the
coils of drag-line, built of a non-metallic fiber which could retain its
flexibility and strength in the bitter cold of outer space, and led the
girl into the air-lock.

"Heavens, Steve! It's perfectly stupendous, and grinding around worse
than the wreckage of the _Arcturus_ was when I wouldn't let you climb
up it--why, I thought comets were _little_, and hardly massive at all!"
exclaimed the girl.

"This is little, compared to any regular planet or satellite or even to
the asteroids. There's only a few cubic kilometers of matter there, and,
as I said before, it's a decidedly unusual comet. You know the game?"

"I've got it--and believe me, I'll yank you back here a lot faster than
you can jump over there if any one of those lumps starts to fall on you!
Is this drag line long enough?"

"Yes, I've got a hundred meters here, and it's only fifty meters over
there to where I'm going. So long," and with a light thrust of his feet,
he dove head foremost across the intervening space, a heavy pike held
out ahead of him. Straight as a bullet he floated toward his objective,
a jagged chunk many yards in diameter, taking the shock of his landing
by sliding along the pike-handle as its head struck the mass.

Then, bracing his feet against one lump, he pushed against its neighbor,
and under that steady pressure the enormous masses moved apart and kept
on moving, grinding among their fellows. Over and around them Stevens
sprang, always watching his line of retreat as well as that of his
advance, until his exploring pike struck a lump of apparently solid
metal. Hooking the fragment toward him, he thrust savagely with his
weapon and was reassured--that object was not only metal, but it was
metal so hard that his pike-head of space-tempered alloy steel did not
make an impression upon its surface. Turning on his helmet light he
swung his heavy hammer repeatedly but could not break off even a small
fragment.

"Found something, Steve?" Nadia's voice came clearly in his ears.

"I'll say I have! A hunk of solid, non-magnetic metal about the size of
an office desk. I can't break off any of it, so I guess we'll have to
grab the whole chunk."

He hitched the end of his cable around the nugget, made sure that the
loops would not slip, and then, as Nadia tightened the line, he shoved
mightily.

"All x, Nadia, she's coming! Pull in my drag line as I said over there,
and I'll help you land her."

Inside the _Forlorn Hope_ the mass of metal was urged into the shop,
where Stevens clamped it immovably to the steel floor, before he took
off his space-suit.

"Why, it's getting covered with snow, and the whole room is getting
positively _cold_!" Nadia exclaimed.

"Sure. Anything that comes in from space is cold, even if it's been out
only a few minutes, and that hunk of stuff has been out for nobody knows
how many million years. It didn't get much heat from the sun except
at perihelion, you know, so it's probably somewhere around minus two
hundred and sixty degrees now. I'll have to throw a heater on it for
half an hour before we can touch it. And since this is more or less new
stuff to you, I'll caution you--don't try to touch anything that has
just come in. That hammer or pike would freeze your hand instantly, even
though they've been out only a little while. Before you touch anything,
blow on it, like this, see? If your breath freezes solid on it, like
that, don't touch it--it's cold."

       *       *       *       *       *

Under the infra-beams of the heater, the mass of the metal was brought
to room temperature and Stevens attacked it with his machine tools.
Bit by bit the stubborn material was torn from the lump. Through heavy
goggles he watched the incandescent mass in a refractory crucible, in
the heart of the induction furnace.

"What do you think you've got--what you want?"

"I don't know. It wasn't iron--it wouldn't hold a magnet. It's royal
metal of some kind, I think. Base metals mostly melt at around fifteen
hundred, and that crucible is still dry as a bone at better than
seventeen."

"How are you going to separate out the tantalum and the others you want
from the ones that you don't want?"

"I'm afraid that I'm not going to, very well," replied Stevens, with a
wry grimace. "What I don't know about metallurgy would fill a library,
and I'm probably the world's worst chemist. However, by a series of
successive liquations, I hope to separate out fractions that I can
use. Platinum melts somewhere around seventeen-fifty, tantalum about
twenty-nine hundred, and tungsten not until 'way up around thirty-three,
or four hundred--and that, by the way, means lots of grief. Of course,
each fraction will probably be an alloy of one kind or another, but
I think maybe I'll be able to make them do."

"But mayn't that whole chunk be a pure metal?"

"It's conceivable, but not probable. There, she's beginning to separate
at just below eighteen hundred! Platinum group coming out now, I
think--platinum, rhodium, iridium, and that gang, you know. While I'm
doing this, you might be getting those five coils into exact resonance,
if you want to."

"Sure I want to," and Nadia made her way across to the short-wave
oscillator and set to work.

After an hour or so, bent over her delicate task, she began to twitch
uneasily, then shrugged her shoulders impatiently.

"What's the idea of staring at me so?" she broke out suddenly. "How do
you expect me to tune these things up if you...." She stopped abruptly,
mouth open in amazement, as she turned toward Stevens. He had not been
looking at her, but he turned a surprised face from his own task at the
sound of her voice. "Excuse me, please, Steve. I don't know what's the
matter with me--must be getting jumpy, I guess."

"I wish that was all, but it isn't!" Face suddenly grim and hard,
Stevens leaped to the communicator plate and shot the beam out into
space. "There's an answer, but that isn't it. You're a fine-tuned
instrument yourself, ace, and you've detected something.... I thought
so! There's the answer--the guy that was looking at you!"

Plainly there was revealed upon the plate a small, spherical space-ship,
very like the one that had attacked and destroyed the _Arcturus_. After
Nadia had taken one glance at it, Stevens shut off the power and leaped
out into the shop. He closed all the bulkhead doors and air-break
openings, then closed and secured the massive insulating door of the
lifeboat in which they had made their headquarters. Then, after they
had again put on the space-suits they had taken off such a short time
before, he extinguished all the lights and hooded the communicator
screen before he ventured again to glance out into the void.

"If I had a brain in my head, instead of the pint of bean soup I've got
up there, we'd have worn these when they cut up the _Arcturus_, and
saved us a lot of mental wear and tear," he remarked. "They were right
there in the lockers all the time, and I knew it!"

"Well, we got away, anyway. You couldn't be expected to think of
everything at once. We didn't have much time, you know."

"No, but I should have thought of anything as obvious as that, anyway.
Wonder how they found us? Did they detect us, or did they come out
to this comet after metal, same as we did, and find us accidentally?
However, it all works out the same--they're apparently out to get us.
I'm afraid this is going to be a whole lot like a rabbit fighting back
at a man with a gun; but we'll sure try to nibble us off a lunch while
they're getting a square meal ... here they come!"

The enemy sphere launched its flaming plane of force, and the _Forlorn
Hope_ shuddered in every plate and member as its apex was severed
cleanly under the impact. Instantly Stevens hurled his only weapons.
Flaming ultra-violet and dully glowing infra-red, the twin beams lashed
out; but their utmost force was of slight moment to the enormous power
driving the enemy screens. Two circular spots of cherry red in space
were the only results of Stevens' attack, and the next fierce cut
sheared away the two projectors and, incidentally, a full half of the
fifty-inch armor of the leading edge.

"Then we're checking out now?" Nadia asked quietly, as the man's hands
dropped from his useless controls. "I'm sorrier than I can say, lover.
But at least, I'm glad that I can go out with you," and her glorious
eyes were shining with unshed tears.

"Maybe, but snap out of it, girl--our hearts are still beating! We're
not dead yet, and maybe we won't be. Perhaps they want to capture us
alive, as they did before; if so, we may be able to hide out on them
somewhere and pull off another escape. Things don't look very bright, I
know, but we're not checking out until our numbers are actually run up!"

He hooked a hand under her belt as the shocks came closer, and stood
tense and ready. The lancing plane cut through one end of their control
room, and Stevens leaped with his companion toward the new-made opening;
while the air shrieked outward into space and their suits bulged
suddenly with the abrupt increase in pressure differential. While they
were in midflight, the frightful blade of destruction cleaved its way
through the control board and through the spot upon which they had been
standing a moment before. As they passed the severed edge, en route into
open spare, Stevens seized a metal brace and clung there, every nerve
taut.

"Something funny here, Nadia," he said after a little, in a low tone.
"They should have made one more cut, to make us absolutely blind and
helpless. As it is, they've clipped off all our projectors, so we can't
move, but I think we've got the whole control compartment of number two
lifeboat untouched. If so, we can look around, anyway. Let's go!"

Floating without effort from fragment to fragment, they made their way
toward the section of their cruiser as yet undamaged. They found an
airlock in working order, and were soon in the second lifeboat, where
Stevens hastily turned on a communicator and peered out into space.

"There they are! There's another stranger out there, too. They're
fighting with her, now--that's probably why they didn't polish us off."
Steel-braced, clumsy helmets touching, the two Terrestrials stared
spell-bound into the plate; watching while the insensately vicious
intelligences within the sphere brought its every force to bear upon
another and larger sphere which was now so close as to be plainly
visible. Like a gigantic drop of quicksilver this second globe
appeared--its smooth and highly-polished surface one enormous, perfect,
spherical mirror. Watching tensely, they saw flash out that frightful
plane of seething energy, with the effects of which they were all too
familiar, and saw it strike full upon the dazzling ball.

"This is awful, ace!" Stevens groaned. "They haven't got ray-screens,
either, and without them they don't stand a chance. No possible
substance can stand up under that beam. When they get done and turn back
to us, we'll have to dive back to where we were."

       *       *       *       *       *

But that brilliant mirror was not as vulnerable as Stevens had supposed.
The plane of force struck and clung, but could not penetrate it. Broken
up into myriads of scintillating crystals of light, intersecting,
multi-colored rays, and cascading flares of sparkling energy, the beam
was reflected, thrown back, hurled away on all sides into space in
coruscating, blinding torrents. And neither was the monster globe
inoffensive. The straining watchers saw a port open suddenly, emit a
flame-erupting something, and close as rapidly as it had opened. That
something was a projectile, its propelling rockets fiercely aflame; as
smoothly brilliant as its mother-ship and seemingly as impervious to the
lethal beams of the common foe. Detected almost instantly as it was, it
received the full power of the savage attack. The hitherto irresistible
plane of force beat upon it; ultra-violet, infra-red, and heat rays
enveloped it; there were hurled against it all the forces known to the
scientific minds within that fiendishly destructive sphere.

Finally, only a scant few hundreds of yards from its goal, the
protective mirror was punctured and the freight of high explosive let
go, with a silent, but nevertheless terrific, detonation. But now
another torpedo was on its way, and another, and another; boring on
ruthlessly toward the smaller sphere. Fighting simultaneously three
torpedos and the giant globe, the enemy began dodging, darting hither
and thither with a stupendous acceleration; but the tiny pursuers could
not be shaken off. At every dodge and turn, steering rockets burst into
furious activity and the projectiles rushed ever nearer. Knowing that
she had at last encountered a superior force, the sphere turned in
mad flight; but, prodigious as was her acceleration, the torpedoes
were faster and all three of them struck her at once. There ensued
an explosion veritably space-racking in its intensity; a flash of
incandescent brilliance that seemed to fill all space, subsiding into
a vast volume of tenuous gas which, feebly glowing, flowed about and
attached itself to Cantrell's Comet. And in the space where had been
the enemy sphere, there was nothing.

A slow-creeping pale blue rod of tangible force reached out from the
great sphere, touched the wreckage of the _Forlorn Hope_, and pulled;
gently, but with enormous power.

"Tractor beams again!" exclaimed Stevens, still at the plate.
"Everybody's got 'em but us, it seems."

"And we can't fight a bit any more, can we?"

"Not a chance--bows and arrows wouldn't do us much good. However, we may
not need 'em. Since they fought that other crew, and haven't blown us
up, they aren't active enemies of ours, and may be friendly. I haven't
any idea who or what they are, since even our communicator ray can't get
through that mirror, but it looks as though our best bet is to act
peaceable and see if we can't talk to them in some way. Right?"

"Right." They stepped out into the airlock, from which they saw that
the great sphere had halted only a few yards from them, and that an
indistinct figure stood in an open door, waving to them an unmistakable
invitation to enter the strange vessel.

"Shall we, Steve?"

"Might as well. They've got us foul, and can take us if they want us.
Anyway, we'll need at least a week to fix us up any kind of driving
power, so we can't run--and we probably couldn't get away from those
folks if we had all our power. They haven't blown us up, and they could
have done it easily enough. Besides, they act friendly, so we'd better
meet them half way. Dive!"

Floating toward the open doorway, they were met by another rod of force,
brought gently into the airlock, and supported upright beside the being
who had invited them to visit him. Apparently an empty space-suit stood
there; a peculiarly-fitted suit of some partially transparent, flexible,
glass-like material; towering fully a foot over the head of the tall
Terrestrial. Closer inspection, however, revealed that there was
something inside that suit--a shadowy, weirdly-transparent being,
staring at them with large, black eyes. The door clanged shut behind
them; they heard the faint hiss of inrushing air, and the inner door
opened; but their enveloping suits remained stretched almost as tightly
as ever. They felt the floor lurch beneath their feet, and a little
weight was granted them as the space-ship got under way. Stevens waved
his arms vigorously at the stranger, pointing backward toward where he
supposed their own craft to be. The latter waved an arm reassuringly,
pressed a contact, and a section of the wall suddenly became
transparent. Through it Stevens saw with satisfaction that the _Forlorn
Hope_ was not being abandoned; in the grip of powerful tractor beams,
every fragment of the wreckage was following close behind them in their
flight through space.

       *       *       *       *       *

Stevens and Nadia followed their guide along a corridor, through several
doors, and into a large room, which at first glance seemed empty, but
in which several of the peculiarly transparent people of the craft were
lying about upon cushions. They were undoubtedly human--but what humans!
Tall and reedy they were, with enormous barrel chests, topped by heads
which, though really large, appeared insignificant because of the
prodigious chests and because of the huge, sail-like, flapping ears.
Their skins were a strikingly, livid, pale blue, absolutely devoid of
hair; and their lidless eyes, without a sign of iris, were chillingly
horrible in their stark contrast of enormous, glaring black pupil and
ghastly, transparent blue eyeball.

As the two Terrestrials entered the room, the beings struggled to their
feet and hurried laboriously away. Soon one of them returned, dressed in
an insulating suit, and carrying three sets of head harnesses, connected
by multiplex cables to a large box which he placed upon the floor.
He handed the headsets to the first officer, who in turn placed two of
them at the feet of the Terrestrials, indicating to them that they were
to follow his example in placing them upon their heads, outside the
helmets. They did so, and even through the almost perfect insulation,
and in spite of the powerful heaters of their suits, they felt a touch
of frightful cold. The stranger turned a dial, and the two wanderers
from Earth were instantly in full mental communication with Barkovis,
the commander of a space-ship of Titan, the sixth satellite of Saturn!

"Well, I'll be ... say, what is this, anyway?" Steve exclaimed
involuntarily, and Nadia smiled as Barkovis answered with a thought,
clearer than any spoken words.

"It is a thought-exchanger. I do not know its fundamental mechanism,
since we did not invent it and since I have had little time to study
it. The apparatus, practically as you see it here, was discovered but a
short time ago, in a small, rocket-propelled space-ship which we found
some distance outside of the orbit of Jupiter. Its source of power had
been destroyed by the cold of outer space, but re-powering it was, of
course, a small matter. The crew of the vessel were all dead. They
were, however, of human stock, and of a type adapted for life upon
a satellite. I deduce, from your compact structure, your enormous
atmospheric pressure, and your, to us, unbelievably high body
temperature, that you must be planet-dwellers. I suppose that you
are natives of Jupiter?"

"Not quite." Stevens had in a measure recovered from his stunned
surprise. "We are from Tellus, the third planet," and he revealed
rapidly the events leading up to their present situation, concluding:
"The people in the other sphere were, we believe, natives of Jupiter or
of one of the satellites. We know nothing of them, since we could not
look through their screens. You rescued us from them; do you not know
them?"

"No. Our visirays also were stopped by their screens of force--screens
entirely foreign to our science. This is the first time that any
vessel from our Saturnian system has ever succeeded in reaching the
neighborhood of Jupiter. We came in peace, but they attacked us at sight
and we were obliged to destroy them. Now we must hurry back to Titan,
for two reasons. First, because we are already at the extreme limit
of our power range and Jupiter is getting further and further away
from Saturn. Second because our mirrors, which we had thought perfect
reflectors of all frequencies possible of generation, are not perfect.
Enough of those forces came through the mirrors to volatilize half our
crew, and in a few minutes more none of us would have been left alive.
Why, in some places our very atmosphere became almost hot enough to melt
water! If another of those vessels should attack us, in all probability
we should all be lost. Therefore we are leaving as rapidly as is
possible."

"You are taking the pieces of our ship along--we do not want to encumber
you."

"It is no encumbrance, since we have ample supplies of power. In fact,
we are now employing the highest acceleration we Titanians can endure
for any length of time."

Stevens pondered long, forgetting that his thoughts were plain as print
to the Titanian commander. Thank Heaven these strangers had sense enough
to be friendly--all intelligent races should be friends, for mutual
advancement. But it was a mighty long stretch to Saturn and this
acceleration wasn't so much. How long would it take to get there? Could
they get back? Wouldn't they save time by casting themselves adrift,
making the repairs most urgently needed, and going back to Ganymede
under their own power? But would they have enough power left in the
wreck to get even that far? And how about the big tube? He was
interrupted by an insistent thought from Barkovis.

"You will save time, Stevens, by coming with us to Titan. There we shall
aid you in repairing your vessel and in completing your transmitting
tube, in which we shall be deeply interested. Our power plants shall
supply you with energy for your return journey until you are close
enough to Jupiter to recover your own beam. You are tired. I would
suggest that you rest--that you sleep long and peacefully."

"You seem to be handling the _Forlorn Hope_ without any trouble--the
pieces aren't grinding at all. We'd better live there, hadn't we?"

"Yes that would be best, for all of us. You could not live a minute here
without your suits; and, efficiently insulated as those suits are, yet
your incandescent body temperature makes our rooms unbearably hot--so
hot that any of us must wear a space-suit while in the same room with
you, to avoid being burned to death."

"The incandescently hot" Terrestrials were wafted into the open airlock
of their lifeboat upon a wand of force, and soon had prepared a long
overdue supper, over which Stevens cast his infectious, boyish grin at
Nadia.

"Sweetheart, you are undoubtedly a 'warm number,' and you have often
remarked that I 'burn you up.' Nevertheless I think that we were both
considerably surprised to discover that we are both hot enough actually
to consume persons unfortunate enough to be confined in the same room
with us!"

"You're funny, Steve--like a crutch," she rebuked him, but smiled back,
an elusive dimple playing in one lovely brown cheek. "Looking right
through anybody is too ghastly for words, but I think they're perfectly
all x, anyway, in spite of their being so hideous and so cold-blooded!"



CHAPTER VI

A Frigid Civilization


"Hi, Percival Van Schravendyck Stevens!" Nadia strode purposely into
Stevens' room and seized him by the shoulder. "Are you going to sleep
all the way to Saturn? You answered me when I pounded on the partition
with a hammer, but I don't believe that you woke up at all. Get up,
you--breakfast will be all spoiled directly!"

"Huh?" Stevens opened one sluggish eye; then, as the full force of the
insult penetrated his consciousness, he came wide awake. "Lay off those
names, ace, or you'll find yourself walking back home!" he threatened.

"All x by me!" she retorted. "I might as well go home if you're going
to sleep _all_ the time!" and she widened her expressive eyes at him
impishly as she danced blithely back into the control room. As she went
out she slammed his door with a resounding clang, and Stevens pried
himself out of his bunk one joint at a time, dressed, and made himself
presentable.

"Gosh!" he yawned mightily as he joined the girl at breakfast. "I don't
know when I've had such a gorgeous sleep. How do you get by on so
little?"

"I don't. I sleep a lot, but I do it every night, instead of working for
four days and nights on end and then trying to make up all those four
nights' sleep at once. I'm going to break you of that, too, Steve, if
it's the last thing I ever do."

"There might be certain advantages in it, at that," he conceded, "but
sometimes you've got to do work when it's got to be done, instead of
just between sleeps. However, I'll try to do better. Certainly it is
a wonderful relief to get out of that mess, isn't it?"

"I'll say it is! But I wish that those folks were more like people.
They're nice, I think, really, but they're so ... so ... well, so
ghastly that it simply gives me the blue shivers just to look at one
of them!"

"They're pretty gruesome, no fooling," he agreed, "but you get used to
things like that. I just about threw a fit the first time I ever saw
a Martian, and the Venerians are even worse in some ways--they're so
clammy and dead-looking--but now I've got real friends on both planets.
One thing, though, gives me the pip. I read a story a while ago--the
latest best-seller thing of Thornton's named 'Interstellar Slush' or
some such tr...."

"Cleophora--An Interstellar Romance," she corrected him. "I thought it
was wonderful!"

"I didn't. It's fundamentally unsound. Look at our nearest neighbors,
who probably came from the same original stock we did. A Tellurian
can admire, respect, or like a Venerian, yes. But for _loving_ one of
them--wow! Beauty is purely relative, you know. For instance, I think
that you are the most perfectly beautiful thing I ever saw; but no
Venerian would think so. Far from it. Any Martian that hadn't seen many
of us would have to go rest his eyes after taking one good look at
you. Considering what love means, it doesn't stand to reason that any
Tellurian woman could possibly fall in love with any man not of her own
breed. Any writer is wrong who indulges in interplanetary love affairs
and mad passions. They simply don't exist. They _can't_ exist--they're
against all human instincts."

"Inter-planetary--in this solar system--yes. But the Dacrovos were just
like us, only nicer."

"That's what gives me the pip. If our own cousins of the same solar
system are so repulsive to us, how would we be affected by entirely
alien forms of intelligence?"

"May be you're right, of course--but you may be wrong, too," she
insisted. "The Universe is big enough, so that people like the Dacrovos
may possibly exist in it somewhere. May be the Big Three will discover a
means of interstellar travel--then I'll get to see them myself, perhaps."

"Yes, and _if_ we do, and _if_ you ever see any such people, I'll bet
that the sight of them will make your hair curl right up into a ball,
too! But about Barkovis--remember how diplomatic the thoughts were that
he sent us? He described our structure as being 'compact,' but I got the
undertone of his real thoughts, as well. Didn't you?"

"Yes, now that you mention it, I did. He really thought that we were
white-hot, under-sized, overpowered, warty, hairy, hideously opaque and
generally repulsive little monstrosities--thoroughly unpleasant and
distasteful. But he was friendly, just the same. Heavens, Steve! Do you
suppose that he read our real thoughts, too?"

"Sure he did; but he is intelligent enough to make allowances, the same
as we are doing. He isn't any more insulted than we are. He knows that
such feelings are ingrained and cannot be changed."

       *       *       *       *       *

Breakfast over, they experienced a new sensation. For the first time in
months they had nothing to do! Used as they were to being surrounded by
pressing tasks, they enjoyed their holiday immensely for a few hours.
Sitting idly at the communicator plate, they scanned the sparkling
heavens with keen interest. Beneath them Jupiter was a brilliant
crescent not far from the sun in appearance, which latter had already
grown perceptibly smaller and less bright. Above them, and to their
right, Saturn shone refulgently, his spectacular rings plainly visible.
All about them were the glories of the firmament, which never fail to
awe the most seasoned observer. But idleness soon became irksome to
those two active spirits, and Stevens prowled restlessly about their
narrow quarters.

"I'm going to go to work before I go dippy," he soon declared. "They've
got lots of power, and we can rig up a transmitter unit to send it over
here to our receptor. Then I can start welding the old _Hope_ together
without waiting until we get to Titan to start it. Think I'll signal
Barkovis to come over, and see what he thinks about it."

The Titanian commander approved the idea, and the transmitting field was
quickly installed. Nadia insisted that she, too, needed to work, and
that she was altogether too good a mechanic to waste; therefore the two
again labored mightily together, day after day. But the girl limited
rigidly their hours of work to those of the working day; and evening
after evening Barkovis visited with them for hours. Dressed in his heavy
space-suit and supported by a tractor beam well out of range of what
seemed to him terrific heat radiated by the bodies of the Terrestrials,
he floated along unconcernedly; while over the multiplex cable of the
thought-exchanger he conversed with the man and woman seated just inside
the open outer door of their air-lock. The Titanian's appetite for
information was insatiable--particularly did he relish everything
pertaining to the earth and to the other inner planets, forever barred
to him and to his kind. In return Stevens and Nadia came gradually to
know the story of the humanity of Titan.

"I am glad beyond measure to have known you," Barkovis mused, one night.
"Your existence proves that there is truth in mythology, as some of
us have always believed. Your visit to Titan will create a furor in
scientific circles, for you are impossibility incarnate--personifications
of the preposterous. In you, wildest fancy had become commonplace.
According to many of our scientists, it is utterly impossible for you
to exist. Yet you say, and it must be, that there are millions upon
millions of similar beings. Think of it! Venerians, Tellurians,
Martians, the satellite dwellers of the lost space-ship, and us--so
similar mentally, yet physically how different!"

"But where does the mythology come in?" thought Nadia.

"We have unthinkably ancient legends which say that once Titan was
extremely hot, and that our remote ancestors were beings of fire, in
whose veins ran molten water instead of blood. Since our recorded
history goes back some tens of thousands of Saturnian years, and since
in that long period there has been no measurable change in us, few
of us have believed in the legends at all. They have been thought the
surviving figments of a barbarous, prehistoric worship of the sun.
However, such a condition is not in conflict with the known facts of
cosmogony, and since there actually exists such a humanity as yours--a
humanity whose bodily tissues actually _are_ composed largely of molten
water--those ancient legends must indeed have been based upon truth.

"What an evolution! Century after century of slowly decreasing
temperature--one continuous struggle to adapt the physique to a
constantly changing environment. First they must have tried to maintain
their high temperature by covering and heating their cities.--Then,
as vegetation died, they must have bred into their plants the ability
to use as sap purely chemical liquids, such as our present natural
fluids--which also may have been partly synthetic then--instead of the
molten water to which they had been accustomed. They must have modified
similarly the outer atmosphere; must have made it more reactive, to
compensate for the lowered temperature at which metabolism must take
place. As Titan grew colder and colder they probably dug their cities
deeper and ever deeper; until humanity came finally to realize that it
must itself change completely or perish utterly.

"Then we may picture them as aiding evolution in changing their body
chemistry. For thousands, and thousands of years there must have gone
on the gradual adaptation of blood stream and tissue to more and more
volatile liquids, and to lower and still lower temperatures. This must
have continued until Titan arrived at the condition which has now
obtained for ages--a condition of thermal equilibrium with space upon
one hand and upon the other the sun, which changes appreciably only in
millions upon millions of years. In equilibrium at last--with our bodily
and atmospheric temperatures finally constant at their present values,
which seem as low to you as yours appear high to us. Truly, an evolution
astounding to contemplate!"

"But how about power?" asked Stevens. "You seem to have all you want,
and yet it doesn't stand to reason that there could be very much
generated upon a satellite so old and so cold."

"You are right. For ages there has been but little power produced
upon Titan. Many cycles ago, however, our scientists had developed
rocket-driven space-ships, with which they explored our neighboring
satellites, and even Saturn itself. It is from power plants upon Saturn
that we draw energy. Their construction was difficult in the extreme,
since the pioneers had to work in braces because of the enormous force
of gravity. Then, too, they had to be protected from the overwhelming
pressure and poisonous qualities of the air, and insulated from a
temperature far above the melting point of water. In such awful heat,
of course, our customary building material, water, could not be
employed...."

"But all our instruments have indicated that Saturn is _cold_!" Stevens
interrupted.

"Its surface temperature, as read from afar, would be low," conceded
Barkovis, "but the actual surface of the planet is extremely hot, and
is highly volcanic. Practically none of its heat is radiated because of
the great density and depth of its atmosphere, which extends for many
hundreds of your kilometers. It required many thousands of lives and
many years of time to build and install those automatic power plants,
but once they were in operation, we were assured of power for many tens
of thousands of years to come."

"Our system of power transmission is more or less like yours, but we
haven't anything like your range. Suppose you'd be willing to teach me
the computation of your fields?"

"Yes, we shall be glad to give you the formulae. Being an older race, it
is perhaps natural that we should have developed certain refinements as
yet unknown to you. But I am, I perceived, detaining you from your time
of rest--goodbye," and Barkovis was wafted back toward his mirrored
globe.

"What do you make of this chemical solution blood of theirs, Steve?"
asked Nadia, watching the placidly floating form of the Titanian
captain.

"Not much. I may have mentioned before that there are one or two, or
perhaps even three men who are better chemists than I am. I gathered
that it is something like a polyhydric alcohol and something like a
substituted hydrocarbon, and yet different from either in that it
contains flourin in loose combination. I think it is something that our
Tellurian chemists haven't got yet; but they've got so many organic
compounds now that they may have synthesized it, at that. You see,
Titan's atmosphere isn't nearly as dense as ours, but what there is
of it is pure dynamite. Ours is a little oxygen, mixed with a lot of
inert ingredients. Theirs is oxygen, heavily laced with flourin. It's
_reactive_, no fooling! However, something pretty violent must be
necessary to carry on body reactions at such a temperature as theirs."

"Probably; but I know even less about that kind of thing than you do.
Funny, isn't it, the way he thinks 'water' when he means ice, and always
thinks of our real water as being molten?"

"Reasonable enough when you think about it. Temperature differences are
logarithmic, you know, not arithmetic--the effective difference between
his body temperature and ours is perhaps even greater than that between
ours and that of melted iron. We never think of iron as being a liquid,
you know."

"That's right, too. Well, good night, Steve dear."

"'Bye, little queen of space--see you at breakfast," and the _Forlorn
Hope_ became dark and silent.

       *       *       *       *       *

Day after day the brilliant sphere flew toward distant Saturn, with the
wreckage of the _Forlorn Hope_ in tow. Piece by piece that wreckage was
brought together and held in place by the Titanian tractors; and slowly
but steadily, under Stevens' terrific welding projector, the stubborn
steel flowed together, once more to become a seamless, spaceworthy
structure. And Nadia, the electrician, followed close behind the welder.
Wielding torch, pliers and spanner with practised hand, she repaired or
cut out of circuit the damaged accumulator cells and reunited the ends
of each severed power lead. Understanding Nadia's work thoroughly, the
Titanians were not particularly interested in it; but whenever Stevens
made his way along an outside seam, he had a large and thrillingly
horrified gallery. Everyone who could possibly secure permission to
leave the sphere did so, each upon his own pencil of force, and went
over to watch the welder. They did not come close to him--to venture
within fifty feet of that slow moving spot of scintillating brilliance,
even in a space-suit, meant death--but, poised around him in space, they
watched with shuddering, incredulous amazement, the monstrous human
being in whose veins ran molten water instead of blood; whose body was
already so fiercely hot that it could exist unharmed while working
practically without protection, upon _liquefied_ metal!

Finally the welding was done. The insulating space was evacuated and
held its vacuum--outer and inner shells were bottle-tight. The two
mechanics heaved deep sighs of relief as they discarded their cumbersome
armor and began to repair what few of their machine tools had been
damaged by the slashing plane of force which had so neatly sliced the
_Forlorn Hope_ into sections.

"Say, big fellow, you're the guy that slings the ink, ain't you?" Nadia
extinguished her torch and swaggered up to Stevens, hands on hips, her
walk an exaggerated roll. "Write me out a long walk. This job's all
played out, so I think I'll get me a good job on Titan. I said give me
my time, you big stiff!"

"You didn't say nothing!" growled Stevens in his deepest bass, playing
up to her lead as he always did. "Bounce back, cub, you've struck a
rubber fence! You signed on for duration and you'll stick--see?"

Arm in arm they went over to the nearest communicator plate. Flipping
the switch, Stevens turned the dial and Titan shone upon the screen; so
close, that it no longer resembled a moon, but was a world toward which
they were falling with an immense velocity.

"Not close enough to make out much detail yet--let's take another
look at Saturn," and Stevens projected the visiray beam out toward the
mighty planet. It was now an enormous full moon, almost five degrees in
apparent diameter,[1] its visible surface an expanse of what they knew
to be billowing cloud, shining brilliantly white in the pale sunlight,
broken only by a dark equatorial band.

[Footnote 1: The moon subtends an angle of about one-half of a degree.]

"Those rings were _such_ a gorgeous spectacle a little while ago!" Nadia
mourned. "It's a shame that Titan has to be right in their plane, isn't
it? Think of living this close to one of the most wonderful sights in
the Solar System, and never being able to see it. Think they know what
they're missing, Steve?"

"We'll have to ask Barkovis," Stevens replied. He swung the communicator
beam back toward Titan, and Nadia shuddered.

"Oh, it's hideous!" she exclaimed. "I thought that it would improve as
we got closer, but the plainer we can see it, the worse it gets. Just to
think of human beings, even such cold-blooded ones as those over there,
living upon such a horrible moon and _liking_ it, gives mi the blue
shivers!"

"It's pretty bleak, no fooling," he admitted, and peered through the
eyepiece of the visiray telescope, studying minutely the forbidding
surface of the satellite they were so rapidly approaching.

Larger and larger it loomed, a cratered, jagged globe of desolation
indescribable; of sheer, bitter cold incarnate and palpable; of stark,
sharp contrasts. Gigantic craters, in whose yawning depths no spark of
warmth had been generated for countless cycles of time, were surrounded
by vast plains eroded to the dead level of a windless sea. Every lofty
object cast a sharply outlined shade of impenetrable blackness, beside
which the weak light of the sun became a dazzling glare. The ground was
either a brilliant white or an intense black, unrelieved by half-tones.

"I can't hand it much, either, Nadia, but it's all in the way you've
been brought up, you know. This is home to them, and just to look at
Tellus would give them the pip. Ha! Here's something you'll like, even
if it does look so cold that it makes me feel like hugging a couple of
heater coils. It's Barkovis' city the one we're heading for, I think.
It's close enough now so that we can get it on the plate," and he set
the communicator beam upon the metropolis of Titan.

"Why, I don't see a thing, Steve--where and what is it?" They were
dropping vertically downward toward the center of a vast plain of white,
featureless and desolate; and Nadia stared in disappointment.

"You'll see directly--it's too good to spoil by telling you what to look
for or wh...."

"Oh, there it is!" she cried. "It _is_ beautiful, Steve, but how
frightfully, utterly cold!"

       *       *       *       *       *

A flash of prismatic color had caught the girl's eye, and, one
transparent structure thus revealed to her sight, there had burst into
view a city of crystal. Low buildings of hexagonal shape, arranged
in irregularly variant hexagonal patterns, extended mile upon mile.
From the roofs of the structures lacy spires soared heavenward;
inter-connected by long, slim cantilever bridges whose prodigious
spans seemed out of all proportion to the gossamer delicacy of their
construction. Buildings, spires, and bridges formed fantastic
geometrical designs, at which Nadia exclaimed in delight.

"I've just thought of what that reminds me of--it's snowflakes!"

"Sure--I knew it was something familiar. Snowflakes--no two are ever
exactly alike, and yet every one is symmetrical and hexagonal. We're
going to land on the public square--see the crowds? Let's put on our
suits and go out."

The _Forlorn Hope_ lay in a hexagonal park, and near it the Titanian
globe had also come to rest. All about the little plot towered the
glittering buildings of crystal, and in its center played a fountain;
a series of clear and sparkling cascades of liquid jewels. Under foot
there spread a thick, soft carpet of whitely brilliant vegetation.
Throngs of the grotesque citizens of Titania were massed to greet the
space-ships; throngs clustering close about the globular vessel, but
maintaining a respectful distance from the fiercely radiant Terrestrial
wedge. All were shouting greetings and congratulations--shouts which
Stevens found as intelligible as his own native tongue.

"Why, I can understand every word they say, Steve!" Nadia exclaimed, in
surprise. "How come, do you suppose?"

"I can, too. Don't know--must be from using that thought telephone of
theirs so much, I guess. Here comes Barkovis--I'll ask him."

The Titanian commander had been in earnest conversation with a group of
fellow-creatures and was now walking toward the Terrestrials, carrying
the multiple headsets. Placing them upon the white sward, he backed
away, motioning the two visitors to pick them up.

"It may not be necessary, Barkovis," Stevens said, slowly and clearly.
"We do not know why, but we can understand what your people are saying,
and it may be that you can now understand us."

"Oh, yes, I can understand your English perfectly. A surprising
development, but perhaps, after all, one that should have been expected,
from the very nature of the device we have been using. I wanted to tell
you that I have just received grave news, which makes it impossible for
us to help you immediately, as I promised. While we were gone, one of
our two power-plants upon Saturn failed. In consequence, Titan's power
has been cut to a minimum, since maintaining our beam at that great
distance required a large fraction of the output of the other plant.
Because of this lack, the Sedlor walls were weakened to such a point
that in spite of the Guardian's assurances, I think trouble is
inevitable. At all events, it is of the utmost importance that we begin
repairing the damaged unit, for that is to be a task indeed."

"Yes, it will take time," agreed Stevens, remembering what the
Titanian captain had told him concerning the construction of those
plants--generators which had been in continuous and automatic operation
for thousands of Saturnian years.

"It will take more than time--it will take lives," replied Barkovis,
gravely. "Scores, perhaps hundreds, of us will never again breathe the
clear, pure air of Titan. In spite of all precaution and all possible
bracing and insulation, man after man after man will be crushed by
his own weight, volatilized by the awful heat, poisoned by the foul
atmosphere, or will burst into unthinkable flames at the touch of some
flying spark from the inconceivably hot metals with which we shall have
to work. A horrible fate, but we shall not lack for volunteers."

"Sure not; and of course you yourself would go. And I never thought of
the effect a spark would have on you--your tissues would probably be
wildly inflammable. But say, I just had a thought. Just how hot is the
air at those plants and just what is the actual pressure?"

"According to the records, the temperature is some forty of your
centigrade degrees above the melting-point of water, and the pressure
is not far short of two of your meters of mercury. I find it almost
impossible to think of mercury as a liquid, however."

"You find it impossible, since you use it as a metal, for wires in coils
and so on. But plus forty, while pretty warm, isn't impossible, by any
means; and we could stand double our air pressure for quite a while.
Both my partner and I are pretty fair mechanics and we've got quite a
line of machine tools, such as you could not possibly have here. We'll
give it a whirl, since we owe you something already. Lead us to it,
ace--but wait a minute! We can't see through the fog, so couldn't find
the plants, and probably your wiring diagrams would explode if I touched
them."

"I never thought of your helping us," mused Barkovis. "The idea of any
living being existing in that inferno has always been unthinkable, but
the difficulties you mention are slight. We have already built in our
vessel communicators similar to yours, and radio sets. With these we can
guide you and explain the plants to you as you work, and our tractor
beams will be of assistance to you in moving heavy objects, even at such
distances from the surface as we Titanians shall have to maintain. If
you will set out a flask of your atmosphere, we will analyze it, for the
thought has come to me that perhaps, being planet-dwellers yourselves,
the air of Saturn might not be as poisonous to you as it is to us."

"That's a thought, too," and, the news broadcast, it was not long until
the two ships leaped into the air, to the accompaniment of the cheers
and plaudits of a watching multitude.

       *       *       *       *       *

In a wide curve they sped toward Saturn. Passing so close to the
enormous rings that the individual meteoric fragments could almost be
seen with the unaided eye, they flashed on and on, slowing down long
before they approached the upper surface of the envelope of cloud.
The spherical space-ship stopped and Stevens, staring into his useless
screen, drove the _Forlorn Hope_ downward mile after mile, solely under
Barkovis' direction, changing course and power from time to time as the
Titanian's voice came from the speaker at his elbow. Slower and slower
became the descent, until finally, almost upon the broad, flat roof
of the power-plant, Stevens saw it in his plate. Breathing deeply in
relief, he dropped quickly down upon a flat pavement, neutralized his
controls, and turned to Nadia.

"Well, old golf-shootist, we're here at last--now we'll go out and see
what's gone screwy with the works. Remember that gravity is about double
normal here, and conduct yourself accordingly."

"But it's supposed to be only about nine-tenths," she objected.

"That's at the outer surface of the atmosphere," he replied. "And it's
_some_ atmosphere--not like the thin layer we've got on Tellus."

They went into the airlock, and Stevens admitted air until their
suits began to collapse. Then, face-plate valves cracked, he sniffed
cautiously, finally opening his helmet wide. Nadia followed suit and
the man laughed as she wrinkled her nose in disgust as two faint, but
unmistakable odors smote her olfactory nerves.

"I never cared particularly for hydrogen sulphide and sulphur dioxide,
either," he assured her, "but they aren't strong enough to hurt us in
the short time we'll be here. Those Titanian chemists know their stuff,
though."

He opened the outer valves slowly, then opened the door and they stepped
down upon the smooth, solid floor, which Stevens examined carefully.

"I thought so, from his story. Solid platinum! This whole planet is
built of platinum, iridium, and noble alloys--the only substances known
that will literally last forever. Believe me, ace of my bosom, I don't
wonder that it cost them lives to build it--with their conditions, I
don't see how they ever got it built at all."

Before them rose an immense, flat-topped cone of metal, upon the top of
which was situated the power plant. Twelve massive pillars supported a
flat roof, but permitted the air to circulate freely throughout the one
great room which housed the machinery. They climbed a flight of stairs,
passed between two pillars, and stared about them. There was no noise,
no motion--there was nothing that _could_ move. Twelve enormous masses
of metallic checkerwork, covered with wide cooling fins, almost filled
the vast hall. From the center of each mass great leads extended out
into a clear space in the middle of the room, there uniting in mid-air
to form one enormous bus-bar. This bar, thicker than a man's body, had
originally curved upward to the base of an immense parabolic structure
of latticed bars. Now, however, it was broken in midspan and the two
ends bent toward the floor. Above their heads, a jagged hole gaped in
the heavy metal of the roof, and a similar hole had been torn in the
floor. The bar had been broken and these holes had been made by some
heavy body, probably a meteorite, falling with terrific velocity.

"This is it, all right," Stevens spoke to distant Barkovis. "Sure
there's nothing on this beam? If it should be hot and I should short
circuit or bridge it with my body, it would be just too bad."

"We have made sure that nothing is connected to it," the Titanian
assured him. "Do you think you can do anything?"

"Absolutely. We've got jacks that'll bend heavier stuff than that, and
after we get it straightened the welding will be easy, but I'll have
to have some metal. Shall I cut a piece off the pavement outside?"

"That will not be necessary. You will find ample stores of space metal
piled at the base of each pillar."

"All x. Now we'll get the jack, Nadia," and they went back to their
vessel, finding that upon Saturn, their combined strength was barely
sufficient to drag the heavy tool along the floor.

"Stand aside, please. We will place it for you," a calm voice sounded in
their ears, and a pale blue tractor beam picked the massive jack lightly
from the floor, and as lightly lifted it to its place beneath the broken
bus-bar and held it there while Stevens piled blocks and plates of
platinum beneath its base.

"Well, here's where I peel down as far as the law allows. This is going
to be real work, girl--no fooling. It'd help a lot if this outfit were
sending out a few thousand kilo-franks instead of standing idle."

"How would that help?"

"It's a heat-engine, you know--works by absorbing heat. The cold air
sinks--I imagine it pretty nearly blows a gale down the side of this
cone when it's working--and hot air rushes in to take its place. I could
use a little cool breeze right now," and Stevens, stripped to the waist,
bent to the lever of the powerful hydraulic jack.

Beads of sweat gathered upon his broad back, uniting to form tiny
rivulets, and the girl became highly concerned about him.

"Let me help you, Steve--I'm pretty husky, too, you know."

"Sure you are, ace, but this is a job for a truck-horse, not a
tenderly-nurtured maiden of the upper classes. You can help, though, by
breaking out that welding outfit and getting it ready while I'm doing
this bending to prepare for the welding."

Under the urge of that mighty jack the ends of the broken bus-bar rose
into place, while far off in space the Titanians clustered about their
visiray screens, watching, in almost unbelieving amazement, the
supernatural being who labored in that reeking inferno of heat and
poisonous vapor--who labored almost naked and entirely unprotected,
refreshing himself from time to time with drafts of molten water!

"All x, Barkovis--that's high, I guess." Stevens flipped perspiration
from his hot forehead with a wet finger and straightened his weary back.
"Now you can put this jack away where we had it. Then you might trundle
me over enough of that spare metal to fill up this hole, and I'll put on
my suit and goggles and practice welding on this floor and the roof, to
get the feel of the metal before I tackle the bar."

The hole in the floor was filled with scrap and soon sparks were flying
wildly as the searing beam of Stevens' welding projector bit viciously
into the stubborn alloy of noble metals; fashioning a smooth, solid
floor where the yawning aperture had been. Then, lifted with his tools
and plates to the roof, the man repaired that hole also.

"Now I know enough about it to do a good job on the bar," he decided,
and brick after brick of alloy was fused into the crack, until only a
smoothly rounded bulge betrayed that a break had ever existed in that
mighty rod of metal.

"Give 'em the signal to draw power, and see if that's all that was the
matter," Stevens instructed, as he relaxed in the grateful coolness of
their control room. "Whew, that was a warm job, Nadia--and this air of
ours does smell good!"

       *       *       *       *       *

"It was a horrible job, and I'm glad it's done," she declared. "But say,
Steve, that thing looks as little like a power-plant as anything I can
imagine. How does it work? You said that it worked on heat, but I don't
quite see how. But don't draw diagrams and _please_ don't integrate!"

"No ordinary plant such as we use could run for centuries
without attention," he replied. "This is a highly advanced
heat-engine--something like a thermo-couple, you know. This whole thing
is simply the hot end, connected to the cold end on Titan by a beam
instead of wires. When it's working, this metal must cool off something
fierce. That's what the checkerwork and fins are for--so that it can
absorb the maximum amount of heat from the current of hot, moist air
I spoke about. It's a sweet system--we'll have to rig up one between
Tellus and the moon. Or even between the Equator and the Arctic Circle
there'd be enough thermal differential to give us a million kilofranks.
We haven't got the all x signal yet, but it's working--look at it sweat
as it cools down!"

"I'll say it's sweating--the water is simply streaming off it!" In their
plate they saw that moisture was already beginning to condense upon the
heat-absorber: moisture running down the fins in streams and creeping
over the dull metal floor in sluggish sheets; moisture which, turning
into ice in the colder interior of the checkerwork, again became fluid
at the inrush of hot, wet Saturnian air.

"There's the signal--all x, Barkovis? By the way it's condensing water,
it seems to be functioning again."

"Perfect!" came the Titanian's enthusiastic reply, "You two
planet-dwellers have done more in three short hours than the entire
force of Titan could have accomplished in months. You have earned, and
shall receive, the highest...."

"As you were, ace!" Stevens interrupted, embarrassed. "This job was just
like shooting fish down a well, for us. Since you saved our lives, we
owe you a lot yet. We're coming out--straight up!"

The _Forlorn Hope_ shot upward, through mile after mile of steaming fog,
until at last she broke through into the light, clear outer atmosphere.
Stevens located the Titanian space-ship, and the two vessels once more
hurtling together through the ether toward Titan, he turned to his
companion.

"Take the controls, will you, Nadia? Think I'll finish up the tube. I
brought along a piece of platinum from the power plant, and something
that I think is tantalum from Barkovis' description of it. With those
and the fractions we melted out, I think I can make everything we'll
need."

Now that he had comparatively pure metal with which to work, drawing
the leads and filaments was relatively a simple task. Working over
the hot-bench with torch and welding projector, he made short work of
running the leads through the almost plastic glass of the great tube and
of sealing them in place. The plates and grids presented more serious
problems; but they were solved and, long before Titan was reached, the
tube was out in space, supported by a Titanian tractor beam between the
two vessels. Stevens came into the shop, holding a modified McLeod gauge
which he had just taken from the interior of the tube. When it had come
to equilibrium, he read it carefully and yelled.

"Eureka, little fellow! She's down to where I can't read it, even on
this big gauge--so hard that it won't need flashing--harder than any
vacuum I ever got on Tellus, even with a Rodebush-Michalek super-pump!"

"But how about occluded and absorbed gas in the filaments and so on when
they heat up?" demanded Nadia, practically.

"All gone, ace. I out-gassed 'em plenty out there--seven times, almost
to fusion. There isn't enough gas left in the whole thing to make a deep
breath for a microbe."

He took up his welding projector and a beam carried him back to the
tube. There, in the practically absolute vacuum of space, the last
openings in the glass were sealed, and man and great transmitting tube
were wafted lightly back into the Terrestrial cruiser.

Hour after hour mirrored Titanian sphere and crude-fashioned terrestrial
wedge bored serenely on through space, and it was not until Titan loomed
large beneath them that the calm was broken by an insistent call from
Titan to the sphere.

"Barkodar, attention! Barkodar, attention!" screamed from the speakers,
and they heard Barkovis acknowledge the call.

"The Sedlor have broken through and are marching upon Titania. The order
has gone out for immediate mobilization of every unit."

"There's that word 'Sedlor' again--what are they, anyway, Steve?"
demanded Nadia.

"I don't know. I was going to ask him when he sprung it on us first, but
he was pretty busy then and I haven't thought of it since. Something
pretty serious, though--they've jumped their acceleration almost to
Tellurian gravity, and none of them can live through much of that."

"Tellurians?" came the voice of Barkovis from the speaker. "We have
just...."

"All x--we were on your wave and heard it," interrupted Stevens. "We're
with you. What are those Sedlor, anyway? Maybe we can help you dope out
something."

"Perhaps--but whatever you do, do not use your heat-projector. That
would start a conflagration raging over the whole country, and we shall
have enough to do without fighting fire. But it may be that you have
other weapons, of which we are ignorant, and I can use a little time in
explanation before we arrive. The Sedlor are a form of life, something
like your..." he paused, searching through his scanty store of Earthly
knowledge, then went on, doubtfully, "perhaps some thing like your
insects. They developed a sort of intelligence, and because of their
fecundity, adapted themselves to their environment as readily as did
man; and for ages they threatened man's supremacy upon Titan. They
devoured vegetation, crops, animals, and mankind. After a world-wide
campaign, however, they were finally exterminated, save in the
neighborhood of one great volcanic crater, which they so honeycombed
that it is almost impregnable. All around that district we have erected
barriers of force, maintained by a corps of men known as 'Guardians of
the Sedlor.' These barriers extend so far into the ground and so high
into the air that the Sedlor can neither burrow beneath them nor fly
over them. They were being advanced as rapidly as possible, and in a
few more years the insects would have been destroyed completely--but
now they are again at large. They have probably developed an armor or
a natural resistance greater than the Guardians thought possible, so
that when the walls were weakened, they came through in their millions,
underground and undetected. They are now attacking our nearest city--the
one you know, and which you have called Titania."

"What do you use--those high-explosive bombs?"

"The bombs were developed principally for use against them, but proved
worse than useless, for we found that when a Sedlor was blown to pieces,
each piece forthwith developed into a new, complete creature. Our most
efficient weapons are our heat rays--not yours remember--and poison gas.
I must prepare our arms."

"Would our heat-ray actually set them afire, Steve?" Nadia asked, as the
plate went blank.

"I'll say it would. I'll show you what heat means to them--showing
you will be plainer than any amount of explanation," and he shot the
visiray beam down toward the city of Titania. Into a low-lying building
it went, and Nadia saw a Titanian foundry in full operation. Men clad
in asbestos armor were charging, tending, and tapping great electric
furnaces and crucibles; shrinking back and turning their armored heads
away as the hissing, smoking melt crackled into the molds from their
long-handled ladles. Nadia studied the foundry for a moment, interested,
but unimpressed.

"Of course it's hot there--foundries always _are_ hot," she argued.

"Yes, but you haven't got the idea yet." Stevens turned again to the
controls, following the sphere toward what was evidently a line of
battle. "That stuff that they are melting and casting and that is so
hot, is not metal, but _ice!_ Remember that the vital fluid of all life
here, animal and vegetable, corresponding to our water, is probably
more inflammable than gasoline. If they can't work on ice-water without
wearing suits of five-ply asbestos, what would a real heat-ray do to
them? It'd be about like our taking a dive into the sun!"

"_Ice_!" she exclaimed. "Oh of course--but you couldn't really believe
a thing like that without seeing it, could you? Oh, Steve--how utterly
horrible!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The "Barkodar" had dropped down into a line of sister ships, and had
gone into action in midair against a veritable swarm of foes. Winged
centipedes they were--centipedes fully six feet long, hurling themselves
along the ground and through the air in furious hordes. From the flying
globes emanated pale beams of force, at the touch of which the Sedlor
disappeared in puffs of vapor. Upon the ground huge tractors and trucks,
manned by masked soldiery, mounted mighty reflectors projecting the same
lethal beam. From globes and tanks there sounded a drumming roar and
small capsules broke in thousands among the foe; emitting a red cloud of
gas in which the centipedes shriveled and died. But for each one that
was destroyed two came up from holes in the ground and the battle-line
fell back toward Titania, back toward a long line of derrick-like
structures which were sinking force-rods into the ground in furious
haste.

Stevens flashed on his ultra-violet projector and swung it into the
thickest ranks of the enemy. In the beam many of the monsters died,
but the Terrestrial ray was impotent compared with the weapons of the
Titanians, and Stevens, snapping off the beam with a bitter imprecation,
shot the visiray out toward the bare, black cone of the extinct volcano
and studied it with care.

"Barkovis, I've got a thought!" he snapped into the microphone. "Their
stronghold is in that mountain, and there's millions of them in there
yet, coming out along their tunnels. They've got all the vegetation
eaten away for miles, so there's nothing much left there to spread a
fire if I go to work on that hill, and, I'll probably melt enough water
to put out most of the fires I start. Detail me a couple of ships to
drop your fire-foam bombs on any little blazes that may spread, and I'll
give them so much to worry about at home, that they'll forget all about
Titania."

The _Forlorn Hope_ darted toward the crater, followed closely by two of
the dazzling globes. They circled the mountain until Stevens found a
favorable point of attack--a stupendous vertical cliff of mingled rock
and crystal, upon the base of which he trained his terrific infra-red
projector.

"I'm going to draw a lot of power," he warned the Titanians then. "I'm
giving this gun everything she'll take."

He drove the massive switches in, and as that dull red beam struck the
cliff's base there was made evident the awful effect of a concentrated
beam of real and pure heat upon such an utterly frigid world. Vast
columns of fire roared aloft, helping Stevens, melting and destroying
the very ground as the bodies of the Sedlor in that gigantic ant-heap
burst into flames. Clouds of superheated steam roared upward, condensing
into a hot rain which descended in destructive torrents upon the
fastnesses of the centipedes. As the raging beam ate deeper and deeper
into the base of the cliff, the mountain itself began to disintegrate;
block after gigantic block breaking off and crashing down into the
flaming, boiling, seething cauldron which was the apex of that ravening
beam.

Hour after hour Stevens drove his intolerable weapon into the great
mountain, teeming with Sedlorean life; and hour after hour a group of
Titanian spheres stood by, deluging the surrounding plain with a flood
of heavy fumes, through which the holocaust could not spread for lack of
oxygen. Not until the mountain was gone--not until in its stead there
lay a furiously boiling lake, its flaming surface hundreds of feet below
the level of the plain--did Stevens open his power circuits and point
the deformed prow of the _Forlorn Hope_ toward Titania.



CHAPTER VII

The Return to Ganymede


"Must you you go back to Ganymede?" Barkovis asked, slowly and
thoughtfully. He was sitting upon a crystal bench beside the fountain,
talking with Stevens, who, dressed in his bulging space-suit, stood near
an airlock of the _Forlorn Hope_. "It seems a shame that you should face
again those unknown, monstrous creatures who so inexcusably attacked us
both without provocation."

"I'm not so keen on it myself, but I can't see any other way out of it,"
the Terrestrial replied. "We left a lot of our equipment there, you
know; and even if I should build duplicates here, it wouldn't do us any
good. These ten-nineteens are the most powerful transmitting tubes known
when we left Tellus, but even their fields, dense as they are, can't
hold an ultra-beam together much farther than about six astronomical
units. So you see we can't possibly reach our friends from here with
this tube; and your system of beam transmission won't hold anything
together even that far, and won't work on any wave shorter than Roeser's
Rays. We may run into some more of those little spheres, though, and I
don't like the prospect. I wonder if we couldn't plate a layer of that
mirror of yours upon the _Hope_ and carry along a few of those bombs? By
the way, what is that explosive--or is it something beyond Tellurian
chemistry?"

"Its structure should be clear to you, although you probably could not
prepare it upon Tellus because of your high temperature. It is nothing
but nitrogen--twenty-six atoms of nitrogen combined to form one molecule
of what you would call--N-twenty-six?"

"Wow!" Stevens whistled. "Crystalline, pentavalent nitrogen--no wonder
it's violent!"

"We could, of course, cover your vessel with the mirror, but I am afraid
that it would prove of little value. The plates are so hot that it would
soon volatilize."

"Not necessarily," argued Stevens. "We could live in number one
life-boat, and shut off the heat everywhere else. The life-boats are
insulated from the structure proper, and the inner and outer walls of
the structure are insulated from each other. With only the headquarters
lifeboat warm, the outer wall could be held pretty close to zero
absolute."

"That is true. The bombs, of course, are controlled by radio, and
therefore may be attached to the outer wall of your vessel. We shall be
glad to do these small things for you."

The heaters of the _Forlorn Hope_ were shut off, and as soon as the
outer shell had cooled to Titanian temperature, a corps of mechanics set
to work. A machine very like a concrete mixer was rolled up beside the
steel vessel, and into its capacious maw were dumped boxes and barrels
of dry ingredients and many cans of sparkling liquid. The resultant
paste was pumped upon the steel plating in a sluggish, viscid stream,
which spread out into a thick and uniform coating beneath the flying
rollers of the skilled Titanian workmen. As it hardened, the paste
smoothed magically into the perfect mirror which covered the
space-vessels of the satellite; and a full dozen of the mirror explosive
bombs of this strange people were hung in the racks already provided.

"Once again I must caution you concerning those torpedoes," Barkovis
warned Stevens. "If you use them all, very well, but do not try to take
even one of them into any region where it is very hot, for it will
explode and demolish your vessel. If you do not use them, destroy them
before you descend into the hot atmosphere of Ganymede. The mirror will
volatilize harmlessly at the temperature of melting mercury, but the
torpedoes must be destroyed. Once more, Tellurians, we thank you for
what you have done, and wish you well."

"Thanks a lot for _your_ help--we still owe you something," replied
Stevens. "If either of your power-plants go sour on you again, or if
you need any more built, be sure to let us know--you can come close
enough to the inner planets now on your own beam to talk to us on the
ultra-communicator. We'll be glad to help you any way we can--and we may
call on you for help again. Goodbye, Barkovis--goodbye, all Titania!"

He made his way through the bitterly cold shop into the control-room of
their lifeboat, and while he was divesting himself of his heavy suit,
Nadia lifted the _Forlorn Hope_ into the blue-green sky of Titan,
accompanied by an escort of the mirrored globes. Well clear of the
atmosphere of the satellite, the terrestrial cruiser shot forward at
normal acceleration, while the Titanian vessels halted and wove a
pattern of blue and golden rays in salute to the departing guests.

"Well, Nadia, we're off--on a long trek, too."

"Said Wun Long Hop, the Chinese pee-lo," Nadia agreed. "Sure
everything's all x, big boy?"

"To nineteen decimals," he declared. "You couldn't squeeze another frank
into our accumulators with a proof-bar, and since they're sending us all
the power we want to draw, we won't need to touch our batteries or tap
our own beam until we're almost to Jupiter. To cap the climax, what it
takes to make big medicine on those spherical friends of ours, we've
got. We're not sitting on top of the world, ace--we've perched exactly
at the apex of the entire universe!"

"How long is it going to take?"

"Don't know. Haven't figured it yet, but it'll be _beaucoup_ days," and
the two wanderers from far-distant Earth settled down to the routine of
a long and uneventful journey.

They gave Saturn and his spectacular rings a wide berth and sped on,
with ever-increasing velocity. Past the outer satellites, on and on,
the good ship _Forlorn Hope_ flew into the black-and-brilliant depths of
interplanetary space. Saturn was an ever-diminishing disk beneath them:
above them was Jupiter's thin crescent, growing ever larger and more
bright, and the Monarch of the Solar System, remaining almost stationary
day after day, increasing steadily in apparent diameter and in
brilliance.

       *       *       *       *       *

Although the voyage from Titan to Ganymede was long, it was not
monotonous, for there was much work to be done in the designing and
fabrication of the various units which were to comprise the ultra-radio
transmitting station. In the various compartments of the _Forlorn Hope_
there were sundry small motors, blowers, coils, condensers, force-field
generators, and other items which Stevens could use with little or no
alteration; but for the most part he had to build everything himself.
Thus it was that time passed quickly; so quickly that Jupiter loomed
large and the Saturnian beam of power began to attenuate almost before
the Terrestrials realized that their journey was drawing to an end.

"Our beam's falling apart fast," Stevens read his meters carefully, then
swung his communicator beam toward Jupiter. "We aren't getting quite
enough power to hold our acceleration at normal--think I'll cut now,
while we're still drawing enough to let the Titanians know we're off
their beam. We've got lots of power of our own now; and we're getting
pretty close to enemy territory, so they may locate that heavy beam.
Have you found Ganymede yet?"

"Yes, it will be on the other side of Jupiter by the time we get there.
Shall I detour, or put on a little more negative and wait for it to come
around to this side?"

"Better wait, I think. The farther away we stay from Jupiter and the
major satellites, the better."

"All x--it's on. Suppose we'd better start standing watches, in case
some of them show up?"

"No use," he dissented. "I've been afraid to put out our
electro-magnetic detectors, as they could surely trace them in use.
Without them, we couldn't spot an enemy ship even if we were looking
right at it, except by accident; since they won't be lighted up and
it's awfully hard to see anything out here, anyway. We probably won't
know they're within a million kilometers until they put a beam on us.
Barkovis says that this mirror will reflect any beam they can use, and
I've already got a set of photo-cells in circuit to ring an alarm at
the first flash off of our mirror plating. I'd like to get in the first
licks myself, but I haven't been able to dope out any way of doing it.
So you might as well sleep in your own room, as usual, and I'll camp
here right under the panel until we get to Ganymede. There's a couple
of little things I just thought of, though, that may help some; and
I'm going to do 'em right now."

Putting on his space-suit, he picked up a power drill and went out into
the bitter cold of the outer structure. There he attacked the inner
wall of their vessel, and the carefully established inter-wall vacuum
disappeared in a screaming hiss of air as the tempered point bit through
plate after plate.

"What's the idea, Steve?" Nadia asked, when he had re-entered the
control room. "Now you'll have all that pumping to do over again."

"Protection for the mirrors," he explained. "You see, they aren't
perfect reflectors. There's a little absorption, so that some stuff
comes through. Not much, of course; but enough to kill some of those
Titanians and almost enough to ruin their ship got through in about ten
minutes, and only one enemy was dealing it out. We can stand more than
they could, of course, but the mirror itself won't stand much more heat
than it was absorbing then. But with air in those spaces instead of
vacuum, and with the whole mass of the _Hope_, except this one lifeboat,
as cold as it is, I figure that there'll be enough conduction and
convection through them to keep the outer wall and the mirror cold--cool
enough, at least, to hold the mirror on for an hour. If only one ship
tackles us, it won't be bad--but I figure that if there's only one,
we're lucky."

       *       *       *       *       *

Stevens' fears were only too well grounded, for during the "evening" of
the following day, while he was carefully scanning the heavens for some
sign of enemy craft, the alarm bell over his head burst into its brazen
clamor. Instantly he shot out the detectors and ultra-lights and saw not
one, but six of the deadly globes--almost upon them, at point-blank
range! One was already playing a beam of force upon the _Forlorn Hope_,
and the other five went into action immediately upon feeling the
detector impulses and perceiving that the weapon of their sister ship
had encountered an unusual resistance in the material of that peculiarly
mirrored wedge. As those terrific forces struck her, the terrestrial
cruiser became a vast pyrotechnic set piece, a dazzling fountain of
coruscant brilliance: for the mirror held. The enemy beams shot back
upon themselves and rebounded in all directions, in the same spectacular
exhibition of frenzied incandescence which had marked the resistance of
the Titanian sphere to a similar attack.

But Stevens was not idle. In the instant of launching his detectors,
as fast as he could work the trips, four of the frightful nitrogen
bombs of Titan--all that he could handle at once--shot out into space,
their rocket-tubes flaring viciously. The enemy detectors of course
located the flying torpedoes immediately, but, contemptuous of material
projectiles, the spheres made no attempt to dodge, but merely lashed out
upon them with their ravening rays. So close was the range that they
had no time to avoid the radio-directed bombs after discovering that
their beams were useless against the unknown protective covering of
those mirrored shells. There were four practically simultaneous
detonations--silent, but terrific explosions as the pent-up internal
energy of solid pentavalent nitrogen was instantaneously released--and
the four insensately murderous spheres disappeared into jagged fragments
of wreckage, flying wildly away from the centers of explosion. One great
mass of riven and twisted metal was blown directly upon the fifth globe,
and Nadia stared in horrified fascination at the silent crash as the
entire side of the ship crumpled inward like a shell of cardboard under
the awful impact. That vessel was probably out of action, but Stevens
was taking no chances. As soon as he had clamped a pale blue tractor rod
upon the sixth and last of the enemy fleet, he drove a torpedo through
the gaping wall and into the interior of the helpless war-vessel. There
he exploded it, and the awful charge, detonated in that confined space,
literally tore the globular space-ship to bits.

"We'll show these jaspers what kind of trees make shingles!" he gritted
between clenched teeth; and his eyes, hard now as gray iron, fairly
emitted sparks as he launched four torpedoes upon the sole remaining
globe of the squadron of the void. "I've had a lot of curiosity to know
just what kind of unnatural monstrosities can possibly have such
fiendish dispositions as they've got--but beasts, men or devils, they'll
find they've grabbed something this time they can't let go of," and
fierce blasts of energy ripped from the exhausts as he drove his
missiles, at their highest possible acceleration, toward the captive
sphere so savagely struggling at the extremity of his tractor beam.

But that one remaining vessel was to prove no such easy victim as had
its sister ships. Being six to one, and supposedly invincible, the
squadron had been overconfident and had attacked carelessly, with only
its crippling slicing beams instead of its more deadly weapons of total
destruction; and so fierce and hard had been Stevens' counter-attack
that five of its numbers had been destroyed before they realized what
powerful armament was mounted by that apparently crude, helpless,
and innocuous wedge. The sixth, however, was fully warned, and every
resource at the command of its hellish crew was now being directed
against the _Forlorn Hope_.

Sheets, cones, and gigantic rods of force flashed and crackled. Space
was filled with silent, devastating tongues of flame. The _Forlorn
Hope_ was dragged about erratically as the sphere tried to dodge those
hurtling torpedoes; tried to break away from the hawser of energy
anchoring her so solidly to her opponent. But the linkage held, and
closer and closer Stevens drove the fourfold menace of his frightful
dirigible bombs. Pressor beams beat upon them in vain. Hard driven as
those pushers were, they could find no footing, but were reflected at
many angles by that untouchable mirror and their utmost force scarcely
impeded the progress of the rocket-propelled missiles. Comparatively
small as the projectiles were, however, they soon felt the effects of
the prodigious beams of heat enveloping them, and torpedo after torpedo
exploded harmlessly in space as their mirrors warmed up and volatilized.
But for each bomb that was lost, Stevens launched another, and each one
came closer to its objective than had its predecessor.

Made desperate by the failure of his every beam, the enemy commander
thought to use material projectiles himself--weapons abandoned long
since by his race as antiquated and inefficient, but a few of which were
still carried by the older types of vessels. One such shell was found
and launched--but in the instant of its launching Stevens' foremost bomb
struck its mark and exploded. So close were the other three bombs, that
they also let go at the shock; and the warlike sphere, hemmed in by four
centers of explosions, flew apart--literally pulverized. Its projectile,
so barely discharged, did not explode--it was loaded with material which
could be detonated only by the warhead upon impact or by a radio signal.
It was, however, deflected markedly from its course by the force of the
blast, so that instead of striking the _Forlorn Hope_ in direct central
impact, its head merely touched the apex of the mirror-plated wedge.
That touch was enough. There was another appalling concussion, another
blinding glare, and the entire front quarter of the terrestrial vessel
had gone to join the shattered globes.

Between the point of explosion and the lifeboats there had been many
channels of insulation, many bulkheads, many air-breaks, and compartment
after compartment of accumulator cells. These had borne the brunt of the
explosion, so that the control room was unharmed, and Stevens swung his
communicator rapidly through the damaged portions of the vessels.

"How badly are we hurt, Steve--can we make it to Ganymede?"

Nadia was quietly staring over his shoulder into the plate, studying
with him the pictures of destruction there portrayed as he flashed the
projector from compartment to compartment.

"We're hurt--no fooling--but it might have been a lot worse," he
replied, as he completed the survey. "We've lost about all of our
accumulators, but we can land on our own beam, and landing power is all
we want, I think. You see, we're drifting straight for where Ganymede
will be, and we'd better cut out every bit of power we're using, even
the heaters, until we get there. This lifeboat will hold heat for quite
a while, and I'd rather get pretty cold than meet any more of that gang.
I figured eight hours just before they met us, and we were just about
drifting then. I think it is safe to say seven hours blind."

"But can't they detect us anyway? They may have sent out a call, you
know."

"If we aren't using any power for anything, their electr-omagnetics are
the only things we'll register on, and they're mighty short-range
finders. Even if they should get that close to us, they'll probably
think we're meteoric, since we'll be dead to their other instruments.
Luckily we've got lots of air, so the chemical purifiers can handle it
without power. I'll shut off everything and we'll drift it. Couldn't do
much of anything, anyway--even our shop out there won't hold air. But we
can have light. We've got acetylene emergency lamps, you know, and we
don't need to economize on oxygen."

"Perhaps we'd better run in the dark. Remember what you told me about
their possible visirays, and that you've got only two bombs left."

"All x; that would be better. If I forget it, remind me to blow up those
before we hit the atmosphere of Ganymede, will you?" He opened all the
power switches, and, every source of ethereal vibrations cut off, the
_Forlorn Hope_ drifted slowly on, now appearing forlorn indeed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Seven hours dragged past: seven age-long hours during which the two sat
tense, expecting they knew not what, talking only at intervals and in
subdued tones. Stevens then snapped on the communicator beam just long
enough to take an observation upon Ganymede. Several such brief glimpses
were taken; then, after a warning word to his companion, he sent out and
exploded the nitrogen bombs. He then threw on the power, and the vessel
leaped toward the satellite under full acceleration. Close to the
atmosphere it slanted downward in a screaming, fifteen-hundred-mile
drive; and soon the mangled wedge dropped down into the little canyon,
which for so long had been "home."

"Well, colonel, home again!" Stevens exulted as he neutralized the
controls. "There's that falls, our power plant, the catapults, 'n'
everything. Now, unless something interrupts us again; we'll run up
our radio tower and give Brandon the long yell."

"How much more have you got to do before you can start sending?"

"Not an awful lot. Everything built--all I've got to do is assemble
it. I should be able to do it easily in a week. Hope nothing else
happens--if I drag you into any more such messes as those we've just
been getting out of by the skin of our teeth, I'll begin to wish that
we had started out at first to drift it back to Tellus in the _Hope_.
Let's see how much time we've got. We should start shooting one day
after an eclipse, so that we'll have five days to send. You see, we
don't want to point our beam too close to Jupiter or to any of the large
satellites, because the enemy might live there and might intercept it.
We had an eclipse yesterday--so one week from today, at sunrise, I
start shooting."

"But Earth's an evening star now; you can't see it in the morning."

"I'm not going to aim at Tellus. I'm shooting at Brandon, and he's never
there for more than a week or two at a stretch. They're prowling around
out in space somewhere almost all the time."

"Then how can you possibly hope to hit them?"

"It may be quite a job of hunting, but not as bad as you might think.
They probably aren't much, if any, outside the orbit of Mars, and
they usually stay within a couple of million kilometers or so of the
Ecliptic, so we'll start at the sun and shoot our beam in a spiral
to cover that field. We ought to be able to hit them inside of twelve
hours, but if we don't, we'll widen our spiral and keep on trying until
we do hit them."

"Heavens, Steve! Are you planning on telegraphing steadily for days at
a time?"

"Sure, but not by hand, of course--I'll have an automatic sender and
automatic pointers."

Stevens had at his command a very complete machine-shop, he had an ample
supply of power, and all that remained for him to do was to assemble the
parts which he had built during the long journey from Titan to Ganymede.
Therefore, at sunrise of the designated day, he was ready, and, with
Nadia hanging breathless over his shoulder, he closed the switch, a
toothed wheel engaged a delicate interrupter, and a light sounder began
its strident chatter.

"Ganymede point oh four seven ganymede point oh four seven ganymede
point oh four seven..." endlessly the message was poured out into the
ether, carried by a tight beam of ultra-vibrations and driven by forces
sufficient to propel it well beyond the opposite limits of the orbit
of Mars.

"What does it say? I can't read code."

Stevens translated the brief message, but Nadia remained unimpressed.

"But it doesn't say anything!" she protested. "It isn't addressed to
anybody, it isn't signed--it doesn't tell anybody anything about
anything."

"It's all there, ace. You see, since the beam is moving sidewise very
rapidly at that range and we're shooting at a small target, the message
has to be very short or they won't get it all while the beam's on
'em--it isn't as though we were broadcasting. It doesn't need any
address, because nobody but the _Sirius_ can receive it--except possibly
the Jovians. They'll know who's sending it without any signature. It
tells them that Ganymede wants to receive a message on the ultra-band
centering on forty-seven thousandths. Isn't that enough?"

"Maybe. But suppose some of them live right here on Ganymede--you'll
be shooting right through the ground all night--or suppose that even if
they don't live here, that they can find our beam some way? Or suppose
that Brandon hasn't got his machine built yet, or suppose that it isn't
turned on when our beam passes them, or suppose they're asleep then?
A lot of things might happen."

"Not so many, ace--your first objection is the only one that hasn't got
more holes in it than a sieve, so I'll take it first. Since our beam is
only a meter in diameter here and doesn't spread much in the first few
million kilometers, the chance of direct reception by the enemy, even
if they do live here on Ganymede, is infinitesimally small. But I don't
believe that they live here--at least, they certainly didn't land on
this satellite. As you suggest, however, it is conceivable that they may
have detector screens delicate enough to locate our beam at a distance;
but since in all probability that means a distance of hundreds of
thousands of kilometers, I think it highly improbable. We've got to take
the same risk anyway, no matter what we do, whenever we start to use any
kind of driving power, so there's no use worrying about it. As for your
last two objections, I know Brandon and I know Westfall. Brandon will
have receivers built that will take in any wave possible of propagation,
and Westfall, the cautious old egg, will have them running twenty-four
hours a day, with automatic recorders, finders, and everything else that
Brandon can invent--and believe me, sweetheart, that's a lot of stuff!"

"It's wonderful, the way you three men are," replied Nadia thoughtfully,
reading between the lines of Stevens' utterance. "They knew that you
were on the _Arcturus_, of course--and they knew that if you were alive
you'd manage in some way to get in touch with them. And you, away out
here after all this time, are superbly confident that they are expecting
a call from you. That, I think, is one of the finest things I ever heard
of."

"They're two of the world's best--absolutely." Nadia looked at him,
surprised, for he had not seen anything complimentary to himself in her
remark. "Wait until you meet them. They're men, Nadia--real men. And
speaking of meeting them--please try to keep on loving me after you meet
Norm Brandon, will you?"

"Don't be a simp!" her brown eyes met his steadily. "You didn't mean
that--you didn't even say it, did you?"

"Back it comes, sweetheart! But knowing myself and knowing those
two...."

"Stop it! If Norman Brandon or Quincy Westfall had been here instead
of you, or both of them together, we'd have been here from now on--we
wouldn't even have gotten away from the Jovians!"

       *       *       *       *       *

"Now it's your turn to back water, guy!"

"Well, maybe, a little--if both of them were here, they ought to equal
you in some things. Brandon says himself that he and Westfall together
make one scientist--Dad says he says so."

"You don't want to believe everything you hear. Neither of them will
admit that he knows anything or can do anything--that's the way they
are."

"Dad has told me a lot about them--how they've always been together
ever since their undergraduate days. How they studied together all over
the world, even after they'd been given all the degrees loose. How
they even went to the other planets to study--to Mars, where they had
to live in space-suits all the time, and to Venus, where they had to
take ultra-violet treatments every day to keep alive. How they learned
everything that everybody else knew and then went out into space to find
out things that nobody else ever dreamed of. How you came to join them,
and what you three have done since. They're fine, of course--but they
aren't _you_," she concluded passionately.

"No, thank Heaven! I know you love me, Nadia, just as I love you--you
know I never doubted it. But you'll like them, really. They're a
wonderful team. Brandon's a big brute, you know--fully five centimeters
taller than I am, and he weighs close to a hundred kilograms--and no
lard, either. He's wild, impetuous, always jumping at conclusions and
working out theories that seem absolutely ridiculous, but they're
usually sound, even though impractical. Westfall's the practical
member--he makes Norm pipe down, pins him down to facts, and makes it
possible to put his hunches and wild flashes of genius into workable
form. Quince is a...."

"Now _you_ pipe down! I've heard you rave _so_ much about those two--I'd
lots rather rave about you, and with more reason. I wish that sounder
would start sounding."

"Our first message hasn't gone half way yet. It takes about forty
minutes for the impulse to get to where I think they are, so that even
if they got the first one and answered it instantly, it would be eighty
minutes before we'd get it. I sort of expect an answer late tonight, but
I won't be disappointed if it takes a week to locate them."

"I will!" declared the girl, and indeed, very little work was done that
day by either of the castaways.

Slowly the day wore on, and the receiving sounder remained silent.
Supper was eaten as the sun dropped low and disappeared, but they felt
no desire to sleep. Instead, they went out in front of the steel wall,
where Stevens built a small campfire. Leaning back against the wall of
their vessel, they fell into companionable silence, which was suddenly
broken by Stevens.

"Nadia, I just had a thought. I'll bet four dollars I've wasted a lot of
time. They'll certainly have automatic relays on Tellus, to save me the
trouble of hunting for them, but like an idiot I never thought of it
until just this minute, in spite of the speech I made you about them.
I'm going to change those directors right now."

"That's quite a job, isn't it?"

"No, only a few minutes."

"Do it in the morning; you've done enough for one day--maybe you've hit
them already, any way."

They again became silent, watching Jupiter, an enormous moon some seven
degrees in apparent diameter.

"Steve, I simply can't get used to such a prodigious moon! Look at the
stripes, and look at that perfectly incredible...."

A gong sounded and they both jumped to their feet and raced madly into
the _Hope_. The ultra-receiver had come to life and the sounder was
chattering insanely--someone was sending with terrific speed, but with
perfect definition and spacing.

"That's Brandon's fist--I'd know his style anywhere," Stevens shouted,
as he seized notebook and pencil.

"Tell me what it says, quick, Steve!" Nadia implored.

"Can't talk--read it!" Stevens snapped. His hand was flying over the
paper, racing to keep up with the screaming sounder.

"...ymede all x stevens ganymede all x stevens ganymede all x placing
and will keep sirius on plane between you and tellus circle fifteen
forty north going tellus first send full data spreading beam to
cover circle fifteen forty quince suggests possibility this message
intercepted and translated personally I think such translation
impossible and that he is wilder than a hawk but just in case they
should be supernaturally intelligent...."

Stevens stopped abruptly and stared at the vociferous sounder.

"Don't stop to listen--keep on writing!" commanded Nadia.

"Can't," replied the puzzled mathematician. "It doesn't make sense. It
sounds intelligent--it's made up of real symbols of some kind or other,
but they don't mean a thing to me."

"Oh, I see--he's sending mush on purpose. Read the last phrase!"

"Oh, sure--'mush' is right," and with no perceptible break the signals
again became intelligible.

"... if they can translate that they are better scholars than we are
signing off until hear from you brandon."

       *       *       *       *       *

The sounder died abruptly into silence and Nadia sobbed convulsively
as she threw herself into Stevens' arms. The long strain over, the
terrible uncertainty at last dispelled, they were both incoherent for
a minute--Nadia glorifying the exploits of her lover, Stevens crediting
the girl herself and his two fellow-scientists with whatever success had
been achieved. A measure of self-control regained, Stevens cut off his
automatic sender, changed the adjustments of his directors and cut in
his manually operated sending key.

"What waves are you using, anyway?" asked Nadia, curiously. "They must
be even more penetrating than Roeser's Rays, to have such a range, and
Roeser's Rays go right through a planet without even slowing up."

"They're of the same order as Roeser's--that is, they're sub-electronic
waves of the fourth order--but they're very much shorter, and hence more
penetrating. In fact, they're the shortest waves yet known, so short
that Roeser never even suspected their existence."

"Suppose there's a Jovian space-ship out there somewhere that intercepts
our beams. Couldn't they locate us from it?"

"Maybe, and maybe not--we'll just have to take a chance on that. That
goes right back to what we were talking about this morning. They might
be anywhere, so the chance of hitting one is very small. It isn't like
hitting the _Sirius_, because we knew within pretty narrow limits where
to look for her, and even at that we had to hunt for her for half a day
before we hit her. We're probably safe, but even if they should have
located us, we'll probably be able to hide somewhere until the _Sirius_
gets here. Well, the quicker I get busy sending the dope, the sooner
they can get started."

"Tell them to be sure and bring me all my clothes they can find,
a gallon of perfume, a barrel of powder, and a carload of Delray's
Fantasie chocolates--I've been a savage so long that I want to wallow
in luxury for a while."

"I'll do that--and I want some real cigarettes!"

Stevens first sent a terse, but complete account of everything that had
happened to the _Arcturus_, and a brief summary of what he and Nadia
had done since the cutting up of the IPV. The narrative finished, he
launched into a prolonged and detailed scientific discussion of the
enemy and their offensive and defensive weapons. He dwelt precisely and
at length upon the functioning of everything he had seen. Though during
the long months of their isolation he had been too busy to do any actual
work upon the weapons of the supposed Jovians, yet his keen mind had
evolved many mathematical and physical deductions, hypotheses, and
theories, and these he sent out to the _Sirius_, concluding:

"There's all the dope I can give you. Figure it out, and don't come at
all until you can come loaded for bear; they're bad medicine. Call us
occasionally, to keep us informed as to when to expect you, but don't
call too often. We don't want them locating you, and if they should
locate us through your ray or ours, it would be just too bad. So-long.
Stevens and Newton."

Nadia had insisted upon staying up and had been brewing pot after pot
of her substitutes for coffee while he sat at the key; and it was
almost daylight when he finally shut off the power and arose, his
right arm practically paralyzed from the unaccustomed strain of hours
of telegraphing.

"Well, sweetheart, that's that!" he exclaimed in relief. "Brandon and
Westfall are on the job. Nothing to do now but wait, and study up on our
own account on those Jovians' rays. This has been one long day for us,
though, little ace, and I suggest that we sleep for about a week!"



CHAPTER VIII

Callisto to the Rescue


All humanity of Callisto, the fourth major satellite of Jupiter,
had for many years been waging a desperate and apparently hopeless
defense against invading hordes of six-limbed beings. Every city and
town had long since been reduced to level fields of lava by the rays
of the invaders. Every building and every trace of human civilization
had long since disappeared from the surface of the satellite. Far
below the surface lay the city of Zbardk, the largest of the few
remaining strongholds of the human race. At one portal of the city a
torpedo-shaped, stubby-winged rocket plane rested in the carriage of a
catapult. Near it the captain addressed briefly the six men normally
composing his crew.

"Men, you already know that our cruise today is not an ordinary patrol.
We are to go to One, there to destroy a base of the hexans. We have
perhaps one chance in ten thousand of returning. Therefore I am taking
only one man--barely enough to operate the plane. Volunteers step one
pace forward."

The six stepped forward as one man, and a smile came over the worn
face of their leader as he watched them draw lots for the privilege of
accompanying him to probable death. The two men entered the body of the
torpedo, sealed the openings and waited.

"Free exits?" snapped the Captain of the Portal, and twelve keen-eyed
observers studied minutely screens and instrument panels connected to
the powerful automatic lookout stations beneath the rims of the widely
separated volcanic craters from which their craft could issue into
Callisto's somber night.

"No hexan radiation can be detected from Exit Eight," came the report.
The Captain of the Portal raised an arm in warning, threw in the guides,
and the two passengers were hurled violently backward, deep into their
cushioned seats, as the catapult shot their plane down the runway. As
the catapult's force was spent automatic trips upon the undercarriage
actuated the propelling rockets and mile after mile, with rapidly
mounting velocity, the plane sped through the tube. As the exit was
approached, the tunnel described a long vertical curve, so that when the
opening into the shaft of the crater was reached and the undercarriage
was automatically detached, the vessel was projected almost vertically
upward. Such was its velocity and so powerful was the liquid propellant
of its rocket motors, that the eye could not follow the flight of the
warship as it tore through the thin layer of the atmosphere and hurled
itself out into the depths of space.

"Did we get away?" asked the captain, hands upon his controls and eyes
upon his moving chart of space.

"I believe so, sir," answered the other officer, at the screens of the
six periscopic devices which covered the full sphere of vision. "No
reports from the rim, and all screens blank." Once more a vessel had
issued from the jealously secret city of Zbardk without betraying its
existence to the hated and feared hexans.

For a time the terrific rocket motors continued the deafening roar of
their continuous explosions, then, the desired velocity having been
attained, they were cut out and for hours the good ship "Bzark" hurtled
on through the void at an enormous but constant speed toward the distant
world of One, which it was destined never to reach.

"Captain Czuv! Hexan radiation, coordinates twenty two, fourteen, area
six!" cried the observer, and the commander swung his own telescopic
finder into the indicated region. His hands played over course and
distance plotters for a brief minute, and he stared at his results in
astonishment.

"I never heard of a hexan traveling that way before," he frowned.
"Constant negative acceleration and in a straight line. He must think
that we have been cleared out of the ether. Almost parallel to us and
not much faster--even at this long range, it is an easy kill unless
he starts dodging, as usual."

As he spoke, he snapped a switch and from a port under the starboard
wing there shot out into space a small package of concentrated
destruction--a rocket-propelled, radio-controlled torpedo. The rockets
of the tiny missile were flaming, but that flame was visible only from
the rear and no radio beam was upon it. Czuv had given it precisely the
direction and acceleration necessary to make it meet the hexan sphere
in central impact, provided that sphere maintained its course and
acceleration unchanged.

"Shall I direct the torpedo in the case the hexan shifts?" asked the
officer.

"I think not. They can, of course, detect any wave at almost any
distance, and at the first sign of radioactivity they would locate and
destroy the bomb. They also, in all probability, would destroy us. I
would not hesitate to attack them on that account alone, but we must
remember that we are upon a more important mission than attacking one
hexan ship. We are far out of range of their electro-magnetic detectors,
and our torpedo will have such a velocity that they will have no time to
protect themselves against it after detection. Unless they shift in the
next few seconds, they are lost. This is the most perfect shot I ever
had at one of them, but one shot is all I dare risk--we must not betray
ourselves."

       *       *       *       *       *

Course, lookout, and rank forgotten, the little crew of two stared
into the narrow field of vision, set at its maximum magnification. The
instruments showed that the enemy vessel was staying upon its original
course. Very soon the torpedo came within range of the detectors of the
hexans. But as Captain Czuv had foretold, the detection was a fraction
of a second too late, rapidly as their screens responded, and the two
men of Zbardk uttered together a short, fierce cry of joy as a brilliant
flash of light announced the annihilation of the hexan vessel.

"But hold!" The observer stared into his screen. "Upon that same line,
but now at constant velocity, there is still a very faint radiation,
of a pattern I have never seen before."

"I think ... I believe ..." the captain was studying the pattern,
puzzled. "It must be low frequency, low-tension electricity, which is
never used, so far as I know. It may be some new engine of destruction,
which the hexan was towing at such a distance that the explosion of our
torpedo did not destroy it. Since there are no signs of hexan activity
and since it will not take much fuel, we shall investigate that
radiation."

Tail and port-side rockets burst into roaring activity and soon the
plane was cautiously approaching the mass of wreckage, which had been
the IPV _Arcturus_.

"Human beings, although of some foreign species!" exclaimed the captain,
as his vision-ray swept through the undamaged upper portion of the great
liner and came to rest upon Captain King at his desk.

Although the upper ultra-lights of the Terrestrial vessel had been
cut away by the hexan plane of force, jury lights had been rigged,
and the two commanders were soon trying to communicate with each
other. Intelligible conversation was, of course, impossible, but King
soon realized that the visitors were not enemies. At their pantomimed
suggestion he put on a space-suit and wafted himself over to the airlock
of the Callistonian warplane. Inside the central compartment, the
strangers placed over his helmet a heavily wired harness, and he found
himself instantly in full mental communication with the Callistonian
commander. For several minutes they stood silent, exchanging thoughts
with a rapidity impossible in any language; then, dressed in
space-suits, both leaped lightly across the narrow gap into the still
open outer lock of the terrestrial liner. King watched Czuv narrowly
after the pressure began to collapse his suit, but the stranger made
no sign of distress. He had been right in his assurance that the extra
pressure would scarcely inconvenience him. King tore off his helmet,
issued a brief order, and soon every speaker in the _Arcturus_
announced:

"All passengers and all members of the crew except lookouts on duty will
assemble immediately in Saloon Three to discuss a possible immediate
rescue."

The subject being one of paramount interest, it was a matter of minutes
until the full complement of two hundred men and women were in the main
saloon, clinging to hastily rigged hand lines, closely packed before the
raised platform upon which were King and Czuv, wired together with the
peculiar Callistonian harness. To most of the passengers, familiar with
the humanity of three planets, the appearance of the stranger brought
no surprise; but many of them stared in undisguised amazement at his
childish body, his pale, almost colorless skin, his small, weak legs and
arms, and his massive head.

"Ladies and gentlemen!" Captain King opened the meeting. "I introduce to
you Captain Czuv, of the scout cruiser _Bzarvk_, of the only human race
now living upon the fourth large satellite of Jupiter, which satellite
we know as Callisto. I am avoiding their own names as much as possible,
because they are almost unpronounceable in English or Interplanetarian.
This device that you see connecting us is a Callistonian thought
transformer, by means of which any two intelligent beings can converse
without language. Our situation is peculiar, and in order that you may
understand fully what lies ahead of us, the captain will now speak to
you, through me--that is, what follows will be spoken by Captain Czuv,
of the _Bzarvk_, but he will be using my vocal organs."

"Friends from distant Tellus," King's voice went on, almost without a
break, "I greet you. I am glad, for your sake as well as our own, that
your vessel was able to destroy the hexan ship holding you captive, and
whose crew would have killed you all as soon as they had landed your
vessel and had read your minds. I regret bitterly that we can do so
little for you, for only the representatives of a human civilization
being exterminated by a race of highly intelligent monsters can fully
realize how desirable it is for all the various races of humanity to
assist and support each other. In order that you may understand the
situation, it is necessary that I delve at some length into ancient
history, but we have ample time. In about ..." he broke off, realizing
that the two races had no thought in common in the measure of time.

"One-half time of rotation of Great Planet upon axis?" flashed from
Czuv's brain, and "About five hours," King's mind flashed back.

"It will be about five hours before any steps can be taken, so that I
feel justified in using a brief period for explanation. In the evolution
of the various forms of life upon Callisto, two genera developed
intelligence far ahead of all others. One genus was the human, as you
and I; the other the hexan. This creature, happily unknown to you of the
planets nearer our common sun, is the product of an entirely different
evolution. It is a six-limbed animal, with a brain equal to our own--one
perhaps in some ways superior to our own. They have nothing in common
with humanity, however; they have few of our traits and fewer of our
mental processes. Even we who have fought them so long can scarcely
comprehend the chambers of horror that are their minds. Even were I able
to paint a sufficiently vivid picture with words, you of Earth could not
begin to understand their utter ruthlessness and inhumanity, even among
themselves. You would believe that I was lying, or that my viewpoint was
warped. I can say only that I hope most sincerely that none of you will
ever get better acquainted with them."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Ages ago, then, the human and the hexan developed upon all four of the
major satellites of the Great Planet, which you know as Jupiter, and
upon the north polar region of Jupiter itself. By what means the two
races came into being upon worlds so widely separated in space we know
not--we only know it to be the fact. Human life, however, could not long
endure upon Jupiter. The various human races, after many attempts to
meet conditions of life there by variations in type fell before the
hexans; who, although very small in size upon the planet, thrived there
amazingly. Upon the three outer satellites humanity triumphed, and many
hundreds of cycles ago the hexans of those satellites were wiped out,
save for an occasional tribe of savages of low intelligence who lived in
various undesirable portions of the three worlds. For ages then there
was peace upon Callisto. Here is the picture at that time--upon Jupiter
the hexans; upon Io hexans and humans, waging a ceaseless and relentless
war of mutual extermination; upon the three outer satellites humanity in
undisturbed and unthreatened peace. Five worlds, each ignorant of life
upon any other.

"As I have said, the hexans of Jupiter were, and are, diabolically
intelligent. Driven probably by their desire to see what lay beyond
their atmosphere of eternal cloud, to the penetration of which their
eyesight was attuned, they developed the space-ship; and effected a
safe landing, first upon the barren, airless moonlet nearest them, and
then upon fruitful Io. There they made common cause with the hexans
against the humans, and in space of time Ionian humanity ceased to exist.
Much traffic and interbreeding followed between the hexans of Jupiter
and those of Io, resulting in time in a race intermediate in size
between the parent stocks and equally at home in the widely variant air
pressures and gravities of planet and satellite. Soon their astronomical
instruments revealed the cities of Europa to their gaze, and as soon
as they discovered that the civilization of Europa was human, they
destroyed it utterly, with the insatiable blood lust that is their
heritage.

"In the meantime the human civilizations of Ganymede and Callisto had
also developed instruments of power. Observing the cities upon the other
satellites, many scientists studied intensively the problem of space
navigation, and finally there was some commerce between the two outer
satellites at favorable times. Finally, vessels were also sent to Io
and to Europa, but none of them returned. Knowing then what to expect,
Ganymede and Callisto joined forces and prepared for war. But our
science, so long attuned to the arts of peace, had fallen behind
lamentably in the devising of more and ever more deadly instruments
of destruction. Ganymede fell, and in her fall we read our own doom.
Abandoning our cities, we built anew underground. Profiting from lessons
learned full bloodily upon Ganymede, we resolved to prolong the
existence of the human race as long as possible.

"The hexans were, and are masters of the physical science. They
command the spectrum in a way undreamed of. Their detectors reveal
etheric disturbances at unbelievable distances, and they have at their
beck and call forces of staggering magnitude. Therefore in our cities
is no electricity save that which is wired, shielded, and grounded;
no broadcast radio; no source whatever of etheric disturbances save
light--and our walls are fields of force which we believe to be
impenetrable to any searching frequency capable of being generated.
Now I am able to picture to you the present.

"We are the last representatives of the human race in the Jovian
planetary system. Our every trace upon the surface has been obliterated.
We are hiding in our holes in the ground, coming out at night by stealth
so that our burrows shall not be revealed to the hexans. We are fighting
for time in which our scientists may learn the secrets of power--and
fearing, each new day, that the enemy may have so perfected their
systems of rays that they will be able to detect us and destroy us, even
in our underground and heavily shielded retreats, by means of forces
even more incomprehensible than those they are now employing.

"Therefore, friends, you see how little we are able to do for you, we
a race fighting for our very existence and doomed to extinction save
for a miracle. We cannot take you to Callisto, for it is besieged by the
hexans and the driving forces of your lifeboats, practically broadcast
as they are, would be detected and we should all be destroyed long
before we could reach safety. Captain King and I have pondered long and
have been able to see only one course of action. We are drifting at
constant velocity, using no power, and with all save the most vitally
necessary machinery at rest. Thus only may we hope to avoid detection
during the next two hours.

"Our present course will take us very close to Europa, which the hexans
believe to be like Ganymede, entirely devoid of civilized life. Its
original humanity was totally destroyed, and all its civilized hexans
are finding shelter from our torpedoes upon Jupiter until we of Callisto
shall likewise have been annihilated. The temperature of Europa will
suit you. Its atmosphere, while less dense than that to which you are
accustomed, will adequately support your life. If we are not detected
in the course of the next few hours we can probably land upon Europa in
safety, since its neighborhood is guarded but loosely. In fact, we have
a city there, as yet unsuspected by the hexans, in which our scientists
will continue to labor after Callisto's civilization shall have
disappeared. We think that it will be safe to use your power for the
short time necessary to effect a landing. We shall land in a cavern,
in a crater already in communication with our city. In that cavern,
instructed and aided by some of us, you will build a rocket vessel--no
rays can be used because of the hexans--in which you will be able to
travel to a region close enough to your earth so that you can call for
help. You will not be able to carry enough fuel to land there--in fact,
nearly all the journey will have to be made without power, traveling
freely in a highly elongated orbit around the sun--but if you escape the
hexans, you should be able to reach home safely, in time. It is for the
consideration of this plan that this meeting has been called."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Just one question," Breckenridge spoke. "The hexans are intelligent.
Why are they leaving Europa and Ganymede so unguarded that human beings
can move back there and that we can land there, all undetected?"

"I will answer that question myself," replied King. "Captain Czuv did
not quite do justice to his own people. It is true that they are being
conquered, but for every human life that is taken, a thousand hexans
die, and for every human ship that is lost, twenty hexan vessels are
annihilated in return. While the hexans are masters of rays, the
humans are equally masters of explosives and of mechanisms. They can
hit a perfect score upon any target in free space whose course and
acceleration can be determined, at any range up to five thousand
kilometers, and they have explosives thousands of times as powerful as
any known to us. Ray screens are effective only against rays, and the
hexans cannot destroy anything they cannot see before it strikes them.
So it is that all the hexan vessels except those necessary to protect
their own strongholds, are being concentrated against Callisto. They
cannot spare vessels to guard uselessly the abandoned satellites.
Because of the enormously high gravity of Jupiter the hexans there are
safe from human attack save for ineffectual long-range bombardment, but
Io is being attacked constantly and it is probable that in a few more
years Io also will be an abandoned world. Some of you may have received
the impressions that the hexans are to triumph immediately, but such an
idea is wrong. The humans can, and will, hold out for a hundred years or
more unless the enemy perfects a destructive ray of the type referred
to. Even then, I think that our human cousins will hold out a long time.
They are able men, fighters all, and their underground cities are
beautifully protected."

There was little argument. Most of the auditors could understand that
the suggested course was the best one possible. The remainder were
so stunned by the unbelievable events of the attack that they had no
initiative, but were willing to follow wherever the more valiant spirits
led. It was decided that no attempt should be made to salvage any
portion of the _Arcturus_, since any such attempt would be fraught with
danger and since the wreckage would be of little value. The new vessel
was to be rocket driven and was to be built of Callistonian alloys.
Personal belongings were moved into lifeboats, doors were closed, and
there ensued a painful period of waiting and suspense.

The stated hour was reached without event--no hexan scout had come
close enough to them to detect the low-tension radiation of the vital
machinery of the _Arcturus_, cut as it was to the irreducible minimum
and quite effectively grounded as it was by the enormous mass of her
shielding armor. At a signal from Captain Czuv the pilot of each
lifeboat shot his tiny craft out into space and took his allotted place
in the formation following closely behind the _Bzarvk_, flying toward
Europa, now so large in the field of vision that she resembled more a
world than a moon. Captain King, in the Callistonian vessel, transmitted
to Breckenridge the route and flight data given him by the navigator of
the winged craft. The chief pilot, flying "point," in turn relayed more
detailed instructions to the less experienced pilots of the other
lifeboats.

Soon the surface of Europa lay beneath them; a rugged, cratered, and
torn topography of mighty ranges of volcanic mountains. Most of the
craters were cold and lifeless; but here and there a plume of smoke
and steam betrayed the presence of vast, quiescent forces. Straight
down one of those gigantic lifeless shafts the fleet of space craft
dropped--straight down a full two miles before the landing signal was
given. At the bottom of the shaft a section of the rocky wall swung
aside, revealing the yawning black mouth of a horizontal tunnel. At
intervals upon its roof there winked into being almost invisible points
of light. Along that line of lights the lifeboats felt their way, coming
finally into a huge cavern, against one sheer metal wall of which they
parked in an orderly row. Roll was called, and the terrestrials walked,
as well as they could in the feeble gravity of the satellite, across the
vast chamber and into a conveyance somewhat resembling a railway coach,
which darted away as soon as the doors were shut. For hundreds of miles
that strange tunnel extended, and as the car shot along door after door
of natural rock opened before it, and closed as soon as it had sped
through. In spite of the high velocity of the vehicle, it required
almost two hours to complete the journey. Finally, however, it slowed
to a halt and the Terrestrial visitors disembarked at a portal of the
European city of the Callistonians.

"Attention!" barked Captain King. "The name of this city, as nearly as
I can come to it in English, is _WRUZK_. 'Roosk' comes fairly close to
it and is easier to pronounce. We must finish our trip in small cars,
holding ten persons each. We shall assemble again in the building in
which we have been assigned quarters. The driver of each car will lead
his passengers to the council room in which we shall meet."

"Oh, what's the use--this is horrible, horrible--we might as well die!"
a nervous woman shrieked, and fainted.

"Such a feeling is, perhaps, natural," King went on, after the woman had
been revived and quiet had been restored, "but please control it as much
as possible. We are alive and well, and will be able to return to Tellus
eventually. Please remember that these people are putting themselves
to much trouble and inconvenience to help us, desperate as their own
situation is, and conduct yourselves accordingly."

The rebuke had its effect, and with no further protest the company
boarded the small cars, which shot through an opening in the wall and
into a street of that strange subterranean city. Breckenridge, in the
last car to leave the portal, studied his surroundings with interest as
his conveyance darted through the gateway. More or less a fatalist by
nature and an adventurer, of course, since no other type existed among
the older spacehounds of the IPC, he was intensely interested in every
new phase of their experience, and was no whit dismayed or frightened.

       *       *       *       *       *

He found himself seated in a narrow canoe of metal, immediately behind
the pilot, who sat at a small control panel in the bow. Propelled by
electro-magnetic fields above a single rail, upon lightly touching and
noiseless wheels, the terrestrial pilot saw with keen appreciation the
manner in which switch after switch ahead of them obeyed the impulses
sent ahead from the speeding car. The streets were narrow and filled
with monorails; pedestrians pursued their courses upon walks attached
to the walls of the buildings, far above the level of the streets. The
walls were themselves peculiar, rising as they did stark, unbroken,
windowless expanses of metal, merging into and supporting a massive
roof of the same silvery metal. Walls and roof alike reflected a soft,
yet intense, white light. Soon a sliding switch ahead of them shot in
and simultaneously an opening appeared in the blank metal wall of a
building. Through the opening the street-car flew, and as the pilot
slowed the canoe to a halt, the door slid smoothly shut behind them.
Parking the car beside a row of its fellows, the Callistonian driver
indicated that the Terrestrials were to follow him and led the way into
a large hall. There the others from the _Arcturus_ were assembled,
facing Captain King, who was standing upon a table.

"Fellow travelers," King addressed them, "our course of action has
been decided. There are two hundred three of us. There will be twenty
sections of ten persons, each section being in charge of one of the
officers of the _Arcturus_. Doctor Penfield, our surgeon, a man whose
intelligence, fairness, and integrity are unquestioned, will be in
supreme command. His power and authority will be absolute, limited only
by the Callistonian Council. He will work in harmony with the engineer,
who is to direct the entire project of building the new vessel. Each of
you will be expected to do whatever he can--the work you will be asked
to do will be well within your powers, and you will each have ample
leisure for recreation, study, and amusement, of all of which you will
find unsuspected stores in this underground community. You will each
be registered and studied by physicians, surgeons, and psychologists;
and each of you will have prescribed for him the exact diet that is
necessary for his best development. You will find this diet somewhat
monotonous, compared to our normal fare of natural products, since it
is wholly synthetic; but that is one of the minor drawbacks that must
be endured. Chief Pilot Breckenridge and I will not be with you. In
some small and partial recompense for what they are doing for us all,
he and I are going with Captain Czuv to Callisto, there to see whether
or not we can aid them in any way in the fight against the hexans. One
last word--Doctor Penfield's rulings will be the products of his own
well-ordered mind after consultation and agreement with the Council of
this city, and will be for the best good of all. I do not anticipate any
refusal to cooperate with him. If, however, such refusal should occur,
please remember that he is a despot with absolute power, and that anyone
obstructing the program by refusing to follow his suggestions will spend
the rest of his time here in confinement and will go back to Tellus in
irons, if at all. In case Chief Pilot Breckenridge and I should not see
you again, we bid you goodbye and wish you a safe voyage--but we expect
to go back with you."

Brief farewells were said and captain and pilot accompanied Czuv to one
of the little street-cars. Out of the building it dashed and down the
crowded but noiseless thoroughfare to the portal. Signal lights flashed
briefly there and they did not stop, but tore on through the portal and
the tunnel, with increasing speed.

"Don't have to transfer to a big car, then?" asked Breckenridge.

"No," King made answer. "Small cars can travel these tubes as well as
the large ones, and on much less power. In the city the wheels touch
the rails lightly, not for support, but to make contacts through which
traffic signals are sent and received. In the tunnels the wheels do
not touch at all, as signaling is unnecessary--the tunnels being used
infrequently and by but one vehicle at a time. No trolleys, tracks, or
wires are visible, you notice. Everything is hidden from any possible
visiray of the hexans."

"How about their power?"

"I don't understand it very well--hardly at all, in fact."

"It is quite simple." To the surprise of both Terrestrials, Czuv was
speaking English, but with a strong and very peculiar accent; slighting
all the vowels and accenting heavily the consonant sounds. "The car no
longer requires my attention, so I am now free to converse. You are
surprised at my knowing your language? You will speak mine after a few
more applications of the thought exchanger. I am speaking with a vile
accent, of course, but that is merely because my vocal organs are
not accustomed to making vowel sounds. Our power is obtained by the
combustion of gases in highly efficient turbines. It is transmitted and
used as direct current, our generator and motors being so constructed
that they can produce no etheric disturbances capable of penetrating
the shielding walls of our city. The city was built close to deposits
of coal, oil, and gas of sufficient amount to support our life for
thousands of years; for from these deposits come power, food, clothing,
and all the other necessities and luxuries of our lives. Strong fans
draw air from various extinct craters, force it through ventilating
ducts into every room and recess of the city, and exhaust it into the
shaft of a quiescent volcano, in whose gaseous outflow any trace of our
activities is, of course, imperceptible. For obvious reasons no rockets
or combustion motors are used in the city proper."

       *       *       *       *       *

Thus Captain Czuv explained to the Terrestrials his own mode of life,
and received from them in turn full information concerning Earthly life,
activity, and science. Long they talked, and it was almost time to slow
down for the journey's end when the Callistonian brought the conversation
back to their immediate concerns.

"My lieutenant and I were upon a mission of some importance, but it is
more important to take you to Callisto, for there may be many things
in which you can help us. Not in rays--we know all the vibrations you
have mentioned and several others. The enemy, however, is supreme
in that field, and until our scientists have succeeded in developing
ray-screens, such as are used by the hexans, it would be suicidal to
use rays at all. Such screens necessitate the projection of pure, yet
dirigible, forces--you do not have them upon your planet?"

"No, and so far as I know such screens are also unknown upon Mars and
Venus, with whose inhabitants we are friendly."

"The inhabitants of all the planets should be friendly; the solar
system should be linked together in intercourse for common advancement.
But that is not to be. The hexans will eventually triumph here, and a
Jovian system peopled by hexans will have no intercourse with any human
civilization save that of internecine war. We, of Callisto, have only
one hope--or is it really a hope? In the South Polar country of Jupiter,
there dwells a race of beings implacably hostile to the hexans. They
seem to invade the country of the hexans frequently, even though they
are apparently repulsed each time. Our emissaries to the South Polar
country, however, have never returned--those beings, whatever they
are, if not actively inimical, certainly are not friendly toward us."

"You know nothing of their nature?"

"Nothing, since our electrical instruments are not sufficiently
sensitive to give us more than a general idea of what is transpiring
there, and vision is practically useless in that eternal fog. We know,
however, that they are far advanced in science, and we are thankful
indeed that none of their frightful flying fortresses have been launched
against us. They apparently are not interested in the satellites, and it
is no doubt due to their unintentional assistance that we have survived
as long as we have."

In the cavern at last, the three men boarded the Callistonian
space-plane and were shot up the crater's shaft. The voyage to
Callisto was uneventful, even uninteresting save at its termination.
The _Bzarvk_, coated every inch as it was with a dull, dead black,
completely absorptive outer coating, entered the thin layer of
Callisto's atmosphere in darkest night, with all rockets dead, with not
a light showing, and with no apparatus of any kind functioning. Utterly
invisible and undetectable, she dove downward, and not until she was
well below the crater's rim did the forward rockets burst into furious
life. Then the Terrestrials understood another reason for the immense
depth of those shafts other than that of protection from the detectors
of the enemy--all that distance was necessary to overcome the velocity
of their free fall without employing a negative acceleration greater
than the frail Callistonian bodies could endure. From the cavern at the
foot of the shaft, a regulation tunnel extended to the Callistonian city
of Zbardk. Portal and city were very like Wruszk, upon distant Europa,
and soon the terrestrial captain and pilot were in conference with the
Council of Callisto.

       *       *       *       *       *

Months of Earthly time dragged slowly past, months during which King and
Breckenridge studied intensively the offensive and defensive systems
of Callisto without finding any particular in which they could improve
them to any considerable degree. Captain Czuv and his warplane still
survived, and it was while the Callistonian commander was visiting his
terrestrial guests, that King voiced the discontent that had long
affected both men.

"We're both tired of doing nothing, Czuv. We have been of little real
benefit, and we have decided that your ideas of us are all wrong. We are
convinced that our personal horsepower can be of vastly more use to you
than our brain-power, which doesn't amount to much. Your whole present
policy is one of hiding and sniping. I think that I know why, but I want
to be sure. Your vessels carry lots of fuel--why can the hexans outrun
you?" Thus did King put his problem.

"They can stand enormously higher accelerations than we can. The very
strongest of us loses consciousness at an acceleration of twenty-five
meters per second per second, no matter how he is braced, and that
is only a little greater than the normal gravity of our enemies upon
Jupiter. Their vessels at highest power develop an acceleration of
thirty-five meters, and the hexans themselves can stand much more than
even that high figure," replied Czuv.

"I thought so. Assume that you traveled at forty-five. Would it disable
you permanently, or would you recover as soon as it was lowered?"

"We would recover promptly, unless the exposure had been unduly
prolonged. Why?"

"Because," said King, "I can stand an acceleration of fifty-four meters
for two hours, and Breckenridge here tests fifty two meters. I can
navigate anything, and Breckenridge can observe as well as any of your
own men. Build a plane to accelerate at forty-five meters and we will
blow those hexans out of the ether. You will have to revive and do the
shooting, however--your gunnery is entirely beyond us."

"That is an idea of promise, and one that had not occurred to any of
us," Czuv replied and work was begun at once upon the new flyer.

When the super-plane was ready for its maiden voyage, its crew of three
studied it as it lay in the catapult at the portal. Dead black as were
all the warplanes, its body was twice as large as that of the ordinary
vessel, its wings were even more stubby, and its accommodations had been
cut to a minimum to make room for the enormous stores of fuel necessary
to drive the greatly increased battery of rocket motors and for the
extra supply of torpedoes carried. Waving to the group of soldiers and
citizens gathered to witness the take-off of the new dreadnought of
space, the three men entered the cramped operating compartment, strapped
themselves into their seats, and were shot away. As usual the driving
rockets were cut off well below the rim of the shaft, and the vessel
rose in a long and graceful curve, invisible in the night. Such was its
initial velocity and so slight was the force of gravity of the satellite
that they were many hundreds of miles from the exit before they began to
descend, and Breckenridge studied his screens narrowly for signs of
hexan activity.

"Do you want to try one of your long-range shots when we find one of
them?" the pilot asked Czuv.

"No, it would be useless. Between deflection by air-currents and the
dodging of the enemy vessels, our effective range is shortened to a few
kilometers, and their beams are deadly at that distance. No, our best
course is to follow the original plan--to lure them out into space at
uniform acceleration, where we can destroy them easily."

"Right," and Breckenridge turned to King, who was frowning at his
controls. "How does she work on a dead stick, Chief?"

"Maneuverability about minus ten at this speed and in this air.
She'd have to have at least fifteen hundred kilometers an hour to be
responsive out here. See anything yet?"

"Not yet ... wait a minute! Yes, there's one now--P-12 on area five.
Give us all the X10 and W27 you can, without using power--we want to
edge over close enough so that she can't help but see us when we start
the rockets."

"Be sure and stay well out of range. I'm giving her all she'll take, but
she won't take much. With these wings she has the gliding angle of a
kitchen sink."

"All x--I'm watching the range, close. Wish we had instruments like
these on the IPV's. We'll have to install some when we get back. All x!
Give her the gun--level and dead ahead!"

Half the battery of rockets burst into their stuttering, explosive roar
of power and the vessel darted away in headlong flight.

"He sees us and is after us--turn her straight up!"

A searing, coruscating finger of flame leaped toward them, but their
calculations had been sound--the hexan was harmless at that extreme
range. King, under the pilot's direction, kept the plane at a safe
distance from the sphere while the satellite grew smaller and smaller
behind them and Czuv lapsed quietly into unconsciousness.

"He's been out for quite a while. Far enough?" asked King.

"All x now, I guess--don't believe they can see the flash from here.
Cut!"

The rockets died abruptly and a blast from the side ports threw
the plane out of the beam--and once out of it, beyond range of the
electro-magnetic detectors as they were their coating of absolute black
rendered the craft safe from observation. One dirigible rocket remained
in action, its exhaust hidden from the enemy by the body of the vessel,
and Captain Czuv soon recovered his senses.

"Wonderful, gentlemen!" he exclaimed, as he manipulated the delicate
controls of his gunnery panel. "This is the first time in history that
a Callistonian vessel has escaped from a hexan by speed alone."

An instantaneously extinguished flare of incandescence marked the
passing of the hexan sphere into nothingness, and the cruiser shot back
toward Callisto in search of more prey. It was all too plentiful, and
twenty times the drama was reenacted before approaching day made it
necessary for Czuv to take the controls and dive the vessel into the
westermost landing-shaft of Zbardk. A rousing and enthusiastic welcome
awaited them, and joy spread rapidly when their success became known.

"Now we know what to do, and we had better do it immediately, before
they get our system figured out and increase their own power." King
reported to the Council. "You might send a couple of ships to Europa and
bring back as many of the Tellurian officers as want to come and can be
spared from the work there. They all test above forty-five meters, and
they can learn this stuff in short order. While they're coming, your
engineers can be building more ships like this one."

The new vessel did not make another voyage until nine sister ships
were ready and manned, each with two Terrestrial officers and one
Callistonian gunner. All ten took to the ether at once, and the hexan
fleet melted away like frost-crystals before a summer sun. A few weeks
of carnage and destruction and not a hexan was within range of the
detectors of Callisto--they were gone!

"This is the first time in years that Callisto's air has been free of
the hexans," Czuv said, thoughtfully. "With your help we have reduced
their strength to a fraction of what it was, but they have not given up.
They will return, with a higher acceleration than even you Terrestrials,
powerful as you are, can stand."

"Certainly they will, but you will be no worse off than you were
before--you can return to your own highly effective tactics."

"We are infinitely better off for your help. You have given us a new
lease on life...."

He broke off as a flaring light sprang into being upon the portal board
and the observer of Exit One made his report--there was a hexan vessel
in the air, location 425 over VJ-42.

"There's one left! Let us get him! No, he's ours!" Confused shouts arose
from the bull-pen; but the original superplane was at the top of the
call-board and accordingly King, Breckenridge, and Czuv embarked upon
an expedition more hazardous far than they had supposed--an expedition
whose every feature was relayed to those in the portal by the automatic
lookouts upon the rims and which was ended before a single supporting
Callistonian plane could be launched.

For the enemy vessel was not the last of the low-powered hexan vessels,
as everyone had supposed--it was the first of the high-powered craft,
arriving long before its appearance was expected. Before its terrific
acceleration and savage onslaught, the superplane might as well have
been stationary and unarmed. After his long dive downward, King could
not even leave the atmosphere--the hexan was upon them within a few
seconds, even though the stupendous battery of rockets, full driven,
had roared almost instantly into desperate action. Bomb after bomb
Breckenridge hurled, with full radio control, fighting with every
resource at his command, but in vain. The frightful torpedoes were
annihilated in mid-flight; and nose, tail-assembly, and wings were
sheared neatly from the warplane by a sizzling plane of force. Side
rockets and torpedo tubes were likewise sliced away and the helpless
body of the Callistonian cruiser, falling like a plummet, was caught and
held by a tractor ray. Captor and captive settled toward the ground.

"This is a signal honor," observed Captain Czuv when he had revived. "It
has been many, many cycles since they have taken Callistonians captive.
They kill us at every opportunity. Is it your custom to destroy
yourselves in a situation such as this?"

"It is not. While we live there is hope."

"Not ours. Unless they have made enormous strides in psychological
mechanisms, they cannot tear from our minds any secrets we really wish
to keep. That is useless," he went on, as King lifted a hand-weapon.
"You will have no opportunity whatever to use it," and he was right.

A searing beam of energy drove them out of the vessel, then
electro-magnetic waves burned every metallic object out of their
possession. Burning rays herded them into the hexan sphere and into
a small room, whose door clanged shut behind them.

"Ah, two are humans of a strange breed!" a snarling voice barked
from the wall, in the Callistonian language. "Our deductions were
accurate, as usual--it is to the humans of Planet Three, whose bodies
are a trifle less puny than those of the humanity of the satellites,
that we owe our recent reverses. However, those reverses were merely
temporary--humanity, no matter what its breed, shall very shortly
disappear from the satellites. Now, you scum of the Solar System, you
shall be permitted to witness an entrancing spectacle on the way to our
headquarters, where all your knowledge is to be taken from you before
you die, lingeringly and horribly. There is a strange space-vessel
nearing us probably searching for the one we took and which you dogs of
Callisto must have been fortunate enough to take from us before we could
study and kill its human cargo. Watch its destruction and cringe--and
know, in your suffering, that the more you suffer, the greater shall be
our enjoyment."

"I believe that," King acknowledged. As all three prisoners stared at
the wall-screen, upon which was pictured a huge football of scarred grey
steel, Czuv was amazed to see the faces of Breckenridge and King light
up with fierce smiles of pleasure and anticipation.

"You dissemble well," remarked the Callistonian. "That will rob them of
much pleasure."

"They'll get robbed of more than that," King returned. "This is too
good to keep, and since they cannot understand English, I'll tell you
something. I told you about Stevens. He apparently wasn't killed, as
we thought. He must have escaped, and there is the result. That ship
there is far from innocent--her being so far out of range of any of our
power-plants proves that. That vessel is the _Sirius_--the research
laboratory of the IPC--the Inter-Planetary Corporation! It carries the
greatest scientific minds of three of the inner planets, and it is
loaded with pure poison or it wouldn't be here. Oh, you hexans, what you
have got coming to you!"

       *       *       *       *       *



_Concluding a Thrilling New Serial of Interplanetary Life and Travel by
Edward E. Smith, Ph.D._

_Author of "Skylark of Space," and "Skylark Three"_


PART III

Spacehounds of IPC

    _The question of rays--their expanding power for good and evil--is
    receiving increasing attention from scientists. The x-ray has been
    found to be very beneficial, given in certain quantities, but
    extremely inimical to health, and even fatal, if too much exposure
    is given. The powers of the cosmic rays have not been fully
    discovered as yet. And there is no reason to doubt the theory that
    there may be found still more destructive and powerful rays. Even
    wars are becoming a more dangerous plaything for nations of our
    world--to say nothing of other possible enemies from other parts
    of our universe. Stevens and Nadia Newton meet with thrilling
    experiences galore in this concluding instalment._


What Went Before:

    The Interplanetary Vessel _Arcturus_ sets out for Mars, with
    Breckenridge as chief pilot, carrying on board, besides its
    regular crew and some passengers, the famous Dr. Stevens,
    designer of space ships and computer. He checks computations
    made by astronomers stationed in floating observatories, and
    after he has located any trouble and suggests a plan for
    minimizing the hazards of the trip from the earth to Mars he
    reports his findings and suggestions to Mr. Newton, chief of
    the Interplanetary Corporation.

    Stevens then takes Nadia, Mr. Newton's beautiful young daughter,
    on a specially conducted sight-seeing tour of the _Arcturus_
    and thoroughly explains to her all of the works of the vessel.
    Nadia has herself had a good science education. While they
    are down at the bottom of the ship--nearing the end of their
    tour--Stevens feels a barely perceptible movement of the vessel
    from its course. When he turns on the visiplate, he is horrified
    to find that a mysterious ray of unparalleled power has neatly
    sliced the _Arcturus_ in several places.

    Nadia and Stevens are completely separated from the rest of the
    crew and passengers of the ship, so they get into a lifeboat,
    which is equipped for a limited amount of space travel. Despite
    the strict and apparently effective vigilance of the enemy
    destroyer, Stevens and Nadia make their getaway in the lifeboat,
    which they aptly call "Forlorn Hope," and finally make a safe
    landing on Ganymede, where Stevens almost completes a power-plant
    and a radio transmitter, to enable him to communicate with the
    earth or with the IPV _Sirius_, which is used by Westfall and
    Brandon (two of the world's best scientists) as a floating
    laboratory.

    They start for Cantrell's Comet, where Stevens acquires the
    necessary material for his giant transmitting tube, heads back
    to Ganymede, when their ship is cut, top and bottom, by a strong
    ray-beam. Stevens and Nadia soon find that the other ship is
    manned by friendly beings from Saturn. Together they plan against
    their common foes--the Hexans--who are enemies of the universe.
    After helping the Saturnians to repair their power plant, they
    start back to Ganymede, aided by their new friends from the
    frigid civilization. Finally, however, Stevens succeeds in
    connecting, by radio, with the _Sirius_ and his scientist friends
    on board it, who rush to the aid of the two castaways. It is
    while the castaways are captives of the Hexans that help looms
    near.



CHAPTER IX

The _Sirius_ Takes a Hand


The _Sirius_ loafed along through the ether at normal acceleration
just outside the orbit of Mars and a million miles north of the
ecliptic plane. In the control room, which had been transformed into a
bewilderingly complete laboratory, Norman Brandon strode up and down,
waving his arms, his unruly black hair on end, addressing savagely his
friend and fellow-scientist, who sat unmoved and at ease.

"For cat's sake, Quince, let's get busy! They're outside somewhere,
since the police have scoured every cubic kilometer within range of
the power plants without finding a trace of them. We've got the power
question licked right now--with these fields we can draw sixty thousand
kilofranks from cosmic radiation, which is lots more than we'll ever
need. We haven't drawn a frank from a plant in a month, and we've had to
cut our field strength down to a whisper to keep from burning out our
accumulators. We can hunt as far as Neptune easy--we can go to Alpha
Centauri if we want to. This thing of piffling and monkeying around
here's pulling my cork, and for the ten thousand four hundred and sixty
seventh time I say _let's prowl_ and _prowl now_! In fact, I'm getting
so sick of sticking around doing nothing that I'm going out anyway, if
I have to go alone in a lifeboat!"

[Illustration: _The flying fortresses were finally wrenched from the
ground and hurled upward._]

Impetuous and violent as Brandon had always been, never before had he
gone to such lengths as to suggest a disruption of the partnership;
and Westfall, knowing that Brandon, in his most violent moments, never
threatened idly, thought long before he replied.

"You will not go alone, of course. If you insist upon going without
further preparation I will go too, no matter how foolish I think such
a course to be. We have power, it is true, but in all other respects we
are in no condition to meet an opponent having command of such resources
as must certainly be possessed by those who attacked the _Arcturus_.
Our detectors are inefficient, our system of vision is crude, to say
the least, and many other things are still in the experimental stage.
We have not the slightest idea whom or what we may encounter. It is all
too probable that we would simply be throwing away uselessly the lives of
more good men. It is also foolish from a general viewpoint, for as you
already know, we and our assistants happen to be in better position to
study these things than is any one else at the present time. However,
I will compromise with you. We can learn much in a month if you will
really try, instead of wasting time in fuming around the ship and
indulging in these idiotic tantrums. If you will buckle down and really
study the problems confronting us for thirty days, we will set out at
the end of that time, ready or not."

"All x. I hate to do it, but we've been together too long to bust it
up now," and Brandon turned toward his bench. Scarcely had he reached
it when a series of dots and dashes roared from an amplifier. Both men
leaped for the receiver which had so unexpectedly burst into sound,
reaching it just as it relapsed into silence, and from the tape of the
recorder they read the brief message.

"...h four seven ganymede point oh four seve...."

"That's Steve!" yelled Brandon. "Nobody else could build an
ultra-sender! Direction?"

"No need of calculating distance or direction. Ganymede is the third
major satellite of Jupiter."

"Sure. Of course, Quince--never thought of that. Dope enough--point oh
four seven."

As Stevens had told Nadia, the message was completely informing to those
for whom it was intended, and soon Brandon's answer was flying toward
the distant satellite. He then started to call the officers of the
Inter-planetary Corporation, but was restrained by his conservative
friend.

"It would be better to wait a while, Norman. In a few hours we will know
what to tell them."

At high acceleration the _Sirius_ drove toward the Jupiter-Earth-North
plane, and Brandon calculated from his own bearings and from the current
issue of the "Ephemeris" the time at which Stevens' reply should be
received. Two minutes before that time he was pacing up and down in
front of the ultra-receiver, and fifteen seconds after it he snapped:

"Come on, Perce, get busy! Shake a leg!"

"Oh, come, Norman; give him a few minutes' leeway, at least," said
Westfall, with amused tolerance. "Even if your calculations are that
accurate--which of course they are," he added hastily at a stormy glance
from hot black eyes, "since we received that message direct, instead of
through one of our relay stations, Stevens probably has been throwing
it around for hours or perhaps days, looking for us, and the shock of
hearing from us at last might well have put him out of control for a
minute or two."

The carrier wave hissed into the receiver, forestalling Brandon's fiery
reply, followed closely by the code signals they had been expecting. As
soon as the story had been told, and while Brandon was absorbed in the
scientific addenda of Stevens, Westfall thoughtfully called up Newton,
Nadia's father.

"Nadia is alive, free, safe, well, and happy," he shot out without
preliminary or greeting, as soon as the now lined features of the
director showed upon the communicator screen, and the careworn
countenance smoothed magically into the keen face of the fighting Newton
of old, as Westfall recounted rapidly the tale of the castaways.

"They apparently have not suffered in any way," he concluded. "All that
Stevens wants is some cigarettes, and your daughter's needs, while
somewhat more numerous than his, seem to be only clothes, powder,
perfume, and candy. Therefore we need not worry about them. The fate of
the others is still unknown, but there seems to be a slight possibility
that some of them may yet be rescued. You may release as much or as
little of this story as may seem desirable. Stevens is still sending
data of a highly technical nature. We shall arrive there at 21:32 next
Tuesday."

       *       *       *       *       *

In due time the message from Ganymede ended and Brandon, with many pages
of his notebook crammed with figures and equations, snapped off the
power of the receiver and turned to his bench. Gone was the storming,
impetuous rebel; his body was ruled solely by the precise and insatiable
brain of the research scientist.

"He's great, that kid Perce! When I see him, I'm going to kiss him
on both cheeks. He's got enough dope on them to hang them higher than
Franklin's kite, and we'll nail those jaspers to the cross or I'm a
polyp! He's crazier than a loon in most of his hunches, but he's filled
four of our biggest gaps. There is such a thing, as a ray-screen, you
kill-joy, and there are also lifting or tractor rays--two things I've
been trying to dope out and that you've been giving me the Bronx cheer
on. The Titanians have had a tractor ray for ages--he sent me complete
dope on it--and the Jovians have got them both. We'll have them in three
days, and it ought to be fairly simple to dope out the opposite of a
tractor, too--a pusher or presser beam. Say, round up the gang, will
you, while I'm licking some of this stuff into shape for you to tear
apart? Where are Venus and Mars? Um ... m ... m. Tell Alcantro and
Fedanzo to come over here pronto--give 'em a special if necessary. We'll
pick up Dol Kenor and Pyraz Amonar on the way--no, get them to Tellus,
too. Then we'll get action quicker. Those four are all I want--get
anybody else you want to come along."

His hands playing over the keys of an enormous calculating machine,
Brandon was instantly immersed in a profound mathematico-physical
problem; deaf and blind to everything about him. Westfall, knowing well
that far-reaching results would follow Brandon's characteristic attack,
sat down at the controls of the communicator. He first called Mars, the
home planet of Alcantro and Fedanzo, the foremost force-field experts of
three planets; and was assured in no uncertain terms that those rulers
of rays were ready and anxious to follow wherever Brandon and Westfall
might lead. Thence to Venus, where Dol Kenor, the electrical wizard,
and Pyraz Amonar, the master of mechanism, also readily agreed to
accompany the expedition. He then called the General-in-Chief of the
Interplanetary Police, requesting a detail of two hundred picked men
for the hazardous venture. These most important calls out of the way,
he was busy for over an hour giving long-distance instructions so that
everything would be in readiness for the servicing of the immense
space-cruiser the following Tuesday night.

Having guarded against everything his cautious and far-seeing mind
could envisage, he went over to Brandon's desk and sat down, smoking
contemplatively until the idea had been roughed out in mathematical
terms.

"Here's the rough draft of the ray screen, Quince. We generate a blanket
frequency, impressed upon the ultra carrier wave. That's old stuff, of
course. Here's the novelty, in equation 59. With two fields of force,
set up from data 27 to 43, it will be possible actually to project a
pure force of such a nature that it will react to de-heterodyne the
blanketing frequency at any predetermined distance. That, of course,
sets up a barrier against any frequency of the blanketed band.
Incidentally, an extension of the same idea will enable us to see
anywhere we want to look--calculate a retransmitting field."

"One thing at a time, please. That screen may be possible, but
those fields will never generate it. Look at datum 31, in which your
assumptions are unsound. In order to make any solution at all possible
you have assumed cosine squared theta negligible. Mathematically, it is
of course vanishingly small compared to the first power of the cosine,
but fields of that type must be _exact_, and your neglect of the square
is indefensible. Since you cannot integrate with the squared term in
place, your whole solution fails."

"Not necessarily. We'll go back to 29, and put in sine squared theta
minus one equal to z sub four. That gives us a coversed sine in 30,
and then we integrate...."

Thus the argument raged, and all the assistants whose work was not
too pressing gathered around unobtrusively, for it was from just such
fierce discussions as this that the ultra-radio and other epoch-making
discoveries had come into being. Yard after yard of calculator paper
was filled with equations and computations. Weirdly shaped curves
were drawn, with arguments at every point--arguments hot and violent
from Brandon, from Westfall cold and precise, backed by lightning
calculations and with facts and diagrams culled from the many abstruse
works of reference, which by this time literally covered the bench and
overflowed upon the floor.

It was in this work that the strikingly different temperaments and
abilities of the two scientists were revealed. Brandon never stood
still, but walked around jerkily, chewing savagely the stem of an
ancient and reeking pipe, gesticulating vigorously, the while his keen
and agile mind was finding a way over, around, or through the apparently
insuperable obstacles which beset their path; by means of mathematical
and physical improvisations, which no one not inspired by sheer genius
could have evolved. Westfall, seated quietly at the calculator,
mercilessly shredded Brandon's theories to ribbons, pointing out their
many flaws with his cold, incisive reasoning and with rapid calculations
of the many factors involved. Then Brandon would find a remedy for each
weakness in turn and, when Westfall could no longer find a single flaw
in the structure, they would toss the completed problem upon a table
and attack the next one with unabated zeal. Brandon, in his light
remark that the two made one real scientist, had far understated
the case--those two brains, each so powerful and each so perfectly
complementing the other, comprised the master-scientist who was to
revolutionize science completely in a few short years.

To such good purpose did they labor that the calculations were
practically finished by the time they reached the earth. There the ship
was serviced with a celerity that spoke volumes for the importance of
her mission--even the _Aldebaran_, the dazzlingly gold-plated queen of
the fleet, waited unattended and disregarded on minus time while the
entire force of the Interplanetary Corporation concentrated upon the
battle-scarred old hulk of the _Sirius_. Brandon was surprised when he
saw the two companies of police, but characteristically accepted without
question the wisdom of any decision of his friend, and cordially greeted
Inspector-General Crowninshield, only a year or so older than himself,
but already in charge of a Division.

"Keen-looking bunch, Crown. Lot of different outfits--volunteers for
special duty from the whole Tellurian force?"

"Yes. Everybody wanted to go, and there threatened to be trouble over
the selection, so we picked the highest ratings from the whole Service.
If there ever was such a thing as a picked force, we shall have it
with us."

"What d'you mean, 'us'? You aren't going, are you?"

"Try to keep me from it! The names of all five of us I-G's were put in
a hat, and I was lucky."

"Well, you may come in handy, at that," Brandon conceded. "And here's
the big boss himself. Hi, Chief!"

"Ho, Brandon! Ho, Westfall!" Newton, Chairman of the Board of Directors
of the IPC, shook hands with the two scientists. "Your Martians and
Venerians are in Lounge Fifteen. I suppose that you have a lot of things
to thrash out, so you may as well start now. Everything is being
attended to--I'll take charge now."

"You going along, too?" asked Brandon.

"Going along, _too_? I'm _running_ this cruise!" Newton declared. "I may
take advice from you on some things and from Crowninshield on others,
but I am in charge!"

"All x--it's a relief, at that," and Brandon and Westfall went to join
their fellow-scientists in the designated room of the space-cruiser.

       *       *       *       *       *

What a contrast was there as the representatives of three worlds
met! All six men were of the same original stock or of a similar
evolution--science has not, even yet, decided the question definitely.
Their minds were very much alike, but their respective environments had
so variantly developed their bodily structures that to outward seeming
they had but little in common.

Through countless thousands of generations the Martians had become
acclimated to a planet having little air, less water, and characterized
by abrupt transitions from searing heat to bitter cold: from
blinding light to almost impenetrable darkness. Eight feet tall
and correspondingly massive, they could barely stand against the
gravitational force of the Earth, almost three times as great as that
of Mars, but the two Martian scientists struggled to their feet as the
Terrestrials entered.

"As you were, fellows--lie down again and take it easy." Brandon
suggested in the common Interplanetarian tongue. "We'll be away from
here very soon, then we can ease off."

"We greet our friends standing as long as we can stand," and, towering
a full two feet above Brandon's own six-feet-two, Alcantro and Fedanzo
in turn engulfed his comparatively tiny hand in a thick-shelled paw
and lifted briefly the inner lids of quadruply-shielded eyes. For the
Martian skin is not like ours. It is of incredible thickness; dry,
pliable, rubbery, and utterly without sensation: heavily lined with
fat and filled throughout its volume with tiny air-cells which make
it an almost perfect non-conductor of heat and which prevent absolutely
the evaporation of the precious moisture of the body. For the same
reasons their huge and cat-like eyes are never exposed, but look
through sealed, clear windows of membrane, over which may be drawn at
will one or all of four pairs of lids--lids transparent, insensible,
non-freezable, air-spaced insulators. Even the air they exhale carries
from their bodies a minimum of the all-important heat and moisture,
for the passages of their nostrils do not lead directly to the lungs,
as do ours. They are merely the intakes for a tortuous system of
tubes comprising a veritable heat-exchanger, so that the air finally
expelled is in almost perfect equilibrium with the incoming supply
in temperature and in moisture content. A grayish tan in color, naked
and hairless--though now, out of deference to Terrestrial conventions,
wearing light robes of silk--indifferent alike to any extreme of heat or
cold, light or darkness: such were the two forbidding beings who arose
to greet their Terrestrial friends, then again reclined.

"I suppose that you have been given to drink?" Westfall made sure that
they had been tendered the highest hospitality of Mars.

"We have drunk full deeply, thanks; and it was not really necessary,
for we drank scarcely three weeks ago."

Brandon and Westfall turned then and greeted the two Venerians,
as different from the Martians as they were from the Terrestrials.
Of earthly stature, form, and strength, yet each was encased in a
space-suit stretched like a drum-head, and would live therein or in
the special Venerian rooms of the vessel as long as the journey should
endure. For the atmosphere of Venus is more than twice as dense as ours,
is practically saturated with water-vapor, carries an extremely high
concentration of carbon dioxide, and in their suits and rooms is held
at a temperature of one hundred and ten degrees Fahrenheit. The lenses
of their helmets were of heavy, yellowish-red composition, protecting
their dead-white skins and red eyes from all actinic rays--for the
Venerian lives upon the bottom of an everlasting sea of fog and his
thin epidermis, utterly without pigmentation, burns and blisters as
frightfully at the least exposure to actinic light as does ours at
the touch of a red-hot iron.

Out in space at last, cruising idly with the acceleration set at a point
bearable for the Martians, Westfall called the meeting to order and
outlined the situation facing them. Brandon then handed around folios of
papers, upon which the Venerians turned the invisible infra-red beams of
the illuminators upon their helmets, thus flooding them with the "light"
to which their retinas were most responsive.

"Here's the data," Brandon began. "As you see from Sheet 1, we can
already draw any amount of power we shall need from cosmic radiation
alone...."

"Perpetual motion--ridiculous!" snapped from the sending disk upon the
helmet of the master of mechanism.

"Not at all, Amonar," put in his fellow Venerian, "any more than
a turbo-generator at the foot of a waterfall is perpetual motion.
Those radiations originate we know not where, probably as a result
of intra-atomic reactions. The fields of force of our hosts merely
intercept these radiations, as a water-driven turbine intercepts the
water. We merely use a portion of their energy before permitting
them to go on, to we know not what end. Truly you have made a notable
achievement in science, Tellurian friends, and we congratulate you upon
its accomplishment. Please proceed."

"Upon the following sheets are described the forces employed by the
Jovians, as we shall call them until we find out who or what they really
are. We will discuss these forces later. For each force we have already
calculated a screen, and we have also calculated various other forces of
our own, with which we hope to arm ourselves before we reach Ganymede.
The problems facing us are complex, since there are some nine thousand
forcebands of the order in which we are working, each differing from all
the others as much as torque differs from tension, or as much as red
differs from green. Therefore we have appealed to you for help, knowing
that we could do but little alone. Alcantro and Fedanzo will supervise
the construction of the generators of the various fields from these
calculations. Dol Kenor will correlate power and electricity to and
with the fields. Westfall and I will help work out the theoretical
difficulties as they arise. Pyraz Amonar, who can devise and build a
machine to perform any conceivable mechanical task, will help us all
in the many mechanical difficulties we shall certainly encounter.
Discussion of any point is now in order."

       *       *       *       *       *

Step by step and equation after equation the calculations and plans
were gone over, until every detail was clear in each mind. Then the men
bent to their tasks; behind them not only the extraordinarily complete
facilities of that gigantic workshop which was the _Sirius_; but also
the full power of the detachment of police--the very cream of the young
manhood of the planet. Week after toilsome week the unremitting labor
went on, and little by little the massive cruiser of the void became
endowed with an offensive and defensive armament incredible. An armament
conceived in the fertile and daring brain of a sheer genius, guided only
by the knowledge that such things were already in existence somewhere;
reduced to working theory by a precise, mathematical logician;
translated into fields of force by the greatest known experts; powered
by the indefatigable efforts of an electrical wizard; made possible by
the artful mechanical devices of the greatest inventor that three worlds
had ever known! Thus it was that they approached Ganymede, ready, with
blanketing screens full out, save for one narrow working band, and
with a keen-eyed observer at every plate. When even the hyper-critical
Westfall was convinced that their preparations were as complete as they
could be made with the limited information at hand, Brandon directed a
beam upon the satellite and tapped off a brief message:

"stevens ganymede will arrive in about ten hours direct carrier beam
toward sun we can detect it and will follow it to wherever you are
sirius."

"ipv sirius," came the reply, "everything here, all x glad to see you
thanks newton and stevens."

Brandon, at the controls, scanning his screens narrowly, dropped the
vessel down to within a mile or two of the point of origin of Stevens'
carrier beam without incident; then spoke to Westfall, at his side, with
a grin.

"Nice layout the kid's got down there, Quince. It's too bad--don't look
like we're going to get any action for our money a-tall. 'Sa shame,
too--what's the use of wasting it, now that we've got it all made?"

"We are not done yet," cautioned Westfall, and even as he spoke an alarm
bell burst into strident clamor--one of their far-flung detector screens
was telling the world that it had encountered a dangerous frequency.
The new ultra-lights flared instantly along the line automatically laid
down by the detector, and upon the closely ruled micrometer screen of
Brandon's desk there glowed in natural color the image of a globular
space-ship, approaching them with terrific speed.

"Men all stationed, of course, Crown?"

"Stationed and ready." Crowninshield, phones at his ears and microphone
at his lips, was staring intently into his own plate.

"Kinda think I'll do most of it from here, but you can't always tell. If
they get inside my guard you all know what to do."

"All x."

Expecting another such hollow victory as the other Hexan vessel had won
over the defenseless _Arcturus_, the small stranger flashed nearer and
nearer that huge and featureless football of armor steel. Within range,
she launched her flaming plane of energy, but this time that Jovian
sheet of force did not encounter unprotected and non-resisting steel.
Upon the outer ray-screen, flaming white into incandescent defense,
the furious bolt spent itself, and in the instant of the launching of
the searing blade of flame, Brandon had gone into action. Switch after
switch drove home, and one after another those frightful fields of
force, those products of the mightiest minds of three planets, were
hurled out against the tiny Jovian sphere. Driven as they were by the
millions upon millions of horsepower stored in the accumulators of the
_Sirius_ they formed a coruscating spherical shell of intolerable energy
all around the enemy vessel, but even their prodigious force was held
at bay by the powerful defensive screens of the smaller space-ship.
But attack the Jovian could not, every resource at her command being
necessary to fend off the terrific counter-attack of her intended prey,
and she turned in flight. Small and agile as she was, the enormous
mass of the _Sirius_ precluded any possibility of maneuvering with
the Jovian, but Brandon had no intention of maneuvering. Rapid as
the motions of the stranger were and frantic as was her dodging, the
terrific forces of the tractor beams of the Interplanetary Vessel
held her in an unbreakable grip, and although she dragged the massive
_Sirius_ hither and thither, she could not escape.

"Hm ... m ... m," mused Brandon. "We seem to be getting nowhere fast.
How much power we using, Mac, and how much have we got coming in?"

"Output eighty-five thousand kilofranks," replied MacDonald, the first
assistant. "Intake forty-nine thousand."

"Not so good--can't hold out forever at that rate. Shove out the
receptor screens to the limit and drive 'em. They figure a top of sixty
thousand, but we ought to pick up a little extra from that blaze out
there. Drive 'em full out or up to sixty-five, whichever comes first.
Can't seem to crush his screens, so I guess we'll have to try something
else," and a thoughtful expression came over his face as he slowly
extended his hand toward another switch, with a questioning glance at
Westfall.

"Better not do that yet, Norman. Use that only as a last resort, after
everything else has failed."

"Yeah--I'm scared to death of trying it, and it isn't necessary yet. He
must have an open slit somewhere to work through, just as we have. I'll
feel around for it a while."

"Is there any way of hetrodyning the new visiray upon the exploring
frequency?"

"Hm ... m.... Never thought of that--it would be nice, too....
I think we can do it, too. Watch 'em, Quince, and holler if they start
anything."

He abandoned his desk and established the necessary connections between
the visiray apparatus and the controls of his board. There was a fierce
violet-white glare from the plate as he closed the switch, and he leaped
back with his hands over his eyes, temporarily blinded.

"Wow, that's hot stuff!" he exclaimed. "It works, all x, to the queen's
taste," as he donned his heavy ray-goggles and resumed his place.

After making certain that the visiray was precisely synchronized and
phased with the searching frequency, he built up the power of that
beam until it was using twenty thousand kilofranks. Then, by delicately
manipulating the variable condensers and inductances of his sensitive
shunting relay circuits, he slowly shifted that frightful rod of energy
from frequency to frequency, staring into the brilliant blankness of his
micrometer screen as he did so. After a few minutes of search the screen
darkened somewhat, revealing the image of the Jovian globe. Brandon
instantly shifted into that one channel the entire power of his attack;
steadying the controls to bring the sphere of the Jovians into the
sharpest possible focus, knowing that he had found the open slit and
that through it there was pouring upon the enemy the full power of his
terrible weapon.

In the fraction of a second before the Jovians could detect the attack
and close the slit, he saw a portion of the wall of their vessel flare
into white heat and literally explode outward in puffs and gouts of
flaming, molten metal and of incandescent gases. But the thrust, savage
as it was, had not been fatal and the enemy countered instantly. Now
that the crushing force of the full-coverage attack was lessened for a
moment, through another slit there poured a beam of energy equal to the
Terrestrials' own--a beam of such intense power that the outer screen
of the _Sirius_ flared from red through the spectrum, to and beyond the
violet, and went black in less than a second, and the inner screen had
almost gone down before Brandon's lightning hands could restore the
complete coverage that so effectively blanketed the forces of the enemy.

"Well, we're back to the _status quo_," announced Brandon, calmly. "It's
a good gag they didn't have time to locate our working slit--if they had
pushed that stuff through our open channel, we'd have gotten frizzled up
some around the edges. As it was, we got the edge on that exchange--take
it from your Uncle Dudley, Quince, that bird knows that he's been
nudged!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Again he searched the entire band for an opening, but could find none.
The enemy had apparently retired into a tightly closed shell of energy.
The small vessel no longer struggled, nor even moved, but was merely
resisting passively.

"Not an open channel, not even one for him to work through--he can't
wiggle. Well, that won't get him anything. We're so much bigger than
he is, that we can outlast him and will get him some time, since he's
bound to run out of power before we do. I don't believe he can receive
anything, sealed up as he is, and he can't have accumulators enough more
efficient than ours to make up the difference, can he, Quince?"

"It is quite possible. For instance, although we have never heard of any
progress being made along such lines, it has been pointed out repeatedly
that synthesis of a radio-active element of very high atomic weight
would theoretically yield an almost perfect accumulator--one many
thousands of times as efficient as ours in mass-to-energy ratio. Then,
too, you realize, of course, that there is a bare possibility that
intra-atomic energy may not be absolutely impossible."

"Nix on that, Quince. I'll stand for a lot, but not for that last idea!
It's hard to say that anything's impossible, of course, except things
made so by definition or by being contrary to observational facts, but
the best work shows that intra-atomic energy is just about as impossible
as anything can well be. It has been shown pretty conclusively that all
ordinary matter is already in its most stable state, so that work must
be done upon any ordinary atom to decompose it. Besides, if he had
either radioactive accumulators or intra-atomic energy, he would have
cut us up long ago. Nope, the answer is that he's probably yelled for
help and is trying to hold out until it gets here," was Brandon's
rejoinder.

"What can we do about it?" asked Quince.

"Don't know yet. I do know, though, that we aren't half as ready for
trouble as I thought we were. There's a dozen things I want to do that
I can't because we haven't got the stuff. Don't say 'I told you so,'
either--I know you did! You're the champion ground-and-lofty thinker of
the century. Alcantro!

"Here!"

"Round up the gang, will you, and figure me out a screen and a set of
meters that will indicate an open band? We lose too much time feeling
around anyhow, and we're too apt to take one on the chin while we're
doing it. Also, you ought to make it so it'll shoot a jolt into the
opening, while you're at it," said Brandon.

"We shall begin at once," and the massive Martian as he replied, stepped
over to the calculating machine.

"Well, Quince, we can't do much to him this way--he's crawled into a
hole and pulled the hole in after him. Gosh, I wish we had more stuff!"

"After all, we have everything whose necessity and practicability could
have been foreseen in the light of our information. We can, of course,
go further."

"You chirped it! But we can't let things ride this way or we'll get our
hair singed. We'll have to decorate him with the grand slam, I guess."

"Yes, it seems as though the time for emergency measures has arrived."

"Put everything on the center of the band?"

"That is probably the best frequency to use in a case of this kind."

"He can't control, so we'll push him down close to the ground before
we go to work on him--so we don't have so far to fall if anything goes
screwy with the works. Here's hoping nothing gives away!"

The _Sirius_, almost against the flaming screens of the Jovian, and both
vessels very close to the surface of the satellite, Brandon tested the
power leads briefly, adjusted dials and coils, then touched the button
which actuated the relays--relays which in turn drove home the gigantic
switches that launched a fearsome and as yet untried weapon. Instantly
released, the full seven hundred thousand kilofranks of their stupendous
batteries of accumulators drove into the middle frequency of the
attacking band, and Brandon's heart was in his mouth as he stared into
the plate to see what would happen. He saw! Everything in the _Sirius_
held fast, and under the impact of the inconceivable plane of force, the
screens of the enemy vessel flared instantly into an even more intense
incandescence and in that same fleeting instant went down, and all
defenses vanished as the metal sphere fell apart into two halves, as
would an apple under the full blow of a broad-axe.

Brandon quickly shut off his power and stared in relief into the central
compartment of the globular ship of space, now laid open, and saw there
figures, one or two of which were moving weakly. As he looked, one of
these feebly attempted to raise a peculiar, tubular something toward a
helplessly fettered body. Even as Brandon snatched away the threatening
weapon with a beam of force, he recognized the captive.

"Great Cat, there's Breckenridge!" he gasped, and directed a lifting
beam upon the bound and unconscious prisoner. Rapidly, but carefully, he
was brought through the double airlock and into the control room, where
his shackles were cut away and where he soon revived under vigorous and
skilful treatment.

"Any more of you in there? Did I hit any of you with that beam?"
demanded Brandon, intensely, as soon as Breckenridge showed signs of
understanding.

"King's in there somewhere, and there's a Callistonian human being that
you mustn't kill," the chief pilot replied, weakly and with great effort
in every word. "Don't believe that you hit anybody direct, but the shock
was pretty bad." Having delivered his message, he lay back, exhausted.

"All x. Crown, give me a squad...."

"Not on your life!" barked the general. "This is my job and I'll do it
myself. Your job is fighting the _Sirius_--stay with it!"

"Not in seven thousand years--I'm in on this, too," Brandon protested,
but was decisively overruled by Newton.

"You belong right here at this board, since no one else can handle it
the way you can. Stay here!" he commanded.

"All right," grudgingly assented the physicist, and held the _Sirius_
upright, with her needle-sharp stern buried a few feet deep in the
ground.

He watched the wreckage jealously while Crowninshield and forty helmeted
men issued from the service door in the lower ultra-light compartment
and advanced upon the two halves of the enemy vessel. As no hostile
demonstrations ensued, scaling ladders were quickly placed and with
weapons at the alert the police boarded the hemispheres, manacled the
still helpless beings visible, and, after laying down a fog of
stupefying gas, vanished into compartments beyond the metal partitions.
After a short time they reappeared and climbed down the scaling ladders,
carrying several inert forms, and Brandon spoke into his transmitter.

"King all x, Crowninshield?"

"I think so. Not being in the control room he was not as badly shocked
by the passage of the beam as were Breckenridge and those you saw. The
things in the other rooms were about ready to fight, so we gave them a
little whiff of tritylamin, but Captain King will be as good as ever in
a few minutes."

"Fine business!" The police entered the _Sirius_, the service doors
clanged shut, and Brandon turned to Westfall.

"While they're coming up, I guess I'll pick up Perce and Miss Newton.
We'd better get them aboard and beat it, while we're all in one piece!"

But even before he could send out the exploring beam of his
communicator, the voice of Stevens came from the receiver.

"Hi, Brandon and Westfall! We've watched the whole show.
Congratulations, fellows! Welcome to Ganymede! You are in our
valley--we're upstream from you about three hundred meters; just below
the falls, on the meadow side."

"All x," Brandon acknowledged. "We saw you. Come on out where we can
pick you up. We've got to get away from here, and get away fast!"

"We'll carry off the pieces of that ship, too, Quince--we may be able to
get a lot of pointers from it," and Brandon swung mighty tractor beams
upon the severed halves of the Jovian vessel, then extended a couple of
smaller rays to meet the two little figures racing across the smooth
green meadow toward the _Sirius_.



CHAPTER X

Among Friends at Last


The time for the landing of the _Sirius_ was drawing near, and the
castaways upon Ganymede had donned their only suits of earthly clothing,
instead of the makeshifts of mole-skin, canvas, and leather they had
been wearing so long. Thorns and underbrush had pierced and torn their
once natty outing costumes, and sparks and flying drops of molten metal
from Stevens' first crude forges had burned in them many gaping holes.

"I did the best I could with them, Steve, but they look pretty crumby,"
Nadia wrinkled her nose as she studied the anything but invisible seams,
darns, and staring patches everywhere so evident, both in her own
apparel of gray silk and in the heavy whipcord clothing of her
companion.

"You did a great job, considering what you had to work with," he
reassured her. "Besides, who cares about a few patches? I feel a lot
more civilized in my own clothes, don't you?"

"Well ... yes," she admitted. "They're silk, anyway, even if they don't
look like much, and I'm just reveling in the feel of them next to me
after the horrible, rough, scratchy things I've been wearing. See
anything yet?"

"Not yet." Stevens had been scanning the heavens with a pair of
binoculars. "That doesn't mean much, though, as they'll be just about in
the sun and they'll be coming like a scared dog. Might as well put away
these glasses--we probably won't be able to see them until they're right
on top of us."

"What shall we take with us?"

"Don't know--nothing, probably, since they must have a campaign already
mapped out. I'd like to salvage a lot of this junk, but I'm afraid we
won't be able to. I'm going to take my bow and arrows, though, aren't
you?"

"Absolutely! That's one thing that's better than anything I ever had on
Earth. This bow of mine is perfect."

"There they are! Three rousing cheers! Say, but that old hulk looks good
to me!"

"Doesn't she, though!" cried Nadia, vibrant with excitement. "You know,
Steve. I've hardly dared really to believe it until this very minute. Oh
look! What's that?"

The _Sirius_ had stopped in midair and they could see, far in the
distance, the tiny sphere of the Jovians, rushing to the attack.

"Oh, how horrible!" cried the girl, her voice breaking. "I'm afraid,
Steve...."

"You needn't be, ace. I've told you they won't go off half-cocked as
long as Westfall is on the job. They're ready for anything, or they
wouldn't be here--but just the same I wish that they had that Titanian
mirror and a couple of those bombs!"

In a moment more the Jovian plane of force was launched, the powerful
ray-screens flared into white-hot, sparkling defense, and the battle was
on. Held spell-bound as the castaways were by that spectacular duel, yet
Stevens' trained mind warned him of the perils of their position.

"Grab your bow and we'll beat it!" and he rapidly led her away from the
steel structures to an open hillside, well away from any projection,
tree, or sharp point of rock. "If that keeps up very long, we're going
to see some real fireworks, and I don't know whether there will be
enough left of our plant here to salvage or not. Everything is grounded,
of course, but I don't believe that ordinary grounds will amount to much
against what's coming."

"What _are_ you talking about?" demanded Nadia.

"Look!" he replied, pointing, and as he spoke, a terrific bolt of
lightning launched itself from the incandescent screen of the Jovian
vessel upon their slender ultra-radio tower, which subsided instantly
into a confused mass of molten and twisted metal.

       *       *       *       *       *

As the power of the beams was increased and as the combatants drew
nearer and nearer the ground, the lightning display grew ever more
violent. Well below the canyon as the warring vessels were, the
power-plant and penstock did not suffer at all and only a few discharges
struck the _Forlorn Hope_--discharges which were carried easily to
ground by the enormous thickness of her armor--but every prominent
object for hundreds of yards below the _Hope_ was literally blasted out
of existence. Radio tower, directors and fittings; trees, shrubs, sharp
points of rock--all were struck again and again; fused, destroyed,
utterly obliterated by the inconceivable energy being dissipated by
those impregnable screens of force. Even almost flat upon the ground as
the spectators were, each individual hair upon their heads strove
fiercely to stand erect, so heavily charged was the very air. Stevens'
arm was blue for days, such was Nadia's grip upon it, and she herself
could scarcely breathe in that mighty arm's constriction--but each was
conscious only of that incredibly violent struggle, of that duel to the
death being waged there before their eyes with those frightful weapons,
hitherto unknown to man. They saw the _Sirius_ triumphant, and Stevens
led the dancing girl back into their dwelling of steel.

"Danger's all over now. Radio's gone, but we should fret a lot about
that. It has done its stuff--we can use the communicators. And now,
sweetheart, I'm going to kiss you--for the first time in seven
lifetimes."

Locked in each other's arms, they watched the scene until Stevens
thought it time to send his message. Then, running hand in hand toward
the huge space-cruiser, they were snatched apart and drawn up toward the
double airlocks of the main entrance. Pressure gradually brought up to
normal, they were ushered into the control room, where Nadia glanced
around quickly and almost took her father off his feet by her
tempestuous rush into his arms.

"Oh, Daddy darling. I just knew you'd come along! I haven't seen
you for a million years!" she exclaimed, rapturously. "And Bill,
too--wonderful!" as she fervently embraced a young man wearing the
uniform of a lieutenant of Interplanetary Police. "Ouch, Bill--you're
breaking all my ribs!"

"Well, you cracked three of mine. Maybe you don't know how husky you
are, but you've got a squeeze like a full grown boa constrictor!" He
held her off at arms' length and studied her with admiration. "Gee,
it's fine to see you again, Sis. You're looking great, too--I think
I'll bring my girl out here to live. You always were a knockout, but
now you're the loveliest thing I ever saw!"

He made his way through the group surrounding Stevens, while Nadia and
her father talked earnestly.

"I'm Bill Newton. Thanks," he said, simply, holding out his hand, which
was taken in a bone-crushing grip.

"Bring him over here, Bill!" Nadia called before Stevens could find
a reply.

"I don't know how to say anything, Stevens," the officer continued, in
embarrassment, as the two men turned to obey the summons. "She's a good
kid, and we think a lot of her. We'd about given her up. We.... She....
Oh, rats, what's the use? You know what I mean. You're there, Stevens,
like a...."

"Clam it, ace!" Stevens interrupted. "I get you, to nineteen decimals.
And you don't half know just what a good kid she really is. She's the
reason we're here--we were down pretty close to bed-rock for a while,
she stood up when I wilted. She's got everything. She...."

"Clam it yourself, Steve! Don't believe a word of it, Dad and Bill.
_Wilt_!" Nadia's voice dripped scorn. "Why, he di...."

"Please!" Newton's voice was somewhat husky as he silenced the clamor of
the three young people, all talking at once. "I will not embarrass you
further by trying to say something that no words can express. You told
me that you would take care of her, and I learn that you have done so."

"I did what I could, but most of the credit belongs to her, no matter
what she says," Stevens insisted. "Anyway, sir, here she is; alive, well
and ... unharmed," and his eyes bore unflinchingly the piercing gaze of
the older man, who was reassured and pleased by what he read therein.
"One thing I want to say right now, though, that may make you feel like
canceling the welcome. I loved Nadia even before the _Arcturus_ was
attacked, and since then, coming to know her as I have, the feeling
hasn't lessened any."

"Nadia has already told me all about you two," said her father, "and the
welcome stands. If you could take care of her as well as you have done
since you left the _Arcturus_, I have no doubt of your ability to take
care of her for life. We have been examining the work you have done
here, son, and the more I saw of it the more amazed I became that you
could have succeeded as you did. We are deeply indebted.... Just a
minute! There's my call--I'm wanted in Fifteen. I'll see you again
directly."

"Hi, Norm!" Stevens further relieved the surcharged atmosphere.
"As soon as you and Quince can leave those controls come over and see us,
will you?"

"All x--coming up!" sounded Brandon's deep and pleasant bass, and the
two rescuers, who had tactfully avoided the family reunion, came over
and greeted the third of their triumvirate.

"Ho, Perce--you look fit." Brandon ran an expert hand over Stevens'
arm and shoulder. "Looks as if he might last a round or two, doesn't
he, Quince?"

"You are looking fine, Steve. Neither of you appear any the worse for
your experiences. So this is Nadia? We have heard of you, Miss Newton."

"I believe that, knowing Dad," she replied. "Thanks, both of you, for
digging us out. I've heard about you two, and I'm going to kiss you
both."

Westfall, the silent and reserved, was taken aback, but Brandon met her
more than half-way.

"All x, Nadia--payment in full received and hereby acknowledged," he
laughed, as he allowed her feet to return to the floor. "Even if it was
some stout lads from Mars and Venus that did all the work we'll take the
reward--especially since Alcantro and Fedanzo couldn't feel even such a
high-voltage salute as that one was, and I can't picture you kissing a
Venerian even if you could get to him. Whenever you get lost again, be
sure to let us know, now that you've got our address. If I know Perce at
all, you've heard of us 'til you're sick of it and us--it's a weakness
of his--talking too much."

"Why, it's no such th...." began Nadia, but broke off as an aide came up
and saluted smartly.

"Pardon me, but General Crowninshield requests that Doctor Brandon,
Doctor Westfall, and Doctor Stevens join the council in Lounge Fifteen
as soon as convenient." He saluted again and turned away.

"Yes, that's right, folks--we've got to take a lot of steps, fast--see
you later," and Brandon, taking each of the other two by an arm, marched
them away toward the designated assembly room.

       *       *       *       *       *

There, already seated at a long table, were Czuv, King, and
Breckenridge, all fully recovered, engaged in earnest conversation with
Newton and Crowninshield. Alcantro and Fedanzo, the Martian scientists,
were listening intently, as were the two Venerians Dol Kenor and Pyraz
Amonar. The eyes of the three newcomers, however, did not linger upon
the group at the table, but were irresistibly drawn to one corner of the
room, where six creatures lay in the heaviest manacles afforded by the
stores of the Interplanetary Police. Not only were they manacled, but
each was facing a ray-projector, held by a soldier whose expression
showed plainly that he would rather press the lethal contact than not.

"Oh--those the things we're fighting?" Brandon stopped at the threshold
and stared intently at the captive hexans. Goggling green eyes glaring
venomously, they were lying quiet, but tense; mighty muscles ready to
burst into berserk activity should the attention of a guard waver for
a single instant.

But little more than half as large as the savage creatures with whom
Stevens had fought in the mountain glade upon Ganymede, the hexans
resembled those aborigines only as civilized men might resemble gigantic
primordial savages of our own Earth. Brandon's gaze went from short,
powerful legs up a round, red body to the enormous, freakish double pair
of shoulders, with its peculiar universal jointing. From the double
shoulders sprang four limbs, the front pair of which were undoubtedly
arms, terminating in large, but fairly normal, hands. The intermediate
limbs were longer than the legs and were much more powerful than the
arms, and ended in members that were very evidently feet and hands
combined. What in a human being would be the back of the hand was the
sole of the foot--when walking upon that foot the long and dexterous
thumb and fingers were curled up, out of the way and protected from
injury, in the palm of the hand. From the monstrous shoulders there
rose a rather long and very flexible, yet massive and columnar neck,
supporting a head neither human nor bestial--a head utterly unknown to
Terrestrial history or experience. The massive cranium bespoke a highly
developed and intelligent brain, as did the three large and expressive,
peculiar, triangular eyes. The three sensitive ears were very long,
erect, and sharply pointed. Each was set immediately above an eye, one
upon each side of the head and one in front. Each ear was independently
and instantly movable in any direction, to catch the faintest sound.
The head, like the body and limbs, was entirely devoid of hair. The
horns, so prominent in the savages Stevens had seen, were in this highly
intelligent race but vestigial--three small, sharp, black protuberances
only an inch in length, one surmounting each ear, outlining the lofty
forehead. The nose occupied almost the whole middle of the face and was
not really a nose--it developed into a small and active proboscis. The
chin was receding almost to the point of disappearance, so that the
mouth, with its multiple rows of small, sharp, gleaming-white teeth, was
almost hidden under the face instead of being a part of it. Such were
the hexans, at whom the Big Three stared in undisguised amazement.

"Attention, please!" Newton called the meeting to order. "We have
learned that all the passengers of the _Arcturus_, and all the crew save
three, are alive and safe for the time being. Most of them are upon the
satellite Europa. However, I understand that we are not yet sufficiently
well armed to withstand such an attack in force as will certainly
develop when we move to rescue them. This seems to be a war of applied
physics--Doctor Brandon, as spokesman for the Scientific forces of the
expedition, what are your suggestions?"

"Anticipating an attack in response to signals probably sent out by the
enemy," replied Brandon. "I headed directly south immediately. We are
now well south the ecliptic, and are traveling at considerably more than
full Martian acceleration. Before making any suggestions, I should like
to hear from Captain Czuv, who is more familiar than we are with the
common enemy. Are they apt to follow us: can they detect us if we should
drift at constant velocity; and can we search the brains of the
prisoners with his Callistonian thought-exchanger, if he should build
one with our help?"

"If they are close enough to us to overtake us without too much lost
time, they will certainly attack us," Czuv answered at a nod from
Newton. "Ordinarily they would pursue us to the limits of the Solar
System if necessary, but since they have suffered reverses of late and
cannot spare any vessels, they will probably not pursue us far. Yes,
they can detect us, even without the driving rays, since this vessel
uses much low-tension, low-frequency electricity in its automatic
machinery, lights, and so on. No; our thought-transformer cannot take
thoughts by force, and the hexans will exchange no ideas with us. They
are implacable and deadly foes of all humanity, irrespective of planet
or race. Mercy is to them unknown--they neither give nor take quarter."

"I can bear him out in that," Crowninshield interposed grimly. "The
first one to recover snapped our ordinary handcuffs like so much thread
and literally tore four men to pieces before the rest of us could ray
him. Will you need me longer, Director Newton?"

"I think not. General. Captain Czuv, you have made no headway with
them?" asked the Director.

"None whatever, as I foretold. They understand me thoroughly, since two
of them speak my own tongue, but nothing that they have said can ever
be repeated here. I knew from the first that all such attempts would be
fruitless, but I have tried--and failed. I suggest what I suggested at
first--put them to death, here and now, as they lie there, for most
assuredly they will in some way contrive to take toll of lives of your
own humanity if you allow them to live."

"You may be right," said Newton, "but neither the General nor myself
can give the order for their death, since Interplanetary law does not
countenance such summary action. However, the guards are fully warned of
the peril, and will ray every prisoner at the first sign of unruliness.
General Crowninshield, you may remove the prisoners and deal with them
in accordance with...."

       *       *       *       *       *

Pandemonium reigned. At Crowninshield's signal for the guards to leave
the room with their captives, all six had strained furiously at their
bonds and three of them had broken free in a flash, throwing themselves
upon the guards with unthinkable ferocity. Stevens, seeing a
ray-projector in a hand of one of the prisoners, hurled his heavy chair
instantly and with terrific force. The projector flew into the air,
shattered and useless, while the hexan was knocked into a corner by the
momentum of the massive projectile and lay there, stunned and broken.
Brandon, likewise reacting instantaneously, had bent over and seized
a leg of the table, bracing his knee against the corner. With a mighty
lunge of his powerful body he wrenched out the support and with a
continuation of the same motion, he brought the jagged oak head of his
terrible club down full upon the crown of the second hexan, who had
already torn one guard apart and was leaping toward Czuv, his hereditary
foe. In midflight he was dashed to the floor, his head a shapeless,
pulpy mass, and Brandon, bludgeon again aloft, strode deeper into the
fray. For a brief moment searing lethal beams probed here and there,
chains clanked and snapped, once more that ponderous and irresistible
oaken mace fell like the hammer of Thor, again spattering brains and
blood abroad as it descended--then again came silence. The six erstwhile
prisoners lay dead, but they had taken five of the guards with
them--literally dismembered, hideously torn limb from limb by the
superhuman, incredible physical strength and utter ferocity of the
hexans.

By common consent the meeting was adjourned to another room, for the
business in hand could not be postponed.

"Captain Czuv was right--we Tellurians could not believe in the
existence of such a race without the evidence of our own senses." Newton
reopened the meeting. "From this time on we take no prisoners. Doctor
Brandon, you may resume."

"The detectors and lookouts will give ample warning of any attack, and
Doctor Westfall has suggested that we should have all possible facts
at hand before we try to decide upon a course of action. We should like
to hear the full reports of Captain King, Captain Czuv, Chief Pilot
Breckenridge, and Doctor Stevens."

The four men told their stories tersely and rapidly, while the others
listened in deep attention. As the last speaker sat down, Newton again
turned to Brandon, who silently jerked his head at Westfall, knowing his
own inadequacy in such a situation--realizing that here was needed
Westfall's cold and methodical thinking.

"Director Newton and gentlemen," Westfall spoke calmly and precisely.
"We have much to do before we can meet the hexans upon equal terms.
We have many new fields of force and rays to develop, of whose nature
and necessity Doctor Brandon is already aware. Then, too, we must
recalculate our visirays so that we can operate at greater range and
efficiency. We must also examine the hexan space-ship which is towing,
to do which it will be desirable to drift at constant velocity for a
time. In it we may find instruments or devices as yet unknown to us.
It also occurs to me that since this is an Interplanetary Police problem
of the first magnitude, we should at once get in touch with Police
Headquarters, so that the Peace Fleet can be armed as we ourselves are,
or shall be, armed; for a large and highly efficient fleet will be
necessary to do that which must be done. It is, of course, a foregone
conclusion that Interplanetary humanity will support the humanity of
Callisto against the hexans.

"It is also self-evident that we must stay here and rescue the
Tellurians now upon Europa and Callisto, but we are not yet in position
to decide just how that rescue is to be accomplished. Four courses are
apparently open to us. First, to attempt it as soon as we shall have
strengthened our armament as much as is now possible. That would invite
a massed attack, and in my opinion would be foolish--probably suicidal.
Second, to stand by at a distance until the rocket-ship is launched,
then to escort it back to the Earth. Third, to aid the Callistonians as
much as possible while awaiting the completion of the rocket-vessel.
Fourth, and perhaps the most feasible and quickest, it may be possible
for the Callistonian rocket-ships to bring out fellow-Tellurians, a few
at a time, to us here out in space, since they are apparently able to
come and go at will. However, I would recommend that we make no plans
for the rescue as yet--there is little use in attempting to deal with an
ever-changing situation until we are ready to act forthwith. I suggest
that we strengthen our offensive and defensive armament first, then
secure information as to the exact status of affairs, both upon Callisto
and upon Europa. Then, ready to act, we will do at once whatever seems
called for by the situation then obtaining."

"The program as outlined seems eminently sensible. Are there any
comments or suggestions?" None having been offered, Director Newton
adjourned the meeting and each man attacked his particular problem.

True to Czuv's prediction the hexans did not deem it worthwhile to
pursue the Terrestrial vessel, so obviously and so earnestly fleeing
from them, and shortly, the acceleration was cut off, to render possible
a thorough study of the two halves of the spherical warship of the
enemy. Scientists donned space-suits and studied every feature of
the strange vessel, while mechanics dismantled and transferred to the
_Sirius_ every device and instrument of interest. One or two novel and
useful applications of rays and forces were found, their visirays and
communicators in particular being of a high degree of efficiency; but
upon the whole the science of the hexans was found to be inferior to
that now known to the scientists of Interplanetary's flying laboratory.
Brandon studied the hexan power-system most carefully, and, everything
in readiness and after a long talk with Westfall, he called a general
conference in the control-room.

"Gentlemen, we have done about everything we can do for the time being.
By combining the best features of the visirays and communicators of
the hexans with our own newly-perfected devices, we now have a really
excellent system of communication. Our friends from Mars and Venus
have so altered and enlarged our force-controls that our offensive
and defensive fields, rays, and screens leave little to be desired.
In power we are far ahead of the enemy. They apparently know nothing
of the possibilities of cosmic radiation, but depend upon tight-beam
transmission from their own power-plants--which transmission they have
perfected to a point far beyond anything reached by us of the three
planets. They do not use accumulators, and therefore their dissipation
is limited to their maximum reception, which is about seventy thousand
kilofranks. Since we can dissipate ten times that amount of energy, we
could withstand, for a short time, the simultaneous attacks of ten of
their vessels. Eleven or more of them, however, would be able to crush
our defensive screens--and Captain Czuv has seen as many as a hundred of
their space-ships in one formation. Furthermore, since they have several
times our maximum acceleration, they could concentrate quickly upon any
desired point. We could not escape them by flight if they really set out
to overtake us, which they certainly will do if we again venture into
their territory. Therefore it is clear that we cannot subject ourselves
to any attack in force and it follows that we cannot do much of anything
until the police fleet of some five hundred vessels can be re-armed and
can join us near Callisto. This will require several months at best.
As you already know, it has been decided that we should not return to
any of the minor planets, as to do so might invite a hexan attack upon
our police fleet which is as yet unprepared. We are now heading for
Uranus, in the hope that such a course will distract the attention of
the hexans from Tellus, even though they probably already know that we
are Tellurians. Our new communicator ray will reach any member of the
Jovian system from this point. It has been decided that it is safe to
use it, since it employs an almost absolutely tight beam of very small
diameter, and since we know that that one hexan vessel, at least, had
no apparatus sufficiently sensitive to detect a beam of that nature.
We will therefore now get in touch with the Callistonians and with our
own people."

       *       *       *       *       *

Brandon seated himself before the communicator screen, and while the
others packed themselves closely around his stool, he snapped on the
visiray and turned the dials which directed that invisible, immensely
complex beam through space. The screen was apparently in itself a coign
of vantage, flying through space with the velocity of light, and the
watchers gasped involuntarily and drew themselves together, as with that
unthinkable speed they flashed down toward the surface of Callisto.
So realistic was the impression that they themselves were hurtling
through the void, that they could scarcely reason themselves into
believing their positive knowledge that the impending collision was
not an actual happening! Reducing the velocity of the projection
abruptly as it approached the satellite, Brandon flashed it down into
a crater indicated by Czuv, and along a tunnel to the city of Zbardk,
where the Callistonian captain held a long conversation with the Council
of the nation. Frowning in thought, he turned to Newton and spoke
seriously and slowly.

"Immediately after the loss of our super-plane, with the supposed death
of King, Breckenridge, and myself, the other Tellurian officers were
returned to Europa, since even they could be of no assistance to us
Callistonians in our struggle against the new, high-acceleration vessels
of the hexans. The present situation is much more serious than I would
have believed possible. The last vessel going to visit Wruszk, our city
upon Europa, was caught and destroyed by the hexans, and for many weeks
no ship or message has come from there to Callisto. In spite of the fact
that the hexan fleet is smaller than ever before, they are guarding
Europa very closely. It is feared that they may have found and destroyed
our city there--an expedition is even now about to set out in a
desperate attempt to learn the fate of our fellows."

"Suppose the rays of the lifeboats were detected in landing?" asked
Brandon. "That might have given them a clue."

"Possibly; but it is equally possible that our own men became careless
in the operation of one of our own vessels. Having been unmolested so
long, they might have relaxed their vigilance. We may never know."

"Tell 'em to cancel the expedition--we'll shoot the visiray over
there right now and find out all about it. We'll let them know pretty
quickly. Also, you might tell them that you've got complete plans and
specifications for all the weapons that the hexans have, and a couple
besides, and that the quicker they shoot a ship out here after you, the
sooner they can get to building some stuff to blow those hexans clear
out of space!"

It was the work of only a few moments to drive the visiray projection
to Europa, where Czuv, to the great relief of all, found that the hexans
had not yet discovered either Wruszk or the Terrestrial workings.
All Europan humanity, fully aware of the hexan investment, was
exerting every possible precaution against discovery by the enemy.
This information was duly flashed to the Council of Callisto, and the
projection was then hurled across the intervening reaches of space and
into the cavern in which was being built the enormous rocket-ship in
which the Terrestrial refugees were to attempt the long voyage back
to their own distant planet.

It took some little time to convince Doctor Penfield that there had
been projected into the empty air of his little sanctum an absolutely
invisible and impalpable structure of pure force capable of receiving
and transmitting voice and vision. Once convinced of the reality of the
phenomenon, however, the speaker beside Brandon's communicator screen
fairly rattled under the fervor of his greeting, so great was his
pleasure at the arrival of the expedition of relief and in knowing that
King and Breckenridge, whom they had, of course, given up for dead, were
aboard the Interplanetary vessel.

Penfield reported that the work upon the great rocket-ship was
progressing satisfactorily, although slowly, since it was so much larger
than any vessel theretofore constructed by the Callistonians. Newton,
in turn, informed the autocrat of the stranded Terrestrials as to the
_status quo_ of the rescuing party.

"Of course, because of the hexan blockade, you cannot take us off until
they have been wiped out, which will be several months at best," the
surgeon said, slowly, and a shadow came over his face as he spoke.
"Well, what can't be cured...."

"Trouble with the personnel?" King broke in sharply.

"Personnel, yes; but not trouble in the sense you mean--we have had
none of that. It is only that there are four more of us now than there
were...."

"Huh? How come?" demanded Brandon, in astonishment.

"Four babies have been born to us here so far, and several more are
coming. They are the ones I'm worried about. Most normal adults can
stand it here without any serious effects, but this thin atmosphere and
weak gravity are certain to result in abnormal development of children.
However, there may be another way out of it. Are you using normal
acceleration, or have you Martians aboard?"

"Both," replied Brandon. "We are carrying two inhabitants of Mars,
but Alcantro and Fedanzo are not ordinary Martians. They have been in
constant training ever since we left Tellus, and now they can stand as
high an acceleration as a weak Tellurian. We're riding at normal."

"Good! As you already know, there has been no communication of late
between here and Callisto. It had already been decided, however, that
one more voyage must be risked, in order to bring back material which
is most urgently needed. Since the vessel will leave here light and is
large enough to carry about thirty passengers on a short trip with some
crowding, the Council will probably approve of having it carry some of
our passengers out to the _Sirius_--especially now, since a vessel must
visit you, anyway, to get Captain Czuv and the specifications of the new
armament. All these things can be done with one vessel in one trip."

"That sounds fine!" boomed King. "It will give me a chance to get back
there where I belong, too. Whom are you sending out?"

"The seven couples who either have babies already or who will have them
in the next few months; and some of our young who aren't standing the
gaff any too well. You won't be in the red very deeply on the deal,
either--while two or three of the passengers I am sending you will
certainly be a nuisance; anybody could use, anywhere, such men as
Commander Sanderson and Lieut..."

"Sanderson!" interrupted King. "Why, he wasn't--when did _he_ get
married?"

"The day after we arrived here," replied the surgeon. "His fiancee was
aboard the _Arcturus_, and when they found out how long we would have
to be here, they very sensibly decided not to wait."

"Were there any others?" demanded Nadia, who, standing between Stevens
and her father, had been an interested listener.

"Plenty of them! Fourteen of our young women passengers have married
here upon Europa. A few married fellow-passengers, but most of them
picked out officers of the _Arcturus_. You'll find your staff made up
pretty largely of benedicts now, King! We've been here a year, you know,
and time will tell! Young Commander Sanderson's a fine baby--he'll be a
credit to the IPC some day, if we can get him aboard the _Sirius_, where
he can get a good start. We could give our babies normal air pressure
here by building special rooms, but we cannot give them the normal
acceleration necessary to develop their muscles properly."

"Well, we'd better snap over to Callisto and take this up with the
Council," Brandon put in. "I don't imagine that there will be any
objections, so you might as well get your ship gassed up and
loaded--we'll be back here with the okay in about a minute and a half."

       *       *       *       *       *

With Brandon at the controls and with Czuv at the communicator plate,
the projection flashed toward distant Callisto and the group melted
away, each man going about his interrupted task.

"Daddy, take us somewhere--I want to talk to you," Nadia spoke to her
father, and the director led her and Stevens to his own room.

"All x, daughter; out with it!" and he bent upon her a quizzical glance,
under which a fiery blush burned from her throat to her forehead.

"Dad, I've been thinking a lot since you rescued us, and what we've just
heard has given me the nerve to say it. Steve, of course, wouldn't dare
suggest such a thing until we're safely back on Earth, so I will." Her
deep brown eyes held his steadily. "All those girls got married--why,
some of them have babies already--and Steve and I have waited for each
other _so_ long, daddy! And _none_ of them love each other the way we
do. Do they, Steve?"

"I don't see how they could, sir; and that goes straight across the
panel," and he bore unflinchingly the piercing gaze of the older man
as his right arm encircled the girl and held her close.

"Well, why not?" A sudden smile transformed Newton's stern visage.
"There are three chaplains with the police--a Methodist minister,
a Catholic priest, and a Jewish rabbi. Also, we have on board two
full-fledged I-P captains, either of whom is authorized to tie
matrimonial knots. The means are not lacking--if you're both sure of
yourselves?" and all levity disappeared as he studied the two young
faces.

"Yes, you are sure," he continued after a moment "just as her mother and
I were--and are. It is too bad that she cannot be here with you, but it
may be a long time before we can return to Tellus, and you have indeed
waited long.

"Oh thanks, Daddy, you're just a perfectly wonderful old darling!" Nadia
exclaimed, as she threw her arms rapturously around his neck. "And this
isn't a warship at all--you know perfectly well that it's a research
laboratory, and that as soon as the Navy gets here, you won't let it
fight a bit more, because such scientists can't be allowed to risk
themselves! And also, you're forgetting that whole flock of women and
babies that are coming out here just as fast as they can get themselves
ready. So get going, daddy old dear, and let's do things! Steve's a
Quaker and we're Presbyterians, so none of the chaplains will do at all.
Besides, I promised Captain King ages ago that he could marry me, so go
get him and we'll do it now. Bill can be my bridesmaid, you'll give me
away, and Steve can have the other two of his Big Three for best men.
I'm off to hunt up the flimsiest, fussiest white dress I can find in my
trunks. Let's go!"

"Mr. Newton." Stevens spoke thoughtfully as Nadia darted away. "You said
something about her mother, I didn't want to say anything to raise false
hopes while she was here, but I've got an idea. Let's meet in Brandon's
room instead of here. We can send code to Tellus easily enough on our
ultrawave, and we may be able to fake up something on vision."

A few minutes later the Big Three were in Brandon's private study;
staring intently into a screen of ground glass upon which played
flickering, flashing lights, while the black-haired physicist
manipulated micrometer dials in infinitesimal arcs.

"Once more, Mac," Brandon directed. "Pretty nearly had them that time.
We're stretching this projector about six hundred percent, but we've got
to make this connection. Can't you give me just a little more voltage on
those secondaries?"

"I can _not_!" the voice of the first assistant snapped from the
speaker. "I'm overloading now so badly that some of my plates are
getting hot--if I hold this voltage much longer, the whole secondary
bank of tubes is going out. All x--you're on zero!"

"All x!" Flashing and waning, the lights upon the screen formed
fleeting, shifting, nebulous images of a relay station upon distant
Earth; but the utmost power of the transmitting fields could neither
steady the image nor hold it.

"Back off, Mac," Brandon instructed. "I'm afraid we can't hold 'em
direct--no use blowing a bank of tubes. We'll try relaying through
Mars--we can hold them there, I think. It will muss up reception some,
but it will probably be better than direct, at that. Point oh five three
six ... all x--shoot!"

Brandon's relay station upon Mars was finally raised and held, and
a corps of keenly interested engineers there made short work of the
Earth-Mars linkage. Soon the screen glowed with the picture of the
transmitter-room of the Terrestrial station, and while the three men
were waiting for Mrs. Newton to be called to her own television set,
the door behind them opened. Nadia and her escorts entered the room--but
Stevens' eyes saw only the entrancing vision of loveliness that was his
bride. Dressed in a clinging white gown of shimmering silk, her hair a
golden blond corona, sweetly curved lips slightly parted and wide eyes
eloquent, she paused momentarily as Stevens came to his feet and stared
at her, his very heart in his eyes.

"You never saw me in a dress before--do you like me, Steve?"

"_Like_ you! You're beautiful!" and gray eyes and brown, deep with
wonder and with love, met and held as, unheeding the presence of their
friends, they went into each other's arms in a coalescence as inevitable
and as final as Fate itself.

"Hi, Nadia old dear!" and "Daughter, from what I can see of my
son-in-law, I believe that he may do," came together from the speaker.
Nadia tore herself from Stevens' embrace, to see upon the lambent screen
the happily smiling faces of her mother and sister.

"Mother! Claire! Oh, you three wonder-workers!" She addressed
simultaneously the distant Terrestrials and the scientists at her side,
while broken exclamations, punctuated by ominous, crackling snaps, came
from the laboring amplifier.

"Sorry to interrupt," MacDonald's voice broke in, "but you'll have to
hurry it up. Alcantro and Fedanzo are doing their best, but every plate
in my secondary bank's red hot, and you could fry an egg on any one of
my transformers. Even my primary tubes are running hot. She won't hold
together five minutes longer!"

Captain King opened his book, and in that small steel room, unadorned
save for stack upon stack of bookcases, the brief but solemn ceremony
joining two young lives was read--its solemnity only intensified by its
unique accompaniment. For from Brandon at the primary controls, through
the power-room of the _Sirius_ and the relay-station upon Mars, to the
immense Interplanetary transmitter upon Earth, the greatest radio and
television engineers of two planets were fighting overdriven equipment,
trying to hold an almost impossible connection, in order that Nadia
Newton's mother and sister might be present at her wedding, hundreds of
millions of miles distant in space!

"I pronounce you man and wife. Whom God hath joined, let no man put
asunder." The sacred old ritual ended and Captain King picked up
the bride in his great arms as though she were a baby, kissed her
vigorously, and set her down in front of the transmitter. In the midst
of the joyous confusion that ensued a tearing, rattling crash came from
the speaker and the screen went blank.

"There!" lamented MacDonald from the power room. "I knew they'd blow!
There goes my whole secondary bank--eight perfectly good ten-nineteens
all shot to...."

"That's too bad, but it couldn't be helped; they went for a good cause,"
interrupted Brandon. "I'll come down and help clean up the mess."

       *       *       *       *       *

Leaving the bridal party, he made his way rapidly to the power room,
where he found MacDonald and the two Martians inspecting the smoking
remains of what had been the secondary bank of their powerful
ultra-transmitter. Spare parts in abundance were on hand, and it was
not long until the damaged section was apparently as good as new.

"Now to try her out," Brandon announced. "We want to give her a good
workout, but there's no use trying the I-P stations any more--they're
altogether too hard to handle at this range. Czuv said something about
an unknown race of monstrosities at the south pole of Jupiter--let's try
it on them for a while."

He flung the field of force out into space, as responsive to his will
as a well-trained horse, and guided it toward the southern limb of that
gigantic world. Down and down the projection plunged, through mile after
mile of reeking, steaming fog, impenetrable to earthly eyes. Finally it
came to rest upon the surface, hundreds of feet deep in a lush, dank,
tropical jungle, and Brandon plugged into the Venerian room.

"Kenor? We've got a lot of use for you, if you can come down here for a
while. Thanks a lot." He turned to the Martians. "Luckily, we've got a
couple of infra-red transformers aboard, so we won't have to build one.
You fellows might break one out and shunt it onto this circuit while Dol
Kenor is hunting up something for us to look at.

"Hi, old Infra-Eyes!" he went on, as the Venerian scientist waddled into
the room in his bulging space-suit. "We've got something here that's
right down your alley. Want to see what you can see?"

"Ah, a beautiful scene!" exclaimed Dol Kenor, after one glance into the
plate. "It is indeed a relief, after all this coldness and glare, to
see such a soft, warm landscape--even though I have never expected to
behold quite such a violent bit of jungle," and under his guidance the
projection flashed over hundreds of miles of territory. To the eyes of
the Terrestrials the screen revealed only a blank, amorphous grayness,
through which at times there shot lines and masses of vague and
meaningless form; but the Venerian was very evidently seeing and
enjoying many and diverse scenes.

"There, I think, is what you wish to see first," he announced, as he
finally steadied the controls, and Brandon cut in upon the shunting
screen the infra-red transformer. This device, developed long before to
render possible the use of Terrestrial eyes in the opaque atmosphere of
Venus, stepped up the fog-piercing long waves into the frequencies of
light capable of affecting the earthly retina. Instantly the dull gray
blank of the shunting screen became transformed into a clear and
colorful picture of the great city of the Jovians of the South.

"Great Cat!" Brandon exclaimed. "Flying fortresses is right! They're in
war formation, too, or I'm a polyp! We've got to watch this, Mac, all
of it, and watch it close--it's apt to have a big bearing on what we'll
have to do, before they get done. Better we rig up another set, and put
a relay of observers on this job!"



CHAPTER XI

The Vorkul-Hexan War


Vorkulia, the city of the Vorkuls, was an immense seven-pointed
star. At its center, directly upon the south pole of Jupiter, rose a
tremendous shaft--its cross-section likewise a tapering seven-pointed
star--which housed the directing intelligence of the nation. Radiating
from the seven cardinal points of the building were short lanes leading
to star-shaped open plots, from which in turn branched out ways to other
stellate areas; ways reaching, after many such steps, to the towering
inner walls of the metropolis. The outer walls, still loftier and even
more massive ramparts of sullen gray-green metal, formed a seamless,
jointless barrier against an utterly indescribable foe; a barrier whose
outer faces radiated constantly a searing, coruscating green emanation.
Metal alone could not long have barred that voracious and implacably
relentless enemy, but against that lethal green emanation even that
ravening Jovian jungle could not prevail, but fell back, impotent.
Writhing and crawling, loathesomely palpitant with an unspeakable
exuberance of foul and repellent vigor, possible only to such
meteorological conditions as obtained there, it threw its most
hideously prolific growths against that radiant wall in vain.

The short, zig-zag lanes, the ways, and the seven-pointed areas
were paved with a greenish glass. This pavement was intended solely
to prevent vegetable growth and carried no traffic whatever, since few
indeed of the Vorkuls have ever been earth-bound and all traffic was in
the air. The principal purpose of the openings was to separate, and
thus to render accessible by air, the mighty buildings which, level
upon level, towered upward, with airships hovering at or anchored to
doorways and entrances at every level. Buildings, entrances, everything
visible--all replicated, reiterated, repeated infinite variations in
the one theme, that of the septenate stelliform.

Color ran riot; masses varied from immense blocks of awe-inspiring
grandeur to delicate tracery of sheerest gossamer; lights flamed and
flared in wide bands and in narrow, flashing pencils--but in all,
through all, over all, and dominating all was the Seven-Pointed Star.

In and almost filling the space, at least a mile in width,
between the inner and the outer walls were huge, seven-sided
structures--featureless, squat, forbidding heptagons of dull green
metal. No thing living was to be seen in that space. Its pavement was
of solid metal and immensely thick, and that metal, as well as that of
the walls, was burned and blackened and seared as though by numberless
exposures to intolerable flame. In a lower compartment of one of these
enormous heptagons Vortel Kromodeor, First Projector Officer, rested
before a gigantic and complex instrument board. He was at ease--his huge
wings folded, his sinuous length coiled comfortably in slack loops about
two horizontal bars. But at least one enormous, extensible eye was
always pointed toward the board, always was at least one nimble and
bat-like ear cocked attentively in the direction of the signal panel.

A whistling, shrieking ululation rent the air and the officer's coils
tightened as he reared a few feet of his length upright, shooting out
half a dozen tentacular arms to various switches and controls upon his
board, while throughout the great heptagon, hundreds of other Vorkuls
sprang to attention at their assigned posts of duty. As the howling wail
came to a climax in a blast of sound Kromodeor threw over a lever, as
did every other projector officer in every other heptagon, and there was
made plain to any observer the reason for the burns and scars in the
tortured space between the lofty inner and outer walls of Vorkulia.
For these heptagons were the monstrous flying fortresses which Czuv
had occasionally seen from afar, as they went upon some unusual errand
above the Jovian banks of mist, and which Brandon was soon to see in
his visiray screen. The seared and disfigured metal of the pavement
and walls was made so by the release of the furious blasts of energy
necessary to raise those untold thousands of tons of mass against the
attraction of Jupiter, more than two and a half times the gravity of our
own world! Vast volumes of flaming energy shrieked from the ports. Wave
upon wave, flooding the heptagons, it dashed back and forth upon the
heavy metal between the walls. As more and more of the inconceivable
power of those Titanic generators was unleashed, it boiled forth in
a devastating flood which, striking the walls, rebounded and leaped
vertically far above even those mighty ramparts. Even the enormous
thickness of the highly conducting metal could not absorb all the
energy of that intolerable blast, and immediately beneath the ports new
seven-pointed areas of disfigurement appeared as those terrific flying
fortresses were finally wrenched from the ground and hurled upward.

       *       *       *       *       *

High in the air, another signal wailed up and down a peculiar scale of
sound and the mighty host of vessels formed smoothly into symmetrical
groups of seven. Each group then moved with mathematical precision into
its allotted position in a complex geometrical formation--a gigantic,
seven-ribbed, duplex cone in space. The flagship flew at the apex of
this stupendous formation; behind, and protected by, the full power
of the other floating citadels of the forty-nine groups of seven.
Due north, the amazing armada sped in rigorous alignment, flying along
a predetermined meridian--due north!

At the end of his watch Kromodeor relinquished his board to the officer
relieving him and shot into the air, propelled by the straightening of
the powerful coils of his snake-like body and tail. Wings half spread,
lateral and vertical ruddering fins outthrust, he soared across the room
toward a low opening. Just before they struck the wall upon either side
of the doorway the great wings snapped shut, the fins retracted, and the
long and heavy body struck the floor of the passage without a jar. With
a wriggling, serpentine motion he sped like a vibrant arrow along the
hall and into a wardroom. There, after a brief glance around the room,
he coiled up beside a fellow officer who, with one eye, was negligently
reading a scroll held in three or four hands; while with another eye,
poised upon its slender pedicle, he watched a moving picture upon a
television screen.

"Hello, Kromodeor," Wixill, Chief Power Officer[2] greeted the newcomer
in the wailing, hissing language of the Vorkuls. He tossed the scroll
into the air, where it instantly rolled into a tight cylinder and shot
into an opening in the wall of the room. "Glad to see you. Books and
shows are all right on practice cruises, but I can't seem to work up
much enthusiasm about such things now."

[Footnote 2: In order to avoid all unnecessary strain upon the memory of
the reader, all titles, etc., have been given in the closest possible
English equivalent, instead of in an attempted transliteration of the
foreign word. This particular officer has no counterpart upon Tellurian
vessels. He is the second in command of a Vorkulian fortress, his
function being to supervise all expenditure of power.--E. E. S.]

Kromodeor elevated an eye and studied the screen, upon which, to the
accompaniment of whistling, shrieking sound, whirled and gyrated an
interlacing group of serpentine forms.

"A good show, Wixill," the projector officer replied, "but nothing to
hold the attention of men engaged in what we are doing. Think of it!
After twenty years of preparation--two long lifetimes--and for the first
time in our history, we are actually going to war!"

"I have thought of it at length. It is disgusting. Compelled to traffic
with an alien form of life! Were it not to end in the extinction of
those unspeakable hexans, it would be futile to the point of silliness.
I cannot understand them at all. There is ample room upon this planet
for all of us. Our races combined are not using one seven-thousandth
of its surface. You would think that they would shun all strangers.
Yet for ages have they attacked us, refusing to let us alone, until
finally they forced us to prepare means for their destruction. They
seem as senselessly savage as the jungle growths, and, but for their
very evident intelligence, one would class them as such. You would
think that, being intelligent and being alien to us, they would not
have anything to do with us in any way, peacefully or otherwise.
However, their intrusions and depredations are about to end."

"They certainly are. Vorkulia has endured much--too much--but I am glad
that our forefathers did not decide to exterminate them sooner. If they
had, we could not have been doing this now."

"There speaks the rashness of youth, Kromodeor. It is a violation of all
our instincts to have any commerce with outsiders, as you will learn as
soon as you see one of them. Then, too, we will lose heavily. Since we
have studied their armaments so long, and have subjected every phase of
the situation to statistical analysis, it is certain that we are to
succeed--but you also know at what cost."

"Two-sevenths of our force, with a probable error of one in seven,"
replied the younger Vorkul. "And because that figure cannot be improved
within the next seven years and because of the exceptional weakness of
the hexans due to their unexpectedly great losses upon Callisto, we are
attacking at this time. Their spherical vessels are nothing, of course.
It is in the reduction of the city that we will lose men and vessels.
But at that, each of us has five chances in seven of returning, which is
good enough odds--much better than we had in that last expedition into
the jungle. But by the Mighty Seven, I shall make myself wrap around one
hexan, for my brother's sake," and his coils tightened unconsciously.
"Hideous, repulsive monstrosities! Creatures so horrible should not
be allowed to live--they should have been tossed over the wall to
the jungle ages ago!" Kromodeor curled out an eye as he spoke, and
complacently surveyed the writhing cylinder of sinuous, supple power
that was his own body.

"Better avoid contact work with them if possible," cautioned Wixill.
"You might not be able to unwrap, and to touch one of them is almost
unthinkable. Speaking of wrapping, you know that they are putting on the
finals of the contact work in the star this evening. Let's watch them."

They slid to the floor and wriggled away in perfect "step"--undulating
along in such nice synchronism that their adjacent sides, only a few
inches apart, formed two waving rigidly parallel lines. Deep in the
lower part of the fortress they entered a large assembly room, provided
with a raised platform in the center and having hundreds of short,
upright posts in lieu of chairs; most of which were already taken by
spectators. The two officers curled their tails comfortably around two
of the vacant pillars, elevated their heads to a convenient level of
sight and directed each an eye or two upon the stage. This was, of
course, heptagonal. Its sides, like those of the mighty flying forts
themselves, were not straight, but angled inward sufficiently to make
the platform a seven-pointed star. The edge was outlined by a low rail,
and bulwark and floor were padded with thick layers of a hard but smooth
and yielding fabric.

       *       *       *       *       *

In this star-shaped ring two young Vorkuls were contending for the
championship of the fleet in a contest that seemed to combine most of
the features of wrestling, boxing, and bar-room brawling, with no holds
barred. Four hands of each of the creatures held heavy leather billies,
and could be used only in striking with those weapons, the remaining
hands being left free to employ as the owner saw fit. Since the sport
was not intended to be lethal, however, the eyes and other highly
vulnerable parts were protected by metal masks, and the wing ribs
were similarly guarded by leathern shields. The guiding fins, being
comparatively small and extremely tough, required no protection.

"We're just in time," Kromodeor whistled. "The main bout is nicely on.
See anyone from the flagship? I might stake a couple of korpels that
Sintris will paint the symbol upon his wing."

"Most of their men seem to be across the star," Wixill replied, and both
beings fell silent, absorbed in the struggle going on in the ring.

It was a contest well worth watching. Wing crashed against mighty wing
and the lithe, hard bodies snapped and curled this way and that, almost
faster than the eye could follow, in quest of advantageous holds. Above
the shrieking wails of the crowd could be heard the smacks and thuds of
the eight flying clubs as they struck against the leather shields or
against tough and scaly hides. For minutes the conflict raged, with no
advantage apparent. Now the fighters were flat upon the floor of the
star, now dozens of feet in the air above it, as one or the other sought
to gain a height from which to plunge downward upon his opponent; but
both stayed upon or over the star--to leave its boundaries was to lose
disgracefully.

Then, high in air, the visiting warrior thought that he saw an opening
and grappled. Wings crashed in fierce blows, hands gripped and furiously
wrenched. Two powerful bodies, tapering smoothly down to equally
powerful tails, corkscrewed around each other viciously, winding up into
something resembling tightly twisted lamp cord; and the two Vorkuls,
each helpless, fell to the mat with a crash. Fast as was Zerexi, the
gladiator from the flagship, Sintris was the merest trifle faster.
Like the straightening of a twisted spring of tempered steel that long
body uncoiled as they struck the floor, and up under those shielding
wings--an infinitesimal fraction of a second slow in interposing--that
lithe tail sped. Two lightning loops flashed around the neck of the
visitor and tightened inexorably. Desperately the victim fought to break
that terrible strangle hold, but every maneuver was countered as soon
as it was begun. Beating wings, under whose frightful blows the very air
quivered, were met and parried by wings equally capable. Hands and clubs
were of no avail against that corded cable of sinew, and Sintris, his
head retracted between his wings and his own hands reenforcing that
impregnable covering over his head and neck, threw all his power into
his tail--tightening, with terrific, rippling surges, that already
throttling band about the throat of his opponent. Only one result was
possible. Soon Zerexi lay quiet, and a violet beam of light flared from
a torch at the ringside, bathing both contenders. At the flash the
winner disengaged himself from the loser, and stood by until the latter
had recovered the use of his paralyzed muscles. The two combatants then
touched wing tips in salute and flew away together, over the heads of
the crowd; plunging into a doorway and disappearing as the two officers
uncoiled from their "seats" and wriggled out into the corridor.

"Fine piece of contact work," said Wixill, thoughtfully. "I'm glad that
Sintris won, but I did not expect him to win so easily. Zerexi shouldn't
have gone into a knot so early against such a fast man."

"Oh, I don't know," argued Kromodeor. "His big mistake was in that
second body check. If he had blocked the sixth arm with his fifth, taken
out the fourth and second with his third, and then gone in with...." and
so, quite like two early experts after a good boxing match, the friends
argued the fine points of the contest long after they had reached their
quarters.

Day after day the vast duplex cone of Vorkulian fortresses sped
toward the north pole of the great planet, with a high and constant
velocity. Day after day the complex geometrical figure in space remained
unchanged, no unit deviating measurably from its precise place in the
formation. Over rapacious jungles, over geysers spouting hot water,
over sullenly steaming rivers and seas, over boiling lakes of mud, and
high over gigantic volcanoes, in uninterrupted eruptions of cataclysmic
violence, the Vorkulian phalanx flew--straight north. The equatorial
regions, considerably hotter than the poles, were traversed with
practically no change in scenery--it was a world of steaming fog,
of jungle, of hot water, of boiling, spurting mud, and of volcanoes.
Not of such mild and sporadic volcanic outbreaks as we of green Terra
know, but of gigantic primordial volcanoes, in terrifyingly continuous
performances of frightful intensity. Due north the Vorkulian spearhead
was hurled, before the rigorous geometrical alignment was altered.

"All captains, attention!" Finally, in a high latitude, the flagship
sent out final instructions. "The hexans have detected us and our long
range observers report that they are coming to meet us in force. We will
now go into the whirl, and proceed with the maneuvers exactly as they
have been planned. Whirl!"

At the command, each vessel began to pursue a tortuous spiral path.
Each group of seven circled slowly about its own axis, as though each
structure were attached rigidly to a radius rod, and at the same time
spiraled around the line of advance in such fashion that the whole
gigantic cone, wide open maw to the fore, seemed to be boring its way
through the air.

"Lucky again!" Kromodeor, in the wardroom, turned to Wixill as the two
prepared to take their respective watches. "It looks as though the first
action would come while we're on duty. I've got just one favor to ask,
if you have to economize on power, let Number One alone, will you?"

"No fear of that," Wixill hissed, with the Vorkulian equivalent of a
chuckle. "We have abundance of power for all of your projector officers.
But don't waste any of it, or I'll cut you down five ratings!"

"You're welcome. When I shine old Number One on any hexan work, one
flash is all we'll take. See you at supper," and, leaving his superior
at the door of the power room, Kromodeor wriggled away to his station
upon the parallel horizontal bars before his panel.

Making sure that his tail coils were so firmly clamped that no possible
lurch or shock could throw him out of position, he set an eye toward
each of his sighting screens, even though he knew that it would be long
before those comparatively short range instruments would show anything
except friendly vessels. Then, ready for any emergency, he scanned his
one "live" screen--the one upon which were being flashed the pictures
and reports secured by the high-powered instruments of the observers.

       *       *       *       *       *

With the terrific acceleration employed by the hexan spheres, it
was not long until the leading squadron of fighting globes neared
the Vorkulian war-cone. This advance guard was composed of the new,
high-acceleration vessels. Their crews, with the innate blood-lust
and savagery of their breed, had not even entertained the thought of
accommodating their swifter pace to that of the main body of the fleet.
These vast, slow-moving structures were no more to be feared than those
similar ones whose visits they had been repulsing for twenty long
Jovian years--by the time the slower spheres could arrive upon the scene
there would be nothing left for them to do. Therefore, few in number
as were the vessels of the vanguard, they rushed to the attack. In one
blinding salvo they launched their supposedly irresistible planes of
force--dazzling, scintillating planes under whose fierce power the
studying, questing, scouting fortresses previously encountered had fled
back southward; cut, beaten, and crippled. These spiraling monsters,
however, did not pause or waver in their stolidly ordered motion.
As the hexan planes of force flashed out, the dull green metal walls
broke into a sparkling green radiance, against which the Titanic
bolts spent themselves in vain. Then there leaped out from the weird
brilliance of the walls of the fortresses great shafts of pale green
luminescence--tractor ray after gigantic tractor ray, which seized
upon the hexan spheres and drew them ruthlessly into the yawning
open end of that gigantic cone.

Then, in each group of seven, similar great streamers of energy reached
out from fortress to fortress, until each group was welded into one
mighty unit by twenty-one such bands of force. The unit formed, a ray
from each of its seven component structures seized upon a designated
sphere, and under the combined power of those seven tractors, the
luckless globe was literally snapped into the center of mass of the
Vorkulian unit There seven dully gleaming red pressor rays leaped upon
it, backed by all the power of seven gigantic fortresses, held rigidly
in formation by the unimaginable mass of the structures and by their
twenty-one prodigious tractor beams. Under that awful impact, the
screens and walls of the hexan spheres were exactly as effective as so
many structures of the most tenuous vapor. The red glare of the vortex
of those beams was lightened momentarily by a flash of brighter color,
and through the foggy atmosphere there may have flamed briefly a drop or
two of metal that was only liquefied. The red and green beams snapped
out, the peculiar radiance died from the metal walls, and the gigantic
duplex cone of the Vorkuls bored serenely northward--as little marked or
affected by the episode as is a darting swift who, having snapped up a
chance insect in full flight, darts on.

"Great Cat!" Far off in space, Brandon turned from his visiray screen
and wiped his brow. "Czuv certainly chirped it, Perce, when he called
those things flying fortresses. But who, what, why, and how? We didn't
see any apparatus that looked capable of generating or handling those
beams--and of course, when they got started, their screens cut us
off at the pockets. Wish we could have made some sense out of their
language--like to know a few of their ideas--find out whether we can't
get on terms with them some way or other. Funny-looking wampuses, but
they've got real brains--their think-tanks are very evidently full of
bubbles. If they have it in mind to take us on next, old son, it'll be
just ... too ... bad!"

"And then some," agreed Stevens. "They've got something--no fooling. It
looks like the hexans are going to get theirs, good and plenty, pretty
soon--and then what? I'd give my left lung and four front teeth for one
long look at their controls in action."

"You and me both--it's funny, the way those green ray-screens stick to
the walls, instead of being spherical, as you'd expect ... should think
they'd _have_ to radiate from a center, and so be spherical," Brandon
cogitated. "However, we've got nothing corkscrewy enough to go through
them, so we'll have to stand by. We'll stay inside whenever possible,
look on from outside when we must, but all the time picking up whatever
information we can. In the meantime, now that we've got our passengers,
old Doctor Westfall prescribes something that he says is good for what
ails us. Distance--lots of distance, straight out from the sun--and
I wouldn't wonder if we'd better take his prescription."

The two Terrestrial observers relapsed into silence, staring into
their visiray plates, searching throughout the enormous volume of one
of those great fortresses in another attempt to solve the mystery of the
generation and propagation of the incredible manifestations of energy
which they had just witnessed. Scarcely had the search begun, however,
when the visirays were again cut off sharply--the rapidly advancing main
fleet of the hexans had arrived and the scintillant Vorkulian screens
were again in place.

True to hexan nature, training and tradition, the fleet, hundreds
strong, rushed savagely to the attack. Above, below, and around the
far-flung cone the furious globes dashed, attacking every Vorkulian
craft viciously with every resource at their command; with every weapon
known to their diabolically destructive race. Planes of force stabbed
and slashed, concentrated beams of annihilation flared fiercely through
the reeking atmosphere, gigantic aerial bombs and torpedoes were hurled
with full radio control against the unwelcome visitor--with no effect.
Bound together in groups of seven by the mighty, pale-green bands of
force, the Vorkulian units sailed calmly northward, spiraling along with
not the slightest change in formation or velocity. The frightful planes
and beams of immeasurable power simply spent themselves harmlessly
against those sparklingly radiant green walls--seemingly as absorbent
to energy as a sponge is to water, since the eye could not detect any
change in the appearance of the screens, under even the fiercest blasts
of the hexan projectors. Bombs, torpedoes, and all material projectiles
were equally futile--they exploded harmlessly in the air far from their
objectives, or disappeared at the touch of one of those dark, dull-red
pressor rays. And swiftly, but calmly and methodically as at a Vorkulian
practice drill, the heptagons were destroying the hexan fleet. Seven
mighty green tractors would lash out, seize an attacking sphere, and
snap it into the center of mass of the unit of seven. There would be a
brief flash of dull red, a still briefer flare of incandescence, and the
impalpable magnets would leap out to seize another of the doomed globes.
It was only a matter of moments until not a hexan vessel remained; and
the Vorkulian juggernaut spiraled onward, now at full acceleration,
toward the hexan stronghold dimly visible far ahead of them--a vast
city built around Jupiter's northern pole.

At the controls of his projector, Kromodeor spun a dial with a
many-fingered, flexible hand and spoke.

"Wixill, I am being watched again--I can feel very plainly that strange
intelligence watching everything I do. Have the tracers located him?"

"No, they haven't been able to synchronize with his wave yet. Either
he is using a most minute pencil or, what is more probable, he is on a
frequency which we do not ordinarily use. However, I agree with you that
it is not a malignant intelligence. All of us have felt it, and none of
us senses enmity. Therefore, it is not a hexan--it may be one of those
strange creatures of the satellites, who are, of course, perfectly
harmless."

"Harmless, but unpleasant," returned Kromodeor. "When we get back I'm
going to find his beam myself and send a discharge along it that will
end his spying upon me. I do not...."

       *       *       *       *       *

A wailing signal interrupted the conversation and every Vorkul in
the vast fleet coiled even more tightly about his bars, for the real
battle was about to begin. The city of the hexans lay before them,
all her gigantic forces mustered to repel the first real invasion of
her long and warlike history. Mile after mile it extended, an orderly
labyrinth of spherical buildings arranged in vast interlocking series
of concentric circles--a city of such size that only a small part of it
was visible, even to the infra-red vision of the Vorkulians. Apparently
the city was unprotected, having not even a wall. Outward from the low,
rounded houses of the city's edge there reached a wide and verdant
plain, which was separated from the jungle by a narrow moat of
shimmering liquid--a liquid of such dire potency that across it,
even those frightful growths could neither leap nor creep.

But as the Vorkulian phalanx approached--now shooting forward and
upward with maximum acceleration, screaming bolts of energy flaming out
for miles behind each heptagon as the full power of its generators was
unleashed--it was made clear that the homeland of the hexans was far
from unprotected. The verdant plain disappeared in a blast of radiance,
revealing a transparent surface, through which could be seen masses of
machinery filling level below level, deep into the ground as far as the
eye could reach; and from the bright liquid of the girdling moat there
shot vertically upward a coruscantly refulgent band of intense yellow
luminescence. These were the hexan defences, heretofore invulnerable and
invincible. Against them any ordinary warcraft, equipped with ordinary
weapons of offense, would have been as pitifully impotent as a naked
baby attacking a battleship. But now those defenses were being
challenged by no ordinary craft; it had taken the mightiest intellects
of Vorkulia two long lifetimes to evolve the awful engine of destruction
which was hurling itself forward and upward with an already terrific and
constantly increasing speed.

Onward and upward flashed the gigantic duplex cone, its entire whirling
mass laced and latticed together--into one mammoth unit by green tractor
beams and red pressors. These tension and compression members, of
unheard-of power, made of the whole fleet of three hundred forty-three
fortresses a single stupendous structure--a structure with all the
strength and symmetry of a cantilever truss! Straight through that wall
of yellow vibrations the vast truss drove, green walls flaming blue
defiance as the absorbers overloaded; its doubly braced tip rearing
upward, into and beyond the vertical as it shot through that searing
yellow wall. Simultaneously from each heptagon there flamed downward a
green shaft of radiance, so that the whole immense circle of the cone's
mouth was one solid tractor beam, fastening upon and holding in an
unbreakable grip mile upon mile of the hexan earthworks.

Practically irresistible force and supposedly immovable object!
Every loose article in every heptagon had long since been stored in
its individual shockproof compartment, and now every Vorkul coiled his
entire body in fierce clasp about mighty horizontal bars: for the entire
kinetic energy of the untold millions of tons of mass comprising the
cone, at the terrific measure of its highest possible velocity, was
to be hurled upon those unbreakable linkages of force which bound
the trussed aggregation of Vorkulian fortresses to the deeply buried
intrenchments of the hexans. The gigantic composite tractor beam snapped
on and held. Inconceivably powerful as that beam was, it stretched a
trifle under the incomprehensible momentum of those prodigious masses
of metal, almost halted in their terrific flight. But the war-cone was
not quite halted; the calculations of the Vorkulian scientists had been
accurate. No possible artificial structure, and but few natural ones--in
practice maneuvers entire mountains had been lifted and hurled for miles
through the air--could have withstood the incredible violence of that
lunging, twisting, upheaving impact. Lifted bodily by that impalpable
hawser of force and cruelly wrenched and twisted by its enormous couple
of angular momentum, the hexan works came up out of the ground as a
waterpipe comes up in the teeth of a power shovel. The ground trembled
and rocked and boulders, fragments of concrete masonry, and masses of
metal flew in all directions as that city-encircling conduit of
diabolical machinery was torn from its bed.

       *       *       *       *       *

A portion of that conduit fully thirty miles in length was in the air,
a twisted, flaming inferno of wrecked generators, exploding ammunition,
and broken and short-circuited high-tension leads before the hexans
could themselves cut it and thus save the remainder of their
fortifications. With resounding crashes, the structure parted at the
weakened points, the furious upheaval stopped and, the tractor beams
shut off, the shattered, smoking, erupting mass of wreckage fell in
clashing, grinding ruin upon the city.

The enormous duplex cone of the Vorkuls did not attempt to repeat the
maneuver, but divided into two single cones, one of which darted toward
each point of rupture. There, upon the broken and unprotected ends of
the hexan cordon, their points of attack lay: theirs the task to eat
along that annular fortress, no matter what the opposition might bring
to bear--to channel in its place a furrow of devastation until the two
cones, their work complete, should meet at the opposite edge of the
city. Then what was left of the cones would separate into individual
heptagons, which would so systematically blast every hexan thing into
nothingness as to make certain that never again would they resume their
insensate attacks upon the Vorkuls. Having counted the cost and being
grimly ready to pay it, the implacable attackers hurled themselves upon
their objectives.

Here were no feeble spheres of space, commanding only the limited
energies transmitted to their small receptors through the ether. Instead
there were all the offensive and defensive weapons developed by hundreds
of generations of warrior-scientists; wielding all the incalculable
power capable of being produced by the massed generators of a mighty
nation. But for the breach opened in the circle by the irresistible
surprise attack, they would have been invulnerable, and, hampered as
they were by the defenseless ends of what should have been an endless
ring, the hexans took heavy toll.

The heptagons, massive and solidly braced as they were, and anchored by
tractor rays as well, shuddered and trembled throughout their mighty
frames under the impact of fiercely driven pressor beams. Sullenly
radiant green wall-screens flared brighter and brighter as the Vorkulian
absorbers and dissipators, mighty as they were, continued more and more
to overload; for there were being directed against them beams from the
entire remaining circumference of the stronghold. Every deadly frequency
and emanation known to the fiendish hexan intellect, backed by the full
power of the city, was poured out against the invaders in sizzling
shrieking bars, bands, and planes of frenzied incandescence. Nor was
vibratory destruction alone. Armor-piercing projectiles of enormous
size and weight were hurled--diamond-hard, drill-headed projectiles
which clung and bored upon impact. High-explosive shells, canisters of
gas, and the frightful aerial bombs and radio-dirigible torpedoes of
highly scientific war--all were thrown with lavish hand, as fast as
the projectors could be served. But thrust for thrust, ray for ray,
projectile for massive projectile, the Brobdingnagian creations of
the Vorkuls gave back to the hexans.

The material lining of the ghastly moat was the only substance capable
of resisting the action of its contents, and now, that lining destroyed
by the uprooting of the fortress, that corrosive, brilliantly mobile
liquid cascaded down in to the trough and added its hellish contribution
to the furious scene. For whatever that devouring fluid touched flared
into yellow flame, gave off clouds of lurid, strangling vapor, and
disappeared. But through yellow haze, through blasting frequencies,
through clouds of poisonous gas, through rain of metal and through
storm of explosive the two cones ground implacably onward, their every
offensive weapon centered upon the fast-receding exposed ends of the
hexan fortress. Their bombs and torpedoes ripped and tore into the
structure beneath the invulnerable shield and exploded, demolishing
and hurling aside like straws, the walls, projectors, hexads and vast
mountains of earth. Their terrible rays bored in, softening, fusing,
volatilizing metal, short-circuiting connections, destroying life
far ahead of the point of attack; and, drawn along by the relentlessly
creeping composite tractor beam, there progressed around the circumference
of the hexan city two veritable Saturnalia of destruction--uninterrupted,
cataclysmic detonations of sound and sizzling, shrieking, multi-colored
displays of pyrotechnic incandescence combining to form a spectacle
of violence incredible.

But the heptagons could not absorb nor radiate indefinitely those
torrents of energy, and soon one greenishly incandescent screen went
down. Giant shells pierced the green metal walls, giant beams of force
fused and consumed them. Faster and faster the huge heptagon became a
shapeless, flowing mass, its metal dripping away in flaming gouts of
brilliance; then it disappeared utterly in one terrific blast as some
probing enemy ray reached a vital part. The cone did not pause nor
waver. Many of its component units would go down, but it would go
on--and on and on until every hexan trace had disappeared or until
the last Vorkulian heptagon had been annihilated.

In one of the lowermost heptagons, one bearing the full brunt of the
hexan armament, Kromodeor reared upright as his projector controls
went dead beneath his hands. Finding his communicator screens likewise
lifeless, he slipped to the floor and wriggled to the room of the Chief
Power Officer, where he found Wixill idly fingering his controls.

"Are we out?" asked Kromodeor, tersely.

"All done," the Chief Power Officer calmly replied. "We have power left,
but we cannot use it, as they have crushed our screens and are fusing
our outer walls. Two out of seven chances, and we drew one of them. We
are still working on the infra band, over across on the Second's board,
but we won't last long...."

       *       *       *       *       *

As he spoke, the mighty fabric lurched under them, and only their quick
and powerful tails, darting in lightning loops about the bars, saved
them from being battered to death against the walls as the heptagon was
hurled end over end by a stupendous force. With a splintering crash it
came to rest upon the ground.

"I wonder how that happened? They should have rayed us out or exploded
us," Kromodeor pondered. The Vorkuls, with their inhumanly powerful,
sinuous bodies, were scarcely affected by the shock of that frightful
fall.

"They must have had a whole battery of pressors on us when our greens
went out--they threw us half-way across the city, almost into the gate
we made first," Wixill replied, studying the situation of the vessel in
the one small screen still in action. "We aren't hurt very badly--only a
few holes that they are starting to weld already. When the absorber and
dissipator crews get them cooled down enough so that we can use power
again, we'll go back."

But they were not to resume their place in the attack. Through the
holes in the still-glowing walls, hexan soldiery were leaping in
steady streams, fighting with the utmost savagery of their bloodthirsty
natures, urged on by the desperation born of the knowledge of imminent
defeat and total destruction. Hand-weapons roared, flashed, and
sparkled; heavy bars crashed and thudded against crunching bones;
mighty bodies and tails whipped crushingly about six-limbed forms which
wrenched and tore with monstrously powerful hands and claws. Fiercely
and valiantly the Vorkuls fought, but they were outnumbered by hundreds
and only one outcome was possible.

Kromodeor was one of the last to go down. Weapons long since exhausted,
he unwrapped his deadly coils from about a dead hexan and darted toward
a storeroom, only to be cut off by a horde of enemies. Throwing himself
down a vertical shaft, he flew toward a tiny projector-locker, in the
lowermost part of one of the great star's points, the hexans in hot
pursuit. He wrenched the door open, and even while searing planes of
force were riddling his body, he trained the frightful weapon he had
sought. He pressed the contact, and bursts of intolerable flame swept
the entire passage clear of life. Weakly he struggled to go out into the
aisle, but his muscles refused to do the bidding of his will and he lay
there, twitching feebly.

In the power room of the heptagon a hexan officer turned fiercely to
another, who was offering advice.

"Vorkuls? Bah!" he snarled, viciously. "Our race is finished. Die we
must, but we shall take with us the one enemy, who above all others
needs destruction!" and he hurled the captured Vorkulian fortress into
the air.

As the heptagon lurched upward, the massive door of a lower projector
locker clanged shut and Kromodeor collapsed in a corner, his
consciousness blotted out.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Well, that certainly tears it! That's a ... I...." Stevens' ready
vocabulary failed him and he turned to Brandon, who was still staring
narrow-eyed into the plate, watching the destruction of the hexan city.

"They've got something, all right--you've got to hand it to them,"
Brandon replied. "And we thought we knew something about forces and
physical phenomena in general. Those birds have forgotten more than we
ever will know. Just one of those things could take the whole I-P fleet,
armed as we are now, any morning before breakfast, just for setting-up
exercises. We've got to do something about it--but what?"

"It's okay--whatever you say. There may be an out somewhere, but I don't
see it," and Stevens' gloomy tone matched his words.

Highly trained scientists both, they had been watching that which
transcended all the science of the inner planets and knew themselves
outclassed immeasurably.

"Only one thing to do, as I see it," Brandon cogitated. "That's to keep
on going straight out, the way we're headed now. We'd better call a
council of war, to dope out a line of action."



CHAPTER XII

The Citadel in Space


For the first time in many days Brandon and Westfall sat at dinner in
the main dining room of the _Sirius_. They were enjoying greatly the
unaccustomed pleasure of a leisurely, formal meal; but still their
talk concerned the projection of pure forces instead of subjects more
appropriate to the table; still their eyes paid more attention to
diagrams drawn upon scraps of paper than to the diners about them.

"But I tell you, Quince, you're full of little red ants, clear to the
neck!" Brandon snorted, as Westfall waved one of his arguments aside.
"You must have had help to get that far off--no one man could possibly
be as wrong as you are. Why, those fields absolutely will...."

"Hi, Quincy! Hi, Norman!" a merry voice interrupted. "Still fighting as
usual, I see! What kind of knights are you, anyway, to rescue us poor
damsels in distress, and then never even know that we're alive?" A tall,
willowy brunette had seen the two physicists as she entered the saloon,
and came over to their table, a hand outstretched to each in cordial
greeting.

"Ho, Verna!" both men exclaimed, and came to their feet as they welcomed
the smiling, graceful newcomer.

"Sit down here, Verna--we have hardly started," Westfall invited, and
Brandon looked at the girl in assumed surprise as she seated herself in
the proffered chair.

"Well, Verna, it's like this...." he began.

"That's enough!" she broke in. "That phrase always was your introduction
to one of the world's greatest brainstorms. But I know that this is the
first time you have had time even to eat like civilized beings, so I'll
forgive you this once. Why all the registering of amazement, Norman?"

"I'm astonished that you aren't being monopolized by some husband or
other. Surely the officers of the _Arcturus_ weren't so dumb that they'd
stand for your still being Verna _Pickering_, were they?"

"Not dumb, Norman, no. Far from it. But I'm still working for my
M. R. S. degree, and I haven't succeeded in snaring it yet. You'd be
surprised at how cagy those officers got after a few of them had been
captured. But they are just like any other hunted game, I suppose--the
antelopes that survive get pretty wild, you know," she concluded,
plaintively.

"Well, that certainly is one tough break for a poor little girl,"
Brandon sympathized. "Quince, our little Nell, here, hasn't been done
right by. I'm bashful and you're a woman-hater, but between us, some
way, we've simply got to take steps."

"You might take longer steps than you think," Verna laughed, her
regular, white teeth and vivid coloring emphasized by her olive skin
and her startling hair, black as Brandon's own. "Perhaps I would like
a scientist better than an I-P officer, anyway. The more I think of it,
the surer I am that Nadia Newton had the right idea. I believe that
I'll catch me a physicist, too--either of you would do quite nicely,
I think," and she studied the two men carefully.

Westfall, the methodical and precise, had never been able to defend
himself against Verna Pickering's badinage, but Brandon's ready tongue
took up the challenge.

"Verna, if you really decided to get any living man he wouldn't stand a
chance in the world," he declared. "If you've already made up your mind
that I'm your meat, I'll come down like Davy Crockett's coon. But if
either of us will do, that'll give us each a fifty-fifty chance to
escape your toils. What say we play a game of freeze-out to decide it?"

"Fine, Norman! When shall we play?"

"Oh, between Wednesday and Thursday, any week you say," and the two
fenced on, banteringly but skilfully, with Westfall an appreciative and
unembarrassed listener.

Dinner over, Brandon and Westfall went back to the control room, where
they found Stevens already seated at one of the master screens.

"All x, Perce?"

"All x. The observers report no registrations during the last two
watches," and the three fell into discussion. Long they talked, studying
every angle of the situation confronting them; until suddenly a speaker
rattled furiously and an enormous, staring eye filled both master
plates. Brandon's hand flashed to a switch, but the image disappeared
even before he could establish the full-coverage ray screen.

"I'm on the upper band--take the lower!" he snapped, but Stevens'
projector was already in action. Trained minds all, they knew that some
intelligence had traced them, and all realized that it was of the utmost
importance to know what and where that intelligence was. Stevens found
the probing frequency in his range and they flashed their own beam along
it, encountering finally one of the monstrous Vorkulian fortresses, far
from Jupiter and almost directly between them and the planet! Its wall
screens were in operation, and no frequency at their command could
penetrate that neutralizing blanket of vibrations.

"What kind of an eye was that--ever see anything like it, Perce?"
Brandon demanded.

"I don't think so, though of course we got only an awfully short flash
of it. It didn't look like the periscopic eyes that those flying snakes
had--looked more like a hexan eye, don't you think? Couldn't very well
be hexan, though, in that kind of a ship."

"Don't think so, either. Maybe it's a purely mechanical affair that they
use for observing. Anyway, old sons, I don't like the looks of things at
all. Quince, you're the brains of this outfit--shift the massive old
intellect into high and tell us what to do."

Westfall, staring into the eyepiece of the filar micrometer, finished
measuring the apparent size of the heptagon before he turned toward
Stevens and Brandon.

"It is hard to decide upon a course of action, since anything that we
do may prove to be wrong," he said, slowly. "However, I do not see that
this latest development can operate to change the plan we have already
adopted; that of running away, straight out from the sun. We may have
to increase our acceleration to the highest value the women and babies
can stand. A series of observations of our pursuer will, of course, be
necessary to decide that point. It would be useless to go to Titan,
for they would be powerless to help us. We could not hold their mirror
upon either the _Sirius_ or their torpedoes against such forces as that
fortress has at her command. Then, too, we might well be bringing down
upon them an enemy who would destroy much of their world before he could
be stopped. Both Uranus and Neptune are approximately upon our present
course. Do the Titanians know anything of either of them, Steve?"

"Not a thing," the computer replied. "They can't get nearly as far as
Uranus on their power beam--it's all they can do to make Jupiter. They
seem to think, though, that one or more of the satellites of Uranus or
Neptune may be inhabited by beings similar to themselves, only perhaps
even more so. But considering the difference between what we found on
the Jovian satellites and on Titan, I'd say that anything might be out
there--on Uranus, Neptune, their satellites, or anywhere else."

"Cancel Uranus, and double that for Neptune," Brandon commanded.
"Realize how far away they are?"

"That's right, too," agreed Stevens. "Before we got there, with any
acceleration we can use now, this whole mess will be cleaned up, one way
or the other."

       *       *       *       *       *

Westfall completed the series of observations and calculated his
results. Then, with a grave face, he went to consult the medical
officers. The women, children, and the two Martian scientists were sent
to the sick-bay and the acceleration was raised slowly to twenty meters
per second per second, above which point the physicians declared they
should not go unless it became absolutely necessary. Then the scientists
met again--met without Alcantro and Fedanzo, who lay helpless upon
narrow hospital bunks, unable even to lift their massive arms.

While Westfall made another series of precise measurements of the
super-dreadnought of space so earnestly pursuing them, Brandon stumbled
heavily about the room, hands jammed deep into pockets, eyes unseeing
emitting clouds of smoke from his villainously reeking pipe. The
Venetians, lacking Brandon's physical strength and by nature quieter of
disposition, sat motionless; keen minds hard at work. Stevens sat at the
calculating machine, absently setting up and knocking down weird and
meaningless integrals, while he also concentrated upon the problem
before them.

"They are still gaining, but comparatively slowly," Westfall finally
reported. "They seem to be...."

"In that case we may be all x," Brandon interrupted, brandishing his
pipe vigorously. "We know that they're on a beam--apparently we're the
only ones hereabouts having cosmic power. If we can keep away from them
until their beam attenuates, we can whittle 'em down to our size and
then take them, no matter how much accumulator capacity they've got."

"But can we keep away from them that long?" asked Dol Kenor, pointedly;
and his fellow Venerian also had a question to propound:

"Would it not be preferable to lead them in a wide circle, back to a
rendezvous with the Space Fleet, which will probably be ready by the
time of meeting?"

"I am afraid that that would be useless," Westfall frowned in thought.
"Given power, that fortress could destroy the entire Fleet almost as
easily as she could wipe out the _Sirius_ alone."

"Kenor's right." Stevens spoke up from the calculator. "You're getting
too far ahead of the situation. We aren't apt to keep ahead of them long
enough to do much leading anywhere. The Titanians can hold a beam
together from Saturn to Jupiter--why can't these snake-folks?"

"Several reasons," Brandon argued stubbornly. "First place, look at the
mass of that thing, and remember that the heavier the beam the harder
it is to hold it together. Second, there's no evidence that they wander
around much in space. If their beams are designed principally for travel
upon Jupiter, why should they have any extraordinary range? I say they
can't hold that beam forever. We've got a good long lead, and in spite
of their higher acceleration, I think we'll be able to keep out of range
of their heavy stuff. If so, we'll trace a circle--only one a good deal
bigger than the one Amonar suggested--and meet the fleet at a point
where that enemy ship will be about out of power."

Thus for hours the scientists argued, agreeing upon nothing, while
the Vorkulian fortress crept ever closer. At the end of three days of
the mad flight, the pursuing space ship was in plain sight, covering
hundreds of divisions of the micrometer screens. But now the size of
the images was increasing with extreme slowness, and the scientists
of the _Sirius_ watched with strained attention the edges of those
glowing green pictures. Finally, when the pictured edges were about
to cease moving across the finely-ruled lines, Brandon cut down his
own acceleration a trifle, and kept on decreasing it at such a rate
that the heptagon still crept up, foot by foot.

"Hey what's the big idea?" Stevens demanded.

"Coax 'em along. If we run away from them they'll probably reverse power
and go back home, won't they? Their beam is falling apart fast, but
they're still getting so much stuff along it that we couldn't do a thing
to stop them. If they think that we're losing power even faster than
they are, though, they'll keep after us until their beam's so thin that
they'll just be able to stop on it. Then they'll reverse or else go onto
their accumulators--reverse, probably, since they'll be a long ways from
home by that time. We'll reverse, too, and keep just out of range. Then,
when we both have stopped and are about to start back, their beam will
be at its minimum and we'll go to work on 'em--foot, horse, and marines.
Nobody can run us as ragged as they've been doing and get away with it
as long as I'm conscious and stand a chance in the world of hanging one
onto their chins in retaliation. I've got a hunch. If it works, we can
take those birds alone, and take 'em so they'll _stay_ took. We might as
well break up--this is going to be an ordinary job of piloting for a few
days, I think. I'm going up and work with the Martians on that hunch.
You fellows work out any ideas you want to. Watch 'em close, Mac. Keep
kidding 'em along, but don't let them get close enough to puncture us."

       *       *       *       *       *

Everything worked out practically as Brandon had foretold, and a few
days later, their acceleration somewhat less than terrestrial gravity,
he called another meeting in the control room. He came in grinning from
ear to ear, accompanied by the two Martians, and seated himself at his
complex power panel.

"Now watch the professor closely, gentlemen," he invited. "He is going
to cut that beam."

"But you can't," protested Pyraz Amonar.

"I know you can't, ordinarily, when a beam is tight and solid. But
that beam's as loose as ashes right now. I told you I had a hunch, and
Alcantro and Fedanzo worked out the right answer for me. If I can cut
it, Quince, and if their screens go down for a minute, shoot your
visiray into them and see what you can see."

"All x. How much power are you going to draw?"

"Plenty--it figures a little better than four hundred thousand
kilofranks. I'll draw it all from the accumulators, so as not to
disturb you fellows on the cosmic intake. We don't care if we do run the
batteries down some, but I don't want to hold that load on the bus-bars
very long. However, if my hunch is right, I won't be on that beam five
minutes before it's cut from Jupiter--and I'll bet you four dollars that
you won't see the original crew in that fort when you get into it."

He set upper and lower bands of dirigible projectors to apply a
powerful sidewise thrust, and the _Sirius_ darted off her course.
Flashing a minute pencil behind the huge heptagon, Brandon manipulated
his tuning circuits until a brilliant spot in space showed him that he
was approaching resonance with the heptagon's power beam. Micrometer
dials were then engaged and the delicate tuning continued until the
meters gave evidence that the two beams were precisely synchronized and
exactly opposite in phase. Four plunger switches closed, that tiny pilot
ray became an enormous rod of force, and as those two gigantic beams met
in exact opposition and neutralized each other, a solid wall of blinding
brilliance appeared in the empty ether behind the Vorkulian fortress. As
that dazzling wall sprang into being, the sparkling green protection
died from the walls of the heptagon.

"Go to it, Quince!" Brandon yelled, but the suggestion was entirely
superfluous. Even before the wall-screen had died, Westfall's beam was
trying to get through it, and when the visiray revealed the interior of
the heptagon, the quiet and methodical physicist was shaken from his
habitual calm.

"Why, they aren't the winged monsters at all--they're _hexans_!"
he exclaimed.

"Sure they are." Brandon did not even turn his heavily-goggled eyes
from the blazing blankness of his own screen. "That was my hunch. Those
snakes went about things in a business-like fashion. They didn't strike
me as being folks who would pull off such a wild stunt as trying to
chase us clear out of the solar system, but a gang of hexans would do
just that. Some of them must have captured that ship and, already having
it in their cock-eyed brains that we were back of what happened on
Callisto, they decided to bump us off if it was the last thing they ever
did. That's what I'd do myself, if I were a hexan. Now I'll tell you
what's happening back at the home power plant of that ship and what's
going to happen next. I'm kicking up a horrible row out there with my
interference, and a lot of instruments at the other end of that beam
must be cutting up all kinds of didoes, right now. They'll check up on
that ship with the expedition, by radio and what-not, and when they find
out that it's clear out here--chop! Didn't get to see much, did you?"

"No, they must have switched over to their accumulators almost
instantly."

"Yeah, but if they've got accumulator capacity enough to hold off our
entire cosmic intake and get back to Jupiter besides, I'm a polyp! We're
going to take that ship, fellows, and learn a lot of stuff we never
dreamed of before. Ha! There goes his beam--pay me the four, Quince."

The dazzling wall of incandescence had blinked out without warning, and
Brandon's beam bored on through space, unimpeded. He shut it off and
turned to his fellows with a grin--a grin which disappeared instantly
as a thought struck him and he leaped back to his board.

"Sound the high-acceleration warning quick, Perce!" he snapped, and
drove in switch after switch.

"Cosmic intake's gone down to zero!" exclaimed MacDonald, as the
_Sirius_ leaped away.

"Had to cut it--they might shoot a jolt through that band. Just thought
of something. Maybe unnecessary, but no harm done if ... it's necessary,
all x--we're taking a sweet kissing right now. You see, even though
we're at pretty long range, they've got some horrible projectors, and
they were evidently mad enough to waste some power taking a good, solid
flash at us--and if we hadn't been expecting it, that flash would have
been a bountiful sufficiency, believe me--Great Cat! Look at that
meter--and I've had to throw in number ten shunt! The outer screen is
drawing five hundred and forty thousand!"

       *       *       *       *       *

They stared at the meter in amazement. It was incredible, even after
they had seen those heptagons in action, that at such extreme range
any offensive beam could be driven with such unthinkable power--power
requiring for its neutralization almost the full output of the
prodigious batteries of accumulators carried by the _Sirius_! Yet for
five, ten, fifteen, twenty minutes that beam drove furiously against
their straining screens, and even Brandon's face grew tense and hard
as that frightful attack continued. At the end of twenty-two minutes,
however, the pointer of the meter snapped back to the pin and every
man there breathed an explosive sigh of relief--the almost unbearable
bombardment was over; the screen was drawing only its maintenance load.

"Wow!" Brandon shouted. "I thought for a minute they were going to hang
to us until we cracked, even if it meant that they'd have to freeze to
death out here themselves!"

"It would have meant that, too, don't you think?" asked Stevens.

"I imagine so--don't see how they could possibly have enough power left
to get back to Jupiter if they shine that thing on us much longer. Of
course, the more power they waste on us, the quicker we can take them;
but I don't want much more of that beam, I'll tell the world--I just
about had heart failure before they cut off!"

The massive heptagon was now drifting back toward Jupiter at constant
velocity. The hexans were apparently hoarding jealously their remaining
power, for their wall screens did not flash on at the touch of the
visiray. Through unresisting metal the probing Terrestrial beams sped,
and the scientists studied minutely every detail of the Vorkulian
armament; while the regular observers began to make a detailed
photographic survey of every room and compartment of the great fortress.
Much of the instrumentation and machinery was familiar, but some of it
was so strange that study was useless--days of personal inspection and
experiment, perhaps complete dismantling, would be necessary to reveal
the secrets hidden within those peculiar mechanisms.

"They're trying to save all the power they can--think I'll make them
spend some more," Brandon remarked, and directed against the heptagon a
heavy destructive beam. "We don't want them to get back to Jupiter until
after we've boarded them and found out everything we want to know. Come
here, Quince--what do you make of this?"

Both men stared at the heptagon, frankly puzzled; for the screens of the
strange vessel did not radiate, nor did the material of the walls yield
under the terrible force of the beam. The destructive ray simply struck
that dull green surface and vanished--disappeared without a trace, as a
tiny stream of water disappears into a partially-soaked sponge.

"Do you know what you are doing?" asked Westfall, after a few minutes'
thought. "I believe that you are charging their accumulators at the rate
of," he glanced at a meter, "exactly thirty-one thousand five hundred
kilofranks."

"Great Cat!" Brandon's hand flashed to a switch and the beam expired.
"But they can't just simply grab it and store it, Quince--it's
impossible!"

"The word 'impossible' in that connection, coming from you, has a queer
sound," Westfall said pointedly and Brandon actually blushed.

"That's right, too--we have got pretty much the same idea in our cosmic
intake fields, but we didn't carry things half as far as they have done.
Huh! They're flashing us again ... but those thin little beams don't
mean anything. They're just trying to make us feed them some more, I
guess. But we've got to hold them back some way--wonder if they can
absorb a tractor field?"

The hexans had lashed out a few times with their lighter weapons,
but, finding the _Sirius_ unresponsive, had soon shut them off and were
stolidly plunging along toward Jupiter. Brandon flung out a tractor rod
and threw the mass of his cruiser upon it as it locked into those sullen
green walls. But as soon as the enemy felt its drag, their screens
flared white, and the massive Terrestrial space-ship quivered in every
member as that terrific cable of force was snapped.

"They apparently cannot store up the energy of a tractor," commented
Westfall, "but you will observe that they have no difficulty in
radiating when they care to."

"Those two ideas didn't pan out so heavy. There's lots of things not
tried yet, though. Our next best bet is to get around in front of him
and push back. If they wiggle away from more than fifty percent of a
pressor, they're really good."

The pilot maneuvered the _Sirius_ into line, directly between Jupiter
and the pentagon; and as the driving projectors went into action,
Brandon drove a mighty pressor field along their axis, squarely into the
center of mass of the Vorkulian fortress. For a moment it held solidly,
then, as the screens of the enemy went into action, it rebounded and
glanced off in sparkling, cascading torrents. But the hexans, with all
their twisting and turning, could not present to that prodigious beam of
force any angle sufficiently obtuse to rob it of half its power, and the
driving projectors of the pentagon again burst into activity as the
backward-pushing mass of the _Sirius_ made itself felt. In a short time,
however, the wall-screens were again cut off--apparently more power was
required to drive them than they were able to deflect.

Although even the enormous tonnage of the Terrestrial cruiser was
insignificant in comparison with the veritable mountain of metal to
which she was opposed, so that the fiercest thrust of her driving
projectors did not greatly affect the monster's progress; yet Brandon
and his cohorts were well content.

"It's a long trip back to where they came from, and since they wanted
to drift all the way, I think they'll be out of power before they get
there," Brandon summed up the situation. "We aren't losing any power,
either, since we are using only a part of our cosmic intake."

In a few hours the struggle had settled down to a routine matter--the
_Sirius_ being pushed backward steadily against the full drive of her
every projector, contesting stubbornly every mile of space traversed.
Assured that the regular pilots and lookouts were fully capable
of handling the vessel, the scientists were about to resume their
interrupted tasks when one of the photographers called them over to look
at something he had discovered in one of the lowermost and smallest
compartments of the heptagon. All crowded around the screens, and saw
pictured there the winged, snake-like form of one of the original crew
of the Vorkulian vessel!

"Dead?" Brandon asked.

"Not yet," replied the photographer. "He is twitching a little once in
a while, but you see, he's pretty badly cut up."

"I see he is ... he must have a lot of vitality to have lasted this
long--may be he'll live through it yet. Hold him on the plate, and get
his exact measurements." He turned to the communicator. "Doctor von
Steiffel? Can you come down to the control room a minute? We may want
you to operate upon one of these South Jovians after a while."

"_Himmel! Es ... ist ... der...._" The great surgeon, bearded and
massive, stared into the plate, and in his surprise started to speak
in his native German. He paused, his long, powerful fingers tracing the
likeness of the Vorkul upon the plate, then went on: "I would like very
much to operate, but, not understanding our intentions, he would, of
course, struggle. And when that body struggles--_schrecklichkeit_!" and
he waved his arms in a pantomime of wholesale destruction.

"I thought of that--that's why I am talking to you now instead of when
we get to him, two or three days from now. We'll give you his exact
measurements, and a crew of mechanics will, under your direction, sink
holes in the steel floor and install steel bands heavy enough to hold
him rigid, from tailfins to wing-tips. We'll hold him there until we can
make him understand that we're friends. It is of the utmost importance
to save that creature's life if possible; because we do not want one of
their fortresses launched against us--and in any event, it will not do
us any harm to have a friend in the City of the South."

"Right. I will also have prepared some kind of a space-suit in which
he can be brought from his vessel to ours," and the surgeon took the
measurements and went to see that the "operating table" and suit were
made ready for Kromodeor, the sorely wounded Vorkul.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was not long until the projectors of the heptagon went out and
she lay inert in space, power completely exhausted. Knowing that the
screens of the enemy would absorb any ordinary ray, the scientists had
calculated the most condensed beam they could possibly project, a beam
which, their figures showed, should be able to puncture those screens by
sheer mass action--puncture them practically instantaneously, before the
absorbers could react. To that end they had arranged their circuits to
hurl seven hundred sixty-five thousand kilofranks--the entire power of
their massed accumulators and their highest possible cosmic intake--in
one tiny bar of superlative density, less than one meter in diameter!
Everything ready, Brandon shot in prodigious switches that launched that
bolt--a bolt so vehement, so inconceivably intense, that it seemed
fairly to blast the very ether out of existence as it tore its way along
its carefully predetermined line. The intention was to destroy all the
control panels of the absorber screens; parts so vital that without them
the great vessel would be helpless, and yet items which the Terrestrials
could reconstruct quite readily from their photographs and drawings.

As that irresistible bolt touched the Vorkulian wall-screen, the spot
of contact flared instantaneously through the spectrum and into the
black beyond the violet as that screen overloaded locally. Fast as it
responded and highly conductive though it was, it could not handle that
frightfully concentrated load. In the same fleeting instant of time
every molecule of substance in that beam's path flashed into tenuous
vapor--no conceivable material could resist or impede that stabbing
stiletto of energy--and the main control panel of the Vorkulian
wall-screen system vanished. Time after time, as rapidly as he could
sight his beam and operate his switches, Brandon drove his needle of
annihilation through the fortress, destroying the secondary controls.
Then, the walls unresisting, he cut in the vastly larger, but infinitely
less powerful, I-P ray, and with it systematically riddled the immense
heptagon. Out through the gaping holes in the outer walls rushed the
dense atmosphere of Jupiter, and the hexans in their massed hundreds
died.

The _Sirius_ was brought up beside the heptagon, so that her main
air-lock was against one of the yawning holes in the green metal wall
of the enemy. There she was anchored by tractor beams, and the two
hundred picked men of the I-P police, in full space equipment, prepared
to board the gigantic fortress of the void. Brandon sat tense at his
controls, ready to send his beam ahead of the troopers against any
hexans that might survive in some as yet unpunctured compartment.
General Crowninshield sat beside the physicist at an auxiliary board,
phones at ears and four infra-red visiray plates ranged in front of him;
ready through light or darkness to direct and oversee the attack, no
matter where it might lead or how widely separated the platoons might
become before the citadel was taken.

The space-line men--the engineers of weightless combat--led the van,
protected by the projectors of their fellows. Theirs the task to set up
ways of rope, along which the others could advance. Power drills bit
savagely into metal, making holes to receive the expanding eyebolts;
grappling hooks seized fast every protuberance and corner; points of
little stress were supported by powerful suction cups; and at intervals
were strung beam-fed lanterns, illuminating brilliantly the line of
march. Through compartments and down corridors they went, bridging the
many gaps in the metal through which Brandon's beams had blasted their
way; guided by Crowninshield along the shortest feasible path toward the
little projector room in which Kromodeor, the wounded Vorkul, lay. There
were so many chambers and compartments in the heptagon that it had, of
course, been impossible to puncture them all, and in some of the tight
rooms were groups of hexans, anxious to do battle. But the general's eye
led his men, and if such a room lay before them, Brandon's frightful
beam entered it first--and where that beam entered, life departed.

But the hexans were really intelligent, as has been said. They had had
time to prepare for what they knew awaited them, and they were rendered
utterly desperate by the knowledge that, no matter what might happen,
their course was run. Their power was gone, and even if the present
enemy should be driven off, they would float idly in space until they
died of cold; or, more probably, hurtling toward Jupiter as they were,
they would plunge to certain death upon its surface as soon as they came
within its powerful gravitational field. Therefore some fifty of the
creatures, who had had space experience in their spherical vessels,
had spent the preceding days in manufacturing space equipment. Let the
weight-fiends plan upon detonating magazines of explosives, upon laying
mines calculated to destroy the invaders, even the vessel itself and
all within it. Let them plan upon any other such idle schemes, which
were certain to be foreseen and guarded against by the space-hardened
veterans who undoubtedly moaned that all-powerful and vengeful football
of scarred gray metal. Space-fighters were they, and as space-fighters
would they die; taking with them to their own inevitable death a full
quota of the enemy.

       *       *       *       *       *

Thus it came about that the head of the column of police had scarcely
passed a certain door, when in the room behind it there began to
assemble the half-hundred spacehounds of the hexans. When the vanguard
had approached that room, Crowninshield had inspected it thoroughly with
his infra-red beams. He had found it punctured and airless, devoid of
life or of lethal devices, and had passed on. But now the space-suited
warriors of the horde, guided in their hiding by their own visirays,
were massing there. When the center of the I-P column reached that door,
it burst open. There boiled out into the corridor, into the very midst
of the police, fifty demoniacal hexans, fighting with Berserk fury,
ruled by but one impulse--to kill.

Hand-weapons flashed viciously, tearing at steel armor and at bulging
space-suits. Space-hooks bit and tore. Pikes and lances were driven with
the full power of brawny arms. Here and there could be seen trooper and
hexan, locked together in fierce embrace far from any hand-line--six
limbs against four, all ten plied with abandon in mortal, hand-to-hand,
foot-to-foot combat.

"Give way!" yelled Crowninshield into the ears of his men. "Epstein,
back! LeFevre, advance! Get out of block ten--give us a chance to use
a beam!"

As the police fell back out of the designated section of the corridor,
Brandon's beam tore through it, filling it from floor to ceiling with
a volume of intolerable energy. In that energy walls, doorway, and
space-lines, as well as most of the hexans, vanished utterly. But the
beam could not be used again. Every surviving enemy had hurled himself
frantically into the thickest ranks of the police and the battle raged
fiercer than ever. It did not last long. The ends of the column had
already closed in. The police filled the corridor and overflowed into
the yawning chasm cut by the annihilating ray. Outnumbered, surrounded
upon all sides, above, and below by the Terrestrials, the hexans fought
with mad desperation to the last man--and to the last man died. And even
though in lieu of their own highly efficient space-armor they had fought
in weak, crude, and hastily improvised space-suits, which were pitifully
inferior to the ray resistant, heavy steel armor of the I-P forces,
nevertheless the enormous strength and utter savagery of the hexans had
taken toll; and when the advance was resumed, it was with extra lookouts
scanning the entire neighborhood of the line of march.

Since the troops had entered the fortress as close to their goal as
possible, it was not long until the leading platoon reached the door
behind which Kromodeor lay. Tools and cylinders of air were brought up,
and the engineers quickly fitted pressure bulkheads across the corridor.
There was a screaming hiss from the valves, the atmosphere in that
walled-off space became dense, and mechanics attacked with their power
drills the door of the projector room. It opened, and four husky
orderlies rapidly but gently encased the long body of the Vorkul in the
space-suit built especially to receive it. As that monstrous form in
its weirdly bulging envelope was guided through the air-locks into the
_Sirius_, Crowninshield barked orders into his transmitter and the
police reformed. They would now systematically scour the fortress, to
wipe out any hexans that might still be in hiding; to discover and
destroy any possible traps or infernal machines which the enemy might
have planted for their undoing.

Assured that the real danger to the _Sirius_ was over and that his
presence was no longer necessary, Brandon turned his controls over to an
assistant and went up to the Venerian rooms, where von Steiffel and his
staff were to operate upon the Vorkul. There, in the dense, hot air, but
little different now from the atmosphere of Jupiter, Kromodeor lay;
bolted down to the solid steel of the floor by means of padded steel
straps. So heavy were the bands that he could not possibly break even
one of them; so closely were they spaced that he could scarcely have
moved a muscle had he tried. But he did not try--so near death was he
that his mighty muscles did not even quiver at the trenchant bite of the
surgeon's tools. Von Steiffel and his aides, meticulously covered with
sterile gowns, hoods, and gloves, worked in most rigidly aseptic style;
deftly and rapidly closing the ghastly wounds inflicted by the weapons
of the hexans.

"Hi, Brandon," the surgeon grunted as he straightened up, the work
completed. "I did not use much antiseptic on him. Because of possible
differences in blood chemistry and in ignorance of his native bacteria,
I depended almost wholly upon asepsis and his natural resistance. It is
a good thing that we did not have to use an anaesthetic. He is in bad
shape, but if we can feed him successfully, he may pull through."

"Feed him? I never thought of that. What d'you suppose he eats?"

"I have an idea that it is something highly concentrated, from his
anatomy. I shall try giving him sugar, milk chocolate, something of
the kind. First I shall try maple syrup. Being a liquid, it is easily
administered, and its penetrating odor also may be a help."

       *       *       *       *       *

A can of the liquid was brought in and to the amazement of the
Terrestrials, the long, delicate antennae of the Vorkul began to twitch
as soon as the can was opened. Motioning hastily for silence, von
Steiffel filled a bowl and placed it upon the floor beneath Kromodeor's
grotesque nose. The twitching increased, until finally one dull, glazed
eye brightened somewhat and curled slowly out upon its slender pedicle,
toward the dish. His mouth opened sluggishly and a long, red tongue
reached out, but as his perceptions quickened, he became conscious of
the strangers near him. The mouth snapped shut, the eye retracted, and
heaving, rippling surges traversed that powerful body as he struggled
madly against the unbreakable shackles of steel binding him to the floor.

"_Ach, kindlein_!" The surgeon bent anxiously over that grotesque but
frightened head; soothing, polysyllabic German crooning from his bearded
lips.

"Here, let's try this--I'm good on it," Stevens suggested, bringing up
the Callistonian thought exchanger. All three men donned headsets, and
sent wave after wave of friendly and soothing thoughts toward that
frantic and terrified brain.

"He's got his brain shut up like a clam!" Brandon snorted. "Open up,
guy--we aren't going to hurt you! We're the best friends you've got,
if you only knew it!"

"Himmel, und he iss himself killing!" moaned von Steiffel.

"One more chance that might work," and Brandon stepped over to the
communicator, demanding that Verna Pickering be brought at once. She
came in as soon as the air-locks would permit, and the physicist
welcomed her eagerly.

"This fellow's fighting so he's tearing himself to pieces. We can't make
him receive a thought, and von Steiffel's afraid to use an anaesthetic.
Now it's barely possible that he may understand hexan. I thought you
wasted time learning any of it, but maybe you didn't--see if you can
make him understand that we're friends."

The girl flinched and shrank back involuntarily, but forced herself to
approach that awful head. Bending over, she repeated over and over one
harsh, barking syllable. The effect of that word was magical. Instantly
Kromodeor ceased struggling, an eye curled out, and that long, supple
tongue flashed down and into the syrup. Not until the last sticky trace
had been licked from the bowl did his attention wander from the food.
Then the eye, sparkling brightly now, was raised toward the girl.
Simultaneously four other eyes arose, one directed at each of the men
and the other surveying his bonds and the room in which he was. Then the
Vorkul spoke, but his whistling, hissing manner of speech so garbled
the barking sounds of the hexan words he was attempting to utter, that
Verna's slight knowledge of the language was of no use. She therefore
put on one of the headsets, motioning the men to do the same, and
approached Kromodeor with the other, repeating the hexan word of
friendly import. This time the Vorkul's brain was not sealed against
the visitors and thoughts began to flow.

"You've used those things a lot," Brandon turned to Stevens in a quick
aside. "Can you hide your thoughts?"

"Sure--why?"

"All I can think of is that power system of theirs, and he'd know what
we were going to do, sure. And I'd better be getting at it anyway. So
you can wipe that off your mind with a clear conscience--the rest of us
will get everything they've got there. Your job's to get everything you
can out of this bird's brain. All x?"

"All x."

"Why, you didn't put yours on!" Verna exclaimed.

"No, I don't think I'll have time. If I get started talking to him now,
I'd be here from now on, and I've got a lot of work to do. Steve can
talk to him for me--see you later," and Brandon was gone.

He went directly to the Vorkulian fortress, bare now of hexan life and
devoid of hexan snares and traps. There he and his fellows labored day
after day learning every secret of every item of armament and equipment
aboard the heptagon.

"Did you finish up today, Norm?" asked Stevens one evening. "Kromodeor's
coming to life fast. He's able to wiggle around a little now, and is
insisting that we take off the one chain we keep on him and let him use
a plate, to call his people."

"All washed up. Guess I'll go in and talk to him--you all say he's such
an egg. With this stuff off my mind I can hide it well enough. By the
way, what does he eat?" And the two friends set out for the Venerian
rooms.

"Anything that's sweet, apparently, with just enough milk to furnish a
little protein. Won't eat meat or vegetables at all--von Steiffel says
they haven't got much of a digestive tract, and I know that they haven't
got any teeth. He's already eaten most all the syrup we had on board,
all of the milk chocolate, and a lot of the sugar. But none of us can
get any kind of a raise out of him at all--not even Nadia, when she fed
him a whole box of chocolates."

"No, I mean what does he eat when he's home?"

"It seems to be a sort of syrup, made from the juices of jungle plants,
which they drag in on automatic conveyors and process on automatic
machinery. But he's a funny mutt--hard to get. Some of his thoughts are
lucid enough, but others we can't make out at all--they are so foreign
to all human nature that they simply do not register as thoughts at all.
One funny thing, he isn't the least bit curious about anything. He
doesn't want to examine anything, doesn't ask us any questions, and
won't tell us anything about anything, so that all we know about him we
found out purely by accident. For instance, they like games and sports,
and seem to have families. They also have love, liking, and respect for
others of their own race--but they seem to have no emotions whatever for
outsiders. They're utterly inhuman--I can't describe it--you'll have to
get it for yourself."

"Did you find out about the Callistonians who went to see them?"

"Negatively, yes. They never arrived. They probably couldn't see in the
fog and must have missed the city. If they tried to land in that jungle,
it was just too bad!"

"That would account for everything. So they're strictly neutral, eh?
Well, I'll tell him 'hi,' anyway." Now in the sickroom, Brandon picked
up the headset and sent out a wave of cheery greeting.

To his amazement, the mind of the Vorkul was utterly unresponsive
to his thoughts. Not disdainful, not inimical; not appreciative, nor
friendly--simply indifferent to a degree unknown and incomprehensible to
any human mind. He sent Brandon only one message, which came clear and
coldly emotionless.

"I do not want to talk to you. Tell the hairy doctor that I am now
strong enough to be allowed to go to the communicator screen. That is
all." The Vorkul's mind again became an oblivious maze of unintelligible
thoughts. Not deliberately were Kromodeor's thoughts hidden; he was
constitutionally unable to interest himself in the thoughts or things of
any alien intelligence.

"Well, that for that." A puzzled, thoughtful look came over Brandon's
face as he called von Steiffel. "A queer duck, if there ever was one.
However, their ship will never bother us, that's one good thing; and
I think we've got about everything of theirs that we want, anyway."

The surgeon, after a careful examination of his patient, unlocked the
heavy collar with which he had been restraining the over-anxious Vorkul,
and supported him lightly at the communicator panel. As surely as though
he had used those controls for years Kromodeor shot the visiray beam out
into space. One hand upon each of the several dials and one eye upon
each meter, it was a matter only of seconds for him to get in touch with
Vorkulia. To the Terrestrials the screen was a gray and foggy blank; but
the manifest excitement shrieking and whistling from the speaker in
response to Kromodeor's signals made it plain that his message was being
received with enthusiasm.

"They are coming," the Vorkul thought, and lay back, exhausted.

"Just as well that they're comin' out here, at that," Brandon commented.
"We couldn't begin to handle that structure anywhere near Jupiter--in
fact, we wouldn't want to get very close ourselves, with passengers
aboard."

Such was the power of the Vorkulian vessels that in less than twenty
hours another heptagon slowed to a halt beside the _Sirius_ and two of
its crew were wafted aboard.

They were ushered into the Venerian room, where they talked briefly with
their wounded fellow before they dressed him in a space-suit, which
they filled with air to their own pressure. Then all three were lifted
lightly into the air, and without a word or a sign were borne through
the air-locks of the vessel, and into an opening in the wall of the
rescuing heptagon. A green tractor beam reached out, seizing the
derelict, and both structures darted away at such a pace that in a few
minutes they had disappeared in the black depths of space.

"Well--that, as I may have remarked before, is indisputably and
conclusively that." Brandon broke the surprised, almost stunned, silence
that followed the unceremonious departure of the visitors. "I don't know
whether to feel relieved at the knowledge that they won't bother us, or
whether to get mad because they won't have anything to do with us."

He sent the "All x" signal to the pilot and the _Sirius_, once more at
the acceleration of Terrestrial gravity, again bored on through space.



CHAPTER XIII

Spacehounds Triumphant


Now that the hexan threat that had so long oppressed the humanity of the
_Sirius_ was lifted, that dull gray football of armor steel was filled
with relief and rejoicing as the pilot laid his course for Europa.
Lounges and saloons resounded with noise as police, passengers, and such
of the crew as were at liberty made merry. The control room, in which
were grouped the leaders of the expedition and the scientists, was
orderly enough, but a noticeable undertone of gladness had replaced the
tense air it had known so long.

"Hi, men!" Nadia Stevens and Verna Pickering, arms around each other's
waists, entered the room and saluted the group gaily before they became
a part of it.

"'Smatter, girls--tired of dancing already?" asked Brandon.

"Oh, no--we could dance from now on," Verna assured him. "But you see,
Nadia hadn't seen that husband of hers for fifteen minutes, and was
getting lonesome. Being afraid of all you men, she wanted me to come
along for moral support. The real reason I came, though," and she
narrowed her expressive eyes and lowered her voice mysteriously, "is
that you two physicists are here. I want to study my chosen victims a
little longer before I decide over which of you to cast the spell of
my fatal charm."

"But you can't do that," he objected, vigorously. "Quince and I are
going to settle that ourselves some day--by shooting dice, or maybe each
other, or...." he broke off, listening to an animated conversation going
on behind them.

"... just simply outrageous!" Nadia was exclaiming. "Here we saved his
life, and I fed him a lot of my candy, and we went to all the trouble of
bringing their ship back here almost to Jupiter for them, and then they
simply dashed off without a word of thanks or anything! And he always
acted as though he never wanted to see or hear of any of us again, ever!
Why, they don't _think_ straight--as Norman would say it, they're _full_
of little red _ants_! Why, they aren't even _human_!"

"Sure not." Brandon turned to the flushed speaker. "They couldn't be,
hardly, with their make-up. But is it absolutely necessary that all
intelligent beings should possess such an emotion as gratitude? Such a
being without it does seem funny to us, but I can't see that its lack
necessarily implies anything particularly important. Keep still a
minute," he went on, as Nadia tried to interrupt him, "and listen to
some real wisdom. Quince, _you_ tell 'em."

"They are, of course, very highly developed and extremely intelligent;
but it should not be surprising that intelligence should manifest
itself in ways quite baffling to us human beings, whose minds work so
differently. They are, however ... well, peculiar."

"I _won't_ keep still!" Nadia burst out, at the first opportunity.
"I don't want to talk about those hideous things any more, anyway.
Come on, Steve, let's go up and dance!"

Crowninshield turned to Verna, with the obvious intention of leading
her away, but Brandon interposed.

"Sorry, Crown, but this lady is conducting a highly important
psychological research, so your purely social claims will have to wait
until after the scientific work is done."

"Why narrow the field of investigation?" laughed the girl. "I'd rather
widen it, myself--I might prefer a general, even to a physicist!"

They went up to the main saloon and joined the mêlée there, and after
one dance with Verna--all he could claim in that crowd of
men--Crowninshield turned to Brandon.

"You two seem to know Miss Pickering extraordinarily well. Would I be
stepping on your toes if I give her a play?"

"Clear ether as far as we're concerned." Brandon shrugged his shoulders.
"She's been kicking around under foot ever since she was knee high to a
duck--we gave her her first lessons on a slide rule."

"Don't be dumb, Norman. That woman's a knock-out--a riot--a regular
tri-planet call-out!"

"Oh, she's all x, as far as that goes. She's a good little scout,
too--not half as dumb as she acts--and she's one of the squarest little
aces that ever waved a plume; but as for _playing_ her--too much like
our kid sister."

"Good--me for her!" and they made their way back down to the control
room.

Stevens, after his one dance with Nadia, had already returned. Brandon
and Crowninshield found him seated at the calculating machine,
continuing a problem which already filled several pages of his notebook.

"'Smatter, Steve? So glad to see a calculator and some paper that you
can't let them alone?"

"Not exactly--just had a thought a day or so ago. Been computing the
orbit of the wreckage of the _Arcturus_ around Jupiter. Think we should
salvage it--the upper half, at least. It was left intact, you know."

"H ... m ... m. That would be nice, all right. Dope enough?"

"Got the direction solid, from my own observations; the velocity's a
pretty rough approximation though. But after allowing for my probable
error, it figures an ellipse of low eccentricity, between the orbits of
Io and Europa. Its period is short--about two days."

"Isn't it wonderful to have a brain?" Brandon addressed the room at
large. "The kid's clever. Nobody else would have thought of it, except
maybe Westfall. Let's see your figures. Um ... m ... m. According to
that, we're within an hour of it, right now." He turned to the pilot and
sketched rapidly.

"Get on this line here, please, and decelerate, so that the stuff'll
catch up with us, and pass the word to the lookouts. Stevens and I will
take the bow plates.

"That's a good idea," he went on to Stevens, as they took their places
at main and auxiliary ultra-banks. "Lot of plunder in that ship.
Instruments, boats, and equipment worth millions, besides most of the
junk of the passengers--clothes, trunks, trinkets, and what-not. You're
there, bucko!"

"Thanks, Chief," ... and they fell silent, watching the instruments
carefully, and from time to time making computations from the readings
of the acceleration and flight meters.

"There she is!" An alarm bell had finally sounded, the ultra-lights had
flared out into space, and upon both screens there shone out images of
the closely clustered wreckage of the _Arcturus_. But both men were more
interested just then in the mathematics of the recovery than in the
vessel itself.

"Missed it eight minutes of time and eleven divisions on the scale,"
reported Stevens. "Not so good."

"Not so bad either--I've seen worse computation." Thus lightly was
dismissed a mathematical feat which, a few years earlier, before the
days of I-P computers, would have been deemed worthy of publication in
"The Philosophical Magazine."

       *       *       *       *       *

Director Newton was called in, and it was decided that the many small
fragments of the vessel were not worth saving; that its upper half
was all that they should attempt to tow the enormous distance back to
Tellus. The pace of the _Sirius_ was adjusted to that of the floating
masses, and tractor beams were clamped upon the undamaged portion of the
derelict, and upon the two slices from the nose of the craft. A couple
of the larger fragments of wreckage were also taken, to furnish metal
for the repairs which would be necessary. Acceleration was brought
slowly up to normal, and the battle-scarred cruiser of the void, with
her heavy burden of inert metal, resumed her interrupted voyage toward
Europa; the satellite upon which the passengers and crew of the
ill-fated _Arcturus_ had been so long immured. On she bored through the
ether, detector screens full out and greenly scintillant Vorkulian
wall-screens outlining her football shape in weird and ghastly light;
unafraid now of any possible surviving space-craft of the hexans.

But if the hexans detected her, they made no sign. Perhaps their fleet
had been destroyed utterly; perhaps it had been impressed upon even
their fierce minds that those sparkling green screens were not to be
molested with impunity! The satellite was reached without event and down
into the crater landing shaft the two enormous masses of metal dropped.

Callisto's foremost citizens were on hand to welcome the Terrestrial
rescuers, and revelry reigned supreme in that deeply buried Europan
community. All humanity celebrated. The Callistonians rejoiced because
they were now freed from the age-old oppression of the hexan hordes;
because they could once more extend their civilization over the Jovian
satellites and live again their normal lives upon the surface of those
small worlds.

The Terrestrials were almost equally enthusiastic in the reunion that
marked the end of the long imprisonment of the refugees.

As soon as the hull of the _Arcturus_ had been warmed sufficiently to
permit inspection, its original passengers were allowed to visit it
briefly, to examine and to reclaim their belongings. Of course, some
damage had been done by the cold of interplanetary space, but in general
everything was as they had left it. Stevens and Nadia were among the
first permitted aboard. They went first to the control room, where
Stevens found his bag still lying behind Breckenridge's desk, where he
had thrown it when he first boarded the vessel. Then they made their
way up to Nadia's stateroom, which they found in meticulous order and
spotless in its cleanliness--there is neither dust nor dirt in space.
Nadia glanced about the formal little room and laughed up at her
husband.

"Funny, isn't it, sweetheart, how little we know what to expect? Just
think how surprised I would have been, when I left this room, if I had
been told that I would have a husband before I got back to it!"

Breckenridge's first thought was for his precious triplex automatic
chronometer, which he found, of course, "way off"--six and three-tenths
seconds fast. Having corrected the timepiece from that of the _Sirius_,
he immersed himself in the other delicate instruments of his
department--and he was easy to find from that time on.

Overcrowded as the _Sirius_ already was, it was decided that the
original complement of the _Arcturus_ should occupy their former
quarters aboard her during the return trip. To this end, corps of
mechanics set to work upon the salvaged hulk. Heavy metal work was no
novelty to the Callistonian engineers and mechanics, and the _Sirius_
also was well equipped with metal-working machines and men. Thus the
prow was welded; armored, insulating air-breaks were built along the
stern, which was the plane of hexan cleavage, electrical connections
were restored; and lastly, a set of the great Vorkulian wall-screen
generators, absorbers, and dissipators was installed, with sufficient
accumulator capacity for their operation. Director Newton studied this
installation in silence for some time, then went in search of Brandon.

"I hadn't considered the possibility of being attacked again
between here and Tellus, but there's always the chance," he admitted.
"If you think that there is any danger, we will crowd them all into the
_Sirius_. It will not be at all comfortable, but it will be better than
having any more of us killed."

"With that outfit they'll be as safe as we will," the scientist assured
him. "They can stand as much grief as we can. We'll do the fighting for
the whole outfit from here, and anything we meet will have to take us
before they can touch them. So they had better ride it there, where
they'll have passengers' accommodations and be comfortable. As to
danger, I don't know what to expect. They may all be gone and they may
not. We're going to expect trouble every meter of the way in, though,
and be ready for it."

Everything ready and thoroughly tested, and stream of power flowing
into the _Arcturus_ from the cosmic receptors of her sister ship, the
passengers and their new possessions were moved into their former
quarters. There was a brief ceremony of farewell, the doors of the
airlocks were closed, the careful check-out was gone through, and the
driving projectors of the _Sirius_ lifted both great vessels up the
shaft, slowly and easily. And after them, as long as they could be seen,
stared the thousands of Callistonians who thronged the great shaft's
floor. Many of the spectators were not, strictly speaking, Callistonians
at all. They were really Europans, born and reared in that hidden city
which was to have been the last stronghold of Callisto's civilization.
In that throng were hundreds who had never before seen the light of the
sun nor any of the glories of the firmament, hundreds to whom that brief
glimpse was a foretaste of the free and glorious life which was soon to
be theirs.

Up and up mounted that powerful tug-boat of space, with her heavy barge,
falling smoothly upward at normal acceleration. Below her first Europa,
then mighty Jupiter, became moons growing smaller and smaller. In their
stateroom Nadia's supple waist writhed in the curve of Stevens' arm as
she turned and looked up at him with sparkling eyes.

"Well, big fellow, how does it feel to be out of a job? Or are you going
over there every day on a tractor beam to work, as Norman suggested?"

"Not on your sweet young life!" he exclaimed. "Norm thought he was
kidding somebody, but it registered zero. It gives me the pip to loaf
around when there's a lot of work to do, but this is entirely different.
Nothing's driving us now, and a fellow's entitled to at least one
honeymoon during his life. And what a honeymoon this is going to be,
little spacehound of my heart! Nothing to do but love you all the way
from here to Tellus! Whoopee!"

"Oh, there's a couple of other things to do," she reminded him gaily.
"You've got to smoke a lot of good cigarettes, I must eat a lot of
Delray's chocolates, and we both really should catch up on eating fancy
cooking. Speaking of eating, isn't that the second call for dinner? It
_is_!" and they went along the narrow hall toward the elevator. To these
two the long journey was to seem all too short.

Long though the voyage was, it was uneventful. The occupants of the
two vessels were in constant touch with each other by means of the
communicators, and there was also much visiting back and forth in
person. Stevens and Nadia came often to the _Sirius_, and were
accompanied frequently by Verna Pickering, who claimed anew her ancient
right of "kicking around under foot," wherever Brandon and Westfall
might chance to be--and at such times General Crowninshield was
practically certain to appear. And upon days when the beautiful brunette
did not appear, the commandant generally found it necessary to inspect
in person something in the _Arcturus_.

Day after day passed, and even the new and ultra-powerful detector
screens of the _Sirius_ remained unresponsive and cold. Day after day
the plates before the doubled lookouts and observers remained blank.
Power flowed smoothly and unfailingly into the cosmic receptors, and
the products of conversion were discharged with equal smoothness and
regularity from the forty-five gigantic driving projectors. The tractor
beam held its heavy burden easily and the generators functioned
perfectly. And finally a planet began to loom up in the stern lookout
plates.

Verna, the irrepressible, was in the control room of the _Sirius_,
quarreling adroitly with Brandon and deftly flirting with Crowninshield.
Glancing into the control screen she saw the planet in its end block,
then studied the instruments briefly.

"We're heading for _Mars_!" she declared with conviction. "I thought
it looked that way yesterday, but supposed it must be only apparent--a
trick of piloting or something about the orbit. I thought of course you
were taking us back home--but you can't _possibly_ get to Tellus on any
such course as this!"

"Sure not," Brandon replied easily. "Certainly it's Mars. Isn't that
where the _Arcturus_ started out for? Whoever said we were going to
Tellus? Of course, if any of the passengers want to go right back the
IPC will undoubtedly furnish transportation _gratis_. But paste this in
your hat, Verna, for future reference--when spacehounds start out to go
anywhere they _go_ there, even if they have to spend a year or so on
minus time to do it!"

Closer and closer they approached the red planet, swinging around in a
wide arc in order to make their course coincide exactly with the pilot
ray of check station M14, which was now precisely in its scheduled
location in space. At the chief pilot's desk in the control room of the
_Arcturus_, Breckenridge checked in with the station, then calculated
rapidly the instant of their touching the specially-built bumper
platforms of spring steel, hemp, and fiber which awaited them upon the
Martian dock of the Interplanetary Corporation. Within range of the
terminal, he plugged into it, waited until the tiny light flashed its
green message of attention, and reported.

"IPV _Arcturus_; Breckenridge, Chief Pilot; trip number forty-three
twenty-nine. Checking in--four hundred forty-six days, fifteen hours,
eleven minutes, thirty-eight and seven-tenths seconds minus!"


THE END.


Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Amazing Stories July,
August and September 1931. Extensive research did not uncover any
evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Spacehounds of IPC" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home