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´╗┐Title: Brood of the Dark Moon
Author: Diffin, Charles Willard, 1884-1966
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 "Brood of the Dark Moon" ***

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Brood of the Dark Moon

(_A Sequel to "Dark Moon"_)

_By Charles Willard Diffin_

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Astounding Stories
August, September, October and November 1931. Extensive research did not
uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was
renewed.]



List of Illustrations


_He landed one blow on the nearest face._

_One, swifter than the rest, dashed upon him._

_The inky waters were ablaze with fire._

_With the free hand he shot over a blow._



CHAPTER I

_The Message_

[Sidenote: Once more Chet, Walt and Diane are united in a wild ride to
the Dark Moon--but this time they go as prisoners of their deadly enemy
Schwartzmann.]


In a hospital in Vienna, in a room where sunlight flooded through
ultraviolet permeable crystal, the warm rays struck upon smooth walls
the color of which changed from hot reds to cool yellow or gray or to
soothing green, as the Directing Surgeon might order. An elusive
blending of tones now seemed pulsing with life; surely even a flickering
flame of vitality would be blown into warm livingness in such a place.

Even the chart case in the wall glittered with the same clean, brilliant
hues from its glass and metal door. The usual revolving paper disks
showed white beyond the glass. They were moving; and the ink lines grew
to tell a story of temperature and respiration and of every heart-beat.

On the identification-plate a name appeared and a date: "Chet
Bullard--23 years. Admitted: August 10, 1973." And below that the
ever-changing present ticked into the past in silent minutes: "August
15, 1973; World Standard Time: 10:38--10:39--10:40--"

For five days the minutes had trickled into a rivulet of time that
flowed past a bandaged figure in the bed below--a silent figure and
unmoving, as one for whom time has ceased. But the surgeons of the
Allied Hospital at Vienna are clever.

10:41--10:42--The bandaged figure stirred uneasily on a snow-white
bed....

       *       *       *       *       *

A nurse was beside him in an instant. Was her patient about to recover
consciousness? She examined the bandages that covered a ragged wound in
his side, where all seemed satisfactory. To all appearances the man who
had moved was unconscious still; the nurse could not know of the thought
impressions, blurred at first, then gradually clearing, that were
flashing through his mind.

Flashing; yet, to the man who struggled to comprehend them, they passed
laggingly in review: one picture followed another with exasperating
slowness....

Where was he? What had happened? He was hardly conscious of his own
identity....

There was a ship ... he held the controls ... they were flying low....
One hand reached fumblingly beneath the soft coverlet to search for a
triple star that should be upon his jacket. A triple star: the insignia
of a Master Pilot of the World!--and with the movement there came
clearly a realization of himself.

Chet Bullard, Master Pilot; he was Chet Bullard ... and a wall of water
was sweeping under him from the ocean to wipe out the great Harkness
Terminal buildings.... It was Harkness--Walt Harkness--from whom he had
snatched the controls.... To fly to the Dark Moon, of course--

What nonsense was that?... No, it was true: the Dark Moon had raised the
devil with things on Earth.... How slowly the thoughts came! Why
couldn't he remember?...

Dark Moon!--and they were flying through space.... They had conquered
space; they were landing on the Dark Moon that was brilliantly alight.
Walt Harkness had set the ship down beautifully--

       *       *       *       *       *

Then, crowding upon one another in breath-taking haste, came clear
recollection of past adventures:

They were upon the Dark Moon--and there was the girl, Diane. They must
save Diane. Harkness had gone for the ship. A savage, half-human shape
was raising a hairy arm to drive a spear toward Diane, and he, Chet, was
leaping before her. He felt again the lancet-pain of that blade....

And now he was dying--yes, he remembered it now--dying in the night on a
great, sweeping surface of frozen lava.... It was only a moment before
that he had opened his eyes to see Harkness' strained face and the
agonized look of Diane as the two leaned above him.... But now he felt
stronger. He must see them again....

He opened his eyes for another look at his companions--and, instead of
black, star-pricked night on a distant globe, there was dazzling
sunlight. No desolate lava-flow, this; no thousand fires that flared and
smoked from their fumeroles in the dark. And, instead of Harkness and
the girl, Diane, leaning over him there was a nurse who laid one cool
hand upon his blond head and who spoke soothingly to him of keeping
quiet. He was to take it easy--he would understand later--and everything
was all right.... And with this assurance Chet Bullard drifted again
into sleep....

       *       *       *       *       *

The blurring memories had lost their distortions a week later, as he sat
before a broad window in his room and looked out over the housetops of
Vienna. Again he was himself, Chet Bullard, with a Master Pilot's
rating; and he let his eyes follow understandingly the moving picture of
the world outside. It was good to be part of a world whose every
movement he understood.

Those cylinders with stubby wings that crossed and recrossed the sky;
their sterns showed a jet of thin vapor where a continuous explosion of
detonite threw them through the air. He knew them all: the pleasure
craft, the big, red-bellied freighters, the sleek liners, whose multiple
helicopters spun dazzlingly above as they sank down through the shaft of
pale-green light that marked a descending area.

That one would be the China Mail. Her under-ports were open before the
hold-down clamps had gripped her; the mail would pour out in an
avalanche of pouches where smaller mailships waited to distribute the
cargo across the land.

And the big fellow taking off, her hull banded with blue, was one of
Schwartzmann's liners. He wondered what had become of Schwartzmann, the
man who had tried to rob Harkness of his ship; who had brought the
patrol ships upon them in an effort to prevent their take-off on that
wild trip.

For that matter, what had become of Harkness? Chet Bullard was seriously
disturbed at the absence of any word beyond the one message that had
been waiting for him when he regained consciousness. He drew that
message from a pocket of his dressing gown and read it again:

     "Chet, old fellow, lie low. S has vanished. Means mischief. Think
     best not to see you or reveal your whereabouts until our position
     firmly established. Have concealed ship. Remember, S will stop at
     nothing. Trying to discredit us, but the gas I brought will fix all
     that. Get yourself well. We are planning to go back, of course.
     Walt."

Chet returned the folded message to his pocket. He arose and walked
about the room to test his returning strength: to remain idle was
becoming increasingly difficult. He wanted to see Walter Harkness, talk
with him, plan for their return to the wonder-world they had found.

       *       *       *       *       *

Instead he dropped again into his chair and touched a knob on the
newscaster beside him. A voice, hushed to the requirements of these
hospital precincts spoke softly of market quotations in the far corners
of the earth. He turned the dial irritably and set it on "World
News--General." The name of Harkness came from the instrument to focus
Chet's attention.

"Harkness makes broad claims," the voice was saying. "Vienna physicists
ridicule his pretensions.

"Walter Harkness, formerly of New York, proprietor of Harkness
Terminals, whose great buildings near New York were destroyed in the
Dark Moon wave, claims to have reached and returned from the Dark Moon.

"Nearly two months have passed since the new satellite crashed into the
gravitational field of Earth, its coming manifested by earth shocks and
a great tidal wave. The globe, as we know, was invisible. Although still
unseen, and only a black circle that blocks out distant stars, it is
visible in the telescopes of the astronomers; its distance and its
orbital motion have been determined.

"And now this New Yorker claims to have penetrated space; to have landed
on the Dark Moon; and to have returned to Earth. Broad claims, indeed,
especially so in view of the fact that Harkness refuses to submit his
ship for examination by the Stratosphere Control Board. He has filed
notice of ownership, thus introducing some novel legal technicalities,
but, since space-travel is still a dream of the future, there will be
none to dispute his claims.

"Of immediate interest is Harkness' claim to have discovered a gas that
is fatal to the serpents of space. The monsters that appeared when the
Dark Moon came and that attacked ships above the Repelling Area are
still there. All flying is confined to the lower levels; fast
world-routes are disorganized.

"Whether or not this gas, of which Harkness has a sample, came from the
Dark Moon or from some laboratory on Earth is of no particular
importance. Will it destroy the space-serpents? If it does this, our
hats are off to Mr. Walter Harkness; almost will we be inclined to
believe the rest of his story--or to laugh with him over one of the
greatest hoaxes ever attempted."

Chet had been too intent upon the newscast to heed an opening door at
his back....

       *       *       *       *       *

"How about it, Chet?" a voice was asking. "Would you call it a hoax or
the real thing?" And a girl's voice chimed in with exclamations of
delight at sight of the patient, so evidently recovering.

"Diane!" Chet exulted, "--and Walt!--you old son-of-a-gun!" He found
himself clinging to a girl's soft hand with one of his, while with the
other he reached for that of her companion. But Walt Harkness' arm went
about his shoulders instead.

"I'd like to hammer you plenty," Harkness was saying, "and I don't even
dare give you a friendly slam on the back. How's the side where they got
you with the spear?--and how are you? How soon will you be ready to
start back? What about--"

Diane Delacouer raised her one free hand to stop the flood of questions.
"My dear," she protested, "give Chet a chance. He must be dying for
information."

"I was dying for another reason the last time I saw you," Chet reminded
her, "--up on the Dark Moon. But it seems that you got me back here in
time for repairs. And now what?" His nurse came into the room with extra
chairs; Chet waited till she was gone before he repeated: "Now what?
When do we go back?"

Harkness did not answer at once. Instead he crossed to the newscaster in
its compact, metal case. The voice was still speaking softly; at a touch
of a switch it ceased, and in the silence came the soft rush of sound
that meant the telautotype had taken up its work. Beneath a glass a
paper moved, and words came upon it from a hurricane of type-bars
underneath. The instrument was printing the news story as rapidly as any
voice could speak it.

Harkness read the words for an instant, then let the paper pass on to
wind itself upon a spool. It had still been telling of the gigantic hoax
that this eccentric American had attempted and Harkness repeated the
words.

"A hoax!" he exclaimed, and his eyes, for a moment, flashed angrily
beneath the dark hair that one hand had disarranged. "I would like to
take that facetious bird out about a thousand miles and let him play
around with the serpents we met. But, why get excited? This is all
Schwartzmann's doing. The tentacles of that man's influence reach out
like those of an octopus."

       *       *       *       *       *

Chet ranged himself alongside. Tall and slim and blond, he contrasted
strongly with this other man, particularly in his own quiet self-control
as against Harkness' quick-flaring anger.

"Take it easy, Walt," he advised. "We'll show them. But I judge that you
have been razzed a bit. It's a pretty big story for them to swallow
without proof. Why didn't you show them the ship? Or why didn't you let
Diane and me back up your yarn? And you haven't answered my other
questions: when do we go back?"

Harkness took the queries in turn.

"I didn't show the old boat," he explained, "because I'm not ready for
that yet. I want it kept dark--dark as the Dark Moon. I want to do my
preliminary work there before Schwartzmann and his experts see our ship.
He would duplicate it in a hurry and be on our trail.

"And now for our plans. Well, our there in space the Dark Moon is
waiting. Have you realized, Chet, that we own that world--you and Diane
and I? Small--only half the size of our old moon--but what a place! And
it's ours!

"Back in history--you remember?--an ambitious lad named Alexander sighed
for more worlds to conquer. Well, we're going Alexander one
better--we've found the world. We're the first ever to go out into space
and return again.

"We'll go back there, the three of us. We will take no others along--not
yet. We will explore and make our plans for development; and we will
keep it to ourselves until we are ready to hold it against any
opposition.

"And now, how soon can you go? Your injury--how soon will you be well
enough?"

"Right now," Chet told him laconically; "today, if you say the word.
They've got me welded together so I'll hold, I reckon. But where's the
ship? What have you done--" He broke off abruptly to listen--

       *       *       *       *       *

To all three came a muffled, booming roar. The windows beside them
shivered with the thud of the distant explosion; they had not ceased
their trembling before Harkness had switched on the news broadcast. And
it was a minute only until the news-gathering system was on the air.

"Explosion at the Institute of Physical Science!" it stated. "This is
Vienna broadcasting. An explosion has just occurred. We are giving a
preliminary announcement only. The laboratories of the Scientific
Institute of this city are destroyed. A number of lives have been lost.
The cause has not been determined. It is reported that the laboratories
were beginning analytical work, on the so-called Harkness Dark Moon
gas--

"Confirmation has just been radioed to this station. Dark Moon gas
exploded on contact with air. The American, Harkness, is either a
criminal or a madman; he will be apprehended at once. This confirmation
comes from Herr Schwartzmann of Vienna who left the Institute only a few
minutes before the explosion occurred--"

And, in the quiet of a hospital room, Walter Harkness drew a long breath
and whispered; "Schwartzmann! His hand is everywhere.... And that sample
was all I had.... I must leave at once--go back to America."

He was halfway to the door--he was almost carrying Diane Delacouer with
him--when Chet's quiet tones brought him up short.

"I've never seen you afraid," said Chet; and his eyes were regarding the
other man curiously; "but you seem to have the wind up, as the old
flyers used to say, when it comes to Schwartzmann."

       *       *       *       *       *

Harkness looked at the girl he held so tightly, then grinned boyishly at
Chet. "I've someone else to be afraid for now," he said.

His smile faded and was replaced by a look of deep concern. "I haven't
told you about Schwartzmann," he said; "haven't had time. But he's
poison, Chet. And he's after our ship."

"Where is the ship; where have you hidden it? Tell me--where?"

Harkness looked about him before he whispered sharply: "Our old shop--up
north!"

He seemed to feel that some explanation was due Chet. "In this day it
seems absurd to say such things," he added; "but this Schwartzmann is a
throw-back--a conscienceless scoundrel. He would put all three of us out
of the way in a minute if he could get the ship. _He_ knows we have been
to the Dark Moon--no question about that--and he wants the wealth he can
imagine is there.

"We'll all plan to leave; I'll radio you later. We'll go back to the
Dark Moon--" He broke off abruptly as the door opened to admit the
nurse. "You'll hear from me later," he repeated; and hurried Diane
Delacouer from the room.

But he returned in a moment to stand again at the door--the nurse was
still in the room. "In case you feel like going for a hop," he told Chet
casually, "Diane's leaving her ship here for you. You'll find it up
above--private landing stage on the roof."

Chet answered promptly, "Fine; that will go good one of these days." All
this for the benefit of listening ears. Yet even Chet would have been
astonished to know that he would be using that ship within an hour....

       *       *       *       *       *

He was standing at the window, and his mind was filled, not with
thoughts of any complications that had developed for his friend
Harkness, but only of the adventures that lay ahead of them both. The
Dark Moon!--they had reached it, indeed; but they had barely scratched
the surface of that world of mystery and adventure. He was wild with
eagerness to return--to see again that new world, blazing brightly
beneath the sun; to see the valley of fires--and he had a score to
settle with the tribe of ape-men, unless Harkness had finished them off
while he, himself, lay unconscious.... Yes, there seemed little doubt of
that; Walt would have paid the score for all of them.... He seemed
actually back in that world to which his thoughts went winging across
the depths of space. The buzz of a telephone recalled him.

It was the hospital office, he found, when he answered. There was a
message--would Mr. Bullard kindly receive it on the telautotype--lever
number four, and dial fifteen-point-two--thanks.... And Chet depressed a
key and adjusted the instrument that had been printing the newscast.

The paper moved on beneath the glass, and the type-bars clicked more
slowly now. From some distant station that might be anywhere on or above
the earth, there was coming a message.

The frequency of that sending current was changed at some central
office; it was stepped down to suit the instrument beside him. And the
type was spelling out words that made the watching man breathless and
intent--until he tore off the paper and leaped for the call signal that
would summon the nurse. Through her he would get his own clothes, his
uniform, the triple star that showed his rating and his authority in
every air-level of the world.

That badge would have got him immediate attention on any landing field.
Now, on the flat roof, with steady, gray eyes and a voice whose very
quietness accentuated its imperative commands, Chet had the staff of the
hospital hangars as alert as if their alarm had sounded a general
ambulance call.

       *       *       *       *       *

Straight into the sky a red beacon made a rigid column of light; a radio
sender was crackling a warning and a demand for "clear air." From the
forty level, a patrol ship that had caught the signal came corkscrewing
down the red shaft to stand by for emergency work.... Chet called her
commander from the cabin of Diane's ship. A word of thanks--Chet's
number--and a dismissal of the craft. Then the white lights signaled
"all clear" and the hold-down levers let go with a soft hiss--

The feel of the controls was good to his hands; the ship roared into
life. A beautiful little cruiser, this ship of Diane's; her twin
helicopters lifted her gracefully into the air. The column of red light
had changed to blue, the mark of an ascending area; Chet touched a
switch. A muffled roar came from the stern and the blast drove him
straight out for a mile; then he swung and returned. He was nosing up as
he touched the blue--straight up--and he held the vertical climb till
the altimeter before him registered sixty thousand.

Traffic is north-bound only on the sixty-level, and Chet set his ship on
a course for the frozen wastes of the Arctic; then he gave her the gun
and nodded in tight-lipped satisfaction at the mounting thunder that
answered from the stern.

Only then did he read again the message on a torn fragment of
telautotype paper. "Harkness," was the signature; and above, a brief
warning and a call--"Danger--must leave at once. You get ship and stand
by. I will meet you there." And, for the first time, Chet found time to
wonder at this danger that had set the hard-headed, hard-hitting Walt
Harkness into a flutter of nerves.

       *       *       *       *       *

What danger could there be in this well-guarded world? A patrol-ship
passed below him as he asked himself the question. It was symbolic of a
world at peace; a world too busy with its own tremendous development to
find time for wars or makers of war. What trouble could this man
Schwartzmann threaten that a word to the Peace Enforcement Commission
would not quell? Where could he go to elude the inescapable patrols?

And suddenly Chet saw the answer to that question--saw plainly where
Schwartzmann could go. Those vast reaches of black space! If
Schwartzmann had their ship he could go where they had gone--go out to
the Dark Moon.... And Harkness had warned Chet to get their ship and
stand by.

Had Walt learned of some plan of Schwartzmann's? Chet could not answer
the question, but he moved the control rheostat over to the last notch.

From the body of the craft came an unending roar of a generator where
nothing moved; where only the terrific, explosive impact of bursting
detonite drove out from the stern to throw them forward. "A good little
ship," Chet had said of this cruiser of Diane's; and he nodded approval
now of a ground-speed detector whose quivering needle had left the 500
mark. It touched 600, crept on, and trembled at 700 miles an hour with
the top speed of the ship.

There was a position-finder in the little control-room, and Chet's gaze
returned to it often to see the pinpoint of light that crept slowly
across the surface of a globe. It marked their ever-changing location,
and it moved unerringly toward a predetermined goal.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a place of ice and snow and bleak outcropping of half-covered
rocks where he descended. Lost from the world, a place where even the
high levels seldom echoed to the roar of passing ships, it had been a
perfect location for their "shop." Here he and Walt had assembled their
mystery ship.

He had to search intently over the icy waste to find the exact location;
a dim red glow from a hidden sun shone like pale fire across distant
black hills. But the hills gave him a bearing, and he landed at last
beside a vaguely outlined structure, half hidden in drifting snow.

The dual fans dropped him softly upon the snow ground and Chet, as he
walked toward the great locked doors, was trembling from other causes
than the cold. Would the ship be there? He was suddenly a-quiver with
excitement at the thought of what this ship meant--the adventure, the
exploration that lay ahead.

The doors swung back. In the warm and lighted room was a cylinder of
silvery white. Its bow ended in a gaping port where a mighty exhaust
could roar forth to check the ship's forward speed; there were other
ports ranged about the gleaming body. Above the hull a control-room
projected flatly; its lookouts shone in the brilliance of the nitron
illuminator that flooded the room with light....

Chet Bullard was breathless as he moved on and into the room. His wild
experiences that had seemed but a weird dream were real again. The Dark
Moon was real! And they would be going back to it!

       *       *       *       *       *

The muffled beating of great helicopters was sounding in his ears;
outside, a ship was landing. This would be Harkness coming to join him;
yet, even as the thought flashed through his mind, it was countered by a
quick denial. To the experienced hearing of the Master Pilot this sound
of many fans meant no little craft. It was a big ship that was landing,
and it was coming down fast. The blue-striped monster looming large in
the glow of the midnight sun was not entirely a surprise to Chet's
staring eyes.

But--blue-striped! The markings of the Schwartzmann line!--He had hardly
sensed the danger when it was upon him.

A man, heavy and broad of frame, was giving orders. Only once had Chet
seen this Herr Schwartzmann, but there was no mistaking him now. And he
was sending a squad of rushing figures toward the man who struggled to
close a great door.

Chet crouched to meet the attack. He was outnumbered; he could never win
out. But the knowledge of his own helplessness was nothing beside that
other conviction that flooded him with sickening certainty--

A hoax!--that was what they had called Walt's story; Schwartzmann had so
named it, and now Schwartzmann had been the one to fool them; the
message was a fake--a bait to draw him out; and he, Chet, had taken the
bait. He had led Schwartzmann here; had delivered their ship into his
hands--

[Illustration: _He landed one blow on the nearest face._]

He landed one blow on the nearest face; he had one glimpse of a clubbed
weapon swinging above him--and the world went dark.



CHAPTER II

_Into Space_


A pulsing pain that stabbed through his head was Chet's first conscious
impression. Then, as objects came slowly into focus before his eyes, he
knew that above him a ray of light was striking slantingly through the
thick glass of a control-room lookout.

Other lookouts were black, the dead black of empty space. Through them,
sparkling points of fire showed here and there--suns, sending their
light across millions of years to strike at last on a speeding ship.
But, from the one port that caught the brighter light, came that
straight ray to illumine the room.

"Space," thought Chet vaguely. "That is the sunlight of space!"

He was trying to arrange his thoughts in some sensible sequence. His
head!--what had happened to his head?... And then he remembered. Again
he saw a clubbed weapon descending, while the face of Schwartzmann
stared at him through bulbous eyes....

And this control-room where he lay--he knew in an instant where he was.
It was his own ship that was roaring and trembling beneath him--his and
Walt Harkness'--it was flying through space! And, with the sudden
realization of what this meant, he struggled to arise. Only then did he
see the figure at the controls.

The man was leaning above an instrument board; he straightened to stare
from a rear port while he spoke to someone Chet could not see.

"There's more of 'em coming!" he said in a choked voice. "_Mein Gott!_
Neffer can we get away!"

       *       *       *       *       *

He fumbled with shaking hands at instruments and controls; and now Chet
saw his chalk-white face and read plainly the terror that was written
there. But the cords that cut into his own wrists and ankles reminded
him that he was bound; he settled back upon the floor. Why struggle? If
this other pilot was having trouble let him get out of it by
himself--let him kill his own snakes!

That the man was having trouble there was no doubt. He looked once more
behind him as if at something that pursued; then swung the ball-control
to throw the ship off her course.

The craft answered sluggishly, and Chet Bullard grinned where he lay
helpless upon the floor; for he knew that his ship should have been
thrown crashingly aside with such a motion as that. The answer was
plain: the flask of super-detonite was exhausted; here was the last
feeble explosion of the final atoms of the terrible explosive that was
being admitted to the generator. And to cut in another flask meant the
opening of a hidden valve.

Chet forgot the pain of his swelling hands to shake with suppressed
mirth. This was going to be good! He forgot it until, through a lookout,
he saw a writhing, circling fire that wrapped itself about the ship and
jarred them to a halt.

The serpents!--those horrors from space that had come with the coming of
the Dark Moon! They had disrupted the high-level traffic of the world;
had seized great, liners; torn their way in; stripped them of every
living thing, and let the empty shells crash back to earth. Chet had
forgotten or he had failed to realize the height at which this new pilot
was flying. Only speed could save them; the monsters, with their snouts
that were great suction-cups, could wrench off a metal door--tear out
the glass from a port!

       *       *       *       *       *

He saw the luminous mass crush itself against a forward lookout and felt
the jar of its body against their ship. Soft and vaporous, these
cloud-like serpents seemed as they drifted through space; yet the
impact, when they struck, proved that this new matter had mass.

Chet saw the figure at the controls stagger back and cower in fear; the
man's bullet-shaped head was covered by his upraised arms: there was
some horror outside those windows that his eyes had no wish to see.
Beside him the towering figure of Schwartzmann appeared; he had sprung
into Chet's view, and he screamed orders at the fear-stricken pilot.

"Fool! Swine!" Schwartzmann was shouting. "Do something! You said you
could fly this ship!" In desperation he leaped forward and reached for
the controls himself.

Chet's blurred faculties snapped sharply to attention. That yellow glow
against the port--the jarring of their ship--it meant instant
destruction once that searching snout found some place where it could
secure a hold. If the air-pressure within the ship were released; if
even a crack were opened!--

"Here, you!" he shouted to the frantic Schwartzmann who was jerking
frenziedly at the controls that no longer gave response. "Cut these
ropes!--leave those instruments alone, you fool!" He was suddenly
vibrant with hate as he realized what this man had done: he had struck
him, Chet, down as he would have felled an animal for butchery; he had
stolen their ship; and now he was losing it. Chet hardly thought of his
own desperate plight in his rage at this threat to their ship, and at
Schwartzmann's inability to help himself.

"Cut these ropes!" he repeated. "Damn it all, turn me loose; I can fly
us out!" He added his frank opinion of Schwartzmann and all his men. And
Schwartzmann, though his dark face flushed angrily red for one instant,
leaped to Chet's side and slashed at the cords with a knife.

The room swam before Chet's dizzy eyes as he came to his feet. He half
fell, half drew himself full length toward the valve that he alone knew.
Then again he was on his feet, and he gripped at the ball-control with
one hand while he opened a master throttle that cut in this new supply
of explosive.

       *       *       *       *       *

The room had been silent with the silence of empty space, save only for
the scraping of a horrid body across the ship's outer shell. The silence
was shattered now as if by the thunder of many guns. There was no time
for easing themselves into gradual flight. Chet thrust forward on the
ball-control, and the blast from their stern threw the ship as if it had
been fired from a giant cannon.

The self-compensating floor swung back and up; Chet's weight was almost
unbearable as the ship beneath him leaped out and on, and the terrific
blast that screamed and thundered urged this speeding shell to greater
and still greater speed. And then, with the facility that that speed
gave, Chet's careful hands moved a tiny metal ball within its magnetic
cage, and the great ship bellowed from many ports as it followed the
motion of that ball.

Could an eye have seen the wild, twisting flight, it must have seemed as
if pilot and ship had gone suddenly mad. The craft corkscrewed and
whirled; it leaped upward and aside; and, as the glowing mass was thrown
clear of the lookout, Chet's hand moved again to that maximum forward
position, and again the titanic blast from astern drove them on and out.

There were other shapes ahead, glowing lines of fire, luminous masses
like streamers of cloud that looped themselves into contorted forms and
writhed vividly until they straightened into sharp lines of speed that
bore down upon the fleeing craft and the human food that was escaping
these hungry snouts.

Chet saw them dead ahead; he saw the outthrust heads, each ending in a
great suction-cup, the row of disks that were eyes blazing above, and
the gaping maw below. He altered their course not a hair's breadth as he
bore down upon them, while the monsters swelled prodigiously before his
eyes. And the thunderous roar from astern came with never a break, while
the ship itself ceased its trembling protest against the sudden blast
and drove smoothly on and into the waiting beasts.

There was a hardly perceptible thudding jar. They were free! And the
forward lookouts showed only the brilliant fires of distant suns and one
more glorious than the rest that meant a planet.

       *       *       *       *       *

Chet turned at last to face Schwartzmann and his pilot where they had
clung helplessly to a metal stanchion. Four or five others crept in from
the cabin aft; their blanched faces told of the fear that had gripped
them--fear of the serpents; fear, too, of the terrific plunges into
which the ship had been thrown. Chet Bullard drew the metal control-ball
back into neutral and permitted himself the luxury of a laugh.

"You're a fine bunch of highwaymen," he told Schwartzmann; "you'll steal
a ship you can't fly; then come up here above the R. A. level and get
mixed up with those brutes. What's the idea? Did you think you would
just hop over to the Dark Moon? Some little plan like that in your
mind?"

Again the dark, heavy face of Schwartzmann flushed deeply; but it was
his own men upon whom he turned.

"You," he told the pilot--"you were so clever; you would knock this man
senseless! You would insist that you could fly the ship!"

The pilot's eyes still bulged with the fear he had just experienced.
"But, Herr Schwartzmann, it was you who told me--"

A barrage of unintelligible words cut his protest short. Schwartzmann
poured forth imprecations in an unknown tongue, then turned to the
others.

"Back!" he ordered. "Bah!--such men! The danger it iss over--yess! This
pilot, he will take us back safely."

He turned his attention now to the waiting Chet. "Herr Bullard, iss it
not--yess?"

He launched into extended apologies--he had wanted a look at this so
marvelous ship--he had spied upon it; he admitted it. But this murderous
attack was none of his doing; his men had got out of hand; and then he
had thought it best to take Chet, unconscious as he was and return with
him where he could have care.

       *       *       *       *       *

And Chet Bullard kept his eyes steadily upon the protesting man and said
nothing, but he was thinking of a number of things. There was Walt's
warning, "this Schwartzmann means mischief," and the faked message that
had brought him from the hospital to get the ship from its hiding place;
no, it was too much to believe. But Chet's eyes were unchanging, and he
nodded shortly in agreement as the other concluded.

"You will take us back?" Schwartzmann was asking. "I will repay you well
for what inconvenience we have caused. The ship, you will return it
safely to the place where it was?"

And Chet, after making and discarding a score of plans, knew there was
nothing else he could do. He swung the little metal ball into a
sharply-banked turn. The straight ray of light from an impossibly
brilliant sun struck now on a forward lookout; it shone across the
shoulder of a great globe to make a white, shining crescent as of a
giant moon. It was Earth; and Chet brought the bow-sights to bear on
that far-off target, while again the thunderous blast was built up to
drive them back along the trackless path on which they had come. But he
wondered, as he pressed forward on the control, what the real plan of
this man, Schwartzmann, might be....

       *       *       *       *       *

Less than half an hour brought them to the Repelling Area, and Chet felt
the upward surge as he approached it. Here, above this magnetic field
where gravitation's pull was nullified, had been the air-lanes for fast
liners. Empty lanes they were now; for the R. A., as the flying
fraternity knew it--the Heaviside Layer of an earlier day--marked the
danger line above which the mysterious serpents lay in wait. Only the
speed of Chet's ship saved them; more than one of the luminous monsters
was in sight as he plunged through the invisible R. A. and threw on
their bow-blast strongly to check their fall.

Then, as he set a course that would take them to that section of the
Arctic waste where the ship had been, he pondered once more upon the
subject of this Schwartzmann of the shifty eyes and the glib tongue and
of his men who had "got out of hand" and had captured this ship.

"Why in thunder are we back here?" Chet asked himself in perplexity.
"This big boy means to keep the ship; and, whatever his plans may have
been before, he will never stop short of the Dark Moon now that he has
seen the old boat perform. Then why didn't he keep on when he was
started? Had the serpents frightened him back?"

He was still mentally proposing questions to which there seemed no
answer when he felt the pressure of a metal tube against his back. The
voice of Schwartzmann was in his ears.

"This is a detonite pistol"--that voice was no longer unctuous and
self-deprecating--"one move and I'll plant a charge inside you that will
smash you to a jelly!"

       *       *       *       *       *

There were hands that gripped Chet before he could turn; his arms were
wrenched backward; he was helpless in the grip of Schwartzmann's men.
The former pilot sprang forward.

"Take control, Max!" Schwartzmann snapped; but he followed it with a
question while the pilot was reaching for the ball. "You can fly it for
sure, Max?"

The man called Max answered confidently.

"_Ja wohl!_" he said with eager assurance. "Up top there would have been
no trouble yet for that _verdammt, verloren_ valve. That one
experimental trip is enough--I fly it!"

Those who held Chet were binding his wrists. He was thrown to the floor
while his feet were tied, and, as a last precaution, a gag was forced
into his mouth. Schwartzmann left this work to his men. He paid no
attention to Chet; he was busy at the radio.

He placed the sending-levers in strange positions that would effect a
blending of wave lengths which only one receiving instrument could pick
up. He spoke cryptic words into the microphone, then dropped into a
language that was unfamiliar to Chet. Yet, even then, it was plain that
he was giving instructions, and he repeated familiar words.

"Harkness," Chet heard him say, and, "--Delacouer--_ja!_--Mam'selle
Delacouer!"

Then, leaving the radio, he said, "Put my ship inside the hangar;" and
the pilot, Max, grounded their own ship to allow the men to leap out and
float into the big building the big aircraft in which Schwartzmann had
come.

"Now close the doors!" their leader ordered. "Leave everything as it
was!" And to the pilot he gave added instructions: "There iss no air
traffic here. You will to forty thousand ascend, und you will wait over
this spot." Contemptuously he kicked aside the legs of the bound man
that he might walk back into the cabin.

       *       *       *       *       *

The take-off was not as smooth as it would have been had Chet's slim
hands been on the controls; this burly one who handled them now was not
accustomed to such sensitivity. But Chet felt the ship lift and lurch,
then settle down to a swift, spiralling ascent. Now he lay still as he
tried to ponder the situation.

"Now what dirty work are they up to?" he asked himself. He had seen a
sullen fury on the dark face of Herr Schwartzmann as he spoke the names
of Walt and Diane into the radio. Chet remembered the look now, and he
struggled vainly with the cords about his wrists. Even a detonite pistol
with its tiny grain of explosive in the end of each bullet would not
check him--not when Walt and Diane were endangered. And the expression
on that heavy, scowling face had told him all too clearly that some real
danger threatened.

But the cords held fast on his swollen wrists. His head was still
throbbing; and even his side, not entirely healed, was adding to the
torment that beat upon him--beat and beat with his pulsing blood--until
the beating faded out into unconsciousness....

Dimly he knew they were soaring still higher as their radio picked up
the warning of an approaching patrol ship; vaguely, he realized that
they descended again to a level of observation. Chet knew in some corner
of his brain that Schwartzmann was watching from an under lookout with a
powerful glass, and he heard his excited command:

"Down--go slowly, down!... They are landing.... They have entered the
hangar. Now, down with it. Max! Down! down!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The plunging fall of the ship roused Chet from his stupor. He felt the
jolt of the clumsy landing despite the snow-cushioned ground; he heard
plainly the exclamations from beyond an open port--the startled oath in
Walter Harkness' voice, and the stinging scorn in the words of Diane
Delacouer.

Herr Schwartzmann had been in the employ of Mademoiselle Delacouer, but
he was taking orders no longer. There was a sound of scuffling feet, and
once the thud of a blow.... Then Chet watched with heavy, hopeless eyes
as the familiar faces of Diane and Walt appeared in the doorway. Their
hands were bound; they, too, were threatened with a slim-barreled pistol
in the hands of the smirking, exultant Schwartzmann.

A tall, thin-faced man whom Chet had not seen before followed them into
the room. The newcomer was motioned forward now, as Schwartzmann called
an order to the pilot:

"All right; now we go. Max! Herr Doktor Kreiss will give you the
bearings; he knows his way among the stars."

Herr Schwartzmann doubled over in laughing appreciation of his own
success before he straightened up and regarded his captives with cold
eyes.

"Such a pleasure!" he mocked; "such charming passengers to take with me
on my first trip into space; this ship, it iss not so goot. I will build
better ships later on; I will let you see them when I shall come to
visit you."

He laughed again at sight of the wondering looks in the eyes of the
three; stooping, he jerked the gag from Chet's mouth.

"You do not understand," he exclaimed. "I should haff explained. You
see, _meine guten Freunde_, we go--ach!--you have guessed it already! We
go to the Dark Moon. I am pleased to take you with me on the trip out;
but coming back, I will have so much to bring--there will be no room for
passengers.

"I could have killed you here," he said; and his mockery gave place for
a moment to a savage tone, "but the patrol ships, they are everywhere.
But I have influence here und there--I arranged that your flask of gas
should be charged with explosive, I discredited you, and yet I could not
so great a risk take as to kill you all.

"So came inspiration! I called your foolish young friend here from the
hospital. I ordered him to go at once to the ship hidden where I could
not find, and I signed the name of Herr Harkness."

       *       *       *       *       *

Chet caught the silent glances of his friends who could yet smile
hopefully through the other emotions that possessed them. He ground his
teeth as the smooth voice of Herr Schwartzmann went on:

"He led me here: the young fool! Then I sent for you--und this time I
signed his name--und you came. So simple!

"Und now we go in _my_ ship to _my_ new world. And," he added savagely,
"if one of you makes the least trouble, he will land on the Dark
Moon--yess!--but he will land hard, from ten thousand feet up!"

The great generator was roaring. To Chet came the familiar lift of the
R. A. effect. They were beyond the R. A.; they were heading out and away
from Earth; and his friends were captives through his own unconscious
treachery, carried out into space in their own ship, with the hands of
an enemy gripping the controls....

Chet's groan, as he turned his face away from the others who had tried
to smile cheerfully, had nothing to do with the pain of his body. It was
his mind that was torturing him.

But he muttered broken words as he lay there, words that had reference
to one Schwartzmann. "I'll get him, damn him! I'll get him!" he was
promising himself.

And Herr Schwartzmann, who was clever, would have proved his cleverness
still more by listening. For a Mister Pilot of the World does not get
his rating on vain boasts. He must know first his flying, his ships and
his air--but he is apt to make good in other ways as well.



CHAPTER III

_Out of Control_


Walter Harkness had built this ship with Chet's help. They had designed
it for space-travel. It was the first ship to leave the Earth under its
own power, reach another heavenly body, and come back for a safe
landing. But they had not installed any luxuries for the passengers.

In the room where the three were confined, there were no
self-compensating chairs such as the high-liners used. But the
acceleration of the speeding ship was constant, and the rear wall became
their floor where they sat or paced back and forth. Their bonds had been
removed, and one of Harkness' hands was gripping Diane's where they sat
side by side. Chet was briskly limbering his cramped muscles.

He glanced at the two who sat silent nearby, and he knew what was in
their minds--knew that each was thinking of the other, forgetting their
own danger; and it was these two who had saved his life on their first
adventure out in space.

Walt--one man who was never spoiled by his millions; and Diane--straight
and true as they make 'em! Some way, somehow, they must be saved--thus
ran his thoughts--but it looked bad for them all. Schwartzmann?--no use
kidding themselves about that lad; he was one bad hombre. The best they
could hope for was to be marooned on the Dark Moon--left there to live
or to die amid those savage surroundings; and the worst that might
happen--! But Chet refused to think of what alternatives might occur to
the ugly, distorted mind of the man who had them at his mercy.

There was no echo of these thoughts when he spoke; the smile that
flashed across his lean face brought a brief response from the
despondent countenances of his companions.

"Well," Chet observed, and ran his hand through a tangle of blond hair,
"I have heard that the Schwartzmann lines give service, and I reckon
I heard right. Here we were wanting to go back to the Dark Moon,
and,"--he paused to point toward a black portlight where occasional
lights flashed past--"I'll say we're going; going somewhere at least.
All I hope is that that Maxie boy doesn't find the Dark Moon at about
ten thousand per. He may be a great little skipper on a nice, slow,
five-hundred-maximum freighter, but not on this boat. I don't like his
landings."

       *       *       *       *       *

Diane Delacouer raised her eyes to smile approvingly upon him. "You're
good, Chet," she said; "you are a darn good sport. They knock you down
out of control, and you nose right back up for a forty-thousand foot
zoom. And you try to carry us with you. Well, I guess it's time we got
over our gloom. Now what is going to happen?"

"I'll tell you," said Walter Harkness, looking at his watch: "if that
fool pilot of Schwartzmann's doesn't cut his stern thrust and build up a
bow resistance, we'll overshoot our mark and go tearing on a few hundred
thousand miles in space."

Diane was playing up to Chet's lead.

"_Bien!_" she exclaimed. "A few million, perhaps! Then we may see some
of those Martians we've been speculating about. I hear they are
handsome, my Walter--much better looking than you. Maybe this is all for
the best after all!"

"Say," Harkness protested, "if you two idiots don't know enough to worry
as you ought, I don't see any reason why I should do all the heavy
worrying for the whole crowd. I guess you've got the right idea at that:
take what comes when it gets here--or when we get there."

Small wonder, thought Chet, that Herr Schwartzmann stared at them in
puzzled bewilderment when he flung open the door, and took one long
stride into the room. Stocky, heavy-muscled, he stood regarding them, a
frown of suspicion drawing his face into ugly lines. Plainly he was
disturbed by this laughing good-humor where he had expected misery and
hopelessness and tears. He moved the muzzle of a detonite pistol back
and forth.

       *       *       *       *       *

"You haff been drinking!" he stated at last. "You are intoxicated--all
of you!" His eyes darted searching glances about the little room that
was too bare to hide any cause for inebriation.

It was Mam'selle Diane who answered him with an emphatic shake of her
dark head; an engaging smile tugged at the corners of her lips. "_Mais
non!_ my dear Herr Schwartzmann," she assured him; "it is joy--just
happiness at again approaching our Moon--and in such good company, too."

"Fortunes of war, Schwartzmann," declared Harkness; "we know how to
accept them, and we don't hold it against you. We are down now, but your
turn will come."

The man's reply was a sputtering of rage in words that neither Chet nor
Harkness could understand. The latter turned to the girl with a
question.

"Did you get it, Diane? What did he say?"

"I think I would not care to translate it literally," said Diane
Delacouer, twisting her soft mouth into an expression of distaste; "but,
speaking generally, he disagrees with you."

Herr Schwartzmann was facing Harkness belligerently. "You think you know
something! What is it?" he demanded. "You are under my feet; I kick you
as I would _meinen Hund_ and you can do nothing." He aimed a savage kick
into the air to illustrate his meaning, and Harkness' face flushed
suddenly scarlet.

       *       *       *       *       *

Whatever retort was on Harkness' tongue was left unspoken; a sharp look
from Chet, who brought his fingers swiftly to his lips in a gesture of
silence, checked the reply. The action was almost unconscious on Chet's
part; it was as unpremeditated as the sudden thought that flashed
abruptly into his mind--

They were helpless; they were in this brute's power beyond the slightest
doubt. Schwartzmann's words, "You know something. What is it?" had fired
a swift train of thought.

The idea was nebulous as yet ... but if they could throw a scare into
this man--make him think there was danger ahead.... Yes, that was it:
make Schwartzmann think they knew of dangers that he could not avoid.
They had been there before: make this man afraid to kill them. The
dreadful alternative that Chet had feared to think of might be
averted....

All this came in an instantaneous, flashing correlation of his conscious
thoughts.

"I'll tell you what we mean," he told Schwartzmann. He even leaned
forward to shake an impressive finger before the other's startled face.
"I'll tell you first of all that it doesn't make a damn bit of
difference who is on top--or it won't in a few hours more. We'll all be
washed out together.

"I've landed once on the Dark Moon; I know what will happen. And do you
know how fast we are going? Do you know the Moon's speed as it
approaches? Had you thought what you will look like when that fool pilot
rams into it head on?

"And that isn't all!" He grinned derisively into Schwartzmann's flushed
face, disregarding the half-raised pistol; it was as if some secret
thought had filled him with overpowering amusement. His broad grin grew
into a laugh. "That isn't all, big boy. What will you do if you do land?
What will you do when you open the ports and the--" He cut his words
short, and the smile, with all other expression, was carefully erased
from his young face.

"No, I reckon I won't spoil the surprise. We got through it all right;
maybe you will, too--maybe!"

       *       *       *       *       *

And again it was Diane who played up to Chet's lead without a moment's
hesitation.

"Chet," she demanded, "aren't you going to warn him? You would not allow
him and his men to be--"

She stopped in apparent horror of the unsaid words; Chet gave her an
approving glance.

"We'll see about that when we get there, Diane."

He turned abruptly back to Schwartzmann, "I'll forget what a rotten
winner you have been; I'll help you out: I'll take the controls if you
like. Of course, your man, Max, may set us down without damage; then
again--"

"Take them!" Schwartzmann ungraciously made an order of his acceptance.
"Take the controls, Herr Bullard! But if you make a single false move!"
The menacing pistol completed the threat.

But "Herr Bullard" merely turned to his companion with a level,
understanding look. "Come on," he said; "you can both help in working
out our location."

He stepped before the burly man that Diane might precede them through
the door. And he felt the hand of Walt Harkness on his arm in a pressure
that told what could not be said aloud.

       *       *       *       *       *

There were pallid-faced men in the cabin through which they passed; men
who stared and stared from the window-ports into the black immensity of
space. Chet, too, stopped to look; there had been no port-holes in that
inner room where they had been confined.

He knew what to expect; he knew how awe-inspiring would be the sight of
strange, luminous bodies--great islands of light--masses of
animalculae--that glowed suddenly, then melted again into velvet black.
A whirl of violet grew almost golden in sudden motion; Chet knew it for
an invisible monster of space. Glowingly luminous as it threw itself
upon a subtle mass of shimmering light, it faded like a flickering flame
and went dark as its motion ceased.

Life!--life, everywhere in this ocean of space! And on every hand was
death. "Not surprising," Chet realized, "that these other Earthmen are
awed and trembling!"

The sun was above them; its light struck squarely down through the upper
ports. This was polarized light--there was nothing outside to reflect or
refract it--and, coming as a straight beam from above, it made a
brilliant circle upon the floor from which it was diffused throughout
the room. It was as if the floor itself was the illuminating agent.

No eye could bear to look into the glare from above; nor was there need,
for the other ports drew the eyes with their black depths of unplumbed
space.

Black!--so velvet as to seem almost tangible! Could one have reached out
a hand, that blackness, it seemed, must be a curtain that the hand could
draw aside, where unflickering points of light pricked through the dark
to give promise of some radiant glory beyond.

       *       *       *       *       *

They had seen it before, these three, yet Chet caught the eyes of
Harkness and Diane and knew that his own eyes must share something of
the look he saw in theirs--something of reverent wonder and a strange
humility before this evidence of transcendent greatness.

Their own immediate problem seemed gone. The tyranny of this glowering
human and his men--the efforts of the whole world and its struggling
millions--how absurdly unimportant it all was! How it faded to
insignificance! And yet....

Chet came from the reverie that held him. There was one man by whom this
beauty was unseen. Herr Schwartzmann was angrily ordering them on, and,
surprisingly, Chet laughed aloud.

This problem, he realized, was _his_ problem--his to solve with the help
of the other two. And it was not insignificant; he knew with some sudden
wordless knowledge that there was nothing in all the great scheme but
that it had its importance. This vastness that was beyond the power of
human mind to grasp ceased to be formidable--he was part of it. He felt
buoyed up; and he led the way confidently toward the control-room door
where Schwartzmann stood.

The scientist, whom Schwartzmann had called Herr Doktor Kreiss, was
beside the pilot. He was leaning forward to search the stars in the
blackness ahead, but the pilot turned often to stare through the rear
lookouts as if drawn in fearful fascination by what was there. Chet took
the controls at Schwartzmann's order; the pilot saluted with a trembling
hand and vanished into the cabin at the rear.

"Ready for flying orders, Doctor," the new pilot told Herr Kreiss. "I'll
put her where you say--within reason."

Behind him he heard the choked voice of Mademoiselle Diane: "_Regardez!
Ah, mon Dieu_, the beauty of it! This loveliness--it hurts!"

       *       *       *       *       *

One hand was pressed to her throat; her face was turned as the pilot's
had been that she might stare and stare at a quite impossible moon--a
great half-disk of light in the velvet dark.

"This loveliness--it hurts!" Chet looked, too, and knew what Diane was
feeling. There was a catch of emotion in his own throat--a feeling that
was almost fear.

A giant half-moon!--and he knew it was the Earth. Golden Earth-light
came to them in a flooding glory; the blazing sun struck on it from
above to bring out half the globe in brilliant gold that melted to
softest, iridescent, rainbow tints about its edge. Below, hung
motionless in the night, was another sphere. Like a reflection of Earth
in the depths of some Stygian lake, the old moon shone, too, in a
half-circle of light.

Small wonder that these celestial glories brought a gasp of delight from
Diane, or drew into lines of fear the face of that other pilot who saw
only his own world slipping away. But Chet Bullard, Master Pilot of the
World, swung back to scan a star-chart that the scientist was holding,
then to search out a similar grouping in the black depths into which
they were plunging, and to bring the cross-hairs of a rigidly mounted
telescope upon that distant target.

"How far?" he asked himself in a half-spoken thought, "--how far have we
come?"

       *       *       *       *       *

There was an instrument that ticked off the seconds in this seemingly
timeless void. He pressed a small lever beside it, and, beneath a glass
that magnified the readings, there passed the time-tape. Each hour and
minute was there; each movement of the controls was indicated; each
trifling variation in the power of the generator's blast. Chet made some
careful computations and passed the paper to Harkness, who tilted the
time-tape recorder that he might see the record.

"Check this, will you, Walt?" Chet was asking. "It is based on the time
of our other trip, acceleration assumed as one thousand miles per hour
per hour out of air--"

The scientist interrupted; he spoke in English that was carefully
precise.

"It should lie directly ahead--the Dark Moon. I have calculated with
exactness."

Walter Harkness had snatched up a pair of binoculars. He swung sharply
from lookout to lookout while he searched the heavens.

"It's damned lucky for us that you made a slight error," Chet was
telling the other.

"Error?" Kreiss challenged. "Impossible!"

"Then you and I are dead right this minute," Chet told him. "We are
crossing the orbit of the Dark Moon--crossing at twenty thousand miles
per hour relative to Earth, slightly in excess of that figure relative
to the Dark Moon. If it had been here--!" He had been watching Harkness
anxiously; he bit off his words as the binoculars were thrust into his
hand.

"There she comes," Harkness told him quietly; "it's up to you!"

But Chet did not need the glasses. With his unaided eyes he could see a
faint circle of violet light. It lay ahead and slightly above, and it
grew visibly larger as he watched. A ring of nothingness, whose outline
was the faintest shimmering halo; more of the distant stars winked out
swiftly behind that ghostly circle; it was the Dark Moon!--and it was
rushing upon them!

       *       *       *       *       *

Chet swung an instrument upon it. He picked out a jet of violet light
that could be distinguished, and he followed it with the cross-hairs
while he twirled a micrometer screw; then he swiftly copied the reading
that the instrument had inscribed. The invisible disk with its ghostly
edges of violet was perceptibly larger as he slammed over the
control-ball to up-end them in air.

Under the control-room's nitron illuminator the cheeks of Herr Doktor
Kreiss were pale and bloodless as if his heart had ceased to function.
Harkness had moved quietly back to the side of Diane Delacouer and was
holding her two hands firmly in his.

The very air seemed charged with the quick tenseness of emotions.
Schwartzmann must have sensed it even before he saw the onrushing death.
Then he leaped to a lookout, and, an instant later, sprang at Chet
calmly fingering the control.

"Fool!" he screamed, "you would kill us all? Turn away from it! Away
from it!"

He threw himself in a frenzy upon the pilot. The detonite pistol was
still in his hand. "Quick!" he shouted. "Turn us!"

Harkness moved swiftly, but the scientist, Kreiss, was nearer; it was he
who smashed the gun-hand down with a quick blow and snatched at the
weapon.

Schwartzmann was beside himself with rage. "You, too?" he demanded.
"Giff it me--traitor!"

       *       *       *       *       *

But the tall man stood uncompromisingly erect. "Never," he said, "have I
seen a ship large enough to hold two commanding pilots. I take your
orders in all things, Herr Schwartzmann--all but this. If we die--we
die."

Schwartzmann sputtered: "We should haff turned away. Even yet we might.
It will--it will--"

"Perhaps," agreed Kreiss, still in that precise, class-room voice,
"perhaps it will. But this I know: with an acceleration of one thousand
m.p.h. per hour as this young man with the badge of a Master Pilot says,
we cannot hope, in the time remaining, to overcome our present velocity;
we can never check our speed and build up a relatively opposite motion
before that globe would overwhelm us. If he has figured correctly, this
young man--if he has found the true resultant of our two motions of
approach--and if he has swung us that we may drive out on a line
perpendicular to the resultant--"

"I think I have," said Chet quietly. "If I haven't, in just a few
minutes it won't matter to any of us; it won't matter at all." He met
the gaze of Herr Doktor Kreiss who regarded him curiously.

"If we escape," the scientist told him, "you will understand that I am
under Herr Schwartzmann's command; I will be compelled to shoot you if
he so orders. But, Herr Bullard, at this moment I would be very proud to
shake your hand."

And Chet, as he extended his hand, managed a grin that was meant also
for the tense, white-faced Harkness and Diane. "I like to see 'em dealt
that way," he said, "--right off the top of the deck."

But the smile was erased as he turned back to the lookout. He had to
lean close to see all of the disk, so swiftly was the approaching globe
bearing down.

       *       *       *       *       *

It came now from the side; it swelled larger and larger before his eyes.
Their own ship seemed unmoving; only the unending thunder of the
generator told of the frantic efforts to escape. They seemed hung in
space; their own terrific speed seemed gone--added to and fused with the
orbital motion of the Dark Moon to bring swiftly closer that messenger
of death. The circle expanded silently; became menacingly huge.

Chet was whispering softly to himself: "If I'd got hold of her an hour
sooner--thirty minutes--or even ten.... We're doing over twenty thousand
an hour combined speed, and we'll never really hit it.... We'll never
reach the ground."

He turned this over in his mind, and he nodded gravely in confirmation
of his own conclusions. It seemed somehow of tremendous importance that
he get this clearly thought out--this experience that was close ahead.

"Skin friction!" he added. "It will burn us up!"

He has a sudden vision of a flaming star blazing a hot trail through the
atmosphere of this globe; there would be only savage eyes to follow
it--to see the line of fire curving swiftly across the heavens.... He,
himself, was seeing that blazing meteor so plainly....

His eyes found the lookout; the globe was gone. They were close--close!
Only for the enveloping gas that made of this a dark moon, they would be
seeing the surface, the outlines of continents.

Chet strained his eyes--to see nothing! It was horrible. It had been
fearful enough to watch that expanding globe.... He was abruptly aware
that the outer rim of the lookout was red!

For Chet Bullard, time ceased to have meaning; what were seconds--or
centuries--as he stared at that glowing rim? He could not have told. The
outer shell of their ship--it was radiant--shining red-hot in the night.
And above the roar of the generator came a nerve-ripping shriek. A wind
like a blast from hell was battering and tearing at their ship.

"Good-by!" He has tried to call; the demoniac shrieking from without
smothered his voice. One arm was across his eyes in an unconscious
motion. The air of the little room was stifling. He forced his arm down;
he would meet death face to face.

       *       *       *       *       *

The lookout was ringed with fire; it was white with the terrible white
of burning steel!--it was golden!--then cherry red! It was dying, as the
fire dies from glowing metal plunged in its tempering bath--or thrown
into the cold reaches of space!

In Chet's ears was the roar of a detonite motor. He tried to realize
that the lookouts were rimmed with black--cold, fireless black! An
incredible black! There were stars there like pinpoints of flame! But
conviction came only when he saw from a lookout in another wall a circle
of violet that shrank and dwindled as he watched....

A hand was gripping his shoulder; he heard the voice of Walter Harkness
speaking, while Walt's hand crept to raise the triple star that was
pinned to his blouse.

"Master Pilot of the World!" Harkness was saying. "That doesn't cover
enough territory, old man. It's another rating that you're entitled to,
but I'm damned if I know what it is."

And, for once, Chet's ready smile refused to form. He stared dumbly at
his friend; his eyes passed to the white face of Mademoiselle Diane;
then back to the controls, where his hand, without conscious volition,
was reaching to move a metal ball.

"Missed it!" he assured himself. "Hit the fringe of the air--just the
very outside. If we'd been twenty thousand feet nearer!... He was moving
the ball: their bow was swinging. He steadied it and set the ship on an
approximate course.

"A stern chase!" he said aloud. "All our momentum to be overcome--but
it's easy sailing now!"

He pushed the ball forward to the limit, and the explosion-motor gave
thunderous response.



CHAPTER IV

_The Return to the Dark Moon_


No man faces death in so shocking a form without feeling the effects.
Death had flicked them with a finger of flame and had passed them by.
Chet Bullard found his hands trembling uncontrollably as he fumbled for
a book and opened it. The tables of figures printed there were blurred
at first to his eyes, but he forced himself to forget the threat that
was past, for there was another menace to consider now.

And uppermost in his mind, when his thoughts came back into some
approximate order, was condemnation of himself for an opportunity that
was gone.

"I could have jumped him," he told himself with bitter self-reproach; "I
could have grabbed the pistol from Kreiss--the man was petrified." And
then Chet had to admit a fact there was no use of denying: "I was as
paralyzed as he was," he said, and only knew he had spoken aloud when he
saw the puzzled look that crossed Harkness' face.

Harkness and Diane had drawn near. In a far corner of the little room
Schwartzmann had motioned to Kreiss to join him; they were as far away
from the others as could be managed. Schwartzmann, Chet judged, needed
some scientific explanation of these disturbing events; also he needed
to take the detonite pistol from Kreiss' hand and jam it into his own
hand. His eyes, at Chet's unconscious exclamation, had come with instant
suspicion toward the two men.

"Forty-seven hours, Walt," the pilot said, and repeated it loudly for
Schwartzmann's benefit; "--forty-seven hours before we return to this
spot. We are driving out into space; we've crossed the orbit of the Dark
Moon, and we're doing twenty thousand miles an hour.

"Now we must decelerate. It will take twenty hours to check us to zero
speed; then twenty-seven more to shoot us back to this same point in
space, allowing, of course, for a second deceleration. The same figuring
with only slight variation will cover a return to the Dark Moon. As we
sweep out I can allow for the moon-motion, and we'll hit it at a safe
landing speed on the return trip this time."

       *       *       *       *       *

Chet was paying little attention to his companion as he spoke. His eyes,
instead, were covertly watching the bulky figure of Schwartzmann. As he
finished, their captor shot a volley of questions at the scientist
beside him; he was checking up on the pilot's remarks.

Chet was leaning forward to stare intently from a lookout, his head was
close to that of Harkness.

"Listen, Walt," he whispered; "the Moon's out of sight; it's easy to
lose. Maybe I can't find it again, anyway--it's going to take some nice
navigating--but I'll miss it by ten thousand miles if you say so, and
even the Herr Doktor can't check me on it."

Chet saw the eyes of Schwartzmann grow intent. He reached ostentatiously
for another book of tables, and he seated himself that he might figure
in comfort.

"Just check me on this," he told Harkness.

He put down meaningless figures, while the man beside him remained
silent. Over and over he wrote them--would Harkness never reach a
decision?--over and over, until--

"I don't agree with that," Harkness told him and reached for the stylus
in Chet's hand. And, while he appeared to make his own swift
computations, there were words instead of figures that flowed from his
pen.

"Only alternative: return to Earth," he wrote. "Then S will hold off;
wait in upper levels. Kreiss will give him new bearings. We'll shoot out
again and do it better next time. Kreiss is nobody's fool. S means to
maroon us on Moon--kill us perhaps. He'll get us there, sure. We might
as well go now."

       *       *       *       *       *

Chet had seen a movement across the room. "Let's start all over again,"
he broke in abruptly. He covered the writing with a clean sheet of paper
where he set down more figures. He was well under way when
Schwartzmann's quick strides brought him towering above them. Again the
detonite pistol was in evidence; its small black muzzle moved steadily
from Harkness to Chet.

"For your life--such as is left of it--you may thank Herr Doktor
Kreiss," he told Chet. "I thought at first you would have attempted to
kill us." His smile, as he regarded them, seemed to Chet to be entirely
evil. "You were near death twice, my dear Herr Bullard; and the danger
is not entirely removed.

"'Forty-seven hours' you have said; in forty-seven hours you will land
us on the Dark Moon. If you do not,"--he raised the pistol
suggestively--"remember that the pilot, Max, can always take us back to
Earth. You are not indispensable."

Chet looked at the dark face and its determined and ominous scowl.
"You're a cheerful sort of soul, aren't you?" he demanded. "Do you have
any faint idea of what a job this is? Do you know we will shoot another
two hundred thousand miles straight out before I can check this ship?
Then we come back; and meanwhile the Dark Moon has gone on its way. Had
you thought that there's a lot of room to get lost in out here?"

"Forty-seven hours!" said Schwartzmann. "I would advise that you do not
lose your way."

Chet shot one quizzical glance at Harkness.

"That," he said, "makes it practically unanimous."

Schwartzmann, with an elaborate show of courtesy, escorted Diane
Delacouer to a cabin where she might rest. At a questioning look between
Diane and Harkness, their captor reassured them.

"Mam'selle shall be entirely safe," he said. "She may join you here
whenever she wishes. As for you,"--he was speaking to Harkness--"I will
permit you to stay here. I could tie you up but this iss not necessary."

And Harkness must have agreed that it was indeed unnecessary, for either
Kreiss or Max, or some other of Schwartzmann's men, was at his side
continuously from that moment on.

       *       *       *       *       *

Chet would have liked a chance for a quiet talk and an exchange of
ideas. It seemed that somewhere, somehow, he should be able to find an
answer to their problem. He stared moodily out into the blackness ahead,
where a distant star was seemingly their goal. Harkness stood at his
side or paced back and forth in the little room, until he threw himself,
at last, upon a cot.

And always the great stern-blast roared; muffled by the insulated walls,
its unceasing thunder came at last to be unheard. To the pilot there was
neither sound nor motion. His directional sights were unswervingly upon
that distant star ahead. Seemingly they were suspended, helpless and
inert, in a black void. But for the occasional glowing masses of strange
living substance that flashed past in this ocean of space, he must
almost have believed they were motionless--a dead ship in a dead, black
night.

But the luminous things flashed and were gone--and their coming,
strangely, was from astern; they flicked past and vanished up ahead.
And, by this, Chet knew that their tremendous momentum was unchecked.
Though he was using the great stern blast to slow the ship, it was
driving stern-first into outer space. Nor, for twenty hours, was there a
change, more than a slackening of the breathless speed with which the
lights went past.

Twenty hours--and then Chet knew that they were in all truth hung
motionless, and he prayed that his figures that told him this were
correct.... More timeless minutes, an agony of waiting--and a
dimly-glowing mass that was ahead approached their bow, swung off and
vanished far astern. And, with its going, Chet knew that the return trip
was begun.

He gave Harkness the celestial bearing marks and relinquished the helm.
"Full speed ahead as you are," he ordered; "then at nineteen-forty on
W.S. time, we'll cut it and ease on bow repulsion to the limit."

And, despite the strangeness of their surroundings, the ceaseless,
murmuring roar of the exhaust, the weird world outside, where endless
space was waiting for man's exploration--despite the deadly menace that
threatened, Chet dropped his head upon his outflung arms and slept.

       *       *       *       *       *

To his sleep-drugged brain it was scarcely a moment until a hand was
dragging at his shoulder.

"Forty-seven hours!" the voice of Schwartzmann was saying.

And: "Some navigating!" Harkness was exclaiming in flattering amazement.
"Wake up, Chet! Wake up! The Dark Moon's in sight. You've hit it on the
nose, old man: she isn't three points off the sights!"

The bow-blast was roaring full on. Ahead of them Chet's sleepy eyes
found a circle of violet; and he rubbed his eyes savagely that he might
take his bearings on Sun and Earth.

As it had been before, the Earth was a giant half-moon; like a
mirror-sphere it shot to them across the vast distance the reflected
glory of the sun. But the globe ahead was a ghostly world. Its black
disk was lost in the utter blackness of space. It was a circle, marked
only by the absence of star-points and by the halo of violet glow that
edged it about.

Chet cut down the repelling blast. He let the circle enlarge, then swung
the ship end for end in mid-space that the more powerful stern exhaust
might be ready to counteract the gravitational pull of the new world.

Again those impalpable clouds surrounded them. Here was the enveloping
gas that made this a dark moon--the gas, if Harkness' theory was
correct, that let the sun's rays pass unaltered; that took the light
through freely to illumine this globe, but that barred its return
passage as reflected light.

Black--dead black was the void into which they were plunging, until the
darkness gave way before a gentle glow that enfolded their ship. The
golden light enveloped them in growing splendor. Through every lookout
it was flooding the cabin with brilliant rays, until, from below them,
directly astern of the ship, where the thundering blast checked their
speed of descent, emerged a world.

       *       *       *       *       *

And, to Chet Bullard, softly fingering the controls of the first ship of
space--to Chet Bullard, whose uncanny skill had brought the tiny speck
that was their ship safely back from the dark recesses of the
unknown--there came a thrill that transcended any joy of the first
exploration.

Here was water in great seas of unreal hue--and those seas were his!
Vast continents, ripe for adventure and heavy with treasure--and they,
too, were his! His own world--his and Diane's and Walt's! Who was this
man, Schwartzmann, that dared dream of violating their possessions?

A slender tube pressed firmly, uncompromisingly, into his back to give
the answer to his question. "Almost I wish you had missed it!" Herr
Schwartzmann was saying. "But now you will land; you will set us down in
some place that you know. No tricks, Herr Bullard! You are clever, but
not clever enough for that. We will land, yess, where you know it is
safe."

From the lookout, the man stared for a moment with greedy eyes; then
brought his gaze back to the three. His men, beside Harkness and Diane,
were alert; the scientist, Kreiss, stood close to Chet.

"A nice little world," Schwartzmann told them. "Herr Harkness, you have
filed claims on it; who am I to dispute with the great Herr Harkness?
Without question it iss yours!"

He laughed loudly, while his eyes narrowed between creasing wrinkles of
flesh. "You shall enjoy it," he told them; "--all your life."

And Chet, as he caught the gaze of Harkness and Diane, wondered how long
this enjoyment would last. "All your life!" But this was rather
indefinite as a measure of time.



CHAPTER V

_A Desperate Act_


The ship that Chet Bullard and Harkness had designed had none of the
instruments for space navigation that the ensuing years were to bring.
Chet's accuracy was more the result of that flyer's sixth sense--that
same uncanny power that had served aviators so well in an earlier day.
But Chet was glad to see his instruments registering once more as he
approached a new world.

Even the sonoflector was recording; its invisible rays were darting
downward to be reflected back again from the surface below. That
absolute altitude recording was a joy to read; it meant a definite
relationship with the world.

"I'll hold her at fifty thousand," he told Harkness. "Watch for some
outline that you can remember from last time."

There was an irregular area of continental size; only when they had
crossed it did Harkness point toward an outflung projection of land.
"That peninsula," he exclaimed; "we saw that before! Swing south and
inland.... Now down forty, and east of south.... This ought to be the
spot."

Perhaps Harkness, too, had the flyer's indefinable power of orientation.
He guided Chet in the downward flight, and his pointing finger aimed at
last at a cluster of shadows where a setting sun brought mountain ranges
into strong relief. Chet held the ship steady, hung high in the air,
while the quick-spreading mantle of night swept across the world below.
And, at last, when the little world was deep-buried in shadow, they saw
the red glow of fires from a hidden valley in the south.

"Fire Valley!" said Chet, "Don't say anything about me being a
navigator. Wait, you've brought us home, sure enough."

"Home!" He could not overcome this strange excitement of a homecoming to
their own world. Even the man who stood, pistol in hand, behind him was,
for the moment, forgotten.

Valley of a thousand fires!--scene of his former adventures! Each
fumerole was adding its smoky red to the fiery glow that illumined the
place. There were ragged mountains hemming it in; Chet's gaze passed on
to the valley's end.

Down there, where the fires ceased, there would be water; he would land
there! And the ship from Earth slipped down in a long slanting line to
cushion against its under exhausts, whose soft thunder echoed back from
a bare expanse of frozen lava. Then its roaring faded. The silvery shape
sank softly to its rocky bed as Chet cut the motor that had sung its
song of power since the moment when Schwartzmann had carried him
off--taken him from that frozen, forgotten corner of an incredibly
distant Earth.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Iss there air?" Schwartzmann demanded. Chet came to himself again with
a start: he saw the man peering from the lookout to right and to left as
if he would see all that there was in the last light of day.

"Strange!" he was grumbling to himself. "A strange place! But those
hills--I saw their markings--there will be metals there. I will explore;
later I return: I will mine them. Many ships I must build to establish a
line. The first transportation line of space. Me, Jacob Schwartzmann--I
will do it. I will haff more than anyone else on Earth; I will make them
all come to me crawling on their bellies!"

Chet saw the hard shine of the narrowed eyes. For an instant only, he
dared to consider the chance of leaping upon the big, gloating figure.
One blow and a quick snatch for the pistol!... Then he knew the folly of
such a plan: Schwartzmann's men were armed; he would be downed in
another second, his body a shattered, jellied mass.

Schwartzmann's thoughts had come back to the matter of air; he motioned
Chet and Harkness toward the port.

Diane Delacouer had joined them and she thrust herself quickly between
the two men. And, though Schwartzmann made a movement as if he would
snatch her back, he thought better of it and motioned for the portal to
be swung. Chet felt him close behind as he followed the others out into
the gathering dark.

       *       *       *       *       *

The air was heavy with the fragrance of night-blooming trees. They were
close to the edge of the lava flow. The rock was black in the light of a
starry sky; it dropped away abruptly to a lower glade. A stream made
silvery sparklings in the night, while beyond it were waving shadows of
strange trees whose trunks were ghostly white.

It was all so familiar.... Chet smiled understandingly as he saw Walt
Harkness' arm go about the trim figure of Diane Delacouer. No mannish
attire could disguise Diane's charms; nor could nerve and cold courage
that any man might envy detract from her femininity. Her dark, curling
hair was blowing back from her upraised face as the scented breezes
played about her; and the soft beauty of that face was enhanced by the
very starlight that revealed it.

It was here that Walt and Diane had learned to love; what wonder that
the fragrant night brought only remembrance, and forgetfulness of their
present plight. But Chet Bullard, while he saw them and smiled in
sympathy, knew suddenly that other eyes were watching, too; he felt the
bulky figure of Herr Schwartzmann beside him grow tense and rigid.

But Schwartzmann's voice, when he spoke, was controlled. "All right," he
called toward the ship; "all iss safe."

Yet Chet wondered at that sudden tensing, and an uneasy presentiment
found entrance to his thoughts. He must keep an eye on Schwartzmann,
even more than he had supposed.

Their captor had threatened to maroon them on the Dark Moon. Chet did
not question his intent. Schwartzmann would have nothing to gain by
killing them now. It would be better to leave them here, for he might
find them useful later on. But did he plan to leave them all or only
two? Behind the steady, expressionless eyes of the Master Pilot, strange
thoughts were passing....

       *       *       *       *       *

There were orders, at length, to return to the ship. "It is dark
already," Schwartzmann concluded; "nothing can be accomplished at night.

"How long are the days and nights?" he asked Harkness.

"Six hours." Harkness told him; "our little world spins fast."

"Then for six hours we sleep," was the order. And again Herr
Schwartzmann conducted Mademoiselle Delacouer to her cabin, while Chet
Bullard watched until he saw the man depart and heard the click of the
lock on the door of Diane's room.

Then for six hours he listened to the sounds of sleeping men who were
sprawled about him on the floor; for six hours he saw the one man who
sat on guard beside a light that made any thought of attack absurd. And
he cursed himself for a fool, as he lay wakeful and vainly planning--a
poor, futile fool who was unable to cope with this man who had bested
him.

Nineteen seventy-three!--and here were Harkness and Diane and himself,
captured by a man who was mentally and morally a misfit in a modern
world. A throw-back--that was Schwartzmann: Harkness had said it. He
belonged back in nineteen fourteen.

Harkness was beyond the watching guard; from where he lay came sounds of
restless movement. Chet knew that he was not alone in this mood of
hopeless dejection. There was no opportunity for talk; only with the
coming of day did the two find a chance to exchange a few quick words.

       *       *       *       *       *

The guard roused the others at the first sight of sunlight beyond the
ports. Harkness sauntered slowly to where Chet was staring from a
lookout. He, too, leaned to see the world outside, and he spoke
cautiously in a half-whisper:

"Not a chance, Chet. No use trying to bluff this big crook any more.
He's here, and he's safe; and he knows it as well as we do. We'll let
him ditch us--you and Diane and me. Then, when we're on our own, we'll
watch our chance. He will go crazy with what he finds--may get
careless--then we'll seize the ship--" His words ended abruptly. As
Schwartzmann came behind them, he was casually calling Chet's attention
to a fumerole from which a jet of vapor had appeared. Yellowish, it was;
and the wind was blowing it.

Chet turned away; he hardly saw Schwartzmann or heard Harkness' words.
He was thinking of what Walt had said. Yes, it was all they could do;
there was no chance of a fight with them now. But later!

Diane Delacouer came into the control-room at the instant; her dark eyes
were still lovely with sleep, but they brightened to flash an
encouraging smile toward the two men. There were five of Schwartzmann's
men in the ship besides the pilot and the scientist, Kreiss. They all
crowded in after Diane.

They must have had their orders in advance; Schwartzmann merely nodded,
and they sprang upon Harkness and Chet. The two were caught off their
guard; their arms were twisted behind them before resistance could be
thought of. Diane gave a cry, started forward, and was brushed back by a
sweep of Schwartzmann's arm. The man himself stood staring at them,
unmoving, wordless. Only the flesh about his eyes gathered into creases
to squeeze the eyes to malignant slits. There was no mistaking the
menace in that look.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I think we do not need you any more," he said at last. "I think, Herr
Harkness, this is the end of our little argument--and, Herr Harkness,
you lose. Now, I will tell you how it iss that you pay.

"You haff thought, perhaps, I would kill you. But you were wrong, as you
many times have been. You haff not appreciated my kindness; you haff not
understood that mine iss a heart of gold.

"Even I was not sure before we came what it iss best to do. But now I
know. I saw oceans and many lands on this world. I saw islands in those
oceans.

"You so clever are--such a great thinker iss Herr Harkness--and on one
of those islands you will haff plenty of time to think--yess! You can
think of your goot friend, Schwartzmann, and of his kindness to you."

"You are going to maroon us on an island?" asked Walt Harkness hoarsely.
Plainly his plans for seizing the ship were going awry. "You are going
to put the three of us off in some lost corner of this world?"

Chet Bullard was silent until he saw the figure of Harkness struggling
to throw off his two guards. "Walt," he called loudly, "take it easy!
For God's sake, Walt, keep your head!"

This, Chet sensed, was no time for resistance. Let Schwartzmann go ahead
with his plans; let him think them complacent and unresisting; let Max
pilot the ship; then watch for an opening when they could land a blow
that would count! He heard Schwartzmann laughing now, laughing as if he
were enjoying something more pleasing than the struggles of Walt.

       *       *       *       *       *

Chet was standing by the controls. The metal instrument-table was beside
him; above it was the control itself, a metal ball that hung suspended
in air within a cage of curved bars.

It was pure magic, this ball-control, where magnetic fields crossed and
recrossed; it was as if the one who held it were a genie who could throw
the ship itself where he willed. Glass almost enclosed the cage of bars,
and the whole instrument swung with the self-compensating platform that
adjusted itself to the "gravitation" of accelerated speed. The pilot,
Max, had moved across to the instrument-table, ready for the take-off.

Schwartzmann's laughter died to a gurgling chuckle. He wiped his eyes
before he replied to Harkness' question.

"Leave you," he said, "in one place? _Nein!_ One here, the other there.
A thousand miles apart, it might be. And not all three of you. That
would be so unkind--"

He interrupted himself to call to Kreiss who was opening the port.

"No," he ordered: "keep it closed. We are not going outside; we are
going up."

But Kreiss had the port open. "I want a man to get some fresh water," he
said; "he will only be a minute."

He shoved at a waiting man to hurry him through the doorway. It was only
a gentle push: Chet wondered as he saw the man stagger and grasp at his
throat. He was coughing--choking horribly for an instant outside the
open port--then fell to the ground, while his legs jerked awkwardly,
spasmodically.

Chet saw Kreiss follow. The scientist would have leaped to the side of
the stricken man, whose body was so still now on the sunlit rock; but
he, too, crumpled, then staggered back into the room. He pushed feebly
at the port and swung it shut. His face, as he turned, was drawn into
fearful lines.

"Acid!" He choked out the words between strangled breaths.
"Acid--sulfuric--fumes!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Chet turned quickly to the spectro-analyzer: the lines of oxygen and
nitrogen were merged with others, and that meant an atmosphere unfit for
human lungs! There had been a fumerole where yellowish vapor was
spouting: he remembered it now.

"So!" boomed Schwartzmann, and now his squinting eyes were full on Chet.
"You--you _schwein_! You said when we opened the ports there would be a
surprise! Und this iss it! You thought to see us kill ourselves!

"Open that port!" he shouted. The men who held Chet released him and
sprang forward to obey. The pilot, Max, took their place. He put one
hand on Chet's shoulder, while his other hand brought up a threatening
metal bar.

Schwartzmann's heavy face had lost its stolid look; it was alive with
rage. He thrust his head forward to glare at the men, while he stood
firmly, his feet far apart, two heavy fists on his hips. He whirled
abruptly and caught Diane by one arm. He pulled her roughly to him and
encircled the girl's trim figure with one huge arm.

"Put you _all_ on one island?" he shouted. "Did you think I would put
you _all_ out of the ship? You"--he pointed at Harkness--"and you"--this
time it was Chet--"go out now. You can die in your damned gas that you
expected would kill me! But, you fools, you imbeciles--Mam'selle, she
stays with me!" The struggling girl was helpless in the great arm that
drew her close.

Harkness' mad rage gave place to a dead stillness. From bloodless lips
in a chalk-white face he spat out one sentence:

"Take your filthy hands off her--now--or I'll--"

Schwartzmann's one free hand still held the pistol. He raised it with
deadly deliberation; it came level with Harkness' unflinching eyes.

"Yes?" said Schwartzmann, "You will do--what?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Chet saw the deadly tableau. He knew with a conviction that gripped his
heart that here was the end. Walt would die and he would be next. Diane
would be left defenseless.... The flashing thought that followed came to
him as sharply as the crack of any pistol. It seemed to burst inside his
brain, to lift him with some dynamic power of its own and project him
into action.

He threw himself sideways from under the pilot's hand, out from beneath
the heavy metal bar--and he whirled, as he leaped, to face the man. One
lean, brown hand clenched to a fist that started a long swing from
somewhere near his knees; it shot upward to crash beneath the pilot's
outthrust jaw and lift him from the floor. Max had aimed the bar in a
downward sweep where Chet's head had been the moment before; and now man
and bar went down together. In the same instant Chet threw himself upon
the weapon and leaped backward to his feet.

One frozen second, while, to Chet, the figures seemed as motionless as
if carved from stone--two men beside the half-opened port--Harkness in
convulsive writhing between two others--the figure of Diane, strained,
tense and helpless in Schwartzmann's grasp--and Schwartzmann, whose aim
had been disturbed, steadying the pistol deliberately upon Harkness--

"Wait!" Chet's voice tore through the confusion. He knew he must grip
Schwartzmann's attention--hold that trigger finger that was tensed to
send a detonite bullet on its way. "Wait, damn you! I'll answer your
question. I'll tell you what we'll do!"

In that second he had swung the metal bar high; now he brought it
crashing down in front of him. Schwartzmann flinched, half turned as if
to fire at Chet, and saw the blow was not for him.

       *       *       *       *       *

With a splintering crash, the bar went through an obstruction. There was
sound of glass that slivered to a million mangled bits--the sharp tang
of metal broken off--a crash and clatter--then silence, save for one bit
of glass that fell belatedly to the floor, its tiny jingling crash
ringing loud in the deathly stillness of the room....

It had been the control-room, this place of metal walls and of shining,
polished instruments, and it could be called that no longer. For,
battered to useless wreckage, there lay on a metal table a cage that had
once been formed of curving bars. Among the fragments a metal ball that
had guided the great ship still rocked idly from its fall, until it,
too, was still.

It was a room where nothing moved--where no person so much as
breathed....

Then came the Master Pilot's voice, and it was speaking with quiet
finality.

"And that," he said, "is your answer. Our ship has made its last
flight."

His eyes held steadily upon the blanched face of Herr Schwartzmann,
whose limp arms released the body of Diane; the pistol hung weakly at
the man's side. And the pilot's voice went on, so quiet, so hushed--so
curiously toneless in that silent room.

"What was it that you said?--that Harkness and I would be staying here?
Well, you were right when you said that, Schwartzmann: but it's a hard
sentence, that--imprisonment for life."

Chet paused now, to smile deliberately, grimly at the dark face so
bleached and bloodless, before he repeated:

"Imprisonment for life!--and you didn't know that you were sentencing
yourself. For you're staying too, Schwartzmann, you contemptible,
thieving dog! You're staying with us--here--on the Dark Moon!"



CHAPTER VI

"_Six to Four_"


Perhaps to every person in that control room there came, as Chet's
quiet, emotionless tones died away, the same mental picture; for there
was the same dazed look on the countenances of all.

They were seeing an ocean of space, an endless void of empty black. And
across that etheric sea was a whirling globe. They had seen it from
afar; they had seen its diminutive continents and its snow-clad
poles.... They would never see it again....

Earth!--their own world!--home! And now for them it was only a moon, a
tremendous, glorious moon, whose apparent nearness would be taunting and
calling them each day and night of their lives....

It was Diane Delacouer who dared to break the hard silence that bound
them all. From wide eyes she stared at Walt Harkness; then her lips
formed a trembling smile in which Chet, too, was included.

"You saved us," she whispered; "you saved us, Chet ... but now it looks
as if we all were exiles."

She crossed slowly, walking like one in a dream, to stand close to Walt
Harkness. And Chet Bullard also roused himself; but it was toward the
stupefied, hulking figure of Schwartzmann that he moved.

He reached for the detonite pistol, and this man who had been their
captor was too stunned to make any resistance. Chet jammed the weapon
under his belt.

"Close that port!" he ordered the two men who had half-opened it at
Schwartzmann's command. "Keep that poison gas out."

       *       *       *       *       *

There was a flash of color that swept by the open port--some flying
creature of vivid crimson: Chet had no time to see what manner of bird
or beast it was. But it was alive! He crossed to examine the
spectro-analyzer, and the two men disregarded his order and slipped into
the rear cabin.

"Seems all clear to me, Walt," he said; and Harkness confirmed his
findings with a quick glance.

"O.K.!" he assured Chet; "that air is all right to breathe."

He glanced from a lookout port. "The air's moving now," he said. "That
gas--whatever it was--is gone; it must have settled down here in the
night. Some new vent that has opened since we were here before.

"But suppose we forget that and settle matters in here," he suggested;
and Chet nodded assent.

"Call your men!" Harkness ordered Schwartzmann.

The man had recovered his composure; again his heavy face was flushed
beneath a stubble of beard. He made no move to comply with Harkness'
demand.

But there was no need: from the cabin at the rear came the scientist,
Kreiss. His face was pale and drawn, and he stared long and searchingly
at Chet Bullard. His breath still whistled in his throat; the poison gas
had nearly done for him.

At his heels were the two who had been working at the port. Two others,
who had held Harkness, were drawn off at one side, where they mumbled
one to another and shot ugly glances toward Chet.

This, Chet knew, accounted for all. Even the pilot, Max, had roused from
the sleep that a blow on the chin had induced and was again on his feet.
For him no explanation was needed; the shattered cage of the
ball-control told its own story.

Harkness seated Mademoiselle Delacouer on a bench at the pilot's post.
"You will want to be in on this," he told her, "but I'll put you here in
case they get rough. But don't worry," he added; "we'll be ready for
them now."

       *       *       *       *       *

Then he turned to Schwartzmann: "Now, you! Oh, there are plenty of
things I could call you! And you would understand them perfectly, though
they are all words that no gentleman would use."

At Schwartzmann's outburst of profane rejoinder, Harkness broke in with
no uncertain tones.

"Shut up, Schwartzmann, and stay that way; I'm giving the orders now.
And we'll just cut out all the pleasantries; they won't get us anywhere.
We must face the situation, all of us; see what we're up against and
make some plans."

But Herr Schwartzmann was not to be put down so easily. He crossed over
to where Chet stood. Chet's hand dropped to the pistol that was hooked
in his own belt, but Schwartzmann made no move toward it. Instead he
planted himself before the pilot and jammed his fists into his hips
while he tried to draw his stocky form to equal Chet's slim height.

"Fool!" he said. "Dolt! For a minute I believed you; I thought you had
cut us off from the Earth. Now I know better. Max, he understands ships;
and the Herr Doktor Kreiss iss a man of science: together they the
repairs will make."

The Master Pilot smiled grimly. "Try to do it," he said, and turned
toward the two whom Schwartzmann had named. "You, Max, and you, too,
Doctor Kreiss--do you want to take on the job? If you do, I will help
you."

But the two looked at the shattered controls and shook their heads at
their employer.

"Impossible!" the pilot exclaimed. "Without new parts it can never be
done."

Schwartzmann seemed about to vent his fury upon the man who dared give
such a report, but Doctor Kreiss raised a restraining hand.

"Check!" he said. "I check that report. Repairs are out of the
question."

       *       *       *       *       *

Chet caught Harkness' eye upon him. "I'll be back," Harkness told him
and went quickly toward the rear of the ship. Their stores were back
there; would Walt think to get a detonite pistol? He came back into the
room while the thought was still in Chet's mind. A gun was in each hand;
he passed one of the weapons to Diane.

Unconsciously, Schwartzmann felt for his own gun that was in Chet's
belt. He laughed mirthlessly. "Two men," he said scornfully; "two men
and a girl!"

Harkness paid no attention. "Now we will get right down to cases," he
remarked. "Two men and a girl is right--plus what is left of one ship.
And please don't forget that the ship is ours and all the supplies that
are in it. Now, you listen to me; I've a few things to tell you."

He faced squarely toward Schwartzmann, and Chet had to repress a grin at
the steely glint in his companion's eyes. Nice chap, Harkness--nice,
easy-going sort--up to a certain point. Chet had seen him in action
before.

"First of all," Harkness was saying, "don't think that we have any
illusions about you. You're a killer, and, like all such, you're a
coward. If you had the upper hand, you would never give us a chance for
our lives. In fact you were ready to throw us out to be gassed when Chet
raised your little bet.

"But it looks as if Chet and Mademoiselle Delacouer and I will have to
be living on this world for some time. We don't want to start that life
by killing off even such as you--not in cold blood. We will give you a
chance; we will split our provisions with you--give you half of what we
have; you will have to shift for yourselves when that is gone. We will
all have to learn to do that."

       *       *       *       *       *

Again the heavy, glowering face of Schwartzmann broke into a laugh that
was half sneer.

"You're damned kind," he told Harkness, "and, as usual, a fool. Two men
and a girl!" He half turned to count his own forces.

"There are seven of us," he challenged; "seven! And all of them
armed--all but me!"

He spoke a curt order in his own tongue, and each man whipped a pistol
from his clothes.

"Seven to two," he said, and laughed again; "maybe it iss that Herr
Harkness would like to count them.

"_Your_ ship and _your_ supplies!" he exclaimed scornfully. "And you
would be so kind as to giff us food.

"_Gott im Himmel!_" he shouted; "I show you! I am talking now! We stay
here--_ja_--because this _Dummkopf_ has the controls _gebrochen_! But it
iss we who stay; und you? You go, because I say so. It iss I who rule,
und I prove it--seven to two!"

"Three!" a firm voice spoke from between Chet and Harkness; "seven to
three! Our odds are improving, Herr Schwartzmann."

And Chet saw from the corner of his eye that the gun in the small hand
of Mademoiselle Diane was entirely unwavering. But he spoke to her
sharply, and his voice merged with that of Harkness who was saying
somewhat the same words:

"Back--go back, Diane! We can handle this. For God's sake, keep out; we
don't want any shooting."

Neither of the men had drawn his gun. Their hands were ready, but each
had hoped to end this weird conference without firing a shot. Here was
no place for gun-play and for wounded men.

       *       *       *       *       *

Their attention was on Diane for the moment. A growled word from their
enemy brought their minds back to him; they turned to find black pistol
muzzles staring each of them in the eyes. Herr Schwartzmann, in the
language of an earlier day, had got the drop.

"Seven to three," Schwartzmann said; "let it go that way; no difference
does it make. If I say one word, you die."

Chet's arm ached to snap his hand toward his gun. It would be his last
move, he well knew. He was sick with chagrin to see how easily they had
been trapped; Walt had tried to play fair with a man who had not an atom
of fairness in his character. And now--

"Seven to three!" Schwartzmann was gloating--till another voice broke
in.

"I don't check your figures." The whistling tones were coming from a
tortured throat, but the words were clear and distinct. "I don't check
you; I make it six to four--and if one of your men makes a move, Herr
Schwartzmann, I shall blow you to a pulp!"

And Herr Doktor Kreiss held a gun in a steady hand as he moved a pace
nearer to Chet--a gun whose slender barrel made a glinting line of light
toward Schwartzmann's eyes.

"If the gentlemen and Mademoiselle will permit," he offered almost
diffidently, "I would prefer to be aligned with them. We are citizens of
another world now; my former allegiance to Herr Schwartzmann is ended.
This is--what is it you say?--a new deal. I would like to see it; and I
use another of your American aphorisms: I would like to see it a square
deal."

       *       *       *       *       *

The voice of a scholar, thought Chet; one more used to the precision of
laboratory phrases than to wild talk like this; but no man to be trifled
with, nevertheless. Chet did not hesitate to turn despite the pistols
that were still aimed at him.

But Herr Kreiss was not looking in his direction; his eyes were trained
steadily in the same line as his gun. This little experiment he was
conducting seemed to require his undivided attention until the end. To
Schwartzmann he said sharply:

"Your men--order them to drop their weapons. Quick!"

As they clattered upon the floor the scientist turned and extended his
hand to Chet.

"And still speaking not too technically," he continued, "this is one
hell of a fix that you have got us into. Even in desperate straits it
took nerve to do that." He pointed to the shattered remains of the
multiple bars that had been the control mechanism, and added:

"I admire that kind of nerve. And, if you don't mind, since we are
exiles together--" His throat seemed choking him again.

There were weapons in the hands of Chet and Harkness; they were not
making the same mistake twice. Chet shifted his gun to his left hand
that he might reach toward the scientist with his right.

"I knew you were white all the time," Chet told him; "I'll say you
belong!"



CHAPTER VII

_The Red Swarm_


It was a matter of a half hour later when Harkness ordered them all
outside. He had accepted Kreiss as an addition to their ranks and had
made himself plain to Schwartzmann.

To the scientist he said. "You remarked that no ship could hold two
commanding pilots: that goes for an expedition like this, too. I am in
command. If you will take orders we will be mighty glad to have you with
us."

And to Schwartzmann, in a different tone: "I am sparing you and your
men. I ought to shoot you down, but I won't. And I don't expect you to
understand why; any decency such as that would beyond you.

"But I am letting you live. This world is big enough to hold us both,
and pretty soon I will tell you what part of it you can live in. And
then remember this one thing, Schwartzmann--get this straight!--you keep
out of my way. I will show you a valley where you and your men can stay.
And if ever you leave that valley I will hunt you down as I would one of
the beasts that you will see in this world."

Chet had to repress a little smile that was twitching at his lips; it
always amused him hugely to see Harkness when roused.

"Turn us out to starve?" Schwartzmann was demanding. "You would do
that?"

"There will be food there," said Harkness curtly: "suit yourself about
starving. Only stay where I put you!"

Back of the others of Schwartzmann's men, the pilot, Max, was stooping.
Half-hidden he moved toward the doorway to the rear cabin and to the
storage-room and gun-rooms beyond. Chet glimpsed him in his silent
retreat.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you, Max," he advised quietly.
"Personally, I think you're all getting off too well; as for myself, I'm
sort of itching for an excuse to let off this gun."

It was here that Harkness turned to the open port.

"Put them out!" he snapped. "You, Chet, go out first and line them up as
they come--but, no, wait: there may be gas out there."

       *       *       *       *       *

Chet was beside the port; a breath from outside came to him sweetly
fragrant. A shadow was moving across the smooth lava rock. "A bird!" he
thought. Then a flash of red in startling vividness swept past the open
door: it was like a quick flicker of living flame. He could not see what
it was, but it was alive--and this answered his question.

"Send 'em along," he said; "it seems all right now." He stepped through
the opening in the heavily insulated walls.

It was early morning, yet the sun was already hot upon the smooth
expanse of the lava flow. Some ancient eruption from the distant peaks
that hemmed in the valley had sent out this flood of molten rock; it was
hard and black now. But, to the right, where the valley went on and up,
and rose gently and widened as it rose, a myriad of red flames and jets
of steam told of the inner fires that still raged.

These were the fumeroles where only a month before he and Harkness and
Diane had found clustering savages who were more apes than men; they had
been roasting meat at these flames. And below, where the lava stopped,
was the open glade where the little stream splashed and sparkled: in the
high rock walls that hemmed the glade the caves showed black. And,
beyond the open ground, was the weird forest, where tree-trunks of
ghostly white were laced with a network of red veining. They grew close,
those spectral columns, in a shadow-world beneath the high roof of
greenery they supported.

Here was the scene of an earlier adventure. Chet was swept up in the
flood of recollections born of familiar sights and scents. Herr
Schwartzmann, cursing steadily in a guttural tongue, came from the ship
to bring Chet's thoughts back to the more immediate problem.

       *       *       *       *       *

There were five others who followed--the pilot and Schwartzmann's four
men. There had been another, but his body lay huddled upon the bare
lava. He had followed his master far--and here, for him, was the end.

Kreiss' pistol was still in his hand as he came after. Harkness and
Diane were last.

Harkness pointed with his gun. "Over there!" he ordered. "Get them away
from the ship, Chet. Line them up down below there; all the ape-men have
cleared out since we had our last fight. Get them down by the stream.
Diane and I will bring them some supplies, and then we can send them off
for good."

Chet sent Kreiss down first, where an easy slope made the descent a
simple matter; it had been the bow-wave of the molten lava--here was the
end of that inundation of another age--and the slope was wrinkled and
creased. Schwartzmann followed; then the others. The last man was ready
to descend when Diane and Walt came back.

They had packages of compressed foods. This was all right with Chet, but
he raised his eyebrows inquiringly at sight of several boxes of
ammunition and an extra gun. Harkness smiled good-naturedly.

"I will give them one pistol," Walt told him, "and a good supply of
shells. We don't need to be afraid of them with only one gun, and we
can't leave the poor devils at the mercy of every wild beast."

"You're the boss," said Chet briefly; "but, for me, I'd sooner give this
Schwartzmann just one bullet--right where it would do the most good.

"Let's make him work for it," he suggested, and called to the men below:

"Come back up here, Schwartzmann! A little present for you--and I'm
saying you don't deserve it."

He watched the return trip as Schwartzmann dragged his heavy bulk up the
slope; he was enjoying the man's explosive, panted curses. Beside him
were Diane and Walt. With them, it was as it had been with him at first.
They had eyes only for the familiar ground below: the stream, the open
ground, the trees....

       *       *       *       *       *

Each of them was looking down at that lower ground.

It was Kreiss standing down there who first caught Chet's attention.
Kreiss was trying to shout. Chet saw his waving arms; he stared,
puzzled, at the facial contortions--the working lips from which no sound
came. He knew that something was wrong. It was a moment or two before he
realized that Kreiss could not speak, that the throat, injured by the
choking fumes, had failed him. Then he heard the strangled croak that
Kreiss forced from his lips: "_Behind you!--look behind you!_"

Schwartzmann was scrambling to the top where they stood; every man was
accounted for. What had they to fear? And suddenly it was borne in upon
Chet's consciousness that he had been hearing a sound--a sound that was
louder now--a rustling!--a clashing of dry, rasping things! The very air
seemed to hold something ominous.

He knew this in the instant while he whirled about; while he heard the
dry rustling change to a humming roar; while he saw, like a cloud of
flame, a great swarm of red, flying things like the one that had flown
past the port--and one, swifter than the rest, that darted from the
swarm and flashed upon him.

[Illustration: _One, swifter than the rest, dashed upon him._]

It was red--vividly, dazzlingly red! The body of a reptile--a wild
phantasm of distorted dreams--was supported by short, quivering wings.
The body was some five feet in length, and it was translucent.

A shell, like the dried husk of some creature long dead!--yet here was
something alive, as its quick attack proved. It had a head of dry scales
which ended in a projecting black-tipped beak that came like a sword,
straight and true for Chet's heart. It seemed an age before he could
bring his pistol up and fire.

       *       *       *       *       *

Detonite, as everyone knows, does not explode on impact; the cap of
fulminate in the end of each bullet sets it off. But even this requires
some resistance--something more than a dry, red husk to check the
bullet's flight. There was no explosion from the tiny shell that Chet's
pistol fired, but the bullet did its work. The creature fell plunging to
the rocky ground, and its transparent wings sent flurries of dust where
they beat upon the ground. There were others that went down, for the
bullet had gone on and through the great swarm.

And then they attacked.

The very fury of the assault saved the huddle of humans. So close were
the red things pressed together that their vibrating wings beat and
locked the swarm into a mass. They were almost above their prey. Chet
knew that he was firing upward into the swarm, but the sound of his
pistol was lost. The red cloud hung poised in a whirling maelstrom; and
the pandemonium of clashing wings whipped down to them not only the
sound of their dry scraping but a stench from those reptile bodies that
was overpowering.

Sickly sweet, the taste of it was in Chet's mouth; the sound of the
furious swarm was battering at his ears as he knew that his pistol was
empty.

There were red bodies on the bare rock before him. A scaly, scabrous
thing was pressing against his upflung hands that he raised above his
head--a loathsome touch! A beak that was a needle-pointed tube stabbed
his shoulder before he could flinch aside: the quick pain of it was
piercingly sharp....

       *       *       *       *       *

Other red horrors dropped from the main mass overhead; he saw Harkness
beating at them wildly while he made a shelter of his body above the
crouched figure of Diane. Two of them--two incredible, beastly, flying
things! He saw them so plainly where they hovered, and Harkness striking
at them with a useless, empty gun, while they waited to drive home their
lance-like beaks.

The picture was so plain! His brain was a photographic plate,
super-sensitized by the utter horror of the moment. While the red
monster stabbed its beak into his shoulder, while he drove home one blow
against its parchment body with his empty pistol, while the wild,
beating wings lifted the creature again into the air--he saw it all.

Here were Diane and Harkness! Nearby Schwartzmann was on the ground! His
man--the one who had not yet descended with the others--was running
stumblingly forward. He was wounded, and the blood was streaming from
his back. Chet saw the two monsters hovering above Harkness' head; he
saw their thick-lidded eyes--and he saw those eyes as they detected an
easier prey.

The fleeing man was half-stooped in a shambling run. The winged reptile
Chet had beaten off joined the other two and they were upon the wounded
man in a flurry of red.

Chet saw him go down and took one involuntary step forward to give him
aid--then stopped, transfixed by what he beheld.

The man was down crouching in terror. Above him the three monstrous
things beat each other with their wings; then their long beaks stabbed
downward. The man's body was hidden, but through those transparent beaks
there mounted swiftly a red stream. Plainly visible, Chet saw that vital
current--the living life-blood of a living man--drawn into those beastly
bodies; he saw it spread through a network of canals! And he was held
rigid with horror until a harsh scream from Harkness reached his brain.

"The trees!" Harkness was shouting. "The trees! Down, Chet, for God's
sake! You can't save him!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Walt was half carrying Diane. Even then Chet was vaguely thankful that
their bodies were between the girl and this gruesome sight. And Walt was
leaping madly down the lava slope.

Beyond him, already on the lower level, was the racing figure of
Schwartzmann. A whirring flash of red pursued him. Another made a
crimson streak through the air toward Walt's back. Chet came with
startling abruptness from the frozen rigidity that held him, and he
crashed his empty pistol in well-directed aim through the body of the
beast. Then he, too, threw himself in great leaps down the slope.

Kreiss was firing from below; Chet knew dimly that this was checking the
attack of the swarm. He saw Walt stagger; saw blood flowing from a slash
on the back of his head, and knew that Kreiss had got the monster just
in time. He sprang toward the stumbling man and got his arms under the
unconscious figure of the girl to help carry the load.

And now it was Kreiss who was shouting. "The trees! We'll be safe in the
trees!" He saw Kreiss drop his pistol and dash headlong for the white
trunks of ghostly trees.

His arm was pierced by a stinging pain; cold eyes, with thick, leathery
lids, were staring into Chet's as he cast one horrified glance over his
shoulder. Then he crashed against the white trunk of a tree and helped
Harkness drag the body of the girl between two twin trunks. He pulled
himself to safety in the shelter of the protecting trees, and held
weakly to one of them.... And the crimson lace-work of the sap-wood that
showed through the white bark was no brighter red than the mark of his
blood-stained hands where they clung for support.



CHAPTER VIII

_Doomed_


The sun was high when they ventured forth. Diane would have come, but
the two men would have none of it. They remembered the sight they had
seen; they knew what was left of a man's body lying on the rocks above;
and they ordered the girl to stay hidden while Kreiss remained with her
as a guard.

There were only the four who lay hidden in the woods; Schwartzmann and
Max, with the remaining three men, were gone. Harkness' calls were
unanswered, and he ceased the halloo.

"Better keep quiet," he advised himself and the others. "We are out of
ammunition, though they don't know it. And they have got away. They will
keep on going, too, and I am not any too well pleased with that. I
wanted to put Schwartzmann where I could keep an eye on him.... Oh,
well, he isn't very dangerous."

But Chet Bullard made a few mental and unspoken reservations to that
remark. "That boy is always dangerous," he told himself, "and he won't
be happy unless he is making trouble. Thank the Lord he hasn't got that
gun!"

He came out cautiously from among the trees, but the red horde was gone.
The reptiles' wings had rasped and clashed furiously for a time; they
had darted in fiery flashes before the protecting trees: and the fitful
breeze had brought gusts of nauseous odors--until a thin haze formed in
the higher air and the red things were gone.

"There will not be any more for a while," said Harkness.

He pointed toward the fumerole they had seen from the lookout earlier in
the day: again it was emitting jets of thin, steamy vapor that did not
disappear like steam but floated up above their heads. "The gas has
driven them off," he added.

       *       *       *       *       *

The two men climbed slowly up the slope that had been the wave front of
molten rock. Chet found his pistol by the path and picked it up.

"We'll get more ammunition up top," he told Harkness, "and we will toss
some down to Kreiss. He can have the extra gun you brought for
Schwartzmann, too."

He stopped suddenly. He had reached the level top of the lava flow. Here
was where they had stood when the beasts attacked; where Harkness had
dropped the boxes of ammunition and the pistol--and except for a few
scattered bodies of unbelievable reptiles and for a stain of blood where
his own wound had bled, there was nothing to show where they had been.

"He got 'em!" Chet exclaimed. "That son-of-a-gun Schwartzmann got the
gun and shells. I saw him scrambling around on the rock. I thought he
was just scared to death; but no, he wasn't too frightened to grab the
gun and the ammunition while one of his own men was being killed. And
that's not so good, either!"

A dozen paces beyond was a huddle of clothing that stirred idly in the
breeze. "The poor devil!" exclaimed Chet, and moved over beside the body
of the man who had gone down under the red swarm's attack.

It lay face down. Chet stooped to turn the body over, though he knew
there was no hope of life. He stopped with a gasp of dismay.

Two eyes still stared in horror from a face that was colorless--a
drained, ghastly white face! No tint remained to show that this ever had
been a living man. More dreadful than the waxen pallor of death, here
was a bleached, bloodless flesh that told of the nameless horror that
had overwhelmed this man, beaten him down and drained him of every drop
of blood.

"Vampires!" Chet heard Harkness saying in a horrified whisper. "Those
beaks that were like tubes! And they--they--" He stopped as if in fear
of the words that would tell what they themselves had escaped.

Chet turned the body to its former position; that dreadful face beneath
a pitiless sun was a sight no other eyes should see. "Let's go on to the
ship," he said. "We'll get some ammunition, go back and get Diane--"

       *       *       *       *       *

He did not finish the thought. Before him he saw the lifeless body
moving; it rolled and shuddered as if life had returned to this thing
where no life should be. Chet raised one hand in an unconscious gesture
as if to ward off some new horror that the body might disclose. It was a
moment before he realized that the rock was shaking beneath his feet,
that he was dizzy and that from no great distance a rumbling growl was
sounding in his ears.

The moving body had shaken Chet's mental poise as had the earthquake his
physical equilibrium. Harkness had not seen it; he was looking off
across the level plateau.

"Look!" he exclaimed; "another vent has opened! See it spout?"

Some hundred yards distant were clouds of green vapor that rolled into
the air. At their base a fountain of mud sputtered and spouted and fell
back to build up a cone. The green cloud whirled sluggishly, then was
caught by the breeze and began its slow, rolling progress across the
flat rock. It was coming their way, rolling down toward the ship, and
Chet gripped suddenly at his companion's arm.

"Come on!" he said! "I'm going away from here, and I'm going now. We'll
get Diane and Kreiss: remember what a whiff of gas did to him this
morning."

He was drawing Harkness toward the face of the rock; he wondered at his
slowness. Walt seemed fascinated by the oncoming cloud.

"Wait!" Harkness paused at the top of the descending slope. Chet turned,
to look where Harkness was watching.

The green cloud moved slowly. As he turned to stare it touched the bow
of their ship; it flowed slowly, sluggishly, along the sides, and then
swept up and over the top. The lookouts of the control room were
obscured, and the port from which they had come!

"Cut off!" breathed Harkness, his voice heavy with hopeless conviction.
"We can't get back! And now we're on our own past any doubt!"

       *       *       *       *       *

"It may not last," Chet was urging an hour later, when, with Kreiss and
Diane, they stood on high ground to look down on the ship.

The sparkling sheen of the metal cylinder had changed from silver to
pale green. The cloud that enveloped it was not heavy, but it was always
the same. Yet still Chet insisted: "It may not last."

"Sorry to disappoint you," replied Kreiss, "but there is little ground
for such a belief." Again he was the professor instructing a class.
"These fumeroles, in my opinion, are venting a region far below the
surface. It is possible that further seismic disturbances may alter
conditions; a rearrangement of the lower rock strata may close existing
crevices and open others like this you have seen; but, barring that, I
see no reason for thinking that this emission of what appears to be
chlorine with other gases may not continue indefinitely."

Chet looked at Diane. Was it a twinkle that appeared and vanished in her
eyes as Herr Professor Kreiss concluded his remarks. She would laugh in
the very face of death, Chet realized, but her tone was entirely serious
as she offered another suggestion.

"If this wind should change," she said, "and if it blew the gas in
another direction, the ship could be cleared. One of us could go in long
enough to switch on the air generators full."

But now it was Chet who shook his head in a negative. "Remember," he
told her, "when we were here before? All of the time while Walt was gone
for the ship--how did the wind blow then?"

"The same as now," she admitted.

"And it never changed."

"No,"--slowly--"it never changed."

       *       *       *       *       *

Chet turned to Walt and Kreiss. "That's that," he said shortly. "Any
other good ideas in the crowd? Can anyone go through that gas and get to
the ship? I'll make a try."

"Suicide!" was Kreiss' verdict, and Harkness confirmed his words.

"I saw things that moved up in the trees," he said. "Lord knows what
they were; Birds--beasts of some sort! But they were alive till the gas
touched them. I saw it drift among the trees when we left, and those
things up there came plopping down like ripe apples."

Diane Delacouer looked up at Harkness with wide, serious eyes. "Then,"
she shrugged, "we are really--"

"Castaways," Harkness told her. "We're on our own--off on a desert
island--shipwrecked--all that sort of thing! And you might as well know
the worst of it; you, too, Kreiss.

"Our good friend, Schwartzmann, is at large, and he has the pistol and
ammunition we brought out from the ship. He is armed, and we are not; he
has food, and we have none. And I'll have to admit that I didn't have
any breakfast and could use a little right now."

"There are seven shells left in my pistol," said Diane. She held the
weapon out to Harkness; he took it carefully.

"Seven," he said; "it is all we have. We must kill some animals for
food, my dear, but not with these; we must save these for bigger game."

"But we cannot!" expostulated Kreiss. "To kill game with our bare
hands--impossible! We are doomed!"

And now Chet caught Diane's glance brimming with mirth that was
undisguised. Truly, Diane Delacouer would have her laugh in the face of
death.

"Doomed?" she exclaimed. "Not while Chet and I know how to make bows and
arrows!... Do you suppose we can find any of their old spears, Chet?
They made gorgeous bows, you remember."

And Chet bowed low in an exaggeration of admiration that was not
entirely assumed. "Lead on!" he said. "You are in command. The army is
ready to follow."



CHAPTER IX

_A Premonition_


Fire Valley had been the home of the ape-men. On that earlier journey
Walt and Chet had seen them, had fought with the tribe, and had lived
for a time in their caves that made dark shadows high on the rock wall.
And they knew that the wood the ape-men used for their spears was well
suited for bows.

Back in the caves they found discarded spears and some wood that had
been gathered for shafts. Tough, springy, flexible, it was a simple
matter for the men to convert these into serviceable weapons. Sinews
that the ape-men had torn from great beasts made the bowstrings, and
there were other slim shafts that they notched, then sharpened in the
fire.

Yet, to Chet as he worked, came an overwhelming feeling of despondency.
To be fashioning crude weapons like these--preparing to defend
themselves as best they could from the dangers of this new, raw world!
No, it could not be true.... And he knew while he protested that it was
all in vain.

He asked himself a score of times if his impulsive, desperate act had
not been a horrible mistake. And he found the same answer always: it was
all he could have done. Had he attacked Schwartzmann he would have been
killed--and Walt, too! Schwartzmann would have had Diane. Only some such
stupefying shock as the effect of the shattered control could have
checked Schwartzmann. No, there had been no alternative. And the thing
was done. Finally, irrevocably done!

       *       *       *       *       *

Chet walked to the cave-mouth to stare down at the ship below him in the
valley. From the fumerole's throat came a steady, rolling cloud of
shimmering green; the ship was immersed in it. The voice of Herr Kreiss
spoke to him; the scientist, too, had come forward for another look.

"If it were at the bottom of the sea," he said, "it would be no more
inaccessible. It is, in very fact, at the bottom of a sea--a sea of gas.
We could penetrate an aqueous medium more easily."

"And," Chet pondered slowly, "if only I could have returned.... With
time--and metal bars--and tools that I could improvise--I might...."

His voice trailed off. What use now to speculate on what he might have
done. The scientist concluded his thought:

"You might have reconstructed the control--yes, I, too, had thought of
that. But now, the gas! No--we must put that out of our minds, unless we
would become insane."

Chet turned back into the black and odorous cave. He saw Harkness who
was flexing a bow he was making for Diane; he was showing her how to
grip it and let the arrow run free.

"Towahg was the last one I instructed," Walt was saying; and Chet knew
from the deep lines in his face that his attempt at casual talk was for
Diane's benefit; "I wonder how long Towahg remembered. He was a grateful
little animal."

"Towahg?" queried Kreiss. "Who is Towahg?"

"Ape-man," Harkness told him. "Friendly little rascal; he helped us out
when we were here before. He saved Diane's life, no question about that.
I showed him the use of the bow; jumped him ahead a hundred generations
in the art of self-defense."

"And offense!" was Kreiss' comment. "There are certain drawbacks to
arming a potential enemy."

"Oh, Towahg is all right," Harkness reassured the scientist, "although
he may have taught the trick to others of the tribe who are not so
friendly."

"Where are they? In what direction do they live?" Kreiss continued.

"Want to make a social call?" Chet inquired. "You needn't mind those
little formalities up here, Doctor."

       *       *       *       *       *

But in the mental makeup of Herr Doktor Kreiss had been included no
trace of humor; he took Chet's remark at face value. And he answered in
words that echoed Chet's real thoughts and that took the smile from his
lips.

"But, no," said Herr Kreiss; "it is the contrary that I desire. Here we
are; here we stay for the rest of our lives. I would wish those years to
be undisturbed. I have no wish to quarrel with what primitive
inhabitants this globe may hold. There is much to study, to learn. I
shall pass the years so.

"And now," he questioned, "where is it that we go? Where shall be our
home?"

Chet, too, looked inquiringly at Harkness. "You saw more of this country
than I did," he reminded him; "what would you suggest?"

And, at sight of the serious, troubled eyes of Diane Delacouer, he
added:

"We want a site for a high-grade subdivision, you understand. Something
good, something exclusive, where we can keep out the less desirable
element. Dianeville must appeal to the people who rate socially."

At the puzzled look on the scientist's face, Chet caught Diane's glance
of unspoken amusement, and knew that his ruse had succeeded: he must not
let Diane get too serious. Harkness answered slowly:

"I saw a valley; I think I can find it again. When Towahg guided me back
to the ship, when we were here before, I saw the valley beyond the third
range of hills. We go up Fire Valley; follow the stream that comes in
from the side--"

"Water?" Chet questioned.

"Yes; I saw a lake."

"Cover? Trees? Not the man-eating ones?"

"Everything: open ground, hills, woods. It looked good to me then; it
will look a lot better now," said Walt enthusiastically.

"Walk faster," said Chet; "I'm stepping on your heels."

       *       *       *       *       *

They reached the valley floor some distance above the fumerole and the
clouds of poison gas; and the march began. The attack of the flying
reptiles had taught them the danger of exposure in the open, and they
kept close to the trees that fringed the valley.

Once Chet left them and vanished among the trees, to return with the
body of an animal slung over one shoulder.

"Moon-pig!" he told the others. "Ask Doctor Kreiss if you want to know
its species and ancestry and such things. All I know is that it has got
hams, and I am going to roast a slice or so before we start."

"Bow and arrow?" asked Harkness.

Chet nodded. "I'm a dead shot," he admitted, "up to a range of ten feet.
This thing with the funny face stood still for me, so it looks as if we
won't starve."

The sun had swung rapidly into the sky; it was now overhead. One half of
their first short day was gone. And Chet's suggestions of food met with
approval.

"I can't quite get used to it," Diane admitted to the rest; "to think
that for us time has turned back. We have been dropped into a new and
savage world, and we must do as the savages of our world did thousands
of years ago. Now!--in nineteen seventy-three!"

Chet removed a slab of meat from the hot throat of a tiny fumerole.
"Nineteen seventy-three on Earth," he agreed, "but not here. This is
about nineteen thousand B.C."

       *       *       *       *       *

He called to Kreiss who was digging into a thin stratum of rock. The
scientist had a splinter of flint in his hand, and he was gouging at a
red outcropping layer.

"Old John Q. Neanderthal, himself!" said Chet. "What have you found,
silver or gold? Whatever it is, you're forgetting to eat; better come
along." But Doctor Kreiss had turned geologist, it was plain.

"Cinnabar," he said; "an ore of hydrargyrum!" His tone was excited, but
Chet refused to have his mind turned from practical things.

"Is it good to eat?" he demanded.

"_Nein, nein!_" Kreiss protested. "It is what you call
mercury--quicksilver!"

"Ladies and gentlemen," said Chet dryly, "I see where this man Kreiss is
to be a big help. He has discovered the site for the thermometer
factory. He will be organizing a Chamber of Commerce next."

He left out a portion of the cooked meat for Kreiss' later attention,
and he and Harkness rolled a supply into leaf-wrapped packages and
stowed them in the pockets of their coats before they started on. Again
the little procession took up the march with Harkness leading.

"Leave as little trail as possible," Harkness ordered. "We don't want to
shout to Schwartzmann where we have gone."

They left the Valley of the Fires to follow the stream-bed in another
hollow between great hills. Chet found himself looking back at the
familiar flares with regret. Here was the only place on this new world
which was not utterly strange to his eyes. He continued to glance behind
him, long after the smoky fires were lost to sight; but he would not
admit even to himself that it was for another reason.

Nineteen seventy-three!--and he was a man of the modern civilization.
Yet deep within him there stirred ancient instincts--racial memories,
perhaps. And, as he splashed through the little stream and bent to make
his way through strange-leafed vines and leprous-spotted trees, a
warning voice spoke inaudibly within his own mind--spoke as it might
have whispered to some ancestor scores of centuries dead.

"You are followed!" it told him. "Listen!--there is one who follows on
the trail!"



CHAPTER X

_A Mysterious Rescuer_


Their way led through tangled growths of trees and vines that were like
unreal things of a dream. Unreal they were, too, in their strange degree
of livingness, for there were snaky tendrils that drew back as if in
fear at their approach and stalks that folded great, thorny leaves
protectingly about pulpy centers at the first touch of a hand. The world
of vegetation seemed strangely sentient and aware of their approach.
Only the leprous-white trees remained motionless; their red-veined
trunks towered high in air, and the sun of late afternoon shot
slantingly through a leafy roof overhead.

Twice Chet let the others go on ahead while he slipped silently into
some rocky concealment and watched with staring, anxious eyes back along
their trail. But the little stream's gurgling whisper was the only
voice, and in all the weird jungle there was no movement but for the
unfolding of the vegetation where they had passed.

"Nerves!" he reproached himself. "You're getting jumpy, and that won't
do." But once more he let the others climb on while he stepped quickly
behind a projecting rock over which he could look.

Again there was silence; again the leaves unfolded their thorny
wrappings while vermiform tendrils crept across the ground or reached
tentatively into the air. And then, while the silence was unbroken,
while no evidence came through his feeble, human senses, something
approached.

Neither sight nor sound betrayed it--this something, that came
noiselessly after--but a tell-tale plant whipped its leaves into their
former wrapping; a vine drew its hanging clusters of flowers sharply
into the air. The unseeing watchers of the forest had sensed what was
unheard and unseen, and Chet knew that his own inner warning had been
true.

He waited to see this mysterious pursuer come into view; and after
waiting in vain he realized the folly of thinking himself concealed. He
glanced about him; every plant was drawn tightly upon itself. With
silent voices they were proclaiming his hiding place, warning this other
to wait, telling him that someone was hidden here.

Chet's face, despite his apprehension, drew into a whimsical, silent
grin. "No chance to ambush him, whoever he is or whatever it is," he
told himself. "But that works two ways: he can't jump us when we're
prepared; not in daylight, anyway."

And he asked himself a question he could not answer: "I wonder," he
whispered softly, "--I wonder what these plants will do at night!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Almost they could see the swift descent of the sun. Each flashing glint
of light through the dense growth came from lower down toward the
invisible horizon. It shone at last where Chet cast anxious glances
about upon a mound of rocks.

Rough blocks of tremendous size had been left here from some seismic
disturbance. Like the ruins of a castle they were heaped high in air.
Even the tree growths stopped at their base, and above them was an
opening in the roof of tangled branches and leaves--a rough circle of
clear, blue sky.

"How about making camp?" Chet asked. "This place looks good to me. I
would just as soon be up off the ground a bit."

Harkness looked at the pile of rocks; glanced once toward the sun.
"Right!" he agreed. "This will do for our first camp."

"You've named it," Chet told him as he scrambled to the top of a great
block. He extended a hand to Diane, standing tired and breathless at its
side.

"Welcome to First Camp!" he told her. "Take this elevator for the first
ten floors."

He drew her up to the top of the block. Harkness joined them, and Diane,
though she tried to smile in response to Chet, did not refuse their help
in making the ascent; the day's experiences had told on all of them.

Thirty or forty feet above the ground was Chet's estimate. From the top
of their little fort they watched the shadows of night sweep swiftly
down. Scrub tree growths whose roots had anchored among the rocks gave
them shelter, while vines and mosses softened the hard outlines of the
labyrinth of stones.

       *       *       *       *       *

Chet undid the package of meat and passed it out freely. There had been
scurryings and rustlings in the jungle growth that had reassured him in
the matter of food. Darkness fell as they ate; then it gave way to a new
flood of light.

Golden light from a monstrous moon! It sent searching fingers through
rifts in the leafy roof, then poured itself over the edge of the opening
above in a cascade of glory. And, though each one of the four raised his
eyes toward that distant globe and knew it for the Earth, no word was
said; they ate their food in silence while the silent night wrapped them
about.

Still in silence they prepared for the night. Chet and Harkness
improvised a bed for Diane in the shelter of a sheer-rising rock. They
tore off pieces of moss and stripped leaves from the climbing vines to
make a mattress for her; then withdrew with Kreiss to a short distance
while Chet told them of his suspicions.

"Six hours of night," he said at last; "that means two hours for each of
us. We'll take turns standing guard."

Harkness insisted upon being first. Chet flipped a coin with Kreiss and
drew the last turn of guard duty. He stretched himself out on a bit of
ground where vegetation had gained a foothold among the rocks.

"It's going to take me a while to get used to these short days," he
said. "Six hours of daylight; six hours of night. This is a funny,
little world--but it's the only one we've got."

The night air was softly warm; the day had been hard on muscles and
nerves. Chet stared toward the glorious ball of light that was their
moon. There were men and women there who were going about their normal
affairs. Ships were roaring through the air at their appointed levels;
their pilots were checking their courses, laughing, joking.

       *       *       *       *       *

Chet resolutely withdrew his eyes. Think? Hell, no! That was one thing
that he must not do. He threw one arm across his eyes to shut out the
light that brought visions of a world he would never see again--that
emphasized the utter hopelessness of their position.... His next
conscious sensation was of his shoulder being shaken, while the hushed
voice of Doctor Kreiss said:

"Your turn now, Herr Bullard; four hours have you slept."

From Kreiss, Chet took the pistol with its seven precious shells. "All
quiet," Kreiss told him as he prepared to take Chet's place on the soft
leaves; "strange, flying things have I seen, but they do not come near.
And of your mysterious pursuer we have seen nothing. You imagined it,
perhaps."

"I might have imagined it," Chet answered, "but don't try to tell me
that the plants did. I'll give this vegetation credit for some damned
uncanny powers but not for imagination--I draw the line there."

He looked toward the highest point of rock and shook his head. "Too
plain a target if I'm up there," he argued, and took up his position in
the shadows instead.

Once he moved cautiously toward the place they had prepared for Diane.
She was breathing softly and regularly. And on the rock at her side,
with only his jacket for a bed, lay Harkness. Their hands were clasped,
and Chet knew that the girl slept peacefully in the assurance of that
touch.

"They don't make 'em any finer!" he was telling himself, and at the same
moment he stiffened abruptly to attention.

Something was moving! Through and above the hushed noises of the night
had come a gliding sound. It was an indescribable sound, too elusive for
identification; and Chet, in the next instant, could not be sure of its
reality. He did not call, but swung alertly back on guard and slipped
from shadow to shadow as he made his way across the welter of rocks.

       *       *       *       *       *

He stopped at last in strained listening to the silent night. One hand
upon a great stone block at his side steadied his body in tense, poised
concentration.

From afar came a whistling note whose thin keenness was mingled with a
squeal of fright: some marauder of the night had found its prey. From
the leafy canopy above him voices whispered as the night wind set a
myriad leaves in motion. The thousand tiny sounds that blend to make the
silence of the dark! These he heard, and nothing more, while he forced
himself to listen beyond them. He followed with his eyes the creeping
flood of Earth-light that came slantingly now through the opening above
to half-illumine this rocky world; and then, in the far margin of that
light he found something on which his eyes focused sharply--something
that moved!

Walt!--Kreiss--he must arouse them! A shout of alarm was in his
throat--a shout that was never uttered. For, from the darkness at his
back--not where this moving thing had been disclosed by the friendly
Earth-light, but from the place he had just left--came a scream of pure
terror. It was the shocking scream of a person roused from sleep in
utter fright, and the voice was that of Diane.

"Walter!" she cried! "Walt!" There were other words that ended in a
strangling, choking sound, while a hoarse shout from Harkness merged
into a discord that rang horribly through the still night.

       *       *       *       *       *

Chet was racing across the rocks; the pistol was in his hand. What
fearful thing would he face? What was it that had attacked? He forced
his leaden feet to carry him on in a succession of wild leaps. Forgotten
was the menace behind him, although he half saw, half sensed, a shadow
that moved faster than he along the upper rocks. He thought only of the
unknown horror that was ahead, that had drawn that despairing shriek
from the brave lips of Diane. The few seconds of his crossing were an
age in length.

One last spring, one vivid instant while the Earth-light marked in sharp
distinctness the figure of a leaping man! It was Harkness, throwing
himself into the air, trying vainly to reach the struggling form of
Diane Delacouer. She was held high above his head, and she was wrapped
in the coils of a monster serpent--coils that finished in a
smoothly-rounded end. And Chet knew in that instant of horror that the
thing was headless!

He was raising his pistol to fire; the long moments that seemed never to
end were in actuality an instant. Where should he aim? He must not
injure Diane.

From the high rocks beside him came a glint of light, a straight line of
reflected brilliance as from a poised and slender shaft. It moved, it
flashed downward, it hissed angrily as it passed close to Chet's head.
It went on, a spear like a flash of light--on and down, to drive sharply
into the body of that serpent shape! And the coils, at that blow,
relaxed, while the figure of Diane Delacouer fell limply to the
outstretched, cushioning arms of the man below....

       *       *       *       *       *

Had the weapon been thrown with uncanny accuracy, or had it been meant
for him? Chet could not be sure. But he knew that before him Walt
Harkness was bending protectingly above the unconscious figure of a
girl, while above and about the two there flailed a terrible, headless
thing that beat the rocks with sledge-hammer blows. It struck Harkness
once and sent him staggering, and once it came close to Chet so that his
hands closed upon it for an instant. And with the touch he knew that
this serpent was no animal shape, but worse--a creeping tendril from
some flesh-eating horror of the vegetable world.

He dashed in beside Walt; he saw Kreiss hurrying across the rocks. They
had Diane safely out of reach of the threshing, striking thing before
the scientist arrived.

The spear that had passed close to Chet had pinned this deadly thing to
earth; it tore loose as they watched, and the wounded tendril, with the
spear still hanging from its side, slid swiftly down the slope and into
the darkness at the foot of the rocks.

Even the calm preciseness of Herr Kreiss was shattered by the attack. In
a confusion of words he stammered questions that went unanswered. Chet
thrust his pistol into Harkness' hands and was off down the rocky slope
toward the springs where they had got water for their evening meal. A
rolled leaf made a cup that he held carefully while he climbed back. A
few minutes later the pallid face of Diane showed a faint flush, while
she drew a choking breath.

       *       *       *       *       *

Harkness held the girl's head in his arms; he was uttering words of
endearment that were mingled with vicious curses for the thing that had
escaped.

"Never mind that," argued Chet; "that one won't bother us again, and
after this we will be on guard. But here is something to wonder about.
What about this spear? Where did it come from?"

Harkness had eyes only for Diane's tremulous smile. "I am all right,
truly," she assured him. Only then did he turn in bewilderment to Chet.

"I thought you threw it! But of course not; you couldn't; we didn't have
any spears."

"No," said Chet; "I didn't throw it. I saw something moving over across
there"--he pointed toward the farther rocks where he had been--"I was
going to call when Diane's scream beat me to it. But what I saw wasn't
the thing that attacked her. And if it was the same one who threw that
spear he must have come across here in a hurry. And that spear, by the
way, came uncomfortably close to my head. I'm not at all sure but it was
meant for me."

Harkness released his arms from Diane, for she was now able to sit
erect. He picked up the crude bow that had been beside him and fitted an
arrow to the string.

"I'll go and have a look," he promised grimly. But Chet held him back.

"You're not thinking straight; this shock has knocked you out of
control. If that little stranger with the spear meant to help us there's
no need of hunting him out; he doesn't seem anxious to show himself. And
if he meant it for me, he's still too good a shot to fool with in the
dark. You stick here until daylight."

"That is good advice," Herr Kreiss agreed. "The night, it will soon be
gone." He was looking at the leafy opening overhead where the golden
light of a distant Earth was fading before the glow of approaching day.



CHAPTER XI

_The Sacrificial Altar_


"I am off the trail," Harkness admitted. "Towahg guided me before; I
wish he were here to do it now."

They had pushed on for another short day, Harkness leading, and Chet
bringing up the rear and casting frequent backward glances in a vain
effort to catch a glimpse of some other moving figure.

Smothered at times in a dense tangle of vegetation, where they sweated
and worked with aching muscles to tear a path; watching always for the
flaming, crimson buds on grotesque trees, whose limbs were waving,
undulating arms and from which came tendrils like the one that had
nearly ended Diane's life, they fought their way on.

They had seen the buds on that earlier trip; had seen the revolting
beauty of them--the fleshy lips that opened above a pool of death into
which those reaching arms would drop any living thing they touched. They
kept well out of reach when a splash of crimson against the white trees
flashed in warning.

Again they would traverse an open space, where outcropping rocks would
send Kreiss into transports of delight over their rich mineral contents.
But always their leader's eyes were turned toward a range of hills.

"It is beyond there," he assured them, "if only we can reach it."
Harkness pointed to a scar on a mountainside where a crystal outcrop in
a sheer face of rock sparkled brilliantly in the sunlight. "I remember
that--it isn't so very far--and we can look back down the valley from
there and see our ship."

"But we'll never make it to-night," said Chet; "it's a case of making
camp again."

They had gained an altitude of perhaps a thousand feet. No longer did
the jungle press so hard upon them. Even the single file that had been
their manner of marching could be abandoned, and Harkness drew Diane to
his side that he might lend her some of his own strength.

Again the soft contours of the rolling ground had been disturbed: a
landslide in some other century had sent a torrent of boulders from the
high slopes above. Harkness threaded his way among great masses of
granite to come at last to an opening where massive monoliths formed a
gateway.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was an entrance to another valley. They did not need to enter, for
they could skirt it and continue toward the high pass in the hills. But
the gateway seemed inviting. Harkness took Diane's hand to help her
toward it; the others followed.

The fast sinking sun had buried itself behind a distant range, and long
shadows swept swiftly across the world, as if the oncoming night were
alive--as if it were rousing from the somnolence of its daytime sleep
and reaching out with black and clutching hands toward a fearful,
waiting world.

"No twilight here," Chet observed; "let's find a hide-out--a cave, by
choice--where we can guard the entrance and--"

A gasp from Diane checked him. "Oh!" she exclaimed. "It is not real!
_C'est impossible!_"

Chet had been busied with the matter of a secure footing; he looked up
now and took a step forward where Harkness and Diane stood motionless in
a gateway of stone. And he, too, stopped as if stunned by the weird
beauty of the scene.

A valley. Its length reached out before them to end some half mile away.
Sides that might once have sloped evenly seemed weathered to a series of
great steps, and an alternation of striations in black and white made a
banding that encircled the entire oval. Each step was dead-black stone,
each riser was snow-white marble; and the steps mounted up and up until
they resembled the sides of a great bowl. In the center, like an altar
for the worship of some wild, gargantuan god, was a stepped pyramid of
the same startling black and white. Banded like the walls, it rose to
half their height to finish in a capstone cut square and true.

An altar, perhaps; an arena, beyond a doubt, or so it seemed to Chet. He
was first to put the impression in words.

"A stadium!" he marvelled; "an arena for the games of the gods!"

"The gods," Diane breathed softly, "of a wild, lost world--" But Chet
held to another thought.

"Who--who built it?" he asked. "It's tremendous! There is nothing like
it on Earth!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Only Kreiss seemed oblivious to the weird beauty of the spectacle. To
Professor Kreiss dolomite and black flint rock were dolomite and black
flint; interesting specimens--a peculiar arrangement--but nature must be
permitted her little vagaries.

"Who built it?" He repeated Chet's question and gave a short laugh
before answering in words. "The rains, Herr Bullard, and the winds of
ages past. Yes, yes! A most remarkable example of erosion--most
remarkable! I must return this way some time and give it my serious
attention."

Harkness had not spoken; he was shaking his head doubtfully at Kreiss'
words. "I am inclined to agree with Chet," he said slowly. "But who
could have built a gigantic work like this? Have there been former
civilisations here?"

He straightened up and shook himself free from the effects of the wild,
barbaric scene.

"And you needn't come back," he told Kreiss; "you can have a look now,
to-night, by moonlight. We can't go on. I think we'll be safest on that
big altar rock; nothing will get near us without our knowing."

Chet felt Diane Delacouer's hand on his arm; her other hand was gripping
at Harkness. The shiver that passed through her was plainly perceptible.
"I'm afraid," she confessed in a half-whisper; "there's something about
it: I do not like it. There is evil there--danger. We should not enter."

Walt Harkness gently patted the hand that trembled on his arm. "I don't
wonder that you are all shot to pieces," he assured her. "After last
night, you've a right to be. But I really believe this is the safest
spot we can find."

       *       *       *       *       *

He stepped forward beyond the great stones that were like a gateway from
one wildly impossible world to another. A rock slide, it seemed, had
smoothed off the great steps from where they stood, for there was a
descending slope that gave easy footing. He took one step, and then
another, to show the girl how foolish were her fears; then he started
back. In the fading light something had flashed from the jungle they had
left. Across the rocky expanse it came, to bury itself in the loose soil
and rubble, not two paces in advance of the startled man. An arrow!--and
it stood quivering in silent warning on the path ahead.

Chet quietly unslung his bow where he had looped it over one shoulder,
but Harkness motioned him back. The pistol was in his hand, but after a
moment's hesitation he returned that to his belt. His voice was low and
tense.

"Listen," he said: "we're no match for them with our bows. They are
hidden; they could pick us off as we came. And I can't waste a single
detonite shell on them while they keep out of sight. We can't go back;
we must go ahead. We will all make a break for it and run as fast as we
can toward the big altar--the pyramid. From there we can stand them off
for a while. And we will go now and take them by surprise."

He seized Diane firmly by one arm and steadied her as they dashed down
the slope. Chet and the professor were close behind. Each spine must
have tingled in anticipation of a shower of arrows. Chet threw one hasty
look toward the rear; the air was clear; no slender shafts pursued them.
But from the cover of the jungle growth came a peculiar sound, almost
like a human in distress--a call like a moaning cry.

       *       *       *       *       *

They slackened their breath-taking pace and approached the great pyramid
more slowly. As they drew near, the great steps took on their real size;
each block was taller even than Chet, and he had to reach above his head
to touch the edge of the stone.

They walked quickly about; found a place where the great blocks were
broken down, where the slope was littered with debris from the
disintegrating stone that had sifted down from above. They could climb
here; it was almost like a crudely formed set of more normally sized
steps. They made their way upward while Chet counted the courses of
stone. Six, then eight--ten--and here Harkness called a halt.

"This--will do," he gasped between labored breaths. "Safe enough here.
Chet, you and Kreiss--spread out--watch from all--sides."

The pilot was not as badly winded as Harkness who bad been helping
Diane. "Stay here," he told Harkness; "you too, Kreiss; make yourselves
comfortable. I will go on up to the top. The moon--or the Earth,
rather--will be up pretty soon; I can keep watch in all directions from
up there. We've got to get some sleep; can't let whoever it is that is
trailing us rob us of our rest or we'll soon be no good. I'll call you
after a while."

       *       *       *       *       *

The great capstone projected beyond the blocks that supported it; that
much had been apparent from the ground. But Chet was amazed at the size
of the monolith when he stood at last on the broad step over which this
capstone projected like a roof.

The shadows were deep beneath, and Chet, knowing that he could never
draw himself to the top of the great slab whose under side he could
barely touch, knew also that he must watch from all sides. The shadowed
floor beneath the big stone made a shelter from any watchful eyes out
there in the night; here would be his beat as sentry. He walked slowly
to the side of the pyramid, then around toward the front.

It was the front to Chet because it faced the entrance, the rocky
gateway, where they had come in. He did not expect to find that side in
any way differing from the first. Each side was twenty paces in length;
Chet measured them carefully, astounded still at the size of the
structure.

"Carved by the winds and rains," he said, repeating the opinion of
Professor Kreiss. "Now, I wonder.... It seems too regular, too much as
if--" He paused in his thoughts as he reached the corner; waited to
stare watchfully out into the night; turned the corner, and, still in
shadow, moved on. "Too much as if nature had had some help!"

His meditation ended as abruptly as did his steady pacing: he was
checked in midstride, one foot outstretched, while he struggled for
balance and fought to keep from taking that forward step.

In the shelter of the capstone was a darker shadow; there was a
blackness there that could mean only the opening of a cave--a cavern,
whose regular outlines and square-cut portal dismissed for all time the
thought of a natural opening in the rock. But it was not this alone that
had brought the man up short in his stealthy stride: it had jolted him
as if he had walked head on into the great monolith itself. It was not
this but a flat platform before the cave, a raised stone surface some
two feet above the floor. And on it, pale and unreal in the first light
of the rising Earth was a naked, human form--a face that grimaced with
distorted features.

       *       *       *       *       *

Chet had known the ape-men on that earlier visit: he knew that while
most of them were heavily covered with hair there were some who were
almost human in their hairlessness. The body before him was one of
these.

It lay limply across the stone platform, the listless head hanging
downward over one edge. It had high cheekbones, a retreating forehead,
glassy, staring eyes, and grinning teeth that projected from between
loose lips. And the evening wind stirred the black, stringy hair while
it touched lightly upon the ends of a short length of vine about the
ape-man's neck, where only the ends could be seen, for the rest of the
pliant vine was sunk deeply into the flesh of the neck. It had been the
instrument of death; the ape-man had been strangled.

Chet tore his fascinated eyes from the revolting features of that purple
face; he forced himself to look beyond at what else might be on this
sacrificial stone. And, as he saw the assortment of fruit that was there
on a green mat of leaves, the surprise was even greater than would have
followed a repetition of the first discovery.

A naked, murdered man!--and ripe fruit! What was the meaning of this?
Chet asked himself a score of questions and found the answer to none.
But one thing he knew now beyond a doubt: Herr Professor Kreiss had been
wrong. This was truly an altar for the performance of unknown and savage
rites, and the altar itself and the whole encircling arena had been
created by some intelligence. People--things--embodied intelligences of
some sort had carved these stones. Chet was oppressed by a feeling of
impending danger.

His thoughts came back sharply to the things on the stone: the absurdly
contrasting exhibits: a naked body and fruit! But were they so
different? he asked himself, and knew in the same instant that they were
not. They were one and the same; they differed only in kind. They were
both food!

       *       *       *       *       *

From the darkness beyond came a shuffling of feet. From the black
passage someone was coming--drawing near to the portal--and coming
slowly, steadily through the dark. The pad of animal feet would have
been unnerving--or the stealthy footfalls of an approaching savage--but
this was neither; it was a scuffing, shuffling sound. The sweat stood
out in beads on Chet's forehead and a trickle of it reached his eyes. He
dashed it away with the back of his hand while he drew silently into the
shadow of the overhanging stone. He held his breath as he watched in the
darkness.

His pistol came noiselessly from his belt. Yet, how could he fire it? he
asked himself in a moment of frantic planning. Only seven cartridges
left!--they would need them all; and to fire now would bring more
enemies upon them. He returned the gun to his belt and stooped to weigh
a fragment of stone in his hand: this must serve him as a weapon.

The dragging footsteps were near, where the passage mouth loomed black.
The light of a distant Earth, struck slantingly across to leave this
face of the pyramid in half-darkness. From that far and peaceful world
the light poured floodingly down; it shone in under the projecting
capstone; it struck upon the raised altar and revealed in ghastliest
detail the gruesome offering there. And surely the strangest sight of
all that that Earth-light disclosed was when it shone golden upon a
black and hairy body of a beast that was half man, half ape. The
creature moved slowly forward, walking erect, with its furry arms
stretched gropingly ahead. In the full light it went shuffling on like
one who is blind or who walks in the dark, until it stopped before the
altar stone and stood rigidly waiting.

       *       *       *       *       *

Waiting for what? Chet was making demands upon his reason that was
already taxed beyond its capacity. He heard nothing, and he knew with
entire certainty that there was no audible call, yet he sensed the
message at the instant the ape-man moved.

"Flesh!" said the message. "Bring flesh! Bring it now!"

And, with glazed, wide-open eyes which plainly saw, but could not
comprehend, the ape-thing stared at the altar-stone. It bent forward,
took the fresh-killed body by the throat, and slung it across one
shoulder as easily as a child might handle a doll; then it turned and
vanished once more into the waiting dark.

"God!" breathed Chet when the vision had passed. "God help us! What does
it mean?"

He took one backward step, then another, and made his way in silence
along the path he had come. He must get back to the others to tell them
of what he had seen; to help them to flee from this place of horror that
was more terrible for its qualities of the unknown.

       *       *       *       *       *

He gave his companions the story in staccato sentences. "And the ape-man
was unconscious," he concluded; "he was an automaton only, directed by
another brain. I know it. I got that message, I tell you; it was radioed
by someone or by something--sent direct to that big ape's brain.

"Now let's get out of here. Diane had it right when she said that the
place was evil. But she didn't make it strong enough. It's foul with
evil! It's damned! Come on, I'm leaving now!"

Chet's whispered words were uttered with all the emphasis that horror
could instill. He knew that he spoke truth. But he could not know how
mistaken was his last positive assertion.

"I'm leaving now!" Chet had said, and how desperately he wanted to put
this place behind him only he himself could know. He took one step
toward the place where they could descend; then Harkness' hand pulled
him roughly to his knees.

"Down!" Harkness was commanding; "get down, Chet! They're coming--a
swarm of them--through the gate!"

The pilot heard them before he saw them. They began a chant as they
poured through the entrance, a weird, wailing note like the cry of a
stricken animal that cries on and on. Then he saw the swarm.

They came in a cataract of black bodies that spilled through that stone
portal and down the long slope. They formed a ragged column on the
ground and came on toward the pyramid, where, unseen, three men and a
girl from another world were crouching.

"Back!" Chet ordered in a whisper. "Keep low--in the shadow! Get around
in back of the pyramid. We can make a run for it!"

       *       *       *       *       *

They crept swiftly along the rocky step where the deep angle was in
shadow. They reached the rear slope where Chet had climbed. And each one
knew without the speaking of a word that retreat was not to be
considered. The open arena!--the high bank of great steps in their bold
markings of black and white! They could never hope to scale them; they
would never even reach them alive, for the savage horde would overwhelm
them before they had crossed the Earth-lit ground.

"All right," said Chet in acceptance of their unspoken thoughts, "up it
is! Here's a hand, Diane--up you go! Now watch your step, and climb as
if a thousand devils were after you, for there's all of that!"

The wave of bodies was washing against the pyramid's base when Chet drew
Kreiss, the last of the four, into the shadow of the huge capstone. The
noise of their climbing had been covered by the wailing cry that came
piercing shrilly from the throng far below. And they had been unseen,
Chet was sure; unless the one furtive shadow that he had seen draw away
from the crowd and slip around toward the rear of the pyramid meant that
some one of the tribe had found their trail.

From the front of the shadowed top came the shuffling of heavy, dragging
feet on the stone. It was the same as before. Chet had held some vague
idea of fighting off the horde from the top of the steps, for here was
the only place where they could ascend. He had forgotten this other one
for the moment, and he realized in a single flashing instant that here
was a worse menace than the pack.

Only one, it was true, one ape-man who would be no match for them! But
Chet remembered those blind, staring eyes and the message that had come
to him. Those eyes had seen the horrible food upon the altar; some other
brain had seen it too. The ape-man was an instrument only; there was
some hidden horror in back of him, something that saw with his eyes,
something that must never see them, cowering and huddled in the shadow
of that great stone.

       *       *       *       *       *

The shuffling was coming from the right; Chet clutched silently at the
others to draw them away and toward the left. They retreated to the
corner, turned it, and went on toward the front; then stopped in silent
waiting where the shadow ended. The front, where the altar stood, was in
the full glare of Earth.

For the moment they were safe, but what of the time when the ape-man
returned? He had descended to the ground; when he climbed back again
would he retrace his steps? Or would he come this side and trap them
here where the light of their own Earth made any forward step
impossible?

Below them the wailing ceased. Chet leaned forward to see the black
horde, silent and motionless. Approaching them was the "big ape" he had
seen at the altar. His hands were reaching blindly before him and he
moved as would a human when entranced.

He reached the huddled blacks; his groping hands hovered hesitantly
above a cowering, hairy form. Presently the ape-man passed on to the
next, and his hands rested on the creature's face. From the massed
figures there rose a moan, and Chet felt poignantly the animal misery of
it. Suddenly all emotion was transformed to startled attention. From the
slope at the rear had come the rattle of loose stones!

Far below, in plain view, was the one who had descended--Chet knew that
his eyes could never mistake that blind, groping figure--but from the
slope they could not see, from around the far edge of the pyramid, a
clicking stone sent a repeated warning.

Chet laid a hand on Harkness' arm. "Get set, Walt!" he warned. "Get
ready for trouble. There's something coming: it may come this way!"



CHAPTER XII

_In the Shadow of the Pyramid_


They waited, unbreathing, listening to the occasional stealthy sounds.
The pistol was still in Chet's belt; the three men were crouched before
Diane, in their hands the crude weapons that they had made.

And then the sounds ceased. The menace seemed to have passed, or to be
withheld; the men had been tensely prepared for some minutes when Diane
spoke softly.

"Look below," she whispered; "the savages! That big one seems to be
choosing them--selecting some from among them."

Chet forced himself to look away from that corner of the rocky step
where he had been expecting an unknown enemy to appear, and he stared
below them where the Earth-light from the fully risen globe swept across
the arena.

He was amazed at the numbers of the savages that the full light
disclosed. There were hundreds--yes, thousands--of them, he estimated.
And they were standing in black, clotted masses, standing awed and
silent in a world that was all black and white in a dazzling contrast,
while there passed among them one with outstretched arms.

The black, hairy hands would hover over a cowering head; the eyes, Chet
knew, were staring widely, blindly, at the shivering creature before
him. And if Chet's surmise was correct, there was another--a hidden,
mysterious something--who was taking the message of those eyes as the
ape-man's brain transmitted it; taking it and sending back instructions
as to which victims should be selected.

Often the hands passed on; but soon they would descend to touch the
savage face of another in the assemblage. At the touch the selected one
jerked sharply erect, then walked stiffly from the ranks to join a group
that was waiting.

At last there were nearly a hundred savage figures in that group, all
grown men, young and in the full flood of their savage strength. No
women were chosen, nor children, though there were countless little
black bodies huddled with the others.

       *       *       *       *       *

A prolific race, indeed, Chet thought, and this human automaton down
there was leaving the women to produce more victims; leaving the
children till they were fully grown, taking only the best and strongest
of the pack--for what?

His question was answered in part in the next instant. While the wailing
cry quivered again upon the air, the chosen hundred took up their
somnambulistic walk. The messenger from the pyramid came after like a
herdsman driving cattle to the slaughter. They passed from Chet's view
as they rounded the rear of the pyramid, and then he heard the scuff and
clatter of their ascent.

No need to explain to the others; each of the four saw all too clearly
their predicament. From the rear, coming steadily on, was the savage
throng; before them, plainly visible from below, was the lighted edge
where the altar rock stood. To step out there in full view would bring
the whole pack upon them; to drop down to another level would expose
them as plainly. Only in the dark shelter of the projecting capstone
were they hidden from the upturned faces now massed solidly about.

Their problem was solved for them by the sight of a savage body, black,
ragged with unkempt tufts of hair--another!--a score of them! They were
rounding the corner of the pyramid and walking stiffly toward them,
pressing upon them.

And the arrow on the drawn bow in Chet's hand was never loosed, for each
savage face was wide-eyed and devoid of expression; the ape-men neither
saw nor felt them. They were hypnotized, as Chet was suddenly aware;
they knew only that they must follow the mental instructions that were
guiding them on.

The black, animal bodies were upon them. Chet came from the stupefying
wonder that had claimed them all and sprang to shield the group from the
steady advance. Harkness was beside him, and an instant later, Kreiss;
Diane was at their backs. And the weight of the advancing bodies swept
them irresistibly backward, out into the light, along the wide step
toward the passage that yawned darkly under the projecting cap.

       *       *       *       *       *

There was no checking the avalanche of bodies--no resisting them: the
men were carried along; it was all they could do to keep their footing.
Harkness sprang backward to take Diane in his arms and retreat with her
before the advancing horde. Chet was waiting for an outcry from below,
for some indication that despite the mass of bodies that smothered them,
their presence had been observed. But only the wailing cry persisted.

There was another advancing column that had circled the other side, and
now both groups were meeting at the passageway. Chet gripped at the
figure of Kreiss who was being swept helpless toward the dark vault and
he dragged him back. The two fought their way out toward the front and
saw Harkness doing the same.

"The altar," gasped Chet; "up on the altar!" And he saw Harkness swing
Diane up on the stone, then turn and extend a helping hand toward the
two men.

Safe in the sanctuary of this altar dedicated to some deity that they
could never imagine, they crouched close to its blood-clotted surface,
and still there was no change in the cry from below.

"Let them all go in," Harkness whispered. "Then follow them into the
shadow. There will no more come up here, I imagine. We will make our
escape after a bit."

The black mouth of the passage had swallowed the ape-men by solid
scores, and now only some stragglers were left. Harkness was speaking in
quick, whispered orders:

"Follow the last ones. Keep stooped over so they won't spot us from
below. Wait in the darkness of the entrance."

Chet saw him crouch low as he crept from the stone. Diane followed, then
Kreiss; and Chet next, close behind a shambling ape-figure that slunk
into the darkness of the passageway.

       *       *       *       *       *

That it was a passage Chet had not the least doubt. It had taken in
these scores of savage figures, taken them somewhere; but where it led
or why these poor stunned creatures had been chosen he could not know.
Yet he remembered the one message he had caught: "Flesh! Bring flesh!"
It had meant only one thing: it was food that was wanted--human food!
And the fetid stench that was wafted from the darkness of this place of
mystery and horror, that made him reel back and put a hand to his
revolted lips, would not have encouraged him, even had he had any desire
to learn the answer to the puzzle.

Diane was half-crouching; she was choking with the foul air. Harkness
spoke gaspingly as he took her by the arm:

"Outside, for God's sake!... Horrible!... Get Diane outside--try lying
down--we may be out of sight!"

But this time he did not follow his own instructions. He rose erect,
instead, and stood swaying as if dazed; and Chet saw that before him,
outlined against the lighted opening in the rock, was the messenger he
had seen.

Black against the bright Earth-light, his features were lost; no
expression could be seen. But his eyes, that were dead and white like
the upturned belly of a fish, came suddenly to life. They glared from
the dark face with a light that came almost visibly from them to the
staring eyes of Walt Harkness. Chet saw Harkness stiffen, one upraised
hand falling woodenly to his side; a cry of warning was strangled in his
throat, and then the glaring eyes passed on to the face of Diane.

Chet had forgotten this messenger from the pyramid's hidden horror. If
he had thought of him at all he had assumed that he had passed in with
the other crowding ape-men; he was one like them, undistinguishable from
the rest. And now the savage figure was before them in terrifying
reality.

       *       *       *       *       *

The eyes passed on to Kreiss. Then the ugly face swung toward Chet, and,
as their eyes met, it seemed to Chet that a blow had crashed stunningly
upon his brain. He tried to move--he knew that he must move. He must
reach for his bow, must leap upon this hulking brute and beat at the
glaring eyes with his bare fists. And his muscles that he tried to rouse
to action might have changed to stone, so unresponsive were they, and
unmoving.

The hairy hands reached out and touched Harkness. They passed on and
lingered upon the blanched features of the girl, and Chet raged inwardly
at his inability to resist and her utter helplessness to draw away. Then
Kreiss; and again Chet's turn. And, with the touching of those rough
animal hands, he felt that a contact had been established with some
distant force--a something that communicated with him, that sent
thoughts which his brain phrased in words.

"Curious!" said those thoughts. "How exceedingly curious! We shall be
interested in learning more. We shall learn all we can in one way and
another of this new race. We shall dismember them slowly, all but the
woman: we find her strangely attractive.... You will bring them to us at
once."

And Chet knew that the instructions were for the messenger whose hands
came stiffly upward to point the way; while, with a portion of his mind
that was functioning freely, Chet raged as he saw Diane take the first
stiff, involuntary step forward. Then Harkness and Kreiss! and he knew
that he too must follow, knew himself to be as helpless as the driven
brutes he had seen herded down below. And then, with the same mind that
was still able to comprehend the messages of his own eyes and ears, he
knew that from behind the savage figure there had come a sound.

       *       *       *       *       *

His senses were alert, sharpened to an abnormal degree; the almost
silent footfall otherwise could never have been heard.

The raised hand swung toward him; he knew that he must turn and follow
the others to whatever awaited.... But the hand paused! Then swiftly the
savage figure swung to face toward the entrance, and those blazing eyes,
as Chet knew, were a match for any opponent.

But the eyes never found what they looked for and the quick swing of the
big ape-body was never completed. In the portal of light there was
framed a naked figure which sprang as if from nowhere, squat, savage and
ape-like, but hairless. Its arms were upraised; the hands held a bow;
and the twang of the bowstring came as one with the ripping thud of a
shaft that was tearing through flesh.

The savage fell in mid-turn; and it seemed as if the blazing light of
the terrible eyes must have flicked out before the breath of Death. And,
protruding from the thick neck, was the shaft of a crude arrow.... There
were others that flashed, thudding and quivering, into the body that
jerked with each impact, then lay still, a darker blot on the floor of a
dark cave.

Chet was breathless; it was an instant before he realized that he was
free, that the hypnotic bonds that had bound him were loosed. It was
another instant before he sensed that his companions were still
marching--trudging stiffly, woodenly off through the dark. He bounded
after, heedless of bruising walls; he followed where the sound of their
scuffling feet marked their progress to a sure doom.

There were stairs; how he sensed them Chet could not have told. But he
paused, hesitated a moment, then found the first step and half ran, half
fell, through the utter darkness of the pit into which they had gone.

       *       *       *       *       *

The odors that had seemed the utmost of vileness now came to him a
hundred times worse. They tore at his throat with a strangling grip, and
he was weak with nausea when he crashed upon a figure that he knew, was
Kreiss. Then on, to grasp at Diane and Harkness; to drag them to a
standstill in the darkness that pressed upon them smotheringly, while he
shook them, beat at them, shouted their names.

"Diane! Walt! Wake up! Wake up, I tell you! We're going back!"

He swung them around; forced them to face about.

"Walt, for God's sake, wake up! Diane! Kreiss!" The deep, sobbing breath
of Diane was the first encouraging response.

Then: "Free!" she gasped. "I'm free!" And Harkness and Kreiss both
mumbled incoherently as they came from their hypnotic stupor.

"How--" began Harkness, "how did you--" But Chet waited for no
explanation of the seeming miracle that had just taken place.

"Go back," he told them, "--back up the steps!" And a babble of cries
that were terrifying in their inhuman savagery welled up from the depths
of the pyramid to urge them on.

The body of their captor was prone on the floor above: they stepped over
it to reach the entrance. No figure showed there now; Chet stooped low
and stepped forth cautiously that the surging horde on the ground might
not see him. The others followed. He felt Harkness' hand in a sudden
warning grip upon him.

"Chet!" said Harkness, "there is something there in the shadow--there!"
And Chet saw, even before Walt pointed, a wriggling figure that crept
toward them.

He struck down the bow that Kreiss had raised, and a ray of light came
through a jagged niche in the rock above to fall upon the face of the
one who drew near.

Abjectly, in utmost humility, the naked figure crept toward their feet,
and the savage face that was raised to theirs was wreathed in a
distorted smile.

Beside him, Chet felt Harkness struggling to speak. In wondering tones
that were almost unbelieving, Harkness choked out one word.

"Towahg!" he said. "Towahg!"

And the thick lips in that upraised face echoed proudly:

"Towahg! Me come!"



CHAPTER XIII

_Happy Valley_


"Towahg!" Chet marveled; "you little devil! It's you who has been
following us all this time!"

"I wish he hadn't been so bashful," Harkness added. "If he had come out
and showed himself he would have saved us a lot of trouble." But
Harkness stepped forward and patted the black shoulder that quivered
with joy beneath his touch. "Good boy, Towahg!" he told the grinning
ape-man.

Monkey-like, Towahg had to imitate, and this time he gave a reproduction
of his own acts. He wriggled toward the entrance of the passage, peered
around the edge, and seemed to see something that made him draw back.
Then he fitted an arrow to his bow and springing upright, let it fly.

So realistic was the performance that Chet actually expected to see
another enemy transfixed, but the squat figure of Towahg was doing a
dance of victory beside the prostrate figure of the first and only
victim. Chet reached out with one long arm and swung the exulting savage
about. He heard Herr Kreiss expressing his opinion in accents of
disgust.

"Ugly little beast!" Kreiss was saying. "And murderous!"

There was no time to lose: the sound of scrambling bodies was coming
nearer from the dark pit beyond. Yet, even then, Chet found an instant
to defend the black.

"Damned lucky for us that he is a murderer!" he told Kreiss. Then to
Towahg:

"Listen, you little imp of hell! You don't know more than ten words, but
get this!"

Chet was standing where the Earth-light struck upon him; he pointed into
the dark where the sounds of pursuit grew loud, and he shook his head
and screwed his features into an expression that was supposed to depict
fear. "No! No!" he said.

He dragged the savage forward and pointed cautiously to the milling
horde below, and repeated, "No! No!" Then he included them all in a wave
of his hand and pointed back and out into the night. And Towahg's
unlovely features were again twisted into what was for him a smile, as
he grunted some unintelligible syllables and motioned them to follow.

       *       *       *       *       *

It had taken but an instant. Towahg was scurrying in advance; he sped
like a shadow of a passing cloud, and behind him the others followed,
crouching low in the shelter of the deep-cut step. No figures were below
them at the rear of the pyramid, and Chet reached for one of Diane's
arms, while Harkness took the other. Between them they held her from
falling while they followed the dark blur that was Towahg leaping
noiselessly down the long slope.

No time for caution now. The savage ahead of them leaped silently; his
flying feet hardly disturbed a stone. But beneath them, Chet felt a
small landslide of rubble that came with them in their flight. And above
the noise of their going came a sound that sped them on--the rising
shout of wonder from the unseen multitude in front, and a chorus of
animal cries from the pyramid's top.

Chet saw a blot of black figures at the top of the slope just as they
felt firm ground beneath their feet. They followed where Towahg led in a
swift race across the open arena toward the great steps at the rear.
Black and white in strongly contrasting bands, the rock reared itself in
a barrier that, to Chet, seemed hopelessly unsurmountable. He felt that
they had come to the end of their tether.

"Trapped!" he told himself, and wondered at Towahg's leading them into
such a cul-de-sac, even while he knew that retreat in other directions
was cut off. The pursuit was gaining on them; savages from beyond the
pyramid had sighted them now in the full light of Earth, and their
yelping cry came mingled with hoarse growls as the full pack took the
trail. Ahead of them, Towahg, reaching the base of the first white step,
was dancing with excitement beside a narrow cleft in the rocks. He led
the way through the small passage. And Harkness, bringing up the rear,
took the detonite pistol in his hand.

"One shell! We'll have to waste it!" he said, and raised the weapon.

Its own explosion was slight, but the sound of the bursting cartridge
when its grain of detonite struck the rocks made a thunderous noise as
it echoed between the narrow walls.

"That will check the pursuit," Harkness exulted; "that will make them
stop and think it over."

       *       *       *       *       *

It was another hour before Towahg slackened his pace. He had led them
through jungle that to them seemed impassable; had shown them the hidden
trails and warned them against spiked plants whose darts were needle
sharp. At last he led them to a splashing stream where they followed him
through the trackless water for a mile or more.

The mountain with the white scar was their beacon. Harkness pointed it
out to their guide and made him understand that that was where they
would go.

And, when night was gone, and the first rays of the rising sun made a
quickly changing kaleidoscope of the colorful east, they came at last to
a barren height. Behind them was a maze of valleys and rolling hills;
beyond these was a place of smoke, where red fires shone pale in the
early light, and set off at one side was a shape whose cylindrical
outline could be plainly seen. It caught the first light of the sun to
reflect it in sparkling lines and glittering points, and every
reflection came back to them tinged with pale green, by which they knew
that the gas was still there.

Chet turned from a prospect that could only be depressing. His muscles
were heavy with the poisons of utter fatigue; the others must be the
same, but for the present they were safe, and they could find some
position that they could defend. Towahg would be a valuable ally. And
now their lives were ahead of them--lives of loneliness, of exile.

       *       *       *       *       *

Harkness, too, had been staring back toward that ship that was their
only link with their lost world; his eyes met Chet's in an exchange of
glances that showed how similar were their thoughts. And then, at sound
of a glad laugh from Diane, their looks of despair gave place to
something more like shame, and Chet shifted his own eyes quickly away.

"It is beautiful, Walter," Diane was saying: "the lovely valley, the
lake, the three mountain peaks like sentinels. It is marvelous. And we
will be happy there, all of us, I know it.... Happy Valley. There--I've
named it! Do you like the name, Walter?"

And Chet saw Harkness' reply in a quick pressure of his hand on one of
Diane's. And he knew why Walt looked suddenly away without giving her an
answer in words.

"Happy Valley!" Diane of all the four had shown the ability to rise
above desperate physical weariness, above a despondent mood, to dare
look ahead instead of backward and to find hope for happiness in the
prospect.

Off at one side, Chet saw Kreiss; the scientist's weariness was
forgotten while he ran like a puppy after a bird, in pursuit of a
floating butterfly that drifted like a wind-blown flower. And Harkness,
unspeaking, was still clinging to Diane's firm hand.... Yes, thought
Chet, there was happiness to be found here. For himself, it would be
more than a little lonesome. But, he reflected, what happiness was there
in any place or thing more than the happiness we put there for
ourselves?... Happy Valley--and why not? He dared to meet the girl's
eyes now, and the smile on his lips spread to his own eyes, as he echoed
his thoughts:

"Why not?" he asked. "Happy Valley it is; we just didn't recognize it at
first."

       *       *       *       *       *

They came to the lake at last; its sparkling blue had drawn them from
afar off: it was still lovelier as they came near. Here was the same
steady west wind that had driven the gas upon their ship. But here it
ruffled the velvet of waving grasses that swept down to the margin of
the lake. There was a higher knoll that rose sharply from the shore, and
back of all were forests of white-trunked trees.

Chet had seen none of the crimson buds, nor threatening tendrils since
entering the valley. And Towahg confirmed his estimate of the valley's
safety. He waved one naked arm in an all-inclusive gesture, and he drew
upon his limited vocabulary to tell them of this place.

"Good!" he said, and waved his arm again. "Good! Good!"

"Towahg, you're a silver-tongued orator," Chet told him: "no one could
have described it better. You're darned right; it's good."

He raised his head to take a deep breath of the fragrant air; it was
intoxicating with its blending of spicy odors. At his feet the water
made emerald waves, where the clear, deep blue of the reflected sky
merged with yellow sand. Fish darted through the deeper pools where the
beach shelved off, and above them the air held flashing colorful things
that circled and skimmed above the waves.

The rippling grass was so green, the sky and lake so intense a blue, and
one mountainous mass of cloud shone in a white too blinding to be borne.
And over it all flowed the warm, soft air that seemed vibrant with a
life-force pulsing strongly through this virgin world.

Diane called from where she and Harkness had wandered through the lush
grass. Kreiss had thrown himself upon a strip of warm sand and was
oblivious to the beauties that surrounded him. Towahg was squatted like
a half-human frog, binding new heads on his arrows.

"Chet," she called, "come over here and help me to exclaim over this
beautiful place. Walter talks only of building a house and arranging a
place that we can defend. He is so very practical."

"Practical!" exclaimed Chet. "Why, Walt's a dreamer and a poet compared
to me. I'm thinking of food. Hey, Towahg," he called to the black,
"let's eat!" He amplified this with unmistakable pointings at his mouth
and suggestive rubbing of his stomach, and Towahg started off at a run
toward trees that were heavy with strange fruit.

       *       *       *       *       *

By night there were unmistakable signs that the hand of man had been at
work. A band of savages would have accepted the place as they found it;
for them the shelter of a rock would have sufficed. They would have
passed on to other hunting grounds and only a handful of ashes and a
broken branch, perhaps, would have marked where they had been. But your
civilized man is never satisfied.

Along the mile of shore was open ground. Here the trees approached the
water: again their solid rampart of ghostly trunks was held back some
hundreds of yards. And the open ground was vividly green where the soft
grass waved; and it was matted, too, with crimson and gold of countless
flowers. A beautiful carpet, flung down by the edge of a crystal lake,
and the flowered covering swept up and over the one high knoll that
touched the shore.... And on the knoll, near an outcrop of limestone
rocks, was a house.

"Not exactly pretentious," Chet had admitted, "but we'll do better later
on."

"It will keep Diane under cover," argued Harkness; "these leaves are
like leather."

He helped Diane put another strip of leaf in place on the roof; a twist
of green vine tied around the stem held it loosely.

The leaves were huge, as much as ten feet in diameter: great circles of
leathery green that they cut with a pocket knife and "tailored" as Diane
called it to fit the rough framework of the hut. Towahg had found them
and had given them a name that they did not trouble to learn. "Towahg's
grunts sound so much alike," Diane complained smilingly. "He seems to
know his natural history, but he is difficult to understand."

       *       *       *       *       *

But Towahg proved a valuable man. He cracked two round stones together,
and cleaved off one to a rounded edge. He bound this with withes to a
short stick and in a few minutes had a serviceable stone ax that bit
into slender saplings that were needed for a framework.

Chet nodded his head to call Kreiss' attention to that. "Herr Doktor,"
he said, "it isn't every scientist who has the chance to see a close-up
of the stone age."

But Herr Kreiss, as Chet told Harkness later, did not seem to "snuggle
up nice and friendly" to the grinning savage. "He is armed better than
we," Kreiss complained. "I do not trust him. It is an impossible
situation, this, that civilized men should be dependent upon one so
savage. For what is our _kultur_, our great advancement in all lines of
mental endeavor, if at the last, when tested by nature, we must rely
upon such assistance?"

Chet saw Herr Doktor Kreiss draw himself aloof with meticulous care as
Towahg dashed by, and it occurred to him that perhaps it was as well for
Kreiss that the black one knew so little of what was said.

But aloud he merely said: "You'll have lots of chances to use that
mental endeavor stuff later on, Doctor. But right now what we need to
know is how to get by without any of your laboratories, without text
books or tools, with just our bare hands and with brains that are geared
up to the civilization you mention and don't do us a whole lot of good
here. Better let Towahg show us what he knows."

But Herr Kreiss only shrugged his thin shoulders and wandered off
through this research-man's paradise, where every flower and insect and
stone were calling to him. Chet envied the equanimity with which the man
had accepted his lot, had come to this place and was prepared to spend
his remaining years collecting scientific data that were to him
all-important.

       *       *       *       *       *

Again the sun sank swiftly. But this time, Chet stretched himself
luxuriously upon the matted grass and turned to stare at the little fire
that burned before the entrance of Diane's shelter. His pocket fireflash
had kindled some dry sticks that burned without smoke.

"We will be a little careful about smoke," Harkness had warned them all.
"No use of broadcasting the news of our being here. We have come a long
way and I think there is small chance of Schwartzmann's party or the
savages finding us in this spot."

Beyond the fire, Harkness raised himself now to sit erect and glance
about the circle of fire-lit faces. "There's plenty of planning to be
done," he said. "There is the matter of defense; we must build a
barricade of some sort. As for shelter, we must remember that we will be
here a long time and that we might as well face it. We will need to
build some serviceable shelters. Then, what about clothes? These we are
wearing are none the better for the trip through the jungle: they won't
last forever. We've got to learn--Lord! we've got to learn so many
things!"

And the first of many councils was begun.



CHAPTER XIV

_A Bag of Green Gas_


Under a tree on the edge of the open ground a notched stick hung. Six
sharply cut V's showed red through the white bark, then one that was
deeper; another six and another deeper cut; more of them until the stick
was full: so passed the little days.

"Some time," Herr Kreiss had promised, "I shall determine with accuracy
the length of our Dark Moon days; then we will convert these crude
records into Earth time. It is good that we should not lose our
knowledge of the days on Earth." He made a ceremony each morning of the
cutting of another notch.

Chet, too, had a bit of daily routine that was never neglected. Each
sunrise found him on the high divide; each morning he watched for the
glint and sparkle of sunlight as it flashed from a metal ship; and each
morning the reflected light came to him tinged with green, until he knew
at last that it might never be different. The poisonous fumes filled the
pocket at the end of the valley where the great ship rested. She was
indeed at the bottom of a sea.

Back at camp were other signs of the passing days. Around the top of the
knoll a palisade had sprung up. Stakes buried in the ground, with
sharpened ends pointing up and outward, were interwoven with tough vines
to make a barricade that would check any direct assault. And, within the
enclosure, near the little hut that had been built for Diane, were other
shelters. One black night of tropic rainstorm had taught the necessity
for roofs that would protect them from torrential downpours.

These did well enough for the present, these temporary shelters and
defenses, and they had kept Diane and the two men working like mad when
it was essential that they have something to do, something to think of,
that they might not brood too long and deeply on their situation and the
life of exile they were facing.

       *       *       *       *       *

For Kreiss this was not necessary. In Herr Kreiss, it seemed, were the
qualities of the stoic. They were exiled--that was a fact; Herr Kreiss
accepted it and put it aside. For, about him, were countless things
animate and inanimate of this new world, things which must be taken into
his thin hands, examined, classified and catalogued in his mind.

In the rocky outcrop at the top of their knoll he had found a cave with
which this rock seemed honeycombed. Here, within the shelter of the
barricade, he had established what he called very seriously his
"laboratory." And here he brought strange animals from the
jungle--flying things that were more like bats than birds, yet colored
gorgeously. Chet found him one day quietly exultant over a wrinkled
piece of parchment. He was sharpening a quill into a pen, and a
cup-shaped stone held some dark liquid that was evidently ink.

"So much data to record," he said. "There will be others who will follow
us some day. Perhaps not during our lifetime, but they will come. These
discoveries are mine; I must have the records for them.... And later I
will make paper," he added as an afterthought; "there is papyrus growing
in the lake."

But on the whole, Kreiss kept strictly to himself. "He's a lone wolf,"
Chet told the others, "and now that he is bringing in those heavy loads
of metals he is more exclusive than ever: won't let me into the back end
of his cave."

"Does he think we will steal his gold?" Harkness asked moodily. "What
good is gold to us here?"

"He may have gold," Chet informed him, "but he has something more
valuable too. I saw some chunks that glowed in the dark. Rotten with
radium, he told me. But even so, he is welcome to it: we can't use it.
No, I don't think he suspects us of wanting his trophies; he's merely
the kind that flocks by himself. He was having a wonderful time today
pounding out some of his metals with a stone hammer; I heard him at it
all day. He seems to have settled down in that cave for keeps."

       *       *       *       *       *

Harkness threw another stick across the fire; its warmth was unneeded,
but its dancing flames were cheering.

"And that is something we must make up our minds about," he said slowly:
"are we to stay here, or should we move on?"

He dropped to the ground near where Diane was sitting, and took one of
her hands in his.

"Diane and I plan to 'set up housekeeping,'" he told Chet, and Chet saw
him smile whimsically at the words. Housekeeping on the Dark Moon would
be primitive indeed. "We are lacking in some of the customary features
of a wedding; we seem to be just out of ministers or civil officials to
tie the knot."

"Elect me Mayor of Dianeville," Chet suggested with a grin, "and I'll
marry you--if you think those formalities are necessary here."

Diane broke in. "It's foolish of me, Chet, I know it; but don't laugh at
me." He saw her lips tremble for an instant. "You see, we're so far away
from--from everything, and it seems that that if Walter and I could just
start our lives with a really and truly marriage--oh, I know it is
foolish--"

This time Chet interrupted. "After all you have been through, and after
the bravery you've shown, I think you are entitled to a little
'foolishness.' And you _shall_ be married with as good a knot as any
minister could tie: you see, that is one of the advantages of being a
Master Pilot. My warrant permits me to perform a marriage service in any
level above the surface of the Earth. A left-over from the time when
ship's captains had the same right. And although we are grounded for
keeps, if we are not above the surface of the Earth right now I don't
know anything about altitudes. But," he added as if it were an
afterthought, "my fee, although I hate to mention it, is five dollars."

       *       *       *       *       *

Harkness gravely reached into the pocket of his ragged coat and brought
out a wallet. He tendered a five dollar bill to Chet. "I think you're
robbing me," he complained, "but that's what happens when there is no
competition. And we'll start building a house to-morrow."

"Will we?" Chet inquired. "Is this the best place? For my part I would
feel safer if there were more miles between us and that pyramid. What
was down in there, God knows. But there was something back of that
hypnotized ape--something that knocked us for a crash landing with one
look from those eyes."

The night air was warm, where he lay before their huts, but a shiver of
apprehension gripped him at the thought of a mysterious Something that
was beyond the power of his imagination, and that was an enemy they
would never want to face. Something inhuman in its cold brutality, yet
superhuman too, if this mental force were an indication. A something
different from anything the people of Earth had ever known, bestial and
damnable!

"I am with you on that," Harkness agreed, "but what about the ship? You
have had your eye on it every day; do we want to go where we could not
see it? If the gas cleared, if there was ever a season when the wind
changed, think of what that would mean. Ammunition, food, supplies of
all kinds, and the ship as a place of refuge, too, would be lost. No, we
can't turn that over to Schwartzmann, Chet; we've got to stick around."

"I still wish we were farther away," Chet acknowledged, "but you are
right, Walt; we could never be satisfied a single day if we thought the
ship could be reached. Then, too, Towahg seems to think this is O. K.

"As near as I can learn from his sign language and a dozen words, this
is about as good a spot as we can find. He says the ape-men never cross
the big divide; something spooky about it I judged. However, we must
remember this: the fact that Towahg came across shows that the rest of
them would if they found it could be done."

"That was why he led us so far while we waded up that stream," offered
Diane. "Trailing Towahg would be like trying to follow the wake of an
airship."

"And I asked him about the red vampires that jumped us down by the
ship," Chet continued. "He gave me the clear sign on that, too."

       *       *       *       *       *

Diane was not anxious for more wanderings, as Chet could see. "There is
game here," she suggested, "and the edge of the jungle is simply an
orchard of fruit, as you know. And having a lake to bathe in is
important--oh, I must not try to influence you. We must do what is
best."

"No," said Chet, "our own wishes don't count; the ship's the deciding
factor. You had better build your house here, Walt. Happy Valley will be
headquarters for the expedition; we've got a whale of a lot of country
to explore. And, of course, we will slip back and check up on
Schwartzmann; find out where he went to--"

"Count me out;" Harkness interrupted; "count me out. You go and hunt
trouble if you want to; Diane and I will have our hands full right here.
Great heavens, man! We've got to learn to make clothes; and, by the way,
that uniform you're wearing is no credit to your tailor. If we are to
call this home, we must do better than the savages. I intend to find
some bamboo, split it, make some troughs, and bring water down here from
the spring. I've got to learn where Kreiss is getting his metal and find
some soft enough to hammer into dishes. We can't call the department
store by radiophone, you know, and have them shoot a bunch of stuff out
by pneumatic tube."

"That's all right," Chet mocked; "by the time you have built a house
with only a stone ax in your tool kit, you'll think the rest of it is
simple."

       *       *       *       *       *

The barricade, or _chevaux de frise_ as Chet insisted upon calling it,
to show his deep study of the wars of earlier days, was built in the
form of a U. The knoll itself sloped on one side directly to the water's
edge: they had left that side open and carried their line of sharp
stakes down to the water, that in the event of a siege they would not be
conquered by thirst.

On the highest point of the knoll, some few weeks later, a house was
being built--a more pretentious structure, this, than the other little
huts. The aerial roots that the white trees dropped from their
high-flung branches were not impossible to cut with their crude
implements; they made good building material for a house whose framework
must be tied together with vines and tough roots. This would be the home
of Harkness and Diane.

The two had been insistent that this structure would be incomplete
without a room for Chet, but the pilot only laughed at that suggestion.

"It's an old saying," he told them, "that one house isn't big enough for
two families. I think the remark is as old as the institution of
marriage, just about. And it's as true on the Dark Moon as it is on
Earth. And, besides, I intend to build some bachelor apartments that
will make this place of yours look pretty cheap, that is, if I ever find
time. I am going to be pretty busy just roaming around this little world
seeing what I can see. Even Herr Kreiss has got the wanderlust, you will
notice."

"He has been gone four days," said Diane. Her tone was frankly worried.
Chet finished tying a sapling to a row of uprights and slid to the
ground.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Don't be alarmed about Kreiss," he reassured her. "He has been
all-fired mysterious for the past several weeks. He's been working on
something in that cave of his, and visitors have not been admitted. When
he left he told me he would be gone for some time, and he looked at me
like an owl when he said it: his mysterious secret was making his eyes
pop out. He has a surprise up his sleeve."

"Wedding present for Diane," Harkness suggested.

"Well, he showed me some darn nice sapphires," Chet agreed. "Probably
found some way to cut them and he's setting them in a bracelet of soft
gold: that's my guess."

"I wish he were here," Diane insisted.

And Chet nodded across the clearing as he said fervently: "I wish I
could get all my wishes as quickly as that. There he comes now with his
bow in one hand and a bag of something in the other."

The tall figure moved wearily across the open ground, but straightened
and came briskly toward them as he drew near. He seemed more gaunt than
usual, as if he had finished a long journey and had slept but little.
But his eyes behind their heavy spectacles were big with pride.

"You have--what do you Americans say?--'poked fun' at my helplessness in
the forest," he told Chet. "And now see. Alone and without help I have
made a great journey, a most important journey." He held up a bladder,
translucent, filled with something palely green.

"The gas!" he said proudly.

"Why, Herr Kreiss," Diane exclaimed, amazed, "you can't mean that you've
been to Fire Valley; that that is the gas from about the ship!... And
why did you want it? What earthly use...."

       *       *       *       *       *

She had looked from the proud face of the scientist to that of Harkness;
then turned toward Chet. Her voice died away, her question unfinished,
at sight of the expression in those other eyes.

"From--the ship? You mean that you've been there--Fire Valley? That
you've come back here?" Chet was asking on behalf of Harkness as well:
his companion added nothing to the words of the pilot--words spoken in a
curiously quiet, strained tone.

"But yes!" Herr Kreiss assured him. His gaze was still proudly fixed
upon the bladder of green gas. "I needed some for an experiment--a most
important experiment." And not till then did he glance up and let his
thin face wrinkle in amazed wonder at the look on the pilot's face.

Chet had raised one end of another stick as Kreiss approached. He had
intended to place it against the frame they were building: it fell
heavily to the ground instead. He regarded Harkness with eyes that were
somber with hopeless despair, yet that somehow crinkled with a whimsical
smile.

"Well, I said he had a surprise up his sleeve," he reminded them. "It is
nearly night; I can't do anything now. I'll go to-morrow; take Towahg. I
don't know that there's anything we can do, but we'll try.

"You will stay here with Diane," he told Harkness. And Harkness accepted
the order as he would from one who was in command.

"It's up to you now," he told Chet. "I'll stay here and hold the fort.
You're running the job from now on."

But the pilot only nodded. Herr Kreiss was sputtering a barrage of how's
and why's; he demanded to know why his success in so hazardous a trip
should have this result.

But Chet Bullard did not answer. He walked slowly away, his eyes on the
ground, as one who is trying to plan; driving his thoughts in an effort
to find some escape from a danger that seemed to hover threateningly.



CHAPTER XV

_Terrors of the Jungle_


Towahg had learned the names of these white-skinned ones who came down
from whatever heaven was pictured in his rudimentary mind. His
pronunciation of them was peculiar: it had not been helped any by reason
of Diane's having been his teacher. Her French accent was delightful to
hear, but not helpful to a Dark Moon ape-man who was grappling with
English.

But he knew them by name, using always the French "Monsieur," and when
Chet repeated: "Monsieur Kreiss--he go," pointing through the jungle,
and followed this with the command: "Towahg go! Me go!" the ape-man's
unlovely face drew into its hideous grin and he nodded his head
violently to show that he understood.

Chet gripped a hand each if Harkness and Diane and clung to them for a
moment. Below their knoll the white morning mist drifted eerily toward
the lake; the knoll was an island and they three the only living
creatures in a living world. It was the first division of their little
force, the first parting where any such farewell might be the last. The
silence hung heavily about them.

"Au 'voir," Diane said softly; "and take no chances. Come back here and
we'll win or lose together."

"Blue skies," was Walt Harkness' good-by in the language of the flyer;
"blue skies and happy landings!"

And Chet, before the shrouding mist swallowed him up, replied in kind.

"Lifting off!" he announced as if his ship were rising beneath him, "and
the air is cleared. I'll drop back in four days if I'm lucky."

Towahg was waiting, curled up for warmth in the hollow of a great tree's
roots. Like all the ape-men he was sullen and taciturn in the chill of
the morning. Not until the sun warmed him would he become his customary
self. But he grunted when Chet repeated his instructions, "Monsieur
Kreiss, he go! Now Towahg go too--go where Monsieur Kreiss go!" and he
led the way into the jungle where the scientist had emerged.

       *       *       *       *       *

Chet followed close through wraith-like, drifting mist. They were
ascending a gentle slope; among the trees and tangled giant vines the
mist grew thin. Then they were above it, and occasional shafts of golden
light shot flatly in to mark the ascending sun.

They were climbing toward the big divide, that much Chet knew. White,
ghostly trees gave place to the darker, gloomier growth of the uplands.
Strange monstrosities, they had been to Chet when first he had seen
them, but he was accustomed to them now and passed unnoticing among
their rubbery trunks, so black and shining with morning dew.

Far above a wind moved among the pliant branches that whipped and
whirled their elastic lengths into strange, curled forms. Then the
miracle of the daily growth of leaves took place, and the rubbery limbs
were clothed in green, where golden flowers budded prodigiously before
they flashed open and filled the wet air with their fragrance.

They were following the path that Chet had traveled on his morning trips
to the divide for a view of the ship. Kreiss would have gone this way,
of course, although to Chet, there was no sign of his having passed.
Then came the divide, and still Chet followed where Towahg led sullenly
across the expanse of barren rocks. Towahg's head was sunk between his
black shoulders; his long arms hung limply; and he moved on with a
steady motion of his short, heavily muscled legs, with apparently no
thought of where he went or why.

Chet stopped for a moment's look at the distant sparkle that meant the
shining ship, which shone green as on every other day, and he wondered
as he had a score of times if it might be possible for them to make a
suit--a bag to enclose his head, or a gas-mask--anything that could be
made gas-tight: and could be supplied with air. Then he thought of the
bow that was slung on his shoulder and the stone ax at his belt. These
were their implements: these were all they had.... Suddenly he began to
walk rapidly down the slope after Towahg who was almost to the trees.

       *       *       *       *       *

Again they were among the black rubbery growth. It rose from a tangle of
mammoth leafed vines and creepers that wove themselves into an
impassable wall--impassable until Towahg lifted a huge leaf here, swung
a hanging vine there, and laid open a passage through the living
labyrinth.

"How did Kreiss ever find his way?" Chet asked himself. And then he
questioned: "Did he come this way? Is Towahg on the trail?"

Again he repeated his instructions to the ape-man, and he showed his own
wonder as to which way they should go.

The sun must have done its work effectively, for now Towahg's wide grin
was in evidence. He nodded vigorously, then dropped to one knee and
motioned for Chet to see for himself, as he pointed to his proof.

Chet stared at the unbroken ground. Was a tiny leaf crushed? It might
have been, but so were a thousand others that had fallen from above. He
shook his head, and Towahg could only show his elation by hopping
ludicrously from one foot to the other in a dance of joy.

Then he went on at a pace Chet found difficulty in following, until they
came to a place where Towahg tore a vine aside to show easier going, but
climbed instead over a fallen tree, grown thickly with vines, and here
even Chet could see that other feet had tripped and stumbled. The Master
Pilot glanced at the triple star still pinned to his blouse; he thought
of the study and training that had preceded the conferring of that
rating, the charting of the stars, navigational problems in a
three-dimensional sea. And he smiled at his failure to read this trail
that to Towahg was entirely plain.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Every man to his job," he told the black, and patted him on the
shoulder, "and you know yours, Towahg, you're good! Now, where do we
sleep?"

He ventured to suggest a bed of leaves that had gathered amongst a maze
of great rocks, but Towahg registered violent disapproval. He pointed to
a pendant vine; his hands that were clumsy at so many things gave an
unmistakable imitation of a bud that developed on that vine and opened.
Then Towahg sniffed once at that imaginary flower, and his body went
suddenly limp and apparently lifeless as it fell to the ground.

"You're right, old top!" Chet assured him, as Towahg came again to his
feet. "This is no place to take a nap." A crashing of some enormous body
that tore the tough jungle in its rush came from beyond the rocks.

"And there are other reasons," he added as he followed Towahg's example
and leaped for a hanging tangle of laced vines. Here was a ladder ready
to take them to the high roof above, but they did not need it; the
crashing died away in the distance.

It was Chet's first intimation that this section of the Dark Moon held
beasts more huge than the "Moon-pigs" he had killed: it was a disturbing
bit of knowledge. He caught Towahg's cautious, wary eyes and motioned
toward the branches high overhead.

"How about hanging ourselves up there for the night?" he asked, and the
gestures, though not the words, were plain, as the ape-man's quick
dissent made clear.

       *       *       *       *       *

He motioned Chet to follow. Down they plunged, and always down. Towahg
gave Chet to understand that Kreiss had slept some distance beyond: they
would try to reach the same place. But the quick-falling dusk caught
them while yet among the black rubbery trees. And the dark showed Chet
why their branches might not be inviting as a sleeping place.

By ones and twos they came at first, occasional lines of light that
flowed swiftly and vanished through the black tangle of limbs. Chet
could hardly believe them real; they appeared and were lost from sight
as if they had melted.

But more came, and it seemed at last as if the roof above were alive
with light. The moving, luminous things glowed in hues that were never
still: were pure gold, were green, then red, melting and changing
through all the colors of the spectrum.

Living fireworks that were a blaze of gorgeous beauty! They wove an
ever-moving canopy of softest lights that raced dazzlingly to and fro,
that crossed and intertwined; that were dazing to his eyes while they
held his senses enthralled by their color and sheer loveliness ... until
one light detached itself and fell toward him where he stood spellbound
beside a giant fern.

It struck softly behind him, and its crimson glory flashed yellow as it
struck, then went black and in the dim light, on a great leathery leaf
with a spread of ten feet, Chet saw an enormous worm, whose head was a
thing of writhing antennae, whose eyes were pure deadliness, and whose
round corrugated body drew up the hanging part that the leaf could not
hold. It hunched itself into a huge inverted U and, before Chet could
recover from his horrified surprise, was poised to spring.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was Towahg's strength, not his own, that threw him bodily down the
path. It was Towahg who poured a volley of grunted words and shrieks
into his ear, while he dragged him back. Chet saw the vicious head flash
to loveliest gold while it shot forward to the body's full twelve feet
of length--twelve feet of pulsing lavender and rose and flashing crimson
that was more horrible by reason of its beauty.

Chet stumbled to his feet and raced after Towahg. The ape-man moved in
swift silence, Chet close at his back. And other luminous horrors
dropped on ropes of translucent silver behind them, until the ghostly
white of friendly trees became visible, and they stood at last,
breathless and shaken, as far as Chet was concerned, in the familiar
jungle of the lower valleys.

And Towahg, to whom poison vines and writhing, horrible worms of death
that had failed to make him their prey were things of a forgotten past,
curled up in the shelter of an outflung snarl of great roots, grunted
once, and went calmly to sleep.

But Chet Bullard, accustomed only to man-made dangers that would have
held Towahg petrified with fear, lay long, staring into the dark.



CHAPTER XVI

_Through Air and Water_


It was midday when they approached the heights they had reached on their
flight from Fire Valley. Off to one side must lie the arena with the
pyramid within. And within the pyramid--! Chet took his thoughts quickly
away from that. Or perhaps it was the shrieking chatter from ahead that
gave him other things to think of.

Towahg had heard them before, but Chet had not understood his signs. And
now the chorus of an approaching pack of ape-men was louder with each
passing minute. That they were coming along the same trail seemed
certain.

Towahg sprang into the air; his gnarled hands closed on a heavy vine: he
went up this hand over hand, ready to move off to one side through the
leafy roof with never a sign of his going. He waited impatiently for
Chet to join him, and the pilot, regarding the incredible leap of that
squat ape-man body, shook his head in despair.

"Grab a loose end," he told Towahg. "Lower a rope--a vine. Get it down
where I can reach it!" And he raved inwardly at the blank look on the
savage face while he held himself in check and made signs over and over
in an effort to get the idea across.

Towahg got it at last. He lowered a vine and hauled Chet up with jerks
that almost tore the pilot's hands from their hold on the rough bark.
Then off to one side! And they waited in the shelter of concealing
leaves while the yelling pack drew near and a hundred or more of them
raced by along the trail below.

Invisible to Chet was the marked trail where Kreiss had gone, but these
savage things ran at top speed and read it as they ran.

Were they puzzled by the sudden increase in markings? Did they sense
that some were more recent than those they had followed? Chet could not
say. But he saw the pack return, staring curiously about until they
swung off and vanished through the trees toward the west. And in that
direction lay the arena and the haunt of a horror unknown.

Yet Chet lowered himself to the ground with steady hands and motioned
Towahg where the yelling mob had gone.

"We'll go that way," he said; "we'll follow them up. And perhaps, if I
can only get the idea into your thick head, we can learn what their
plans are: find out if Kreiss has really thrown us in their hands--led
them as straight as a pack of wolves could run to the quiet peace of
Happy Valley."

       *       *       *       *       *

Chet might have followed them into the arena itself: he felt so keenly
that he must know with certainty whether or not the pack would continue
their pursuit. And why had they turned back? he asked himself. Had they
returned to acquaint their horrible god and his hypnotised slaves with
what they had learned?

But the trail turned off from the rocky waste where the arena lay; it
took them west and south for another mile, until again to Chet's ears
came the chattering bedlam of monkey-talk that was almost human. And now
they moved more cautiously from rock to tree and through the concealing
shadows until they could look into a shallow valley ahead. But before
Chet looked he was prepared for a surprising scene. For over and above
the raucous calling of the ape-folk had come another deeper tone.

"_Gott im Himmel!_" the deep voice said. "One at a time, you _verdammt_
beasts. Beat them on the head, Max; make them shut up!"

And the big bulk of Schwartzmann, when Chet first saw him, was seated on
a high rock that was like a barbaric throne in a valley of green. About
him the ape-men leaped and grimaced and made futile animal efforts to
tell him of their discovery.

"They've found something, Max," Schwartzmann said to his pilot. "Get the
other two men. We'll go with the dirty brutes. And if they've got wind
of those others--" His remarks concluded with a sputtering of profanity
whose nature was not obscured by its being given in another language.
And Chet knew that the obscenities were intended for his companions and
himself.

Schwartzmann's booming voice came plainly even above the chorus of
coughing growls and shriller chatter. Chet saw him showing his detonite
pistol in a half-threatening motion, and the ape-men cringed away in
fear.

"Not so well trained an army, Max, that I am general of, but if we find
that man, Harkness, and his pilot and that traitor Kreiss, we will let
these soldiers of mine tear them to little bits. Now, we go!"

Max's call had brought the other two men of Schwartzmann's party, and
the black horde of ape-men broke into a wild run across the grass toward
the place where Chet and Towahg lay. The two slipped hurriedly into the
concealment of denser growth, then ran at top speed down a jungle trail
that led off to one side.

       *       *       *       *       *

They were bedded down for the night on the edge of the white forest; no
persuasion of Schwartzmann's would have driven the ape-men into the
darkness of the black trees and their flashing, luminous worm-beasts.
Chet and Towahg came within hearing of their encampment just at dusk,
and a late-rising moon broke through the gaps in the leafy roof to make
splotched islands of gold in the velvet dark where Chet and Towahg
fought the jungle so they might swing around and past the camp.
Occasional grunts and scufflings showed that the ape-men were restless,
and the two knew that every step must be taken in silence and every
obstructing leaf moved with no rasping friction on other leaves or
branches. But they came again to the trail, and now they were ahead of
the pack, as the first gray light of dawn was stealing through the
ghostly white of the trees.

Towahg would have curled himself into a sleepy ball a score of times had
Chet not driven him on, and now the pilot only allowed a few minutes for
food, where ripe purple fruit hung in clusters on the end of stems that
were like ropes.

No use to explain to Towahg. Perhaps the ape-man thought they were
hurrying to get through the black forest; he might even have thought the
matter through to see the necessity for reaching their own valley and
warning the others. Certainly he had no idea of any plans other than
these, and he must have been puzzled some several hours later when Chet
halted where the trail had crossed a barren expanse of rock.

Towahg had stopped there on the way down. Then he had sniffed the air,
dropped his head low and circled about, motioning Chet to follow, from
across the clearing where he had picked up the trail. Chet knew the
ape-men would do the same unless they were diverted, and he had a plan.
To communicate it to his assistant was his greatest problem.

       *       *       *       *       *

He stopped at the clearing, while Towahg urged him on across the smooth
rock. Chet shook his head and pointed away from the direction of the big
divide, and at last he made him understand. Then Towahg did what Chet
never could have done.

He followed their former trail across the stone, his head close to the
ground. Now he picked a bruised leaf: again he replaced a turned stone
whose markings showed it had been displaced, and he came back over an
area that even an ape-man would not follow as being a place where men
had gone.

From where they emerged he turned as Chet had pointed, crossed the
clearing as clumsily as the German scientist might have done, scuffed
his bare feet in a pocket of gravel, and pointed to soft earth where
Chet might walk and leave a mark of shoes. Chet grinned happily while
Towahg did his grotesque dance that indicated satisfaction, though from
afar the first cries of the pack rang in the air.

They could never have outdistanced the apes alone, Chet knew that. But
he also knew that Schwartzmann and the others would slow them up, and he
counted on the pack staying together on the trail as they traversed this
new country. He entered the jungle with Towahg where their new trail
led, and drove his tired muscles to greater speed while Towahg, always
in the lead, motioned him on.

There were stops for food at times until another night came, and Chet
threw himself down on a mat of grass and fell instantly asleep. If there
was danger abroad he neither knew nor cared. He knew only that every
muscle of his body was aching from the forced march, and that Towahg's
twitching ears were on guard.

The following day they went more slowly, stopping at times to wait for
the sounds of pursuit. They were leading the pack on a long journey;
Chet wanted to be sure they were following and had not turned back. He
left a plain mark of his boot from time to time, and knew that this mark
would be shown to Schwartzmann. With that to lead him there would be no
stopping the man: he would drive his army of blacks despite their
superstitious fears.

The short days and nights formed an endless succession to Chet. Only
once did he see a familiar place, as they passed a valley and he saw
where their ship had rested on that earlier voyage.

"This is far enough," he told Towahg, and made himself plain with signs.
"Now we'll lose them; hang them right up in the air and leave them
there."

Another steep climb and a valley beyond, and in the hollow a tumbling
stream. There was no need to tell Towahg what to do, for he led straight
for the water, and his thick legs churned through it as he headed down
stream; nor did he stop until they had covered many miles.

Chet had wondered how they would leave the water without trace, but
again Towahg was ready. A stone where the water splashed would show no
mark of bare feet. From it he leaped into the air toward a swaying vine.
He missed, tried again, and finally grasped it. And the rest was a
repetition of what had been done before.

       *       *       *       *       *

He lowered a vine as Chet had taught him, pulled the slim figure of Chet
up to the dizzy heights of the jungle trees, then took Chet's one arm in
a grip of chilled steel and threw him across his back, while he swung
sickeningly from limb to limb, up through the branches of another
grotesque tree where its queerly distorted limbs sagged and swung them
to its fellow some fifty feet away.

It was a wild ride for the pilot. "I've driven everything that's made
with an engine in it," he told himself, "but this one-ape-power craft
has them all stopped for thrills."

And at last when even Towahg's chest that seemed ribbed with steel, was
rising and falling with his great breaths, Chet found himself set down
on the ground, and he patted the black on the shoulder in the gesture
that meant approval.

"Water and air," he said; "it'll bother them to trail us over that
route. Towahg, you're there when it comes to trapeze work. Now, if you
can find the way back again--!"

And Towahg could, as Chet admitted when, after a series of eventless
days, they came again to the big divide above the reaches of Happy
Valley.

And the grip of Harkness' hand, and the tears in Diane's eyes brought a
choke to his throat until the voluble apologies of a penitent Herr
Kreiss and the antics of a Towahg, recipient of many approving pats,
turned the emotion into the safer channel of laughter.

"But I think we switched them off for good," Chet said, in conclusion of
his recital; "I believe we are as safe as we ever were. And I've only
one big regret:

"If I could just have been around somewhere when friend Schwartzmann
found his scouts had led him up a blind alley, it would have been worth
the trip. He did pretty well when he started cussing us out before; I'll
bet he pumped his vocabulary dry on them this time."



CHAPTER XVII

_Hunted Down_


Work on the house was resumed. "And when it is done," said Diane with a
gay laugh, "Walter and I shall have our wedding day. Now you see why you
were wanted so badly, Chet; it was not that we worried for you, but only
that we feared the loss of the one person on the Dark Moon who could
perform a marriage ceremony."

"And I thought all along it was my clever carpenter work that had
captivated you," responded Chet, and tried to fit the splintered end of
a timber into a forked branch that made an upright post.

And each day the house took form, while the sun shone down with tropical
warmth where the work was going on.

Only Harkness and Chet were the builders. Diane's strength was not equal
to the task of cutting tough wood with a crude stone ax, and Herr
Kreiss, though willing enough to help when asked, was usually in his own
cave, busied with mysterious experiments of which he would tell nothing.

Towahg, their only remaining Helper, could not be held. Too wild for
restraint of any kind, he would vanish into the jungle at break of day
to reappear now and then as silently as a black shadow. But he kept them
all supplied with game and fruit and succulent roots which his wilder
brethren of the forest must have shown him were fit for food.

And then came an interruption that checked the work on the house, that
drained the brilliant sunshine of its warmth and light, and turned all
thoughts to the question of defense.

The two had been working on the roof, while Diane had returned to the
jungle for another of the big leaves. She carried her bow on such trips,
although the weeks had brought them a sense of security. But for Chet
this feeling of safety vanished in the instant that he heard Harkness'
half-uttered exclamation and saw him drop quickly to the ground.

       *       *       *       *       *

Beyond him, coming through the green smother of grass that was now as
high as her waist, was Diane. Even at a distance Chet could see the
unnatural paleness of her face; she was running fast, coming along the
trail they had all helped to make.

Chet hit the ground on all fours and reached for the long bow with which
he had become so expert; then followed Harkness who was racing to meet
the girl.

"An ape!" she was saying between choking breaths when Chet reached them.
"An ape-man!" She was clinging to Harkness in utter fright that was
unlike the Diane he had known.

"Towahg," Harkness suggested; "you saw Towahg!" But the girl shook her
head. She was recovering something of her normal poise; her breath came
more evenly.

"No! It was not Towahg. I saw it. I was hidden under the big leaves. It
was an ape-man. He came swinging along through the branches of the
trees: he was up high and he looked in all directions. I ran. I think he
did not see me.

"And now," she confessed, "I am ashamed. I thought I had forgotten the
horror of that experience, but this brought it all back.... There! I am
all right now."

Harkness held her tenderly close. "Frightened," he reassured her, "and
no wonder! That night on the pyramid left its mark on us all. Now, come;
come quietly."

He was leading the girl toward the knoll that they all called home. Chet
followed, casting frequent glances toward the trees. They had covered
half the distance to the barricade when Chet spoke in a voice that was
half a whisper in its hushed tenseness.

"Drop--quick!" he ordered. "Get into the grass. It's coming. Now let's
see what it is."

       *       *       *       *       *

He knew that the others had taken cover. For himself, he had flung his
lanky figure into the tall grass. The bow was beside him, an arrow
ready; and the tip of polished bone and the feathered shaft made it a
weapon that was not one to be disregarded. Long hours of practice had
developed his natural aptitude into real skill. Before him, he parted
the tall grass cautiously to see the forest whence the sound had come.

The swish of leaves had warned Chet; some far-flung branch must have
failed to bear the big beast's weight and had bent to swing him to the
ground--or perhaps the descent was intentional.

And now there was silence, the silence of noonday that is so filled with
unheard summer sounds. A foot above Chet's head a tiny bat-winged bird
rocked and tilted on vermilion leather wings, while its iridescent head
made flickering rainbow colors with the vibrations of a throat that
hummed a steady call. Across the meadow were countless other flashing,
humming things, like dust specks dancing in the sun, but magnified and
intensely colored.

Above their droning note was the shrill cry of the insects that spent
their days in idle and ceaseless unmusical scrapings. They inhabited the
shadowed zone along the forest edge. And now, where the foliage of the
towering trees was torn back in a great arch, the insect shrilling
ceased.

As the strings of a harp are damped and silenced in unison, their myriad
voices ended that shrill note in the same instant. The silence spread;
there was a hush as if all living things were mute in dread expectancy
of something as yet unseen.

Chet was watching that arched opening. In one instant, except for the
flickering shadows, it was empty; the place was so still it might have
been lifeless since the dawn of time. And then--

       *       *       *       *       *

Chet neither saw nor heard him come. He was there--a hulking hairy
figure that came in absolute silence despite his huge weight.

An ape-man larger than any Chet had seen: he stood as motionless as an
exhibit in a museum in some city of a far-off Earth. Only the white of
his eyeballs moved as the little eyes, under their beetling black brows,
darted swiftly about.

"Bad!" thought Chet. "Damn bad!" If this was an advance scout for a pick
of great monsters like himself it meant an assault their own little
force could never meet. And this newcomer was hostile. There was not the
least doubt of that.

Chet reached one hand behind him to motion for silence; one of his
companions had stirred, had moved the grass in a ripple that was not
that of the wind. Chet held his hand rigid in air, his whole body
seeming to freeze with a premonition that was pure horror; and within
him was a voice that said with dreadful certainty: "They have found you.
They have hunted you down."

For the thing in the forest, the creature half-human, half-beast, had
raised its two shaggy arms before it; and, with eyes fixed and staring,
it was walking straight toward them, walking as no other living thing
had walked, but one. Chet was seeing again that one--a helplessly
hypnotized ape that appeared from a pit in a great pyramid. And the
voice within him repeated hopelessly: "They have found you. They have
run you down."

Chet lay motionless. He still hoped that the dread messenger might pass
them by, but the rigidly outstretched arms were extended straight toward
him; the creature's short, heavily muscled legs were moving stiffly,
tearing a path through the thick grass and bringing him nearer with
every step.

       *       *       *       *       *

Diane and Harkness had been a few paces in advance of Chet when they
dropped into the concealing grass. Chet could see where they lay, and
the ape-man, as he approached, turned off as if he had lost the
direction. He passed Chet by, passed where Walt and Diane were hiding
and stopped! And Chet saw the glazed eyes turn here and there about
their peaceful valley.

Unseeing they seemed, but again Chet knew better. Was he more
sensitively attuned than the others? Who could say? But again he caught
a message as plainly as if the words had been shouted inside his brain.

"Yes, the valley of the three sentinel peaks and the lake of blue; we
can find it again. Houses, shelters--how crudely they build, these
white-faced intruders!" Chet even sensed the contempt that accompanied
the thoughts. "That is enough; you have done well. You shall have their
raw hearts for your reward. Now bring them in--bring them in quickly!"

The instant action that followed this command was something Chet would
never have believed possible had his own eyes not seen the incredible
leap of the huge body. The ape-man's knotted muscles hurled him through
the air directly toward the spot where Walt and Diane were hidden. But,
had Chet been able to stand off and observe himself, he might have been
equally amazed at the sight of a man who leaped erect, who raised a long
bow, fitted an arrow, drew it to his shoulder, and did all in the
instant while the huge brute's body was in the air.

The great ape landed on all fours. When he straightened and stood
erect--his arms were extended, and in each of his gnarled hands he held
a figure that was helpless in that terrible grasp.

No chance to loose the arrow then, though the brute's back was half
turned. He had Harkness and Diane by their throats, and Chet knew by the
unresisting limpness of Harkness' body that the fearful fire in those
blazing eyes had them in a grip even more deadly than the hands of the
beast.

       *       *       *       *       *

Thoughts were flashing wildly through Chet's brain. "Knocked 'em cold!
He'll do the same to me if I meet his eyes. But I can't shoot now;
Diane's in line. I must take him face about; get him before he gets
me--get him first time!"

And, confusedly, there were other thoughts mingled with his
own--thoughts he was picking up by means of a nervous system that was
like an aerial antenna:

"Good--good! No--do not kill them. Not now; bring them to us alive. The
pleasure will come later. And where are the other two? Find them!" It
was here that Chet let out a wordless, blood-curdling shriek from lungs
and throat that were tight with breathless waiting.

He must face the big brute about, and his wild yell did the work.
Startled by that cry that must have reached even those calloused, savage
nerves, the ape-man leaped straight up in the air. He whirled as he
sprang, to face whatever was behind him, and he threw the bodies of
Harkness and Diane to the ground.

Chet saw the black ugliness of the face; he saw the eyes swing toward
him.... But he was following with his own narrowed eyes a spot on a
hairy throat; he even seemed to see within it where a great carotid
artery carried pumping blood to an undeveloped brain.

The glare of those eyes struck him like a blow: his own were drawn
irresistibly into that meeting of glances that would freeze him to a
rigid statue--but the twang and snap of his own bowstring was in his
ears, and a hairy body, its throat pierced in mid-air, was falling
heavily to the ground.

But Chet Bullard, even as he leaped to the side of his companions, was
thinking not of his victory, nor even of the two whose lives he had
saved. He was thinking of some horror that his mind could not clearly
picture: it had found them; it had seen them through this ape-man's eyes
before the arrow had closed them in death ... and from now on there
could not be two consecutive minutes of peace and happiness in this
Happy Valley of Diane's.



CHAPTER XVIII

_Besieged!_


"I've felt it for some time," Chet confessed. "I've wakened and known I
had been dreaming about that damnable thing. And, although it sounds
like the wildest sort of insanity, I have felt that there was
something--some mental force--that was reaching out for our minds;
searching for us. Well, if there is anything like that--"

He was about to say that the trail made by Kreiss and the apes who
tracked him would have given this other enemy a direction to follow, but
Kreiss himself dropped down beside Chet where he and Walt sat before the
front of Diane's shelter. The pilot did not finish the sentence. Kreiss
had meant it for the best; there was no use of rubbing it in. But that
thing in the pyramid would never be fooled as Schwartzmann and the apes
had been.

Chet had told Kreiss of the attack and had shown him the body of the
ape-man. "Council of war," he explained as Kreiss rejoined them, but he
corrected himself at once. "No--not war! We don't want to go up against
that bunch. Our job is to plan a retreat."

Harkness turned to look inside the hut. "Diane, old girl," he asked,
"how about it? Are you going to be able to make a long trip?"

Within the shelter Chet could see Diane's hands drawn into two hard
little fists. She would force those tight hands to relax while she lay
quietly in the dark; then again they would tremble, and, unconsciously,
the nervous tension would be manifested in those white-knuckled little
fists. For all of them the shock had been severe; it was hardest on
Diane.

       *       *       *       *       *

She answered now in a voice whose very quietness belied her brave words.

"Any time--any place!" she told Walt. "And--and the farther we go the
better!"

"Quite right," Harkness agreed. "I am satisfied that there is something
there we can never combat. We don't know what it is, and God help anyone
who ever finds out. How about it, Chet? And you, too, Kreiss? Do you
agree that there is no use in staying here and trying to fight it out?"

"I do not agree," the scientist objected. "My work, my experiments I
have collected! Would you have me abandon them? Must we run in fear
because an anthropoid ape has come into this clearing? And, if there are
more, we have our barricade; our weapons are crude, but effective, and I
might add to them with some ideas of my own should occasion demand."

"Listen!" Chet commanded. "That anthropoid ape is nothing to be afraid
of: you're right on that. But he came from the pyramid, Kreiss, and
there's something there that knows every foot of ground that messenger
went over. There's something in that pyramid that can send more ape-men,
that can come itself, for all that I know, and that can knock us cold in
half a second.

"It's found us. One arrow went straight, thank God! It has given us a
stay of execution. But is that damnable thing in the pyramid going to
let it go at that? You know the answer as well as I do. It has probably
sent twenty more of those messengers who are on their way this minute, I
am telling you; and we've got two days at the most before they get
here."

Kreiss still protested. "But my work--"

"Is ended!" snapped Chet. "Stay if you want to; you'll never finish your
work. The rest of us will leave in the morning. Towahg will be back here
to-night.

"Nothing much to get together," he told Harkness. "I'll see to it; you
stay with Diane."

       *       *       *       *       *

Their bows, a store of extra bone-tipped arrows, and food: as Chet had
said there was not much to prepare for their flight. They had spent many
hours in arrow making: there were bundles of them stored away in
readiness for an attack, and Chet looked at them with regret, but knew
they must travel fast and light.

Out of his rocky "laboratory" Kreiss came at dusk to tramp slowly and
moodily down to the shelters.

"I shall leave when you do," he told Chet. "Perhaps we can find some
place, some corner of this world, where we can live in peace. But I had
hoped, I had thought--"

"Yes?" Chet queried. "What did you have on your mind?"

"The gas," the scientist replied. "I was working with a rubber latex. I
had thought to make a mask, improvise an air-pump and send one of us
through the green gas to reach the ship. And there was more that I hoped
to do; but, as you say, my work is ended."

"Bully for you," said Chet admiringly; "the old bean keeps right on
working all the time. Well, you may do it yet; we may come back to the
ship. Who can tell? But just now I am more anxious about Towahg. Right
now, when we need him the most, he fails to show up."

The ape-man was seldom seen by day, but always he came back before
nightfall; his chunky figure was a familiar sight as he slipped
soundlessly from the jungle where the shadows of approaching night lay
first. But now Chet watched in vain at the arched entrance to the leafy
tangle. He even ventured, after dark, within the jungle's edge and
called and hallooed without response. And this night the hours dragged
by where Chet lay awake, watching and listening for some sign of their
guide.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then dawn, and golden arrows of light that drove the morning mist in
lazy whirls above the surface of the lake. But no silent shadow-form
came from among the distant trees. And without Towahg--!

"Might as well stay here and take it standing," was Chet's verdict, and
Harkness nodded assent.

"Not a chance," he agreed. "We might make our way through the forest
after a fashion, but we would be slow doing it, and the brutes would be
after us, of course."

They made all possible preparations to withstand a siege. Chet, after a
careful, listening reconnaissance, went into the jungle with bow and
arrows, and he came back with three of the beasts he had called
Moon-pigs. Other trips, with Kreiss as an assistant, resulted in a great
heap of fruit that they placed carefully in the shade of a hut. Water
they had in unlimited supply.

How they would stand off an enemy who fought only with the terrible
gleam of their eyes no one of them could have said. But they all worked,
and Diane helped, too, to place extra bows at points where they might be
needed and to put handfuls of arrows at the firing platforms spaced at
regular intervals along the barricade.

Chet smiled sardonically as he saw Herr Kreiss laboring mightily and
alone to rig a catapult that could be turned to face in all directions.
But he helped to bring in a supply of round stones from a distance down
the shore, though the picture of this medieval weapon being effective
against those broadsides of mental force was not one his mind could
easily paint.

       *       *       *       *       *

And then Towahg came! Not the silent, swiftly-leaping figure that moved
on muscles like coiled steel springs! This was another Towahg who
dragged a bruised body through the grass until Harkness and Chet reached
him and helped him to the barricade.

"Gr-r-ranga!" he growled. It was the sound he had made before when he
had seen or had tried to tell them of the ape-men. "Gr-r-ranga!
Gr-r-ranga!" He pointed about him as if to say: "There!--and there!--and
there!"

"Yes, yes!" Chet assured him. "We understand: you met up with a pack of
them."

Whereupon Towahg, with his monkey mimicry, gave a convincing
demonstration of himself being seized and beaten: and the tooth-marks on
nearly every inch of his body gave proof of the rough reception he had
encountered.

Then he showed himself escaping, running, swinging through trees, till
he came to the camp. And now he raised his bruised body to a standing
position and motioned them toward the forest.

"Gr-r-ranga come!" he warned them, and repeated it over again, while his
face wrinkled in fear that told plainly of the danger he had seen.

Chet glanced at Harkness and knew his own gaze was as disconsolate as
his companion's. "He's met up with them," he admitted, "though, for the
life of me, I can't see how he ever got away if it was a crowd of
messenger-apes who could petrify him with one look. There's something
strange about that, but whatever it is, here's our guide in no shape to
travel."

       *       *       *       *       *

Towahg was growling and grimacing in an earnest effort to communicate
some idea. His few words and the full power of his mimicry had been used
to urge them on, to warn them that they must flee for their lives, but
it seemed he had something else to tell. Suddenly he leaped into his
grotesque dance, though his wounds must have made it an agonizing
effort, but his joy in the thought that had come to him was too great to
take quietly. He knew how to tell Chet!

And with a protruded stomach he marched before them as a well-fed German
might walk, and he stroked at an imaginary beard in reproduction of an
act that was habitual with one they had known.

"Schwartzmann?" asked Chet. He had used the name before when he and
Towahg had led their enemy's "army" off the trail. "You have seen
Schwartzmann?"

And Towahg leaped and capered with delight. "Szhwarr!" he growled in an
effort to pronounce the name; "Szhwarr come!"

Chet made a wild leap for their bows and supplies.

"Come on!" he shouted. "That's the answer. It isn't the ones from the
pyramid; they're coming later. It's Schwartzmann and his bunch of apes.
They've followed the messenger, they're on their way, and, in spite of
his being all chewed up, Towahg can travel faster than that crowd. He'll
guide us out of this yet!"

       *       *       *       *       *

He was thrusting bundles of supplies--food, arrows, bows--into the eager
hands of the others, while Towahg alternately licked his wounds and
danced about with excitement. Diane's voice broke in upon the tense
haste and bustle of the moment. She spoke quietly--her tone was flat,
almost emotionless--yet there was a quality that made Chet drop what he
was holding and reach for a bow.

"We can't go," Diane was saying; "we can't go. Poor Towahg! He couldn't
tell us how close they were on his trail; he hurried us all he could."

Chet saw her hand raised; he followed with his eyes the finger that
pointed toward the jungle, and he saw as had Diane the flick of moving
leaves where black faces showed silently for an instant and then
vanished. They were up in the trees--lower--down on the ground. There
were scores upon scores of the ape-men spying upon them, watching every
move that they made.

And suddenly, across the open ground, where the high-flung branches made
the great arch that they called the entrance, a ragged figure appeared.
The figure of a man whose torn clothes fluttered in the breeze, whose
face was black with an unkempt beard, whose thick hand waved to motion
other scarecrow figures to him, and who laughed, loudly and derisively
that the three quiet men and the girl on the knoll might hear.

"_Guten tag, meine Herrschaften_," Schwartzmann called loudly, "_meine
sehr geehrten Herrschaften!_ You must not be so exclusive. Many _guten_
friends haff I here with me. I haff been looking forward to this time
when they would meet you."



CHAPTER XIX

"_One for Each of Us_"


For men who had come from a world where wars and warfare were things of
the past, Chet, and Harkness had done effective work in preparing a
defense. The knoll made a height of land that any military man would
have chosen to defend, and the top of the gentle slope was protected by
the barricade.

On each side of the inverted U that ended at the water's edge an opening
had been left, where they passed in and out. But even here the wall had
been doubled and carried past itself: no place was left for an easy
assault, and on the open end the water was their protection.

Within the barricade, at about the center, the top of the knoll showed
an outcrop of rocks that rose high enough to be exposed to fire from
outside, but their little shelters were on nearly level ground at the
base of the rocks. The whole enclosure was some thirty feet in width and
perhaps a hundred feet long. Plenty to protect in case of an attack, as
Chet had remarked, but it could not have been much smaller and have done
its work effectively.

There was no one of the four white persons but gave unspoken thanks for
the barricade of sharp stakes, and even Towahg, although his fangs were
bared in an animal snarl at the sound of Schwartzmann's voice, must have
been glad to keep his bruised body out of sight behind the sheltering
wall.

No one of them replied to Schwartzmann's taunt. Harkness wrinkled his
eyes to stare through the bright sunlight and see the pistol in the
man's belt.

"He still has it," he said, half to himself: "he's got the gun. I was
rather hoping something might have happened to it. Just one gun; but he
has plenty of ammunition--"

"And we haven't--" It was Chet, now, who seemed thinking aloud. "But, I
wonder--can we bluff him a bit?"

       *       *       *       *       *

He dropped behind the barricade and crawled into one of the huts to come
out with three extra pistols clutched in his hand. Empty, of course, but
they had brought them with them with some faint hope that some day the
ship might be reached and ammunition secured. Chet handed one to Diane
and another to Kreiss; the third weapon he stuck in his own belt where
it would show plainly. Harkness was already armed.

"Now let's get up where they can see us," was Chet's answer to their
wondering looks; "let's show off our armament. How can he know how much
ammunition we have left? For that matter, he may be getting a little
short of shells himself, and he won't know that his solitary pistol is
the thing we are most afraid of."

"Good," Harkness agreed; "we will play a little good old-fashioned poker
with the gentleman, but don't overdo it, just casually let him see the
guns."

Schwartzmann, far across the open ground, must have seen them as plainly
as they saw him as they climbed the little hummock of rocks. He could
not fail to note the pistols in the men's belts, nor overlook the
significance of the weapon that gleamed brightly in the pilot's hand.
Chet saw him return his pistol to his belt as he backed slowly into the
shadows, and he knew that Schwartzmann had no wish for an exchange of
shots, even at long range, with so many guns against him. But from their
slight elevation he saw something else.

The grass was trampled flat all about their enclosure, but, beyond, it
stood half the height of a man; it was a sea of rippling green where the
light wind brushed across it. And throughout that sea that intervened
between them and the jungle Chet saw other ripples forming, little
quiverings of shaken stalks that came here and there until the whole
expanse seemed trembling.

"Down--and get ready for trouble!" he ordered crisply, then added as he
sprang for his own long bow: "Their commanding officer doesn't want to
mix it with us--not just yet--but the rest are coming, and there's a
million of them, it looks like."

       *       *       *       *       *

The apes broke cover with all the suddenness of a covey of quail, but
they charged like wild, hungry beasts that have sighted prey. Only the
long spears in their bunchy fists and the shorter throwing spears that
came through the air marked them as primitive men.

The standing grass at the end of the clearing beyond their barricade was
abruptly black with naked bodies. To Chet, that charging horde was a
formless dark wave that came rolling up toward them; then, as suddenly
as the black wave had appeared, it ceased to be a mere mass and Chet saw
individual units. A black-haired one was springing in advance. The man
behind the barricade heard the twang of his bow as if it were a sound
from afar off; but he saw the arrow projecting from a barrel-shaped
chest, and the ape-man tottering over.

He loosed his arrows as rapidly as he could draw the bow; he knew that
others were shooting too. Where naked feet were stumbling over prostrate
bodies the black wave broke in confusion and came on unsteadily into the
hail of winged barbs.

But the wave rushed on and up to the barricade in a scattering of
shrieking, leaping ape-man, and Chet spared a second for unspoken thanks
for the height of the barrier. A full six feet it stood from the ground,
and the ends that had been burned, then pointed with a crude ax, were
aimed outward. Inside the enclosure Chet had wanted to throw up a bench
or mound of earth on which they could stand to fire above the high
barrier, but lack of tools had prevented them. Instead they had laid
cribbing of short poles at intervals and on each of these had built a
platform of branches.

       *       *       *       *       *

Close to the barricade of poles and vines, these platforms enabled the
defenders to shield themselves from thrown spears and rise as they
wished to fire out and down into the mob. But with the rush of a score
or more of the man-beasts to the barricade itself, Chet suddenly knew
that they were vulnerable to an attack with long lances.

A leaping body was hanging on the barrier; huge hands tore and clawed at
the inner side for a grip. From the platform where Diane stood came an
arrow at the same instant Chet shot. One matched the other for accuracy,
and the clawing figure fell limply from sight. But there were
others--and a lance tipped with the jagged fin, needle-sharp, of a
poison fish was thrusting wickedly toward Diane.

This time Harkness' arrow did the work, but Chet ordered a retreat.
Above the pandemonium of snarling growls, he shouted.

"Back to the rocks, Walt," he ordered; "you and Diane! Quick! The rest
of us will hold 'em till you are ready. Then you keep 'em off until we
come!" And the two obeyed the cool, crisp voice that was interrupted
only when its owner, with the others, had to duck quickly to avoid a
barrage of spears.

       *       *       *       *       *

Kreiss was wounded. Chet found him dropped beside his firing platform
working methodically to extract the broad blade of a spear from his
shoulder where it was embedded.

Chet's first thought was of poison, and he shouted for Towahg. But the
savage only looked once at the spear, seized it and with one quick jerk
drew the weapon from the wound; then, when the blood flowed freely, he
motioned to Chet that the man was all right.

The savage wadded a handful of leaves into a ball and pressed it against
the wound, and Chet improvised a first-aid bandage from Kreiss' ragged
blouse before they put him from sight in one of the shelters and ran to
rejoin Harkness and Diane on the rocks.

But the first wave was spent. There were no more snarling, white-toothed
faces above the barricade, and in the open space beyond were shambling
forms that hid themselves in the long grass while others dragged
themselves to the same concealment or lay limply inert on the open,
sunlit ground.

And within the enclosure one solitary ape-man forgot his bruised body
while he stamped up and down or whirled absurdly in a dance that
expressed his joy in victory.

"Better come down," said Chet. "Schwartzmann might take a shot at you,
although I think we are out of pistol range. We're lucky that isn't a
service gun he's got, but come down anyway, and we'll see what's next.
This time we've had the breaks, but there's more coming. Schwartzmann
isn't through."

But Schwartzmann was through for the day; Chet was mistaken in expecting
a second assault so soon. He posted Towahg as sentry, and, with Diane
and Harkness, threw himself before the door-flap of the shelter where
Kreiss had been hidden, and was now sitting up, his arm in a sling.

"Either you're a 'mighty hard man to kill,'" he told Kreiss, "or else
Towahg is a powerful medicine man."

"I am still in the fight," the scientist assured him. "I can't do any
more work with bow and arrow, but I can keep the rest of you supplied."

"We'll need you," Chet assured him grimly.

       *       *       *       *       *

They ate in silence as the afternoon drew on toward evening.

Back by their little fire, with Towahg on guard, Chet shot an
appreciative glance at a white disk in the southern sky. "Still getting
the breaks," he exulted. "The moon is up; it will give us some light
after sunset, and later the Earth will rise and light things up around
here in good shape."

That white disk turned golden as the sun vanished where mountainous
clouds loomed blackly far across the jungle-clad hills. Then the quick
night blanketed everything, and the golden moon made black the fringe of
forest trees while it sent long lines of light through their waving,
sinuous branches, to cast moving shadows that seemed strangely alive on
the open ground. Muffled by the jungle-sea that absorbed the sound
waves, faint grumblings came to them, and at a quiver of light in the
blackness where the clouds had been, Harkness turned to Chet.

"We had all better get on the job," Chet was saying, as he took his bow
and a supply of arrows, "we've got our work cut out for us to-night."

And Harkness nodded grimly as the flickering lightning played fitfully
over far-distant trees. "We crowed a bit too soon," he told Chet;
"there's a big storm coming, and that's a break for Schwartzmann. No
light from either moon or Earth to-night."

The moon-disk, as he spoke, lost its first clear brilliance in the haze
of the expanding clouds.

"Watch sharp, Towahg!" Chet ordered. And, to the others: "Get this fire
moved away from the huts--here. I'll do that, Walt. You bring a supply
of wood; some of those dried leaves, too. We'll build a big fire, we
have to depend on that for light."

       *       *       *       *       *

With the skeleton of a huge palm leaf he raked the fire out into an open
space; they had plenty of fuel and they fed the blaze until its mounting
flames lighted the entire enclosure. But outside the barricade were dark
shadows, and Chet saw that this light would only make targets of the
defenders, while the attackers could creep up in safety.

"'Way up," he ordered; "we've got to have the fire on the top of the
rocks." He clambered to the topmost level of the rocky outcrop and
dragged a blazing stick with him. Harkness handed him more; and now the
light struck down and over the stockade and illumined the ground
outside.

"Here's your job, Kreiss," said Chet, "if you're equal to it. You keep
that fire going and have a pile of dried husks handy if I call for a
bright blaze.

"We've got to defend the whole works," he explained. "That bunch today
tried to jump us just from one side, but trust Schwartzmann to divide
his force and hit us from all sides next time.

"But we'll hold the fort," he said and he forced a confidence into his
voice that his inner thoughts did not warrant. To Harkness he whispered
when Diane was away: "Six shells in the gun, Walt; we won't waste them
on the apes. There's one for each of us including Towahg, and one extra
in case you miss. We'll fight as long as we are able; then it's up to
you to shoot quick and straight."

But Walt Harkness felt for the pistol in his belt and handed it to Chet.
"I couldn't," he said, and his voice was harsh and strained, "--not
Diane; you'll have to, Chet." And Chet Bullard dropped his own useless
pistol to the ground while he slipped the other into its holster on the
belt that bound his ragged clothes about him, but he said nothing. He
was facing a situation where words were hardly adequate to express the
surging emotion within.

       *       *       *       *       *

Diane had returned when he addressed Walt casually. "Wonder why the
beggars didn't attack again," he pondered. "Why has Schwartzmann waited;
why hasn't he or one of his men crept up in the grass for a shot at us?
He's got some deviltry brewing."

"Waiting for night," hazarded Walt. He looked up to see Kreiss who had
joined them.

"If Towahg could tend the fire," suggested the scientist, "I could fire
my little catapult with one hand. I think I could do some damage." But
Chet shook his head and answered gently:

"I'm afraid Towahg's the better man to-night, Kreiss. You can help best
by giving us light. That's the province of science, you know," he added,
and grinned up at the anxious man.

Each moment of this companionship meant much to Chet. It was the last
conference, he knew. They would be swamped, overwhelmed, and then--only
the pistol with its six shells was left. But he drew his thoughts back
to the peaceful quiet of the present moment, though the hush was ominous
with the threat of the approaching storm and of the other assault that
must come in the storm's concealing darkness. He looked at Diane and
Walt--comrades true and tender. The leaping flames from the rocks above
made flickering shadows on their upturned faces.

       *       *       *       *       *

The moment ended. A growl from where Towahg was on guard brought them
scrambling to their feet. "Gr-r-ranga!" Towahg was warning. "Granga
come!"

They fired from their platforms as before, then raced for the rocks and
the elevation they afforded, for the black bodies had reached the
stockade quickly in the half light. But they came again from one
point--the farthest curve of the U-shaped fence this time--and though a
score of black animal faces showed staring eyes and snarling fangs where
heavy bodies were drawn up on the barricade, no one of them reached the
inside.

"We're holding them!" Chet was shouting. But the easy victory was too
good to believe; he knew there were more to come; this force of some
thirty or forty was not all that Schwartzmann could throw into the
fight. And Schwartzmann, himself! Chet had seen the bronzed faces of Max
and another standing back of the assaulting force, but where was
Schwartzmann?

It was Kreiss who answered the insistent question. From above on the
rocks, where he had kept the fire blazing, Kreiss was calling in a
high-pitched voice.

"The water!" he shouted, "they're attacking from the water!" And Chet
rushed around the broken rock-heap to see a lake like an inky pool,
where the firelight showed faint reflections from black, shining faces;
where rippling lines of phosphorescence marked each swimming savage; and
where larger waves of ghostly light came from a log raft on which was a
familiar figure whose face, through its black beard, showed white in
contrast with the faces of his companions.

       *       *       *       *       *

Still a hundred feet from the shore, they were approaching steadily,
inexorably; and the storm, at that instant, broke with a ripping flash
of light that tore the heavens apart, and that seared the picture of the
attackers upon the eyeballs of the man who stared down.

From behind him came sounds of a renewed attack. He heard Harkness:
"Shoot, Diane! Nail 'em, Towahg! There's a hundred of them!" And the
wind that came with the lightning flash, though it brought no rain,
whipped the black water of the lake to waves that drove the raft and the
swimming savages closer--closer--

Chet glanced above him. "Come down, Kreiss!" he ordered. "Get down here,
quick! This is the finish. We could have licked them on land, but these
others will get us." He stood, dumb with amazement, as he saw the thin
figure of Kreiss leap excitedly from his rocky perch and vanish like a
terrified rabbit into the cave in the rocks.

"I didn't think--" he was telling himself in wondering disbelief at this
cowardice, when Kreiss reappeared. His one hand was white with a rubbery
coating that Chet vaguely knew for latex. He was holding a gray, earthy
mass, and he threw himself forward to the catapult where it stood idly
erect in the wind that beat and whipped at it.

"Help me!" It was Kreiss who ordered, and once more he spoke as if he
were conducting only an interesting experiment. "Pull here! Bend
it--bend it! Now hold steady; this is metallic sodium, a deposit I found
deep in the earth."

The gray mass was in the crude bucket of the machine. Kreiss' knife was
ready. He slashed at the vine that he'd the bent sapling, and a gray
mass whirled out into the dark; out and down--and the inky waters were
in that instant ablaze with fire.

[Illustration: _The inky waters were ablaze with fire._]

Fire that threw itself in flaming balls; that broke into many parts and
each part, like a living thing, darted crazily about; that leaped into
the air to fall again among ape-men who screamed frenziedly in animal
terror.

       *       *       *       *       *

"It unites with water," Kreiss was saying: "a spontaneous liberation and
ignition of hydrogen." The white-coated hand had dumped another mass
into the primitive engine of war. "Now pull--so--and I cut it!" And the
leaping, flashing fires tore furiously in redoubled madness where a
shrieking mob of terrified beasts, and one white man among them, drove
ashore beyond the end of a barricade.

Chet felt Harkness beside him. "We drove 'em off in back. What the devil
is going on here?" Walt was demanding. But Chet was watching the retreat
of the blacks straight off and down the shore where the sand was smooth
and neither grass nor trees could hinder their wild flight.

"You've got them licked," Harkness was exulting: "and we've cleaned them
up on our side. Just came over to see if you needed help."

"We sure would have," said Chet; "more than you could give if it hadn't
been for Kreiss."

"We've got 'em licked!" Harkness repeated wonderingly; "we've won!" It
was too much to grasp all at once. The victory had been so quick, and he
had already given up hope.

The two had clasped hands; they stood so for silent minutes. Chet had
been nerved to the point of destroying his companions and himself; the
revulsion of feeling that victory brought was more stupefying than the
threat of impending defeat.

       *       *       *       *       *

Staring out over the black waters, he knew only vaguely when Harkness
left; a moment later he followed him gropingly around the jagged rocks,
while there came to him, blurred by his own mental numbness, a shouted
call.... But a moment elapsed before he was aroused, before he knew it
for Walt's voice. He recognized the agonized tone and sprang forward
into the clearing.

The fire still blazed on the rocky platform above; its uncertain light
reached the figure of a running man who was making madly for the opening
in the wall. As he ran he screamed over and over, in a voice hoarse and
horrible like one seized in the fright of a fearful dream: "Diane!
Diane, wait! For God's sake, Diane, don't go!"

And the driven clouds were torn apart for a space to let through a clear
golden light. The great lantern of Earth was flashing down through space
to light a grassy opening in a jungle of another world, where, stark and
rigid, a girl was walking toward the shadow-world beyond, while before
her went a black shape, huge and powerful, in whose head were eyes like
burning lights, and whose arms were rigidly extended as if to draw the
stricken girl on and on.

The running figure overtook them. Chet saw him checked in mid-spring,
and Harkness, too, stood rigid as if carved from stone, then followed as
did Diane, where the ape-thing led.... From the far side of the
clearing, where Schwartzmann's men had gone, came a great shout of
laughter that jarred Chet from the stupor that bound him.

"The messenger!" he said aloud. "God help them; it's the messenger--and
he's taking them to the pyramid!"

Then the torn clouds closed that the greater darkness might cover those
who vanished in the shadowed fringe of a stormy, wind-whipped jungle....



CHAPTER XX

_On to the Pyramid_


It was like Walt Harkness to rush impetuously after where Diane was
being drawn away; but who, under the same circumstances, would have done
otherwise? Yet it was like Chet, too, to keep a sane and level head, to
check the first wild impulse to dash to their rescue, to realize that he
would be throwing himself away by doing it and helping them not at all.
It was like Chet to stop and think when thinking was desperately needed,
though what it would lead to he could not have told. There were many
factors that entered into his calculations.

Half-consciously he had walked to the barricade that he might stare into
the blackness beyond. The worst of the storm had passed, and the strong
Earth-light forced its way through the thinning clouds in a cold, gray
glow. It served to show the great gateway to the jungle, empty and
black, until Chet saw more of the man-beasts he had called messengers.

A file of them, stolid, woodenly walking--he could not fail to know them
from the ape-men of the tribe. And they moved through the darkness
toward the sounds of shouts and laughter.

Chet saw them when they returned; following them were three others.
Schwartzmann was not one of them; but the pilot, Max, Chet could
distinguish plainly; the other two, he was sure, were the men of
Schwartzmann's crew.

And, for each of them, all laughter and shouted jests had escaped. They
moved like wooden toys half-come to life. And they, too, vanished where
Walt and Diane had gone through the high arch of the jungle's open door.

Chet knew Kreiss was beside him; at a short distance, Towahg, staring
above the palisade, buried his unkempt, hairy head in the shelter of his
arms. All of Towahg's savage bravery had oozed away at direct sight of
the pyramid men; Chet, even through his heavy-hearted dismay, was aware
of the courage that must have carried this primitive man to their rescue
on that other black night when the pyramid had been about to swallow,
them up.

       *       *       *       *       *

To the pyramid all Chet's thoughts had been tending. There Diane and
Harkness were bound; there he, too, must go, though the thought of
driving himself into that black maw, through the overpowering stench and
down to the pit where some horror of mystery lay waiting, was almost
more than his conscious mind could accept. But, with the sight of Towahg
and the abject fear that had overwhelmed him, Chet found his own mind
calmly determined, though through that cool self-detachment came savage
spoken words.

"If poor Towahg could go near that damned place," he reasoned, "am I
going to be stopped by anything between heaven and hell?"

And his mind was suddenly at ease with the certainty of the next step he
must take. He turned to speak to Kreiss, but paused instead to stare
into the dark where shadows that were not the ghosts of clouds were
moving. Then his whispered orders came sharply to the scientist and to
Towahg.

"Come!" he commanded. "Come quickly; follow me!"

The two were behind him as he found the narrow opening in the barrier's
farther side, passed through, and crouched low in the darkness as he ran
toward the lake where the shallow water of the shore took no mark of
their hurrying feet.

       *       *       *       *       *

At the end of the lake he stopped. Beside him, Kreiss, weakened by his
wound, was panting and gasping; Towahg, moving like a dark shadow, was
close behind.

"I saw them," said Kreiss, when he had breath enough for speech, "--more
beasts from the pyramid. They were coming for us! But we can go back
there after a day or so."

"You can," Chet told him; "Towahg and I are going on."

"Where?" Kreiss demanded.

"To the pyramid."

Chet's reply was brief, and Kreiss' response was equally so. "You're a
fool," he said.

"Sure," Chet told him: "I know there's nothing I can do to help them.
But I'm going. All I ask is to get one crack at whatever it is that is
down in that beastly pit and if I can't do that maybe I can still save
Diane and Walt from tortures you and I can't imagine." He touched his
pistol suggestively.

"Still I say you are a fool," Kreiss insisted. "They are gone--captured;
they will die. That is regrettable, but it is done. Now, besides Herr
Schwartzmann who escaped, only we two remain; the savage, he does not
count. We two!--and a new world!--and science! Science that remains
after these two are gone--after you and I are gone! It is greater than
us all.

"But I, staying, shall contribute to the knowledge of men; I shall make
discoveries that will bear my name always. This world is my laboratory;
I have found deposits such as none has ever seen on Earth.

"Be reasonable, Herr Bullard. The enemy has tracked us down by his
superior cleverness. We will go far away now where he never shall find
us, you and I. Do not be a fool; do not throw your life away."

       *       *       *       *       *

Chet Bullard, a figure of helpless, hopeless despair, stood unspeaking
while he stared into the black depths of the jungle, and the night wind
whipped his tattered clothing about him.

"A fool!" he said at last, and his voice was dull and heavy. "I guess
you're right--"

Herr Kreiss interrupted: "Of course I am right--right and reasonable and
logical!"

Chet went on as if the other had not spoken:

"If I hadn't been a fool I would have found some way to prevent it; I
would have killed that ape-thing when first I saw it; I would have got
them free."

He turned slowly to face his companion in the darkness.

"But you were wrong, Kreiss; you forgot a couple of things. You said
they found us by their superior cleverness. That's wrong. They found us
because you left a trail they could follow. We threw them off once,
Towahg and I, but the messenger wouldn't be fooled. Then Schwartzmann
and his pack followed the messenger in.

"And you say it is logical that I should quit here, leave Diane and Walt
to take whatever is coming; you say I'm a fool to stay with them till
the end.

"Well,"--he was speaking very quietly, very simply--"if you are right
I'm rather glad that I'm a fool. For you see, Kreiss, they're my
friends, and between friends logic gets knocked all to hell.

"Come on, Towahg!" he called. "Let's see if we can travel this jungle in
the night!" He set off toward the fringe of great trees, then let Towahg
go ahead to find a trail.

       *       *       *       *       *

Travel at night through the tangle of creepers was not humanly possible.
Even Towahg, after an hour's work, grunted his disgust and curled
himself up for the night. And Chet, though he found his mind filled with
vain imaginings, was so drained by the day's demands on his nervous
energy that he slept through to the rising of the sun.

Then they circled wide of the trail they had taken before; no risk would
Chet take of a chance meeting with one of the pyramid apes. And he
plagued his brain with vain questions of what he should do when he
reached the arena and the pyramid and the unknown something that waited
within, until he told himself in desperation: "You're going down, you're
going into that damned place; that's all you know for sure."

Whereupon his questioning ceased, and his mind was clear enough to think
of giant creepers that barred his way, of streams to be crossed, and to
wonder, at the last, when the valley of the pyramid was in sight and
whether the others had reached there before him.

Another day's sun was beating straight down into the arena when again it
opened before Chet's eyes. And the bleak horror of this place of black
and white that had seemed so incredibly unreal under Earth-lit skies was
doubly so in the glare of noon.

They entered through the jagged crack that had been their means of
escape. An earthquake, one time, had split the stone, and Chet was more
than satisfied to avoid the broad entrance where the rocks made a
gateway and where hostile eyes might be watching.

       *       *       *       *       *

He stood for long minutes in the cleft in the rocks where the hard earth
of the arena made a floor before him, where the huge steps of ribboned
white and black swung out on either hand, and where, directly ahead, in
the same hard, contrasting strata, a pyramid lifted itself to finish in
a projecting capstone. And now that he faced it he found himself
curiously cool.

He motioned Towahg to his side, and the black came cowering and
trembling. He had tried before to ask Towahg about the mystery of the
pyramid, but Towahg had never understood, or, as Chet believed, he had
pretended not to understand. But now he could no longer feign ignorance
of Chet's queries.

Chet pointed to the pyramid with a commanding hand. "What is there?" he
demanded. "Towahg afraid! What is Towahg afraid of? Ape-men go in
there--Gr-r-ranga-men; who sends for them?"

And Towahg, who must know the sense of the questions, even though some
words were strange, could not answer. He dropped to his knees there in
the narrow, ragged chasm in the rock and clutched at Chet's legs with
his two hands while he buried his shaggy head in his arms. Then--

"Krargh!" he wailed; "Krargh there! Krargh send--Gr-r-ranga go.
Gr-r-ranga no come back!"

It was perhaps the longest speech Towahg had ever made, and Chet nodded
his understanding. "Yes," he agreed; "that's right. I imagine. When
Krargh sends for you, you never come back."

But more eloquent than the ape-man's halting words was the trembling of
his muscle-knotted shoulders in a fear that struck him limp at Chet's
feet. And the pilot realized that the fear was inspired in part by the
thought in the savage mind that his master might ask him to go closer to
the place of dread. He had followed them once and had struck down a
messenger, but this was when he was avid with curiosity and
half-worshipful of the white men as gods. Now, to go that dreadful way
in full daylight!--it was more than Towahg could face.

       *       *       *       *       *

Chet patted the cringing shoulder with a kindly hand. "Get up, Towahg,"
he ordered and pointed back toward the jungle. "Towahg wait outside;
wait today and to-night!" He gave the ape-man's sign of the open and
closed hand to signify one day and one night, and Towahg's grunt was
half in relief and half in understanding as he slipped back into hiding
where the jungle pressed close.

Chet turned again to the pyramid. "They're down there," he told himself,
"facing God knows what. And now it's sink or swim, and I'm almighty
afraid I know which it's to be. But we'll take it together: 'When Krargh
sends for you, you never come back.'"

No jungle sounds were here in this silent arena, no flashing of
leather-winged birds nor scuttling of little, odd creatures of the
ground. It was as if some terror had spread its dark wings above the
place, a terror unseen of men. But the little, wild things of earth and
air had seen, and they had fled long since from a place unclean and
unfit for life.

Chet felt the silence pressing heavily upon him as he took his hand from
the rock at his side and stepped out into the arena. And the vast
amphitheater seemed peopled with phantom shapes that sat in serried rows
and watched him with dead and terrible eyes, while he went the long way
to the pyramid's base, and his feet found the rough stone ascent....



CHAPTER XXI

_The Monstrous Something_


The way to the top of the pyramid was long. One look Chet allowed
himself out over this world--one slow, sweeping gaze that took in the
bare floor at the pyramid's base, a level platform of rock some distance
in front of the pyramid, the hard black and white of the walled oval,
the sea of waving green that was the jungle beyond, and, beyond that,
hills, misty and shimmering in the noonday heat. And nestled there,
beyond that last bare ridge, must be the valley of happiness, Diane
Delacouer's "Happy Valley."

Chet Bullard turned abruptly where the projecting capstone hung heavy
above a shadowed entrance. He entered the blackness within, stopped once
in choking nausea as the first wave of vile air struck him, then fought
his way on till his searching feet found the stairway, and he knew he
was descending into a pit that held something inhumanly horrible--an
abomination unto all gods of decency and right.

And still there persisted that abnormal coolness that made him almost
light-headed, almost carefree. Even the fetid stench ceased to offend.
His feet moved with never a sound to find the first step--and the
next--and the next. He must go cautiously; he must not betray his
presence until he was ready to strike.

Just where that blow would be delivered or against what adversary he
could not tell, and perhaps it would be given him only to save Diane and
Walt by the grace of a merciful bullet. It made no difference. Nothing
made any difference any more; they had had their day, and now if the
night came suddenly that was all he could ask. And still his cautious
feet were carrying him down and yet down....

       *       *       *       *       *

He was far below the surface of the ground when he found the foot of the
stairs. They had been a spiral; his hand had touched one wall that led
him smoothly around a shaft like a great well. And now there was firm
rock beneath his feet, where, with one hand still guiding him along the
stone wall, he followed the wall into a darkness that was an almost
solid, opaque black. He seemed lost in a great void, smothered in
silence, and buried under the black weight of the pressing dark, until
the sound of a footfall gave him sense of direction and of distance.

It made soft echoings along rock walls that picked up every slightest
rustle, and Chet realized again how cautious his own advance must be.
It came toward him, soft, scuffing, followed the wall where he
stood ... and Chet felt that approaching presence almost upon him before
he stepped silently out and away.

And in the darkness that blotted out his sight he sensed with some inner
eye the passing ape-man with arms rigidly extended, while a wave of
thankfulness flooded him as he realized that in the dark the brute was
as blind as himself and that the terrible thing that had sent him could
see at a distance only with the ape-man's eyes.

Here was something definite to count on. As long as he remained silent,
as long as he kept himself hidden, he was safe.

The scuffling footsteps had gone to nothing in the distance when Chet
reached out for the wall and went swiftly, carefully, on. The messenger
had come this way; he could hurry now that he knew there was safe
footing in the dark.

The wall ended in a sharp corner; it formed a right angle, and the new
surface went on and away from him. Chet was debating whether he should
follow or should cast out into the darkness when his staring eyes found
the first touch of light.

       *       *       *       *       *

It came from above, a wavering line that trembled to a flame which
seemed curiously cold. The line grew: a foot-wide band of light high up
on the wall, it thrust itself forward like a tendril of the horrible
plants he had seen. It grew on and wrapped itself about a great room,
while, behind it, cold flames flickered and leaped. And Chet, so
interested was he in the motion of this light that seemed almost alive,
realized only after some moments that the light was betraying him.

He glanced quickly about and found himself within a chamber of huge
proportions. Walls that only nature could form reared themselves high in
the putrescent air of the room; they curved into a ceiling, and from
that ceiling there hung a glittering array of gems.

Chet knew them for great stalactites, and, even as he cast about
desperately for some secluded nook, he marveled at the diamond
brilliance of the display. But on the smooth floor of stone, where
corresponding stalagmites must have been, were no traces of crystal
growths, from which he knew that though nature had formed the room some
other power had fitted it to its own use.

Chet's eyes were darting swift glances about. There was no single moving
thing, no sign of life; he was still undiscovered. But it could not last
long, this safety; he looked vainly for some niche where the light would
not strike so clearly, so betrayingly.

Across the great chamber was a platform fifteen feet above the floor.
Even at a distance Chet knew this was not a natural formation; he could
see where the stones had been cleverly fitted. And now his eyes,
accustomed to the light, saw that the platform was carpeted with hides
and strange furs. There were some that hung over the edge; they reached
almost to the upright block like a table or altar at the platform's
base. On this altar another great hide of thick leather was spread; it
dragged in places on the floor.

Bare floors, bare walls--no place where an intruder could remain
concealed! Suddenly from the lighted mouth of another passage he heard
sounds of many feet; the sounds of approaching feet.

       *       *       *       *       *

The impulse that threw him across the room was born of desperation; he
raced frantically to cross the wide expanse before those feet brought
their owners within view, and he fought to keep his panting breath
inaudible while he tugged at the heavy leather altar covering, stiff and
thick as a board; while he forced his crouching body beneath and found
space there where he could move freely about.

It walled him in completely on the platform side where it hung to the
floor, but on the other three sides there were gaps near the floor where
the light shone in on two pedestals of stone that supported the stone
top.

Between the pedestals Chet crouched, hardly daring to look, hardly
daring to breathe, while feet, bare and black, tramped shufflingly past.
They went in groups--he lost count of their number but knew there were
hundreds; he heard them going to the platform above. And, through the
sound of the naked feet, came disjointed fragments of thought that
reached his brain, transformed to words.

Mere fragments at first: "... back; the Master goes first!... The
lights--how grateful is their coolness!... Who stumbled? Careless and
stupid ape! You, Bearer-captain, shall take him to the torture room; a
touch of fire will help his infirmity!"

And there was a cold rage that accompanied the last which set Chet's
tense nerves a-tingle. But there was no fear in the emotion; he was
quivering with a fierce, instinctive, animal hate.

The black feet retraced their steps. Then there was silence, and Chet
knew there was something above him on the platform; whether one or many
he could not tell until an interchange of thoughts reached him to show
there was at least more than one.

"A presence!" some unseen thing was thinking. "I sense a strange mental
force!"

       *       *       *       *       *

A moment of panic gripped Chet at the threat of discovery. Then he
forced himself to relax; he tried to make his mind a blank; or if not
that, to think of anything but himself--of the jungle, the ape-men, of
the two comrades who had been captured.

"Patience!" another thinker was counseling. "It is the captives; they
draw near." And across the great room, from the same passage where he
had entered, Chet heard again the sound of bare, scuffing feet.

He could see them at last; he dared, to stop and peer along the floor.
Bare feet--black, hairy legs, and then came sounds of clumping leather
that brought Chet's heart into his throat, until, directly before the
altar that made his shelter, he saw the stained shoes and torn leggings
of Walt Harkness, and beside them, the little boots and jungle-stained
stockings that encased the slender legs of Mademoiselle Diane.

They were there before him, Walt and Diane; he would see them if he but
dared to look. And, from somewhere above, a confusion of thought
messages poured in upon him like the unintelligible medley of many
voices. Out of them came one, clearer, more commanding:

"Silence! Be still, all! Your Master speaks. I shall question the
captives."

And there came to Chet, crouched beneath the altar, hardly breathing,
listening, tense, a battering of questioning thoughts. He heard no
answer from Harkness and Diane, but he knew that their minds were open
pages to the one from whom those thought-waves issued.

"Where are you from?--what part of this globe?... Another world?
Impossible! This is our own world, Rajj. It is alone. There is no nearby
star."

And after a moment, when Harkness had silently answered, came other
thoughts:

"Strange! Strange! This creature of an inferior race says that our world
has joined hands with his; that his is greater; that our own world,
Rajj, is now a satellite of his world that he calls by the strange name
of 'Earth.'"

       *       *       *       *       *

To Chet it seemed that this one mysterious thinker, this "Master" of an
unknown realm, was explaining his findings to other mysterious beings.
There followed a babel of released thoughts from which Chet got only a
confused impression of conflicting emotions: curiosity, rage, hate, and
a cold ferocity that bound them into one powerful, vindictive whole.

Again the leader quieted the rest; again he laid open the minds of Walt
and Diane for his exploring questions, while Chet mentally listened and
tried to picture what manner of thing this was that held two Earth-folk
helpless, that called them "creatures of an inferior race."

Super-men? No? Super-beasts, these must be. Chet was chilled with a
nameless horror as he sensed the cold deadliness and implacable hate in
the traces of emotion that clung and came to him with the thoughts. And
his imagination balked at trying to picture thinking creatures so
abominably vile as these thinkers must be.

The questions went on and on. Chet lost all sense of time. He had the
feeling that the two helpless prisoners were being mentally flayed. No
thought, no hidden emotion, but was stripped from them and displayed
before the mental gaze of these inhuman inquisitors. No physical torture
could have been more revolting.

And at list the ordeal was ended. Chet had forgotten Schwartzmann's men
until the "Master's" order recalled them to his mind. "Bring the other
captives!" the unspoken thought commanded.

       *       *       *       *       *

Chet crouched low to see from under the hanging leather. Naked feet
shuffled aimlessly; they were raised and put down again in the same
position, until the dazed and hypnotized blacks received their orders
and drew Diane and Harkness to one side. Then other leather-shod feet
came into view as Max and his companions were brought forward.

But there was no more questioning. "Perhaps another day we shall amuse
ourselves with them," a thinker said. Chet, for the first time was
paying no attention.

A slit in the leather--it might bare been where a spear had entered to
slay a dinosaur in some earlier age--served now as a peep-hole from
which Chet saw two gray and lifeless faces that were expressionless as
stone. And, as if their bodies, too, were carved from granite, Diane and
Harkness stood motionless.

He saw the blacks, saw that all eyes were on the other prisoners. Only
Harkness and Diane stood with lowered gaze, staring stonily at the floor
where the leather hung. And through Chet's mind flashed a quick impulse
that set his nerves thrilling and quivering, though he checked the
emotion in an instant lest some other mind should sense it.

Those other minds were not contacting Walt and Diane now. Could he reach
them? Chet wondered. That they were conscious, that they knew with
horrible clearness every detail of what went on, Chet was certain: his
own brief experience that first night on the pyramid had taught him
that. And now if these two could see and comprehend what they saw: if
only he could send them a word--one flashing message of hope! His hands
were working swiftly at his belt.

The detonite pistol slipped silently from its sheath. And as silently he
placed it on the floor where the two were looking, then slid it
cautiously underneath the leather that just cleared the floor.

       *       *       *       *       *

His eye was close to the narrow slit. Did a change of expression flash
for an instant across the face of Walt Harkness? Was it only
imagination, or was there the briefest flicker of life in the dead eyes
of Diane Delacouer? Chet could not be sure, but he dared to hope.

The "Master" was speaking. To Chet came a conviction that he must not
fail to hear these thoughts. He restored the pistol to his belt.

"And now the time has come," flashed the message. "One thousand times
has Rajj circled the sun since we put his light behind us and came down
to the dark place that had been prepared.

"One hundred others and myself; we were the peerless leaders of a
peerless race. To produce the marvelous mentality that made us what we
were, all the forces of evolution had been laboring for ages. We were
supreme, and for us there was nothing left; no further growth.

"Then, what said Vashta, the All-Wise One? That I and a hundred chosen
ones should descend into the dark, there to live until a new world was
ready for us, lest our great race of Krargh perish." Chet started at the
name. Krargh! It was the same word that Towahg had used.

The mental message went on:

"And we alone survive. Our world of Rajj is a wasteland where once we
and our fellows lived. And we have been patient, awaiting the day. The
biped beasts, as you know, have been our food; we have trained them to
be our slaves as well. By the power of our invincible minds we have sent
them out to do our bidding and bring in more of the man-herd for
slaughter when we hungered.

"And now, remember the words of Vashta, the All-Wise: 'until a new world
is ready.' O Peerless Ones, the new world waits. These ignorant, white
animals have brought the word. We had thought that Vashta meant us to
make a new world of our old world of Rajj, but what of this new world
called Earth? Perhaps that will be ours."

Chet felt the thinker break in on his own thoughts.

"One thousand years, but not to a day. Tell us, O Keeper of the Records,
when is the time?"

And another's thoughts came in answer: "Six days, Master; six days
more."

The leader's thoughts crashed in with an almost physical violence:

"On the sixth night we shall go out! In darkness we have lived; in
darkness we shall emerge. Then shall we feast in the arena of Vashta as
we did of old. We shall see this new world; we shall breed and people
the world; we shall take up our lives again.

"Let the captives live!" he commanded. "Feed them well. They shall be
the sacrifice to Vashta--all but the woman. She shall see the blood of
the others flow on the altar stone; then shall she come to me."

There was a chorus of mental protests; of counter claims. The leader
quieted them as before.

"I am Master of All," he told them. "Would you dispute with me over this
beast of the Earth--a creature of no mental growth? Absurd! But she
interests me somewhat; I will find her amusing for a time."

       *       *       *       *       *

There were bearers who came crowding in; and again in groups they left.
They were on the side where Chet dared not look, but he knew each group
of blacks meant a mysterious something that was being carried carefully.

And somewhere in the confusion of black, shuffling feet the others
vanished. No sight of Walt or Diane did the slitted leather give; only a
motley crew of blacks who were left, and a wall, high-sprung to a
glittering ceiling, and flaming, cold fire that ebbed and flowed till
the room's last occupant was gone. Then the flames faded to dense
blackness where only fitful images on the retina of Chet's staring eyes
flared and waned, and ghostly voices seemed still whispering through the
clamoring silence of the room....

They were echoing within his brain and harshly at his taut nerves as he
made his slow way toward the passage through which he had come. Despite
their terror-filled urging he did not run, but took one silent, cautious
step at a time, until, after centuries of waiting, his eyes found a
square of light that was blinding; and he knew that he was stumbling
through the portal in the top of the pyramid of Vashta--Vashta the
All-Wise--unholy preceptor of an inhuman race.



CHAPTER XXII

_Sacrifice_


"Down in the pyramid! You went down there?" Herr Kreiss forgot even his
absorbing experiments to exclaim incredulously at Chet's report.

Guided by Towahg, Chet had returned to Happy Valley. There had been six
days and nights to be spent, and he felt that he should tell Kreiss what
he had learned.

"Yes," said Chet dully; "yes, I went down."

He was seated on a rock in the enclosure they had built. He raised his
deep-sunk, sleepless eyes to stare at the house where he and Walt had
worked. There Walt and Diane were to have made their home; Chet found
something infinitely pathetic now in the unfinished shelter: its very
crudities seemed to cry aloud against the blight that had fallen upon
the place.

"And what was there?" Kreiss demanded. "This hypnotic power--was it an
attribute of the ape-men themselves? That seems highly improbable. Or
was there something else--some other source of the thought waves or
radiations of mental force?"

Chet was still answering almost in monosyllables. "Something else," he
told Kreiss.

"Ah," exclaimed the scientist, "I should have liked to see them. Such
mental attainment! Such control of the great thought-force which with us
is so little developed! Mind--pure mentality--carried to that stage of
conscious development, would be worthy of our highest admiration. I
should like to meet such men."

"They're not men," said Chet; "they're--they're--"

He knew how unable he was to put into words his impression of the unseen
things, and he suddenly became voluble with hate.

"God knows what they are!" he exclaimed, "but they're not men. 'Mind',
you say; 'mentality!' Well, if those coldly devilish things are an
example of what mind can evolve into when there's no decency of soul
along with it, then I tell you hell's full of some marvelous minds!"

He sprang abruptly to his feet.

"I've got to get out of here," he said; "I can't stand it. Four more
days, and that's the end of it all. I'm going back to the ship. I saw it
from up on the divide. Still buried in gas--but I'm going back. If I
could just get in there I might do something. There's all our
supplies--our storage of detonite; I might do some good work yet!"

       *       *       *       *       *

He was pacing up and down restlessly where a path had been worn on the
grassy knoll, worn by his feet and the pitiful, bruised feet he had seen
from his shelter in the pyramid; worn by Walt and Diane--his comrades!
And they were helpless; their whole hope lay in him! The thought of his
own impotence was maddening. He poured out the story of his experience
in the pyramid, as if the telling might give him relief.

Kreiss sat in silence, listening to it all. He broke in at last.

"Wait!" he ordered. "There are some questions I would have answered. You
said once that they found us--these devils that you tell of--because of
the trail that I left. That is true?"

"Yes," Chet agreed irritably, "but what of it? It's all over now."

"Possibly not," Herr Kreiss demurred; "quite possibly not. The fault, it
appears, was mine. Who shall say where the results of that fault shall
lead?

"And you say that these thinking creatures are devils, and that they
plan to sacrifice your good friends to strange gods; and still the fault
leads on." Herr Kreiss, to whom cause and effect were sure guides,
seemed meditating upon the strange workings of immutable laws.

"And you say that if you could reach the interior of your ship you might
perhaps be of help. Yes, it is so! And the ship is engulfed in a fluid
sea, but the sea is of gas. Now in that I am not to blame, and
yet--and--yet--they all tie in together at the last; yes!"

"What are you talking about?" demanded Chet Bullard harshly. "It's no
use to moralize on who is to blame. If you know anything to do, speak
up; if not--"

Herr Kreiss raised his spare frame erect. "I shall do better than that,"
he stated; "I shall act." And Chet stared curiously after, as the thin
figure clambered up on the rocks and vanished into the cave.

       *       *       *       *       *

He forgot him then and turned to stare moodily across the enclosure that
had been the scene of their battle. Kreiss had done good work there; he
had scared the savages into a panic fear. Chet was seeing again the
scenes of that night when a faint explosion came from the rocks at his
side. He looked up to see Herr Kreiss stagger from the cave.

Eyebrows and lashes were gone; his hair was tinged short; but his thick
glasses had protected his eyes. He breathed deeply of the outside air as
he regarded the remnant of a bladder that once had held a sample of
green gas. Then, without a word of explanation, he turned again into the
cave where a thin trickle of smoke was issuing.

Ragged and torn, his clothes were held together by bits of vine. There
were longer ropes of the same material that made a sling on his
shoulders when he reappeared. And, tied in the sling, were bundles; one
large, one small, but sagging with weight. Both were bound tightly in
wrappings of broad leaves.

"We will go now," Herr Kreiss stated: "there is no time to be lost."

"Go? Go where?" Chet's question echoed his utter bewilderment.

"To the ship! Come, savage!"--he motioned to Towahg--"I did not do well
when I made my way alone. You shall lead now."

"He's crazy," Chet told himself half aloud: "his motor's shot and his
controls are jammed! Oh, well; what's the difference? I might as well
spend the time this way as any. I meant to go back to the old ship once
more."

Kreiss' arm still troubled from the wound he had got in the fight, but
Chet could not induce him to share his load.

"_Es ist mein recht_," he grumbled, and added cryptically: "To each man
this only is sure--that he must carry his own cross." And Chet, with a
shrug, let him have his way.

       *       *       *       *       *

There was little said on the trip. Chet was as silent and
uncommunicative as Kreiss when, for the last time, he paused on the
divide to see the green glint from a distant ship, then plunged with the
others into a forest as unreal as all this experience now seemed.

And at the last, when the red light of late afternoon ensanguined a wild
world, they came to the smoke of Fire Valley, and a thousand fumeroles,
little and big, that emitted their flame and gas. And one, at the lower
end of the valley had built up a great mound of greasy mud from whose
top issued hot billows of green gas. It was here that Kreiss paused and
unslung his pack.

"Take this," he told Chet; and the pilot dragged his reluctant eyes from
the view of the nearby cylinder enveloped in green clouds. The scientist
was handing him the larger of the two packages. It was bulky but light:
Chet took it by a loop in one of the vines.

"Careful!" warned Kreiss. "I have worked on it for a month; you see, my
equipment was not so good. I thought that the time might come when it
would be put to use, only first I must conquer the gas--which I now
prepare to do."

"I don't understand," Chet protested.

"You are a Master Pilot of the World?" questioned Kreiss, and Chet
nodded.

"And the control on your ship was a modification of the new ball-control
mechanism such as is used on the latest of the high-level liners?"

Again Chet nodded.

"Then, if ever you are so fortunate, Herr Bullard, as to see once more
that device on one of those ships, will you examine it carefully? And,
stamped on the under side, you will find--"

"The patent marking," said Chet; then stopped short as the light of
understanding blazed into his brain.

"Patented," he reflected; "that's what it says," and a wondering
comprehension was in his voice: "patented by H. Kreiss, of Austria!
You--you are the inventor?"

       *       *       *       *       *

"I did not speak with entire truth to Herr Schwartzmann," admitted
Kreiss, "on that occasion when I told him I could not rebuild the
control you had demolished. With your equipment on the ship I could have
done a quite creditable job, but even now,"--he pointed to the
leaf-wrapped bundle in Chet's hand--"with copper I have hammered from
the rocks, and with silver and gold and even iron which I found
occurring in a quite novel manner, I have done not so badly."

"This is--this is--" Chet stared at the object in his hand; his tongue
could not be brought to speak the words. "But what use? How can I get
in? The gas--"

"Cause and effect!" stated Herr Doktor Kreiss of the Institute at
Vienna, and once more he seemed addressing a class and taking pleasure
in his ability to dispense knowledge. "It is the law of the universe.

"I perform an act. It is a cause--I have invoked the law. And the
effects go out like circling waves in an endless ocean of time forever
beyond our reach.

"But we can do other acts, produce other causes, and sometimes we can
neutralize thereby the effects of the first. I do that now." He picked
up the second bundle in its wrapping of leaves; it was heavy for him to
manage with his wounded arm. "This is all that I have," he said! "I must
place it surely.

"Go down toward the ship," he ordered. "Wait where it is safe. Then
when the gas ceases you will have but three minutes. Three
minutes!--remember! Lose no time at the port!"

He had reached the base of the hill of mud. He was on the windward side;
above him the fumerole was grunting and roaring. And, to Chet, the thin
figure, gaunt and ungainly and absurd in its wrappings of dilapidated
garments, became somehow tremendous, vaguely symbolic. He could not get
it clearly, but there was something there of the cool, reasoning
sureness of science itself--an indomitable pressing on toward whatever
goal the law might lead one to; but Kreiss was human as well. He stopped
once and looked about him.

"A laboratory--this world!" he exclaimed. "Virgin! Untouched!... So much
to be learned; so much to be done! And mine would have been the glory
and fame of it!"

He turned hesitantly, almost apologetically, toward Chet standing
motionless and unspeaking with the wonder of this turn of events.

"Should you be so fortunate as to survive," began Kreiss, "perhaps you
would be so kind--my name--I would not want it lost." He straightened
abruptly.

"Go!" he ordered. "Get as near as you can!" His feet were climbing
steadily up the slippery ascent.

       *       *       *       *       *

The faintest breath of the gas warned Chet back. Almost infinitely
diluted, it still set him choking while the tears streamed down his
face. But he worked his way as near the ship as he dared, and he saw
through the tears that still blinded his stinging eyes the tall figure
of Kreiss as he reached the top.

A table of steaming mud was there, and Kreiss was sinking into it as he
struggled forward. At the center was a hot throat where fumes like a
breath from hell roared and choked with the strangling of its own gas.
The figure writhed as a whirl of green enveloped it, threw itself
forward. From one outstretched hand an object fell toward the throat;
its leafy wrapping was whipped sharply for an instant by the coughing
breath....

And then, where the hot blast had been, and the forming clouds and the
erupting mud, was a pillar of fire--a white flame that thundered into
the sky.

Straight and clean, like the sword of some guardian angel, it stood
erect--a line of dazzling light in a darkening sky. And the fumes of
green had vanished at its touch.

But Kreiss! Chet found himself running toward the fumerole. He must save
him, drag him back. Then he knew with a certainty that admitted of no
question that for Kreiss there was no help: that for this man of science
the laws of cause and effect were no longer operative on the plane of
Earth. The heat would have killed him, but the enveloping gas must have
reached him first. And he had sacrificed himself for what?--that he,
Chet, might reach the ship!... Before Chet's eyes was a silvery cylinder
whose closed port was plainly marked.

       *       *       *       *       *

No gas now! No glint of green! The way was clear, and the slim figure of
Chet Bullard was checked in its rush toward a mound of mud and the body
of a man that lay next to a blasting column of flame; he turned instead
to throw himself through the clean air toward the ship that was free of
gas.

"Three minutes!" This was what Kreiss had said; this was the allotted
time. In three minutes he must reach the ship, force open the long
unused port, get inside--!

At one side, across the level lava rock he saw Towahg. The savage was
running at top speed. He had thrown away his bow, dropping it lest it
impede his flight from this terrifying witchcraft he had seen. There had
been a witch-doctor in Towahg's tribe; the savage knew sorcery when he
saw it. But never had his witch-doctor changed green gas to a column of
fire; and this white sorcerer, Kreiss, powerful as he was, had been
struck down by the fire-god before Towahg's eyes. Towahg ran as if the
roaring finger of flame might reach after him at any instant.

Chet saw this in a glance--knew the reason for the black's desertion:
then lost all thought of him and of Kreiss and even of the waiting ship.
For, in the same glance, he saw, springing from behind a lava block, the
heavy figure of a man.

Black as any ape, hairy of face, roaring strange oaths, the man threw
himself upon Chet! It was Schwartzmann; and, mingled with profane
exclamations, were the words: "the ship--und I take it for mineself!"
And his heavy body hurled itself down upon the lighter man in the
instant that Chet drew his pistol.

But, tearing through Chet's mind, was no rage against this man as an
enemy in himself; he thought only of Kreiss' words; "Three minutes! Lose
no time at the port!" And now the brave sacrifice! It would be in vain.
He twisted himself about, so that his shoulder might receive the human
projectile that was crashing upon him.



CHAPTER XXIII

_The Might of the "Master"_


As with other measures of matters earthly, time is a relative gauge.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in those moments of mental stress
when time passes in a flash or, conversely, drags each lagging minute
into hours of timeless length.

"Three minutes!" The words clanged and reverberated through Chet's
brain. And it seemed, as he strained and struggled and was forced
backward and yet backward by the weight of his antagonist, that those
three minutes had long since passed, and other three's without end.

The enemy's leaping body had been upon him before the detonite pistol
was half drawn. And now he fought desperately; he felt only the jar of
blows that landed on his half-covered face. There was no sting or pain,
only the crashing thud that made strange clamor and confusion in his
head. But he ducked and blocked awkwardly with the one arm that held the
package Kreiss had given him, while the other hand that gripped the
pistol was twisted behind him.

No chance here for clever blocking, no room for quick foot-work; weight
was telling, and the weight was all in favor of his big opponent.

Chet knew that possession of the gun was vital. Flashingly it came to
him that Schwartzmann had not fired: his pistol, then, was lost, or he
was out of ammunition. And now Chet's hand that held the gun with the
six precious charges of detonite was fast in the clutch of a huge paw,
and the pain of that twisted arm was sending searing flashes to his
brain.

[Illustration: _With the free hand he shot over a blow._]

A twist of the body, and the pain relaxed. He dropped the leaf-wrapped
package to the ground, and, with the free hand, shot over a blow that
brought a grunt of pain from Schwartzmann and a gush of blood that
smeared the black, hairy face. He took one stiff jolt himself on his
half-averted head that he might counter with another to flatten that
crushed and painful nose.

       *       *       *       *       *

For one brief instant Schwartzmann's free hand was raised protectingly
to his face so contorted with rage; for one brief instant, below that
big fist, there showed the contour of a jaw; and, with every ounce of
weight that Chet could put into the swing, he came up from under in that
same instant with a smashing left that connected with the exposed jaw.

The hand that gripped his gun-hand did not let go completely, but Chet
felt the steel-hard rigidity of that arm relax, and abruptly he knew
that he could beat this man down if he once got clear. He didn't need
the gun; he needed only to get both hands free. And, despite the arm
that clung and swung with his, he managed to wrench himself into a
sideways throw of his whole body at the instant he unclosed his hand.
The slim barrel of the detonite pistol described a flashing arc through
the clear air and clattered along the lava underneath a big shining
surface of metal.

And then, in a breath-taking flash of understanding, Chet knew.

He knew he was beside the ship: he saw the closed port and the
self-retracting lever that would open it, and he saw it through clear
air where no taint of the green gas was apparent.

He was certain that he had been fighting for an interminable time, yet
before him the air was clear. It was impossible, but true; and he threw
the half-stunned body of Schwartzmann from him. Then, instead of
following it with punishing blows, he sprang toward the port.

       *       *       *       *       *

With one hand on the lever, he turned to dart a glance toward the column
of flame. It was gone! And in its place came green, billowing gas that
was coughed and spewed into the air to be caught up in the steady breeze
that blew directly from the vent.

Beside him, his antagonist, prone on the lava floor, dragged himself
beneath the ship to reach for the gun. Chet paid no heed; his every
thought--his whole being, it seemed--was focused upon the lever that
turned so slowly, that let fall, at last, a lock whose releasing
mechanism clanged loudly through the metal wall.

The outer port, a thin door that served only to streamline the opening,
swung open under Chet's hand. And, while he held his breath till his
pumping heart set his whole body to pulsing, he drew himself into the
ship as the green cloud wrapped thickly about. But first he bent to
grasp the knotted vines and leathery leaves that enclosed a bulky
package.

The port closed silently upon its soft-faced gasket; it was gas-tight
when no pressure was applied. And Chet stumbled and reached blindly till
he fell beside the huge inner compression port, while the breath of gas
that had touched him tore with ripping talons at his throat.

More measureless time--whether hours or minutes Chet could never have
told--and he sat upright and tried to believe the utterly incredible
story that his eyes were telling.

A short passage and a control room beyond! It was just as they had left
it; was it days or years before? The shattered control cage was there,
the familiar instrument board, the very bar of metal with which he had
wrought such havoc in that wild moment of demolition; it was all crystal
clear under the flooding light of the nitron illuminator!

       *       *       *       *       *

Yes, it was true! He, Chet Bullard, was staring wide-eyed at his own
control-room, in his own ship--his and Walt's--and he was alone! The
remembrance of Walt and Diane, and the realization that now, by some
miracle, he might be of help, brought him to his feet.

He sprang toward a lookout where the last light of day was gone and a
monstrous moon shone down upon a world of ghastly green. Yet, through
the gas, every detail of the world outside showed clear; even the giant
fumerole that had been the funeral pyre of a man of science; even the
mound of ashes at its top which the moving air was blowing in dusty
puffs until spouting mud fell back to hide them from sight.

Chet cursed the gas for the dimness that clouded his eyes, and he rubbed
at them savagely as he turned and walked to a side lookout.

Through the riot of impressions of the fight outside the port, he had
known that there was a human body over which he stumbled at times. He
saw it now--the body of Schwartzmann's henchman, killed these long weeks
before but preserved in the ceaseless flow of gas.

But now, sprawled across it, was another and bulkier shape. Sightless
eyes stared upward from a face turned to the cruel gas clouds and the
hideous green moon above. The mouth sagged open in a black, bearded
face, and one hand still clutched a pistol. It would have shattered his
human opponent had the man been given an instant more, but against the
enemy that rolled down and overwhelmed him in billowing clouds no weapon
could prevail. Herr Schwartzmann had fought his last fight.

       *       *       *       *       *

The package--the last gift of Kreiss--was still securely wrapped. It lay
on the metal floor. Chet stooped to lift it, to work at the knotted
vines and lay off the thick wrappings of fibrous leaves, until he stood
at last, under the white glare of the bubbling nitron bulb, to stare and
stare wordlessly at the cage of metal bars in his hand.

Crude!--yes; no finely polished mechanism, this; no one of the many
connection clips that the other had had, either. But Chet knew he could
solder on the hundreds of wires that made the nervous system of the
control and fed the current to the cage; and Kreiss had believed it
would work!

There was no thought of delay in Chet's mind, no waiting for daylight.
This was the fourth night since he had been in that place of horror,
since, above him in that Stygian pit, an inhuman satanic _something_ had
said: "... the captives ... a sacrifice to Vashta ... on the sixth
night...."

Chet threw off the rags that once had been a trim khaki jacket and went
feverishly to work. And through the time that was left he drove himself
desperately. The hours so few and each hour so short! As he worked with
seemingly countless strands of heavy cables, where each strand must be
traced back and its point of connection determined, he knew how long
each dreadful minute must be for the two captives deep inside the Dark
Moon.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was as well, perhaps, that Chet did not have the power of distant
sight, that he had no messenger like those from the pyramid who might
have gone down in that place and have sent him by mental television a
picture of what was there. For he would have seen that which could have
lent no clarity of vision to his deep-sunk eyes nor skill to the touch
of fumbling, tired hands.

Walt Harkness, no longer under hypnotic control, stood in a dim-lit room
carved from solid stone; stood, and stared despairingly at the
surrounding walls and at the pair of giant ape-men who guarded the one
doorway. And, clinging to his hand, was a girl; and she, too, had been
released from the invisible bonds. She was speaking:

"No, Walter; we both saw it; it must be true. It was Chet's pistol; he
was there in that horrible place. And I will not give up. He will save
us at the last; I know it! He will save us from the inhuman cruelty of
those terrible things. He shoots straight, Chet does; and he will give
us a bullet apiece from the gun--the last kindly act of a friend. That's
what the signal meant."

"Then why did he wait! Why didn't he do it then?" Walt Harkness had made
the same demand a hundred times.

And Diane answered as always: "I don't know, Walter, I--don't--know."

Chet, cursing insanely at strange machines--equilibrators that
controlled the longitudinal and transverse and rotative stability of the
ship and that refused to take their electrical charge--knew with
horrible certainty that the last night had come. But to the two humans,
in the depths of this world where all knowledge of time was lost, the
knowledge came only when they were dragged by their guards into a
familiar room.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ape-men were all about; they stared unwinkingly at the captives who
stared back again in an effort to keep their eyes averted from the
monstrous repulsiveness on the platform above them, till their eyes were
drawn to meet the compelling gaze of the "Master" of a lost race.

A something which, at first glance, seemed all head--this was the
"Master." The naked body, so skeleton-thin, was shrunken and distorted;
it was withered and leathery-brown, like the aged parchment of mummified
flesh. It was seated in a resplendent chair, whose radiating handles
were for its carrying; and, above it, the head, so incredibly repulsive,
was made more hideous by its travestied resemblance to human form.

Soft, pulpy and wetly smooth--a ten-foot sac, enclosed in a membrane of
dead gray shot through with flickerings of color that flamed and
died--the whole pulsing mass was supported in a sling of golden cloth.
And, dominating it, in the center of that flabby forehead, a focal point
for the gaze of the horrified observers, was a single glassy and lidless
eye.

Cold, unchanging, entirely expressionless except for the fixed ferocity
that was there, the eye was a yellow disk of hate, where quivering lines
of violet culminated in a central, flaming point; and that point of
living fire swelled prodigiously before their staring eyes. It seemed to
expand, to slowly draw their senses--their very selves--from their
bodies, to plunge them down to annihilation in that fiery pit where a
soundless voice was speaking.

"Slaves! Apes! Take the captives to the great altar rock of Vashta, to
the Holy of Holies. The others you were permitted to slaughter for our
food; hold these two safely. For one shall die slowly for Vashta's
pleasure, and one shall live on for mine. And we would not have them
under our mental control, so guard them well; the offering is more
pleasing to Vashta when the blood in his cup flows from a creature
unbound both in body and mind." And the two helpless humans found
themselves released from the flaming pit that became again but an eye in
the forehead of a loathsome thing.

       *       *       *       *       *

They were fully conscious of their surroundings as they were herded up
through the pyramid and out into the night, where rough, calloused hands
seized them and dragged them to a smooth table-top of rock that stood
only slightly above the ground before the great rocky pile. Stunned,
waiting dumbly, they saw swarming ape-men clustered like bees on the
lower pyramid face; they saw coverings of stone being removed and a
great recess laid open, while the ape-things dropped in awe before a
grotesque and horrible beast-head carved from a single piece of stone.

The eyes of the beast shone with some cold, hidden light. They seemed
fixed hungrily upon a cup in a distorted hand, and, though the cup was
empty, there was promise of its being filled. For little sluices of
stone sloped from the place where the captives stood, and they ended
above the cup so that the life-blood of a slaughtered creature, or a
sacrificed man, might pour splashingly in, a streaming draught for this
blood-thirsty god.

The arena filled with abominable life. Now, in the dark silence of a
moonless night, the cold stars shone down on a gathering of spectators,
wild and unreal--nameless, spectral horrors of a blood-chilling dream.

The flat capstone of the pyramid was the resting place of the "Master";
his huge head showed pulpy and gray above the glittering gold of the
metal carrying-chair where a misshapen body was seated. Others like him
had poured from the pyramid, carried by thousands of slaves to their
places about the arena.

Monsters of prodigious strength, their forebears must have been, but
this degenerate product of evolutionary forces had lost all firmness of
flesh. Their bodies, sacrificed for the development of the bulbous
heads, were mere appendages, fit only for the propagation of their kind
and for the digestion of human food.

       *       *       *       *       *

The clean air of night was polluted with abominable odors as it swept
over the exudations of those glistening, pulpy masses. To the two
waiting humans on the great sacrificial stone came a deadening of the
senses, as an executioner, armed with strange torturing instruments,
drew near. But, of the two, one, clinging hopelessly to the other,
abruptly stifled the dry choking sobs in her throat to lift her head in
sharp, listening alertness.

Walt Harkness was speaking in a dead, emotionless tone:

"Chet has failed us; he is probably dead. Good-by, dear--"

But his words were interrupted and smothered by a breathless, strangling
voice. Diane Delacouer, staring with agonized eyes into the night was
calling to him:

"Listen! Oh, listen! It's the ship, Walter! It's the ship! It's not the
wind! I'm not dreaming nor insane!--Chet is coming with the ship!"

It was as well that Chet Bullard could not see the two, could not hear
that voice, trembling and vibrant with an impossible, heart-gripping
hope; and surely it was well that he could not share their emotions
when, for them, the silence became faintly resonant, when the distant,
humming, drumming reverberation grew to a nerve-shattering roar, when
the black night was ripped apart by the passage of a meteor-ship that
shrieked and thundered through the screaming air close above the arena,
while, with the rock beneath them still shuddering from the blasting
voice of that full exhaust, the sky above burst into dazzling flame.

       *       *       *       *       *

For Chet in that control-room that was darkened that he might see the
world outside--Chet, grim and haggard and stained of face and with
thin-drawn lips that bled unheeded where his teeth had clamped down on
them--Chet Bullard, Master Pilot of the World, had no thought nor
emotion to spare for aught beyond the reach of his hand. He was throwing
his ship at a speed that was sheer suicide over a strange terrain
flashing under and close below.

He overshot the target on the first try. The twin beams of his
searchlights picked up the dazzling black and white of the arena; it was
before him!--under him!--lost far astern in one single instant that was
ended as it began. But his hand, ready on a release key, pressed as he
passed, and the sky behind him turned blazing bright with the cloud of
flare-dust that made white flame as it fell.

Such speed was not meant for close work; nor was a ship expected to hit
dense air with a blast such as this on full. Even through the thick
insulated walls came a terrible scream. Like voices of humans in agony,
the tortured air shrieked its protest while Chet threw on the bow-blast
to check them and slanted slowly, slowly upward in a great loop whose
tremendous size was an indication of the speed and the slow turning that
was all Chet could stand and live through.

       *       *       *       *       *

He came in more slowly the next time. Floodlights in the under-skin of
the ship were blazing white, and whiter yet were the star-flares that he
dropped one after another. Brighter than the sunlight of the brightest
day this globe had ever seen, the sky, ablaze with dazzling fire, shone
down in vivid splendor to drain every shadow and half-light and leave
only the hard contrast of black and white.

In the nose of the ship was a .50 caliber gun. Chet sprayed the pyramid
top, but it is doubtful if the two below heard the explosions. They must
have seen the whole cap of the mountain of rock vanish as if,
feather-light, it had been snatched up in a gust of wind. But perhaps
they had eyes only for each other and for a glittering, silvery ship
that came crashing toward the place where they stood, that checked
itself on thunderous exhausts; then touched the hard floor of the arena
as softly as the caress of a master hand on the controls.

But from them came no cry nor exclamation of joy; they were dazed, Chet
saw, when he threw open the port. They were walking slowly,
unbelievingly, toward him till Diane faltered. Then Chet leaped forward
to sweep the drooping, ragged figure up into his arms while he hustled
Harkness ahead and closed the port upon them all. But, still haggard and
stern of face, he left the fainting girl to Harkness' care while he
sprang for a ball-control and a firing key that released a hail of
little .50 caliber shells whose touch could plough the earth with the
ripping sword of an avenging god.

And later--a pulverous mass where a huge pyramid had been; smoking rock
in a great oval of shattered crumbling blocks; and, under all the cold
light of the stars, no sign of life but for a screaming, frantic mob of
ape-men, freed and fleeing from the broken bondage of masters now
crushed and dead!

All this Chet's straining, blood-shot eyes saw clearly before his hand
on the firing key relaxed, before he covered his eyes with trembling
hands as realization of their own release rushed overwhelmingly upon
him.

       *       *       *       *       *

There were supplies of clothing in the ship--jackets, knee-length
trousers, silken blouses, boots, and even snug-fitting, fashionable
caps. Very unlike the ragged wanderers of the mountainous wastes were
the three who stood safely to windward of a spouting fumerole.

Mud, coughed hoarsely from a hot throat, and green, billowing
gas!--there was nothing now to show that here was the scene of a
companion's last moments. With heads bared to the steady breeze that had
been their undoing, they stood silent for long minutes.

Behind them, at a still safer distance, where no chance flicker of a
fire-god's finger might strike him down as it had the white man, a black
figure danced absurdly from foot to foot and indulged in unexpected
gyrations of joy.

For did not Towahg hold in one hand a most marvelous weapon of shining,
keen-edged metal, with a blade that was longer than his two hands? What
member of the tribe had ever seen such an indescribably glorious thing?
And, lacking the words even to propound that question, Towahg spun
himself in still tighter spirals of ecstasy.

Then there was the ax! Not made of stone but fashioned from the same
metal! And besides this a magic thing for which as yet there was not
even a name! It made flashing reflections in the sun; and if one held it
just so, and moved one's head before it, it showed a quite remarkably
attractive face of a man who was more than half ape--though Towahg had
never yet been able to catch that man beyond the magic that the white
men called "mirror."

He was still enthralled in his grotesque posturing when Diane looked
down from the floating ship.

"He'll be the Lord Chief Voodoo Man for the whole tribe," she said, and,
for the first time since they had stood at the fumerole, she managed to
smile. "And now," she asked, "are we off? What comes next?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Chet's hand was on a metal ball in a crudely constructed cage of metal
bars. He looked at Harkness, and, at the other's almost imperceptible
nod, he moved the ball forward and up.

"We're off!" Harkness agreed. "Off for Earth--home! And it will look
good to us all. We will take up things where we left them when we were
interrupted: there's no Schwartzmann to fear now. We can show our ship
to the world--revolutionize all lines of transportation; and we can
plan--"

He failed to finish the sentence. To his reaching vision there were,
perhaps, more potentialities than he could compass in words.

And Chet Bullard, fingering the triple star on his blouse--the insignia
that had gone with him through all his hopes and despairs--looked out
into space and smiled.

Behind him a brilliant world went slowly dark; it became, after long
watching, a violet ring--then that was gone; the Dark Moon was lost in
the folds of enshrouding night. Ahead was an infinity of black space
where only the distant stars struck sparks of fire in the dark. And
still he smiled, as if, looking into the unplumbed depths, he, too, made
plans. But he moved the little ball within his hand and swung the bow
sights to bear upon a glorious globe--a brilliant, welcome beacon.

"Home it is!" he stated. "We're on our way!"

But there was needed the rising roar from astern that his words might
have meaning; it thundered sonorously its resounding hum in a crescendo
of power that brooked no denial, that threw them out and onward through
the velvet dark.


The End.





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