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Title: Astounding Stories of Super-Science, March 1930
Author: Various
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 "Astounding Stories of Super-Science, March 1930" ***

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ASTOUNDING STORIES OF SUPER-SCIENCE


_On Sale the First Thursday of Each Month_

  W. M. CLAYTON, Publisher
  HARRY BATES, Editor
  DOUGLAS M. DOLD, Consulting Editor

The Clayton Standard on a Magazine Guarantees:

_That_ the stories therein are clean, interesting, vivid; by leading
writers of the day and purchased under conditions approved by the
Authors' League of America;

_That_ such magazines are manufactured in Union shops by American
workmen;

_That_ each newsdealer and agent is insured a fair profit;

_That_ an intelligent censorship guards their advertising pages.


_The other Clayton magazines are_:

ACE-HIGH MAGAZINE, RANCH ROMANCES, COWBOY STORIES, CLUES, FIVE-NOVELS
MONTHLY, WIDE WORLD ADVENTURES, ALL STAR DETECTIVE STORIES, FLYERS,
RANGELAND LOVE STORY MAGAZINE, SKY-HIGH LIBRARY MAGAZINE, WESTERN
ADVENTURES, MISS 1930, and FOREST AND STREAM

_More Than Two Million Copies Required to Supply the Monthly Demand for
Clayton Magazines._


  VOL. I, No. 3                CONTENTS                     MARCH, 1930

  COVER DESIGN                 H. W. WESSOLOWSKI
  _Painted in Water-colors from a Scene in "Brigands of the Moon."_

  COLD LIGHT                   CAPTAIN S. P. MEEK                   295
  _How Could a Human Body Be Found Actually Splintered--Broken
  into Sharp Fragments Like a Shattered Glass! Once Again Dr. Bird
  Probes Deep into an Amazing Mystery._

  BRIGANDS OF THE MOON         RAY CUMMINGS                         306
  _Black Mutiny and Brigandage Stalk the Space-ship Planetara as
  She Speeds to the Moon to Pick Up a Fabulously Rich Cache of
  Radium-ore._

  THE SOUL MASTER              WILL SMITH AND R. J. ROBBINS         350
  _Desperately O'Hara Plunged into Prof. Kell's Mysterious Mansion.
  For His Friend Skip Was the Victim of the Eccentric Scientist's
  De-astralizing Experiment, and Faced a Fate More Hideous than
  Death._

  FROM THE OCEAN'S DEPTHS      SEWELL PEASLEE WRIGHT                376
  _Man Came from the Sea. Mercer, by His Thought-telegraph, Learns
  from the Weirdly Beautiful Ocean-maiden of a Branch that Returned
  There._

  VANDALS OF THE STARS         A. T. LOCKE                          390
  _A Livid Flame Flares Across Space--and Over Manhattan Hovers
  Teuxical, Vassal of Malfero, Lord of the Universe, Who Comes with
  Ten Thousand Warriors to Ravage and Subjugate One More Planet for
  His Master._

       *       *       *       *       *

  Single Copies, 20 Cents (In Canada, 25 Cents)
  Yearly Subscription, $2.00

Issued monthly by Publishers' Fiscal Corporation, 80 Lafayette St., New
York, N. Y. W. M. Clayton, President; Nathan Goldmann, Secretary.
Application for entry as second-class mail pending at the Post Office at
New York under Act of March 3, 1879. Application for registration of
title as Trade Mark pending in the U. S. Patent Office. Member Newsstand
Group--Men's List. For advertising rates address E. R. Crowe & Co.,
Inc., 25 Vanderbilt Ave., New York; or 225 North Michigan Ave.,
Chicago.

       *       *       *       *       *



Cold Light

_By Capt. S. P. Meek_

    How could a human body be found actually splintered--broken into
    sharp fragments like a shattered glass! Once again Dr. Bird
    probes deep into an amazing mystery.

[Illustration: "_The bodies had broken into pieces, as though they had
been made of glass._"]


"Confound it, Carnes, I am on my vacation!"

"I know it, Doctor, and I hate to disturb you, but I felt that I simply
had to. I have one of the weirdest cases on my hands that I have ever
been mixed up in and I think that you'll forgive me for calling you when
I tell you about it."

Dr. Bird groaned into the telephone transmitter.

"I took a vacation last summer, or tried to, and you hauled me away from
the best fishing I have found in years to help you on a case. This year
I traveled all the way from Washington to San Francisco to get away from
you and the very day that I get here you are after me. I won't have
anything to do with it. Where are you, anyway?"

"I am at Fallon, Nevada, Doctor. I'm sorry that you won't help me out
because the case promises to be unusually interesting. Let me at least
tell you about it."

Dr. Bird groaned louder than ever into the telephone transmitter.

"All right, go ahead and tell me about it if it will relieve your mind,
but I have given you my final answer. I am not a bit interested in it."

"That is quite all right, Doctor, I don't expect you to touch it. I
hope, however, that you will be able to give me an idea of where to
start. Did you ever see a man's body broken in pieces?"

"Do you mean badly smashed up?"

"No indeed, I mean just what I said, broken in pieces. Legs snapped off
as though the entire flesh had become brittle."

"No, I didn't, and neither did anyone else."

"I have seen it, Doctor."

"Hooey! What had you been drinking?"

Operative Carnes of the United States Secret Service chuckled softly to
himself. The voice of the famous scientist of the Bureau of Standards
plainly showed an interest which was quite at variance with his words.

"I was quite sober, Doctor, and so was Hughes, and we both saw it."

"Who is Hughes?"

"He is an air mail pilot, one of the crack fliers of the Transcontinental
Airmail Corporation. Let me tell you the whole thing in order."

"All right. I have a few minutes to spare, but I'll warn you again that
I don't intend to touch the case."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Suit yourself, Doctor. I have no authority to requisition your
services. As you know, the T. A. C. has been handling a great deal of
the transcontinental air mail with a pretty clean record on accidents.
The day before yesterday, a special plane left Washington to carry two
packages from there to San Francisco. One of them was a shipment of
jewels valued at a quarter of a million, consigned to a San Francisco
firm and the other was a sealed packet from the War Department. No one
was supposed to know the contents of that packet except the Chief of
Staff who delivered it to the plane personally, but rumors got out, as
usual, and it was popularly supposed to contain certain essential
features of the Army's war plans. This much is certain: The plane
carried not only the regular T. A. C. pilot and courier, but also an
army courier, and it was guarded during the trip by an army plane armed
with small bombs and a machine-gun. I rode in it. My orders were simply
to guard the ship until it landed at Mills Field and then to guard the
courier from there to the Presidio of San Francisco until his packet was
delivered personally into the hands of the Commanding General of the
Ninth Corps Area.

"The trip was quiet and monotonous until after we left Salt Lake City at
dawn this morning. Nothing happened until we were about a hundred miles
east of Reno. We had taken elevation to cross the Stillwater Mountains
and were skimming low over them, my plane trailing the T. A. C. plane by
about half a mile. I was not paying any particular attention to the
other ship when I suddenly felt our plane leap ahead. It was a fast
Douglas and the pilot gave it the gun and made it move, I can tell you.
I yelled into the speaking tube and asked what was the reason. My pilot
yelled back that the plane ahead was in trouble.

"As soon as it was called to my attention I could see myself that it
wasn't acting normally. It was losing elevation and was pursuing a very
erratic course. Before we could reach it it lost flying speed and fell
into a spinning nose dive and headed for the ground. I watched,
expecting every minute to see the crew make parachute jumps, but they
didn't and the plane hit the ground with a terrific crash."

"It caught fire, of course?"

       *       *       *       *       *

"No, Doctor, that is one of the funny things about the accident. It
didn't. It hit the ground in an open place free from brush and literally
burst into pieces, but it didn't flame up. We headed directly for the
scene of the crash and we encountered another funny thing. We almost
froze to death."

"What do you mean?"

"Exactly what I say. Of course, it's pretty cold at that altitude all
the time, but this cold was like nothing I had ever encountered. It
seemed to freeze the blood in our veins and it congealed frost on the
windshields and made the motor miss for a moment. It was only momentary
and it only existed directly over the wrecked plane. We went past it and
swung around in a circle and came back over the wreck, but we didn't
feel the cold again.

"The next thing we tried to do was to find a landing place. That country
is pretty rugged and rough and there wasn't a flat place for miles that
was large enough to land a ship on. Hughes and I talked it over and
there didn't seem to be much of anything that we could do except to go
on until we found a landing place. I had had no experience in parachute
jumping and I couldn't pilot the plane if Hughes jumped. We swooped down
over the wreck as close as we dared and that was when we saw the
condition of the bodies. The whole plane was cracked up pretty badly,
but the weird part of it was the fact that the bodies of the crew had
broken into pieces, as though they had been made of glass. Arms and legs
were detached from the torsos and lying at a distance. There was no sign
of blood on the ground. We saw all this with our naked eyes from close
at hand and verified it by observations through binoculars from a
greater height.

"When we had made our observations and marked the location of the wreck
as closely as we could, we headed east until we found a landing place
near Fallon. Hughes dropped me here and went on to Reno, or to San
Francisco if necessary, to report the accident and get more planes to
aid in the search. I was wholly at sea, but it seemed to be in your line
and as I knew that you were at the St. Francis, I called you up."

       *       *       *       *       *

"What are your plans?"

"I made none until I talked with you. The country where the wreck
occurred is unbelievably wild and we can't get near it with any
transportation other than burros. The only thing that I can see to do is
to gather together what transportation I can and head for the wreck on
foot to rescue the packets and to bring out the bodies. Can you suggest
anything better?"

"When do you expect to start?"

"As soon as I can get my pack train together. Possibly in three or four
hours."

"Carnes, are you sure that those bodies were broken into bits? An arm or
a leg might easily be torn off in a complete crash."

"They were smashed into bits as nearly as I could tell, Doctor. Hughes
is an old flier and he has seen plenty of crashes but he never saw
anything like this. It beats anything that I ever saw."

"If your observations were accurate, there could be only one cause and
that one is a patent impossibility. I haven't a bit of equipment
here, but I expect that I can get most of the stuff I want from the
University of California across the bay at Berkeley. I can get a
plane at Crissy Field. I'll tell you what to do, Carnes. Get your burro
train together and start as soon as you can, but leave me half a
dozen burros and a guide at Fallon. I'll get up there as soon as I can
and I'll try to overtake you before you get to the wreck. If I don't,
don't disturb anything any more than you can help until my arrival. Do
you understand?"

"I thought that you were on your vacation, Doctor."

"Oh shut up! Like most of my vacations, this one will have to be
postponed. I'll move as swiftly as I can and I ought to be at Fallon
to-night if I'm lucky and don't run into any obstacles. Burros are
fairly slow, but I'll make the best time possible."

"I rather expected you would, Doctor. I can't get my pack train together
until evening, so I'll wait for you right here. I'm mighty glad that you
are going to get in on it."

       *       *       *       *       *

Silently Carnes and Dr. Bird surveyed the wreck of the T. A. C. plane.
The observations of the secret service operative had been correct. The
bodies of the unfortunate crew had been broken into fragments. Their
limbs had not been twisted off as a freak of the fall but had been
cleanly broken off, as though the bodies had suddenly become brittle and
had shattered on their impact with the ground. Not only the bodies, but
the ship itself had been broken up. Even the clothing of the men was in
pieces or had long splits in the fabric whose edges were as clean as
though they had been cut with a knife.

Dr. Bird picked up an arm which had belonged to the pilot and examined
it. The brittleness, if it had ever existed, was gone and the arm was
limp.

"No _rigor mortis_," commented the Doctor. "How long ago was the
wreck?"

"About seventy-two hours ago."

"Hm-m! What about those packets that were on the plane?"

Carnes stepped forward and gingerly inspected first the body of the army
courier and then that of the courier of the T. A. C.

"Both gone, Doctor," he reported, straightening up.

Dr. Bird's face fell into grim lines.

"There is more to this case than appears on the surface, Carnes," he
said. "This was no ordinary wreck. Bring up that third burro; I want to
examine these fragments a little. Bill," he went on to one of the two
guides who had accompanied them from Fallon, "you and Walter scout
around the ground and see what you can find out. I especially wish to
know whether anyone has visited the scene of the wreck."

       *       *       *       *       *

The guides consulted a moment and started out. Carnes drove up the burro
the Doctor had indicated and Dr. Bird unpacked it. He opened a mahogony
case and took from it a high powered microscope. Setting the instrument
up on a convenient rock, he subjected portions of the wreck, including
several fragments of flesh, to a careful scrutiny. When he had completed
his observations he fell into a brown study, from which he was aroused
by Carnes.

"What did you find out about the cause of the wreck, Doctor?"

"I don't know what to think. The immediate cause was that everything was
frozen. The plane ran into a belt of cold which froze up the motor and
which probably killed the crew instantly. It was undoubtedly the
aftermath of that cold which you felt when you swooped down over the
wreck."

"It seems impossible that it could have suddenly got cold enough to
freeze everything up like that."

"It does, and yet I am confident that that is what happened. It was no
ordinary cold, Carnes; it was cold of the type that infests interstellar
space; cold beyond any conception you have of cold, cold near the range
of the absolute zero of temperature, nearly four hundred and fifty
degrees below zero on the Fahrenheit scale. At such temperatures, things
which are ordinarily quite flexible and elastic, such as rubber, or
flesh, become as brittle as glass and would break in the manner which
these bodies have broken. An examination of the tissues of the flesh
shows that it has been submitted to some temperature that is very low in
the scale, probably below that of liquid air. Such a temperature would
produce instant death and the other phenomena which we can observe."

"What could cause such a low temperature, Doctor?"

"I don't know yet, although I hope to find out before we are finished.
Cold is a funny thing, Carnes. Ordinarily it is considered as simply the
absence of heat; and yet I have always held it to be a definite negative
quantity. All through nature we observe that every force has its
opposite or negative force to oppose it. We have positive and negative
electrical charges, positive and negative, or north and south, magnetic
poles. We have gravity and its opposite apergy, and I believe cold is
really negative heat."

"I never heard of anything like that, Doctor. I always thought that
things were cold because heat was taken from them--not because cold was
added. It sounds preposterous."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Such is the common idea, and yet I cannot accept it, for it does not
explain all the recorded phenomena. You are familiar with a searchlight,
are you not?"

"In a general way, yes."

"A searchlight is merely a source of light, and of course, of heat,
which is placed at the focus of a parabolic reflector so that all of the
rays emanating from the source travel in parallel lines. A searchlight,
of course, gives off heat. If we place a lens of the same size as the
searchlight aperture in the path of the beam and concentrate all the
light, and heat, at one spot, the focal point of the lens, the
temperature at that point is the same as the temperature of the source
of the light, less what has been lost by radiation. You understand that,
do you not?"

"Certainly."

"Suppose that we place at the center of the aperture of the searchlight
a small opaque disc which is permeable neither to heat nor light, in
such a manner as to interrupt the central portion of the beam. As a
result, the beam will go out in the form of a hollow rod, or pipe, of
heat and light with a dark, cold core. This core will have the
temperature of the surrounding air plus the small amount which has
radiated into it from the surrounding pipe. If we now pass this beam of
light through a lens in order to concentrate the beam, both the pipe of
heat and the cold core will focus. If we place a temperature measuring
device near the focus of the dark core, we will find that the
temperature is lower than the surrounding air. This means that we have
focused or concentrated cold."

"That sounds impossible. But I can offer no other criticism."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Nevertheless, it is experimentally true. It is one of the facts which
lead me to consider cold as negative heat. However, this is true of
cold, as it is of the other negative forces; they exist and manifest
themselves only in the presence of the positive forces. No one has yet
concentrated cold except in the presence of heat, as I have outlined.
How this cold belt which the T. A. C. plane encountered came to be there
is another question. The thing which we have to determine is whether it
was caused by natural or artificial forces."

"Both of the packets which the plane carried are gone, Doctor," observed
Carnes.

"Yes, and that seems to add weight to the possibility that the cause was
artificial, but it is far from conclusive. The packets might not have
been on the men when the plane fell, or someone may have passed later
and taken them for safekeeping."

The doctor's remarks were interrupted by the guides.

"Someone has been here since the wreck, Doctor," said Bill. "Walter and
I found tracks where two men came up here and prowled around for some
time and then left by the way they came. They went off toward the
northwest, and we followed their trail for about forty rods and then
lost it. We weren't able to pick it up again."

"Thanks, Bill," replied the doctor. "Well, Carnes, that seems to add
more weight to the theory that the spot of cold was made and didn't just
happen. If a prospecting party had just happened along they would either
have left the wreck alone or would have made some attempt to inter the
bodies. That cold belt must have been produced artificially by men who
planned to rob this plane after bringing it down and who were near at
hand to get their plunder. Is there any chance of following that
trail?"

"I doubt it, Doc. Walter and I scouted around quite a little, but we
couldn't pick it up again."

"Is there any power line passing within twenty miles of here?"

"None that Walter and I know of, Doc."

"Funny! Such a device as must have been used would need power and lots
of it for operation. Well, I'll try my luck. Carnes, help me unpack and
set up the rest of my apparatus."

       *       *       *       *       *

With the aid of the operative, Dr. Bird unpacked two of the burros and
extracted from cases where they were carefully packed and padded some
elaborate electrical and optical apparatus. The first was a short
telescope of large diameter which he mounted on a base in such a manner
that it could be elevated or depressed and rotated in any direction. At
the focal point of the telescope was fastened a small knot of wire from
which one lead ran to the main piece of apparatus, which he sat on a
flat rock. The other lead from the wire knot ran into a sealed container
surrounded by a water bath under which a spirit lamp burned. From the
container another lead led to the main apparatus. This main piece
consisted of a series of wire coils mounted on a frame and attached to
the two leads. The doctor took from a padded case a tiny magnet
suspended on a piece of wire of exceedingly small diameter which he
fastened in place inside the coils. Cemented to the magnet was a tiny
mirror.

"What is that apparatus?" asked Carnes as the doctor finished his set-up
and surveyed it with satisfaction.

"Merely a thermocouple attached to a D'Arsonval galvanometer," replied
the doctor. "This large, squat telescope catches and concentrates on the
thermocouple and the galvanometer registers the temperature."

"You're out of my depth. What is a thermocouple?"

"A juncture of two wires made of dissimilar metals, in this case of
platinum and of platinum-iridium alloy. There is another similar
junction in this case, which is kept at a constant temperature by the
water bath. When the temperatures of the two junctions are the same, the
system is in equilibrium. When they are at different temperatures, an
electrical potential is set up, which causes a current to flow from one
to the other through the galvanometer. The galvanometer consists of a
magnet set up inside coils through which the current I spoke of flows.
This current causes the magnet to rotate and by watching the mirror, the
rotation can be detected and measured.

"This device is one of the most sensitive ever made, and is used to
measure the radiation from distant stars. Currents as small as
.000000000000000000000000001 ampere have been detected and measured.
This particular instrument is not that sensitive to begin with, and has
its sensitivity further reduced by having a high resistance in one of
the leads."

"What are you going to use it for?"

"I am going to try to locate somewhere in these hills a patch of local
cold. It may not work, but I have hopes. If you will manipulate the
telescope so as to search the hills around here, I will watch the
galvanometer."

       *       *       *       *       *

For several minutes Carnes swung the telescope around. Twice Dr. Bird
stopped him and decreased the sensitiveness of his instrument by
introducing more resistance in the lines in order to keep the magnet
from twisting clear around, due to the fluctuations in the heats
received on account of the varying conditions of reflection. As Carnes
swung the telescope again the magnet swung around sharply, nearly to a
right angle to its former position.

"Stop!" cried the doctor. "Read your azimuth."

Carnes read the compass bearing on the protractor attached to the frame
which supported the telescope. Dr. Bird took a pair of binoculars and
looked long and earnestly in the indicated direction. With a sigh he
laid down the glasses.

"I can't see a thing, Carnesy," he said. "We'll have to move over to the
next crest and make a new set-up. Plant a rod on the hill so that we can
get an azimuth bearing and get the airline distance with a range
finder."

On the hilltop which Dr. Bird had pointed out the apparatus was again
set up. For several minutes Carnes swept the hills before an exclamation
from the doctor told him to pause. He read the new azimuth, and the
doctor laid off the two readings on a sheet of paper with a protractor
and made a few calculations.

"I don't know," he said reflectively when he had finished his
computations. "This darned instrument is still so sensitive that you may
have merely focused on a deep shadow or a cold spring or something of
that sort, but the magnet kicked clear around and it may mean that we
have located what we are looking for. It should be about two miles away
and almost due west of here."

"There is no spring that I know of, Doc, and I think I know of every
water hole in this country," remarked Bill.

"There could hardly be a spring at this elevation, anyway," replied the
doctor. "Maybe it is what we are seeking. We'll start out in that
direction, anyway. Bill, you had better take the lead, for you know the
country. Spread out a little so that we won't be too bunched if anything
happens."

       *       *       *       *       *

For three-quarters of an hour the little group of men made their way
through the wilderness in the direction indicated by the doctor.
Presently Bill, who was in the lead, held up his hand with a warning
gesture. The other three closed up as rapidly as cautious progress would
allow.

"What is it, Bill?" asked the doctor in an undertone.

"Slip up ahead and look over that crest."

The doctor obeyed instructions. As he glanced over he gave vent to a low
whistle of surprise and motioned for Carnes to join him. The operative
crawled up and glanced over the crest. In a hollow before them was a
crude one-storied house, and erected on an open space before it was a
massive piece of apparatus. It consisted of a number of huge metallic
cylinders, from which lines ran to a silvery concave mirror mounted on
an elaborate frame which would allow it to be rotated so as to point in
any direction.

"What is it?" whispered Carnes.

"Some kind of a projector," muttered the doctor. "I never saw one quite
like it, but it is meant to project something. I can't make out the
curve of that mirror. It isn't a parabola and it isn't an ellipse. It
must be a high degree subcatenary or else built on a transcendental
function."

He raised himself to get a clearer view, and as he did so a puff of
smoke came from the house, to be followed in a moment by a sharp crack
as a bullet flattened itself a few inches from his head. The doctor
tumbled back over the crest out of sight of the house. Bill and Walter
hurried forward, their rifles held ready for action.

"Get out on the flanks, men," directed the doctor. "The man we want is
in a house in that hollow. He's armed, and he means business."

       *       *       *       *       *

Bill and Walter crawled under the shelter of the rocks to a short
distance away and then, rifles ready, advanced to the attack. A report
came from the hollow and a bullet whined over Bill's head. Almost
instantly a crack came from Walter's rifle and splinters flew from the
building in the hollow a few inches from a loophole, through which
projected the barrel of a rifle.

The rifle barrel swung rapidly in a circle and barked in Walter's
direction; but as it did so, Bill's gun spoke and again splinters flew
from the building.

"Good work!" ejaculated Dr. Bird as he watched the slow advance of the
two guides. "If we just had rifles we could join in the party, but it's
a little far for effective pistol work. Let's go ahead, and we may get
close enough to do a little shooting."

Pistols in hand, Carnes and the doctor crawled over the crest and joined
the advance. Again and again the rifle spoke from the hollow and was
answered by the vicious barks of the rifles in the hands of the guides,
Carnes and the doctor resting their pistols on rocks and sending an
occasional bullet toward the loophole. The conditions of light and the
moving target were not conducive to good marksmanship on the part of the
besieged man, and none of the attackers were hit. Presently Walter
succeeded in sending a bullet through the loophole. The rifle barrel
suddenly disappeared. With a shout the four men rose from their cover
and advanced toward the building at a run.

As they did so an ominous whirring sound came from the apparatus in
front of the house and a sudden chill filled the air.

"Back!" shouted Dr. Bird. "Back below the hill if you value your
lives!"

He turned and raced at full speed toward the sheltering crest of the
hill, the others following him closely. The whirring sound continued,
and the concave reflector turned with a grating sound on its gears. As
the path of its rays struck the ground the rocks became white with frost
and one rock split with a sharp report, one fragment rolling down the
slope, carrying others in its trail.

       *       *       *       *       *

With panic-stricken faces the four men raced toward the sheltering
crest, but remorselessly the reflector swung around in their direction.
The intense cold numbed the racing men, cutting off their breath and
impeding their efforts for speed.

"Stop!" cried the doctor suddenly. "Fire at that reflector! It's our
only chance!"

He set the example by turning and emptying his pistol futilely at the
turning mirror. Bill, Walter and Carnes followed his example. Nearer
and nearer to them came the deadly ray. Bill was the nearest to its
path, and he suddenly stiffened and fell forward, his useless gun still
grasped in his hands. As his body struck the ground it rolled down hill
for a few feet, the deadly ray following it. His head struck a rock, and
Carnes gave a cry of horror as it broke into fragments.

Walter threw his rifle to his shoulder and fired again and again at the
rotating disc. The cold had became intense and he could not control the
actions of his muscles and his rifle wavered about. He threw himself
flat on the ground, and, with an almost superhuman effort, steadied
himself for a moment and fired. His aim was true, and with a terrific
crash the reflector split into a thousand fragments. Dr. Bird staggered
to his feet.

"It's out of order for a moment!" he cried. "To the house while we
can!"

As swiftly as his numbed feet would allow him, he stumbled toward the
house. The muzzle of the rifle again projected from the loophole and
with its crack the doctor staggered for a moment and then fell. Walter's
rifle spoke again and the rifle disappeared through the loophole with a
spasmodic jerk. Carnes stumbled over the doctor.

"Are you hit badly?" he gasped through chattering teeth.

"I'm not hit at all," muttered the doctor. "I stumbled and fell just as
he fired. Look out! He's going to shoot again!"

The rifle barrel came slowly into view through the loophole. Walter
fired, but his bullet went wild. Carnes threw himself behind a rock for
protection.

       *       *       *       *       *

The rifle swung in Walter's direction and paused. As it did so, from the
house came a strangled cry and a sound as of a blow. The rifle barrel
disappeared, and the sounds of a struggle came from the building.

"Come on!" cried Carnes as he rose to his feet, and made his stumbling
way forward, the others following at the best speed which their numbed
limbs would allow.

As they reached the door they were aware of a struggle which was going
on inside. With an oath the doctor threw his massive frame against the
door. It creaked, but the solid oak of which it was composed was proof
against the attack, and he drew back for another onslaught. From the
house came a pistol shot, followed by a despairing cry and a guttural
shout. Reinforced by Carnes, the doctor threw his weight against the
door again. With a rending crash it gave, and they fell sprawling into
the cabin. The doctor was the first one on his feet.

"Who are you?" asked a voice from one corner. The doctor whirled like a
flash and covered the speaker with his pistol.

"Put them up!" he said tersely.

"I am unarmed," the voice replied. "Who are you?"

"We're from the United States Secret Service," replied Carnes who had
gained his feet. "The game is up for you, and you'd better realize it."

"Secret Service! Thank God!" cried the voice. "Get Koskoff--he has the
plans. He has gone out through the tunnel!"

"Where is it?" demanded Carnes.

"The entrance is that iron plate on the floor."

Carnes and the doctor jumped at the plate and tried to lift it, without
result. There was no handle or projection on which they could take
hold.

"Not that way," cried the voice. "That cover is fastened on the inside.
Go outside the building; he'll come out about two hundred yards north.
Shoot him as he appears or he'll get away."

The three men nearly tumbled over each other to get through the doorway
into the bitter cold outside. As they emerged from the cabin the gaze of
the guide swept the surrounding hills.

"There he goes!" he cried.

"Get him!" said Carnes sharply.

Walter ran forward a few feet and dropped prone on the ground, cuddling
the stock of his rifle to his cheek. Two hundred yards ahead a figure
was scurrying over the rocks away from the cabin. Walter drew in his
breath and his hand suddenly grew steady as his keen gray eyes peered
through the sights. Carnes and the doctor held their breath in
sympathy.

       *       *       *       *       *

Suddenly the rifle spoke, and the fleeing man threw up his arms and fell
forward on his face.

"Got him," said Walter laconically.

"Go bring the body in, Carnes," exclaimed the doctor. "I'll take care of
the chap inside."

"Did you get him?" asked the voice eagerly, as the doctor stepped
inside.

"He's dead all right," replied the doctor grimly. "Who the devil are
you, and what are you doing here?"

"There is a light switch on the left of the door as you come in," was
the reply.

Dr. Bird found the switch and snapped on a light. He turned toward the
corner from whence the voice had come and recoiled in horror. Propped in
the corner was the body of a middle-aged man, daubed and splashed with
blood which ran from a wound in the side of his head.

"Good Lord!" he ejaculated. "Let me help you."

"There's not much use," replied the man rather faintly. "I am about done
in. This face wound doesn't amount to much, but I am shot through the
body and am bleeding internally. If you try to move me, it may easily
kill me. Leave me alone until your partners come."

The doctor drew a flask of brandy from his pocket and advanced toward
the corner.

"Take a few drops of this," he advised.

With an effort the man lifted the flask to his lips and gulped down a
little of the fiery spirit. A sound of tramping feet came from the
outside and then a thud as though a body had been dropped. Carnes and
Walter entered the cabin.

"He's dead as a mackerel," said Carnes in answer to the doctor's look.
"Walter got him through the neck and broke his spinal cord. He never
knew what hit him."

"The plans?" came in a gasping voice from the man in the corner.

"We got them, too," replied Carnes. "He had both packets inside his
coat. They have been opened, but I guess they are all here. Who the
devil are you?"

"Since Koskoff is dead, and I am dying, there is no reason why I
shouldn't tell you," was the answer. "Leave that brandy handy to keep up
my strength. I have only a short time and I can't repeat.

       *       *       *       *       *

"As to who I am or what I was, it doesn't really matter. Koskoff knew me
as John Smith, and it will pass as well as any other name. Let my past
stay buried. I am, or was, a scientist of some ability; but fortune
frowned on me, and I was driven out of the world. Money would
rehabilitate me--money will do anything nowadays--so I set out to get
it. In the course of my experimental work, I had discovered that cold
was negative heat and reacted to the laws which governed heat."

"I knew that," cried Dr. Bird; "but I never could prove it."

"Who are you?" demanded John Smith.

"Dr. Bird, of the Bureau of Standards."

"Oh, Bird. I've heard of you. You can understand me when I say that as
heat, positive heat is a concomitant of ordinary light. I have found
that cold, negative heat, is a concomitant of cold light. Is my
apparatus in good shape outside?"

"The reflector is smashed."

"I'm sorry. You would have enjoyed studying it. I presume that you saw
that it was a catenary curve?"

"I rather thought so."

"It was, and it was also adjustable. I could vary the focal point from a
few feet to several miles. With that apparatus I could throw a beam of
negative heat with a focal point which I could adjust at will. Close to
the apparatus, I could obtain a temperature almost down to absolute
zero, but at the longer ranges it wasn't so cold, due to leakage into
the atmosphere. Even at two miles I could produce a local temperature of
three hundred degrees below zero."

"What was the source of your cold?"

"Liquid helium. Those cylinders contain, or rather did contain, for I
expect that Koskoff has emptied them, helium in a liquid state."

"Where is your compressor?"

       *       *       *       *       *

"I didn't have to use one. I developed a cold light under whose rays
helium would liquefy and remain in a state of equilibrium until exposed
to light rays. Those cylinders had merely enough pressure to force the
liquid out to where the sun could hit it, and then it turned to a gas,
dropping the temperature at the first focal point of the reflector to
absolute zero. When I had this much done, Koskoff and I packed the whole
apparatus here and were ready for work.

"We were on the path of the transcontinental air mail, and I bided my
time until an especially valuable shipment was to be made. My plans,
which worked perfectly, were to freeze the plane in midair and then rob
the wreck. I heard of the jewel shipment the T. A. C. was to carry and I
planned to get it. When the plane came over, Koskoff and I brought it
down. The unsuspected presence of another plane upset us a little, and I
started to bring it down. But we had been all over this country and knew
there was no place that a plane could land. I let it go on in safety."

"Thank you," replied Carnes with a grimace.

"We robbed the wreck and we found two packets, one the jewels I was
after, and the other a sealed packet, which proved to contain certain
War Department plans. That was when I learned who Koskoff was. I had
hired him in San Francisco as a good mechanic who had no principles. He
was to get one-fourth of the loot. When we found these plans, he told me
who he was. He was really a Russian secret agent and he wanted to
deliver the plans to Russia. I may be a thief and a murderer, but I am
not yet ready to betray my country, and I told him so. He offered me
almost any price for the plans; but I wouldn't listen. We had a serious
quarrel, and he overpowered me and bound me.

       *       *       *       *       *

"We had a radio set here and he called San Francisco and sent some code
message. I think he was waiting here for someone to come. Had we
followed our original plans, we would have been miles from here before
you arrived.

"He had me bound and helpless, as he thought, but I worked my bonds a
little loose. I didn't let him know it, for I knew that the plane I had
let get away would guide a party here and I thought I might be able to
help out. When you came and attacked the house, I worked at my bonds
until they were loose enough to throw off. I saw Koskoff start my cold
apparatus to working and then he quit, because he ran out of helium.
When he started shooting again, I worked out of my bonds and tackled
him.

"He was a better man than I gave him credit for, or else he suspected
me, for about the time I grabbed him he whirled and struck me over the
head with his gun barrel and tore my face open. The blow stunned me, and
when I came to, I was thrown into this corner. I meant to have another
try at it, but I guess you rushed him too fast. He turned and ran for
the tunnel, but as he did so, he shot me through the body. I guess I
didn't look dead enough to suit him. You gentlemen broke open the door
and came in. That's all."

"Not by a long shot, it isn't," exclaimed Dr. Bird. "Where is that cold
light apparatus of yours?"

"In the tunnel."

"How do you get into it?"

"If you will open that cupboard on the wall, you'll find an open knife
switch on the wall. Close it."

       *       *       *       *       *

Dr. Bird found the switch and closed it. As he did so the cabin rocked
on its foundations and both Carnes and Walter were thrown to the ground.
The thud of a detonation deep in the earth came to their ears.

"What was that?" cried the doctor.

"That," replied Smith with a wan smile, "was the detonation of two
hundred pounds of T.N.T. When you dig down into the underground cave
where we used the cold light apparatus, you will find it in fragments.
It was my only child, and I'll take it with me."

As he finished his head slumped forward on his chest. With an
exclamation of dismay Dr. Bird sprang forward and tried to lift the
prostrate form.

In an agony of desire the Doctor tightened his grip on the dying man's
shoulder. But Smith collapsed into a heap. Dr. Bird bent forward and
tore open his shirt and listened at his chest. Presently he straightened
up.

"He is gone," he said sadly, "and I guess the results of his genius have
died with him. He doesn't strike me as a man who left overmuch to
chance. Carnes, is your case completed?"

"Very satisfactorily, Doctor. I have both of the lost packets."

"All right, then, come back to the wreck and help me pack my burros. I
can make my way back to Fallon without a guide."

"Where are you going, Doctor?"

"That, Carnes, old dear, is none of your blankety blanked business.
Permit me to remind you that I am on my vacation. I haven't decided yet
just where I am going, but I can tell you one thing. It's going to be
some place where you can't call me on the telephone."



Brigands of the Moon

(The Book of Gregg Haljan)
BEGINNING A FOUR-PART NOVEL

_By Ray Cummings_

    Black mutiny and brigandage stalk the Space-ship Planetara as
    she speeds to the Moon to pick up a fabulously rich cache of
    radium-ore.

[Illustration: _I stood on the turret-balcony of the Planetara with Dr.
Frank, watching the arriving passengers._]


_Foreword by Ray Cummings_

I have been thinking that if, during one of those long winter evenings
at Valley Forge, someone had placed in George Washington's hands one of
our present day best sellers, the illustrious Father of our Country
would have read it with considerable emotion. I do not mean what we call
a story of science, or fantasy--just a novel of action, adventure and
romance. The sort of thing you and I like to read, but do not find
amazing in any way at all.

But I fancy that George Washington would have found it amazing. Don't
you? It might picture, for instance, a factory girl at a sewing machine.
George Washington would be amazed at a sewing machine. And the girl,
journeying in the subway to and from her work! Stealing an opportunity
to telephone her lover at the noon hour; going to the movies in the
evening, or listening to a radio. And there might be a climax, perhaps,
with the girl and the villain in a transcontinental railway Pullman, and
the hero sending frantic telegrams, or telephoning the train, and then
chasing it in his airplane.

George Washington would have found it amazing!

And I am wondering how you and I would feel if someone were to give us
now a book of ordinary adventure of the sort which will be published a
hundred and fifty years hence. I have been trying to imagine such a book
and the nature of its contents.

Let us imagine it together. Suppose we walk down Fifth Avenue, a
pleasant spring morning of May, 2080. Fifth Avenue, no doubt, will be
there. I don't know whether the New York Public Library will be there or
not. We'll assume that it is, and that it has some sort of books,
printed, or in whatever fashion you care to imagine.

The young man library attendant is surprised at our curiously antiquated
aspect. We look as though we were dressed for some historical costume
ball. We talk old-fashioned English, like actors in an historical play
of the 1930 period.

But we get the book. The attendant assures us it is a good average story
of action and adventure. Nothing remarkable, but he read it himself, and
found it interesting.

We thank him and take the book. But we find that the language in which
it is written is too strange for comfortable reading. And it names so
many extraordinary things so casually! As though we knew all about them,
which we certainly do not!

So we take it to the kind-hearted librarian in the language division. He
modifies it to old-fashioned English of 1930, and he puts occasional
footnotes to help explain some of the things we might not understand.
Why he should bother to do this for us I don't know; but let us assume
that he does.

And now we take the book home--in the pneumatic tube, or aerial moving
sidewalk, or airship, or whatever it is we take to get home.

And now that we are home, let's read the book. It ought to be
interesting.


CHAPTER I

    _Tells of the Grantline Moon Expedition and of the Mysterious
    Martian Who Followed Us in the City Corridor_

One may write about oneself and still not be an egoist. Or so, at least,
they tell me. My narrative went broadcast with a fair success. It was
pantomimed and the public flashed me a reasonable approval. And so my
disc publishers have suggested that I record it in more permanent form.

I introduce myself, begging grace that I intrude upon your busy minutes,
with my only excuse that perhaps I may amuse you. For what the
commercial sellers of my pictured version were pleased to blare as my
handsome face, I ask your indulgence. My feminine audience of the
pantomimes was undoubtedly graciously pleased at my personality and
physical aspect. That I am "tall as a Viking of old"--and "handsome as a
young Norse God"--is very pretty talk in the selling of my product. But
I deplore its intrusion into the personality of this, my recorded
narrative. And so now, for preface, to all my audience I do give earnest
assurance that Gregg Haljan is no conceited zebra, handsomely striped by
nature, and proud of it. Not so. I am, I do beg you to believe, a very
humble fellow, striving for your approval, hoping only to entertain
you.

My introduction: My name, Gregg Haljan. My age, twenty-five years. I
was, at the time my narrative begins, Third Officer on the Space-Ship
Planetara. Our line was newly established; in 2070, to be exact,
following the modern improvements of the Martel Magnetic Levitation.[1]

       *       *       *       *       *

Our ship, whose home port was Great-New York, carried mail and passenger
traffic to and from both Venus and Mars. Of astronomical necessity, our
flights were irregular. This spring, with the two other planets both
close to the earth, we were making two complete round trips. We had just
arrived in Great-New York, this May evening, from Grebhar, Venus Free
State. With only five hours in port here, we were departing the same
night at the zero hour for Ferrok-Shahn, capital of the Martian Union.

We were no sooner at the landing stage than I found a code-flash
summoning Dan Dean and me to Divisional Detective Headquarters. Dan
"Snap" Dean was one of my closest friends. He was radio-helio operator
of the Planetara. A small, wiry, red-headed chap, with a quick, ready
laugh and a wit that made everyone like him.

The summons to Detective-Colonel Halsey's office surprised us. Snap eyed
me.

"You haven't been opening any treasury vaults, have you, Gregg?"

"He wants you, also," I retorted.

He laughed. "Well, he can roar at me like a traffic switchman and my
private life will remain my own."

We could not think why we should be wanted. It was the darkness of
mid-evening when we left the Planetara for Halsey's office. It was not a
long trip. We went direct in the upper monorail, descending into the
subterranean city at Park-Circle 30.

       *       *       *       *       *

We had never been to Halsey's office before. We found it to be a gloomy,
vaultlike place in one of the deepest corridors. The door lifted.

"Gregg Haljan and Daniel Dean."

The guard stood aside. "Come in."

I own that my heart was unduly thumping as we entered. The door dropped
behind us. It was a small blue-lit apartment--a steel-lined room like a
vault.

Colonel Halsey sat at his desk. And the big, heavy-set, florid Captain
Carter--our commander of the Planetara--was here. That surprised us: we
had not seen him leave the ship.

Halsey smiled at us gravely. Captain Carter said, "Sit down, lads."

We took the seats. There was an alarming solemnity about this. If I had
been guilty of anything that I could think of, it would have been
frightening. But Halsey's first words reassured me.

"It's about the Grantline Moon Expedition. In spite of our secrecy, the
news has gotten out. We want to know how. Can you tell us?"

Captain Carter's huge bulk--he was about as tall as I am--towered over
us as we sat before Halsey's desk. "If you lads have told anyone--said
anything--let slip the slightest hint about it--"

Snap smiled with relief; but he turned solemn at once. "I haven't. Not a
word!"

"Nor have I," I declared.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Grantline Moon Expedition! We had not thought of that as a reason
for this summons. Johnny Grantline was a close friend to us both. He had
organized an exploring expedition to the Moon. Uninhabited, with its
bleak, forbidding, airless, waterless surface, the Moon--even though so
close to the Earth--was seldom visited. No regular ship ever stopped
there. A few exploring parties of recent years had come to grief.

But there was a persistent rumor that upon the Moon, mineral riches of
fabulous wealth were awaiting discovery. The thing had already caused
some interplanetary complications. The aggressive Martians would be only
too glad to explore the Moon. But the U.S.W.[2] definitely warned them
away. The Moon was World Territory, we announced, and we would protect
it as such.

The threatened conflict between the Earth and Mars had come to nothing.
There was, this year of 2079, a thorough amity between all three of the
inhabited planets. It still holds, and I pray that it may always hold.

There was, nevertheless, a realization by our government, that whatever
riches might be upon the Moon should be seized at once and held by some
reputable Earth Company. And when Johnny Grantline applied, with his
father's wealth and his own scientific record of attainment, the
government was only too glad to grant him its writ.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Grantline Expedition had started six months ago. The Martian
government had acquiesced in our ultimatum, yet brigands have been known
to be financed under cover of a governmental disavowal. And so the
expedition was kept secret.

My words need give no offense to any Martian who comes upon them. I
refer to the history of our earth only. The Grantline Expedition was on
the Moon now. No word had come from it. One could not flash helios even
in code without letting all the universe know that explorers were on the
Moon. And why they were there, anyone could easily guess.

And now Colonel Halsey was telling us that the news was abroad! Captain
Carter eyed us closely; his flashing eyes under the white bushy brows
would pry a secret from anyone.

"You're sure? A girl of Venus, perhaps, with her cursed, seductive lure!
A chance word, with you lads befuddled by alcolite?"

We assured him we had been careful. By the heavens, I know that I had
been. Not a whisper, even to Snap, of the name Grantline in six months
or more.

Captain Carter added abruptly, "We're insulated here, Halsey?"

"Yes, talk as freely as you like. An eavesdropping ray will never get
into these walls."

       *       *       *       *       *

They questioned us. They were satisfied at last that, though the secret
had escaped, we had not done it. Hearing it discussed, it occurred to me
to wonder why Carter was concerned. I was not aware that he knew of
Grantline's venture. I learned now the reason why the Planetara, upon
each of her voyages, had managed to pass fairly close to the Moon. It
had been arranged with Grantline that if he wanted help or had any
important message, he was to flash it locally to our passing ship. And
this Snap knew, and had never mentioned it, even to me.

Halsey was saying, "Well, we can't blame you, but the secret is out."

Snap and I regarded each other. What could anyone do? What would anyone
dare do?

Captain Carter said abruptly, "Look here, lads, this is my chance now to
talk plainly to you. Outside, anywhere outside these walls, an
eavesdropping ray may be upon us. You know that? One may never even dare
whisper since that accursed ray was developed."

Snap opened his mouth to speak but decided against it. My heart was
pounding.

Captain Carter went on, "I know I can trust you two more than anyone
else under me on the Planetara--"

"What do you mean by that?" I demanded. "What--"

He interrupted me. "Nothing at all but what I say."

       *       *       *       *       *

Halsey smiled grimly. "What he means, Haljan, is that things are not
always what they seem these days. One cannot always tell a friend from
an enemy. The Planetara is a public vessel. You have--how many is it,
Carter?--thirty or forty passengers this trip to-night?"

"Thirty-eight," said Carter.

"There are thirty-eight people listed for the flight to Ferrok-Shahn
to-night," Halsey said slowly. "And some may not be what they seem." He
raised his thin dark hand. "We have information--" He paused. "I
confess, we know almost nothing--hardly more than enough to alarm us."

Captain Carter interjected, "I want you and Dean to be on your guard.
Once on the Planetara it is difficult for us to talk openly, but be
watchful. I will arrange for us to be doubly armed."

Vague, perturbing words! Halsey said, "They tell me George Prince is
listed for the voyage. I am suggesting, Haljan, that you keep your
eye especially upon him. Your duties on the Planetara leave you
comparatively free, don't they?"

"Yes," I agreed. With the first and second officers on duty, and the
captain aboard, my routine was more or less that of an understudy.

I said, "George Prince! Who is he?"

"A mechanical engineer," said Halsey. "An under-official of the
Earth Federated Radium Corporation. But he associates with bad
companions--particularly Martians."

I had never heard of this George Prince, though I was familiar with the
Federated Radium Corporation, of course. A semi-government trust, which
controlled virtually the entire Earth supply of radium.

"He was in the Automotive Department," Carter put in. "You've heard of
the Federated Radium Motor?"

       *       *       *       *       *

We had, of course. A recent Earth invention which promised to
revolutionize the automotive industry. An engine of a new type, using
radium as its fuel.

Snap demanded, "What in the stars has this got to do with Johnny
Grantline?"

"Much," said Halsey quietly, "or perhaps nothing. But George Prince some
years ago mixed in rather unethical transactions. We had him in custody
once. He is known now as unusually friendly with several Martians in New
York of bad reputation."

"Well--" began Snap.

"What you don't know," Halsey went on quietly, "is that Grantline
expects to find radium on the Moon."

We gasped.

"Exactly," said Halsey. "The ill-fated Ballon Expedition thought they
had found it on the Moon some years ago. A new type of ore, as rich in
radium as our gold-bearing sands are rich in gold. Ballon's first
samples gave uranium atoms with a fair representation of ionium and
thorium. A richly radio-active ore. A lode of the pure radium is there
somewhere, without doubt."

       *       *       *       *       *

He added vehemently, "Do you understand now why we should be suspicious
of this George Prince? He has a criminal record. He has a thorough
technical knowledge of radium ores. He associates with Martians of bad
reputation. A large Martian Company has recently developed a radium
engine to compete with our Earth motor. You know that? You know that
there is very little radium available on Mars, and our government will
not allow our own radium supply to be exported. That Martian Company
needs radium. It will do anything to get radium. What do you suppose it
would pay for a few tons of really rich radio-active ore--such as
Grantline may have found on the Moon?"

"But," I objected, "that is a reputable Martian company. It's backed by
the government of the Martian Union. The government of Mars would not
dare--"

"Of course not!" Captain Carter exclaimed sardonically. "Not openly! But
if Martian brigands had a supply of radium--I don't imagine where it
came from would make much difference. That Martian Company would buy
it."

Halsey added, "And George Prince, my agents inform me, seems to know
that Grantline is on the Moon. Put it all together, lads. Little sparks
show the hidden current.

"More than that: George Prince knows that we have arranged to have the
Planetara stop at the Moon and bring back Grantline's radium-ore. This
is your last voyage this year. You'll hear from Grantline this time,
we're convinced. He'll probably give you the signal as you pass the Moon
on your way out. Coming back, you'll stop at the Moon and transport
whatever radium-ore Grantline has ready. The Grantline Flyer is too
small for ore transportation."

       *       *       *       *       *

Halsey's voice turned grimly sarcastic. "Doesn't it seem queer that
George Prince and a few of his Martian friends happen to be listed as
passengers for this voyage?"

In the silence that followed, Snap and I regarded each other. Halsey
added abruptly,

"We had George Prince typed that time we arrested him four years ago.
I'll show him to you."

He snapped open an alcove, and said to his waiting attendant, "Get me
the type of George Prince."

The disc in a moment came through the pneumatic. Halsey, smiling wryly,
adjusted it.

"A nice looking fellow. Nicely spoken. Though at the time we made this
he was somewhat annoyed, naturally. He is older now. Twenty-nine, to be
exact. Here he is."

The image glowed on the grids before us. His name, George Prince, in
letters illumined upon his forehead, showed for a moment and then faded.
He stood smiling sourly before us as he repeated the official formula:

"My name is George Prince. I was born in Great-New York City twenty-five
years ago."

       *       *       *       *       *

I gazed at this life-size, moving image of George Prince. He stood
somber in the black detention uniform. A dark, almost a girlishly
handsome fellow, well below medium height--the rod beside him showed
five feet four inches. Slim and slight. Long, wavy black hair, falling
about his ears. A pale, clean-cut, really handsome face, almost
beardless. I regarded it closely. A face that would have been femininely
beautiful without its masculine touch of heavy black brows and firmly
set jaw. His voice as he spoke was low and soft; but at the end, with
the concluding words, "I am innocent!" it flashed into strong
masculinity. His eyes, shaded with long, girlish black lashes, by chance
met mine. "I am innocent." His curving sensuous lips drew down into a
grim sneer....

The type faded at its end. Halsey replaced the disc in its box and waved
the attendant away. "Thank you."

He turned back to Snap and me. "Well, there he is. We have nothing
tangible against him now. But I'll say this: he's a clever fellow, one
to be afraid of. I would not blare it from the newscasters' microphone,
but if he is hatching any plot, he has been too clever for my agents."

We talked for another half-hour, and then Captain Carter dismissed us.
We left Halsey's office with Carter's final words ringing in our ears.
"Whatever comes, lads, remember I trust you...."

       *       *       *       *       *

Snap and I decided to walk a portion of the way back to the ship. It was
barely more than a mile through this subterranean corridor to where we
could get the vertical lift direct to the landing stage.

We started off on the lower level. Once outside the insulation of
Halsey's office we did not dare talk of this thing. Not only electrical
ears, but every possible eavesdropping device might be upon us. The
corridor was two hundred feet or more below the ground level. At this
hour of the night this business section was comparatively deserted. The
through tube sounded over our heads with the passing of its occasional
trains. The ventilators buzzed and whirred. At the cross intersections,
the traffic directors dozed at their posts. It was hot and sticky down
here, and gloomy with the daylight globes extinguished, and only the
night lights to give a dim illumination. The stores and office arcades
were all closed and deserted; only an occasional night-light burning
behind their windows.

Our footfalls echoed on the metal grids as we hurried along.

"Nice evening," said Snap awkwardly.

"Yes," I said, "isn't it?"

I felt oppressed. As though prying eyes and ears were here. We walked
for a time in silence, each of us busy with memory of what had
transpired in Halsey's office.

Suddenly Snap gripped me. "What's that?"

"Where?" I whispered.

       *       *       *       *       *

We stopped at a corner. An entryway was here. Snap pulled me into it. I
could feel him quivering with excitement.

"What is it?" I demanded in a whisper.

"We're being followed. Did you hear anything?"

"No!" Yet I thought now I could hear something. Vague footfalls. A
rustling. And a microscopic electrical whine, as though some device were
near us.

Snap was fumbling in his pocket. "Wait, I've got a pair of low-scale
phones."

He put the little grids against his ears. I could hear the sharp intake
of his breath. Then he seized me, pulled me down to the metal floor of
the entryway.

"Back, Gregg! Get back!" I could barely hear his whisper. We crouched as
far back into the doorway as we could get. I was armed. My official
permit for the carrying of the pencil heat-ray allowed me to have it
always with me. I drew it now. But there was nothing to shoot at. I felt
Snap clamping the grids on my ears. And now I heard something! An
intensification of the vague footsteps I had thought I heard before.

There was something following us! Something out in the corridor there
now! A street light was nearby. The corridor was dim, but plainly
visible; and to my sight it was empty. But there was something there.
Something invisible! I could hear it moving. Creeping towards us. I
pulled the grids off my ears.

Snap murmured, "You've got a local phone."

"Yes! I'll get them to give us the street glare!"

       *       *       *       *       *

I pressed the danger signal, giving our location to the nearest
operator. In a second or two we got the light. The street in all this
neighborhood burst into a brilliant actinic glare. The thing menacing
us was revealed! A figure in a black cloak, crouching thirty feet away
across the corridor.

Snap was on his feet. His voice rang shrilly, "There it is! Give it a
shot, Gregg!"

Snap was unarmed, but he flung his hands out menacingly. The figure,
which may perhaps not have been aware of our city safeguard, was taken
wholly by surprise. A human figure. Seven feet tall, at the least, and
therefore, I judged, doubtless a Martian man. The black cloak covered
his head. He took a step toward us, hesitated, and then turned in
confusion.

Snap's shrill voice was bringing help. The whine of a street guard's
alarm whistle nearby sounded. The figure was making off! My pencil-ray
was in my hand and I pressed its switch. The tiny heat-ray stabbed
through the glare, but I missed. The figure stumbled, but did not fall.
I saw a bare gray arm come from the cloak, flung up to maintain its
balance. Or perhaps my pencil-ray of heat had seared the arm. The
gray-skinned arm of a Martian.

Snap was shouting, "Give him another!" But the figure passed beyond the
actinic glare and vanished.

We were detained in the turmoil of the corridor for ten minutes or more
with official explanations. Then a message from Halsey released us. The
Martian who had been following us in his invisible cloak was never
caught.

We escaped from the crowd at last and made our way back to the
Planetara, where the passengers were already assembling for the outward
Martian voyage.


CHAPTER II

"_A Fleeting Glance_--"

I stood on the turret-balcony of the Planetara with Captain Carter and
Dr. Frank, the ship surgeon, watching the arriving passengers. It was
close to the zero hour: the level of the stage was a turmoil of
confusion. The escalators, with the last of the freight aboard, were
folded back. But the stage was jammed with the incoming passenger
baggage: the interplanetary customs and tax officials with their X-ray
and Zed-ray paraphernalia and the passengers themselves, lined up for
the export inspection.

At this height, the city lights lay spread in a glare of blue and yellow
beneath us. The individual local planes came dropping like birds to our
stage. Thirty-eight passengers for this flight to Mars, but that
accursed desire of every friend and relative to speed the departing
voyager brought a hundred or more extra people to crowd our girders and
bring added difficulty to everybody.

Carter was too absorbed in his duties to stay with us long. But here in
the turret Dr. Frank and I found ourselves at the moment with nothing
much to do but watch.

"Think we'll get away on time, Gregg?"

"No," I said. "And this of all voyages--"

I checked myself, with thumping heart. My thoughts were so full of what
Halsey and Carter had told us that it was difficult to rein my tongue.
Yet here in the turret, unguarded by insulation, I could say nothing.
Nor would I have dared mention the Grantline Moon Expedition to Dr.
Frank. I wondered what he knew of this affair. Perhaps as much as
I--perhaps nothing.

       *       *       *       *       *

He was a thin, dark, rather smallish man of fifty, this ship's surgeon,
trim in his blue and white uniform. I knew him well: we had made several
flights together. An American--I fancy of Jewish ancestry. A likable
man, and a skillful doctor and surgeon. He and I had always been good
friends.

"Crowded," he said. "Johnson says thirty-eight. I hope they're
experienced travelers. This pressure sickness is a rotten nuisance--keeps
me dashing around all night assuring frightened women they're not
going to die. Last voyage, coming out of the Venus atmosphere--"

He plunged into a lugubrious account of his troubles with space-sick
voyagers. But I was in no mood to listen. My gaze was down on the spider
incline, up which, over the bend of the ship's sleek, silvery body, the
passengers and their friends were coming in little groups. The upper
deck was already jammed with them.

The Planetara, as flyers go, was not a large vessel. Cylindrical of
body, forty feet maximum beam, and two hundred and seventy-five feet in
overall length. The passenger superstructure--no more than a hundred
feet long--was set amidships. A narrow deck, metallic-enclosed, and with
large bulls-eye windows, encircled the superstructure. Some of the
cabins opened directly onto the deck. Others had doors to the interior
corridors. There were half a dozen small but luxurious public rooms.

       *       *       *       *       *

The rest of the vessel was given to freight storage and the mechanism
and control compartments. Forward of the passenger structure the
deck level continued under the cylindrical dome-roof to the bow. The
forward watch-tower observatory was here; officers' cabins; Captain
Carter's navigating rooms and Dr. Frank's office. Similarly, under
the stern-dome, was the stern watch-tower and a series of power
compartments.

Above the superstructure a confusion of spider bridges, ladders and
balconies were laced like a metal network. The turret in which Dr. Frank
and I now stood was perched here. Fifty feet away, like a bird's nest,
Snap's instrument room stood clinging to the metal bridge. The
dome-roof, with the glassite windows rolled back now, rose in a
mound-peak to cover this highest middle portion of the vessel.

Below, in the main hull, blue-lit metal corridors ran the entire length
of the ship. Freight storage compartments; gravity control rooms; the
air renewal systems; heater and ventilators and pressure mechanisms--all
were located there. And the kitchens, stewards' compartments, and the
living quarters of the crew. We carried a crew of sixteen, this voyage,
exclusive of the navigating officers, and the purser, Snap Dean, and Dr.
Frank.

       *       *       *       *       *

The passengers coming aboard seemed a fair representation of what we
usually had for the outward voyage to Ferrok-Shahn. Most were Earth
people--and returning Martians. Dr. Frank pointed out one. A huge
Martian in a gray cloak. A seven-foot fellow.

"His name is Set Miko," Dr. Frank remarked. "Ever heard of him?"

"No," I said. "Should I?"

"Well--" The doctor suddenly checked himself, as though he were sorry he
had spoken.

"I never heard of him," I repeated slowly.

An awkward silence fell suddenly between us.

There were a few Venus passengers. I saw one of them presently coming up
the incline, and recognized her. A girl traveling alone. We had brought
her from Grebhar, last voyage but one. I remembered her. An alluring
sort of girl, as most of them are. Her name was Venza. She spoke English
well. A singer and dancer who had been imported to Great-New York to
fill some theatrical engagement. She'd made quite a hit on the Great
White Way.

She came up the incline, with the carrier ahead of her. Gazing up, she
saw Dr. Frank and me at the turret window and waved her white arm in
greeting. And flashed us a smile.

Dr. Frank laughed. "By the gods of the airways, there's Alta Venza! You
saw that look, Gregg? That was for me, not you."

"Reasonable enough," I retorted. "But I doubt it--the Venza was nothing
if not impartial."

       *       *       *       *       *

I wondered what could be taking Venza now to Mars. I was glad to see
her. She was diverting. Educated. Well-traveled. Spoke English with a
colloquial, theatrical manner more characteristic of Great-New York than
of Venus. And for all her light banter, I would rather put my trust in
her than any Venus girl I had ever met.

The hum of the departing siren was sounding. Friends and relatives of
the passengers were crowding the exit incline. The deck was clearing. I
had not seen George Prince come aboard. And then I thought I saw him
down on the landing stage, just arrived from a private tube-car. A
small, slight figure. The customs men were around him: I could only see
his head and shoulders. Pale, girlishly handsome face; long, black hair
to the base of his neck. He was bareheaded, with the hood of his
traveling-cloak pushed back.

I stared, and I saw that Dr. Frank was also gazing down. But neither of
us spoke.

Then I said upon impulse, "Suppose we go down to the deck, Doctor?"

He acquiesced. We descended to the lower room of the turret and
clambered down the spider ladder to the upper deck-level. The head of
the arriving incline was near us. Preceded by two carriers who were
littered with hand-baggage, George Prince was coming up the incline. He
was closer now. I recognized him from the type we had seen in Halsey's
office.

       *       *       *       *       *

And then, with a shock, I saw it was not so. This was a girl coming
aboard. An arch-light over the incline showed her clearly when she was
half way up. A girl with her hood pushed back; her face framed in thick
black hair. I saw now it was not a man's cut of hair; but long braids
coiled up under the dangling hood.

Dr. Frank must have remarked my amazed expression.

"Little beauty, isn't she?"

"Who is she?"

We were standing back against the wall of the superstructure. A
passenger was near us--the Martian whom Dr. Frank had called Miko. He
was loitering here, quite evidently watching this girl come aboard. But
as I glanced at him he looked away and casually sauntered off.

The girl came up and reached the deck. "I am in A 22," she told the
carrier. "My brother came aboard two hours ago."

Dr. Frank answered my whisper. "That's Anita Prince."

She was passing quite close to us on the deck, following the carrier,
when she stumbled and very nearly fell. I was nearest to her. I leaped
forward and caught her as she went down.

"Oh!" she cried.

With my arm about her, I raised her up and set her upon her feet again.
She had twisted her ankle. She balanced herself upon it. The pain of it
eased up in a moment.

"I'm--all right--thank you!"

       *       *       *       *       *

In the dimness of the blue-lit deck, I met her eyes. I was holding her
with my encircling arm. She was small and soft against me. Her face,
framed in the thick, black hair, smiled up at me. Small, oval
face--beautiful--yet firm of chin, and stamped with the mark of its own
individuality. No empty-headed beauty, this.

"I'm all right, thank you very much--"

I became conscious that I had not released her. I felt her hands pushing
at me. And then it seemed that for an instant she yielded and was
clinging. And I met her startled, upflung gaze. Eyes like a purple night
with the sheen of misty starlight in them.

I heard myself murmuring, "I beg your pardon. Yes, of course!" I
released her.

She thanked me again and followed the carrier along the deck. She was
limping slightly from the twisted ankle.

An instant, while she had clung to me--and I had held her. A brief flash
of something, from her eyes to mine--from mine back to hers. The poets
write that love can be born of such a glance. The first meeting, across
all the barriers of which love springs unsought, unbidden--defiant,
sometimes. And the troubadours of old would sing: "A fleeting glance; a
touch; two wildly beating hearts--and love was born."

I think, with Anita and me, it must have been like that....

I stood gazing after her, unconscious of Dr. Frank, who was watching me
with his humorous smile. And presently, no more than a quarter beyond
the zero hour, the Planetara got away. With the dome-windows battened
tightly, we lifted from the landing stage and soared over the glowing
city. The phosphorescence of the electronic tubes was like a comet's
tail behind us as we slid upward.

At the trinight hour the heat of our atmospheric passage was over. The
passengers had all retired. The ship was quiet, with empty decks and
dim, silent corridors. Vibrationless, with the electronic engines cut
off and only the hum of the Martel magnetizers to break the unnatural
stillness. We were well beyond the earth's atmosphere, heading out in
the cone-path of the earth's shadow, in the direction of the moon.


CHAPTER III

_In the Helio-room_

At six A. M., earth Eastern time, which we were still carrying, Snap
Dean and I were alone in his instrument room, perched in the network
over the Planetara's deck. The bulge of the dome enclosed us; it rounded
like a great observatory window some twenty feet above the ceiling of
this little metal cubby-hole.

The Planetara was still in the earth's shadow. The firmament--black
interstellar space with its blazing white, red and yellow stars--lay
spread around us. The moon, with nearly all its disc illumined, hung, a
great silver ball, over our bow quarter. Behind it, to one side, Mars
floated like the red tip of a smoldering cigarillo in the blackness. The
earth, behind our stern, was dimly, redly visible--a giant sphere,
etched with the configurations of its oceans and continents. Upon one
limb a touch of the sunlight hung on the mountain-tops with a crescent
red-yellow sheen.

And then we plunged from the cone-shadow. The sun, with the leaping
Corona, burst through the blackness behind us. The earth lighted into a
huge, thin crescent with hooked cusps.

To Snap and me, the glories of the heavens were too familiar to be
remarked. And upon this voyage particularly we were in no mood to
consider them. I had been in the helio-room several hours. When the
Planetara started, and my few routine duties were over, I could think of
nothing save Halsey's and Carter's admonition: "Be on your guard. And
particularly--watch George Prince."

I had not seen George Prince. But I had seen his sister, whom Carter and
Halsey had not bothered to mention. My heart was still pounding with the
memory....

       *       *       *       *       *

When the passengers had retired and the ship quieted, I prowled through
the passenger corridors. This was about the trinight hour.[3] Hot as the
corridors of hell, with our hull and the glassite dome seething with the
friction of our atmospheric flight. But the refrigerators mitigated
that; the ventilators blasted cold air from the renewers into every
corner of the vessel. Within an hour or two, with the cold of space
striking us, it was hot air that was needed.

Dr. Frank evidently was having little trouble with pressure-sick
passengers[4]--the Planetara's equalizers were fairly efficient. I did
not encounter Dr. Frank. I prowled through the silent metal lounges and
passages. I went to the door of A 22. It was on the deck-level, in a
tiny transverse passage just off the main lounging room. Its name-grid
glowed with the letters: "_Anita Prince._" I stood in my short white
trousers and white silk shirt, like a cabin steward gawping. Anita
Prince! I had never heard the name until this night. But there was magic
music in it now, as I murmured it to myself. Anita Prince....

She was here, doubtless asleep, behind this small metal door. It seemed
as though that little oval grid were the gateway to a fairyland of my
dreams.

I turned away. And thought of the Grantline Moon Expedition stabbed at
me. George Prince--Anita's brother--he whom I had been told to watch.
This renegade--associate of dubious Martians, plotting God knows what.

       *       *       *       *       *

I saw, upon the adjoining door, "A 20, _George Prince_." I listened. In
the humming stillness of the ship's interior there was no sound from
these cabins. A 20 was without windows, I knew. But Anita's room had a
window and a door which gave upon the deck. I went through the lounge,
out its arch, and walked the deck length. The deck door and window of
A 22 were closed and dark.

The ten-foot-wide deck was dim with white starlight from the side ports.
Chairs were here, but they were all empty. From the bow windows of the
arching dome a flood of moonlight threw long, slanting shadows down the
deck. At the corner where the superstructure ended, I thought I saw a
figure lurking as though watching me. I went that way, but it vanished.

I turned the corner, went the width of the ship to the other side. There
was no one in sight save the observer on his spider bridge, high in the
bow network, and the second officer, on duty on the turret balcony
almost directly over me.

As I stood and listened, I suddenly heard footsteps. From the direction
of the bow a figure came. Purser Johnson.

He greeted me. "Cooling off, Gregg?"

"Yes," I said.

He went past me and turned into the smoking room door nearby.

I stood a moment at one of the deck windows, gazing at the stars; and
for no reason at all I realized I was tense. Johnson was a great one for
his regular sleep--it was wholly unlike him to be roaming about the ship
at such an hour. Had he been watching me? I told myself it was nonsense.
I was suspicious of everyone, everything, this voyage.

       *       *       *       *       *

I heard another step. Captain Carter appeared from his chart-room which
stood in the center of the narrowing open deck space near the bow. I
joined him at once.

"Who was that?" he half-whispered.

"Johnson."

"Oh, yes." He fumbled in his uniform; his gaze swept the moonlit deck.
"Gregg--take this." He handed me a small metal box. I stuffed it at once
into my shirt.

"An insulator," he added, swiftly. "Snap is in his office. Take it to
him, Gregg. Stay with him--you'll have a measure of security--and you
can help him to make the photographs." He was barely whispering. "I
won't be with you--no use making it look as though we were doing
anything unusual. If your graphs show anything--or if Snap picks up any
message--bring it to me." He added aloud, "Well, it will be cool enough
presently, Gregg."

He sauntered away toward his chart-room.

"By heavens, what a relief!" Snap murmured as the current went on. We
had wired his cubby with the insulator; within its barrage we could at
last talk with a degree of freedom.

"You've seen George Prince, Gregg?"

"No. He's assigned A 20. But I saw his sister. Snap, no one ever
mentioned--"

Snap had heard of her, but he hadn't known that she was listed for this
voyage. "A real beauty, so I've heard. Accursed shame for a decent girl
to have a brother like that."

I could agree with him there, but I made no comment.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was now 6 A. M. Snap had been busy all night with routine cosmo-radios
from the earth, following our departure. He had a pile of them beside
him. Many were for the passengers; but anything that savored of a code
was barred.

"Nothing queer looking?" I suggested.

"No. Not a thing."

We were at this time no more than some sixty-five thousand miles from
the moon's surface. The Planetara presently would swing upon her direct
course for Mars. There was nothing which could cause passenger comment
in this close passing of the moon; normally we used the satellite's
attraction to give us additional starting speed.

It was now or never that a message would come from Grantline. He was
supposed to be upon this earthward side of the moon. While Snap had
rushed through with his routine, I had searched the moon surface with
our glass, as I knew Carter was searching it--and also the observer in
his tower, very possibly.

But there was nothing. Copernicus and Kepler lay in full sunlight. The
heights of the lunar mountains, the depths of the barren, empty seas
were etched black and white, clear and clean. Grim, forbidding
desolation, this unchanging moon! In romance, moonlight may shimmer and
sparkle to light a lover's smile; but the reality of the moon is cold
and bleak. There was nothing to show my prying eyes where the intrepid
Grantline might be.

"Nothing at all, Snap."

And Snap's helio mirrors, attuned for an hour now to pick up the
faintest signal, were motionless.

"If he has concentrated any appreciable amount of radio-active ore,"
said Snap, "we should get an impulse from its Gamma rays."

       *       *       *       *       *

But our receiving shield was dark, untouched. We tried taking hydrogen
photographic impressions of the visible moon surface. A sequence of
them, with stereoscopic lenses, forty-eight to the second. Our
mirror-grid gave the magnified images; the spectro-heliograph, with its
wave-length selection, pictured the mountain-levels, and slowly
descended into the deepest seas.

There was nothing.

Yet in those moon caverns--a million million recesses amid the crags of
that tumbled, barren surface--the pin-point of movement which might have
been Grantline's expedition could so easily be hiding! Could he have the
ore insulated, fearing its Gamma rays would betray its presence to
hostile watchers?

Or might disaster have come to him? Or he might not be upon this
hemisphere of the moon at all....

My imagination, sharpened by fancy of a lurking menace which seemed
everywhere about the Planetara this voyage, ran rife with fears for
Johnny Grantline. He had promised to communicate this voyage. It was
now, or perhaps never.

Six-thirty came and passed. We were well beyond the earth's shadow now.
The firmament blazed with its vivid glories; the sun behind us was a
ball of yellow-red leaping flames. The earth hung, opened to a huge,
dull-red half-sphere.

       *       *       *       *       *

We were within some forty thousand miles of the moon. Giant white
ball--all of its disc visible to the naked eye. It poised over the bow,
and presently, as the Planetara swung upon her course for Mars, it
shifted sidewise. The light of it glared white and dazzling in our tiny
side windows.

Snap, with his habitual red celluloid eyeshade shoved high on his
forehead, worked over our instruments.

"Gregg!"

The receiving shield was glowing a trifle! Gamma rays were bombarding
it! It glowed, gleamed phosphorescent, and the audible recorder began
sounding its tiny tinkling murmurs.

Gamma rays! Snap sprang to the dials. The direction and strength were
soon obvious. A richly radio-active ore body, of considerable size, was
concentrated upon this hemisphere of the moon! It was unmistakable.

"He's got it, Gregg! He's--"

The tiny helio mirrors began quivering. Snap exclaimed triumphantly,
"Here he comes! By God, the message at last! Bar off that light!"

       *       *       *       *       *

I flung on the absorbers. The moonlight bathing the little room went
into them and darkness sprang around us. Snap fumbled at his instrument
board. Actinic light showed dimly in the quivering, thumbnail mirrors.
Two of them. They hung poised on their cobweb wires, infinitely
sensitive to the infra-red light-rays Grantline was sending from the
moon. The mirrors in a moment began swinging. On the scale across the
room the actinic beams from them were magnified into sweeps of light.

The message!

Snap spelled it out, decoded it.

"_Success! Stop for ore on your return voyage. Will give you our
location later. Success beyond wildest hopes--_"

The mirrors hung motionless. The shield, where the Gamma rays were
bombarding, went suddenly dark.

Snap murmured, "That's all. He's got the ore! 'Success beyond wildest
hopes.' That must mean an enormous quantity of it available!"

We were sitting in darkness, and abruptly I became aware that across our
open window, where the insulation barrage was flung, the air was faintly
hissing. An interference there! I saw a tiny swirl of purple sparks.
Someone--some hostile ray from the deck beneath us, or from the spider
bridge that led to our little room--someone out there trying to pry
in!

Snap impulsively reached for the absorbers to let in the outside
light--it was all darkness to us outside. But I checked him.

"Wait!" I cut off our barrage, opened our door and stepped to the narrow
metal bridge.

"Wait, Snap! You stay there." I added aloud, "Well, Snap, I'm going to
bed. Glad you've cleaned up that batch of work."

       *       *       *       *       *

I banged the door upon him. The lacework of metal bridges and ladders
seemed empty. I gazed up to the dome, and forward and aft. Twenty feet
beneath me was the metal roof of the cabin superstructure. Below it,
both sides of the deck showed. All patched with moonlight.

No one visible down there. I descended a ladder. The deck was empty. But
in the silence something was moving! Footsteps moving away from me down
the deck! I followed; and suddenly I was running. Chasing something I
could hear, but could not see. It turned into the smoking room.

I burst in. And a real sound smothered the phantom. Johnson the purser
was sitting here alone in the dimness. He was smoking. I noticed that
his cigar held a long, frail ash. It could not have been him I was
chasing. He was sitting there quite calmly. A thick-necked, heavy
fellow, easily out of breath. But he was breathing calmly now.

He sat up with amazement at my wild-eyed appearance, and the ash jarred
from his cigar.

"Gregg! What in the devil--"

I tried to grin. "I'm on my way to bed--worked all night helping Snap
with those damn Earth messages."

I went past him, out the door into the main interior corridor. It was
the only way the invisible prowler could have gone. But I was too late
now--I could hear nothing. I dashed forward into the main lounge. It
was empty, dim and silent, a silence broken presently by a faint
click--a stateroom door hastily closing. I swung and found myself in a
tiny transverse passage. The twin doors of A 22 and A 20 were before
me.

The invisible eavesdropper had gone into one of these rooms! I listened
at each of the panels, but there was only silence within.

The interior of the ship was suddenly singing with the steward's
siren--the call to awaken the passengers. It startled me. I moved
swiftly away. But as the siren shut off, in the silence I heard a soft,
musical voice:

"Wake up, Anita--I think that's the breakfast call."

And her answer: "All right, George. I hear it."


CHAPTER IV

_A Burn on a Martian Arm_

I did not appear at that morning meal. I was exhausted and drugged with
lack of sleep. I had a moment with Snap, to tell him what had occurred.
Then I sought out Carter. He had his little chart-room insulated. And we
were cautious. I told him what Snap and I had learned: the Gamma rays
from the moon, proving that Grantline had concentrated a considerable
ore-body. I also told him the message from Grantline.

"We'll stop on the way back, as he directs, Gregg." He bent closer to
me. "At Ferrok-Shahn I'm going to bring back a cordon of Interplanetary
Police. The secret will be out, of course, when once we stop at the
moon. We have no right, even now, to be flying this vessel as unguarded
as it is."

He was very solemn. And he was grim when I told him of the invisible
eavesdropper.

"You think he overheard Grantline's message?"

"I don't know," I said.

"Who was it? You seem to feel it was George Prince?"

"Yes."

I was convinced that the prowler had gone into A 20. When I mentioned
the purser, who seemed to have been watching me earlier in the night,
and again was sitting in the smoking room when the eavesdropper fled
past, Carter looked startled.

"Johnson is all right, Gregg."

"Is he? Does he know anything about this Grantline affair?"

"No--no," said the captain hastily. "You haven't mentioned it, have
you?"

"Of course I haven't. I've been wondering why Johnson didn't hear that
eavesdropper. I could hear him when I was chasing him. But Johnson sat
perfectly unmoved and let him go by. What was he sitting there for,
anyway, at that hour of the morning?"

"You're too suspicious, Gregg. Overwrought. But you're right--we can't
be too careful. I'm going to have that Prince suite searched when I
catch it unoccupied. Passengers don't ordinarily travel with invisible
cloaks. Go to bed, Gregg--you need a rest."

       *       *       *       *       *

I went to my cabin. It was located aft, on the stern deck-space, near
the stern watch-tower. A small metal room, with a desk, a chair and
bunk. I made sure no one was in it. I sealed the lattice grill and the
door, set the alarm trigger against any opening of them, and went to
bed.

The siren for the mid-day meal awakened me. I had slept heavily. I felt
refreshed. And hungry.

I found the passengers already assembled at my table when I arrived in
the dining salon. It was a low-vaulted metal room of blue and yellow
tube-lights. At the sides its oval windows showed the deck, with its
ports of the dome-side, through which a vista of the starry firmament
was visible. We were well on our course to Mars. The moon had dwindled
to a pin-point of light beside the crescent earth. And behind them our
sun blazed, visually the largest orb in the heavens. It was some
sixty-eight million miles from the earth to Mars, this voyage. A flight,
under ordinary circumstances, of some ten days.

There were five tables in the dining salon, each with eight seats. Snap
and I had one of the tables. We sat at the ends, with three passengers
on each of the sides.

Snap was in his seat when I arrived. He eyed me down the length of the
table.

"Good morning, Gregg. We missed you at breakfast. Not pressure-sick, I
hope?"

There were three passengers already seated at our table--all men. Snap,
in a gay mood, introduced me.

"This is our third officer, Gregg Haljan. Big, handsome fellow, isn't
he? And as pleasant as he is good-looking. Gregg, this is Sero Ob
Hahn."

       *       *       *       *       *

I met the keen, dark-eyed somber gaze of a Venus man of middle age. A
small, slim, graceful man, with sleek black hair. His pointed face,
accentuated by the pointed beard, was pallid. He wore a white and purple
robe; upon his breast was a huge platinum ornament, a device like a star
and cross entwined.

"I am happy to meet you, sir." His voice was soft and sleek.

"Ob Hahn," I repeated. "I should have heard of you, no doubt. But--"

A smile plucked at his thin, gray lips. "That is the error of mine, not
yours. My mission is that all the universe shall hear of me."

"He's preaching the religion of the Venus Mystics," Snap explained.

"And this enlightened gentleman," said Ob Hahn ironically, "has just
termed it fetishism. The ignorance--"

"Oh, I say!" protested the man at Ob Hahn's side. "I mean, you seem to
think I intended something opprobrious. As a matter of fact--"

"We've an argument, Gregg," laughed Snap. "This is Sir Arthur Coniston,
an English gentleman, lecturer and sky-trotter--that is, he will be a
sky-trotter; he tells us he plans a number of voyages."

The tall Englishman in his white linen suit bowed acknowledgment.
"My compliments, Mr. Haljan. I hope you have no strong religious
convictions, else we will make your table here very miserable!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The third passenger had evidently kept out of the argument. Snap
introduced him as Rance Rankin. An American--a quiet, blond fellow of
thirty-five or forty.

I ordered my breakfast and let the argument go on.

"Won't make me miserable," said Snap. "I love an argument. You said, Sir
Arthur?...

"I mean to say, I think I said too much. Mr. Rankin, you are more
diplomatic."

Rankin laughed. "I am a magician," he said to me. "A theatrical
entertainer. I deal in tricks--how to fool an audience--" His keen,
amused gaze was on Ob Hahn. "This gentleman from Venus and I have too
much in common to argue."

"A nasty one!" the Englishman exclaimed. "By Jove! Really, Mr. Rankin,
you're a bit too cruel!"

I could see we were doomed to have turbulent meals this voyage. I like
to eat in quiet; arguing passengers always annoy me. There were still
three seats vacant at our table; I wondered who would occupy them. I
soon learned the answer--for one seat at least. Rankin said calmly:

"Where is the little Venus girl this meal?" His glance went to the empty
seat at my right hand. "The Venza--wasn't that her name? She and I are
destined for the same theater in Ferrok-Shahn."

So Venza was to sit beside me. It was good news. Ten days of a religious
argument three times a day would be intolerable. But the cheerful Venza
would help.

"She never eats the mid-day meal," said Snap. "She's on the deck, having
orange juice. I guess it's the old gag about diet, eh?"

       *       *       *       *       *

My attention wandered about the salon. Most of the seats were occupied.
At the captain's table I saw the objects of my search. George Prince and
his sister sat one on each side of the captain. I saw George Prince in
the life now as a man who looked hardly twenty-five. He was at this
moment evidently in a gay mood. His clean-cut, handsome profile, with
its poetic dark curls, was turned toward me. There seemed little of the
villain about him.

And I saw Anita Prince now as a dark-haired, black eyed little beauty,
in feature resembling her brother very strongly. She presently finished
her meal. She rose, with him after her. She was dressed in Earth
fashion--white blouse and dark jacket, wide, knee-length trousers of
gray, with a red sash her only touch of color. She went past me, flashed
me her smile and nod.

My heart was pounding. I answered her greeting, and met George Prince's
casual gaze. He, too, smiled, as though to signify that his sister had
told him of the service I had done her. Or was his smile an ironical
memory of how he had eluded me this morning when I chased him?

I gazed after his small, white-suited figure as he followed Anita from
the salon. And thinking of her, I prayed that Carter and Halsey might be
wrong. Whatever plotting against the Grantline Expedition might be going
on, I hoped that George Prince was innocent of it. Yet I knew in my
heart it was a futile hope. Prince had been that eavesdropper outside
the helio-room. I could not really doubt it. But that his sister must be
ignorant of what he was doing, I was sure.

       *       *       *       *       *

My attention was brought suddenly back to the reality of our table. I
heard Ob Hahn's silky voice:

"We passed quite close to the moon last night, Mr. Dean."

"Yes," said Snap. "We did, didn't we? Always do--it's a technical
problem of the exigencies of interstellar navigation. Explain it to
them, Gregg--you're an expert."

I waved it away with a laugh. There was a brief silence. I could not
help noticing Sir Arthur Coniston's queer look, and I think I have never
seen so keen a glance as Rance Rankin shot at me. Were all these people
aware of Grantline's treasure on the moon? It suddenly seemed so. I
wished fervently at that instant that the ten days of this voyage were
over and we were safely at Ferrok-Shahn. Captain Carter was absolutely
right. Coming back we would have a cordon of interplanetary police
aboard.

Sir Arthur broke the awkward silence. "Magnificent sight, the moon, from
so close a viewpoint--though I was too much afraid of pressure-sickness
to be up to see it."

       *       *       *       *       *

I had nearly finished my hasty meal when another incident shocked me.
The two other passengers at our table came in and took their seats. A
Martian girl and man. The girl had the seat at my left, with the man
beside her. All Martians are tall. This girl was about my own
height--that is, six feet, two inches. The man was seven feet or more.
Both wore the Martian outer robe. The girl flung hers back. Her limbs
were encased in pseudo-mail. She looked, as all Martians like to look, a
very warlike Amazon. But she was a pretty girl. She smiled at me with a
keen-eyed, direct gaze.

"Mr. Dean said at breakfast that you were big and handsome. You are."

They were brother and sister, these Martians. Snap introduced them as
Set Miko and Setta Moa.[5]

This Miko was, from our Earth standards, a tremendous, brawny giant. Not
spindly, like most Martians, this fellow, for all his seven feet of
height, was almost heavy-set. He wore a plaited leather jerkin beneath
his robe, and knee pants of leather out of which his lower legs showed
as gray, hairy pillars of strength. He had come into the salon with a
swagger, his sword-ornament clanking.

"A pleasant voyage so far," he said to me as he started his meal. His
voice had the heavy, throaty rasp characteristic of the Martian. He
spoke perfect English--both Martians and Venus people are by heritage
extraordinary linguists. Miko and his sister Moa had a touch of Martian
accent, worn almost away by living for some years in Great-New York.

The shock to me came within a few minutes. Miko, absorbed in attacking
his meal, inadvertently pushed back his robe to bare his forearm. An
instant only, then it dropped again to his wrist. But in that instant I
had seen, upon the gray flesh, a thin sear turned red. A very recent
burn--as though a pencil-ray of heat had caught his arm.

My mind flung back. Only last night in the City Corridor, Snap and I had
been followed by a Martian. I had shot at him with the heat-ray; I
thought I had hit him on the arm. Was this the mysterious Martian who
had followed us from Halsey's office?


CHAPTER V

_Venza the Venus Girl_

It was shortly after that mid-day meal when I encountered Venza sitting
on the starlit deck. I had been in the bow observatory; taken my routine
castings of our position and worked them out. I was, I think, of the
Planetara's officers the most expert handler of the mathematical
mechanical calculators. The locating of our position and charting the
trajectory of our course was, under ordinary circumstances, about all I
had to do. And it took only a few minutes each twelve hours.

I had a moment with Carter in the isolation of his chart-room.

"This voyage! Gregg, I'm getting like you--too fanciful. We've a normal
group of passengers, apparently; but I don't like the look of any of
them. That Ob Hahn, at your table--"

"Snaky-looking fellow," I commented. "He and the Englishman are great on
arguments. Did you have Prince's cabin searched?"

My breath hung on his answer.

"Yes. Nothing unusual among his things. We searched both his room and
his sister's."

I did not follow that up. Instead I told him about the burn on Miko's
thick gray arm.

       *       *       *       *       *

He stared. "I wish to the Almighty we were at Ferrok-Shahn. Gregg,
to-night when the passengers are asleep, come here to me. Snap will be
here, and Dr. Frank. We can trust him."

"He knows about--about the Grantline treasure?"

"Yes. And so do Balch and Blackstone."

Balch and Blackstone were our first and second officers.

"We'll all meet here, Gregg--say about the zero hour. We must take some
precautions."

He suddenly felt he should say no more now. He dismissed me.

I found Venza seated alone in a secluded corner of the starlit deck. A
porthole, with the black heavens and the blazing stars, was before her.
There was an empty seat nearby.

"Hola-lo,[6] Gregg! Sit here with me. I have been wondering when you
would come after me."

I sat down beside her. "What are you doing--going to Mars, Venza? I'm
glad to see you."

"Many thanks. But I am glad to see you, Gregg. So handsome a man.... Do
you know, from Venus to the earth and I have no doubt on all of Mars, no
man will please me more."

"Glib tongue," I laughed. "Born to flatter the male--every girl of your
world." And I added seriously, "You don't answer my question? What
takes you to Mars?"

"Contract. By the stars, what else? Of course, a chance to make a voyage
with you--"

"Don't be silly, Venza."

       *       *       *       *       *

I enjoyed her. I gazed at her small, slim figure gracefully reclining in
the deck chair. Her long, gray robe parted--by design, I have no
doubt--to display her shapely, satin-sheathed legs. Her black hair was
coiled in a heavy knot at the back of her neck; her carmined lips were
parted with a mocking, alluring smile. The exotic perfume of her
enveloped me.

She glanced at me sidewise from beneath her sweeping black lashes.

"Be serious," I added.

"I am serious. Sober. Intoxicated by you, but sober."

I said, "What sort of a contract?"

"A theater in Ferrok-Shahn. Good money, Gregg. I'm to be there a year."
She sat up to face me. "There's a fellow here on the Planetara, Rance
Rankin, he calls himself. At our table--a big, good-looking blond
American. He says he is a magician. Ever hear of him?"

"That's what he told me. No, I never heard of him."

"Nor did I. And I thought I had heard of everyone of any importance. He
is listed for the same theater where I'm going. Nice sort of fellow."
She paused, and added suddenly, "If he's a professional entertainer, I'm
a motor-oiler."

       *       *       *       *       *

It startled me. "Why do you say that?"

Instinctively my gaze swept the deck. An Earth woman and child and a
small Venus man were in sight, but not within earshot.

"Why do you look so furtive?" she retorted. "Gregg, there's something
strange about this voyage. I'm no fool, nor you, and you know it as well
as I do."

"Rance Rankin--" I prompted.

She leaned closer toward me. "He could fool you. But not me--I've known
too many real magicians." She grinned. "I challenged him to trick me.
You should have seen him trying to evade!"

"Do you know Ob Hahn?" I interrupted.

She shook her head. "Never heard of him. But he told me plenty at
breakfast. By Satan, what a flow of words that devil-driver can muster!
He and the Englishman don't mesh very well, do they?"

She stared at me. I had not answered her grin; my mind was too busy with
queer fancies. Halsey's words: "Things are not always what they seem--"
Were these passengers masqueraders? Put here by George Prince? And then
I thought of Miko the Martian, and the burn upon his arm.

"Come back, Gregg! Don't go wandering off like that!" She dropped her
voice to a whisper. "I'll be serious. I want to know what in the hell is
going on aboard this ship. I'm a woman, and I'm curious. You tell me."

       *       *       *       *       *

"What do you mean?" I parried.

"I mean a lot of things. What we've just been talking about. And what
was the excitement you were in just before breakfast this morning?"

"Excitement?"

"Gregg, you may trust me." For the first time she was wholly serious.
Her gaze made sure no one was within hearing. She put her hand on my
arm. I could barely hear her whisper: "I know they might have a ray upon
us--I'll be careful."

"They?"

"Anyone. Something's going on. You know it--you are in it. I saw you
this morning, Gregg. Wild-eyed, chasing a phantom--"

"You?"

"And I heard the phantom! A man's footsteps. A magnetic reflecting
invisible cloak. You couldn't fool an audience with that--it's too
commonplace. If Rance Rankin tried--"

I gripped her. "Don't ramble, Venza! You saw me?"

"Yes. My stateroom door was open. I was sitting with a cigarillo. I saw
the purser in the smoking room. He was visible from--"

"Wait! Venza, that prowler went through the smoking room!"

"I know he did. I could hear him."

"Did the purser hear him?"

"Of course. The purser looked up, followed the sound with his gaze. I
thought that was queer. He never made a move. And then you came along
and he acted innocent. Why? What's going on, that's what I want to
know!"

       *       *       *       *       *

I held my breath. "Venza, where did the prowler run to? Can you--"

She whispered calmly, "Into A 20. I saw the door open and close--I even
think I could see the blurred outline of him. Those magnetic cloaks!"
She added, "Why should George Prince be sneaking around with you after
him? And the purser acting innocent? And who is this George Prince,
anyway?"

The huge Martian, Miko, with his sister Moa came strolling along the
deck. They nodded as they passed us.

I whispered, "I can't explain anything now. But you're right, Venza:
there is something going on. Listen! Whatever you learn--anything you
encounter which looks unusual--will you tell me? I--well, I do trust
you--really I do!--but the thing isn't mine to tell."

The somber pools of her eyes were shining. "You are very lovable, Gregg.
I won't question you." She was trembling with excitement. "Whatever it
is, I want to be in it. Here's something I can tell you now. We've two
high-class gold-leaf gamblers aboard. Did you know that?"

"No. Who are--"

"Shac and Dud Ardley. Let me state every detective in Great-New York
knows them. They had a wonderful game with that Englishman, Sir Arthur
Coniston, this morning. Stripped him of half a pound of eight-inch
leaves--a neat little stack. A crooked game, of course. Those fellows
are more nimble-fingered than Rance Rankin ever dared to be!"

       *       *       *       *       *

I sat staring at her. She was a mine of information, this girl.

"And Gregg, I tried my charms on Shac and Dud. Nice men, but dumb.
Whatever's going on, they're not in it. They wanted to know what kind of
a ship this was. Why? Because Shac has a cute little eavesdropping
microphone of his own. He had it working in the night last night. He
overheard George Prince and that big giant Miko arguing about the
moon!"

I gasped. "Venza, softer!"

Against all propriety of this public deck she pretended to drape herself
upon me. Her hair smothered my face as her lips almost touched my ear.

"Something about treasure on the moon--Shac couldn't understand what.
And they mentioned you. He didn't hear what they said because the purser
joined them." Her whispered words tumbled over one another. "A hundred
pounds of gold leaf--that's the purser's price. He's with them, whatever
it is. He promised to do something for them."

She stopped. "Well?" I prompted.

"That's all. Shac's current was interrupted."

"Tell him to try it again, Venza! I'll talk with him. No! I'd better let
him alone. Can you get him to keep his mouth shut?"

"I think he might do anything I told him. He's a man."

"Find out what you can."

She sat away from me suddenly. "There's Anita and George Prince."

       *       *       *       *       *

They came to the corner of the deck, but turned back. Venza caught my
look. And understood it.

"So you love Anita Prince so much as that, Gregg?" Venza was smiling. "I
wish you--I wish some man handsome as you would gaze after me like
that."

She turned solemn. "You may be interested to know that she loves you. I
could see it. I knew it when I mentioned you to her this morning."

"Me? Why, we've hardly spoken!"

"Is it necessary? I never heard that it was."

I could not see Venza's face; she stood up suddenly. And when I rose
beside her, she whispered,

"We should not be seen talking so long. I'll find out what I can."

I stared after her slight robed figure as she turned into the lounge
archway and vanished.


CHAPTER VI

_A Traitor, and a Passing Asteroid_

Captain Carter was grim. "So they've bought him off, have they? Go bring
him in here, Gregg. We'll have it out with him now."

Snap, Dr. Frank, Balch, our first officer, and I were in the captain's
chart-room. It was 4 P. M.--our Earth starting time. We were sixteen
hours upon our voyage.

I found Johnson in his office in the lounge. "Captain wants to see you.
Close up."

He closed his window upon an American woman passenger who was demanding
details of Martian currency, and followed me forward. "What is it,
Gregg?"

"I don't know."

Captain Carter banged the slide upon us. The chart-room was insulated.
The hum of the current was obvious. Johnson noticed it. He started at
the hostile faces of the surgeon and Balch. And he tried to bluster.

"What is this? Something wrong?"

Carter wasted no words. "We have information, Johnson--there's some
under cover plot here aboard. I want to know what it is. Suppose you
tell us frankly."

       *       *       *       *       *

The purser looked blank. "What do you mean? We've gamblers aboard, if
that's--"

"To hell with that," growled Balch. "You had a secret interview with
that Martian, Set Miko, and with George Prince!"

Johnson scowled from under his heavy brows, and then raised them in
surprise.

"Did I? You mean changing their money? I don't like your tone, Balch.
I'm not your under-officer!"

"But you're under me," roared the captain. "By God, I'm master here!"

"Well, I'm not disputing that," said the purser mildly. "This fellow
Balch--"

"We're in no mood for argument," Dr. Frank cut in. "Clouding the
issue."

"I won't let it be clouded," the captain exclaimed. I had never seen
Carter so choleric. He was evidently under a tremendous strain. He
added,

"Johnson, you've been acting suspiciously. I don't give a damn whether
I've proof of it or not--I say it. Did you, or did you not meet George
Prince and that Martian last night?"

"No, I did not. And I don't mind telling you, Captain Carter, that your
tone also is offensive!"

"Is it?" Carter suddenly seized him. They were both big men. Johnson's
heavy face went purplish red.

"Take your hands!--" They were struggling. Carter's hands were fumbling
at the purser's pockets. I leaped, flung an arm around Johnson's neck,
pinning him.

"Easy there! We've got you, Johnson!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Snap tried to help me. "Go on, bang him on the head, Gregg. Now's your
chance!"

We searched him. A heat-ray cylinder--that was legitimate. But we found
a small battery and eavesdropping microphone similar to the one Venza
had mentioned that Shac the gambler was carrying.

"What are you doing with that?" the captain demanded.

"None of your business! Is it criminal? Carter, I'll have the Line
officials dismiss you for this! Take your hands off me, all of you!"

"Look at this!" exclaimed Dr. Frank.

From Johnson's breast pocket the surgeon drew a folded document. It was
the scale drawing of the Planetara's interior corridors, the lower
control rooms and mechanisms. It was always kept in Johnson's safe. And
with it, another document: the ship's clearance papers--the secret code
pass-words for this voyage, to be used if we should be challenged by any
interplanetary police ship.

Snap gasped. "My God, that was in my helio-room strong box! I'm the only
one on this vessel except the captain who's entitled to know those
pass-words!"

Out of the silence, Balch demanded, "Well, what about it, Johnson?"

The purser was still defiant. "I won't answer your questions, Balch. At
the proper time, I'll explain--Gregg Haljan, you're choking me!"

       *       *       *       *       *

I eased up. But I shook him. "You'd better talk."

He was exasperatingly silent.

"Enough!" exploded Carter. "He can explain when we get to port.
Meanwhile I'll put him where he'll do no more damage. Gregg, lock him in
the cage."

We ignored his violent protestations. The cage--in the old days of
sea-vessels on Earth, they called it the brig--was the ship's jail. A
steel-lined, windowless room located under the deck in the peak of the
bow. I dragged the struggling Johnson there, with the amazed watcher
looking down from the observatory window at our lunging, starlit forms.

"Shut up, Johnson! If you know what's good for you--"

He was making a fearful commotion. Behind us, where the deck narrowed at
the superstructure, half a dozen passengers were gazing in surprise.

"I'll have you thrown out of the Service, Gregg Haljan!"

I shut him up finally. And flung him down the ladder into the cage and
sealed the deck trap-door upon him. I was headed back for the chart-room
when from the observatory came the lookout's voice.

"An asteroid, Haljan! Officer Blackstone wants you."

I hurried to the turret bridge. An asteroid was in sight. We had
attained nearly our maximum speed now. An asteroid was approaching, so
dangerously close that our trajectory would have to be altered. I heard
Blackstone's signals ringing in the control rooms; and met Carter as he
ran to the bridge with me.

"That scoundrel! We'll get more out of him, Gregg. By God, I'll put the
chemicals on him--torture him, illegal or not!"

       *       *       *       *       *

We had no time for further discussion. The asteroid was rapidly
approaching. Already, under the glass, it was a magnificent sight. I had
never seen this tiny world before--asteroids are not numerous between
the Earth and Mars, or in toward Venus. I never expected to see this one
again. How little of the future can we humans fathom, for all our
science! If I could only have looked into the future, even for a few
short hours! How different then would have been the outcome of this
tragic voyage!

The asteroid came rushing at us. Its orbital velocity, I later computed,
was some twenty-two miles a second. Our own, at the present maximum, was
a fraction over seventy-seven. The asteroid had for some time been under
observation by the lookout. He gave his warning only when it seemed that
our trajectory should be altered to avoid a dangerously close passing.

At the combined speeds of nearly a hundred miles a second the asteroid
swept into view. With the naked eye, at first it was a tiny speck of
star-dust, unnoticed in the gem-strewn black velvet of Space. A speck.
Then a gleaming dot, silver white, with the light of our Sun upon it.

Five minutes. The dot grew to a disc. Expanding. A full moon,
silver-white. Brightest world in the firmament--the light from it bathed
the Planetara, illumined the deck, painting everything with silver.

I stood with Carter and Blackstone on the turret bridge. It was obvious
that unless we altered our course, the asteroid would pass too close for
safety. Already we were feeling its attraction; from the control rooms
came the report that our trajectory was disturbed by this new mass so
near.

"Better make your calculations now, Gregg," Blackstone suggested.

       *       *       *       *       *

I cast up the rough elements from the observational instruments in the
turret. It took me some ten or fifteen minutes. When I had us upon our
new course, with the attractive and repulsive plates in the Planetara's
hull set in their altered combinations, I went out to the bridge again.

The asteroid hung over our bow quarter. No more than twenty or thirty
thousand miles away. A giant ball now, filling all that quadrant of the
heavens. The configurations of its mountains--its land and water
areas--were plainly visible. Its axial rotation was apparent.

"Perfectly habitable," Blackstone said. "But I've searched all over this
hemisphere with the glass. No sign of human life--certainly nothing
civilized--nothing in the fashion of cities."

A fair little world, by the look of it. A tiny globe: Blackstone had
figured it at some eight hundred miles in diameter. There seemed a
normal atmosphere. We could see areas where the surface was obscured by
clouds. And oceans, and land masses. Polar icecaps. Lush vegetation at
its equator.

Blackstone had roughly cast its orbital elements. A narrow ellipse. No
wonder we had never encountered this fair little world before. It had
come from the outer region beyond Neptune. At perihelion it would reach
inside Mercury, round the Sun, and head outward again.

       *       *       *       *       *

We swept past the asteroid at a distance of some six thousand miles.
Close enough, in very truth--a minute of flight at our combined speeds
totaling a hundred miles a second. I had descended to the passenger
deck, where I stood alone at a window, gazing.

The passengers were all gathered to view the passing little world. I
saw, not far from me, Anita, standing with her brother; and the giant
figure of Miko with them.

Half an hour since, first with the naked eye, this wandering little
world had shown itself; it swam slowly past, began to dwindle behind us.
A huge half moon. A thinner, smaller quadrant. A tiny crescent, like a
silver bar-pin to adorn some lady's breast. And then it was a dot, a
point of light indistinguishable among the myriad others hovering in
this great black void.

The incident of the passing of the asteroid was over. I turned from the
deck window. My heart leaped. The moment for which all day I had been
subconsciously longing was at hand. Anita was sitting in a deck chair,
momentarily alone. Her gaze was on me as I looked her way, and she
smiled an invitation for me to join her.


CHAPTER VII

_Unspoken Love_

Unspoken love! I think if I had yielded to the impulse of my heart, I
would have poured out all those protestations of a lover's ecstasy,
incongruous here upon this starlit public deck, to a girl I hardly knew.
I think, too, she might have received them with a tender acquiescence.
The starlight was mirrored in her dark eyes. Misty eyes, with great
reaches of unfathomable space in their depths. Yet I felt their
tenderness.

Unfathomable strangeness of love! Who am I to write of it, with all the
poets of all the ages striving to express the unexpressible? A bond,
strangely fashioned by nature, between me and this little dark-haired
Earth beauty. As though marked by the stars we were destined to be
lovers....

Thus ran the romance of my unspoken thoughts. But I was sitting quietly
in the deck chair, striving to regard her gentle beauty impersonally.
And saying:

"But Miss Prince, why are you and your brother going to Ferrok-Shahn?
His business--"

Even as I voiced it, I hated myself for such a question. So nimble is
the human mind that mingled with my rhapsodies of love was my need for
information of George Prince....

"Oh," she said, "this is pleasure, not business, for George." It seemed
to me that a shadow crossed her expressive face. But it was gone in an
instant, and she smiled. "We have always wanted to travel. We are alone
in the world, you know--our parents died when we were children."

       *       *       *       *       *

I filled in her pause. "You will like Mars--so many interesting things
to see."

She nodded. "Yes, I understand so. Our Earth is so much the same all
over, cast all in one mould."

"But a hundred or two hundred years ago it was not, Miss Prince. I have
read how the picturesque Orient, differing from--well, Great-New York,
or London, for instance--"

"Transportation did that," she interrupted eagerly. "Made everything the
same--the people all look alike--dress alike."

We discussed it. She had an alert, eager mind, childlike with its
curiosity, yet strangely matured. And her manner was naïvely earnest.
Yet this was no clinging vine, this little Anita Prince. There was a
firmness, a hint of masculine strength in her chin, and in her manner.

"If I were a man, what wonders I could achieve in this marvelous age!"
Her sense of humor made her laugh at herself. "Easy for a girl to say
that," she added.

"You have greater wonders to achieve, Miss Prince," I said impulsively.

"Yes? What are they?" She had a very frank and level gaze, devoid of
coquetry.

My heart was pounding. "The wonders of the next generation. A little
son, cast in your own gentle image--"

What madness, this clumsy brash talk! I choked it off.

       *       *       *       *       *

But she took no offense. The dark rose-petals of her cheeks were mantled
deeper red, but she laughed.

"That is true." She turned abruptly serious. "I should not laugh. The
wonders of the next generation--conquering humans marching on...." Her
voice trailed away. My hand went to her arm. Strange tingling something
which poets call love! It burned and surged from my trembling fingers
into the flesh of her forearm.

The starlight glowed in her eyes. She seemed to be gazing, not at the
silver-lit deck, but away into distant reaches of the future. And she
murmured:

"A little son, cast in my own gentle image. But with the strength of his
father...."

Our moment. Just a breathless moment given us as we sat there with my
hand burning her arm, as though we both might be seeing ourselves joined
in a new individual--a little son, cast in his mother's gentle image and
with the strength of his father. Our moment, and then it was over. A
step sounded. I sat back. The giant gray figure of Miko came past, his
great cloak swaying, with his clanking sword-ornament beneath it. His
bullet head, with its close-clipped hair, was hatless. He gazed at us,
swaggered past, and turned the deck corner.

Our moment was gone. Anita said conventionally, "It has been pleasant to
talk with you, Mr. Haljan."

"But we'll have many more," I said. "Ten days--"

"You think we'll reach Ferrok-Shahn on schedule?"

"Yes. I think so.... As I was saying, Miss Prince, you'll enjoy Mars. A
strange, aggressively forward-looking people."

       *       *       *       *       *

An oppression seemed on her. She stirred in her chair.

"Yes, they are," she said vaguely. "My brother and I know many Martians
in Great-New York." She checked herself abruptly. Was she sorry she had
said that? It seemed so.

Miko was coming back. He stopped this time before us.

"Your brother would see you, Anita. He sent me to bring you to his
room."

The glance he shot me had a touch of insolence. I stood up, and he
towered a head over me.

Anita said, "Oh yes. I'll come."

I bowed. "I will see you again, Miss Prince. I thank you for a pleasant
half-hour."

The Martian led her away. Her little figure was like a child with a
giant. It seemed, as they passed the length of the deck with me staring
after them, that he took her arm roughly. And that she shrank from him
in fear.

And they did not go inside. As though to show me that he had merely
taken her from me, he stopped at a distant deck window and stood talking
to her. Once he picked her up as one would pick up a child to show it
some distant object through the window.

"A little son with the strength of his father...." Her words echoed in
my mind. Was Anita afraid of this Martian's wooing? Yet held to him by
some power he might have over her brother? The vagrant thought struck
me.

Was it that?


CHAPTER VIII

_A Scream in the Night_

We kept, on the Planetara, always the time and routine of our port of
departure. The rest of that afternoon and evening were a blank of
confusion to me. Anita's words; the touch of my hand upon her arm; that
vast realm of what might be for us, like a glimpse of a magic land of
happiness which I had seen in her eyes, and perhaps she had seen in
mine--all this surged within me.

I wandered about the vessel. I was not hungry. I did not go to the
dining salon for dinner. I carried Johnson food and water to his cage;
and sat, with my heat-cylinder upon him, listening to his threats of
what would happen when he could complain to the Line's higher
officials.

But what was Johnson doing carrying a plan of the ship's control rooms
in his pockets? And worse: How had he dared open Snap's box in the
helio-room and abstract the code pass-words for this voyage? Without
them we would be an outlawed vessel, subject to arrest if any patrol
hailed us. Had Johnson been planning to sell those pass-words to Miko? I
thought so. I tried to get the confession out of him, but could not.

I had a brief consultation with Captain Carter. He was genuinely
apprehensive now. The Planetara carried no long-range guns, and very few
side-arms. A half-dozen of the heat-ray hand projectors; a few
old-fashioned weapons of explosion-rifles and automatic revolvers. And
hand projectors with the new Benson curve-light. We had models of this
for curved vision, so that one might see around a corner, so to speak.
And with them, we could project the heat-ray in a curve as well.

       *       *       *       *       *

The weapons were all in Carter's chart-room, save the few we officers
always carried. Carter was apprehensive, but of what he could not say.
He had not thought that our plan to stop at the Moon for treasure could
affect this outward voyage. Any danger would be upon the way back, when
the Planetara would be adequately guarded with long-range electronic
guns, and manned with police-soldiers.

But now we were practically defenseless....

I had a moment with Venza, but she had nothing new to communicate to
me.

And for half an hour I chatted with George Prince. He seemed a gay,
pleasant young man. I could almost have fancied I liked him. Or was it
because he was Anita's brother? He told me how he looked forward to
traveling with her on Mars. No, he had never been there before, he
said.

He had a measure of Anita's earnest naïve personality. Or was he a very
clever scoundrel, with irony lurking in his soft voice, and a chuckle
that he could so befool me?

"We'll talk again, Haljan. You interest me--I've enjoyed it."

He sauntered away from me, joining the saturnine Ob Hahn, with whom
presently I heard him discussing religion.

The arrest of Johnson had caused considerable comment among the
passengers. A few had seen me drag him forward to the cage. The incident
had been the subject of passenger discussion all afternoon. Captain
Carter had posted a notice to the effect that Johnson's accounts had
been found in serious error, and that Dr. Frank for this voyage would
act in his stead.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was near midnight when Snap and I closed and sealed the helio-room
and started for the chart-room, where we were to meet with Captain
Carter and the other officers. The passengers had nearly all retired. A
game was in progress in the smoking room, but the deck was almost
deserted.

Snap and I were passing along one of the interior corridors. The
stateroom doors, with the illumined names of the passengers, were all
closed. The metal grid of the floor echoed our footsteps. Snap was in
advance of me. His body suddenly rose in the air. He went like a balloon
to the ceiling, struck it gently, and all in a heap came floating down
and landed on the floor!

"What in the infernal!--"

He was laughing as he picked himself up. But it was a brief laugh. We
knew what had happened: the artificial gravity-controls in the base of
the ship, which by magnetic force gave us normality aboard, were being
tampered with! For just this instant, this particular small section of
this corridor had been cut off. The slight bulk of the Planetara,
floating in space, had no appreciable gravity pull on Snap's body, and
the impulse of his step as he came to the unmagnetized area of the
corridor had thrown him to the ceiling. The area was normal now. Snap
and I tested it gingerly.

He gripped me. "That never went wrong by accident, Gregg! Someone down
there--"

       *       *       *       *       *

We rushed to the nearest descending ladder. In the deserted lower room
the bank of dials stood neglected. A score of dials and switches were
here, governing the magnetism of different areas of the ship. There
should have been a night operator, but he was gone.

Then we saw him lying nearby, sprawled face down on the floor! In the
silence and dim lurid glow of the fluorescent tubes, we stood holding
our breaths, peering and listening. No one here.

The guard was not dead. He lay unconscious from a blow on the head. A
brawny fellow. We had him revived in a few moments. A broadcast flash of
the call-buzz brought Dr. Frank in haste from the chart-room.

"What's the matter?"

We pointed at the unconscious man. "Someone was here," I said hastily.
"Experimenting with the magnetic switches. Evidently unfamiliar with
them--pulling one or another to test their workings and so see the
reactions on the dials."

We told him what had happened to Snap in the upper corridor.

Dr. Frank revived the guard in a moment. He was no worse off for the
episode, save a lump on his head, and a nasty headache.

But he had little to tell us. He had heard a step. Saw nothing--and
then had been struck on the head, by some invisible assailant.

       *       *       *       *       *

We left him nursing his head, sitting belligerent at his post. Armed now
with my heat-ray cylinder which I loaned him.

"Strange doings this voyage," he told us. "All the crew knows it--all
been talkin' about it. I stick it out now, but when we get back home I'm
done with this star travelin'. I belong on the sea anyway. A good old
freighter is all right for me."

We hurried back to the upper level. We would indeed have to plan
something at this chart-room conference. This was the first tangible
attack our adversaries had made.

We were on the passenger deck headed for the chart-room when all three
of us stopped short, frozen with horror. Through the silent passenger
quarters a scream rang out! A girl's shuddering, gasping scream. Terror
in it. Horror. Or a scream of agony. In the silence of the dully
vibrating ship it was utterly horrible. It lasted an instant--a single
long scream; then was abruptly stilled.

And with blood pounding my temples and rushing like ice through my
veins, I recognized it.

Anita!


CHAPTER IX

_The Murder in A 22_

"Good God, what was that?" Dr. Frank's face had gone white in the
starlight. Snap stood like a statue of horror.

The deck here was patched as always, silver radiance from the deck
ports. The empty deck chairs stood about. The scream was stilled, but
now we heard a commotion inside--the rasp of opening cabin doors;
questions from frightened passengers; the scurry of feet.

I found my voice. "Anita! Anita Prince!"

"Come on!" shouted Snap. "Was it the Prince girl? I thought so too! In
her stateroom, A 22!" He was dashing for the lounge archway.

Dr. Frank and I followed. I realized that we passed the deck door and
window of A 22. But they were dark, and evidently sealed on the inside.
The dim lounge was in a turmoil; passengers standing at their cabin
doors. I heard Sir Arthur Coniston:

"I say, what was that?"

"Over there," said another man. "Come back inside, Martha." He shoved
his wife back. "Mr. Haljan!" He plucked at me as I went past.

I shouted, "Go back to your rooms! We want order here--keep back!"

We came to the twin doors of A 22 and A 20. Both were closed. Dr. Frank
was in advance of Snap and me. He paused at the sound of Captain
Carter's voice behind us.

"Was it from in there? Wait a moment!"

Carter dashed up; he had a large heat-ray projector in his hand. He
shoved us aside. "Let me in first. Is the door sealed? Gregg, keep those
passengers back!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The door was not sealed. Carter burst into the room. I heard him gasp,
"Good God!"

Snap and I shoved back three or four crowding passengers, and in that
instant Dr. Frank had been in the room and out again.

"There's been an accident! Get back, Gregg! Snap, help him keep the
crowd away." He shoved me forcibly.

From within, Carter was shouting, "Keep them out! Where are you, Frank?
Come back here! Send a flash for Balch--I want Balch!"

Dr. Frank went back into the room and banged the cabin door upon Snap
and me. I was unarmed--I had loaned my cylinder to the guard in the
lower corridor. Weapon in hand, Snap forced the panic-stricken
passengers back to their rooms.

"It's all right! An accident! Miss Prince is hurt."

Snap reassured them glibly; but he knew no more about it than I. Moa,
with a night-robe drawn tight around her thin, tall figure, edged up to
me.

"What has happened, Set Haljan?"

I gazed around for her brother Miko, but did not see him.

"An accident," I said shortly. "Go back to your room. Captain's
orders."

She eyed me and then retreated. Snap was threatening everybody with his
cylinder. Balch dashed up. "What in the hell? Where's Carter?"

"In there." I pounded on A 22. It opened cautiously. I could see only
Carter, but I heard the murmuring voice of Dr. Frank through the
interior connecting door to A 20.

       *       *       *       *       *

The captain rasped, "Get out, Haljan! Oh, is that you, Balch? Come in."
He admitted the older officer and slammed the door again upon me. And
immediately reopened it.

"Gregg, keep the passengers quiet. Tell them everything's all right.
Miss Prince got frightened, that's all. Then go up to the turret. Tell
Blackstone what's happened."

"But I don't know what's happened," I protested miserably.

Carter was grim and white. He whispered, "I think it may turn out to be
murder, Gregg! No, not dead yet--Dr. Frank is trying--Don't stand there
like an ass, man! Get to the turret! Verify our trajectory--no--wait--"

The captain was almost incoherent. "Wait a minute, I don't mean that!
Tell Snap to watch his helio-room. Gregg, you and Blackstone stay in the
chart-room. Arm yourselves and guard our weapons. By God, this murderer,
whoever he is--"

I stammered, "If--if she dies--will you flash us word?"

He stared at me strangely. "I'll be there presently, Gregg."

He slammed the door upon me.

I followed his orders, but it was like a dream of horror. The turmoil of
the ship gradually quieted. Snap went to the helio-room; Blackstone and
I sat in the tiny steel chart-room. How much time passed, I do not
know. I was confused. Anita hurt! She might die.... Murdered.... But
why? By whom? Had George Prince been in his own room when the attack
came? I thought now I recalled hearing the low murmur of his voice in
there with Dr. Frank and Carter.

Where was Miko? It stabbed at me. I had not seen him among the
passengers in the lounge.

       *       *       *       *       *

Carter came into the chart-room. "Gregg, you get to bed--you look like a
ghost!"

"But--"

"She's not dead--she may live. Dr. Frank and her brother are with her.
They're doing all they can." He told us what had happened. Anita and
George Prince had both been asleep, each in their respective rooms.
Someone unknown had opened Anita's corridor door.

"Wasn't it sealed?" I demanded.

"Yes. But the intruder opened it."

"Burst it? I didn't think it was broken."

"It wasn't broken. The assailant opened it somehow, and assaulted Miss
Prince--shot her in the chest with a heat-ray. Her left lung."

"She is conscious?" Balch demanded.

"Yes. But she did not see who did it. Nor did Prince. Her scream
awakened him, but the intruder evidently fled out the corridor door of
A 22, the way he entered."

I stood weak and shaken at the chart-room entrance. "A little son, cast
in the gentle image of his mother. But with the strength of his
father...." But Anita--dying, perhaps; and all my dreams were fading
into a memory of what might have been.

"You go to bed, Gregg--we don't need you."

I was glad enough to get away. I would lie down for an hour, and then go
to Anita's stateroom. I'd demand that Dr. Frank let me see her, if only
for a moment.

       *       *       *       *       *

I went to the stern deck-space where my cubby was located. My mind was
confused, but some instinct within me made me verify the seals of my
door and window. They were intact. I entered cautiously, switched on the
dimmer of the tube-lights, and searched the room. It had only a bunk, my
tiny desk, a chair and clothes robe.

There was no evidence of any intruder here. I set my door and window
alarm. Then I audiphoned to the helio-room.

"Snap?"

"Yes."

I told him about Anita. Carter cut in on us from the chart-room. "Stop
that, you fools!"

We cut off. Fully dressed, I flung myself on my bed. Anita might
die....

I must have fallen into a tortured sleep. I was awakened by the sound of
my alarm buzzer. Someone was tampering with my door! Then the buzzer
ceased; the marauder outside must have found a way of silencing it. But
it had done its work--awakened me.

I had switched off the light; my cubby was Stygian dark. A heat-cylinder
was in the bunk-bracket over my head; I searched for it, pried it loose
softly.

I was fully awake. Alert. I could hear a faint sizzling--someone outside
trying to unseal the door. In the darkness, cylinder in hand, I crept
from the bunk. Crouched at the door. This time I would capture or kill
this night prowler.

       *       *       *       *       *

The sizzling was faintly audible. My door-seal was breaking. Upon
impulse I reached for the door, jerked it open.

No one there! The starlit segment of deck was empty. But I had leaped,
and I struck a solid body, crouching in the doorway. A giant man. Miko!

His electronized metallic robe burned my hands. I lunged against him--I
was almost as surprised as he. I shot, but the stab of heat evidently
missed him.

The shock of my encounter close-circuited his robe; he materialized in
the starlight. A brief, savage encounter. He struck the weapon from my
hand. He had dropped his hydrogen torch, and tried to grip me. But I
twisted away from his hold.

"So it's you!"

"Be quiet, Gregg Haljan! I only want to talk."

Without warning, a stab of radiance shot from a weapon in his hand. It
caught me. Ran like ice through my veins. Seized and numbed my limbs.

I fell helpless to the deck. Nerves and muscles paralyzed. My tongue was
thick and inert. I could not speak, nor move. But I could see Miko
bending over me. And hear him:

"I don't want to kill you, Haljan. We need you."

He gathered me up like a bundle in his huge arms; carried me swiftly
across the deserted deck.

Snap's helio-room in the network under the dome was diagonally overhead.
A white actinic light shot from it--caught us, bathed us. Snap had been
awake; had heard the slight commotion of our encounter.

His voice rang shrilly: "Stop! I'll shoot!" His warning siren rang out
to arouse the ship. His spotlight clung to us.

Miko ran with me a few steps. Then he cursed and dropped me, fled away.
I fell like a sack of carbide to the deck. My senses faded into
blackness....

       *       *       *       *       *

"He's all right now."

I was in the chart-room, with Captain Carter, Snap and Dr. Frank bending
over me. The surgeon said,

"Can you speak now, Gregg?"

I tried it. My tongue was thick, but it would move. "Yes."

I was soon revived. I sat up, with Dr. Frank vigorously rubbing me.

"I'm all right." I told them what had happened.

Captain Carter said abruptly, "Yes, we know that. And it was Miko also
who killed Anita Prince. She told us before she died."

"Died!..." I leaped to my feet. "She ... died...."

"Yes, Gregg. An hour ago, Miko got into her stateroom and tried to force
his love on her. She repulsed him--he killed her."

It struck me blank. And then with a rush came the thought, "He says Miko
killed her...."

I heard myself stammering, "Why--why we must get him!" I gathered my
wits; a surge of hate swept me; a wild desire for vengeance.

"Why, by God, where is he? Why don't you go get him? I'll get him--I'll
kill him, I tell you!"

"Easy, Gregg!" Dr. Frank gripped me.

The captain said gently, "We know how you feel, Gregg. She told us
before she died."

"I'll bring him in here to you! But I'll kill him, I tell you!"

"No you won't, lad. You're hysterical now. We don't want him killed, not
attacked even. Not yet. We'll explain later."

They sat me down, calming me.

Anita dead. The door of the shining garden was closed. A brief glimpse,
given to me and to her of what might have been. And now she was
dead....


CHAPTER X

_A Speck of Human Earth-dust, Falling Free...._

I had not been able at first to understand why Captain Carter wanted
Miko left at liberty. Within me there was that cry of vengeance, as
though to strike Miko down would somehow lessen my own grief at
Anita's loss. Whatever Carter's purpose, Snap had not known it. But
Balch and Dr. Frank were in the captain's confidence--all three of
them working on some plan of action. Snap and I argued it, and thought
we could fathom it; and in spite of my desire to kill Miko, the thing
looked reasonable.

It was obvious that at least two of our passengers were plotting with
Miko and George Prince; trying during this voyage to learn what they
could about Grantline's activities on the Moon; scheming doubtless to
seize the treasure when the Planetara stopped at the Moon on the return
voyage. I thought I could name those masquerading passengers. Ob Hahn,
supposedly a Venus Mystic. And Rance Rankin, who called himself an
American magician. Those two, Snap and I agreed, seemed most suspicious.
And there was the purser.

With my hysteria still on me, I sat for a time on the deck outside the
chart-room with Snap. Then Carter summoned us back, and we sat listening
while he, Balch and Dr. Frank went on with their conference. Listening
to them I could not but agree that our best plan was to secure evidence
which would incriminate all who were concerned in the plot. Miko, we
were convinced, had been the Martian who followed Snap and me from
Halsey's office in Great-New York. George Prince had doubtless been the
invisible eavesdropper outside the helio-room. He knew, and had told the
others, that Grantline had found radium-ore on the Moon--that the
Planetara would stop there on the way home.

       *       *       *       *       *

But we could not incarcerate George Prince for being an eavesdropper.
Nor had we the faintest tangible evidence against Ob Hahn or Rance
Rankin. And even the purser would probably be released by the
Interplanetary Court of Ferrok-Shahn when it heard our evidence.

There was only Miko. We could arrest him for the murder of Anita. But
the others would be put on their guard. It was Carter's idea to let Miko
remain at liberty for a time and see if we could not identify and
incriminate his fellows. The murder of Anita obviously had nothing to do
with any plot against the Grantline Moon treasure.

"Why," exclaimed Balch, "there might be--probably are--huge Martian
interests concerned in this thing. These men here aboard are only
emissaries, making this voyage to learn what they can. When they get to
Ferrok-Shahn they'll make their report, and then we'll have a real
danger on our hands. Why, an outlaw ship could be launched from
Ferrok-Shahn that would beat us back to the Moon--and Grantline is
entirely without warning of any danger!"

It seemed obvious. Unscrupulous, moneyed criminals in Ferrok-Shahn would
be dangerous indeed, once these details of Grantline were given them.
And so now it was decided that in the remaining nine days of our outward
voyage, we would attempt to secure enough evidence to arrest all these
plotters.

"I'll have them all in the cage when we land," Carter declared grimly.
"They'll make no report to their principals. The thing will end, be
stamped out!"

Ah, the futile plans of men!

       *       *       *       *       *

Yet we thought it practical. We were all doubly armed now. Explosive
bullet-projectors and the heat-ray cylinders. And we had several
eavesdropping microphones which we planned to use whenever occasion
offered.

It was now, Earth Eastern Time, A. M. Twenty-eight hours only of this
eventful voyage were passed. The Planetara was some six million miles
from the Earth; it blazed behind us, a tremendous giant.

The body of Anita was being made ready for burial. George Prince was
still in his stateroom. Glutz, effeminate little hairdresser, who waxed
rich acting as beauty doctor for the women passengers, and who in his
youth had been an undertaker, had gone with Dr. Frank to prepare the
body.

Gruesome details. I tried not to think of them. I sat, numbed, in the
chart-room.

An astronomical burial--there was little precedent for it. I dragged
myself to the stern deck-space where, at five A. M., the ceremony took
place. Most of the passengers were asleep, unaware of all this--which
was why Carter hastened it.

We were a solemn little group, gathered there in the checkered starlight
with the great vault of the heavens around us. A dismantled electronic
projector--necessary when a long-range gun was mounted--had been rigged
up in one of the deck ports.

They brought out the body. I stood apart, gazing reluctantly at the
small bundle, wrapped like a mummy in a dark metallic screen-cloth. A
patch of black silk rested over her face.

       *       *       *       *       *

Four cabin stewards carried her. And beside her walked George Prince. A
long black robe covered him, but his head was bare. And suddenly he
reminded me of the ancient play-character of Hamlet. His black, wavy
hair; his finely chiseled, pallid face, set now in a stern, patrician
cast. And staring, I realized that however much of a villain this man
not yet thirty might be, at this instant, walking beside the body of his
dead sister, he was stricken with grief. He loved that sister with whom
he had lived since childhood; and to see him now, with his set white
face, no one could doubt it.

The little procession stopped in a patch of starlight by the port. They
rested the body on a bank of chairs. The black-robed Chaplain, roused
from his bed and still trembling from excitement of this sudden,
inexplicable death on board, said a brief, solemn little prayer. An
appeal: That the Almighty Ruler of all these blazing worlds might guard
the soul of this gentle girl whose mortal remains were now to be
returned to Him.

Ah, if ever God seemed hovering close, it was now at this instant, on
this starlit deck floating in the black void of space.

Then Carter for just a moment removed the black shroud from her face. I
saw her brother gaze silently; saw him stoop and implant a kiss--and
turn away. I did not want to look, but I found myself moving slowly
forward.

       *       *       *       *       *

She lay, so beautiful. Her face, white and calm and peaceful in death.
My sight blurred. Words seemed to echo: "A little son, cast in the
gentle image of his mother...."

"Easy, Gregg!" Snap was whispering to me. He had his arm around me.
"Come on away!"

They tied the shroud over her face. I did not see them as they put her
body in the tube, sent it through the exhaust-chamber, and dropped it.

But a moment later I saw it--a small black oblong bundle--hovering
beside us. It was perhaps a hundred feet away, circling us. Held by the
Planetara's bulk, it had momentarily become our satellite. It swung
around us like a moon. Gruesome satellite, by nature's laws forever to
follow us.

Then from another tube at the bow, Blackstone operated a small
Zed-co-ray projector. Its dull light caught the floating bundle,
neutralizing its metallic wrappings.

It swung off at a tangent. Speeding. Falling free in the dome of the
heavens. A rotating black oblong. But in a moment distance dwindled it
to a speck. A dull silver dot with the sunlight on it. A speck of human
Earth-dust, falling free....

It vanished. Anita--gone. In my heart was an echo of the prayer that the
Almighty might watch over her and guard her always....


CHAPTER XI

_The Electrical Eavesdropper_

I turned from the deck. Miko was near me! So he had dared to show
himself here among us! But I realized that he could not be aware we knew
he was the murderer. George Prince had been asleep, had not seen Miko
with Anita. Miko, with impulsive rage, had shot the girl and escaped. No
doubt now he was cursing himself for having done it. And he could very
well assume that Anita had died without regaining consciousness to tell
who had killed her.

He gazed at me now, here on the deck. I thought for an instant he was
coming over to talk to me. Though he probably considered he was not
suspected of the murder of Anita, he realized, of course, that his
attack on me was known; he must have wondered what action Captain Carter
would take.

But he did not approach me; he moved away, and went inside. Moa had been
near him; and as though by pre-arrangement with him she now accosted
me.

"I want to speak to you, Set Haljan."

"Go ahead."

I felt an instinctive aversion for this Martian girl. Yet she was not
unattractive. Over six feet tall, straight and slim. Sleek blond hair.
Rather a handsome face. Not gray, like the burly Miko, but pink and
white. Stern-lipped, yet feminine, too. She was smiling gravely now. Her
blue eyes regarded me keenly. She said gently:

"A sad occurrence, Gregg Haljan. And mysterious. I would not question
you--"

"Is that all you have to say?" I demanded, when she paused.

"No. You are a handsome man, Gregg--attractive to women--to any Martian
woman."

       *       *       *       *       *

She said it impulsively. Admiration for me was on her face, in her
eyes--a man cannot miss it.

"Thank you."

"I mean, I would be your friend. My brother Miko is so sorry about what
happened between you and him this morning. He only wanted to talk to
you, and he came to your cubby door--"

"With a torch to break its seal," I interjected.

She waved that away. "He was afraid you would not admit him. He told you
he would not hurt you."

"And so he struck me with one of your cursed Martian paralyzing rays!"

"He is sorry...."

She seemed gauging me, trying, no doubt, to find out what reprisal would
be taken against her brother. I felt sure that Moa was as active as a
man in any plan that was under way to capture the Grantline treasure.
Miko, with his ungovernable temper, was doing things that put their
plans in jeopardy.

I demanded abruptly, "What did your brother want to talk to me about?"

"Me," she said surprisingly. "I sent him. A Martian girl goes after what
she wants. Did you know that?"

She swung on her heel and left me. I puzzled over it. Was that why Miko
had struck me down, and was carrying me off? Was my accursed masculine
beauty so attractive to this Martian girl? I did not think so. I could
not believe that all these incidents were so unrelated to what I knew
was the main undercurrent. They wanted me, had tried to capture me. For
something else than because Moa liked my looks....

       *       *       *       *       *

Dr. Frank found me mooning alone.

"Go to bed, Gregg! You look awful."

"I don't want to go to bed."

"Where's Snap?"

"I don't know. He was here a while ago." I had not seen him since the
burial of Anita.

"The captain wants him." The surgeon left me.

Within an hour the morning siren would arouse the passengers. I was
seated in a secluded corner of the deck, when George Prince came along.
He went past me, a slight, somber, dark-robed figure. He had on high,
thick boots. A hood was over his head, but as he saw me he pushed it
back and dropped down beside me.

But for a moment he did not speak. His face showed pallid in the pallid
star-gleams.

"She said you loved her." His soft voice was throaty with emotion.

"Yes." I said it almost against my will. There seemed a bond springing
between this bereaved brother and me. He added, so softly I could
barely hear him, "That makes you, I think, almost my friend. And you
thought you were my enemy."

I held my answer. An incautious tongue running under emotion is a
dangerous thing. And I was sure of nothing.

       *       *       *       *       *

He went on, "Almost my friend. Because--we both loved her, and she loved
us both." He was hardly more than whispering. "And there is aboard--one
whom we both hate."

"Miko!" It burst from me.

"Yes. But do not say it."

Another silence fell between us. He brushed back the black curls from
his forehead. And his dark eyes searched mine.

"Have you an eavesdropping microphone, Haljan?"

I hesitated. "Yes."

"I was thinking...." He leaned closer toward me. "If, in half an hour,
you could use it upon Miko's cabin--I would rather tell you than the
captain or anyone else. The cabin will be insulated, but I shall find a
way of cutting off that insulation so that you may hear."

So George Prince had turned with us! The shock of his sister's
death--himself allied to her murderer!--had been too much for him. He
was with us!

Yet his help must be given secretly. Miko would kill him in an instant
if it became known.

He had been watchful of the deck. He stood up now.

"I think that is all."

As he turned away, I murmured, "But I do thank you...."

       *       *       *       *       *

The name Set Miko glowed upon the small metal door. It was in a
transverse corridor similar to A 22. The corridor was forward of the
lounge: it opened off the small circular library.

The library was unoccupied and unlighted, dim with only the reflected
lights from the nearby passages. I crouched behind a cylinder-case. The
door of Miko's room was in sight, being some thirty feet away from me.

I waited perhaps five minutes. No one entered. Then I realized
that doubtless the conspirators were already there. I set my tiny
eavesdropper on the library floor beside me; connected its little
battery; focused its projector. Was Miko's room insulated? I could not
tell. There was a small ventilating grid above the door. Across its
opening, if the room were insulated, a blue sheen of radiance
would be showing. And there would be a faint hum. But from this
distance I could not see or hear such details, and I was afraid to
approach closer. Once in the transverse corridor, I would have no
place to hide, no way of escape; if anyone approached Miko's door, I
would be discovered.

I threw the current into my little apparatus. I prayed, if it met
interference, that the slight sound would pass unnoticed. George Prince
had said he would make opportunity to disconnect the room's insulation.
He had evidently done so. I picked up the interior sounds at once; my
headphone vibrated with them. And with trembling fingers on the little
dial between my knees as I crouched in the darkness behind the
cylinder-case, I synchronized.

"Johnson is a fool." It was Miko's voice. "We must have the pass-words."

"He got them from the helio-room." A man's voice; I puzzled over it at
first, then recognized it. Rance Rankin.

       *       *       *       *       *

Miko said, "He is a fool. Walking around this ship as though with
letters blazoned on his forehead--'Watch me--I need watching--' Hah! No
wonder they apprehended him!"

Was George Prince in there? Rankin's voice said: "He would have turned
the papers over to us. I would not blame him too much. What harm--"

"Oh, I'll release him," Miko declared. "What harm? That braying ass did
us plenty of harm. He has lost the pass-words. Better he had left them
in the helio-room."

Moa was in the room. Her voice said: "We've got to have them. The
Planetara, upon such an important voyage as this, may be watched. How do
we know--"

"It is, no doubt," Rankin said quietly. "We ought to have the
pass-words. When we are in control of this ship...."

It sent a shiver through me. Were they planning to try and seize the
Planetara? Now? It seemed so.

"Johnson undoubtedly memorized them," Moa was saying. "When we get him
out--"

"Hahn is to do that, at the signal." Miko added, "George could do it
better, perhaps."

And then I heard George Prince for the first time. He murmured, "I will
try."

"No need," said Miko. "I praise where praise is deserved. And I have
little praise for you now, George!"

I could not see what happened. A look, perhaps, which Prince could not
avoid giving this man he had come to hate. Miko doubtless saw it, and
the Martian's hot anger leaped.

Rankin said hurriedly, "Stop that!"

And Moa: "Let him alone! Sit down, you fool!"

       *       *       *       *       *

I could hear the sound of a scuffle. A blow--a cry, half suppressed,
from George Prince.

Then Miko: "I will not hurt him. Craven coward! Look at him! Hating
me--frightened!"

I could fancy George Prince sitting there with murder in his heart, and
Miko taunting him:

"Hates me now, because I shot his sister!"

Moa: "Hush!"

"I will not! Why should I not say it? I will tell you something else,
George Prince. It was not Anita I shot at, but you! I meant nothing for
her, but love. If you had not interfered--"

This was different from what we had figured. George Prince had come in
from his own room, had tried to rescue his sister, and in the scuffle,
Anita had taken the shot intended for George.

"I did not even know I had hit her," Miko was saying. "Not until I heard
she was dead." He added sardonically, "I hoped it was you I had hit,
George. And I will tell you this: You hate me no more than I hate you.
If it were not for your knowledge of radium ores--"

"Is this to be a personal wrangle?" Rankin interrupted. "I thought we
were here to plan--"

"It is planned," Miko said shortly. "I give orders, I do not plan. I am
waiting now for the moment--"

       *       *       *       *       *

He checked himself. Moa said, "Does Rankin understand that no harm is to
come to Gregg Haljan?"

"Yes," said Rankin. "And Dean. We need them, of course. But you cannot
make Dean send messages if he refuses, nor make Haljan navigate."

"I know enough to check on them," Miko said grimly. "They will not fool
me. And they will obey me, have no fear. A little touch of sulphuric--"
His laugh was gruesome. "It makes the most stubborn very willing."

"I wish," said Moa, "we had Haljan safely hidden. If he is hurt--killed--"

So that was why Miko had tried to capture me? To keep me safe so that I
might navigate the ship.

It occurred to me that I should get Carter at once. A plot to seize the
Planetara? But when?

I froze with startled horror.

The diaphragms at my ears rang with Miko's words: "I have set the time
for now! In two minutes--"

It seemed to startle both Rankin and George Prince almost as much as I.
Both exclaimed:

"No!"

"No? Why not? Everyone is at his post!"

Prince repeated: "No!"

And Rankin: "But can we trust them? The stewards--the crew?"

"Eight of them are our own men! You didn't know that, Rankin? They've
been aboard the Planetara for several voyages. Oh, this is no
quickly-planned affair, even though we let you in on it so recently. You
and Johnson. By God!"

       *       *       *       *       *

I crouched tense. There was a commotion in the stateroom. Miko had
discovered that his insulation was cut off! He had evidently leaped to
his feet; I heard a chair overturn. And the Martian's roar: "It's off!
Did you do that, Prince? By God, if I thought--"

My apparatus went suddenly dead as Miko flung on his insulation. I lost
my wits in the confusion; I should have instantly taken off my
vibrations. There was interference; it showed in the dark space of the
ventilator grid over Miko's doorway; a snapping in the air there, a
swirl of sparks.

I heard with my unaided ears Miko's roar over his insulation: "By God,
they're listening!"

The scream of a hand-siren sounded from his stateroom. It rang over the
ship. His signal! I heard it answered from some distant point. And then
a shot; a commotion in the lower corridors....

The attack upon the Planetara had started!

I was on my feet. The shouts of startled passengers sounded, a turmoil
beginning everywhere.

I stood momentarily transfixed. The door of Miko's stateroom burst open.
He stood there, with Moa, Rankin and George Prince crowding behind him.

He saw me. "You, Gregg Haljan!"

He came leaping at me.


CHAPTER XII

_The Weightless Combat_

I was taken wholly by surprise. There was an instant when I stood
numbed, fumbling for a weapon at my belt, undecided whether to run or
stand my ground. Miko was no more than twenty feet from me. He checked
his forward rush. The light from an overhead tube was on him; I saw in
his hand the cylinder projector of his paralyzing ray.

I plucked my heat-cylinder from my belt, and fired without taking aim.
My tiny heat-beam flashed. I must have grazed Miko's hand. His roar of
anger and pain rang out over the turmoil. He dropped his weapon; then
stooped to pick it up. But Moa forestalled him. She leaped and seized
it.

"Careful! Fool--you promised not to hurt him!"

A confusion of swift action. Rankin had turned and darted away. I saw
George Prince stumbling half in front of the struggling Miko and Moa.
And I heard footsteps beside me; a hand gripped me, jerked at me.

Over the turmoil Prince's voice sounded: "Gregg--Haljan!"

I recall I had the impression that Prince was frightened; he had half
fallen in front of Miko. And there was Miko's voice:

"Let go of me!"

And Moa: "Come!"

It was Balch gripping me. "Gregg! This way--run! Get out of here! He'll
kill you with that ray--"

Miko's ray flashed, but George Prince had knocked at his arm. I did not
dare fire again. Prince was in the way. Balch, who was unarmed, shoved
me violently back.

"Gregg--the chart-room!"

       *       *       *       *       *

I turned and ran, with Balch after me. Prince had fallen, or been felled
by Miko. A flash followed me. Miko's weapon, but again it missed. He did
not pursue me; he ran the other way, through the port-side door of the
library.

Balch and I found ourselves in the lounge. Shouting, frightened
passengers were everywhere. The place was in wild confusion, the whole
ship ringing now with shouts.

"To the chart-room, Gregg!"

I called to the passengers: "Get back to your rooms!"

I followed Balch. We ran through the archway to the deck. In the
starlight I saw figures scurrying aft, but none were near us. The deck
forward was dim with heavy shadows. The oval window and door of the
chart-room were blue-yellow from the tube-lights inside. No one seemed
on the deck there; and then, as we approached, I saw, further forward in
the bow, the trap-door to the cage standing open. Johnson had been
released.

From one of the chart-room windows a heat-ray sizzled. It barely missed
us. Balch shouted, "Carter--don't!"

The captain called, "Oh--you, Balch--and Haljan--"

He came out on the deck as we rushed up. His left arm was dangling
limp.

"God--this--" He got no further. From the turret overhead a tiny
search-beam came down and disclosed us. Blackstone was supposed to be on
duty up there, with a course-master at the controls. But, glancing up, I
saw, illumined by the turret lights, the figures of Ob Hahn in his
purple-white robe, and Johnson the purser. And on the turret balcony,
two fallen men--Blackstone and the course-master.

       *       *       *       *       *

Johnson was training the spotlight on us. And Hahn fired a Martian ray.
It struck Balch beside me. He dropped.

Carter was shouting, "Inside! Gregg, get inside!"

I stopped to raise up Balch. Another beam came down. A heat-ray this
time. It caught the fallen Balch full in the chest, piercing him
through. The smell of his burning flesh rose to sicken me. He was dead.
I dropped his body. Carter shoved me into the chart-room.

In the small, steel-lined room, Carter and I slid the door closed. We
were alone here. The thing had come so quickly it had taken Captain
Carter, like us all, wholly unawares. We had anticipated spying
eavesdroppers, but not this open brigandage. No more than a minute or
two had passed since Miko's siren in his stateroom had given the signal
for the attack. Carter had been in the chart-room. Blackstone was in the
turret. At the outbreak of confusion, Carter dashed out to see Hahn
releasing Johnson from the cage. From the forward chart-room window now
I could see where Hahn with a torch had broken the cage-seal. The torch
lay on the deck. There had been an exchange of shots; Carter's arm was
paralyzed; Johnson and Hahn had escaped.

Carter was as confused as I. There had simultaneously been an encounter
up in the turret. Blackstone and the course-master were killed. The
lookout had been shot from his post in the forward observatory. His body
dangled now, twisted half in and half out of his window.

       *       *       *       *       *

We could see several of Miko's men--erstwhile members of our crew and
steward-corps--scurrying from the turret along the upper bridges toward
the dark and silent helio-room. Snap was up there. But was he? The
helio-room glowed suddenly with dim light, but there was no evidence of
a fight there. The fighting seemed mostly below the deck, down in the
hull-corridors. A blended horror of sounds came up to us. Screams,
shouts, and the hissing and snapping of ray weapons. Our crew--such of
them as were loyal--were making a stand down below. But it was brief.
Within a minute it died away. The passengers, amidships in the
superstructure, were still shouting. Then above them Miko's roar
sounded.

"Be quiet! Go in your rooms--you will not be harmed."

The brigands in these few minutes were in control of the ship. All but
this little chart-room, where, with most of the ship's weapons, Carter
and I were intrenched.

"God, Gregg, that this should come upon us!"

Carter was fumbling with the chart-room weapons. "Here, Gregg, help me.
What have you got? Heat-ray? That's all I had ready."

It struck me then as I helped him make the connections that Carter in
this crisis was at best an inefficient commander. His red face had gone
splotchy purple; his hands were trembling. Skilled as captain of a
peaceful liner, he was at a loss now. Nor could I blame him. It is easy
to say we might have taken warning, done this or that, and come
triumphant through this attack. But only the fool looks backward and
says, "I would have done better."

       *       *       *       *       *

I tried to summon my wits. The ship was lost to us, unless Carter and I
could do something. Our futile weapons! They were all here--four or
five heat-ray hand projectors that could send a pencil-ray a hundred
feet or so. I shot one diagonally up at the turret where Johnson was
leering down at our rear window, but he saw my gesture and dropped back
out of sight. The heat-beam flashed harmlessly up and struck the turret
roof. Then across the turret window came a sheen of radiance--an
electro-barrage. And behind it, Hahn's suave, evil face appeared. He
shouted down:

"We have orders to spare you, Gregg Haljan--or you would have been
killed long ago!"

My answering shot hit his barrage with a shower of sparks, behind which
he stood unmoved.

Carter handed me another weapon. "Gregg, try this."

I levelled the old explosive bullet projector; Carter crouched beside
me. But before I could press the trigger, from somewhere down the
starlit deck an electro-beam hit me. The little rifle exploded, burst
its breech. I sank back to the floor, tingling from the shock of the
hostile current. My hands were blackened from the exploding powder.

Carter seized me. "No use! Hurt?"

"No."

       *       *       *       *       *

The stars through the dome-windows were swinging. A long swing--the
shadows and starlit patches on the deck were all shifting. The Planetara
was turning. The heavens revolved in a great round sweep of movement,
then settled as we took our new course. Hahn at the turret controls had
swung us. The earth and the sun showed over our bow quarter. The
sunlight mingled red-yellow with the brilliant starlight. Hahn's signals
were sounding; I heard them answered from the mechanism rooms down
below. Brigands there--in full control. The gravity plates were being
set to the new positions; we were on our new course. Headed a point or
two off the Earth-line. Not headed for the moon? I wondered.

Carter and I were planning nothing. What was there to plan? We were
under observation. A Martian paralyzing ray--or electronic beam, far
more deadly than our own puny police weapons--would have struck us the
instant we tried to leave the chart-room.

My swift-running thoughts were interrupted by a shout from down the
deck. At a corner of the cabin superstructure some fifty feet from our
windows the figure of Miko appeared. A barrage-radiance hung around him
like a shimmering mantle. His voice sounded:

"Gregg Haljan, do you yield?"

Carter leaped up from where he and I were crouching. Against all reason
of safety he leaned from the low window, waving his hamlike fist.

"Yield? No! I am in command here, you pirate! Brigand--murderer!"

       *       *       *       *       *

I pushed him back. "Careful!"

He was spluttering, and over it Miko's sardonic laugh sounded. "Very
well--but you will talk? Shall we argue about it?"

I stood up. "What do you want to say, Miko?"

Behind him the tall, thin figure of his sister showed. She was plucking
at him. He turned violently.

"I won't hurt him! Gregg Haljan--is this a truce? You will not shoot?"
He was shielding Moa.

"No," I called. "For a moment, no. A truce. What is it you want to
say?"

I could hear the babble of passengers who were herded in the cabin with
brigands guarding them. George Prince, bareheaded, but shrouded in his
cloak, showed in a patch of light behind Moa. He looked my way and then
retreated into the lounge archway.

Miko called, "You must yield. We want you, Haljan."

"No doubt," I jeered.

"Alive. It is easy to kill you."

       *       *       *       *       *

I could not doubt that. Carter and I were little more than rats in a
trap, here in the chart-room. But Miko wanted to take me alive: that was
not so simple. He added persuasively:

"We want you to help us navigate. Will you?"

"No."

"Will you help us, Captain Carter? Tell your cub, this Haljan, to yield.
You are fools. We understand that Haljan has been handling the ship's
mathematics. Him we need most."

Carter roared: "Get back from there! This is no truce!"

I shoved aside his levelled bullet-projector. "Wait a minute!" I called
to Miko. "Navigate--where?"

"Oh," he retorted, "that is our business, not yours. When you lay down
your weapons and come out of there, I will give you the course."

"Back to the earth?" I suggested.

I could fancy him grinning behind the sheen of his barrage at my
question.

"The earth? Yes--shall we go there? Give me your orders, Gregg Haljan.
Of course I will obey them."

His sardonic words were interrupted. And I realized that all this parley
was a ruse of Miko's to take me alive. He had made a gesture. Hahn,
watching from the turret window, doubtless flashed a signal down to the
hull-corridors. The magnetizer control under the chart-room was
altered, our artificial gravity cut off. I felt the sudden lightness; I
gripped the window casement and clung. Carter was startled into
incautious movement. It flung him out into the center of the chart-room,
his arms and legs grotesquely flailing.

       *       *       *       *       *

And across the chart-room, in the opposite window, I felt rather than
saw the shape of something. A figure--almost invisible, but not
quite--was trying to climb in! I flung the empty rifle I was holding. It
hit something solid in the window; in a flare of sparks a black-hooded
figure materialized. A man climbing in! His weapon spat. There was a
tiny electronic flash, deadly silent. The intruder had shot at Carter;
struck him. Carter gave one queer scream. He had floated to the floor;
his convulsive movement when he was hit hurled him to the ceiling. His
body struck, twitched; bounced back and sank inert on the floor-grid
almost at my feet.

I clung to the casement. Across the space of the weightless room the
hooded intruder was also clinging. His hood fell back. It was Johnson.
He leered at me.

"Killed him, the bully! Well, he deserved it. Now for you, Mr. Third
Officer Haljan!"

But he did not dare fire at me--Miko had forbidden it. I saw him reach
under his robe, doubtless for a low-powered paralyzing ray such as Miko
already had used on me. But he never got it out. I had no weapon within
reach. I leaned into the room, still holding the casement, and doubled
my legs under me. I kicked out from the window.

The force catapulted me across the space of the room like a volplane. I
struck the purser. We gripped. Our locked, struggling bodies bounced out
into the room. We struck the floor, surged up like balloons to the
ceiling, struck it with a flailing arm or a leg and floated back.

       *       *       *       *       *

Grotesque, abnormal combat! Like fighting in weightless water. Johnson
clutched his weapon, but I twisted his wrist, held his arm outstretched
so that he could not aim it. I was aware of Miko's voice shouting on the
deck outside.

Johnson's left hand was gouging at my face, his fingers plucking at my
eyes. We lunged down to the floor, then up again, close to the ceiling.

I twisted his wrists. He dropped the weapon and it sank away. I tried to
reach it, but could not. Then I had him by the throat. I was stronger
than he, and more agile. I tried choking him, his thick bull-neck within
my fingers. He kicked, scrambled, tore and gouged at me. Tried to shout,
but it ended in a gurgle. And then, as he felt his breath stopped, his
hands came up in an effort to tear mine loose.

We sank again to the floor. We were momentarily upright. I felt my feet
touch. I bent my knees. We sank further.

And then I kicked violently upward. Our locked bodies shot to the
ceiling. Johnson's head was above me. It struck the steel roof of the
chart-room. A violent blow. I felt him go suddenly limp. I cast him off,
and, doubling my body, I kicked at the ceiling. It sent me diagonally
downward to the window, where I clung and regained stability.

And I saw Miko standing on the deck with a weapon levelled at me!


CHAPTER XIII

_The Torture_

"Haljan! Yield or I'll fire! Moa, give me the smaller one. This
cursed--"

He had in his hand too large a projector. Its ray would kill me. If he
wanted to take me alive, he would not fire. I chanced it.

"No!"

I tried to draw myself beneath the window. An automatic bullet projector
was on the floor where Carter had dropped it. I pulled myself down.
Miko did not fire. I reached the revolver. The dead bodies of the
captain and purser had drifted together on the floor in the center of
the room.

I hitched myself back to the window. With upraised weapon I gazed
cautiously out. Miko had disappeared. The deck within my line of vision
was empty.

But was it? Something told me to beware. I clung to the casement, ready
upon the instant to shove myself down. There was a movement in a shadow
along the deck. Then a figure rose up.

"Don't fire, Haljan!"

The sharp command, half appeal, stopped the pressure of my finger on the
trigger of the automatic. It was the tall lanky Englishman, Sir Arthur
Coniston, as he called himself. So he too was one of Miko's band! The
light through a dome-window fell full on him.

"If you fire, Haljan, and kill me--Miko will kill you then, surely."

From where he had been crouching he could not command my window. But
now, upon the heels of his placating words, he abruptly shot. The
low-powered ray, had it struck, would have felled me without killing.
But it went over my head as I dropped. Its aura made my senses reel.

Coniston shouted, "Haljan!"

       *       *       *       *       *

I did not answer. I wondered if he would dare approach to see if I had
been hit. A minute passed. Then another. I thought I heard Miko's voice
on the deck outside. But it was an aerial, microscopic whisper close
beside me.

"We see you, Haljan! You must yield!"

Their eavesdropping vibrations, with audible projection, were upon me. I
retorted aloud.

"Come and get me! You cannot take me alive."

I do protest if this action of mine in the chart-room may seem bravado.
I had no wish to die. There was within me a very healthy desire for
life. But I felt, by holding out, that some chance might come wherewith
I might turn events against these brigands. Yet reason told me it was
hopeless. Our loyal members of the crew were killed, no doubt. Captain
Carter and Balch were killed. The lookouts and Course-masters also. And
Blackstone.

There remained only Dr. Frank and Snap. Their fate I did not yet know.
And there was George Prince. He, perhaps, would help me if he could.
But, at best, he was a dubious ally.

"You are very foolish, Haljan," murmured the projection of Miko's voice.
And then I heard Coniston:

"See here, why would not a hundred pounds of gold-leaf tempt you? The
code-words which were taken from Johnson--I mean to say, why not tell us
where they are?"

So that was one of the brigands new difficulties! Snap had taken the
code-word sheet, that time we sealed the purser in the cage.

I said, "You'll never find them. And when a police ship sights us, what
will you do then?"

The chances of a police ship were slim indeed, but the brigands
evidently did not know that. I wondered again what had become of Snap.
Was he captured--or still holding them off?

I was watching my windows; for at any moment, under cover of this talk,
I might be assailed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Gravity came suddenly to the room. Miko's voice said. "We mean well by
you, Haljan. There is your normality. Join us. We need you to chart our
course."

"And a hundred pounds of gold-leaf," urged Coniston. "Or more. Why, this
treasure--"

I could hear an oath from Miko. And then his ironic voice: "We will not
bother you, Haljan. There is no hurry. You will be hungry in good time.
And sleepy. Then we will come and get you. And a little acid will make
you think differently about helping us...."

His vibrations died away. The pull of gravity in the room was normal. I
was alone in the dim silence, with the bodies of Carter and Johnson
lying huddled on the grid. I bent to examine them. Both were dead.

My isolation was no ruse this time. The outlaws made no further attack.
Half an hour passed. The deck outside, what I could see of it, was
vacant. Balch lay dead close outside the chart-room door. The bodies of
Blackstone and the Course-master had been removed from the turret
window. A forward lookout--one of Miko's men--was on duty in the nearby
tower. Hahn was at the turret controls. The ship was under orderly
handling, heading back upon a new course. For the Earth? Or the Moon? It
did not seem so.

I found, in the chart-room, a Benson curve-light projector which poor
Captain Carter had very nearly assembled. I worked on it, trained it
through my rear window, along the empty deck; bent it into the lounge
archway. Upon my grid the image of the lounge interior presently
focused. The passengers in the lounge were huddled in a group.
Disheveled, frightened, with Moa standing watching them. Stewards were
serving them with a meal.

       *       *       *       *       *

Upon a bench, bodies were lying. Some were dead. I saw Rance Rankin.
Others were evidently only injured. Dr. Frank was moving among them,
attending them. Venza was there, unharmed. And I saw the gamblers, Shac
and Dud, sitting white-faced, whispering together. And Glutz's little
be-ribboned, be-curled figure on a stool.

George Prince was there, standing against the walls shrouded in his
mourning cloak, watching the scene with alert, roving eyes. And by the
opposite doorway, the huge towering figure of Miko stood on guard. But
Snap was missing.

A brief glimpse. Miko saw my Benson-light. I could have equipped a
heat-ray, and fired along the curved Benson-light into that lounge. But
Miko gave me no time.

He slid the lounge door closed, and Moa leaped to close the one on my
side. My light was cut off; my grid showed only the blank deck and
door.

Another interval. I had made plans. Futile plans! I could get into the
turret perhaps, and kill Hahn. I had the invisible cloak which Johnson
was wearing. I took it from his body. Its mechanism could be repaired.
Why, with it I could creep about the ship, kill these brigands one by
one perhaps. George Prince would be with me. The brigands who had been
posing as the stewards and crew-members were unable to navigate; they
would obey my orders. There were only Miko, Coniston and Hahn to kill.

Futile plans! From my window I could gaze up to the helio-room. And now
abruptly I heard Snap's voice:

"No! I tell you--no!"

And Miko: "Very well. We will try this."

So Snap was captured, but not killed. Relief swept me. He was in the
helio-room, and Miko was with him. But my relief was short-lived.

       *       *       *       *       *

After a brief interval there came a moan from Snap. It floated down from
the silence overhead. It made me shudder.

My Benson-beam shot into the helio window. It showed me Snap lying there
on the floor. He was bound with wire. His torso had been stripped. His
livid face was ghastly plain in my light.

Miko was bending over him. Miko with a heat-cylinder no longer than a
finger. Its needle-beam played upon Snap's naked chest. I could see the
gruesome little trail of smoke rising; and as Snap twisted and jerked,
there on his flesh was the red and blistered trail of the violet-hot
ray.

"Now will you tell?"

"No!"

Miko laughed. "No? Then I shall write my name a little deeper...."

A black scar now--a trail etched in the quivering flesh.

"Oh!--" Snap's face went white as chalk as he pressed his lips
together.

"Or a little acid? This fire-writing does not really hurt? Tell me what
you did with those code-words!"

"No!"

In his absorption Miko did not notice my light. Nor did I have the wit
to try and fire along it. I was trembling. Snap under torture!

As the beam went deeper, Snap suddenly screamed. But he ended, "No! I
will send--no message for you--"

It had been only a moment. In the chart-room window beside me again a
figure appeared! No image. A solid, living person, undisguised by any
cloak of invisibility. George Prince had chanced my fire and had crept
up upon me.

"Haljan! Don't attack me."

       *       *       *       *       *

I dropped my light connections. As impulsively I stood up, I saw through
the window the figure of Coniston on the deck watching the result of
Prince's venture.

"Haljan--yield."

Prince no more than whispered it. He stood outside on the deck; the low
window casement touched his waist. He leaned over it.

"He's torturing Snap! Call out that you will yield."

The thought had already been in my mind. Another scream from Snap
chilled me with horror. I shouted,

"Miko! Stop!"

I rushed to the window and Prince gripped me.

"Louder!"

I called louder. "_Miko!_ Stop!" My upflung voice mingled with Snap's
agony of protest. Then Miko heard me. His head and shoulders showed up
there at the helio-room oval.

"You, Haljan?"

Prince shouted, "I have made him yield. He will obey you if you stop
that torture."

I think that poor Snap must have fainted. He was silent. I called,
"Stop! I will do what you command."

Miko jeered, "That is good. A bargain, if you and Dean obey me. Disarm
him, Prince, and bring him out."

       *       *       *       *       *

Miko moved back into the helio-room. On the deck Coniston was advancing,
but cautiously, mistrustful of me.

"Gregg."

George Prince flung a leg over the casement and leaped lightly into the
dim chart-room. His small slender figure stood beside me, clung to me.

"Gregg."

A moment, while we stood there together. No ray was upon us. Coniston
could not see us, nor could he hear our whispers.

"Gregg."

A different voice; its throaty, husky quality gone. A soft pleading.
"Gregg--

"Gregg, don't you know me? Gregg, dear...."

Why, what was this? Not George Prince? A masquerader, yet so like George
Prince.

"Gregg, don't you know me?"

Clinging to me. A soft touch upon my arm. Fingers, clinging. A surge of
warm, tingling current was flowing between us.

My sweep of instant thoughts. A speck of human Earth-dust, falling free.
That was George Prince, who had been killed. George Prince's body,
disguised by the scheming Carter and Dr. Frank, buried in the guise of
his sister. And this black-robed figure who was trying to help us--

"Anita! Dear God! Anita, darling! Anita!"

"Gregg, dear one!"

"Anita! Dear God!"

       *       *       *       *       *

My arms went around her, my lips pressed hers, and felt her tremulous,
eager answer.

"Gregg, dear."

"Anita, you!"

The form of Coniston showed at our window. She cast me off. She said,
with her throaty swagger of assumed masculinity:

"I have him, Sir Arthur. He will obey us."

I sensed her warning glance. She shoved me toward the window. She said
ironically, "Have no fear, Haljan. You will not be tortured, you and
Dean, if you obey our commands."

Coniston gripped me. "You fool! You caused us a lot of trouble, didn't
you? Move along there!"

He jerked me roughly through the window. Marched me the length of the
deck. Out to the stern-space; opened the door of my cubby; flung me in
and sealed the door upon me.

"Miko will come presently."

I stood in the darkness of my tiny room, listening to his retreating
footsteps. But my mind was not on him....

All the Universe in that instant had changed for me. Anita was alive!

(_To be continued_)


FOOTNOTES:

  [1] As early as 1910 it was discovered that an object magnetized under
      certain conditions was subject to a loss of weight, its gravity
      partially nullified. The Martel discovery undoubtedly followed
      that method.

  [2] "United States of the World," which came into being in 2057 upon the
      centenary of the Yellow War.

  [3] Trinight Hour, i.e., 3 A. M.

  [4] Pressure sickness. Caused by the difficulty of maintaining a
      constantly normal air pressure within the vessel owing to the
      sudden, extreme changes from heat to cold.

  [5] "Set and Setta," the Martian equivalent of Mr. and Miss.

  [6] A Venus form of jocular, intimate greeting.

       *       *       *       *       *

  _REMEMBER_
  ASTOUNDING STORIES
  _Appears on Newsstands_
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       *       *       *       *       *

_In the Next Issue_

  MONSTERS of MOYEN

  _A Complete Novelet of a Half-God Half-Beast's Extraordinary Attempt
  to Dominate the Earth_
  _By_ Arthur J. Burks


  _A Large Instalment of_

  BRIGANDS of the MOON

  _The Splendid Interplanetary Novel_
  _By_ Ray Cummings


  The RAY of MADNESS

  _The Account of Another of Dr. Bird's Amazing Exploits_
  _By_ Captain S. P. Meek

  --_And Many Other Stories by Your Favorite Authors!_

       *       *       *       *       *



The Soul Master

_By Will Smith and R. J. Robbins_

    Desperately O'Hara plunged into Prof. Kell's mysterious mansion.
    For his friend Skip was the victim of the eccentric scientist's
    de-astralizing experiment, and faced a fate more hideous than
    death.

[Illustration: _A terrific force was emanating from that devilish globe
above._]


The train was slowing down for Keegan. A whistle from the locomotive
ahead had warned the two alert young men in the smoker to that effect,
and they arose to leave the train. Both were neatly and quietly dressed.
One carried a medium-sized camera with the necessary tripod and
accessory satchel. The other carried no impediments of any sort. Both
were smoking cigars, evidently not of expensive variety, judging by the
unaromatic atmosphere thereabouts.

"Can't see what Bland shipped us up to this one-horse dump for,"
grumbled Skip Handlon, the one who carried the camera. He was the
slighter of the two and perhaps half a head shorter than the other. "Do
you know anything about it?"

"Not much," confessed the other as they alighted from the smoker. "All I
can tell you is that Bland sent for me early this morning, told me to
get a story out of this Professor Kell and to drag you along. After we
get there you are to do as judgment dictates. But I remember that the
Chief was specific as regards one thing. You are to get the proff's mug.
Don't forget. The old fellow may growl and show fight, but it's up to
you to deliver the goods--or, in this case, get them. Don't depend on me
for help. I expect to have troubles of my own." Thus gloomed Horace
Perry, star reporter for the Journal.

"This Keegan place"--Handlon was using his eyes swiftly and
comprehensively--"isn't worth much. Can't see how it manages to even
rate a name. Some dump, all right!"

"You said a couple mouthfuls."

"How's the train service, if any?"

"Rotten. Two trains a day." The other was anything but enthusiastic.
"We've a nice long wait for the next one, you can bet. Now, just add to
that a rough reception after we reach the old lion's lair and you get a
nice idea of what Bland expects from his men."

       *       *       *       *       *

Handlon made a wry face at this. "The bird who first applied the words
'Hard Boiled' to the Chief's monniker knew something."

"You don't know the half of it," retorted Perry encouragingly. "Just
wait and see what a beaut of a fit he can throw for _your_ benefit if
you fail to do your stuff--and I don't mean maybe."

Old Man Bland owned the Journal, hired and fired his crew and did his
own editing, with the help of as capable an office gang as could be
gotten together. It is quite possible that "Hard Boiled" Bland demanded
more from his men than any other editor ever has before or since.
Nevertheless he got results, and none of his experienced underlings ever
kicked, for the pay was right. If a hapless scribe had the temerity to
enter the editorial sanctum with a negative report, the almost
invariable reply had been a glare and a peremptory order, "Get the
copy."

And get it they did. If a person refused an interview these clever
fellows generally succeeded in getting their information from the next
most reliable source, and it arrived in print just the same.

Of such a breed was Perry. Handlon, being a more recent acquisition to
the staff, was not yet especially aggressive in his work. On this
account the former took keen zest in scaring him into displaying a bit
more sand.

       *       *       *       *       *

The train had disappeared around a bend and the two reporters felt
themselves marooned. Keegan, without question, was a most forlorn
looking spot. A dismal shanty, much the worse for weather, stood beside
the track. In front, a few rotting planks proclaimed that once upon a
time the place had boasted a real freight platform. Probably, back in
some long-forgotten age, a station agent had also held forth in the
rickety shanty. A sign hung on each end of the crumbling structure on
which could still be deciphered the legend "KEEGAN." On the opposite
side of the track was an old, disused siding. The only other feature of
interest thereabouts was a well traveled country road which crossed the
tracks near the shanty, wound sinuously over a rock-strewn hill and
became lost in the mares of an upland forest.

There being no signboard of any kind to indicate their destination, the
two, after a moment's hesitation, started off briskly in a chance
direction. The air was hot and sultry, and in the open spaces the sun
beat down mercilessly upon the two hapless ones. As they proceeded into
the depths of the forest they were shielded somewhat from the worst of
the heat. Gradually upon their city-bred nostrils there stole the odor
of conifers, accompanied by a myriad of other forest odors. Both sniffed
the air appreciatively.

"This is sure the life," remarked Perry. "If I weren't so darn thirsty
now...." He became lost in mournful thought.

       *       *       *       *       *

A considerable time passed. The newspaper men trudged wearily along
until finally another bend brought them to the beginning of a steep
descent. The forest had thinned out to nothing.

"Seems to me I smell smoke," blurted out Handlon suddenly. "Must be that
we are approaching the old party's lair. Remember? Bland said that
he--"

"Uh huh!" the other grunted, almost inaudibly. Now that they seemed to
be arriving at their destination something had occurred to him. He had
fished from his pocket a sheaf of clippings and was perusing them
intently. "Bland said, 'Get the copy'," he muttered irrelevantly and
half to himself.

The clippings all related directly to Professor Kell or to happenings
local to Keegan. Some were of peculiar interest. The first one was
headlined thus:

    MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE OF ROBERT MANION AND DAUGHTER STILL
    UNSOLVED

The piece contained a description of the missing man, a fairly
prosperous banker who had been seen four days previously driving through
Keegan in a small roadster, and one of the girl, who was in the car with
him. It told that the banker and his daughter were last seen by a farmer
named Willetts who lived in a shack on the East Keegan road, fleeing
before a bad thunder storm. He believed the pair were trying to make the
Kell mansion ahead of the rain. Nothing more of the Manions or their car
had been seen, and their personal effects remained at their hotel in a
nearby village unclaimed. The heavy rain had of course effectually
obliterated all wheel tracks.

Another clipping was fairly lengthy, but Perry glanced only at the
headlines:

    KELL STILL CARRYING ON HIS STRANGE EXPERIMENTS

    Has Long Been Known to Have Fantastic Theories. Refuses to
    Divulge Exact Methods Employed, or Nature of Results

Still another appeared to be an excerpt from an article in an
agricultural paper. It read:

    A prize bull belonging to Alton Shepard, a Keegan cattle
    breeder, has created considerable sensation by running amuck in
    a most peculiar manner. While seemingly more intelligent than
    heretofore, it has developed characteristics known to be utterly
    alien to this type of animal.

    Perhaps the most noteworthy feature of the case is the refusal
    of the animal to eat its accustomed food. Instead it now
    consumes enormous quantities of meat. The terrific bellow of
    the animal's voice has also undergone a marked change, now
    resembling nothing earthly, although some have remarked that it
    could be likened to the bay of an enormous hound. Some of its
    later actions have seemingly added further canine attributes,
    which make the matter all the more mystifying. Veterinaries are
    asking why this animal should chase automobiles, and why it
    should carry bones in its mouth and try to bury them!

The last one read in part:

    Professor Kell has been questioned by authorities at Keegan
    relative to the disappearance there last Tuesday of Robert
    Manion and his daughter. Kell seemed unable to furnish clues of
    any value, but officials are not entirely satisfied with the
    man's attitude toward the questions.

Somewhat bewildered by these apparently unrelated items, the reporter
remained lost in thought for quite a space, the while he endeavored to
map out his course of action when he should meet the redoubtable
Professor. That many of the weird occurrences could be traced in some
way to the latter's door had evidently occurred to Bland. Furthermore,
the Old Man relied implicitly upon Perry to get results.

It must be said that for once the star reporter was not overly
enthusiastic with the assignment. Certain rumors aside from the
clippings in his hand had produced in his mind a feeling of uneasiness.
So far as his personal preference was concerned he would have been well
satisfied if some cub reporter had been given the job. Try as he would,
however, he could offer no tangible reason for the sudden wariness.

He was aroused from his absorption by his companion.

"Thought I smelled smoke a while back, and I was right. That's the
house up in the edge of the pines. Deep grounds in front and all gone to
seed; fits the description exactly. Thank Heaven we struck off from the
station in the right direction. This stroll has been long enough. Come
out of it and let's get this job finished."

Suiting the action to the words Handlon started off at a brisk pace down
the hill, followed at a more moderate rate by Perry. At length they came
within full sight of the grounds. Extending for a considerable distance
before them and enclosing a large tract of land now well covered with
lush grass, was a formidable looking wall. In former days a glorious
mantle of ivy had covered the rough stones; but now there was little
left, and what there was looked pitifully decrepit. They continued their
progress along this barrier, finally coming upon a huge iron gate now
much the worse for rust. It stood wide open.

       *       *       *       *       *

The road up to the house had long since become overgrown with rank grass
and weeds. Faintly traceable through the mass of green could be seen a
rough footpath which the two followed carefully. They met no one. As
they approached the night of black pines the mass of the old mansion
began to loom up before them, grim and forbidding.

Instinctively both shivered. The silence of the place was complete and
of an uncannily tangible quality. Nervously they looked about them.

"How do you like it, Skip?" The words from Perry's previously silent
lips broke upon the stillness like a thunderclap. The other started.

"I should hate to die in it," Handlon answered solemnly. "I'll bet the
old joint is haunted. Nobody but a lunatic would ever live in it."

"I get a good deal the same impression myself," said Perry. "I don't
wonder that Bland sent two of us to cover the job."

As he spoke he mounted a flight of steps to a tumbledown veranda. There
was no sign of a door bell on the weather-beaten portal, but an ancient
knocker of bronze hanging forlornly before him seemed to suggest a means
of attracting attention. He raised it and rapped smartly.

       *       *       *       *       *

No answer.

Possessing all the attributes of the conventional reporter and a few
additional ones, Perry did not allow himself to become disheartened, but
merely repeated his summons, this time with more vim.

"Well, Horace," grinned Handlon, "it does look as if we were not so very
welcome here. However, seems to me if you were to pick up that piece of
dead limb and do some real knocking with it.... The dear Professor may
be deaf, you know, or maybe he's--"

"Skip, my boy, I don't know as we ought to go in right now after all. Do
you realize it will soon be dark?"

"To tell you the truth, Horace, I'm not stuck on this assignment either.
And I feel that after dark I should like it even less, somehow. But,
gee, the Old Man...."

"Oh, I'm not thinking of quitting on the job. We don't do that on the
Journal." Perry smiled paternally at the photographer. Could it be he
had purposely raised the other's hopes in order to chaff him some more?
"But I was thinking that it might be a good idea to look about the
outbuildings a bit while we have a little daylight. Eh?"

Handlon looked disappointed, but nodded gamely. He delayed only long
enough to deposit his camera and traps behind a grossly overgrown
hydrangea by the steps, then, with a resigned air, declared himself
ready to follow wherever the other might lead.

Perry elected to explore the barn first. This was a depressing old pile,
unpainted in years, with what had once been stout doors now swinging and
bumping in the light breeze. As the two men drew nearer, this
breeze--which seemed to sigh through the place at will--brought foul
odors that told them the place was at least not tenantless. In some
trepidation they stepped inside and stood blinking in the half
darkness.

"Pretty Polly!"

"Good God! What was that?" Handlon whispered. He knew it was no parrot's
voice. This was a far deeper sound than that, a sound louder than
anything a parrot's throat could produce. It came from the direction of
a ruinous stall over near a cobwebbed window. As Perry started fearfully
toward this, there issued from it a curious scraping sound, followed by
a fall that shook the floor, and a threshing as of hoofs. Now the great
voice could be heard again, this time uttering what sounded strangely
like oaths roared out in a foreign tongue. Yet when the newspaper men
reached the stall they found it occupied only by a large mule.

       *       *       *       *       *

The animal was lying on its side, its feet scraping feebly against the
side of the stall. The heaving, foam-flecked body was a mass of hideous
bruises, some of which were bleeding profusely. The creature seemed to
be in the last stage of exhaustion, lying with lips drawn back and eyes
closed. Beneath it and scattered all over the stall floor was a thick
layer of some whitish seeds.

"That's--why that's sunflower seed, Horace!" Handlon almost whimpered.
"And look! Look in that crib! It's full of the same stuff! Where's the
hay, Horace? Does this thing--"

He was interrupted by a mighty movement of the beast--a threshing that
nearly blinded the men in the cloud of bloodstained seeds it raised.
With something between a curse and a sob, the mule lunged at its crib as
if attempting to get bodily into it. But no: it was only trying to perch
on its edge! Now it had succeeded. The ungainly beast hung there a
second, two, three. From its uplifted throat issued that usually
innocuous phrase, a phrase now a thing of delirious horror:

"Pretty Polly!"

With a crash the tortured creature fell to the floor, to lie there
gasping and moaning.

Skip Handlon left that barn. Perry retained just enough wit to do what
he should have done the instant he first saw the animal. He whipped out
his automatic and fired one merciful shot. Then he too started for the
outside. He arrived in the yard perhaps ten seconds behind Handlon.

"Good Heavens, Perry," gibbered Handlon. "I'm not going to stay around
this place another minute. Just let me find where I left that suffering
camera, that's all I ask."

"Easy now." Perry laid a hand on his companion's shoulder. "I guess
we're up against something pretty fierce here, but we're going to see it
through, and you know it. So let's cut out the flight talk and go raise
the Professor."

Handlon tried earnestly to don a look of determination. If Perry was set
on staying here the least he could do was stay with him. However, could
Perry have foreseen the events which were to entangle them, he probably
would have led the race to the gate. As it was, he grasped a stick and
marched bravely up toward the front door.

       *       *       *       *       *

A sudden commotion behind him caused him to wheel sharply around.
Simultaneously a yell burst from Handlon.

"Look out, Horace!"

What he saw almost froze the blood in his veins. From a tumbledown coach
house had issued an enormous wolf-hound which was now almost upon then,
eyes flaming, fangs gleaming horribly.

So unexpected was the attack that both men stood rooted in their tracks.
The next moment the charging brute was upon them, and had bowled
Handlon off his equilibrium as if he were a child. The unfortunate
photographer made a desperate attempt to prevent injury to his precious
camera, which he had but a moment earlier succeeded in retrieving, and
in doing so fell rather violently to the ground. Every moment he
expected to feel the powerful jaws crunch his throat, and he made no
effort to rise. For several seconds he remained thus, until he could
endure the suspense no longer. He glanced around only to see Perry,
staring open-mouthed at the animal which had so frightened them.
Apparently it had forgotten the presence of the two men.

Handlon regained his feet rather awkwardly, the while keeping a watchful
eye on the beast, of whose uncertain temper he was by now fully aware.
In an undertone he addressed his companion.

"What do you make of it?" he wanted to know. "Did the critter bite
you?"

"No. That's the queer part of it. Neither did he bite you, if you were
to think it over a minute. Just put his nose down and _rammed_ you, head
on."

The photographer was flabbergasted. Involuntarily his gaze stole again
in the direction of the offending brute.

"What on earth--" he began. "Is he sharpening his teeth on a rock
preparatory to another attack upon us? Or--What the deuce _is_ he
doing?"

"If you ask me," came astonishingly from the watchful Perry, "he's
eating grass, which is my idea of something damn foolish for a perfectly
normal hound, genus lupo, to be--Look out!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The animal, as if suddenly remembering the presence of the men, suddenly
charged at them again, head down, eyes blazing. As before, it made no
effort to bite. Though both men were somewhat disconcerted by the great
brute they held their ground, and when it presented the opportunity the
older reporter planted a terrific kick to the flank which sent the
animal whimpering back to its shed behind.

"Score one," breathed Handlon. "If we--" At a sudden grating sound
overhead, he stopped.

Both turned to face the threatening muzzle of an ancient blunderbuss.
Behind it was an irate countenance, nearly covered by an unclipped beard
of a dirty gray color. In the eyes now glaring at them malevolently
through heavily concaved spectacles they read hate unutterable. The
barrel of the blunderbuss swung slightly as it covered alternately one
and the other. Both sensed that the finger even now tightening on the
trigger would not hesitate unduly. Being more or less hardened to
rebuffs of all kinds in the pursuance of their calling, the reporters
did not hesitate in stating their purpose.

"What?" yelled the old man. "You dare to invade my grounds and disturb
me at my labors for such a reason? Reporters! My scientific research
work is not for publicity, sirs; and futhermore I want it understood
that I am not to be dragged from my laboratory again for the purpose of
entertaining you or any others of your ilk. Get away!"

Without further ado the window was slammed down, a shutter closed on the
inside, and once more the silence of the dead descended upon the spot.
The two men grinned ruefully at each other, Handlon finally breaking the
stillness.

"My idea of the world's original one-sided conversation. We simply
didn't talk--and yet we're supposed to be reporters. You've got to hand
it to the Proff, Horace, for the beautiful rock-crusher he just handed
us."

"You didn't think we had anything easy, did you?" said Perry irritably.
"He'll change his tune presently, when--"

       *       *       *       *       *

Handlon's jaw dropped. "You don't mean you're going to take any more
chances! Would you rouse him again after the way he treated us with
that gun? Besides, the train...."

Perry bent a scathing glance at his companion. "What on earth has the
train to do with our getting the Professor's confession of crime or
whatever he has to offer? You evidently don't know Bland--much. I deduce
that a lot of my sweetness has been wasted on the desert air. Once more,
let me assure you that if you propose to go back without the Proff's mug
on one of those plates you might as well mail your resignation from
_here_. Get me?"

The other wilted.

"I wonder," Perry ruminated as he stared in the direction of the shed
wherein the canine monstrosity had disappeared. "Do you suppose that you
can get a snap of the old boy's mug if I can get him to the window
again? If you can do that, just leave the rest to me. I've handled these
crusty birds before. What say?"

"Go as far as you like." The photographer was once more grinning as he
unslung his camera and carefully adjusted a plate in place. Everything
at last to his satisfaction he gripped flash pan and bulb.

"I'm going to make some racket now," announced Perry grimly. "If Kell
shows up, work fast. He may shoot at you, but don't get excited. It's
almost dark, so his aim _might_ be poor."

At this suggestion his companion showed signs of panic, but the other
affected not to notice this. There came a deafening hullaballoo as Perry
beat a terrific tattoo on the ancient door. Followed a deep silence,
while Perry leaped back to stand in front of Skip and his camera. After
perhaps a full minute's wait he once more opened up his bombardment, to
jump quickly back to the camera as before. This time he had better
success. The window was again opened and the muzzle of the blunderbuss
put in its appearance. Handlon stood close behind Perry as he silently
swung the camera into a more favorable position for action. The face at
the window was purple with wrath.

"You damned pests! Leave my grounds at once or I shall call my hound and
set him upon you. And when--"

       *       *       *       *       *

Crack! Flash! Click! Perry had made a sudden sidewise movement as
Handlon went into action.

"Much obliged, Professor," said Perry politely. "Your pose with that old
cannon is going to be very effective from the front page. The write-up
will doubtless be interesting too. Probably the story won't be quite so
accurate as it would be had you told it to us yourself; but we shall get
as many of the details from the natives hereabouts as we can. Good-day
to you, sir!"

Motioning to the other he turned on his heel and started down the
driveway. It was an old trick, and for a long moment of suspense he
almost feared that it would fail. Another moment--

"Wait!" The quavering voice of the irascible old villain had lost some
of its malice. "Come back here a minute."

With simulated reluctance the two slowly retraced their steps. "Is there
something else, sir?"

"Perhaps...." The old man hesitated, as if pondering upon his words.
"Perhaps if you care to step in I can be of assistance to you after all.
It occurs to me that possibly I have been too abrupt with you."

"I am very glad that you have decided to cooperate with us, Professor
Kell," answered the reporter heartily, as they ascended the steps. The
old man's head disappeared from the window and shortly the sound of
footsteps inside told of his approach. Finally the oaken door swung
open, and they were silently ushered into the musty smelling hallway.
Though outwardly accepting the Professor's suddenly pacific attitude,
Perry made up his mind to be on his guard.

       *       *       *       *       *

As they entered what had evidently been the parlor in bygone days, an
oppressive, heavy odor smote their nostrils, telling of age-old carpets
and of draperies allowed to decay unnoticed. On the walls hung several
antique prints, a poorly executed crayon portrait of a person doubtless
an ancestor of the present Kell, and one or two paintings done in oil,
now badly cracked and stained. Everything gave the impression of an era
long since departed, and the two men felt vaguely out of place. Their
host led them to a pair of dilapidated chairs, which they accepted
gratefully. The ride to Keegan after a hard day's work had not tended to
improve their spirits.

"Now to business." Perry went straight to the point, desiring to get the
interview over as soon as possible. "We have heard indirectly of various
happenings in this vicinity which many think have some connection with
your scientific experiments. Any statement you may care to make to us in
regard to these happenings will be greatly appreciated by my paper.
Inasmuch as what little has already been printed is probably of an
erroneous nature, we believe it will be in your own best interest to
give us as complete data as possible." Here he became slightly
histrionic. "Of course we do not allow ourselves to take the stories
told by the local inhabitants too literally, as such persons are too
liable to exaggerate, but we must assume that some of these stories have
partial basis in fact. Any information relative to your scientific work,
incidentally, will make good copy for us also."

Perry gazed steadily at the patriarch as he spoke. For a moment, a
crafty expression passed over the old man's face, but as suddenly it
disappeared. Evidently he had arrived at a decision.

"Come with me," he wheezed.

       *       *       *       *       *

The two newspaper men exchanged swift glances, the same thought in the
mind of each. Were they about to be led into a trap? If the old man's
shady reputation was at all deserved they would do well to be wary.
Perry thought swiftly of the clippings he had read and of what gossip he
had heard, then glanced once more in the direction of Handlon. That
worthy was smiling meaningly and had already arisen to follow the
Professor. Reluctantly Perry got to his feet and the three proceeded to
climb a rickety stairway to the third floor. The guide turned at the
head of the stairs and entered a long dark corridor. Here the floor was
covered with a thick carpet which, as they trod upon it, gave forth not
the slightest sound.

The hall gave upon several rooms, all dark and gloomy and giving the
same dismal impression of long disuse. How could the savant endure such
a depressing abode! The accumulation of dust and cobwebs in these long
forgotten chambers, the general evidence of decay--all told of possible
horrors ahead. They became wary.

But they were not wary enough!

The uncouth figure ahead of them had stopped and was fumbling with the
lock of an ancient door. Instinctively Perry noted that it was of great
thickness and of heavy oak. Now the Professor had it open and was
motioning for them to enter. Handlon started forward eagerly, but
hurriedly drew back as he felt the grip of the other reporter's hand on
his arm.

"Get back, you fool!" The words were hissed into the ear of the
incautious one. Then, to the Professor, Perry observed: "If you have no
objection we would prefer that you precede us."

A look of insane fury leaped to the face of the old man, lingered but an
instant and was gone. Though the expression was but momentary, both men
had seen, and seeing had realized their danger.

       *       *       *       *       *

They followed him into the chamber, which was soon illumined fitfully by
a smoky kerosene lamp. Both took a rapid survey of the place.
Conceivably it might have been the scene of scientific experiments, but
its aspect surely belied such a supposition. The average imagination
would instantly pronounce it the abode of a maniac, or the lair of an
alchemist. Again, that it might be the laboratory of an extremely
slovenly veterinary was suggested by the several filthy cages to be seen
resting against the wall. All of these were unoccupied except one in a
dark corner, from which issued a sound of contented purring, evidently
telling of some well-satisfied cat.

The air was close and foul, being heavy with the odor of musty, decaying
drugs. In every possible niche and cranny the omnipresent dust had
settled in a uniform sheen of gray which showed but few signs of recent
disturbance.

"Here, gentlemen," their host was saying, "is where I carry on my work.
It is rather gloomy here after dark, but then I do not spend much time
here during the night. I have decided to acquaint you with some of the
details of one or two of my experiments. Doubtless you will find them
interesting."

While speaking he had, mechanically it seemed, reached for a glass
humidor in which were perhaps a dozen cigars. Silently he selected one
and extended the rest to the two visitors.

After all three had puffed for a moment at the weeds, the old man began
to talk, rapidly it seemed to them. Perry from time to time took notes,
as the old man proceeded, an expression of utter amazement gradually
overspreading his face. Handlon pulled away contentedly at his cigar,
and on his features there grew an almost ludicrous expression of
well-being. Was the simple photographer so completely at ease that he
had at length forsaken all thought of possible danger?

As Professor Kell talked on he seemed to warm to his subject. At the end
of five minutes he began uncovering a peculiar apparatus which had
rested beneath the massive old table before which they were sitting. The
two men caught the flash of light on glass, and a jumble of coiled wires
became visible.

       *       *       *       *       *

Was the air in the laboratory getting unbearably close? Or was the queer
leaden feeling that had taken possession of Perry's lungs but an
indication of his overpowering weariness? He felt a steadily increasing
irritation, as if for some strange reason he suddenly resented the words
of their host, which seemed to be pouring out in an endless stream. The
cigar had, paradoxically, an oddly soothing quality, and he puffed away
in silence.

Why had the room suddenly taken on so hazy an aspect? Why did Handlon
grin in that idiotic manner? And the Professor ... he was getting
farther and farther away ... that perfecto ... or was it an El Cabbajo?
What was the old archfiend doing to him anyhow?... Why was he laughing
and leering at them so horribly?... Confound it all ... that cigar ...
where was it?... Just one more puff....

Blindly he groped for the missing weed, becoming aware of a cackle of
amusement nearby. Professor Kell was standing near the spot where he had
fallen and now began prodding him contemptuously with his toe.

"Fools!" he was saying. "You thought to interfere with my program. But
you are in my power and you have no hope of escape. I am unexpectedly
provided with more subjects for my experiments. You will...." His words
became hazy and unintelligible, for the hapless reporter was drifting
off into a numb oblivion. He had long since lost the power to move a
muscle. Out of the corner of an eye, just before he lost consciousness
altogether, he perceived Handlon lying upon the floor still puffing at
the fateful drugged cigar.

       *       *       *       *       *

Eons passed.

To the reporter came a vision of a throbbing, glaring inferno, wherein
he was shaken and tossed by terrific forces. His very vital essence
seemed to respond to a mighty vibration. Now he was but a part of some
terrific chaos. Dimly he became aware of another being with whom he must
contend. Now he was in a death struggle, and to his horror he found
himself being slowly but surely overpowered. A demoniac grin played upon
the features of the other as he forced the reporter to his knees. It was
Handlon.... Once more he was sinking into soft oblivion, the while a
horrid miasma assailed his nostrils. He was nothing....

       *       *       *       *       *

Slowly, and with infinite effort, Perry felt himself returning to
consciousness, though he had no clear conception of his surroundings.
His brain was as yet but a whirling vortex of confused sounds, colors
and--yes, odors. A temporary rift came in the mental cloud which
fettered his faculties, and things began to take definite shape. He
became aware that he was lying upon his back at some elevation from the
floor. Again the cloudy incubus closed in and he knew no more.

When he finally recovered the use of his faculties it was to discover
himself the possessor of a violent headache. The pain came in such
fearsome throbs that it was well nigh unendurable. The lamp still
sputtered dimly where the professor had left it. At the moment it was on
the point of going out altogether. The reporter noticed this, and over
him stole a sense of panic. What if the light should fail altogether,
leaving him lying in the dark in this frightful place! Still dizzy and
sick, he managed to rise upon his elbows enough to complete a survey of
the room. He was still in the laboratory of Professor Kell, but that
worthy had disappeared. Of Handlon there was no sign. The mysterious
apparatus, of which he now had but a vague remembrance, also had
vanished.

His thoughts became confused again, and wearily he passed a hand over
his brow in the effort to collect all of his faculties. The lamp began
to sputter, arousing him to action. Desperately he fought against the
benumbing sensation that was even again stealing over him. Gradually he
gained the ascendancy. He struggled dizzily to his feet and took a few
tentative steps.

Where was Handlon? He decided his friend had probably recovered from the
drug first and was gone, possibly to get a doctor for him, Perry.
However, he must make some search to determine if Skip had really left
the premises.

As he walked through the open door the lamp in his hand gave a last
despairing flicker and went out. From there he was forced to grope his
way down the dark hall to the stairs. Just how he reached the lower
floor he was never able to remember, for as yet all the effect of the
powerful drug had not worn off. He had a dim recollection of being
thankful to the ancestor of Kell who had provided such thick carpets in
these halls. Thanks to them his footsteps had been noiseless, at any
rate.

What was Kell's real object in giving them those drugged cigars? he
wondered. How long had they been under the influence of the lethal
stuff? Surely several hours. Upon glancing through a hall window he
found that outside was the blackness of midnight.

       *       *       *       *       *

Cautiously he explored the desolate chambers on the ground floor: the
kitchen--where it could be plainly seen that cooking of a sort had been
done--the barn, and woodshed. Not a living thing could he find, not even
the huge wolf-hound which had attacked them in so strange a manner that
afternoon.

By now he was quite frankly worried on Handlon's account. At that
moment, could he have known the actual fate that had overtaken his
companion, it is quite probable he would have gone mad. He stumbled
back and into the dark front hall, shouting his friend's name. The
response was a hollow echo, and once or twice he thought he heard the
ghost of a mocking chuckle.

At length he gave up the search and started for the door, intent now
only upon flight from the accursed place. He would report the whole
thing to the office and let Bland do what he pleased about it. Doubtless
Handlon had already left. Then he stumbled over Handlon's camera.
Evidently the Professor had neglected to take possession of it. That
must be rescued, at all costs. He picked it up and felt the exposed
plate still inside. He started again for the door.

What little light there was faded out and he felt stealing over him a
horrid sensation of weakness. Again came a period of agony during which
he felt the grip of unseen forces. Once more it seemed that he was
engaged in mortal strife with Skip Handlon. Malevolently Handlon glared
at him as he endeavored with all his strength to overcome Perry. This
time, however, the latter seemed to have more strength and resisted the
attack for what must have been hours. Finally the other drew away
baffled.

At this the mental incubus surrounding Perry's faculties broke. Dimly he
became aware of a grinding noise nearby and a constant lurching of his
body. At length his vision cleared sufficiently to enable him to
discover the cause of the peculiar sensations.

He was in a railroad coach!

       *       *       *       *       *

He took a rapid glance around and noted a drummer sitting in the seat
across the aisle, staring curiously at him. With an effort Perry assumed
an inscrutable expression and determined to stare the other out of
countenance. Reluctantly the man glanced away, and after a moment, under
Perry's stony gaze, he suddenly arose and chose a new seat in front of
the car. Perry took to the solace of a cigarette and stared out at the
flying telegraph poles. From time to time he noted familiar landmarks.
The train had evidently left Keegan far behind and was already nearly
into the home town.

For the balance of the ride the reporter experienced pure nightmare. The
peculiar sensations of dizziness, accompanied by frightful periods of
insensibility, kept recurring, now, however, not lasting more than ten
or fifteen minutes at a time. At such times as he was conscious he found
opportunity to wonder in an abstracted sort of way how he had ever
managed to get on the train and pay his fare, which must have been a
cash one, without arousing the conductor's suspicions. Discovery of a
rebate in his pocket proved that he must have done so, however. The
business of leaving the train and getting to the office has always been
an unknown chapter in Perry's life.

He came out of one of his mental fogs to find himself seated in the
private editorial sanctum of the Journal. Evidently he had just arrived.
Bland, a thick-set man with the jaw of a bulldog, was eyeing him
intently.

"Well! Any report to make?" The question was crisp.

The reporter passed a hand across his perspiring forehead. "Yes, I guess
so. I--er--that is--you see--"

"Where's Handlon? What happened to you? You act as if you were drunk."
Bland was not in an amiable mood.

"Search me," Perry managed to respond. "If Skip isn't here old man Kell
must have done for him. I came back alone."

"You wha-a-t?" the irate editor fairly roared, half rising from his
chair. "Tell me exactly what happened and get ready to go back there on
the next train. Or--no, on second thoughts you'd better go to bed. You
look all used up. Handlon may be dead or dying at this minute. That Kell
could do anything." He pressed the button on his desk.

"Johnny," he said to the office boy, "get O'Hara in here on the double
quick and tell him to bring along his hat and coat."

       *       *       *       *       *

He turned again to Perry, who was gazing nervously at the door. "Now
tell me everything that happened and make it fast," he ordered.

The reporter complied, omitting nothing except the little matter of his
mental lapses at the house of Professor Kell and later on the train. The
incident of the drugged cigars seemed to interest the Old Man hugely,
and Perry did not forget to play up Handlon's exploits in getting the
picture of the Professor. All through the recital he was in a sweat for
fear that he might have a recurrence of one of his brain spells and that
Bland would become cognizant of it. When would the Chief finish and let
him escape from the office? Desperately he fought to prevent the numbing
sensation from overcoming him. All that kept him from finally fleeing
the place in panic was the entrance of Jimmie O'Hara.

Slight, wiry and efficient looking, this individual was a specimen of
the perfect Journal reporter. This is saying a good deal, for the news
crew and editorial force of the paper were a carefully selected body of
men indeed. Bland never hired a man unless experience had endowed him
with some unusual qualification. Most of them could write up a story
with realistic exactitude, being able in most cases to supply details
gleaned from actual experience in one walk of life or another.

       *       *       *       *       *

Of this redoubtable crew probably the queerest was Jimmie O'Hara. Jimmie
had just finished a sentence in the "pen" for safe-cracking at the time
he landed the job with the Journal. Theoretically all men should have
shunned him on account of his jailbird taint. Not so Bland. The Chief
was independent in his ideas on the eternal fitness of things and
allowed none of the ordinary conventions of humanity to influence his
decisions. So Jimmie became one of the staff and worked hard to justify
Bland in hiring him. His former profession gave him valuable sidelights
upon crime stories of all kinds, and he was almost invariably picked as
the man to write these up for the columns.

"Jimmie," said the Chief, "we have need of an experienced strong-arm man
and all around second story worker. You are the only man on the force
who fills the bill for this job. Perry here has just returned from
Keegan, where I sent him to interview Professor Kell. Skip Handlon went
with him, but failed to return. We want to know what happened to Skip.
That is your job. _Get Handlon!_ If he is dead let me know by long
distance phone and I'll have a couple of headquarters men down there in
a hurry. Get a good fast car and don't waste any time. That's all."

O'Hara stopped long enough to get the location of Professor Kell's place
fixed in his mind, then abruptly departed. Bland gazed after him
musingly.

"The Professor will have some job to put anything over on that bird," he
said grimly. "Personally, I'm sorry for the old soul."

       *       *       *       *       *

After leaving the Journal office Jimmie proceeded directly to a certain
stable where he kept his private car. It was a long, low speedster with
a powerful engine, and capable of eating up distance. It was the work of
a minute to touch the starter and back out of the yard.

For the next hour he held the wheel grimly while the car roared over the
seventy-odd miles to Keegan. Would he be in time? At last a sign post
told him that he was within five miles of the railroad crossing at
Keegan. Now the headlights were picking out the black outlines of the
freight shed, and the next moment he had swept over the tracks. The
luminous dial on his wrist watch notified him that he had been on the
road but little over an hour, but his spirits somehow refused to revive
with the knowledge.

About a mile beyond the station he drove the car into a dark wood road
and parked it, turning off all lights. The rest of the way to the
Professor's mansion he did on foot. Rather than approach from the front
of the grounds he nimbly climbed a stone wall and, crossing a field or
two, entered the stretch of woods which extended just behind the
mansion. His pocket flashlight here came into use, and once or twice he
gave a reassuring pat to a rear pocket where bulged a heavy Colt
automatic.

       *       *       *       *       *

What was that? He had approached very close to the rear of the house
now. No lights were visible as yet, but unless he was greatly mistaken
he had heard a muffled scream. He stopped in his tracks and listened
intently. Again it came, this time with a blood-curdling cadence ending
in what he would have sworn was a choking sob.

The little job of getting the old-fashioned rear window open was a mere
nothing to the experienced O'Hara, and in a moment he was inside the
house. His feet struck soft carpet. Catlike, he stepped to one side in
order to prevent any hidden eyes from perceiving his form silhouetted in
the dim light of the open window. He dared not use his flashlight for
fear that the circle of light would betray his position, thus making him
an excellent target for possible bullets. Following the wall closely he
managed to circle the room without mishap. His searching fingers finally
came in contact with a door frame, and he breathed a sigh of relief.
Here there was nothing to bar his progress except some moth-eaten
portieres. These he brushed aside.

The room which he now entered was probably the same into which the
Professor had ushered Handlon and Perry the day before. There being
still no sign of life about, the reporter decided to throw caution to
the winds. He brought his flash into play. Quickly casting the powerful
beam around the chamber he examined the place with an all-searching
glance.

       *       *       *       *       *

Nothing.

With a stifled oath he turned his attention to the other rooms in the
immediate vicinity. The brilliant light revealed not the slightest trace
of a person, living or dead. The sound must have come from the second
story or from the cellar. He decided on the upper floor.

Feverish with impatience because of the valuable time he had already
lost, he bounded up the heavily carpeted stairs two at a time. Now to
his keen ears came certain faint sounds which told him that he was on
the right track. Before him extended a long, dusty hall, terminating in
a single heavy door. Several other doors opened at intervals along the
corridor. One or two of these were open, and he threw the beam from his
flash hastily into one after another of them. He saw only dusty and
mildewed chamber furnishings of an ancient massive style.

Suddenly he pricked up his ears.

The door ahead of him was creaking slowly open. Instantly he extinguished
his torch and leaped into the nearest room. Whoever was opening that end
door was carrying a lamp. What if the Professor had accomplices who
might discover him and overpower him by force of numbers! O'Hara drew the
automatic from his pocket, deriving a comforting assurance from the
feel of the cold steel. Here was something no man could resist could he
but get it into action. The light was now nearly abreast of his door, and
for a sickening instant he thought the prowler was coming into the room.
He held his breath. Now the lamp was at the open door, and now it was
quickly withdrawn. After a breathless second he tip-toed forward and
peered cautiously down the hallway.

About here it was that James O'Hara began to realize that this was
going to be a horrible night indeed. He had wondered why the progress of
the light had been so deathly slow. Now he knew why, by reason of what
he saw--and what he saw made him feel rather sick. The man with the
lantern was quite plainly Professor Kell, bent nearly double with the
weight of a grotesquely big thing on his back, a thing that flung a dim,
contorted shadow on the ceiling. And that thing was a dead man.

       *       *       *       *       *

A corpse it was--the attitude proved that. With a numb relief O'Hara
realized it was not the body of Skip Handlon. This had been a much
larger man than Skip, and the clothing was different from anything
Handlon had worn.

The light was now disappearing down the stairway. For a moment O'Hara
felt undecided as to his next move. Should he follow Kell and his
burden, or should he not take advantage of this fine opportunity to
continue his search of the upper story? That scream still rang in his
ears; there had been a very evident feminine quality in it, and the
remembrance of that fact reproached him. Had he been guilty of mincing
daintily about in this old house while a woman was being done to death
under his nose, when a little bolder action on his part might have saved
her?

Stepping once more into the hall he advanced to the door just closed
behind the Professor and tried it, only to find it locked. Out of a
pocket came several articles best known to the "profession"--a piece of
stiff wire, a skeleton key and other paraphernalia calculated to reduce
the obstinate mechanism to submission. For a minute, two, three, he
worked at the ancient lock; then, without a creak, the door swung open.
A touch of oil to the hinges had insured their silence. Jimmie O'Hara
believed in being artistic in his work, especially when it came to fine
points, and he was.

       *       *       *       *       *

He found himself in the same room where the drugged cigars had been
proved the undoing of Handlon and Perry. In order not to alarm the
Professor unduly by chance noises and perhaps invite a surprise attack
upon himself, O'Hara closed the laboratory door behind him and let the
lock spring again. Hastily he made search of the place. No trace of the
missing reporter could he find, except two half-consumed cigars in a
corner whence the Professor had impatiently kicked them.

On the big table in the center of the room, however, was an object which
excited his interest. It was apparently nothing more or less than a
giant Crookes tube, connected in some way with a complicated mechanism
contained in a wooden cabinet under the table. Probably this apparatus
was concerned in the Professor's weird experiments which had so aroused
the countryside. He studied it curiously, his eyes for the moment closed
in thought, until a slight sound somewhere near at hand caused him to
open them wide. Was the Kell returning?

Quickly he extinguished the lamp and glided to a nearby door, thinking
to secrete himself here, and take Kell by surprise. To his consternation
the door swung inward at a touch. He prepared instinctively for battle
against any foe who might present himself. For a moment he held himself
taut; then, nothing of an alarming nature having happened, he drew a
swift breath of relief and flashed on his light. He gave vent to a low
exclamation. The swiftly darting shaft from the torch had revealed the
figure of a girl, bound and gagged.

       *       *       *       *       *

The girl lay trembling on a wretched bed in a corner of the dilapidated
old chamber. O'Hara crossed the room and bent over her. Still wary of a
trap he glanced back in the direction of the laboratory door: all safe
there. Jimmie made haste to remove the cruel gag from her mouth.

"Courage," he whispered. "Half a minute and you will be free."

He produced a knife with a suspiciously long blade and cut her bonds. He
then assisted her to her feet, where she reeled dizzily. Realizing the
need for fast action he made her sit down while he massaged the bruised
arms and ankles, which were badly swollen from the tight ropes. The girl
had apparently been in the grip of such terrible fright that she had
temporarily lost her power of speech. Mentally he chalked up another
score against the Professor as the girl made several ineffectual
attempts to speak.

"Easy, kid," Jimmie whispered. "Just sit tight, and when you feel able
you can tell me all about it. I'm going to get him good for this, you
can bank on that."

She thanked him with a faint smile, and of a sudden she found her
voice.

"Who are you? Where is father? Oh, tell me, please! I am afraid that
horrible man has murdered him. Are you a servant here? Oh, I don't know
whom to trust."

"My name is Jimmie O'Hara," replied the reporter briefly; "and I hope
you won't worry about me. I am gunning for the Proff myself. Tell me as
quickly as you can what you know about him." He still kept an eye on the
door of the adjoining laboratory. Any moment he expected to hear the
sound of the old man's approach. The room would make an ideal place to
ambush the maniac, he had swiftly decided.

"I am Norma Manion. Please don't delay, but see if you can locate
father." The girl's voice was agonized. "I heard him groan a half-hour
ago, and a little later came a terrific crash. Oh, I'm afraid he's
dead!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Reluctantly Jimmie gave up the idea of ambushing the Professor.

"Wait here," he commanded curtly. "If you hear a shot join me as soon as
you can. I want to take him alive if I can, but...." With this parting
hint he disappeared through the door into the laboratory. Down the
carpeted hall he crept to the stairway. Here he stopped and listened,
but to his sensitive ears came no sound from below.

"Must have gone down the cellar with the body," he muttered. "Here goes
for a general exploration."

With more boldness than the occasion perhaps really justified he
descended the stairs and proceeded to examine the ground floor rooms
minutely. The first was the room through which he had made entrance to
the house. It proved to be but a storeroom containing nothing of
interest, and he soon decided to waste no more time on it.

The adjoining chamber, however, yielded some surprising finds. He had
pushed back a dusty portiere to find himself in what could be
nothing less than the Professor's sleeping chamber. At present the
bed was unoccupied, though it showed signs of recent use. The
electric torch played swiftly over every possible corner which could
constitute a hiding place for an assassin, revealing nothing. Now
the ever-searching ray fell upon an old-fashioned dresser, on which
was piled a miscellaneous array of articles. Here were combs, brushes,
a wig, a huge magnifying glass, and a gold watch. With a barely
suppressed exclamation, Jimmie pounced upon the gold timepiece.

Handlon's! So well did he know the particular design of his watch that
he could have recognized it in the dark by sense of touch alone. So the
old man was not averse to robbery among his other activities! The former
two-story man thought fast. Handlon had probably been done in, and the
body had been disposed of in some weird manner. The only thing that
remained to be done, since the unlucky photographer was evidently past
human help, was to cut short the Professor's list of murders.

       *       *       *       *       *

With the intention of missing no essential detail O'Hara swept the ray
of the searchlight around the chamber once more, but discovered no more
of importance. Deciding that the sleeping chamber could yield no further
clue he shut off the tell-tale ray and stepped noiselessly back into the
next room. Here he groped his way around until he encountered a door,
which stood open. A moment's cautious exploration with an outstretched
foot revealed the top step of a descending staircase. No faintest
glimmer of light was visible, but muffled sounds proceeding from the
depths told him that someone was below.

With infinite care, feeling his way gingerly over the rickety old steps
and fearful that an unexpected creak from one of the ancient boards
would at any moment prove his undoing, he commenced the descent. Once a
board did groan softly, causing him to stop in his tracks and stand with
bated breath. He listened for sign of a movement below, while his heart
loudly told off a dozen strokes. Stealthily he continued his progress,
until finally soft earth under his feet told him he had reached the
cellar bottom.

Now his straining eyes perceived a tiny bit of light, and simultaneously
he became conscious of a deathly stench. The damp earth padding his
footsteps, he advanced swiftly toward the source of light, which now
seemed to lie in stripes across his line of vision. He soon saw that the
stairs gave upon a small boarded-off section of the cellar proper, and
light was seeping between the boards. Ah, and here was a rickety door,
fortuitously equipped with a large knot-hole. O'Hara applied an eye to
this--and what he saw nearly ruined even his cast iron nerve.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Professor was working beside a heavy wooden cask, from which issued
the horrible stench. From time to time a sodden thud told that he was
hacking something to pieces with an ax. Now and then he would strain
mightily at a dark and bulky thing which lay on the floor, a thing that
required considerable strength to lift. It seemed to be getting lighter
after each spasm of frenzied chopping. For a second Kell's shadow
wavered away from the thing, and the enervated newspaper man saw it
plainly. His senses almost left him as he realized that he was
witnessing the dismemberment of a human body.

As he hacked the fragments of tissue from the torso the fiend carefully
deposited each in the huge cask. At such times a faint boiling sound was
heard, and there arose an effluvium that bade fair to overcome even the
monster engaged in the foul work. At last the limbs and head had been
entirely removed. The Professor evidently decided that the trunk should
be left whole, and he put his entire strength into the job of getting it
into the cask. It was almost more than he could negotiate, but finally a
dull splash told that he had succeeded.

At this moment Jimmie O'Hara came out of his trance. The horrible
proceeding had left him faint and shaken, and he wished heartily that he
could leave the disgusting place as fast as his legs could carry him.
But there was still work to be done and he resolved to get it over.

The lantern! First he must put that out of commission. The maniac would
then be at his mercy. Slowly, steadily he stole through the doorway, his
eyes glued to the Professor's back. Now he was within a yard of the
lantern, and he drew back his foot for the kick.

Next moment Jimmie found himself gazing into the glaring eyes of his
intended victim. Instinctively he struck out with the clubbed automatic,
but the blow must have fallen short, or else the Professor had developed
an uncanny agility. Now to his horror he saw the flashing blade of the
bloodstained ax raised on high. He had no time to dodge the blow. He
pressed the trigger of the Colt from the position in which he held it.

       *       *       *       *       *

The bullet grazed the upraised arm. The ax fell toward O'Hara from
fingers lacking strength to retain it, and he grasped it by the handle
in midair. The next moment the assassin collected his wits and sprang at
him. Silently, the breath of both coming in gasps, the two men strove,
each clawing desperately at the other's throat. The reporter fought with
the knowledge that should he lose he would never again see the light of
day, the other with the fear of the justice that would deal with him.

The maniac hugged his arms tightly about Jimmie, pinioning him so
tightly that the reporter could not use his gun. At length their
convulsive movements brought the men close to the lantern, and the next
instant the cellar was plunged in darkness. A second later the Professor
tripped over some hidden obstruction and fell, dragging his opponent
with him to the earthen floor. To Jimmie's surprise there was no further
movement from the body beneath him. Could the old villain be playing
possum? He cautiously shifted his hold and grasped the hidden throat. He
pressed the Professor's windpipe for a moment, but there was no
answering struggle. Slowly the truth dawned upon him. The heavy fall to
the floor had rendered the older man insensible.

He must work fast. Reaching into his pocket he brought out the ever
handy electric torch and flashed it over the features of his prisoner.
Kell was breathing heavily. With dexterous hands O'Hara swiftly went
through the old man's pockets, removing all which might tend to make
that worthy dangerous--an ugly looking pistol of large caliber, a
blackjack similar to his own and a small bottle.

The latter item Jimmie examined curiously, finally uncorking it and
inhaling the contents. He inhaled, not wisely but too well. The fumes
from the vial were nigh overpowering, and he reeled back nauseated. The
cork he hastily replaced. Just what the nature of the powerful stuff
was he never attempted to discover. One acquaintance was enough.

       *       *       *       *       *

He staggered to his feet and got the lantern lighted, then sat, gun in
hand, waiting for his prisoner's return to his senses. This was becoming
increasingly imminent, judging by certain changes in the Professor's
respiration. Finally there came a series of shuddering movements as the
man attempted to raise his battered body.

"Get up, you damned butcher," ordered Jimmie, "and march upstairs. And
just remember that I've got you covered; don't make any false moves." He
prodded the prostrate form of the by now glaring fiend before him. The
stench of the place was nearly overcoming him, and again he felt an
overwhelming desire to dash madly from that den of evil, and once more
breathe God's fresh air. Under the stimulus of several shoves the
Professor finally won to his feet and stumbled up the stairs. Jimmie was
taking no chances and kept the automatic sharply digging into the ribs
of his prisoner. The fight, however, seemed temporarily to have been all
taken out of the old man, and he made no resistance as the reporter
drove him on up to the laboratory.

The room he found exactly as he left it. At a word from him Norma Manion
came from her hiding place in the horrible room where she had been kept
prisoner.

With an hysterical scream she fell limply to the floor. The sight of her
father's murderer had proved too much for her. Forgetting his prisoner
for the moment Jimmie sprang to the girl's side.

Kell chose this moment to make a dash for freedom. His footsteps,
however, were not as noiseless as he had intended, and O'Hara whirled
just in time to see his quarry about to throw open the hall door. Jimmie
dove for his gun, only to encounter the Professor's mysterious vial,
which, though forgotten, still lay in his pocket. With no time to
think, he acted purely upon instinct. His arm drew back and the bottle
flew straight for the Professor's head.

       *       *       *       *       *

By a miracle the missile missed its mark. Came a shivering crash, as the
bottle struck a stud in the massive door. Of a sudden recalling the
terrific potency of the contents of that particular bottle, Jimmie
gasped in dismay. Norma Manion's safety drove every other thought from
his mind. At any cost he must remove her from the proximity of those
lethal fumes.

Hastily and without a backward glance, he gathered the girl into his
arms and dashed into the room where he had first found her. Ascertaining
that she had but swooned he placed her gently on the bed. In some
perplexity as to his next move he stared at the beautiful face now so
wan and white. Queer that he hadn't noticed the fact before--she was
beautiful. He even took a second look, then noting a continued absence
of all sound from the laboratory decided to investigate.

Gingerly he pushed open the door, sniffing the air cautiously as he
advanced. To his nostrils gradually came a slight scent, which though
almost imperceptible made his senses reel. As he approached the hall
door he found the atmosphere heavy with the soporific vapors from the
broken vial, and he staggered drunkenly.

He gave a start of surprise. On the floor, lying in a grotesque huddle
which suggested a most unpleasant possibility, was the inert body of
Professor Kell.

       *       *       *       *       *

Jimmie bent over the body and put an experienced ear to the heart. Yes,
there as a faint beat--very faint. Even as he listened he perceived a
slight increase in the respiration. Now the breath began coming in
great, choking gasps, only to die suddenly to next to nothing. At last
with a rueful sigh Jimmie reached to his hip and produced the private
O'Hara flagon. He stooped over the Professor's form once more and by
dint of much prying at clenched jaws managed to force a sizeable charge
of fiery liquid down the old man's throat. Jimmie had just begun to
entertain a strong hope that this latter effort would bring the
Professor to life, when his keen ear detected signs of a commotion
below.

He sprang from his position over the slowly reviving Kell and leaped to
a vantage point beside the door. A blackjack miraculously appeared from
some hidden part of his anatomy and the ever-dependable Colt also became
in evidence. Now came the banging of a door, muffled voices, a crash as
of a chair overturned in the dark. Up rolled a horrible oath, and the
same was rendered in a voice to Jimmie sweetly familiar. Came the sound
of footsteps on the stairway and several persons coming along the hall.

"Where in hell is Jimmie?" roared a wicked voice. "If he's met with any
monkey business in this hell-hole I'll see that the damned place burns
to the ground before I leave it!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Delightedly Jimmie jerked open the door.

"Still alive, Chief," he chirped as the Old Man strode into the
laboratory. Bland was followed by Perry, who seemed to be in a sort of
daze. Bringing up the rear were a pair of plainclothesmen whom Jimmie
knew very well--almost too well. One of these gentlemen bore a lantern
which reminded Jimmie strongly of some he had seen that night guarding
an open ditch in the public highway.

The Professor had fully regained consciousness and was struggling to his
feet. As for Norma Manion, she had suddenly appeared, leaning weakly
against the door casing, and was surveying the group in great alarm.

After being assured by O'Hara that they were her friends she smiled
wanly. To Bland and the others she was, of course, an unexpected factor
in the weird night's doings, and for several moments they regarded her
curiously.

At length Jimmie, sensing the question in the Old Man's eyes, elected to
offer a few words of explanation.

"Miss Manion has just been through a terrible experience," he said.
"She and her father have been for some time at the mercy of this
monster"--indicating Kell--"and her nerves are completely shattered.
We'd better get her out of this as quickly as we can."

"Mike!" Hard Boiled Bland glared at one of the officers. "Don't stand
there with your teeth in your gums like that. Take this girl out to my
car and let her lie down. She needs a stimulant, too. If you search my
car and find any red liquor in the left back door pocket, I don't know a
thing about it. And stay with her so she won't be afraid to go to
sleep."

She smiled in silent gratitude and allowed the plainclothesman to lead
her away from that chamber of horror.

       *       *       *       *       *

The reporter lost no time in telling Bland of his failure to find Skip
Handlon. He went on to acquaint his Chief with the facts of all that had
occured while he had been at the Professor's house.

The fiery old fellow listened grimly. When Jimmie came to the story of
the corpse and the cask the editor breathed one word, "Manion!"

Jimmie nodded sadly. All eyes turned to the dejected huddle on the floor
that was Professor Kell. Finally Bland could wait no longer, but fixed a
terrible eye on the murderer and demanded harshly, "Where's Handlon?"

Now the Professor burst into a fit of insane laughter, laughter that
curdled the blood of the listeners.

"You ask me that! It's almost too good. Hee-hee! You sent your two
precious reporters out to my house to pry into my secrets, and thought
to display my name all over your yellow sheet; but you forgot that you
were dealing with Professor Anton Kell, didn't you?" The last he fairly
shrieked. "A lot of people have tried to intrude upon me before, but
none ever escaped me!"

"We know that," cut in Jimmie, for he was getting impatient and the old
man's boastings seemed out of place. "You are slated for the rope
anyway, after what I discovered down cellar." He jerked his eyes in the
direction of the door significantly. "Now we propose to find Handlon,
and the better it will be for you if you tell us what you have done with
him. Otherwise...."

"You can go to hell!" screamed the maniac. "If you are so clever, find
out for yourselves. He isn't so far away that you couldn't touch him by
reaching out your hand. In fact, he's been with you quite a while.
Hee-hee-hee! Well, if you must know--there he is!" With an insane
chuckle he pointed at Horace Perry. And Perry did a strange thing.

"Yes, you fiend, here I am!" Whose voice was that? Was it Perry
speaking, or was it Skip Handlon? Most assuredly Perry stood before
them, but the voice, in a subtle manner, reminded the group strongly of
poor old Skip.

       *       *       *       *       *

As he spoke Perry had launched himself at the Professor's throat and had
to be restrained by the others. Savagely he fought them but slowly and
surely they overcame his struggles and placed him, writhing, in a
chair.

Of a sudden Bland leaned forward and scrutinized Perry's face sharply.
Had the reporter gone insane too? The pupils of the eyes had taken on a
sort of queer contraction, a fixed quality that was almost ludicrous. He
looked like a man under hypnosis. He had gone limp in their grasp, but
now suddenly he stiffened. The eyes underwent another startling change,
this time glowing undoubtedly with the look of reason. Bland was
mystified and waited for Perry to explain his queer conduct. The latter
seemed finally to come to. Simultaneously he realized that his peculiar
lapse from consciousness had been observed by the others.

"Guess I may as well admit it," he said with a wry smile. "Ever since I
came back from my assignment with Kell I have had a hell of a time. Half
the time I have been in a daze and have not had the least idea what I
was doing. Funny part of it is that I have seemed to keep right on doing
things even while I was out of my head." He told briefly of the visions
he had had in which he had seemed to contend with his brother reporter,
the horrid sensations as he felt himself overcome, the black oblivion in
which he then found himself, and the mysterious manner in which he had
left Keegan on that ill-fated assignment.

"What have you done to Handlon?" Jimmie's voice cut in. He was standing
over the form of the maniac, rigid and menacing. "You have exactly two
minutes to go."

"Find out for yourself!" snarled the bruised and battered fiend.

"I will," was the answer, and on the instant a horrible shriek rent the
air. Jimmie had quickly grasped both of the Professor's arms at the
wrists and was slowly twisting them in a grip of iron. Kell's face went
white, the lips writhed back over toothless gums, the eyes closed in the
supreme effort to withstand the excruciating pain. Then--

"Enough, enough!" he screamed.

       *       *       *       *       *

O'Hara eased the pressure slightly but retained his hold upon the
clawlike hands. "Talk fast," he ordered.

The old man struggled futilely in the grasp of the powerful reporter,
finally glancing in the direction of the others. Would they show signs
of pity? Surely not Hard Boiled Bland. The Chief was watching the
struggles of the victim through a cloud of tobacco smoke which he was
slowly exhaling through his nose. The plainclothesman displayed no sign
of interest at all. The game was up!

"Very well," he said sullenly. "Handlon and Perry are both occupying the
same body."

"Wh-a-a-t?" roared Bland. "Jimmie, I guess you'll have to put the screws
to him some more. He's trying to make fools of us at the last minute!"

"No, no!" screamed the Professor. "What I say is true. I have been
working for years on my system of de-astralization. This last year I at
length perfected my electric de-astralizer, which amplifies and exerts
the fifth influence of de-cohesion."

The whole party began to look uneasy and gazed apprehensively at the
huge Crookes tube which still stood in its supporting frame on the
table.

"I have been forced to experiment on animals for the most part," the
Professor continued. "I succeeded in de-astralizing a dog and a bull and
caused them to exchange bodies. The bodies continued to function. I was
enthusiastic. Other experiments took place of which I will not tell you.
Finally I began to long for a human subject on which to try my fifth
influence."

"Just get down to cases, if you don't mind, Kell." The Chief wanted
action. "Suppose you tell us just what you did to Handlon and where we
can find him. I may as well mention that your life depends upon it. If
we find that you have done for him, something worse than death may
happen to you." The tone was menacing. Although Handlon was a
comparatively late acquisition to the old Chief's staff, still he had
been loyal to the paper.

"When your two damned reporters entered my driveway," Kell resumed. "I
saw them coming through a powerful glass which I always have on hand. I
had no desire to see them, but they forced themselves upon me. At last I
determined that they should furnish material for my experiments.

       *       *       *       *       *

"If your men had looked into the grove behind the barn they would have
found the automobile which furnished two more subjects I was keeping on
hand in a room upstairs. Old Manion and his daughter gave me quite a bit
of trouble, but I kept them drugged most of the time. He broke out of
the room to-night though, and I had to kill him. It was self defense,"
he added slyly.

"Anyway, I found it was possible to make two astrals exchange bodies.
But I also wanted to see if it were possible to cause two astrals to
occupy the same body at the same time, and if so what the result would
be. I found out. It was rare sport to watch your star reporter leave my
house. He was damned glad to leave, I believe...." Again came the insane
cackle.

"Guess we have to believe him whether we want to or not." The detective
came to life. "How about making him release Handlon's--what d'ye call
it?--astral--from Perry's body?"

"Just a moment." The voice now was unmistakably Handlon's, though it was
issuing from the throat of Perry. "In the minute I have in consciousness
let me suggest that before you do any more de-astralizing you _locate my
body_. Until then, if I am released from this one I am a dead man."

The words struck the group dumb. Where _was_ Handlon's body? Could the
Professor produce it?

That worthy looked rather haunted at that moment, and they began to see
the fear of death coming upon him.

"Mercy, mercy!" he begged as the four men started to advance upon him.
"As soon as I had de-astralized Handlon I destroyed his body in my
pickling barrel down cellar. But there is another way...." He paused,
uncertain as to how his next words would be received. "Go out and get
the Manion girl. She can be de-astralized and friend Handlon can have
her body."

       *       *       *       *       *

At this suggestion, advanced so naïvely, the four men recoiled in
horror. It was entirely too much even for Hard Boiled Bland, and he
could hardly restrain himself from applying the editorial fist to the
leering face before him. Undoubtedly Professor Kell was hopelessly
insane, and for that reason he held himself in leash.

"Kell, you are slated to pull off one more stunt," Jimmie addressed the
cringing heap. "You know what it is. Get busy. And just remember that I
am standing over here"--he indicated a corner well separated from the
rest--"with this cannon aimed in your direction. If things aren't just
according to Hoyle, you get plugged. Get me?"

"What about it, men?" Bland spoke up. "Is it going to be treating
Handlon right to de-astralize him now? It will be his last chance to
have a body on this earth."

"Unfortunately that body never belonged to Handlon," said O'Hara. "Hence
I fail to see why Perry should be discommoded for the balance of his
life with a companion astral. Perry is clearly entitled to his own body,
free and unhampered. Friend Skip is out of luck, unless--Well, I don't
mind telling you, Kell, that you just gave me an idea. Snap into it
now!"

The Professor dragged himself to his feet and under the menace of the
automatic fumbled under the table until he had located the intricate
apparatus before mentioned.

"Now if Mr. Perry--or Handlon--will kindly recline at full length on
this table," he said with an obscene leer, "the experiment will begin."

"Just remember, Kell, this is no experiment," advised Bland, fixing the
Professor with an ugly eye. "You do as you're told."

The other made no reply, but threw a hidden switch. Perry, lying flat on
his back on the ancient table, suddenly found himself being bathed by
what seemed to be a ray of light, and yet was not a ray of light. What
was it? It was surely not visible, yet it was tangible. A terrific force
was emanating from that devilish globe above him, drawing him out of
himself--or--no--was he expanding? Again his ears became filled with
confused, horrible sounds, the outlines of the room faded from sight,
he felt a strange sense of inflation ... of lightness.... Oblivion!

       *       *       *       *       *

From where the others sat a gasp of wonder went up. At the first contact
of the switch there had been a momentary flash of greenish light within
the bulb, and then a swift transition to a beautiful orange. It had then
faded altogether, leaving the glass apparently inert and inactive.

But it was not so! The form lying beneath the bulb was evidently being
racked with untold tortures. The face became a thing of horror. Now it
had twisted into a grotesque semblance of Handlon's--now it again
resembled Perry's. The Professor quietly increased the pressure of the
current. From the bulb emanated a steel gray exhalation of what must be
termed light, and yet so real it was seemingly material. Assuredly it
was not a ray of light as we understand light. It came in great beating
throbs, in which the actual vibrations were entirely visible. Under each
impact the body of Perry seemed to change, slowly at first, then with
increasing speed. The body was now swelled to enormous size. Bland
reached forward to touch it.

"This de-cohering influence," the Professor was murmuring, almost
raptly, "causes the atoms that go to make a living body repel one
another. When the body is sufficiently nebulized, the soul--Back! Back,
you fool!" he suddenly shrieked, grasping Bland by the arm. "Do you want
to kill him?"

Bland hurriedly retreated, convinced perforce that Kell's alarm was
genuine. The editorial fingers had penetrated the subject's garments
without resistance and sank into the body as easily as if it were so
much soft soap!

       *       *       *       *       *

The body continued to expand until at length even the hard-headed
plainclothesman realized that it had been reduced to a mere vapor.
Within this horrid vaporized body, which nearly filled the room and
which had now lost all semblance to a man, could be discerned two faint
shapes. Swiftly the Professor extinguished the lantern. The shapes,
vague though they were, could be recognized as those of Horace Perry and
Skip Handlon. And they were at strife!

All eyes were now focused on Professor Kell, who was evidently waiting
for something to happen. The two apparitions within the body-cloud were
at death grips. One had been overcome and was temporarily helpless. It
was that of Handlon. And then again the astral of Perry forcibly ousted
that of Handlon from the cloud-cyst. And at that instant Professor Kell
shut off the influence-tube.

At once a terrific metamorphosis took place. There came a sharp sound
almost like a clap of thunder, with the slight exception that this was
occasioned by exactly the reverse effect. Instead of being an
_ex_plosion it might more properly be termed an _in_plosion, for the
mist-cloud suddenly vanished. The de-cohering influence having been
removed, the cloud had condensed into the form of Perry. Apparently none
the worse, he was even now beginning to recover consciousness. The
astral of Handlon was no longer visible, though hovering in the
vicinity.

Perry's body was again his own.

       *       *       *       *       *

At this time Jimmie O'Hara elected to start something new by hitting the
Professor a workmanlike blow on the back of the head with the butt of
his automatic. The next thing Bland or anyone else present knew the
unconscious body of the Professor was on the table and Jimmie was
groping for the concealed switch. At length he found it, and the green
flash of light appeared in the bulb, followed by the brilliant orange
manifestation.

"What in hell are you doing?" gasped Bland.

"De-astralizing the Professor," replied O'Hara cheerfully. "Don't you
get the idea yet? Watch!"

Fascinated, the four men saw the terrific emanation take its baleful
effect. As before, the body commenced to expand and gradually took on a
misty outline. Larger and larger it grew, until finally it had become a
vast cloud of intangible nothingness which filled the room like some
evil nebula.

A cry of consternation from the detective aroused Jimmie. Skip Handlon's
astral had appeared within the field of the nebula to fight for
possession. There ensued what was perhaps the weirdest encounter ever
witnessed. Though he was in poor physical shape, the Professor seemed to
have an extremely powerful astral; and for some time the spectators
despaired of Handlon's victory. Once the latter, evidently realizing
that the powerful influence tube had rendered him visible, glanced
sharply in Jimmie's direction. O'Hara was considerably puzzled at this,
but watched the progress of the struggle tensely. At length the moment
seemed to arrive which the reporter's astral had been awaiting. It
turned tail and fled away from the astral of the Professor, disappearing
beyond the outer confines of the nebula.

Jimmie suddenly divined the other's purpose and dived for the hidden
switch. As he had anticipated, Handlon had finally given up the attempt
to overcome the astral of Kell by force and had made up his mind to
accomplish his end by strategy. Almost on the instant that Jimmie's hand
closed on the switch the reporter's astral again leaped into the field
of the nebula. Fiercely it signalled to the former second story man to
shut off the current, but the admonition was unnecessary, for Jimmie had
already done so.

       *       *       *       *       *

Swiftly the cloud-cyst faded. Even as the group caught a fleeting sight
of Skip Handlon, the last that mortal eyes would ever see of him as he
actually was, there came a violent disturbance at the edge of the
shrinking nebula. Would the speed of condensation of the atoms which
comprised the body of Professor Kell serve to shut out the pursuing
astral of Kell?

Even Bland held his breath!

The cloud lost its luminous quality, the action of condensation
increasing in speed. It was barely visible in the enshrouding gloom. An
astral had long since been enveloped within the rapidly accumulating
substance. Came a sudden clap of sound as before, and the final act of
resolution had been accomplished. Whether the Professor had succeeded in
regaining a position within the cloud-cyst before the crucial second
none could say.

Jimmie relighted the lantern. Apparently the effect of the love tap
administered by his automatic was more or less of a lasting character,
and the men were put to some ado to restore the body of Kell to
consciousness. At length their efforts began to bear fruit, however, and
it became expedient to remove the patient to the softer couch in the
sitting room below. As they moved forward to lay hold of the limp body a
figure appeared in the doorway to the hall. It was the plainclothesman,
Riley.

"How about getting under way for town," he wanted to know. "Is the old
party croaked yet? Miss Manion has had a fierce time and says she won't
stay near this house another minute. I don't like this place myself
either. Do you know I just got kicked by a poll parrot? Let's get away
from here."

"Hold on, Riley, what are you talking about?" growled Bland. "Kicked by
a poll parrot! You're--"

"That's all right, Chief," broke in the now thoroughly cheerful Perry.
"That jackass I shot could probably have told us all about it. I
positively know the beast could talk."

"Humph!" snorted Bland, "Well, if a donkey can talk, and a bull can
bite, and a hound can hook, why shouldn't a parrot--Judas Priest, I'm
getting as crazy as the rest of you! Hurry up and get Kell downstairs so
we can see who he is. There I go again! Oh, go lie down, Riley."

"But look, Bland, look!" Riley was pointing a demoralized finger at a
cage in the corner. He tugged frantically at Bland's coat sleeve. "See
what's in there, won't you? I--well, I did find some liquor in your car,
and Miss Manion made me take some. I--I didn't know it would do this to
me. Look in there; please, Mr. Bland!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Bland gave Riley a dark look, but nevertheless he reached for O'Hara's
flashlight. In the cage two yellow eyes blinked sleepily out at him.
Perry began to laugh.

"Why, there's nothing in there but a cat. Skip and I heard it purring
when we first came in here this afternoon. Guess Riley--"

"Great God, Jimmie, give me your gun!" Hard Boiled Bland for the moment
failed to merit his sobriquet. The torch in his hand threw a trembling
beam full into the cage. "It's a snake! And--there! It's doing it
again!"

A snake it was, indubitably, a huge black specimen with bright yellow
stripes. Bland's frenzied yell seemed not to have excited it at all, for
now the sleek fellow had arched its body neatly and was calmly licking
its sides with a long forked tongue. After a moment it halted the
operation long enough to rub its jaw against a bar of its cage, and gave
vent to a sociable mew!

Even this could not dash the spirits of Horace Perry. He laughed
delightedly again as he laid Bland by the arm.

"That creature is perfectly harmless, Chief," he told the editor.
"Somewhere I suppose there's a mighty dangerous kitty cat at large, but
there's no sense in taking it out on this poor reptile. Let's live and
let live."

With a show of reluctance Bland returned Jimmie's automatic, then strode
over to where lay the form of Kell. Perry and O'Hara lingered by the
cage long enough to arrange a plan to let the snake out doors as soon as
opportunity offered, after which they joined their Chief. Riley went
out to resume his vigil in Bland's car, while his fellow sleuth prepared
to light the way downstairs. Under his guidance the sick man was carried
below without mishap.

Downstairs the now conscious form of the venerable Professor was laid
out on the ancient sofa until his senses could clear a bit. Presently
the eyelids fluttered open and a feeble voice asked, "Where the deuce am
I, and how did all you guys get here?"

       *       *       *       *       *

A joyous gasp went up. That voice! Although uttered in somewhat the same
vocal quality as Kell's the intonation and accents had strangely
altered. O'Hara leaned eagerly over the figure on the couch. The
question he asked was startling in its incongruity:

"How are you feeling, _Skip_!"

"Rotten," was the reply from the lips of Kell. "What hit me such a crack
on the dome? I feel as if I had been dragged through a knot-hole. Lemme
up."

"Stay still," commanded O'Hara, kindly but firmly. "You aren't fit to
move yet. You are going on a long ride and will need your strength.
Don't talk, either."

A half-hour later they left the house. In the front yard the editor
called a hasty conclave which included the entire party. Hard Boiled
Bland has never been known to talk so much at a stretch, before or
since.

"Before we start back," he began, "we had better come to an understanding.
In the first place--Skip, come over here a minute."

Norma Manion uttered an involuntary cry of fear as the aged form of Kell
passed by her. Skip's instant response to his name had, of course, been
perfectly natural to him. But it had an odd effect on the others.

"Miss Manion, and gentlemen," Bland went on, with a bow of mock
ceremony, "I want you to meet Mister--er, Mister--oh hell, call him
Saunders. This is Mr. Kenneth Saunders, ladies and gentlemen. When he
gets a shave and has his new face patched up I believe you will like his
appearance much more than you do now.

"Seriously though, folks, I hope that with a little fixing up the
gentleman will hardly resemble Professor Anton Kell. Kell is dead.
Obviously, however, this gentleman can hardly continue his existence as
Skip Handlon. Hence--well, hence Mr. Saunders. And don't forget the
name.

"Now another little matter. This house has proven a curse to humanity.
What has transpired here need never be known. Would it not be the wiser
to eliminate all traces of to-night's happenings? There is a way." He
looked significantly at the others.

       *       *       *       *       *

"You mean--" began Perry.

"That we destroy all traces of Professor Kell's villainy. Although he is
no more, still someone might notice that _his body actively remains_.
And no one wants to do any explaining."

"It's the only way we can protect Handlon," one of the sleuths
ruminated, half to himself. "No judge would ever believe a word about
this de-astralization business. The chances are we would all go to the
booby hatch and Handlon would go to prison for Kell's crimes."

"There were four of us that witnessed the fact of the--the soul
transfusion, though," Perry objected. "Wouldn't that be enough to clear
Skip? Besides, wouldn't it be possible for us to lead a jury out here
and duplicate the experiment?"

"Too much undesirable publicity," growled Bland, who for once in his
life had found reason to keep something good out of the headlines. "What
do you say, people?"

"I move we move," from the detective who had had the uncomfortable job
of attending to Norma Manion.

"Gentleman, I believe we understand each other," said Jimmie quietly.
"Now I am going into the barn"--significantly--"to see if everything's
all right. While I am there something _might_ happen. You understand?"

The others nodded silent assent.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the snug seat of Jimmie's speedster Norma Manion shivered as she
followed the direction indicated by her companion's finger. It was that
darkest hour which comes just before the dawn.

To the westward could be perceived a dull, red glow, which, even as they
watched with fascinated eyes, developed into an intense glare. Gradually
the fading stars became eclipsed in the greater glory.

Three cars, motors throbbing as if eager to be gone, stood a space apart
on the main road. The car behind O'Hara's was the Manion machine, now
occupied by Bland and Riley. The remaining one was a touring car and
contained the balance of the party. Perry was at the wheel, and beside
him sat the Handlon-Kell-Saunders combination.

"Thus passes a den of horror," whispered Jimmie to his companion.

"It is the funeral pyre of my father," the girl answered simply. She had
long since recovered from her initial outburst of grief at her loss, and
now watched the progress of the conflagration dry-eyed. At length Jimmie
slipped an arm protectingly about the trembling shoulders.

"You have seen enough," he said. As the three cars raced from the scene
of the holocaust, faint streamers in the east told of the rising orb of
day.

"Good-by, Keegan, forever," murmured Norma.

"Amen," O'Hara devoutedly agreed.



From the Ocean's Depths

_By Sewell Peaslee Wright_

    Man came from the sea. Mercer, by his thought-telegraph, learns
    from the weirdly beautiful ocean-maiden of a branch that
    returned there.

[Illustration: _Her head was a little to one side, in the attitude of one
who listens intently._]


From somewhere out on the black, heaving Atlantic, the rapid, muffled
popping of a speed-boat's exhaust drifted clearly through the night.

I dropped my book and stretched, leaning back more comfortably in my
chair. There was real romance and adventure! Rum-runners, seeking out
their hidden port with their cargo of contraband from Cuba. Heading
fearlessly through the darkness, fighting the high seas, still running
after the storm of a day or so before, daring a thousand dangers for the
sake of the straw-packed bottles they carried. Sea-bronzed men, with
hard, flat muscles and fearless eyes; ready guns slapping their thighs
as they--

Absorbed in my mental picture of these modern free-booters, the sudden
alarm of the telephone startled me like an unexpected shot fired beside
my ear. Brushing the cigarette ashes from my smoking-jacket, I crossed
the room and snatched up the receiver.

"Hello!" I snapped ungraciously into the mouthpiece. It was after eleven
by the ship's clock on the mantel, and if--

"Taylor?" The voice--Warren Mercer's familiar voice--rattled on without
waiting for a reply. "Get in your car and come down here as fast as
possible. Come just as you are, and--"

       *       *       *       *       *

"What's the matter?" I managed to interrupt him. "Burglars?" I had never
heard Mercer speak in that high-pitched, excited voice before; his usual
speech was slow and thoughtful, almost didactic.

"Please, Taylor, don't waste time questioning me. If it weren't urgent,
I wouldn't be calling you, you know. Will you come?"

"You bet!" I said quickly, feeling rather a fool for ragging him when he
was in such deadly earnest. "Have--"

The receiver snapped and crackled; Mercer had hung up the instant he had
my assurance that I would come. Usually the very soul of courtesy and
consideration, that act alone would have convinced me that there was an
urgent need for my presence at The Monstrosity. That was Mercer's own
name for the impressive pile that was at once his residence and his
laboratory.

I threw off the smoking-jacket and pulled on a woolen golfing sweater,
for the wind was brisk and sharpish. In two minutes I was backing the
car out of the garage; a moment later I was off the gravelled drive and
tearing down the concrete with the accelerator all the way down, and the
black wind shrieking around the windshield of my little roadster.

My own shack was out of the city limits--a little place I keep to live
in when the urge to go fishing seizes me, which is generally about twice
a year. Mercer picked the place up for me at a song.

The Monstrosity was some four miles further out from town, and off the
highway perhaps a half-mile more.

I made the four miles in just a shade over that many minutes, and
clamped on the brakes as I saw the entrance to the little drive that led
toward the sea, and Mercer's estate.

       *       *       *       *       *

With gravel rattling on my fenders, I turned off the concrete and swept
between the two massive, stuccoed pillars that guarded the drive. Both
of them bore corroded bronze plates, "The Billows," the name given The
Monstrosity by the original owner, a newly-rich munitions manufacturer.

The structure itself loomed up before me in a few seconds, a rambling
affair with square-shouldered balconies and a great deal of wrought-iron
work, after the most flamboyant Spanish pattern. It was ablaze with
light. Apparently every bulb in the place was burning.

Just a few yards beyond the surf boomed hollowly on the smooth, shady
shore, littered now, I knew, by the pitiful spoils of the storm.

As I clamped on my brakes, a swift shadow passed two of the lower
windows. Before I could leap from the car, the broad front door, with
its rounded top and circular, grilled window, was flung wide, and Mercer
came running to meet me.

He was wearing a bathrobe, hastily flung on over a damp bathing suit,
his bare legs terminating in a pair of disreputable slippers.

"Fine, Taylor!" he greeted me. "I suppose you're wondering what it's all
about. I don't blame you. But come in, come in! Just wait till you see
her!"

"Her?" I asked, startled. "You're not in love, by any chance, and
bringing me down here like this merely to back up your own opinion of
them eyes and them lips, Mercer?"

       *       *       *       *       *

He laughed excitedly.

"You'll see, you'll see! No, I'm not in love. And I want you to help,
and not admire. There are only Carson and myself here, you know, and the
job's too big for the two of us." He hurried me across the broad
concrete porch and into the house. "Throw the cap anywhere and come
on!"

Too much amazed to comment further, I followed my friend. This was a
Warren Mercer I did not know. Usually his clean-cut, olive-tinted face
was a polite mask that seldom showed even the slightest trace of
emotion. His eyes, dark and large, smiled easily, and shone with
interest, but his almost beautiful mouth, beneath the long slim
mustache, always closely cropped, seldom smiled with his eyes.

But it was his present excited speech that amazed me most. Mercer,
during all the years I had known him, had never been moved before to
such tempestuous outbursts of enthusiasm. It was his habit to speak
slowly and thoughtfully, in his low, musical voice; even in the midst of
our hottest arguments, and we had had many of them, his voice had never
lost its calm, unhurried gentleness.

To my surprise, instead of leading the way to the really comfortable,
although rather gaudy living room, Mercer turned to the left, towards
what had been the billiard room, and was now his laboratory.

The laboratory, brilliantly illuminated, was littered, as usual, with
apparatus of every description. Along one wall were the retorts, scales,
racks, hoods and elaborate set-ups, like the articulated glass and
rubber bones of some weird prehistoric monster, that demonstrated
Mercer's taste for this branch of science. On the other side of the room
a corresponding workbench was littered with a tangle of coils,
transformers, meters, tools and instruments, and at the end of the
room, behind high black control panels, with gleaming bus-bars and
staring, gaping meters, a pair of generators hummed softly. The other
end of the room was nearly all glass, and opened onto the patio and the
swimming pool.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mercer paused a moment, with his hand on the knob of the door, a strange
light in his dark eyes.

"Now you'll see why I called you here," he said tensely. "You can judge
for yourself whether the trip was worth while. Here she is!"

With a gesture he flung open the door, and I stared, following his
glance, down at the great tiled swimming pool.

It is difficult for me to describe the scene. The patio was not large,
but it was beautifully done. Flowers and shrubs, even a few small palms,
grew in profusion in the enclosure, while above, through the movable
glass roof--made in sections to disappear in fine weather--was the empty
blackness of the sky.

None of the lights provided for the illumination of the covered patio
was turned on, but all the windows surrounding the patio were aglow, and
I could see the pool quite clearly.

The pool--and its occupant.

       *       *       *       *       *

We were standing at one side of the pool, near the center. Directly
opposite us, seated on the bottom of the pool, was a human figure, nude
save for a great mass of tawny hair that fell about her like a silken
mantle. The strangely graceful figure of a girl, one leg stretched out
straight before her, the other drawn up and clasped by the interlocked
fingers of her hands. Even in the soft light I could see her perfectly,
through the clear water, her pale body outlined sharply against the jade
green tiles.

I tore myself away from the staring, curious eyes of the figure.

"In God's name, Mercer, what is it? Porcelain?" I asked hoarsely. The
thing had an indescribably eery effect.

He laughed wildly.

"Porcelain? Watch ... _look_!"

My eyes followed his pointing finger. The figure was moving. Gracefully
it arose to its full height. The great cloud of corn-colored hair
floated down about it, falling below the knees. Slowly, with a grace of
movement comparable only with the slow soaring of a gull, she came
toward me, walking on the bottom of the pool through the clear water as
though she floated in air.

       *       *       *       *       *

Fascinated, I watched her. Her eyes, startlingly large and dark in the
strangely white face, were fixed on mine. There was nothing sinister in
the gaze, yet I felt my body shaking as though in the grip of a terrible
fear. I tried to look away, and found myself unable to move. I felt
Mercer's tense, sudden grip upon my arm, but I did not, could not, look
at him.

"She--she's smiling!" I heard him exclaim. He laughed, an excited,
high-pitched laugh that irritated me in some subtle way.

She was smiling, and looking up into my eyes. She was very close now,
within a few feet of us. She came still closer, until she was at my very
feet as I stood on the raised ledge that ran around the edge of the
pool, her head thrown back, staring straight up at me through the
water.

I could see her teeth, very white between her coral-pink lips, and her
bosom rising and falling beneath the veil of pale gold hair. She was
breathing _water_!

Mercer literally jerked me away from the edge of the pool.

"What do you think of her, Taylor?" he asked, his dark eyes dancing with
excitement.

"Tell me about it," I said, shaking my head dazedly. "She is not
human?"

"I don't know. I think so. As human as you or I. I'll tell you all I
know, and then you can judge for yourself. I think we'll know in a few
minutes, if my plans work out. But first slip on a bathing suit."

I didn't argue the matter. I let Mercer lead me away without a word. And
while I was changing, he told me all he knew of the strange creature in
the pool.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Late this afternoon I decided to go for a little walk along the beach,"
Mercer began. "I had been working like the devil since early in the
morning, running some tests on what you call my thought-telegraph. I
felt the need of some fresh sea air.

"I walked along briskly for perhaps five minutes, keeping just out of
reach of the rollers and the spray. The shore was littered with all
sorts of flotsam and jetsam washed up by the big storm, and I was just
thinking that I would have to have a man with a truck come and clean up
the shore in front of the place, when, in a little sandy pool, I
saw--_her_.

       *       *       *       *       *

"She was laying face down in the water, motionless, her head towards the
sea, one arm stretched out before her, and her long hair wrapped around
her like a half-transparent cloak.

"I ran up and lifted her from the water. Her body was cold, and deathly
white, although her lips were faintly pink, and her heart was beating,
faintly but steadily.

"Like most people in an emergency. I forgot all I ever knew about first
aid. All I could think of was to give her a drink, and of course I
didn't have a flask on my person. So I picked her up in my arms and
brought her to the house as quickly as I could. She seemed to be
reviving, for she was struggling and gasping when I got here with her.

"I placed her on the bed in the guest room and poured her a stiff drink
of Scotch--half a tumblerful, I believe. Lifting up her head, I placed
the glass to her lips. She looked up me, blinking, and took the liquor
in a single draught. She did not seem to drink it, but sucked it out of
the glass in a single amazing gulp--that's the only word for it. The
next instant she was off the bed, her face a perfect mask of hate and
agony.

"She came at me, hands clutching and clawing, making odd murmuring or
mewing sounds in her throat. It was then that I noticed for the first
time that her hands were webbed!"

       *       *       *       *       *

"Webbed?" I asked, startled.

"Webbed," nodded Mercer solemnly. "As are her feet. But listen, Taylor.
I was amazed, and not a little rattled when she came for me. I ran
through the French windows out into the patio. For a moment she ran
after me, rather awkwardly and heavily, but swiftly, nevertheless. Then
she saw the pool.

"Apparently forgetting that I existed, she leaped into the water, and as
I approached a moment later I could see her breathing deeply and
gratefully, a smile of relief upon her features, as she lay upon the
bottom of the pool. Breathing, Taylor, on the bottom of the pool! Under
eight feet of water!"

"And then what, Mercer?" I reminded him, as he paused, apparently lost
in thought.

"I tried to find out more about her. I put on my bathing suit and dived
into the pool. Well, she came at me like a shark, quick as a flash, her
teeth showing, her hands tearing like claws through the water. I turned,
but not quickly enough to entirely escape. See?" Mercer threw back the
dressing robe, and I saw a ragged tear in his bathing suit on his left
side, near the waist. Through the rent three deep, jagged scratches were
clearly visible.

       *       *       *       *       *

"She managed to claw me, just once," Mercer resumed, wrapping the robe
about him again. "Then I got out and called on Carson for help. I put
him into a bathing suit, and we both endeavored to corner her. Carson
got two bad scratches, and one rather serious bite that I have bandaged.
I have a number of lacerations, but I didn't fare so badly as Carson
because I am faster in the water than he is.

"The harder we tried, the more determined I became. She would sit there,
calm and placid, until one of us entered the water. Then she became a
veritable fury. It was maddening.

"At last I thought of you. I phoned, and here we are!"

"But, Mercer, it's a nightmare!" I protested. We moved out of the room.
"Nothing human can live under water and breathe water, as she does!"

Mercer paused a moment, staring at me oddly.

"The human race," he said gravely, "came up out of sea. The human race
as we know it. Some may have gone back." He turned and walked away
again, and I hurried after him.

"What do you mean. Mercer? 'Some may have gone back?' I don't get it."

Mercer shook his head, but made no other reply until we stood again on
the edge of the pool.

The girl was standing where we had left her, and as she looked up into
my face, she smiled again, and made a quick gesture with one hand. It
seemed to me that she invited me to join her.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I believe she likes you, Taylor," said Mercer thoughtfully. "You're
light, light skin, light hair. Carson and I are both very dark, almost
swarthy. And in that white bathing suit--yes, I believe she's taken a
fancy to you!"

Mercer's eyes were dancing.

"If she has," he went on, "it'll make our work very easy."

"What work?" I asked suspiciously. Mercer, always an indefatigable
experimenter, was never above using his friends in the benefit of
science. And some of his experiments in the past had been rather trying,
not to say exciting.

"I think I have what you call my thought-telegraph perfected,
experimentally," he explained rapidly. "I fell asleep working on it at
three o'clock, or thereabouts, this morning, and some tests with Carson
seem to indicate that it is a success. I should have called you
to-morrow, for further test. Nearly five years of damned hard work to a
successful conclusion, Taylor, and then this mermaid comes along and
makes my experiment appear about as important as one of those breakers
rolling in out there!"

"And what do you plan to do now?" I asked eagerly, glancing down at the
beautiful pale face that glimmered up at me through the clear water of
the pool.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Why, try it on her!" exclaimed Mercer with mounting enthusiasm. "Don't
you see, Taylor? If it will work on her, and we can direct her thoughts,
we can find out her history, the history of her people! We'll add a page
to scientific history--a whole big chapter!--that will make us famous.
Man this is so big it's swept me off my feet! Look!" And he held out a
thin, aristocratic brown hand before my eyes, a hand that shook with
nervous excitement.

"I don't blame you," I said quickly. "I'm no savant, and still I see
what an amazing thing this is. Let's get busy. What can I do?"

Mercer reached around the door into the laboratory and pressed a
button.

"For Carson," he explained. "We'll need his help. In the meantime, we'll
look over the set-up. The apparatus is strewn all over the place."

He had not exaggerated. The set-up consisted of a whole bank of tubes,
each one in its own shielding copper box. On a much-drilled horizontal
panel, propped up on insulators, were half a score of delicate meters of
one kind and another, with thin black fingers that pulsed and trembled.
Behind the panel was a tall cylinder wound with shining copper wire, and
beside it another panel, upright, fairly bristling with knobs, contact
points, potentiometers, rheostats and switches. On the end of the table
nearest the door was still another panel, the smallest of the lot,
bearing only a series of jacks along one side, and in the center a
switch with four contact points. A heavy, snaky cable led from this
panel to the maze of apparatus further on.

       *       *       *       *       *

"This is the control panel," explained Mercer. "The whole affair, you
understand, is in laboratory form. Nothing assembled. Put the different
antennae plug into these jacks. Like this."

He picked up a weird, hastily built contrivance composed of two
semi-circular pieces of spring brass, crossed at right angles. On all
four ends were bright silvery electrodes, three of them circular in
shape, one of them elongated and slightly curved. With a quick, nervous
gesture, Mercer fitted the thing to his head, so that the elongated
electrode pressed against the back of his neck, extending a few inches
down his spine. The other three circular electrodes rested on his
forehead and either side of his head. From the center of the contrivance
ran a heavy insulated cord, some ten feet in length, ending in a simple
switchboard plug, which Mercer fitted into the uppermost of the three
jacks.

"Now," he directed, "you put on this one"--he adjusted a second
contrivance upon my head, smiling as I shrank from the contact of the
cold metal on my skin--"and think!"

He moved the switch from the position marked "Off" to the second contact
point, watching me intently, his dark eyes gleaming.

Carson entered, and Mercer gestured to him to wait. Very nice old chap,
Carson, impressive even in his bathing suit. Mercer was mighty lucky to
have a man like Carson....

       *       *       *       *       *

Something seemed to tick suddenly, somewhere deep in my consciousness.

"Yes, that's very true: Carson is a most decent sort of chap." The words
were not spoken. I did not _hear_ them, I _knew_ them. What--I glanced
at Mercer, and he laughed aloud with pleasure and excitement.

"It worked!" he cried. "I received your thought regarding Carson, and
then turned the switch so that you received my thought. And you did!"

Rather gingerly I removed the thing from my head and laid it on the
table.

"It's wizardry, Mercer! If it will work as well on _her_...."

"It will, I know it will!--if we can get her to wear one of these,"
replied Mercer confidently. "I have only three of them; I had planned
some three-cornered experiments with you, Carson, and myself. We'll
leave Carson out of to-night's experiment, however, for we'll need him
to operate this switch. You see, as it is now wired only one person
transmits thoughts at a time. The other two receive. When the switch is
on the first contact, Number One sends, and Numbers Two and Three
receive. When the switch is on Number Two, then he sends thoughts, and
Numbers One and Three receive them. And so on. I'll lengthen these leads
so that we can run them out into the pool, and then we'll be ready.
Somehow we must induce her to wear one of these things, even if we have
to use force. I'm sure the three of us can handle her."

"We should be able to," I smiled. She was such a slim, graceful, almost
delicate little thing; the thought that three strong men might not be
able to control her seemed almost amusing.

"You haven't seen her in action yet," said Mercer grimly, glancing up
from his work of lengthening the cords that led from the antennae to the
control panel. "And what's more, I hope you don't."

       *       *       *       *       *

I watched him in silence as he spliced and securely taped the last
connection.

"All set," he nodded. "Carson, will you operate the switch for us? I
believe everything is functioning properly." He surveyed the panel of
instruments hastily, assuring himself that every reading was correct.
Then, with all three of the devices he called antennae in his hand,
their leads plugged into the control panel, he led the way to the side
of the pool.

The girl was strolling around the edge of the pool, feeling the smooth
tile sides with her hands as we came into view, but as soon as she saw
us she shot through the water to where we were standing.

It was the first time I had seen her move in this fashion. She seemed to
propel herself with a sudden mighty thrust of her feet against the
bottom; she darted through the water with the speed of an arrow, yet
stopped as gently as though she had merely floated there.

As she looked up, her eyes unmistakably sought mine, and her smile
seemed warm and inviting. She made again that strange little gesture of
invitation.

With an effort I glanced at Mercer. There was something devilishly
fascinating about the girl's great, dark, searching eyes.

"I'm going in," I said hoarsely. "Hand me one of your head-set things
when I reach for it." Before he could protest, I dived into the pool.

       *       *       *       *       *

I headed directly towards the heavy bronze ladder that led to the bottom
of the pool. I had two reasons in mind. I would need something to keep
me under water, with my lungs full of air, and I could get out quickly
if it were necessary. I had not forgotten the livid, jagged furrows in
Mercer's side.

Quickly as I shot to the ladder she was there before me, a dim, wavering
white shape, waiting.

I paused, holding to a rung of the ladder with one hand. She came
closer, walking with the airy grace I had noted before, and my heart
pounded against my ribs as she raised one long, slim arm towards me.

The hand dropped gently on my shoulder, pressed it as though in token
of friendship. Perhaps, I thought quickly, this was, with her, a sign of
greeting. I lifted my own arm and returned the salutation, if salutation
it were, aware of a strange rising and falling sound, as of a distant
humming, in my ears.

The sound ceased suddenly, on a rising note, as though of inquiry, and
it dawned on me that I had heard the speech of this strange creature.
Before I could think of a course of action, my aching lungs reminded me
of the need of air, and I released my hold on the ladder and let my body
rise to the surface.

       *       *       *       *       *

As my head broke the water, a hand, cold and strong as steel, closed
around my ankle. I looked down. The girl was watching me, and there was
no smile on her face now.

"All right!" I shouted across the pool to Mercer, who was watching
anxiously. Then, filling my lungs with air again, I pulled myself, by
means of the ladder, to the bottom of the pool. The restraining hand was
removed instantly.

The strange creature thrust her face close to mine as my feet touched
bottom, and for the first time I saw her features distinctly.

She was beautiful, but in a weird, unearthly sort of way. As I had
already noticed, her eyes were of unusual size, and I saw now that they
were an intense shade of blue, with a pupil of extraordinary proportion.
Her nose was well shaped, but the nostrils were slightly flattened, and
the orifices were rather more elongated than I had ever seen before. The
mouth was utterly fascinating, and her teeth, revealed by her engaging
smile, were as perfect as it would be possible to imagine.

The great mane of hair which enveloped her was, as I have said, tawny in
hue, and almost translucent, like the stems of some seaweeds I have
seen. And as she raised one slim white hand to brush back some wisps
that floated by her face, I saw distinctly the webs between her
fingers. They were barely noticeable, for they were as transparent as
the fins of a fish, but they were there, extending nearly to the last
joint of each finger.

       *       *       *       *       *

As her face came close to my own, I became aware of the humming,
crooning sound I had heard before, louder this time. I could see, from
the movement of her throat, that I had been correct in assuming that she
was attempting to speak with me. I smiled back at her and shook my head.
She seemed to understand, for the sound ceased, and she studied me with
a little thoughtful frown, as though trying to figure out some other
method of communication.

I pointed upward, for I was feeling the need for fresh air again, and
slowly mounted the ladder. This time she did not grasp me, but watched
me intently, as though understanding what I did, and the reasons for
it.

"Bring one of your gadgets over here, Mercer," I called across the pool.
"I think I'm making progress."

"Good boy!" he cried, and came running with two of the antennae, the
long insulated cords trailing behind him. Through the water the girl
watched him, evident dislike in her eyes. She glanced at me with sudden
suspicion as Mercer handed me the two instruments, but made no hostile
move.

"You won't be able to stay in the water with her," explained Mercer
rapidly. "The salt water would short the antennae, you see. Try to get
her to wear one, and then you get your head out of water, and don yours.
And remember, she won't be able to communicate with us by words--we'll
have to get her to convey her thoughts by means of mental pictures. I'll
try to impress that on her. Understand?"

       *       *       *       *       *

I nodded, and picked up one of the instruments. "Fire when ready,
Gridley," I commented, and sank again to the bottom of the pool.

I touched the girl's head with one finger, and then pointed to my own
head, trying to convey to her that she could get her thoughts to me.
Then I held up the antennae and placed it on my own head to show that it
could not harm her.

My next move was to offer her the instrument, moving slowly, and smiling
reassuringly--no mean feat under water.

She hesitated a moment, and then, her eyes fixed on mine, she slowly
fixed the instrument over her own head as she had seen me adjust it upon
my own.

I smiled and nodded, and pressed her shoulder in token of friendly
greeting. Then, gesturing toward my own head again, and pointing upward.
I climbed the ladder.

"All right, Mercer," I shouted. "Start at once, before she grows
restless!"

"I've already started!" he called back, and I hurriedly donned my own
instrument.

Bearing in mind what Mercer had said, I descended the ladder but a few
rungs, so that my head remained out of water, and smiled down at the
girl, touching the instrument on my head, and then pointing to hers.

I could sense Mercer's thoughts now. He was picturing himself walking
long the shore, with the stormy ocean in the background. Ahead of him I
saw the white body lying face downward in the pool. I saw him run up to
the pool and lift the slim, pale figure in his arms.

       *       *       *       *       *

Let me make it clear, at this point, that when I say that I saw
these things, I mean only that mental images of them penetrated my
consciousness. I visualized them just as I could close my eyes and
visualize, for example, the fireplace in the living room of my own
home.

I looked down at the girl. She was frowning, and her eyes were very
wide. Her head was a little on one side, in the attitude of one who
listens intently.

Slowly and carefully Mercer thought out the whole story of his
experiences with the girl until she had plunged into the pool. Then I
saw again the beach, with the girl's figure in the pool. The picture
grew hazy; I realized Mercer was trying to picture the bottom of the
sea. Then he pictured again the girl lying in the pool, and once again
the sea. I was aware of the soft little tick in the center of my brain
that announced that the switch had been moved to another contact point.

I glanced down at her. She was staring up at me with her great, curious
eyes, and I sensed, through the medium of the instrument I wore, that
she was thinking of me. I saw my own features, idealized, glowing with a
strange beauty that was certainly none of my own. I realized that I saw
myself, in short, as she saw me. I smiled back at her, and shook my
head.

       *       *       *       *       *

A strange, dim whirl of pictures swept through my consciousness. I was
on the bottom of the ocean. Shadowy shapes swept by silently, and from
above, a dim bluish light filtered down on a scene such as mortal eyes
have never seen.

All around were strange structures of jagged coral, roughly circular as
to base, and rounded on top, resembling very much the igloos of the
Eskimos. The structures varied greatly in size, and seemed to be
arranged in some sort of regular order, like houses along a narrow
street. Around many of them grew clusters of strange and colorful
seaweeds that waved their banners gently, as though some imperceptible
current dallied with them in passing.

Here and there figures moved, slim white figures that strolled along the
narrow street, or at times shot overhead like veritable torpedoes.

There were both men and women moving there. The men were broader of
shoulder, and their hair, which they wore to their knees, was somewhat
darker in color than that of the women. Both sexes were slim, and there
was a remarkable uniformity of size and appearance.

None of the strange beings wore garments of any kind, nor were they
necessary. The clinging tresses were cinctured at the waist with a sort
of cord of twisted orange-colored material, and some of the younger
women wore bands of the same material around their brows.

       *       *       *       *       *

Nearest of all the figures was the girl who was visualizing all this for
us. She was walking slowly away from the cluster of coral structures.
Once or twice she paused, and seemed to hold conversation with others of
the strange people, but each time she moved on.

The coral structures grew smaller and poorer. Finally the girl trod
alone on the floor of the ocean, between great growths of kelp and
seaweeds, with dim, looming masses of faintly tinted coral everywhere.
Once she passed close to a tilted, ragged hulk of some ancient vessel,
its naked ribs packed with drifted sand.

Sauntering dreamily, she moved away from the ancient derelict. Suddenly
a dim shadow swept across the sand at her feet, and she arrowed from the
spot like a white, slim meteor. But behind her darted a black and
swifter shadow--a shark!

Like a flash she turned and faced the monster. Something she had drawn
from her girdle shone palely in her hand. It was a knife of whetted
stone or bone.

Darting swiftly downward her feet spurned the yellow sand, and she shot
at her enemy with amazing speed. The long blade swept in an arc, ripped
the pale belly of the monster just as he turned to dart away.

       *       *       *       *       *

A great cloud of blood dyed the water. The white figure of the girl shot
onward through the scarlet flood.

Blinded, she did not see that the jutting ribs of the ancient ship were
in her path. I seemed to see her crash, head on, into one of the
massive timbers, and I cried out involuntarily, and glanced down at the
girl in the water at my feet.

Her eyes were glowing. She knew that I had understood.

Hazily, then, I seemed to visualize her body floating limply in the
water. It was all very vague and indistinct, and I understood that this
was not what she had seen, but what she thought had happened. The
impressions grew wilder, swirled, grew gray and indistinct. Then I had a
view of Mercer's face, so terribly distorted it was barely recognizable.
Then a kaleidoscopic maze of inchoate scenes, shot through with flashes
of vivid, agonizing colors. The girl was thinking of her suffering,
taken out of her native element. In trying to save her, Mercer had
almost killed her. That, no doubt, was why she hated him.

My own face appeared next, almost godlike in its kindliness and its
imagined beauty, and I noticed now that she was thinking of me with my
yellow hair grown long, my nostrils elongated like her own--adjusted to
her own ideas of what a man should be.

       *       *       *       *       *

I flung the instrument from my head and dropped to the bottom of the
pool. I gripped both her shoulders, gently, to express my thanks and
friendship.

My heart was pounding. There was a strange fascination about this girl
from the depths of the sea, a subtle appeal that was answered from some
deep subterranean cavern of my being. I forgot, for the moment, who and
what I was. I remembered only that a note had been sounded that awoke an
echo of a long-forgotten instinct.

I think I kissed her. I know her arms were about me, and that I pressed
her close, so that our faces almost met. Her great, weirdly blue eyes
seemed to bore into my brain. I could feel them throbbing there....

I forgot time and space. I saw only that pale, smiling face and those
great dark eyes. Then, strangling, I tore myself from her embrace and
shot to the surface.

Coughing, I cleared my lungs of the water I had inhaled. I was weak and
shaking when I finished, but my head was clear. The grip of the strange
fantasy that had gripped me was shaken off.

Mercer was bending over me; speaking softly.

"I was watching, old man," he said gently. "I can imagine what happened.
A momentary, psychic fusing of an ancient, long since broken link. You,
together with all mankind, came up out of the sea. But there is no
retracing the way."

       *       *       *       *       *

I nodded, my head bowed on my streaming chest.

"Sorry, Mercer," I muttered. "Something got into me. Those big eyes of
hers seemed to tug at threads of memory ... buried.... I can't describe
it...."

He slapped me on my naked shoulder, a blow that stung, as he had
intended it to. It helped jerk me back to the normal.

"You've got your feet on the ground again, Taylor," he commented
soothingly. "I think there's no danger of you losing your grip on terra
firma again. Shall we carry on?"

"There's more you'd like to learn? That you think she can give us?" I
asked hesitantly.

"I believe," replied Mercer, "that she can give us the history of her
people, if we can only make her understand what we wish. God! If we only
could!" The name of the Deity was a prayer as Mercer uttered it.

"We can try, old-timer," I said, a bit shakenly.

Mercer hurried back to the other side of the pool, and I adjusted my
head-set again, smiling down at the girl. If only Mercer could make her
understand, and if only she knew what we wanted to learn!

I was conscious of the little click that told me the switch had been
moved. Mercer was ready to get his message to her.

Fixing my eyes on the girl pleadingly, I settled myself by the edge of
the pool to await the second and more momentous part of our experiment.

       *       *       *       *       *

The vision was vague, for Mercer was picturing his thoughts with
difficulty. But I seemed to see again the floor of the ocean, with the
vague light filtering down from above, and soft, monstrous growths
waving their branches lazily in the flood.

From the left came a band of men and women, looking around as though in
search of some particular spot. They stopped, and one of the older men
pointed, the others gathering around him as though in council.

Then the band set to work. Coral growth were dragged to the spot. The
foundation for one of the semi-circular houses was laid. The scene
swirled and cleared again. The house was completed. Several other houses
were in process of building.

Slowly and deliberately, the scene moved. The houses were left behind.
Before my consciousness now was only a vague and shadowy expanse of
ocean floor, and in the sand dim imprints that marked where the strange
people had trod, the vague footprints disappearing in the gloom in the
direction from which the little weary band had come. To me, at least, it
was quite clear that Mercer was asking whence they came. Would it be as
clear to the girl? The switch clicked, and for a moment I was sure
Mercer had not been able to make his question clear to her.

       *       *       *       *       *

The scene was the interior of one of the coral houses. There were
persons there, seated on stone or coral chairs, padded with marine
growths. One of the occupants of the room was a very old man; his face
was wrinkled, and his hair was silvery. With him were a man and a woman,
and a little girl. Somehow I seemed to recognize the child as the girl
in the pool.

The three of them were watching the old man. While his lips did not
move, I could see his throat muscles twitching as the girl's had done
when she made the murmuring sound I had guessed was her form of speech.

The scene faded. For perhaps thirty seconds I was aware of nothing more
than a dim gray mist that seemed to swirl in stately circles. Then,
gradually, it cleared somewhat. I sensed the fact that what I saw now
was what the old man was telling, and that the majestic, swirling mist
was the turning back of time.

Here was no ocean bottom, but land, rich tropical jungle. Strange exotic
trees and dense growths of rank undergrowth choked the earth. The trees
were oddly like undersea growths, which puzzled me for an instant. Then
I recalled that the girl could interpret the old man's words only in
terms of that which she had seen and understood. This was the way she
visualized the scene.

       *       *       *       *       *

There was a gray haze of mist everywhere. The leaves were glistening
with condensed moisture; swift drops fell incessantly to the soaking
ground below.

Into the scene roamed a pitiful band of people. Men with massive frames,
sunken in with starvation, women tottering with weakness. The men
carried great clubs, some tipped with rudely shaped stone heads, and
both men and women clothed only in short kittles of skin.

They searched ceaselessly for something, and I guessed that something
was food. Now and then one or the other of the little band tore up a
root and bit at it, and those that did so soon doubled into a twitching
knot of suffering and dropped behind.

At last they came to the edge of the sea. A few yards away the water was
lost in the dense steaming miasma that hemmed them in on all sides.
With glad expressions on their faces, the party ran down to the edge of
the water and gathered up great masses of clams and crabs. At first they
ate the food raw, tearing the flesh from the shells. Then they made what
I understood was a fire, although the girl was able to visualize it only
as a bright red spot that flickered.

The scene faded, and there was only the slowly swirling mist that I
understood indicated the passing of centuries. Then the scene cleared
again.

       *       *       *       *       *

I saw that same shore line, but the people had vanished. There was only
the thick, steamy mist, the tropic jungle crowding down to the shore,
and the waves rolling in monotonously from the waste of gray ocean
beyond the curtain of fog.

Suddenly, from out of the sea, appeared a series of human heads, and
then a band of men and women that waded ashore and seated themselves
upon the beach, gazing restlessly out across the sea.

This was not the same band I had seen at first. These were a slimmer
race, and whereas the first band had been exceedingly swarthy, these
were very fair.

They did not stay long on shore, for they were restless and ill at ease.
It seemed to me they came there only from force of habit, as though they
obeyed some inner urge they did not understand. In a few seconds they
rose and ran into the water, plunged into it as though they welcomed its
embrace, and disappeared. Then again the vision was swallowed up by the
swirling mists of time.

       *       *       *       *       *

When the scene cleared again, it showed the bottom of the sea. A group
of perhaps a hundred pale creatures moved along the dim floor of the
ocean. Ahead I could see the dim outlines of one of their strange
cities. The band approached, seemed to talk with those there, and moved
on.

I saw them capture and kill fish for food, saw them carve the thick,
spongy hearts from certain giant growths and eat them. I saw a pair of
killer sharks swoop down on the band, and the quick, deadly accuracy
with which both men and woman met the attack. One man, older than the
rest, was injured before the sharks were vanquished, and when their
efforts to staunch his wounds proved unavailing, they left him there and
moved on. And as they left I saw a dim, crawling shape move closer,
throw out a long, whiplike tentacle, and wrap the body in a hungry
embrace.

They came to and passed other communities of beings like themselves, and
a city of their own, in much the way that Mercer had visualized it.

Fading, the scene changed to the interior of the coral house again. The
old man finished his story, and moved off into a cubicle in the rear of
the place. Dimly, I could see there a low couch, piled high with soft
marine growths. Then the scene shifted once more.

A man and a woman hurried up and down the narrow streets of the strange
city the girl had pictured when she showed us how she had met with the
shark, and struck her head, so that for a long period she lost
consciousness and was washed ashore.

       *       *       *       *       *

Others, after a time, joined them in their search, which spread out to
the floor of the ocean, away from the dwellings. One party came to the
gaunt skeleton of the ancient wreck, and found the scattered,
fresh-picked bones of the shark the girl had killed. The man and the
woman came up, and I looked closely into their faces. The woman's
features were torn with grief; the man's lips were set tight with
suffering. Here, it was easy to guess, were the mother and the father of
the girl.

A milling mass of white forms shot through the water in every direction,
searching. It seemed that they were about to give up the search when
suddenly, from out of the watery gloom, there shot a slim white
figure--the girl!

Straight to the mother and father she came, gripping the shoulder of
each with frantic joy. They returned the caress, the crowd gathered
around them, listening to her story as they moved slowly, happily,
towards the distant city.

Instead of a picture, I was conscious then of a sound, like a single
pleading word repeated softly, as though someone said "Please! Please!
Please!" over and over again. The sound was not at all like the English
word. It was a soft, musical beat, like the distant stroke of a mellow
gong, but it had all the pleading quality of the word it seemed to bring
to mind.

I looked down into the pool. The girl had mounted the ladder until her
face was just below the surface of the water. Her eyes met mine and I
knew that I had not misunderstood.

I threw off the instrument on my head, and dropped down beside her. With
both hands I grasped her shoulders, and, smiling, I nodded my head
vigorously.

She understood, I know she did. I read it in her face. When I climbed
the ladder again, she looked after me, smiling confidently.

Although I had not spoken to her, she had read and accepted the
promise.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mercer stared at me silently, grimly, as I told him what I wished.
Whatever eloquence I may have, I used on him, and I saw his cold,
scientific mind waver before the warmth of my appeal.

"We have no right to keep her from her people," I concluded. "You saw
her mother and father, saw their suffering, and the joy her return would
bring. You will, Mercer--you will return her to the sea?"

For a long time, Mercer did not reply. Then he lifted his dark eyes to
mine, and smiled, rather wearily.

"It is the only thing we can do, Taylor," he said quietly. "She is not a
scientific specimen; she is, in her way, as human as you or I. She
would probably die, away from her own kind, living under conditions
foreign to her. And you promised her, Taylor, whether you spoke your
promise or not." His smile deepened a bit. "We cannot let her receive
too bad an opinion of her cousins who live above the surface of the
sea!"

       *       *       *       *       *

And so, just as the dawn was breaking, we took her to the shore. I
carried her, unresisting, trustful, in my arms, while Mercer bore a huge
basin of water, in which her head was submerged, so that she might not
suffer.

Still in our bathing suits we waded out into the ocean, until the waves
splashed against our faces. Then I lowered her into the sea. Crouching
there, so that the water was just above the tawny glory of her hair, she
gazed up at us. Two slim white hands reached towards us, and with one
accord, Mercer and I bent towards her. She gripped both our shoulders
with a gentle pressure, smiling at us.

Then she did a strange thing. She pointed, under the water, out towards
the depths and with a broad, sweeping motion of her arm, indicated the
shore, as though to say that she intended to return. With a last swift,
smiling glance up into my face, she turned. There was a flash of white
through the water. She was gone....

Silently, through the silence and beauty of the dawn, we made our way
back to the house.

       *       *       *       *       *

As we passed through the laboratory, Mercer glanced out at the empty
pool.

"Man came up from the sea," he said slowly, "and some men went back to
it. They were forced back to the teeming source from whence they came,
for lack of food. You saw that, Taylor--saw her forebears become
amphibians, like the now extinct Dipneusta and Ganoideii, or the still
existing Neoceratodus, Polypterus and Amia. Then their lungs became, in
effect, gills, and they lost their power of breathing atmospheric air,
and could use only air dissolved in water.

"A whole people there beneath the waves that land-man never dreamed
of--except, perhaps, the sailors of olden days, with their tales of
mermaids, which we are accustomed to laugh at in our wisdom!"

"But why were no bodies ever washed ashore?" I asked. "I would think--"

"You saw why," interrupted Mercer grimly. "The ocean teems with hungry
life. Death is the signal for a feast. It was little more than a miracle
that her body came ashore, a miracle due perhaps to the storm which sent
the hungry monsters to the greater depths. And even had a body come
ashore it would have been buried as that of some unknown, unfortunate
human. The differences between these people and ourselves would not be
noticeable to a casual observer.

"No, Taylor, we have been party to what was close to a miracle. And we
are the only witnesses to it, you and Carson and myself. And"--he sighed
deeply--"it is over."

I did not reply. I was thinking of the girl's odd gesture, at parting,
and I wondered if it were indeed a finished chapter.



Vandals of the Stars

_By A. T. Locke_

    A livid flame flares across Space--and over Manhattan hovers
    Teuxical, vassal of Malfero, Lord of the Universe, who comes
    with ten thousand warriors to ravage and subjugate one more
    planet for his master.

[Illustration: _Many planes and Zeppelins were circling around the
mysterious visitant._]


It came suddenly, without warning, and it brought consternation to the
people of the world.

A filament of flame darted down the dark skies one moonless night and
those who saw it believed, at first, that it was a meteor. Instead of
streaking away into oblivion, however, it became larger and larger,
until it seemed as though some vagrant, blazing star was about to plunge
into the earth and annihilate the planet and every vestige of life upon
it. But then it drew slowly to a stop high up in the atmosphere, where
it remained motionless, glowing white and incandescent against the
Stygian background of the overcast skies.

In shape it resembled a Zeppelin, but its dimensions very apparently
exceeded by far those of any flying craft that ever had been fabricated
by the hand of man.

As it hung poised high up in the air it gradually lost its dazzling glow
and became scarlet instead of white. Then, as it continued to cool, the
color swiftly drained from it and, in a few minutes, it shone only with
the dull and ugly crimson of an expiring ember. In a half-hour after it
first had appeared its effulgence had vanished completely and it was
barely visible to the millions who were staring up toward it from the
earth.

It seemed to be suspended directly above Manhattan, and the inhabitants
of New York were thrown into a feverish excitement by the strange and
unprecedented phenomenon.

       *       *       *       *       *

For it scarcely had come to a stop, and certainly it had not been poised
aloft for more than a few minutes, when most of those who had not
actually witnessed its sensational appearance were apprised of the
inexplicable occurrence by the radiovision, which were scattered
throughout the vast metropolis. In theaters and restaurants and other
gathering places, as well as in millions of homes, a voice from the
Worldwide Broadcasting Tower announced the weird visitant. And its
image, as it glowed in the night, was everywhere transmitted to the
public.

Only a short time after it first had been observed people were thronging
roof-tops, terraces, and streets, and gazing with awe and wonder at the
great luminous object that was floating high above them.

There were those who thought that the world was coming to an end, and
they either were dumb with fright or strident with hysteria. People with
more judgment, and a smattering of scientific knowledge, dismissed the
thing as some harmless meteorological manifestation that, while
interesting, was not necessarily dangerous. And there were many,
inclined to incredulity and skepticism, who believed that they were
witnessing a hoax or an advertising scheme of some new sort.

But as the moments went by the world commenced to become stirred and
alarmed by the reports which came over the radiovisors.

For powerful planes and metal-shelled Zeppelins had climbed swiftly
aloft to investigate the incomprehensible Thing that was poised high
above Manhattan, and almost unbelievable reports were being sent
earthward.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dirk Vanderpool had been sitting alone on the broad terrace of his
apartment that occupied the upper stories of the great Gotham Gardens
Building when he saw that streak of fire slip down against the darkness
of the night.

For a moment he, too, had believed that he was watching a meteor, but,
when he saw it come to a slow stop and hang stationary in the heavens,
he rose to his feet with an exclamation of surprise.

For a while he gazed upward with an expression of astonishment on his
face and then he turned as he heard someone walking softly in his
direction. It was Barstowe, his valet, and the eyes of the man were
alive with fear.

"What is that thing, Mr. Vanderpool?" he asked in a voice that trembled
with alarm. Barstowe was a man of middle age, diminutive in size, and he
had the appearance of being nearly petrified with terror. "They are
saying over the televisor that--"

"What are they saying about it?" asked Dirk somewhat impatiently.

"That no one can explain what it is," continued Barstowe. "It must be
something terrible, Mr. Vanderpool."

"Wheel out the luciscope," ordered Dirk.

       *       *       *       *       *

Barstowe disappeared into the apartment and returned with a cabinet that
was mounted on small, rubber-tired wheels. The top of it was formed of a
metallic frame in which a heavy, circular, concave glass was fitted. The
frame was hinged in front so that it could be raised from the rear and
adjusted to any angle necessary to catch the light rays from any distant
object. Within the cabinet the rays passed through an electrical device
that amplified them millions of times, thus giving a clear, telescopic
vision of the object on which the luciscope was focused.

This instrument, years before, had supplanted entirely the old-fashioned
telescopes which not only had been immense and unwieldly but which also
had a very limited range of vision.

Dirk adjusted the light-converger so that it caught the rays that were
being emanated by the weird and shimmering mass that was suspended
almost directly above the lofty terrace on which he was standing.

Then he switched on the current and glanced into the eye-piece of the
apparatus. For several moments he remained silent, studying the image
that was etched so vividly on the ground-glass within the luciscope.

"It is a queer thing, there is no doubt about that," he confessed when
finally he raised his head. "It resembles a gigantic Zeppelin in shape
but it does not seem to have any undercarriage or, as far as I can see,
any indication of propellers or portholes. I would say, though,
Barstowe, that it might be a ship from some other planet if it wasn't
for the fact that it seems to be in an almost molten state."

       *       *       *       *       *

Dirk again looked into the luciscope and then he made a few adjustments
with a thumb-screw that projected from the side of the apparatus.

"It is up about forty thousand feet," he told Barstowe, "and it must be
more than a half-mile in length. Probably," he added, "it is a planetary
fragment of some odd composition that is less responsive to gravitation
than the materials with which we are familiar. You will find, Barstowe,
that there is nothing about it that science will not be able to explain.
That will be all now," he concluded.

Barstowe walked over the terrace and disappeared into the apartment.
Dirk, left alone, wheeled the luciscope over by the chair in which he
had been sitting and near which a radiovisor was standing.

He switched on the latter and listened to the low but very distinct
voice of the news-dispatcher.

"--and planes and Zeppelins now are starting up to investigate the
strange phenomenon--"

Again Dirk placed an eye to the lens of the luciscope and once more the
Thing leaped into his vision. The powerful machine brought it so close
to him that he could see the heat waves quiver up from it.

The light that it radiated illuminated the night for thousands of feet
and Dirk could see, by means of that crimson glare, that many planes and
Zeppelins were circling around the mysterious visitant. None of them,
however, approached the alien freak, the heat apparently being too
intense to permit close inspection.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dirk himself was tempted for a moment to jump into a plane and go up and
take a look at the fiery mass.

But, after a moment's consideration, he decided, that it would be far
more interesting and comfortable to remain right where he was and listen
to the reports which were being sent down from above.

"--thus far there seems to be no cause for alarm, and people are advised
to remain calm--careful observations of the luminous monster are being
made and further reports concerning it will be broadcast--"

Dirk Vanderpool rose to his feet, walked to the coping of the terrace
and peered into the magnascope that was set into the wall.

He saw that the street, far below him, was jammed with struggling people
and the device through which he was looking brought their faces before
him in strong relief. Dirk was deeply interested and, at the same time,
gravely concerned as he studied the upturned countenances in the mob.

Fear, despair, reckless abandon, mirth, doubt, religious ecstasy and all
the other nuances in the gamut of human emotions and passions were
reflected in those distorted visages which were gazing skyward.

       *       *       *       *       *

The silvery humming of a bell diverted his attention from the scene of
congestion below him and, turning away, he walked across the terrace and
into the great living room of his luxurious abode.

Stepping to the televisor, he turned a tiny switch, and the face of a
girl appeared in the glass panel that was framed above the sound-box. He
smiled as he lifted the receiver and placed it to his ear.

"What is the matter, Inga?" he asked. "You look as if you were
expecting--well, almost anything disastrous."

"Oh, Dirk, what is that thing?" the girl asked. "I really am frightened!"

He could see by the expression in her blue eyes that she, too, was
becoming a victim of the hysteria that was taking possession of many
people.

"I wouldn't be alarmed, Inga," he replied reassuringly. "I don't know
what it is, and no one else seems to be able to explain it."

"But it is frightful and uncanny, Dirk," the girl insisted, "and I am
sure that something terrible is going to happen. I wish," she pleaded,
"that you would come over and stay with me for a little while. I am all
alone and--"

"All right, Inga," he told her. "I will be with you in a few minutes."

He hung up the receiver of the televisor and clicked off the switch. The
image of the golden-haired girl to whom he had been speaking slowly
faded from the glass.

       *       *       *       *       *

Attiring himself for a short sixty-mile hop down Long Island, Dirk
passed out to the landing stage and, stepping into the cabin of his
plane, he threw in the helicopter lever. The machine rose straight into
the air for a couple of hundred feet and then Dirk headed it westward to
where the nearest ascension beam sent its red light towering toward the
stars. It marked a vertical air-lane that led upward to the horizontal
lanes of flight.

Northbound ships flew between two and four thousand feet; southbound
planes between five and seven thousand feet; those eastbound confined
themselves to the level between nine and eleven thousand feet, while the
westbound flyers monopolized the air between twelve and fourteen
thousand feet.

All planes flying parallel to the earth were careful to avoid those red
beacons which marked ascension routes, and the shafts of green light
down which descending planes dropped to the earth or into lower levels
of travel.

When Dirk's altimeter indicated seventy-five hundred feet he turned the
nose of his ship eastward and adjusted his rheostat until his motors,
fed by wireless current, were revolving at top speed.

The great canyons of Manhattan, linked by arches and highways which
joined and passed through various levels of the stupendous structures of
steelite and quartzite, passed swiftly beneath him; and, after passing
for a few minutes over the deserted surface of Long Island, he completed
his sixty-mile flight and brought his ship to a rest on a landing stage
that was far up on the side of a vast pile that rose up close to the
shore of the Sound.

       *       *       *       *       *

As soon as he stepped from the door of the cabin he was joined by a girl
who, apparently, had been lingering there, awaiting his arrival.

She was perhaps twenty years old, and she had the golden hair, the light
complexion, and the blue eyes which still were characteristic of the
women of northern Europe.

The slender lines of her exquisite figure and the supple grace which she
displayed when she moved toward Dirk were evidence, however, of the
Latin blood which was in her veins.

For Inga Fragoni, the daughter and heiress of Orlando Fragoni, seemed to
be a culmination of all of the desirable qualities of the women of the
south and those of the north.

The terrace on which Dirk had landed was illuminated by lights which
simulated sunshine, and their soft bright glow revealed the violet hue
of her eyes and the shimmering gloss of her silken hair. She wore a
sleeveless, light blue tunic which was gathered around her waist with a
bejeweled girdle.

On her tiny feet she wore sandals which were spun of webby filaments of
gold and platinum.

"Dirk, I am so glad that you are here!" she exclaimed. "I felt so much
alone when I called you up. Dad is locked in the observatory with
Professor Nachbaren and three or four other men and the servants--well,
they all are so terrified that it simply alarms me to have them
around."

"But that is Stanton's plane there, isn't it?" asked Dirk, indicating a
powerful looking machine that stood on the terrace.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Yes, Dirk," the girl replied. "He arrived here three or four minutes
before you did. I thought, at first, that it was you coming. And Dirk,"
she continued, with a note of excitement in her voice, "he flew up to
look at that thing, and I know that he is as frightened about it as I
am."

Dirk grunted, but he gave no expression of the dislike and distrust that
Stanton aroused in him. The latter, he knew, was very much inclined to
look with favor on Inga, and his presumption annoyed Dirk because, while
he and the girl had not declared their intention of living together,
they were very much in love with each other.

"You will want to hear him tell about it, I know, Dirk," the girl said.
"I left Stanton up on the garden terrace when I saw you coming down.
Come; we will go and join him."

Dirk and Inga strolled slowly along paths which were lined with exotic
shrubbery and plants. Here and there a fountain tossed its glittering
spray high into the air while birds, invisible in the feathery foliage,
warbled and thrilled entrancingly. Soft music, transmitted from the
auditoriums below, blended so harmoniously with the atmosphere of the
terraces that it seemed to mingle with and be a part of the drifting,
subtle scents of the abundant flowers which bloomed on every side.

For these upper terraces of Fragoni's palace were enclosed, during
inclement weather, with great glass plates which, at the touch of a
button, automatically appeared or disappeared.

Winding their way easily upward, Dirk and Inga came finally to a
secluded terrace which overlooked the Sound. Here they saw Stanton, who
was unaware of their approach, looking skyward at the dim and sinister
shape which was outlined against the sky. Stanton's brow was contracted
and his expression was filled with apprehension. He started suddenly
when he became conscious of the presence of Dirk and the lovely daughter
of Fragoni.

He rose to his feet, a short man in his forties, stocky in build and
somewhat swarthy in complexion. He contrasted very unfavorably with
Dirk, who was tall and well-built and who had abundant blond hair and
steady steel-blue eyes.

"What do you make of that thing, Vanderpool?" he asked, almost ignoring
the presence of Inga.

"I don't know enough about it yet to be able to express an opinion,"
Dirk replied. "We will find out about it soon enough," he added, "so why
worry about it in the meantime?"

"It is well enough to affect such an attitude," said Stanton, with a
touch of sarcasm in his voice, "but let me tell you, Vanderpool, that
there is good reason to worry about it."

       *       *       *       *       *

Dirk frowned at the statement as he saw a shadow pass over the fair face
of Inga.

"That thing up there," continued Stanton, with conviction in his voice,
"is not a natural phenomenon. I flew fairly close to it in my plane and
I know what I am speaking about. That thing is some sort of a monster,
Vanderpool, that is made of metal or of some composition that is an
unearthly equivalent of metal. It is a diabolical creation of some sort
that has come from out of the fathomless depths of the universe." He
shuddered at the fantasy that his feverish imagination was creating. "It
is metal, I tell you," he continued, "but it is metal that is endowed
with some sort of intelligence. I was up there," he breathed swiftly,
"and I saw it hanging there in the sky, quivering with heat and life."

"You are nervous, Stanton," said Vanderpool coolly. "Get a grip on
yourself, man, and look at the thing reasonably. If that thing has
intelligence," he added, "we will find some way to slay it."

"Slay it!" exclaimed Stanton. "How can you expect to slay a mad creation
that can leap through space, from world to world, like a wasp goes
darting from flower to flower? How can you kill a thing which not only
defies absolute zero but also the immeasurable heat which its friction
with the atmosphere generated when it plunged toward the earth? How can
you kill a thing that seems to have brains and nerves and bones and
flesh of some strange substance that is harder and tougher than any
earthly compound we have discovered?"

       *       *       *       *       *

He stopped speaking for a moment. They listened to the voice that was
broadcasting from the Worldwide Tower.

"--our planes have approached to within a few thousand feet of it
and are playing their searchlights over the surface of the leviathan.
It is not a meteorite of any kind that scientists have heretofore
examined--its surface is smooth and unpitted and shows no apparent
effect of the tremendous heat to which it was subjected during its drop
through the atmosphere. It seems to be immune to gravity--its weight
must be tremendous, and it is fully three-quarters of a mile long and
between seven and eight hundred feet in diameter at its widest part, but
it lies motionless--motionless--at about forty thousand feet."

"It doesn't appear now as if it would prove very dangerous," remarked
Dirk.

"--and people are warned again to maintain their composure and to go to
their homes and remain there for their own protection and the protection
of others. Riots and serious disturbances are reported from cities in
all parts of the world--mobs are swarming the streets of Manhattan and
the other boroughs of New York, and the police are finding it difficult
to restrain the frenzied populations in other centers...."

       *       *       *       *       *

There was a pause, then, of some moments, and then the voice of the
broadcaster, vibrant with excitement, was heard again.

"--a plane has made a landing on the surface of the monstrosity, which,
it seems, has not only lost its heat but is becoming decidedly cold--"

A servant appeared from among the shrubbery and paused before Dirk.

"There is a call for you, Mr. Vanderpool," he said respectfully.

Dirk excused himself and, entering the sumptuous apartment that opened
from the terrace, went to the televisor. He saw the face of Sears, the
chief secretary of Fragoni, in the glass panel.

"There will be a meeting of the council at nine o'clock in the morning,
Mr. Vanderpool," came the voice over the wire.

"Thank you, Sears," replied Dirk. "It happens that Stanton is here at
the present time. Shall I notify him of the conclave?"

"If you will, please," Sears responded. "By the way, Mr. Vanderpool, is
there anything wrong at your apartment? I tried to call you there before
I located you here and I failed to get any response."

"I guess that all of my servants have run out from under cover because
of their fear of that thing in the sky," Dirk responded. "Do you know
anything about it, Sears?" he asked.

"It will be discussed at the meeting to-morrow morning," replied Sears
shortly. "Good night, Mr. Vanderpool."

       *       *       *       *       *

Dirk, upon returning to the terrace, saw that both Stanton and Inga were
silently and fearfully looking up into the night.

"A meeting of the council at nine o'clock in the morning, Stanton," Dirk
said abruptly. "I told Sears I would notify you."

"I thought that we would be called together very soon," said Stanton.
"It's concerning that damn thing up there."

"Perhaps," agreed Dirk carelessly. "Well," he added, "I believe that I
will hop home and get some sleep."

"Sleep!" exclaimed Stanton. "Sleep? On a night like this?"

"Oh, Dirk," pleaded Inga, "stay here with me, won't you? I am not going
to bed because I just know that I wouldn't be able to close my eyes."

"Let him go, Inga, if he wants to sleep," urged Stanton. "I will stay
here and keep watch with you."

"--and if order is not restored in the streets of Manhattan within the
course of a short time, the authorities will resort to morphite gas to
quell the turbulence and rioting--"

"The streets must be frightfully congested," said Inga. "It is the first
occasion in a long time that the police have had to threaten the use of
morphite."

"--we do not want to alarm people unnecessarily but we have to report,"
came the hurried voice of the broadcaster, "that the monstrous mass that
has been hanging above the city just made a sudden drop of five thousand
feet and again came to a stop. It is now a little more than six miles
over Manhattan and--again it has dropped. This time it fell like a
plummet for twelve thousand feet. It is now about twenty thousand feet,
some four miles, above Manhattan and--"

       *       *       *       *       *

A cry of alarm came from the lips of Inga as she gazed upward and saw
that gigantic, ominous-appearing object loom dim and vast in the
darkness above them.

She went to Dirk and threw her arms around him, as if she were clinging
to him for protection.

"Don't leave me, Dirk," she whispered. "I can just feel that something
terrible is going to happen, and I want you with me!"

"I'll stay with you, of course," whispered Dirk. Something of that
feeling of dread and apprehension which so fully possessed his two
companions entered into his mind. "Don't tremble so, Inga," he pleaded.
"It is a strange thing, but we will know more about it in the morning.
Be calm until then, my dear, if you can."

He looked over the shoulder of the girl, whose face was buried against
his breast, and he saw a hundred great red and green shafts of light
shooting up into the air. Fleeting shadows seemed to pass swiftly up and
down them, and he knew that thousands of planes were abroad, some of
them seeking the heights and others dropping down.

The great towers of Long Island were all aglow, and it was apparent that
few people were sleeping that night. The scarlet sky over Manhattan
indicated that the center of the metropolis, too, was alive to the
menace of the weird visitant that now was so plainly visible.

All night long they remained on the terrace. Dirk and Inga seated close
together and Stanton, at a distance, brooding alone over the disaster
which he felt was impending.

The illuminated dial of the great clock that was a part of the
beacon-tower on the Metropole Landing Field told of the slow passing of
the hours.

All night long they listened to the reports that came through the
radiovisor and watched that immobile, threatening monster of metal.

But it remained static during the rest of the night. And, with the
coming of a gray and sunless dawn, it still hung there, motionless,
silent and sinister.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next morning the President of the United States of the World, from
the capitol at The Hague, issued a proclamation of martial law, to
become effective at once in all parts of the world.

The edict forbade people to leave their homes, and it was vigorously
executed, wherever the police themselves were not in a state of
demoralization.

At about the same time a special meeting of the Supreme Congress was
called, the body to remain in session until some solution of the mystery
had been arrived at.

At the same time that martial law was declared, however, and the special
assemblage of lawmakers convened, a statement was issued in which an
attempt was made to eliminate from the minds of the people the idea that
the undefinable object above the metropolis was at all dangerous.

It was, indeed, suggested that it very probably was some sort of new
device which had been constructed on the earth and which was being
introduced to the people of the world in a somewhat sensational manner
by the person or persons who were responsible for it.

The fears of the populace were, to some extent, allayed by this means,
and some degree of order restored.

       *       *       *       *       *

At nine o'clock Dirk Vanderpool was shown into the council chamber in
the palace of Orlando Fragoni, and he was closely followed by Stanton.
Fragoni was already there, and he greeted the two men with a countenance
that was serene but that, nevertheless, revealed indications of concern.
He was a man past middle age, tall and strikingly handsome in
appearance. His eyes were dark and penetrating and his forehead, high
and wide, was crowned by an abundance of snow-white hair. His voice,
while pleasing to the ear, was vibrant with life and energy, and he
spoke with the incisive directness of one accustomed to command.

For Orlando Fragoni, as nearly as any one man might be, was the ruler of
the world.

It was in the early part of the twentieth century that wealth had
commenced to concentrate into a relatively few hands. This was followed
by a period in which vast mergers and consolidations had been effected
as a result of the financial power and genius for organization which a
few men possessed. A confederation of the countries of the world was
brought about by industrial kings who had learned, in one devastating
war, that militarism, while it might bring riches to a few, was, in the
final analysis, destructive and wasteful.

Mankind the world over, relieved of the menace of war, made more
progress in a decade than they had made in any previous century, but all
the time the invisible concentration of power and money continued.

And, in 1975, the affairs of the world were controlled by five men, of
whom Orlando Fragoni was the most powerful and most important.

       *       *       *       *       *

His grandfather had been a small banker, and out of his obscure
transactions the great House of Fragoni had arisen. The money power of
the world was now controlled by Orlando Fragoni. Dirk Vanderpool, partly
as a result of a vast inheritance and partly through his own ability and
untiring industry, dominated the transportation facilities of the world.
Planes and Zeppelins, railroad equipment and ships, were built in his
plants and operated by the many organizations which he controlled.

Stanton had inherited the agricultural activities of the world and, in
addition to this, he was the sovereign of distribution. He owned immense
acreages in all of the continents; he not only cultivated every known
variety of produce, but also handled the sale of his products through
his own great chains of stores. His father had been one of the great
geniuses of the preceding generation, but Stanton, while inheriting the
commercial empire which he had ruled, had not inherited much of the
ability which had gone into the establishment of it.

There were two other members of that invisible council of Five, the
very existence of which was not even suspected by the general populace
of the world.

Sigmund Lazarre was the world's mightiest builder, and millions of great
structures, which were built of material from his own mines, were under
his control. It was Lazarre, too, who owned the theaters and other
amusement centers in which millions upon millions of people sought
relaxation every day. The creation and application of electrical power
made up the domain of Wilhelm Steinholt, who also owned the factories
that made the machinery of the world.

Absolute control of all of the necessities and luxuries of life, in
fact, were in the hands of the five men, who used their vast power
wisely and beneficently.

Ostensibly the peoples of the world ruled themselves by means of a
democratic form of government.

In reality their lives were directed by a few men whose power and wealth
were entirely unsuspected by any but those who were close to them.

       *       *       *       *       *

The council room in which Fragoni had received Dirk and Stanton was
lofty and sumptuously appointed.

The rugs which covered the floor were soft to the tread, and the walls
and ceiling were adorned with a series of murals which represented the
various heavenly constellations.

At the far end of the chamber there was a staircase, and Dirk was among
those who knew that it led up to the great observatory in which Fragoni
and certain of his scientific associates spent so much of their time at
night.

For men had commenced to talk about the conquest of the stars, and it
was generally believed that it would not be many years more before a way
would be found to traverse the interplanetary spaces.

"We are rather fortunate, my friends," Fragoni said to his two
associates, "to have been the witnesses of the event that transpired
last night."

"Fortunate!" exclaimed Stanton. "Then you know that the thing is
harmless?"

A little smile lit the benign and scholarly countenance of Fragoni as he
calmly regarded Stanton.

"We know very little about it," he replied after a brief pause, "and, if
our surmises are correct, it may be very far from harmless. It is
intensely interesting, nevertheless," he continued, "because that thing,
as you term it, unquestionably is directed by intelligence. Without the
slightest doubt the people of the earth are about to behold a form of
life from some far-away planet. What that form will be," he added, with
an almost imperceptible shrug of his shoulders, "it is impossible to
forecast."

"But it was so hot," commenced Stanton, "that--"

"True," agreed Fragoni, "but it also is large and it may be that only
the outer shell of it was effected by friction with the atmosphere that
surrounds the earth. Nachbaren," he continued, "is certain that there is
intelligent life within it; and Nachbaren," he added dryly, "is usually
right."

       *       *       *       *       *

While Fragoni had been speaking, two more men had quietly joined them.

"Good morning, Lazarre," Fragoni said, addressing a short, swarthy man
who, very apparently, was of Jewish extraction.

"Good morning," the other replied in a soft and mellifluous voice. "It
seems," he continued, with a twinkle in his eyes, "as if some of my
pretty buildings may be toppled over soon."

"Maybe," agreed Fragoni. "And maybe," he added more seriously, "much
more than your buildings will be toppled over, Lazarre."

"That thing, then, is...?" questioned the heavy-set, slow-speaking,
blue-eyed Teuton who had come into the room with Lazarre.

"We do not know, Steinholt," admitted Fragoni, "but our knowledge
undoubtedly will be increased considerably within the next few hours.
And now," he said, "we will consider the problem at hand."

"--the object which has created such unrest is slowly rising. It is now
some twenty-five thousand feet above Manhattan. It is--"

The voice from the radiovisor attracted the attention of the five men,
and, with one accord, they rushed to the terrace and looked toward
Manhattan. They saw the great leviathan high in the air for a moment,
and then, suddenly, it seemed to vanish from sight.

"It's gone!" exclaimed Stanton, with a sigh of relief. "It must have
been some odd atmospheric freak, that's all."

They searched the skies through the luciscope that was on the terrace,
but failed to detect any trace of the monster.

       *       *       *       *       *

"That seems to simplify matters," remarked Fragoni as they again walked
back into the great conference room. But here, once more, they heard the
voice from the Worldwide Tower.

"--we are advised by Chicago that the thing, dull-red with heat, is
hovering only a couple of thousand feet over the city. Thousands in the
streets are being killed by the heat it is radiating--panic reigns,
despite a rigorous enforcement of martial law. The strange object just
rose suddenly to a high altitude and disappeared--"

"It's another one of those damned things," asserted Stanton. "That
couldn't go a thousand miles a minute!"

"It can go faster than that, if I am not mistaken," said Fragoni. And it
presently appeared that he was right, for in a couple of minutes the
radiovisor transmitted the news that it was over San Francisco, where it
remained for only a few seconds. It was not more than a minute later
that word came from Shanghai that it had passed slowly over that city.
Then again it was poised high over Manhattan, crimson with heat.

"Is there any possible defense against it, Steinholt?" Fragoni asked.
The Teuton shook his head with an air of finality.

"None," he said, "as far as I can determine now. We can create and
direct artificial lightning that would reduce this building to a mass of
powdered stone and fused metal in a fraction of a second. But I am
certain that it wouldn't leave as much as a scratch on that monster up
there. We might try the Z-Rays on it, but an intelligence that could
devise such a craft would undoubtedly have the wisdom to protect it
against such an elementary menace as rays. Even the mightiest explosives
that we have wouldn't send a tremor through that mighty mass."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Why not await developments?" asked Dirk. "We do not even know the
nature of the thing we are trying to combat."

"It's solid metal," insisted Stanton tenaciously. "It's a metal body
with a metal brain."

"Don't be ridiculous," said Steinholt. "It seems quite apparent that the
craft has come from another planet, and, if I am not greatly mistaken,
there are intelligent creatures inside it."

"In any event," said Dirk, "it seems impractical to make any plans until
we know more about it. I suggest that we empower Fragoni to act for the
rest of us in this matter."

"That is very agreeable to me," said Steinholt. "A crisis very possibly
may arise in which the quick judgment of one man may be necessary to
avert the danger that always is inherent in delay."

"You hold my proxy," Lazarre said to Fragoni, "and I assume that Stanton
is agreeable to this procedure."

"--the thing is moving very slowly eastward in the direction of Long
Island Sound. It is, at the same time, losing altitude. Its movements
are being carefully watched. As yet we see no cause for immediate
alarm--people are advised to remain calm--"

"Yes, I am agreeable," said Stanton nervously and hastily. "If there are
things in it with which we can compromise, I would suggest that we do
not offend them."

"I am, then, empowered to act for all of you," said Fragoni, ignoring
the suggestion of Stanton.

       *       *       *       *       *

He rose from his chair and walked out on the terrace. The others
followed after him.

Looking westward, they saw the mammoth craft descending slowly in their
direction.

Its vast dimensions became more and more apparent as, spellbound, they
watched it approach closer and closer to them.

The thing in the sky was now not more than three thousand feet above
them and only a few miles to the westward.

The observers on the terrace regarded it for a moment in silence as it
drifted forward and downward.

"It's colossal!" Steinholt then exclaimed, lost in scientific admiration
of the mammoth craft. "Magnificent! Superb!"

"But it's coming right toward us!" cried Stanton.

"What makes it move, I wonder?" asked Dirk. "And how in the world is it
controlled?"

"It surely is not of this world," said Fragoni quietly. "That gigantic
thing has come to us from somewhere out of the infinite and terrible
depths of space."

       *       *       *       *       *

Another minute elapsed while they watched it, speechless with wonder.

"Do you know," Lazarre then said calmly, "I believe that it is going to
land in the waters of the Sound. It appears so to me, anyway."

It was nearly opposite them by this time, and not more than a thousand
feet above the water. A few planes which, very apparently, were being
flown by intrepid and fearless flyers, were hovering close around it.

Then finally it came to rest, as Lazarre had predicted, in the water
some two miles off shore, and it was obscured by a great cloud of vapor
for several minutes.

"Steam," asserted Steinholt. "That trip around the world, which it made
in a few minutes, generated considerable frictional heat in the shell."

"Come," said Fragoni, "we'll fly out and look the thing over."

Around the corner of the building, on the level of the terrace, there
was a landing stage which was occupied by a number of planes of various
sizes.

Dirk entered the door of a small twenty passenger speedster, and the
others filed in after him.

"Ready?" he asked, after he had seated himself at the controls.

"Ready!" replied Fragoni.

The plane rose straight up into the air and then darted gracefully out
over the Sound.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dirk swooped straight down at the leviathan which lay so quietly on the
surface of the Sound and then slowly circled around it. No sign of an
aperture of any sort could be seen in the craft. Then he dropped the
plane lightly on the water, close to the metallic monster, which towered
fully four hundred feet above them, despite the fact that more than half
of it was submerged.

"It must be hollow," remarked Steinholt, "or it wouldn't be so far out
of the water. In fact, it most certainly would sink, if it was solid."

At the touch of a lever which lay under one of Dirk's hands the plane
rose straight out of the water, and he maneuvered it directly over the
top of the strange enigma. Then he touched a button and the pontoons
were drawn up into the undercarriage of the craft.

"Shall I make a landing on it?" he asked, turning his head and
addressing Fragoni.

The latter nodded his head, and Dirk dropped the ship gently onto the
smooth surface of the monster, the pneumatic gearing completely
absorbing the shock of the landing.

Dirk relinquished the controls and, opening the door of the cabin, he
stepped out onto the rough and pitted substance of which the leviathan
was compounded. He stood there while the others came out after him.

A large area on the top of the monster was perfectly flat and, within a
very few moments, Dirk discovered that it was decidedly warm. He had
brought the plane down close to the middle of the length of the strange
craft in the belief that there, if anywhere, some indication of an
entrance might be found.

       *       *       *       *       *

The voice of Steinholt, tense with suppressed excitement, appraised him
that his surmise had been correct.

"There is a manhole of some sort," the electrical wizard exclaimed. "And
look, it is turning!"

They saw, not far ahead of them, a circular twelve-foot section of the
deck slowly revolving, and, even as they watched, it commenced to rise
slowly upward as the threads with which it was provided turned gradually
around.

Almost involuntarily they retreated a few feet and stood there,
spellbound, as they stared at the massive, revolving section of the
deck.

It continued to turn until fully ten feet of the mobile cylinder had
been exposed. Then the bottom of it appeared. Even then it continued to
revolve and rise on a comparatively small shaft which supported it and,
at the same time, thrust it upward. Dirk and his companions kept their
eyes on the rim of the well which had been exposed, and awaited the
appearance of something, they knew not what. When the top of the great
cylinder was fully twelve feet above the deck of the craft it slowly
ceased to revolve.

Moment succeeded moment as the members of the little group rigidly and
almost breathlessly awaited developments.

Then Dirk, with an impatient ejaculation, stepped forward toward the
yawning hole and cautiously peered over the edge of it.

He stood there for a moment, as if transfixed, and then, with an
exclamation of horror, retreated swiftly to where his friends were
standing.

       *       *       *       *       *

"What is it?" gasped Steinholt. "What did you see when--"

But the words died on his lips for, swarming swiftly over every side of
the well, there poured an array of erect, piercing-eyed beings, who had
all the characteristics of humans. They were clad in tight-fitting
attire of thin and pliant metal which, with the exception of their
faces, shielded them from head to foot. On their heads they wore
close-fitting helmets, apparently equipped with visors which could be
drawn down to cover their unprepossessing features.

Each one of them carried a tube which bore a striking resemblance to a
portable electric flashlight.

Swiftly they advanced, in ranks of eight, toward Dirk and his companions
who, gripped with amazement, held their positions.

The first line came to a halt not more than four feet from the little
group on the deck. The other lines halted, too, and formed a great
platoon. Then a shrill whistle sounded and the formation parted in the
middle, leaving an open path that led backward to the entrance, to the
well.

A moment later the watchers saw the regal figure of a man emerge from
the orifice and, after a moment's pause, advance slowly in their
direction with a stately stride.

He was tall and muscular and blond and his attire, golden in texture,
glittered with sparkling gems.

As he approached them he raised his right hand and, inasmuch as his
countenance was calm and benign, his gesture appeared to be one of
peace and good-will.

       *       *       *       *       *

Following close behind him there was a younger man who, very apparently,
was of the same lineage. His expression, however, was petulant and
haughty and it contained more than a suggestion of rapacity and evil.

Behind him there were others of the same fair type, all of them
sumptuously and ornately attired.

Fragoni stepped forward, himself a dignified and striking figure, as the
leader of the strange adventurers came forth from the lane that had been
formed by his immobile guard of warriors.

The two men confronted each other, one whose power and wealth gave him a
dominate position on earth, and the other a personage from some domain
that was remote in the abyss of space.

Fragoni bowed and spoke a few friendly words of welcome and the
stranger, to the utter amazement of the banker and his associates,
responded in an English that was rather peculiar in accent but that they
could understand without any difficulty.

"From what part of the world do you come," asked the astounded Fragoni,
"that you speak our language?"

"We come from no part of this world," replied the stranger. "The empire
of my ruler is infinitely far away. But language, my friend, is not a
thing of accident. Life grows out of the substance of the universe and
language comes out of life. The speech of mankind, in your state of
development, varies but little throughout all space and I have heard
your English, as you call it, spoken among those who dwell in many, many
worlds."

"And your world?" asked Steinholt with avid curiosity. "Tell us of the
planet from which you come."

       *       *       *       *       *

But Fragoni, smiling at the eagerness of Steinholt, interposed with a
kindly but arresting gesture.

"My name is Fragoni," he said to the stranger, "and I would have you
partake, of my hospitality and refresh yourself after your long journey.
These," he added, "are my friends, Steinholt, Vanderpool and Lazarre."

"I am Teuxical, vassal of his Supreme Highness, Malfero of Lodore," the
other replied. "This is my son, Zitlan," he continued, indicating the
young man behind him, "and the others are my high captains, Anteucan,
Orzitza and Huazibar. More of my officers are below together with ten
thousand armed and armored men such as you see before you."

If the last part of the statement was intended as a threat or a warning,
the expression on Fragoni's face gave no indication that he was aware of
it.

"You carry a large crew, sir," Fragoni replied, "but we gladly will make
provisions for all of your men. As for yourself, your son, and your
captains, if you will come with me...."

He nodded in the direction of the plane which rested on the great
interplanetary vessel and started to walk slowly in the direction of it.
The leader of the skymen walked by his side and the other men from
Lodore followed close after them.

Dirk, Steinholt and Lazarre brought up the rear, while the soldiers
remained motionless in their serried array.

       *       *       *       *       *

Innumerable planes were circling overhead and hundreds of them had
landed on the water in the vicinity. Dirk saw that the wanderers from
the stars regarded them curiously as if they never before had seen
aircraft of that particular type.

When the cabin door of the plane was thrown open, Teuxical turned to one
of his captains.

"Remain here, Anteucan, with the soldiers," he commanded, "and await our
return."

Teuxical then entered the plane with his men and Fragoni, Steinholt and
Lazarre followed after them. Then Dirk took his seat at the controls.

"These are strange craft you use," he heard Teuxical say. "I have seen
them in only one of the multitude of other worlds on which I have set my
feet, worlds which all pay tribute to Malfero of Lodore. It is safer and
swifter to ride the magnetic currents than it is to ride the unstable
currents of the air."

Dirk caught the significance of the reference to tribute and he admired
the clever diplomacy of Teuxical while, at the same time, he wondered if
the earth and all of those who dwelt upon it were doomed to fall under
the sway of some remote and unseen despot.

He also realized that the Lodorians had, in some way, devised a craft
that rode the great magnetic streams which flowed through the universe
in much the same way that men, in ships, navigated the streams of the
earth.

He threw on the helicopter switch and the plane rose swiftly into the
air, the myriad other flying craft which were circling nearby keeping at
a safe distance from it.

"Land on the grand terrace," Fragoni directed. The flight was short and
rapid and it was only a matter of seconds before Dirk brought the plane
down on the landing stage which they had left only a scant half-hour
before.

He opened the cabin door and stepped out of the plane and the others
filed out after him.

       *       *       *       *       *

Fragoni led the way along the stage, walking and chatting with Teuxical,
and Dirk, following after the others, was the last to turn a corner that
brought him a sweeping view of the magnificent terrace that fronted the
private apartments of the banker and his daughter.

And, when he did, he saw that Inga was standing there, superbly
beautiful, with Stanton a few paces behind her.

Her lovely eyes were alive with awe and wonder and her slender white
hands were crossed over her heart.

And Dirk saw, too, that Zitlan, son of Teuxical, had paused and was
standing quite still, with his unwavering and insolent eyes fixed on
the girl. Resentment, and a touch of apprehension, agitated Dirk when he
saw the expression on the face of the young Lodorian.

There was admiration in that disagreeable countenance, but it was
blended with arrogance, haughtiness and ill-concealed desire.

Dirk went quickly to Inga, standing between the girl and the one from
Lodore who was staring at her so brazenly.

"What does it all mean, Dirk?" she asked in a low voice. "Those strange
people, where are they from?"

Stanton had come quickly forward and had joined Inga and Dirk.

"They are from some far-off world, Inga," he explained, "that we know
nothing about as yet."

"But what do they want?" she persisted. "What do they intend to do? I
saw those horrible creatures through the magnascope when they came
swarming out of the inside of that thing on the water and I thought, at
first, that they were going to kill you all."

"No, they seem to come in peace," Dirk replied. "Teuxical, their leader,
seems to be gracious and kindly."

       *       *       *       *       *

"We are all doomed," asserted Stanton, "unless something happens. They
can crumble our cities with heat and bury us under the ruins of them."

"Keep your silence!" breathed Dirk, quietly but tensely. "We will find a
way to destroy those creatures if it becomes necessary."

"That man who keeps staring at me, who is he?" asked Inga in a voice
that betrayed her nervousness.

Dirk turned and saw that Zitlan was still standing where he had paused
and that he still was looking with searching eyes in the direction of
the girl.

He returned the insolent gaze of the young Lodorian with an impatient
and threatening stare and the countenance of Zitlan at once became
stern and menacing. He came striding in the direction of Inga, Dirk and
Stanton and paused within a few feet of them, his rapacious eyes still
fixed on the girl.

"My lady," he said, "your beauty pleases me. I have walked on many
worlds but never before have I seen one as lovely as yourself. Of the
spoils of this world, all that I crave possession of is you. When we
return to Lodore," he added with an air of finality, "I will take you
with me and place you with my other women in the Seraglio of the
Stars."

Dirk swiftly stepped close to Zitlan and the latter quickly clasped a
tube that hung at his side, a tube of the sort that the soldiers had
carried.

"Your words and your manner are insolent," asserted Dirk angrily, "and I
warn you now to cease making yourself offensive."

"Dog!" exclaimed Zitlan fiercely, leveling the metal tube, "I'll--"

But the left fist of Dirk cut short his threat as it made a sudden
impact with his chin, and the Lodorian went crashing backward into some
exotic shrubbery with a look of surprise on his countenance.

Then Dirk heard an odd hissing and crackling sound, and he felt himself
becoming dizzy and weak.

Darkness seemed to sweep in upon him; he felt that he was dropping
swiftly through space, and then he lost consciousness.

       *       *       *       *       *

A vague and shadowy figure was standing close by his side and peering
down into his face. After a while he realized that it was Steinholt.

"Steinholt!" he gasped. "Why--why am I here--in Fragoni's? I must have
had a dream--and yet...."

He furrowed his brow in thought and, gradually, he commenced to remember
what had happened.

"It was no dream," said the scientist softly. "Do you remember the
trouble that you had with Zitlan?"

"Yes," replied Dirk. "I remember that he was insolent to Inga and that I
lost my temper and struck him. But what happened to me? I don't recall
that anybody hit me. I did hear sort of a peculiar sound just before I
started to pass out, but--"

"Teuxical took a shot at you," said Steinholt, "and you have been
unconscious for over thirty-six hours."

"Took a shot at me!" exclaimed Dirk. "What did he shoot me with?"

"That is what we all would like to know," said Steinholt. "He leveled
one of those damn tubes at you and pressed a button on it. There was a
hissing sound, a flash of light, and you got groggy, and went out. He
potted Zitlan, too," continued Steinholt, "and he apologized for the
trouble that his son was responsible for. Do you know," he added, "I
sort of like the old man."

       *       *       *       *       *

Lazarre, with a sympathetic smile on his face, entered the room at that
moment and overheard the conversation.

"Old man is right," he remarked, with a little note of awe in his voice.
"Teuxical admits that he is three thousand years old and that he has at
least two thousand more ahead of him. That Lodore must be a queer
world," he commented, shaking his grizzly head.

"It is not so queer when you take everything into consideration," said
Steinholt. "It seems quite natural when Teuxical explains it. Lodore it
seems, is something like a hundred thousand times as big as this
miniature world we live on. It took Lodore infinitely longer to solidify
from a gaseous state than it took this world, and its entire evolution
has been relatively slower than ours. Therefore, according to Teuxical,
the people up there live longer and, incidentally, know infinitely more
than we do."

       *       *       *       *       *

"What time is it now?" asked Dirk, after a moment of thought.

"It is just about twelve o'clock at night," Steinholt informed him.

"Have these Lodorians made any demands yet?" Dirk asked. "Does anybody
know what they are going to do or what they want?"

"They are liable to do almost anything," said Lazarre, "and it looks as
though they will be able to get anything that they want. Teuxical, as I
understand it, just gave you a slight shock with his death-ray device.
If he had pulled the trigger all the way you would have become just a
little pile of dust that the first breeze would have blown away."

"Our own death-rays are somewhat similar," said Steinholt, "but they are
not a hundredth as powerful. And they won't work on the Lodorians,
either," he added, "because those metal sheaths that they wear make them
immune to all kinds of destructive rays."

       *       *       *       *       *

"It appears," remarked Lazarre morosely, "as if this little world of
ours is going to be taken for a ride. And it's too bad, considering that
it's the only world we've got. There has been no formal presentation of
demands yet, but it seems to be sort of understood that the earth is
going to become a tributary of Lodore. It is a good thing," he added,
"that Teuxical, and not Zitlan, is the boss of that outfit. I don't like
the looks of that young fellow. He's only twelve hundred years old and
he is sort of hot-blooded, I guess."

"I was talking with Anteucan," said Steinholt, "and he told me that the
Lodorians usually make heavy levies on worlds which they discover and
dominate. As soon as Teuxical returns to Lodore and announces a new
discovery a fleet of those damned monsters is sent out to mop up the new
planet. That Malfero, who is the emperor of Lodore, is considerable of a
monarch, and it seems that he has a passion for piling up wealth. Gold
and platinum are as precious on Lodore as they are here and he also
likes pretty stones."

"And what is worse," added Steinholt, "is his practice of enslaving
entire populations and making toilers or warriors out of them. Those
soldiers on the ship are not Lodorians. Millions of them were seized on
some planet and converted into troops. It was a strange conversion,
too," said Steinholt with a shudder. "Their brains were operated on and
most of their faculties removed. They have no sense of fear, no
consciences, no power of reasoning. They respond only to certain signals
on a whistle and their only definite and active impulse is that of
murder and destruction."

"There is nothing to do," said Dirk positively, "but to kill all of
these interlopers, if we hope to save our world from being desolated."

       *       *       *       *       *

The three men looked at each other in silence for a moment and then
Dirk, somewhat weakly, rose into a sitting position in the bed which he
had been occupying.

"But how," asked Steinholt, "can we kill them? We might, of course, get
rid of a few of them, but that simply would lead to our destruction by
those who were left."

"There must be some way," asserted Dirk, "and it is up to us to think of
it without delay. If we let those Lodorians get a foothold on the world
all will be lost."

"The old man seems to be reasonable enough," said Lazarre. "He doesn't
seem inclined to be destructive."

"We must not trust him or any of the others," said Dirk imperatively.
"We must rid the earth of every one of them. And the sooner we strike
the better!"

"It had best be soon if it is to be at all," said Steinholt. "Fragoni
has arranged to have Teuxical appear before the Congress, and the
meeting has been called for to-night when, I imagine, certain specific
demands will be made upon us. We all will go to The Hague together on
the ship of the Lodorians."

"And we leave?" questioned Dirk.

"The meeting is set for ten P. M., New York time," said Lazarre. "We
will start east at about four o'clock in the morning, I guess, because
it will only take a minute or so to arrive at our destination."

"Is Fragoni going?" asked Dirk.

"Naturally," replied Lazarre.

"And Inga?"

"I believe so," Lazarre told him. "Fragoni was both afraid to take her
and to leave her behind, but finally he decided that he wanted her with
him in case of trouble."

       *       *       *       *       *

"And are they--the Lodorians--still here?" queried Dirk.

"Yes," responded Lazarre. "Teuxical returned to his ship last night with
Zitlan and his other followers, but they came back late this afternoon,
and they are still here. Zitlan seemed to be all right this afternoon,
too. They must have used some means of bringing him out of the daze that
he was in. We did everything we could to revive you, but none of our
measures were effective."

"I'm all right now," asserted Dirk, as he finished attiring himself. "I
want to see Fragoni at once."

"We'll go out on the terrace then," said Steinholt. "They are all out
there."

Dirk, with his two companions, strolled out through the maze of rooms
and corridors that led to the garden which hung so high above the city
and the Sound below it.

The first thing that Dirk saw, when he passed out onto the terrace, was
the white tunic of Inga, who was leaning against a coping and talking
with Zitlan.

The latter was pointing skyward and, very apparently, he was telling her
of worlds which circled high among the stars.

As if she were suddenly aware of his presence, Inga turned and saw Dirk
and he realized, by the expression on her face, that she was distraught
and nervous. She came toward him quickly, after a few words to Zitlan,
and the face of the latter darkened. There was hatred in his expression
as he stared malevolently at Dirk.

       *       *       *       *       *

Steinholt and Lazarre passed along and joined Fragoni and Teuxical, who
were the center of a group that had formed in another part of the
terrace.

"Oh, Dirk," said Inga, "I am so afraid of that frightful Zitlan. He has
been telling me again that he is going to take me back to his own world
with him and it makes me shudder to think of it. He is so strange and
queer and his eyes are so terrible. He can't be as young as he looks,
because he speaks of years like we speak of minutes. I will die if I
ever find myself in that monster's power! He has been telling me of all
the creatures he has slain on the worlds on which he has landed, and I
tell you, Dirk, that he is cruel and ruthless and horrible."

"He will never have you!" swore Dirk. "And if I hear of any more of his
insolence, I will throw him headlong from this terrace."

"Please, Dirk," she begged, "don't do anything--not yet. He is utterly
unscrupulous, Dirk. He told me that, even now, he is plotting against
some Malfero who rules Lodore like a god, and that he is planning to
seize the throne of the planet. He wants to make me the queen of that
fearful world when he becomes king. He boasted that, if I were on the
throne, millions of people from other worlds would be sacrificed in my
honor in the temples of Lodore." Her voice trembled and her eyes were
terror-stricken as she continued. "They tear out the hearts of living
victims," she whispered, "and burn them on their high and mammoth
pyramids."

       *       *       *       *       *

Rage took possession of Dirk and, casting a glance at Zitlan, he saw
that the Lodorian was smiling insolently at him.

"I'll kill that beast, if it's the last thing that I do!" he exclaimed
to Inga.

"Dirk, Dirk," she implored, "don't even look at him. He is proud and
impetuous, and he will kill you in defiance of his own father."

"We will find some way to rid the world of the scourge that has
descended upon it," asserted Dirk confidently, "and he will die with the
rest of that monstrous crew."

"I am going in, Dirk," Inga said. "Please," she begged, "don't do
anything rash. If--something--should happen to you, I would lose all the
hope that I have and I would, I think, kill myself."

"Don't lose hope, my dear," said Dirk reassuringly. "I believe that I
know of a way to destroy the plague that menaces us."

He pressed her hand and, after she left him, he walked over and joined
the other men on the terrace. Zitlan, coming from the terrace wall,
stretched out in a chair not far from Dirk.

Teuxical regarded the latter with a countenance that was calm and
amicable. "I am sorry, my young friend," he apologized, "that I had to
intervene between you and my son." He paused a moment and sat in
silence, a thoughtful expression on his face. "Ah," he then said, "what
disasters have arisen out of the desire of men for women. In my
wanderings over the starlit worlds, I have seen...." He ceased speaking,
brooded for a moment, and then shook his head slowly. "But you cannot
say that I was not just," he continued, addressing Dirk. "I punished
Zitlan for his presumption. Fragoni tells me that the woman has pledged
herself to you. Let her pledge be kept!" he exclaimed sternly, looking
straight at Zitlan.

"We are the conquerors," asserted the latter boldly, "and to us should
belong the spoils of our daring!"

"Silence!" thundered Teuxical. "My own son, above all others, shall be
obedient to my commands! Or, like others have done, he shall die because
of insubordination!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Zitlan, a defiant expression on his face, ceased to speak, but Dirk
could see that he was livid with suppressed rage.

"As I was saying," Teuxical remarked, turning to Fragoni, "I am getting
old and long have I been weary of conquest. I have seen your world and
it pleases me. It is a tiny and peaceful place, far removed from the
strife and turbulence of the restless centers of the universe. So it is
my will to leave you unscathed and return to Lodore for a brief time to
ask of the mighty Malfero the grant of this little provincial land. And
then, with his permission, I will return here and rule it with wisdom
and benevolence.

"I will bring to you much knowledge, and peace will be to the people of
this earth and peace will be to me."

"It is well," replied Fragoni. "No world, I am certain, could hope for a
wiser and more just ruler than yourself, and our Congress surely will
receive you with acclaim."

Teuxical bowed in recognition of the compliment, and his countenance
indicated that he was gratified.

"We will go, now, back to our vessel," he said, addressing the other
Lodorians. "We will return for you at the appointed hour and conduct you
to our ship," he added, speaking to Fragoni.

"We will be ready," Fragoni replied.

       *       *       *       *       *

Zitlan had arisen with the rest of them and Dirk, with a look of
contempt and amusement in his eyes, regarded him casually.

"May I have the honor of conducting our guests back to their ship in a
plane?" Stanton requested of Fragoni.

The latter nodded and Stanton walked across the terrace in the direction
of the landing stage.

Zitlan, as he followed after the others, passed close to Dirk and,
pausing for a moment, fixed his hateful eyes on him.

"You dog," he whispered malignantly, "remember what I tell you! The
time will come when I will cast you to the carnaphlocti in the dark and
icy caverns of sunless Tiganda. You will die," he swore, "the death of a
million agonies!"

For a moment Dirk felt an almost irresistible impulse to hurl himself on
the Lodorian and slay him.

He managed to maintain his control, however, and only regarded Zitlan
with disdain as the latter turned and went on his way.

In another moment the plane, containing Stanton and the Lodorians, was
high up in the darkness.

Dirk glanced at the great clock that gleamed atop of the beacon-tower on
the Metropole Landing Field.

The hour was close to twelve-thirty A. M.

       *       *       *       *       *

A moment of silence on the terrace followed the departure of the plane
that bore the Lodorians back to their craft.

For an hour the clouds had been gathering in the sky and now a fine,
cold rain commenced to fall.

A peal of thunder echoed above them after a sharp flash of lightning had
streaked across the black night above them.

A servant appeared from the entrance to the apartment and pressed a
button close to the door.

Protective plates of glass noiselessly enveloped the terrace, sheltering
those upon it from the inclement weather.

"It is well," remarked Fragoni, breaking the silence, "that we were
found by a leader like Teuxical. Our tribute will not be unbearable, and
he will bestow many benefits upon us."

"But surely," protested Dirk, "you do not intend to surrender without a
struggle! Nothing but disaster," he asserted earnestly, "will come upon
the earth if you do. Teuxical may be honest and just but, after all, he
neither is immortal nor all-powerful, and something may happen to him at
any moment. And there are those like Zitlan who would turn the world
over to ravage and rape, and then convert it into a blazing pyre, if
they had their way. These vandals," he insisted, "must be slain one and
all, or, mark my words, our world will be laid waste."

       *       *       *       *       *

Dirk spoke with such a sense of conviction that his words held his
listeners spellbound.

"Who is Teuxical," he asked, "but the vassal of a monarch whose
corsairs, very apparently, are carrying on a war of conquest in the
universe? It will be disastrous, I say, to place any dependence in the
good will of this one Lodorian. If he, or any of his men, return to that
far-off planet where they dwell word will be carried there of the
existence of our world. But who can say that Teuxical ever will return
here again? It may be the whim of his ruler to refuse his request, or
any one of a thousand other events might arise to thwart his desire to
live among us. No," concluded Dirk passionately, "it never will do to
let that great engine of destruction rise into the skies again!"

"He is right!" asserted Steinholt positively. "It will be far better to
annihilate these raiders, if such a thing can be accomplished!"

Lazarre was rather inclined to take sides with Fragoni.

"But how," he demanded, "can such destruction be brought about? We know
nothing of the capabilities of that monster that is lying down there in
the Sound. It is undoubtedly equipped with the deadliest of devices and
they all will be turned upon us if we fail in an effort to destroy the
thing and those who have come from space upon it. If there was a way to
smite them suddenly, to bring death to the Lodorians and to those
swarming, mindless, murderous minions who act in obedience to them, I
would favor doing it.

"But, as it is," he concluded, "it seems like inviting disaster even to
think of such an attempt, much less to try it."

"It can be done, though," asserted Dirk, "or there is at least a
fighting chance of accomplishing it. The electrosceotan--" He paused,
and looked questioningly at Steinholt. "The top of that monster is open
and...."

       *       *       *       *       *

The Teuton furrowed his brow and considered the proposition for a
moment.

"Yes," he said, nodding his head, "it might be done." Again he silently
gave the subject his thought. "It is well worth trying," he asserted
with an air of decision. "But we will have to make haste," he warned,
"if the thing is to be done before the flight to The Hague."

"So be it," said Fragoni. "We will apply ourselves to the task at hand.
I, too," he confessed, "had rather see these vandals destroyed like so
much vermin rather than have them carry the news of the existence of
this earth back into those strange worlds in the depth of space. I will
only regret the passing of Teuxical, who could have taught us much
wisdom. And now," he continued briskly, "I will place myself under your
orders, Dirk. You are the one who suggested this plan and upon you will
fall the responsibility of executing it. And, if it succeeds," he added,
"the glory will be yours."

"I care little for the glory," replied Dirk, "but I gladly accept the
duties and the responsibilities. These," he said to Fragoni, "are my
instructions to you. Inasmuch as Teuxical and his captains will return
here at about four o'clock in the morning to convey us back to their
craft, it will be necessary to have this building emptied of its
inhabitants by that time. Let all of those who dwell here depart from
it, a few at a time, so as not to excite suspicion. Inga, above all
others, must leave and retreat to a place of safety. Then, as the hour
approaches for the arrival of the Lodorians, we will escape by plane
from one of the rear terraces. They will land in search of us
and--well, then they will feel the force of our power."

"I will follow your orders explicitly," promised Fragoni. "I wonder," he
added, "where Stanton is? He should be advised of what we are going to
attempt."

"He will return in due time," replied Dirk. "And, if not, it will be the
worse for him. Lazarre will remain here with you," he then told Fragoni,
"and Steinholt and I will now go about our part of the task at hand."

       *       *       *       *       *

Dirk, followed by Steinholt, hurried across the terrace and, leaving the
shelter of its quartzite plates, sought the landing stage.

The rain still was falling and the heavens were congested with dark and
heavy clouds.

Dirk, selecting one of the smaller planes, entered the cabin and
Steinholt, following after him, closed the door and threw on the
lights.

Swiftly they shot straight up into the air, Dirk ignoring all of the
rules of flight in his haste to be under way. Once in the westbound
lane, he headed his plane toward Manhattan and threw his rheostat wide
open. In a few minutes they were skimming over the great city and past
the three-thousand-foot steel tower of the Worldwide Broadcasting
Station.

For fifteen minutes more he kept the plane on a straight course and
then, bringing it to a quick stop, he let it drop like a plummet toward
the earth.

It landed, among many other planes, on the transparent, quartzite roof
of a vast building and, looking down into the interior, they could see
several rows of great dynamos. Some of them were turning, and the
humming that they made could be heard plainly.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dirk and Steinholt ran rapidly across the roof until they came to a
superstructure, which they entered. There was a shaft inside. Dirk
pressed a button, and an elevator shot up and stopped at the door,
which automatically flashed open.

He closed it after he and his companion had entered the cage and,
dropping rapidly downward, they came to a stop in a lighted chamber that
was far below the surface of the ground.

A stoop-shouldered old man greeted them, an expression of surprise on
his face.

"Gentlemen!" he exclaimed. "What is--"

"Power, Gaeble!" commanded Steinholt tensely. "Power! Let every dynamo
run its swiftest. To-night we have to use for the electrosceotan!"

"But I thought it was peace that those from the stars desired," said the
old electrician. "Through my radiovisor I heard--"

"That was sent out," explained Steinholt, "to relieve the fears of the
people and to keep them in order."

Swiftly the distorted figure of the old man sped to a great switchboard,
where he pressed button after button.

The very ground commenced to vibrate around them and the massive
structure seemed to be alive with straining power.

Then Steinholt, going to a corner of the intricate board, adjusted a few
levers, while his gnomelike companion watched him carefully.

"And now, Gaeble," the scientist said impressively, "these are your
orders. At precisely the hour of four o'clock in the morning make one
connection with this switch."

       *       *       *       *       *

He indicated, with a stubby finger, the lever to be operated.

"Keep the circuit closed for just four seconds," he added slowly, "and
then break it. Do you understand, Gaeble?" he demanded.

"I do," replied the old man.

"Then," continued Steinholt, "after you break that connection you
quickly will close this next circuit. Keep it closed for four seconds
and then, after opening it for one second, close it again for four
seconds. Repeat the procedure twice more, Gaeble, after that, and then
await my further instructions. Is everything clear?" he asked.

"It is, sir," the old man replied. "I will follow your orders
implicitly."

"There is one thing more," Steinholt said. "Get the Worldwide Tower on
the televisor and warn them of what is to happen."

"I will do that immediately," Gaeble replied.

Dirk and Steinholt shot up to the roof again and the building over which
they walked seemed to be quivering with life.

They could see that all of the mammoth dynamos beneath them were
revolving and the humming which they had heard before had changed into
an ugly, vibrant roar.

       *       *       *       *       *

Again they took flight and, reaching Manhattan, they continued north and
east to the shore of Long Island Sound.

Long before the old East River had been filled in and the space which it
had occupied reclaimed for building purposes. All indications of its
former bed had been obliterated by mammoth terraced structures.

When they reached their destination on the shore of the Sound a small
submarine, which Dirk had ordered by radio, was awaiting them.

"Submerge and proceed up the Sound," Dirk ordered the officer, "and take
us directly under the craft of the Lodorians."

In a few minutes they were skimming over the surface of the water and,
when a sufficient depth had been gained, the tiny boat disappeared
beneath the rain-rippled sea.

Dirk sat at a port and watched the aquatic life as it was illuminated by
the powerful aquamarine searchlights.

Progress under the water was comparatively slow, as mankind had made but
little progress in underwater navigation. Air liners long before had
almost superseded travel by land and sea and the abolition of warfare
had swept all of the old navies from the ocean.

It was more than an hour before the officer in charge of the boat
announced that the mammoth hull of the monster that was lying on the
Sound was visible directly above them.

Both Dirk and Steinholt donned diving apparatus, and the former
carefully adjusted the mechanism that was contained in a metallic box
about two feet square.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then they stepped up into a chamber in the conning tower of the boat
and, after a door slipped shut beneath them, water slowly commenced to
pour into the compartment.

When it was full a sliding door that was in front of them slowly opened
and they passed out onto the deck of the underwater craft.

Steinholt had been provided with some welding apparatus and, in a few
minutes, the box which Dirk had carried was attached securely to the
bottom of the craft of the Lodorians.

They then reentered the submarine by reversing the process which had
attended their exit. Very soon they were in the cabin of the boat
again.

"If everything goes well," said Dirk, "those damned Lodorians will never
know what struck them."

"I only hope," said Steinholt, "that we don't destroy that leviathan
altogether. We might solve the secret of it and then we, too, could ride
out into the heart of the universe."

"It is impossible to imagine what will happen," Dirk replied, "until
after we launch our attack."

Both of the men were silent during the return trip of the small undersea
craft, which emerged at its dock a little before three-thirty in the
morning.

"We'll have to hurry," urged Dirk nervously, "because we will need a
little time to make preparations after we get back to Fragoni's."

They entered their plane and Dirk shot it swiftly up into the night,
following the red shaft of light that rose almost directly from the
point at which they had made their landing.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then, having reached the eastbound level, he headed straight in the
direction of the palace of Fragoni.

Dirk cast a glance at the great city that lay far beneath him. High up
into the heavens it tossed the fulgurant fires that betokened its wealth
and power. And, down among those myriad lights, millions and millions of
people were restless under the danger that menaced them. It was only a
matter of moments now before their fate, and the fate of their great
metropolis, would be decided. By dawn they would be free forever from
the threat of subjugation and slavery or else they, and all that they
had toiled and striven for, would be the veriest dust of dying embers.

And whatever befell them likewise would befall the rest of the world and
every living thing that moved upon it.

Dirk was high above Fragoni's when he stopped the forward flight of the
plane and, dropping it rapidly through the misty night, brought up
easily on the landing stage. The other planes which had been there when
he and Steinholt had taken their departure were gone and Dirk felt a
sense of relief when he observed this. Inga, then, must have departed
with the other occupants of the colossal structure. Things were going
according to the plan that he had conceived. He stepped out of the
cabin, followed by Steinholt, and proceeded hastily along the terrace
and turned the corner into the garden.

Then he came to an abrupt halt because there, before him, was Zitlan,
with one of the deadly ray-tubes of the Lodorians in his hand.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dirk knew immediately that something unexpected had happened and that he
was in the power of one who not only hated him but who had an unholy
desire for Inga.

He realized, too, that any show of resistance would be nothing short of
suicide, for he was well aware of the deadliness of the strange weapon
with which he and Steinholt were being menaced by the gloating
Lodorian.

"One false move and you die!" warned Zitlan. "Come forward, now, and
join those two others over whom Anteucan and Huazibar are watching."

Dirk and Steinholt promptly obeyed the command of Zitlan and walked over
to where Fragoni and Lazarre were being guarded by two of the
conquerors.

The rain had ceased to fall, but the skies were dark and overcast with
heavy clouds. There was an occasional flash of lightning, and thunder
rolled and echoed through the night.

The terrace, however, was brightly illuminated and every detail of the
scene around him was visible to Dirk.

He saw Stanton, on another part of the terrace, standing among some
Lodorians he had not seen before. Stanton, apparently, was not being
treated as a prisoner and Dirk wondered, rather vaguely, why this was.

"What happened?" Dirk asked Fragoni quietly.

"According to what I have heard," the latter replied, "Zitlan murdered
his father in a fit of rage, and has taken over the command of the ship.
Many of the Lodorians are his adherents and even those who do not favor
him are so terrified that they will be obedient to his wishes."

"And Inga?" questioned Dirk.

"She is inside the apartment," said Fragoni, a note of desperation in
his voice. "Zitlan surprised us completely and he and his men had us
covered before we realized that Teuxical was not among them."

       *       *       *       *       *

Zitlan, in the meantime, had entered the suite of Fragoni and he now
came out, Inga walking before him.

She was silent and proudly erect but there was a pallor in her face that
indicated her realization of the danger that she was threatened with.

When Dirk saw her she gave him a brave smile, which he answered with a
glance of reassurance.

He could see the great clock in the Metropole Tower, and he noticed,
with a feeling of grave apprehension, that it was twenty minutes to four
o'clock.

There were only a few minutes more in which to make a desperate and
apparently a hopeless effort to save Inga, his friends and himself from
a catastrophe which he had been instrumental in contriving.

Then Zitlan stood before him, haughty and arrogant, his lowering
countenance ugly with hatred.

"So, dog," he said, "you who dared to defy Zitlan now stand before him a
captive!"

Neither Dirk nor any one of the three others who were guarded with him
replied to the utterance.

"You and that woman of yours," continued the Lodorian insolently, "both
are my prisoners to do with as I please. Your fate," he continued, "I
already have planned for you and I assure you that it will not be as
pleasurable as the one to which she is destined. You will find that
Tigana, on which you and those with you will be cast, is a world of
terror such as you never could dream of. Even the monsters which crawl
through the deliriums of the mind are not as horrible as those which
infest the mad and haunted world of which I speak."

       *       *       *       *       *

He paused a moment, a cruel smile on his face, as if he wished the full
import of his words to sear themselves into the minds of the doomed
men.

"But the woman," he added, "will return to Lodore with me and be the
queen of all women. And soon," he said savagely, "she may be queen of
all Lodore, of the worlds which pay tribute to Lodore, and of other
worlds which I will conquer and ravage. My father stood in my way and he
died at my own hands. So will others perish who thwart my ambition, and
I will become supreme in the universe!"

A feeling of reckless fury possessed Dirk as he listened to the words of
Zitlan and he felt an almost irresistible desire to drive a fist square
between the mad, glittering eyes of the Lodorian.

He glanced at the great clock, however, and he saw that the time to act
had not yet come. At the last moment he would make one desperate attempt
to frustrate the evil designs of Zitlan. If it failed--well, all would
be lost. But it was a far better thing to die resisting the despicable
Zitlan and his minions than it would be to live and to know that,
without a struggle, he had abandoned to degradation the girl he loved.

"This world of yours will be my world," he heard Zitlan boast, "and the
spoils from it will add to my riches. This one here," he continued,
indicating Stanton, "has offered to show me where all of the treasures
of the earth may be found. And, as a reward, he will return to Lodore
with me and there be elevated to a high position."

       *       *       *       *       *

That, then, was why Stanton was not under guard like the rest of them.

"Our good friend, Stanton," said Lazarre, "seems to have become
something of a Judas."

"And let his name be forever cursed, like the name of Judas," said
Dirk.

"Silence!" thundered the Lodorian. "I, Zitlan, am speaking." He paused a
moment. "When I garner up the treasures of this world in the way of
precious stones and metals I also shall gather more priceless loot in
the way of women. And then, having taken all that I desire, I will lay
waste to this earth so that those who survive will fear the name of
Zitlan and will grovel before him like a god when once again he appears
to them."

While Zitlan had been speaking, Dirk had been studying the opponents
with whom he soon had to clash.

The two Lodorians who were standing guard over himself and his
companions were close to his left side. Zitlan was directly in front of
him, and there were seven of his minions clustered behind him.

Again Dirk glanced at the great dial of the clock, and he saw that it
was seven minutes of four.

The moment had come to act if action was to prove of any avail.

"I will--"

But the words of Zitlan were interrupted by Dirk, who suddenly made a
mighty sweep with his left arm and knocked the deadly tubes from the
hands of Anteucan and Huazibar. Startled by the assault, they went
reeling backward. At almost the same instant Dirk leaped forward and,
seizing Zitlan, hurled him among those Lodorians who had been massed
behind him. Then he threw himself violently into the tangled mass, his
fists driving in and out with deadly strength!

       *       *       *       *       *

Out of the corner of one eye he saw Inga pass the melee and dart swiftly
to the corner of the terrace. Instead of passing around to the landing
stage, however, she lingered there and watched the combat.

Dirk, as he fought, became conscious that Steinholt and Fragoni were at
his side, battling with him against his enemies. He saw, too, that
Stanton had retired to the far end of the terrace and that he was
watching the struggle with frightened eyes.

"We must reach the plane and get away," gasped Dirk. "In another three
minutes--"

He felled a Lodorian who, having lost his tube, was about to grapple
with him. He saw Steinholt send another one of their opponents reeling
backward.

"Fragoni!" he exclaimed. "The plane! Get in with Inga! We will come!"

Even as he spoke his fists were flailing back and forth between each one
of his staccato commands.

He saw beneath him a hand reaching toward a tube, and he kicked the
instrument of death. It hurtled over in the direction of Stanton and
landed close to his feet. Stanton might have picked it up and been in
possession of the means of aiding his old friends or his new allies. But
he shrunk away, panic-stricken, from the thing that lay so close to his
reach.

A Lodorian leaped upon Dirk's back in an effort to bring him to the
ground, but he stooped swiftly forward and his assailant was catapulted
over his head into those who were in front of him.

       *       *       *       *       *

He caught a flash of the contorted face of Zitlan flying through the
air, and saw him land with a crash on the terrace, and lie there
writhing in pain.

"Steinholt, Lazarre!" he said convulsively. "We've got to strike once
more! And then--run!"

He plunged into their enemies with every bit of energy that he had left,
and saw two of them toppling down. Then, like a flash, he turned to
Lazarre, who was trying to fight off three of the Lodorians. Seizing one
of them by the waist, Dirk hurled him backward and he disposed of
another one in the same manner. His sheer desperation seemed to have
given him unbounded strength and power.

Lazarre sent his third opponent down with a blow under the chin and
then, with Dirk at his side, they turned to the assistance of
Steinholt.

With one mad rush they crashed into a group of Lodorians and sent them
reeling away like so many nine-pins.

"Now! To the plane!" exclaimed Dirk, taking to his heels across the
terrace. Steinholt and Lazarre followed after him and, turning the
corner, they saw that the ship was in place and that Fragoni was
anxiously waiting by the door of the cabin. Inga, Dirk knew, already was
inside and safe. He stood aside while Steinholt and Lazarre leaped in.
During the momentary wait he caught a glimpse of the great clock. It
was one minute to four. Dirk jumping into the plane and switched on the
helicopter without even waiting to close the cabin door.

       *       *       *       *       *

The ship shot skyward like a rocket. When it reached an altitude of
thirty-five hundred feet, he turned it north and raced at top speed in
that direction.

It was miles away from the palace of Fragoni in less than thirty
seconds. Dirk then stopped the plane and held it poised in the air with
the helicopter.

The skies were turgid and black and the massed clouds, reflecting the
lights of the great city below them, were permeated with an ugly,
feverish, red glow.

From where they were hanging in midair, the occupants of the plane could
plainly see the sparkling palace of Fragoni towering high up into the
darkness of the night.

The lights of the magnificent mansion were reflected far out into the
Sound where, looming in the golden ripples, lay the sinister monster
from the terrible depths of unfathomable space.

Dirk took a watch from his pocket and, after glancing at it, he hastily
replaced it.

"Two seconds more," he said, "and--"

       *       *       *       *       *

A sharp and dazzling bolt of greenish fire came hurling suddenly out of
the west and, with a thunderous concussion, seemed to fasten itself on
the crest of Fragoni's palace.

It trembled and quivered, as if endowed with some uncanny life and
power, as it remained there against the darkness, throwing a weird,
green tinge over the water and up into the skies.

Blue waves of light could be seen pulsing and racing along the terrible
beam and there, where it had fastened itself, they seemed to disappear
in the vast and crumbling structure.

For four seconds that destructive streak of light, one end of which was
lost back in the mists that concealed Manhattan, tore at the proud
pile.

And, as the stone crumbled and the steelite fused under the mighty
assault, an ominous roar swept through the night. The air was so
violently agitated that the plane, miles away, tossed up and down like a
tiny boat on a stormy sea.

Then suddenly the bolt was gone, but its livid image still burned in the
eyes of those who had been watching it.

Once more, it came hurling out of the west and, like the fang of some
great and deadly serpent, darted into the monster that lay in the waters
of the Sound.

Dirk and his companions could see plainly, by the light of the bolt
itself, that it had crashed into the well from which the Lodorians first
had appeared, and that it was beating and hammering its way into the
very vitals of the craft.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dazzling, blinding fire seemed to pour from the aperture through which
the bolt had passed. The clamor that arose was deafening.

Then again the streak of fires was withdrawn, leaving the night
intensely black until, in a moment more, it came thundering out of the
west again and, with an impact that made the land and the sea and the
very heavens tremble, hurled its way into the depths of the doomed
leviathan.

Twice again it fell, a fiery scimitar out of the darkness, and twice
again it careened at the vitals of the stricken monster.

Then, after the assault was over, the ship still floated on the surface
of the Sound and its shell, as far as Dirk and the others could judge,
still was unscathed.

"We will soon know our fate," remarked Steinholt calmly. "If that didn't
kill those beasts we might as well give up our ghosts."

"I'll drop the plane a little lower and a little nearer to the ship,"
said Dirk. "I don't believe that any life is surviving in that thing."

"My beautiful palace is nothing but dust," sighed Fragoni, mournfully.
"And all my beautiful treasures, too."

"And that beautiful Zitlan," Lazarre reminded him, "and his beautiful
boy friends, they are all dust too, thank God!"

"It was a queer fate that Stanton met," suggested Dirk. "He thought that
he would save his life by going over to our enemies, and, instead of
that, he lost it."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Poor Stanton," said Steinholt. "He was born that way, I suppose, and I,
for one, am ready to forgive and forget him. And now," continued the
Teuton, "I hope that we didn't do too much damage to that little boat of
the Lodorians. If we could get just a little peep at the inside of it we
might learn the secret of its contrivance. And then, my friends, we
could do a little journeying ourselves."

"Have you any theory regarding it?" asked Fragoni.

"Teuxical intimated that it rode the magnetic currents which, of course,
flow through all the suns and planets in the universe," replied
Steinholt. "We have been working along that line ourselves, of course,
and it probably won't be very long anyway before we have the solution of
interplanetary travel."

"Those Lodorians would have solved it for us if it hadn't been for
that artificial lightning," said Lazarre. "That's powerful stuff,
Steinholt."

"Yes, with that three-thousand-foot Worldwide Tower to hurl it from,"
agreed Steinholt, "we can get fair range with it. If the Lodorians
hadn't left the well of their ship open, though, the lightning wouldn't
have done us much good. I was afraid, too, for a time, that we might
have trouble in welding that automatic wireless circuit box to the
bottom of the ship."

Dirk, in the meantime, had brought the plane down to within a half-mile
of the leviathan, and he was holding it poised there.

"It seems to me," he said, after scrutinizing the monster for a couple
of minutes, "that it is moving in the water. It is!" he exclaimed.
"Steinholt! Look!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Only a comparatively short time had elapsed since the last bolt of
lightning had vanished back into the darkness.

"It is still rocking with the force of the shock that we gave it,"
asserted Steinholt. "You would be rocking, too, if you had been tickled
by a bolt like that one."

"It is rising, I tell you!" said Dirk. "The front end of it is slowly
getting higher in the water!"

"You're right, Dirk," said Fragoni, excitement straining his voice.
"Look! It just dropped back into the water!"

Then, as they watched, the movements of the leviathan became more and
more agitated, until it was churning up the waves around it like a
wounded and agonized monster of the sea.

Suddenly the front end tilted upward and the monster rose clear of the
water. It shot straight up into the air at a speed so terrific that they
could scarcely follow it.

"It's gone!" gasped Fragoni. "Those brainless, mindless automatons must
have survived!"

"No," remarked Steinholt thoughtfully. "I don't believe that there is
any life left on that thing. No one had closed the well when it rose,
and it would mean death to go out into space with the ship in that
condition."

"Then what made it go up?" demanded Lazarre. "Can the damn thing run
itself, Steinholt?"

"I imagine," recalled the Teuton, "that our bolts killed every living
thing that was on the craft but that, at the same time, they set the
mechanism of the monster into action. Ah," he moaned, "but that is too
bad. We could have learned much by an examination of the interior of
that liner of the air."

       *       *       *       *       *

A cry from Inga startled them and they saw that she was looking skyward,
with terror in her eyes.

They followed her gaze and there, streaking through the black clouds,
they saw a long trail of white fire.

"It's that thing!" exclaimed Fragoni. "I tell you that those upon it
still live and that they are about to wreak vengeance upon us."

"No," said Steinholt positively. "You are wrong, Fragoni. What is
happening may be almost as disastrous, though," he admitted. "That
leviathan is in its death agonies; it is a metal monster gone mad, and
none can say what will happen before it expires."

"The place for us," asserted Dirk hurriedly, "is in the Worldwide Tower.
There we can keep track of what is transpiring and try to decide what to
do."

The others agreed with him and, seeking the westward level of flight, he
sped the plane in the direction of the mammoth pyramid from which the
news of the world was broadcast.

They reached the vast structure in a few minutes, and, after dropping
the plane on a landing stage, they went into the operating room.

Here they learned quickly that the craft of the Lodorians was doing
incalculable damage, and that it was throwing the population of the
world into an unprecedented panic.

It was, apparently, following an erratic, uncertain orbit that took it
far out into space and then back quite close to the surface of the earth
again.

       *       *       *       *       *

It had passed through the very heart of Chicago within a few yards of
the ground, and it had cut and burned a swath more than a mile wide
through the buildings of that metropolis.

Other cities in America had felt the devastating effects of its
irresistible and molten heat and, within a short time, thousands of
people had been slain by it.

Time and again, from the terrace of the great tower, Dirk and his
companions saw the skies above them light up as that terrible, blazing,
projectile which, uncontrolled, went hurtling on its way through the
night.

For three hours it careened on its mad course and hysteria reigned
throughout the cities of the whole civilized world.

But then a report came from a rocket-liner that had left Berlin en route
for San Francisco.

"Either a great meteor or that leviathan of the Lodorians just swept
down past us in mid-Atlantic and plunged into the sea. Apparently it has
exploded, for it has thrown a great column of water for miles up into
the air. We are stopping and standing by, although the heat is intense
and clouds of steam are rising from the sea."

As the minutes passed by after the report from the rocket-ship had been
received, the disappearance from the sky of the flaming craft from space
seemed to confirm the belief that it had been swallowed by the ocean.
This was accepted as a certainty by eight o'clock in the morning.

"Ah," sighed Steinholt, "if only it had crashed on land somewhere. If
there only was enough of it left for us to--"

"Enough of any damn contraption of that kind," swore Lazarre fervently,
"is altogether too much. I hope, for one, that its fragments are
scattered so far that we never can put them together again."

       *       *       *       *       *

Dirk and Inga leaned against one of the parapets that evening on a
gardened terrace of his own great mansion in Manhattan.

Their little party had gone there after leaving the Worldwide Tower in
the morning.

After resting during the day, Lazarre and Fragoni were somewhere
together, discussing the plans for a new palace to take the place of the
one that was destroyed so that Zitlan and his minions might die in its
ruins.

Steinholt, elsewhere, was delving into oceanography and submarine
engineering, in an attempt to learn whether or not it would be feasible
to fish for the remains of the lost ship of Lodore.

"It seems like a dream, doesn't it, Dirk?" the girl remarked. "It is
difficult to believe that we actually have seen and talked with people
from some far-away world."

Together they looked up into the crystalline skies, where mazes of
shining stars gave testimony to the countless worlds which were wheeling
around them.

"And just to think, Dirk," Inga continued proudly, "that it was you who
saved this world and all of its people from that horrible Zitlan and his
horde."

"I saved you," he told her gravely and tenderly, "and that somehow means
more to me than saving all of this world and all of the other worlds
which are rolling through the uncharted ways of time and space."

       *       *       *       *       *

  COMING--
  Murder Madness
  _An Extraordinary Novel_

  _By_ MURRAY LEINSTER

       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber Notes

Typographical inconsistencies have been changed and are listed below.

Hyphenation standardized.

Archaic and variable spelling is preserved.

Authors' punctuation style is preserved.

Passages in italics indicated by _underscores_.

Passages in bold indicated by =equal signs=.


Transcriber Changes

The following changes were made to the original text:

  Page 298: Changed =work= to =wreck= (wish to know whether anyone has
            visited the scene of the =wreck=)

  Page 299: Changed =focussed= to =focused= (This means that we have
            =focused= or concentrated cold)

  Page 317: Added beginning quotes (Its name-grid glowed with the
            letters: ="_Anita Prince._"=)

  Page 321: Changed =eavesdroopper= to =eavesdropper= (sitting in the
            smoking room when the =eavesdropper= fled past)

  Page 321: Changed =pressure-cick= to =pressure-sick= (We missed you at
            breakfast. Not =pressure-sick=, I hope?)

  Page 323: Changed =linquists= to =linguists= (people are by heritage
            extraordinary =linguists=)

  Page 324: Added end quote (Did you have Prince's cabin =searched?"=)

  Page 328: Changed =elipse= to =ellipse= (Blackstone had roughly cast
            its orbital elements)

  Page 339: Changed =focussed= to =focused= (connected its little
            battery; =focused= its projector)

  Page 339: Changed =syncronized= to =synchronized= (as I crouched in
            the darkness behind the cylinder-case, I =synchronized=)

  Page 340: Removed extra quote after leaped (Miko doubtless saw it, and
            the Martian's hot anger =leaped=)

  Page 344: Changed =Mika= to =Miko= ("Wait a minute!" I called to
            =Miko=. "Navigate--where?")

  Page 344: Changed =catapaulted= to =catapulted= (The force
            =catapulted= me across the space of the room like a
            volplane)

  Page 345: Changed =Halian= to =Haljan= ("If you fire, =Haljan=, and
            kill me--Miko will kill you then, surely.")

  Page 346: Changed =focussed= to =focused= (the image of the lounge
            interior presently =focused=)

  Page 357: Changed =terriffic= to =terrific= (Perry beat a =terrific=
            tattoo on the ancient door)

  Page 362: Removed comma (for the news crew and editorial force of the
            =paper= were a carefully selected body of men indeed)

  Page 367: Changed =villian= to =villain= (Could the old =villain= be
            playing possum?)

  Page 367: Removed 'the' (With dexterous =hands O'Hara= swiftly went
            through the old man's pockets)

  Page 367: Changed =similiar= to =similar= (an ugly looking pistol of
            large caliber, a blackjack =similar= to his own and a small
            bottle)

  Page 369: Changed =and= to =any= (If you search my car and find =any=
            red liquor in the left back door pocket, I don't know a
            thing about it)

  Page 372: Changed =Hanlon= to =Handlon= (could be recognized as those
            of Horace Perry and Skip =Handlon=)

  Page 372: Changed =focussed= to =focused= (All eyes were now =focused=
            on Professor Kell)

  Page 373: Changed =Kel= to =Kell= (Hurry up and get =Kell= downstairs
            so we can see who he is)

  Page 374: Changed =Rotton= to =Rotten= ("=Rotten=," was the reply from
            the lips of Kell)

  Page 393: Changed =ecstacy= to =ecstasy= (Fear, despair, reckless
            abandon, mirth, doubt, religious =ecstasy= and all the other
            nuances in the gamut of human emotions)

  Page 394: Changed =scandals= to =sandals= (On her tiny feet she wore
            =sandals= which were spun of webby filaments)

  Page 395: Changed =knew= to =know= (fairly close to it in my plane and
            I =know= what I am speaking about)

  Page 397: Changed =Igna= to =Inga= (Dirk and =Inga= seated close
            together and Stanton, at a distance)

  Page 397: Changed =part= to =parts= (a proclamation of martial law, to
            become effective at once in all =parts= of the world)

  Page 399: Changed =melifluous= to =mellifluous= ("Good morning," the
            other replied in a soft and =mellifluous= voice)

  Page 401: Changed =Steinhold= to =Steinholt= ("It's colossal!"
            =Steinholt= then exclaimed, lost in scientific admiration)

  Page 412: Changed =fulgerant= to =fulgurant= (High up into the heavens
            it tossed the =fulgurant= fires that betokened its wealth
            and power)

  Page 412: Changed =head= to =hand= (with one of the deadly ray-tubes
            of the Lodorians in his =hand=)

  Page 413: Changed =Lizarre= to =Lazarre= (walked over to where Fragoni
            and =Lazarre= were being guarded by two of the conquerors)

  Page 413: Changed =Igna= to =Inga= ("And =Inga=?" questioned Dirk.)

  Page 414: Changed =stacatto= to =staccato= (flailing back and forth
            between each one of his =staccato= commands.)

  Page 417: Removed extra quote before =There= ("is in the Worldwide
            Tower. =There= we can keep track of what is transpiring and
            try to decide what to do.")

  Page 417: Changed =irresisible= to =irresistible= (Other cities
            in America had felt the devastating effects of its
            =irresistible= and molten heat)





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