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Title: Goddess of the Moon
Author: Reynolds, John Murray
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 "Goddess of the Moon" ***

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                          GODDESS OF THE MOON

                       _A Complete Planet Novel_

                        By JOHN MURRAY REYNOLDS

            Death hid behind a smile in the white-and-gold
             city of Gral-Thala. Gibson, Earth-spy off the
           derelict strathoship, well knew his captive-fate.
              But if he died, then the Good Green planet
           perished from the Gray Death.... If he died, then
                 died Diana, fair Goddess of the Moon.

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                      Planet Stories Spring 1940.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


The Tokyo-to-New York Stratholiner swept down toward the Manhattan
Municipal Airport early on a winter evening, with the port-holes
gleaming all along the 300-foot length of her polished steel body.
Rockets cut off well above the city in accordance with the strict
American traffic regulations, she came down with half a dozen big
props spinning under the drive of her powerful Diesel auxiliaries. A
dozen whirling helicopters had been upthrust to take the strain. She
came down to a city that lay murmurous and uneasy under the greatest
threat that mankind had ever faced--the threat of the Gray Death!

A band was playing in the liner's saloon, and passengers in the
smoking-room were hurriedly gulping down the last of their drinks.
There was a forced and unnatural gaiety on board. Most of the
passengers had taken more than a few drinks on the way across from
Tokyo--for the news of the spread of the Gray Death was ominous. It
is hard to retain peace of mind when a strange new epidemic rages
unchecked from Alaska to Cape Horn and from Nova Zembla to New Zealand.
Men and women were dying like flies, and all the medical science of
this Twenty-fourth Century seemed helpless before the deadly plague.

It was the steady vibration of the Diesels that brought Larry Gibson
back to an awareness of his surroundings. Their resonant hum was
distinctly different from the pounding blast of the rockets, and any
experienced stratho-pilot could tell the difference in a second. Larry
tossed off the last of his drink and wiped his mouth with the back of
an unsteady hand. Then he pushed back his chair and stood up, swaying
as he tried to hold his balance on the slightly tilted floor of the
descending liner. A man at the next table glanced curiously up at him.

"Guess we're landing, friend," he said. "Y'know, they say that there
are a thousand deaths a day here in New York City now. They're digging
graves in the cemeteries with electric shovels, I understand."

"Life," said Larry with alcoholic gravity, "is cheap. Too cheap.
One hundred lives equals a man's career. It's all been worked out
mathematically. Good evening."

Larry left the third-class bar where he had been sitting, and walked
slowly along the corridor. Mechanically he turned the collar of his
frayed coat up around his neck and pulled the brim of his wide hat well
down over his eyes. There was always the possibility that someone would
recognize him, and in these past months he had learned to keep in the
shadowy byways of life. The time would come when men would forget that
an unlucky person named Larry Gibson had ever existed, but in this year
2332 there were still plenty of people who would recognize his face.

       *       *       *       *       *

Gibson was not traveling in the first-class section of the big liner,
in those luxurious quarters built into the giant wings to which his
rank had once given him free entry. Back in the days when he had been
Chief Pilot of all the Strathofleet he could ride there as a matter
of course. Now he could not afford it. He could not even afford
the second-class accommodations amidships. Instead, he rode in the
third-class quarters back in the tail. When a man knows that he has no
possible chance of getting another job, he has to hoard the money he
has saved up.

The giant airliner came down to an easy landing, and rolled across the
field on her big wheels. The lights of the airport burned as brightly
as ever, but anyone accustomed to New York could tell that there was
something wrong. There were no crowds of spectators at all, and the
few people who met the incoming travelers looked harassed and nervous.
Even the airport attendants went about their business in a listless and
somehow furtive manner.

It had been ten days ago that the blight first struck a peaceful
World that believed it had at last made life safe and pleasant for
its inhabitants. A few peasants in Honan province in China had taken
convulsions and died while their skins turned a peculiar silver gray.
Within twenty-four hours similar deaths were reported from points as
widely separated as Bergen, Norway and Santos in Brazil.

Since then the strange new epidemic had raged unchecked. All the
medical and financial resources of the Confederated Nations of Earth
had been thrown into the fight without effect. The Gray Death struck
quickly, men and women alike dying within six hours of the appearance
of the first tell-tale patches of silver on their skin. The population
had not yet started to panic, except in a few isolated instances, but
the nerves of all men were ragged and jumpy from the strain.

Standing in the crowd of third-class passengers that had just alighted
from the liner, Larry Gibson heard two of the airport attendants
talking.

"He claims he's going to take that old rocket-ship to the Moon!" one of
them said, and his companion chuckled.

"Crazy, all right."

"Guess he is. But what I'm wondering is how he got a crew to go along
with him."

"Have you seen them? They're the damnedest bunch of derelicts I ever
saw."

For a moment Larry was tempted to ask the attendant for the name of
the vessel they were discussing. It sounded like the one place where a
disgraced and black-listed officer might get a berth. Then he shrugged
and turned away. Nothing mattered very much, any more.


                                  II

The alighted passengers strayed slowly across toward the glass and
chromium entrance to the Administration Building. The landing lights
were cut off, and the airport became a deep pool of quiet shadow in the
midst of the towering ramparts of New York's buildings. Most of the
structures were two hundred stories high in this queenly city that had
been built on the site of the old one destroyed in the final World War
of 2132.

Then a woman began to scream. She was standing in the glow of light
from the Administration Building, holding out a shaking hand that was
already turning silver on the back. People hurriedly backed away from
her. She was already in convulsions before the white-garbed attendants
from the airport hospital could get her under shelter. A man swore
tonelessly, and people kept far apart as they hurried from the field.
The Gray Death had struck again!

Most of the passengers took elevators to the upper floors. There they
boarded monorail trains that took them to the part of the city where
they were bound. Or, if they happened to live near the airport, they
simply went along one of the glass-enclosed cross-walks that clung
to the outside of the buildings and bridged the streets in graceful
curves. Larry Gibson did not go into the Administration Building at
all. There would be too many people who might know him, and he dreaded
their sneering smiles of recognition. He went out a small gate at the
side of the airport, a gate that led to the tenth-floor level.

The lower parts of New York's towering buildings formed the zone of
factories and warehouses. There were few lights here at this hour, and
the cross-walk was nearly deserted. Larry was looking for a cheap place
to stay, to conserve his dwindling resources. It wasn't that Larry was
particular about the kind of work that he was willing to do. That stage
was far behind him! It was simply that, in this simplex and highly
organized civilization of the Twenty-fourth Century, a man couldn't get
a job without showing his properly authenticated identity papers. And
when a prospective employer saw his papers, it always turned out that
there were no vacancies available. There was a hard bitterness in Larry
Gibson's eyes as he trudged away from the airport.

After about half a block, Larry turned in at a little place called the
Moorings Bar. It was dingy, and smelled of stale beer. Most of the
customers were night-shift factory employees, waterfront loafers, and
the crews of the water-borne ships that still crawled sluggishly across
the ocean with those bulky and cheap commodities that the airliners did
not care to handle. Half a dozen roughly clad men leaned on the greasy
bar. Larry sat down at a corner table and called for a drink.

So he was back in New York--the city that had been his home before the
Stratholiner _Pegasus_ fell into the sea with a loss of a hundred lives
two years before! Larry wondered how long he would stay here. Not long.
A month, or perhaps six weeks. The latter would be a long time for him
to remain in one place nowadays. He had become a wanderer. A rolling
stone that gathered neither moss nor worldly goods, nor even much of
the peace of mind that he sought. So he passed like a shadow from city
to city and from land to land. He made no friends nowadays. Larry
Gibson was still a young man, but there was a cold grimness about his
face that did not encourage advances.

       *       *       *       *       *

A radio behind the bar had been playing music, but now the sound
abruptly ceased and the television screen went blank. Then the face of
a government announcer appeared on the screen. His voice came from the
speaker sharp and clear.

"Though the toll of the Gray Death continues to be very heavy, the
government of the Confederation is pleased to announce to the peoples
of Earth that the mystery of the disease has been solved. It is found
to be a new and malignant form of leprosy, caused by some hitherto
unknown germ. It has also been found that the proper use of radium can
control the disease, when applied by what doctors call the Riesland
Method. That is the end of this bulletin."

The radio returned to playing music. The bald-headed bartender grinned
broadly.

"Maybe we'll have a chance to go on living after all, boys," he said.
"I guess that calls for a drink on the house."

"Aye--the mystery of the Gray Death is removed!" a deep voice behind
Larry rumbled with heavy sarcasm. "I could have told them that answer
a week ago, if I'd thought the thick-headed fools who run this planet
would listen to me! But what they haven't announced is that the
Riesland Method calls for a lot of radium, and all Earth's supply is
not enough to check this epidemic in time to save the population of the
planet!"

Larry turned around to glance at the speaker. It was a man who sat
alone at a table by the wall. He was a very tall man, gaunt and
gray-haired with a pointed beard that jutted forward at a pugnacious
angle. Exceptionally heavy eyebrows gave him a quizzical appearance.
His unpressed clothes were badly stained, and rakishly tilted on one
side of his head was a slouch hat of a type that had gone out of style
many years before. A half-empty bottle of rum stood on the table before
him. Somehow he gave the impression of having already consumed what
liquor was missing from the bottle, and of having every intention of
emptying it before leaving his table.

Well, Larry Gibson reflected with a sardonic grin, _he_ was no one to
criticize a man for a little thing like excessive drinking. His own
record in that regard had been pretty lurid for the past two years.
Just then the other man grasped his bottle firmly in one hand, and his
glass in the other, and lurched over to Larry's table.

"Mind if I join you for a bit of conversation, young feller?" he
boomed. "Rum, more than any other essence of Bacchus, is a friendly
drink that needs to be shared."

Larry looked up at him without cordiality. He had been living alone
with his bitterness and frustration for so long that he resented
any intrusion on his privacy. Then he suddenly grinned. There was
a reckless and irrational gallantry about this gaunt old man that
appealed to some part of his own nature that had now been dormant for a
long time.

"Sure, sit down," he said.

"Thanks, young feller. My name is Crispin Gillingwater Ripon, and
I feel the need of a little company after a hard day trying to
recondition a rocket ship with the lousiest collection of shiftless
renegades that ever signed on as crew for such a craft."

"What ship is that?" Larry wanted to know.

"The _Sky Maid_."

"Never heard of her," Larry said thoughtfully and slowly.

"You wouldn't! She used to be the _Orion_, but she is now renamed
and my ship--subject to a matter of a few liens and some faulty hull
insulation and a very good chance of never coming back to port again
after I start on my voyage. Have a drink, young feller!"

"The _Orion_!" Larry exclaimed "Why, she was condemned as not
air-worthy over a year ago!"

"How else do you think I bought her?" Ripon grinned. "I'll concede
that, if the world had shown a proper appreciation for my varied
talents, I'd be a millionaire many times over, but I happen to be
almost broke. You appear to be a promising lad, young feller. How about
signing on for a trip to the Moon?"

"So you're the crazy man who is talking of going to the Moon," Larry
grinned. Ripon glowered at him from under his heavy brows for a minute,
then grinned in return.

"Be more careful with your language, young feller, or I'll bust this
bottle over your head! I may be eccentric, but I'm a lot saner than
those pedants who claim the trip can't be made."


                                  III

Ripon was sprawled back at his ease, a smoldering pipe in one hand and
his glass in the other. He was smiling at Larry's startled expression,
but he seemed to be serious. Vague memories were stirring in Larry
Gibson's mind, memories of things he had read and heard in the old days
before he became a drifter whose main effort was to avoid thinking
at all. Crispin Gillingwater Ripon! He had heard the name before,
though it had been in connection with abstract science rather than
with practical rocket-ship flying. Somehow, his memory of the name
was connected with failure, with public derision, and with rumors of
outright charlatanism.

"I think I've heard of you," he said cautiously.

"In that case you have heard no good!" Ripon said cheerfully. "I am
at present the problem child of the scientific world. The horrible
example! A laughing stock for seedy professors and callow students.
Mention of my name produces hoarse guffaws of mirth in scientific
circles at the moment, young feller, but it will be different when I
return from my successful trip to the Moon. Better come along."

"Why are you going at this time?"

"Because there are radium salts on the Moon, I am convinced. This world
hasn't treated me with much respect, young feller, but I've had a good
time on it for my sixty-odd years and I'm fond of the old place. I
want to make the trip and get back before the Gray Death wipes out our
population--including myself!"

"But you can't take a rocket-ship to the Moon," Larry protested.
"Professor Staunton's attempt proved that thirty years ago."

"All it proved was that neither Staunton nor his ship were ever heard
of again," Ripon said calmly. "I knew Staunton well. He was a good man,
a careful man--but he wasn't Crispin Gillingwater Ripon! I'm making
some changes of my own in the _Sky Maid_; changes that should spell the
difference between success and failure."

When he looked back at it later, Larry had only a hazy recollection of
the rest of that evening. The rum got to him. The one thing that did
stick in his mind was a snatch of song that he and Ripon had sung over
and over again, pounding their glasses on the table while the other men
in the dingy little barroom stared at them in good-natured derision.

    "There's only a few of us left,
    And we never were worth a damn,
    But I'll follow my vagrant star,
    That's the kind of a guy I am!
        (Drink it down!)
    That's the kind of a guy I am!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Larry Gibson awoke the next morning to the sound of many hammers
beating on a steel shell. There was also a sharp and comprehensive
ache that started at the top of his head, which felt as though someone
had been hitting him with the butt of a ray-gun, and spread all down
through his body. He groaned and sat up.

He lay in a bunk, in a steel-walled cabin. Evidently the officers'
quarters on some strathoship. Across the white painted ceiling, where
flakes of red rust were showing through the dirty paint, the word
CONDEMNED had been stenciled in black. Sitting upright on the
edge of his bunk, Larry momentarily dropped his head in his hands. Then
he stood up and left the cabin, grinding his teeth at the ceaseless
pound of the hammers on the steel shell.

At intervals, as Larry went slowly down the corridor, he passed the
word CONDEMNED stenciled on the walls and bulk-heads. When
the government inspectors decided that a a rocket-ship was no longer
safe for flights through the vast emptiness of the strathosphere, they
made the fact very evident! He climbed a ladder to an open manhole, and
emerged into the bright sunlight of a winter morning. For an instant he
filled his smoke-tainted lungs with deep gulps of fresh air. Then he
looked about him.

He stood atop the red-painted hull of a rocket-ship. It was an old
V-39, a type that had been first built some thirty years before and
was now obsolete. The weathered paint was badly rust streaked, and
the worst spots had been touched up with bright red lead so that they
looked like livid scars. The ship was lying in a corner of the airport,
and a gang of men were busy at what appeared to be an attempt at
general reconditioning. After one look Larry didn't think it would do
much good.

Turning forward along the top of the super-structure, Larry met a
man in a faded blue uniform that bore the two stripes of a second
officer. He was a lean, swarthy-faced man with a meticulously pointed
mustache that contrasted strangely with his otherwise down-at-the-heels
appearance.

"Morning," he said shortly. "I'm Colton, the second officer. Guess
you're the new first mate."

"If so, it's news to me!" Larry said grimly. "Where's the madman that
commands this decrepit craft?"

"You'll find the Old Man in the control room. And if you use your head,
you won't speak slightingly of the _Sky Maid_ in his presence."

"When I want your advice I'll ask for it," Larry said. Colton's eyes
blinked momentarily, but then he smiled and Larry immediately marked
him down as a man to be watched. He didn't trust people who smiled when
they were insulted.

"Suit yourself," Colton said as he turned away.

Crispin Gillingwater Ripon was bent over a set of strange diagrams
spread out on the chart table in the control room. Thick smoke swirled
from the short pipe clenched in his teeth. His face was deeply lined
this morning, and there were wrinkled hollows under his eyes, but he
looked up with a broad grin as Larry came into the dusty control room.
His reckless eyes were bright and cheerful in spite of being bloodshot.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Cheerio, young feller!" he boomed. "How's the pride of the
strathosphere this morning?"

"All right," Larry said shortly. "It seems that I owe you thanks for
a night's lodging. But what's this about my being first mate of this
hulk?"

"Accepting your unspoken apology for having maligned my ship," Ripon
said severely, "the statement is correct. You signed on last night. I
have your signature to prove it--although it's a bit shaky because I
had to guide your hand which seemed unable to hold the pen."

"Do you know who I am?" Larry asked grimly.

"Do I know who you are?" Ripon's lean, brown face suddenly crinkled
into a smile. "Good Lord, young feller, you spent two hours last night
telling me your life's history while you cried into your beer."

"Then I can't have told you the whole story." The hang-over, and the
fact that he had not had any solid food in nearly twenty-four hours,
were making Larry slightly dizzy. His voice rose in spite of himself.
"I'm Larry Gibson, black-listed in every airport in the world. 'Gibson
the Murderer,' the newspapers called me. I'm the man who was master of
the rocket-liner _Pegasus_ when she fell into the South Pacific with a
loss of a hundred lives. It wasn't really my fault, but the inspectors
believed some fools who lied to save their own skins. Now, my friend,
do you see why I can't sail on even your shaky old craft? I was drummed
out of the service, and ever since...."

"And ever since you've been going around feeling sorry for yourself!"
Ripon's voice cut sharply through the mists of Larry's bitterness.
"Hell, young feller, I've been disgraced worse than that more than
once. I just don't pay any attention to it. Forget it. I need a first
officer on this trip, and I believe your story that the disaster wasn't
your fault, and there's an end to it! You're coming along."

"But I haven't even a license any more."

"That doesn't matter. Governmental regulations don't apply to a trip to
the Moon. They don't license a man for what they think is suicide, you
know! Go ashore and get some breakfast to steady you down. Then, when
you feel better, come back and I'll go over the details of the trip
with you."

For a long moment Larry stared at Ripon. Then he began to laugh.

"By the Lord Harry, I think you're crazy!" he said. The gaunt scientist
grinned back at him with complete good humor.

"Better people than you have called me that, young feller," he said
cheerfully. "They've been expecting me to get myself killed for years.
But Crispin Gillingwater Ripon is still alive and healthy--albeit
somewhat battered. Follow my star and you'll have plenty of excitement,
even though it may get you nothing more than a broken head."


                                  IV

When Larry Gibson returned to the ancient and seedy-looking _Sky Maid_
after a breakfast at a nearby restaurant, he paused to look at the work
in progress outside her hull. It was like nothing that he had ever
seen before. A network of interlacing wires was being bolted to the
outside of the ship's cigar-shaped hull, so that they formed a sort of
screen with the strands some two inches apart. Other men were busy at
caulking rivets and repacking insulation. This last was routine stuff
in connection with any attempt to recondition an old vessel for travel
in the thin, chill regions of the strathosphere--but he was completely
puzzled by the painstaking labor of fastening those criss-crossing
wires in place.

He found Ripon still in the vessel's dusty control room. Much of the
equipment had been ripped out when the ship was first condemned. The
missing articles had been hastily replaced with second-hand equipment
which was often of a slightly different pattern from the original, so
that the whole room had a makeshift appearance. The lean scientist
looked up from the clouds of blue and vile-smelling smoke that swirled
upward from his pipe.

"Well, young feller!" he boomed in his deep voice that could easily
carry above the dull roar of rocket motors. "How do you feel now? Ready
to go to work?"

"Listen!" Larry said. He had intended to be sharp and sarcastic, but he
was grinning in spite of himself. It was hard to stay angry with anyone
as irresponsibly cheerful as Crispin Gillingwater Ripon. "Seriously!
You couldn't take the best rocket-ship on Earth to the Moon, let
alone this old derelict. Not if you want to come back alive. It's
been proven that, by the time you reach the velocity of escape to get
away from the Earth's attraction, you have a speed too great for our
present knowledge of rocket-ship technique to brake in time to prevent
disaster...."

"_How_ has that been proven?" Ripon interrupted, jerking the pipe from
between his teeth and pointing the smoking stem at Larry as though it
were the barrel of a ray-gun.

"Why--by the two attempts that have been made! You know the story.
Two hundred years ago, at the time we had the last war on Earth, that
group of defeated outlaws stole the giant transport _Mercury_ and
started for the Moon and vanished. Then, it was only thirty years ago
that Professor Lester Staunton made his attempt in the rocket cruiser
_Orestes_, and he vanished."

"You're like all the rest," Ripon grumbled. "Always jumping to
conclusions based on a few scraps of evidence. No man on Earth really
knows how a rocket-ship would behave in interplanetary travel, because
it hasn't yet been done. There is a great mass of unproven theories
that are generally accepted as true--but those are not facts. It was
once generally accepted that the Earth was flat. However--I have a new
method of propulsion for this ship, by means of the amplification of
magnetic currents, and I expect to supplement the rockets with that new
equipment."

"I think you're crazy," Larry said, "but I'll go along with you anyway."

"Now you show the proper spirit, even if not good sense," Ripon said
cheerfully.

It was after midnight that night before the _Sky Maid_ was ready to
go. The crew were at launching stations, and the ship's old-fashioned
Diesels were rumbling as they were warmed up. Larry was standing under
the dome of duralite glass that covered the upper observation platform
when Colton came up to stand beside him.

"Well--we'll be off in a few minutes!" the swarthy second officer said.

"Wonder if we'll ever come back."

"Lord knows!" Colton shrugged, and his dark eyes were somber. "The
police of half a dozen countries are looking for me anyway. I've had my
fingers crossed the whole time we've been refitting this craft."

"Why tell me all this?" Larry asked. Colton shrugged again, and his
smile was half a sneer.

"Your own reputation isn't much better, Gibson. I figure that if this
trip works out it may give us both a chance to square ourselves, and if
it doesn't we're not much worse off than we are now."

"You may have something there," Larry admitted.

Then Ripon shouted a command, and the helicopters started to spin. Only
a handful of loafers watched the _Sky Maid_ take off. A few waved.
Others tapped their heads derisively. Man's third attempt to navigate
the 239,000 empty miles to the Moon had begun!

       *       *       *       *       *

The old ship's rickety helicopters and creaking Diesels could hardly
lift her high enough to reach the level required by law before the
rockets could be started. High clouds veiled the stars, but the many
lights of New York were still visible below them when Ripon at last
cut in the rocket motors. The _Sky Maid_ shivered all along her length
as their blasting roar began, and then she started to shoot upward at
a steep angle. Her whole fabric creaked and groaned, and Larry Gibson
shook his head dubiously. A few air-leaks would be all they would need
to make their situation utterly hopeless.

The drive of the rockets carried them into the belt of clouds. For a
few seconds the glass ports were veiled by gray mist. Then they were
above the clouds and zooming upward in the cold light of the Moon. The
crew were released from their launching stations as the ship settled
down to a smooth routine, and Larry took over the watch. A minute
later he was alone in the darkened control room with the dim glow of
the varied instrument panels to keep him company. Already the air was
starting to thin out, so he closed the ports and turned on the vessel's
air-conditioning system. The atmosphere took on the faintly chemical
odor characteristic of travel in a sealed ship in the high places.

From somewhere nearby Larry could hear a deep voice lifted in song, a
voice that rose above the pulsating throb of the rockets. The words
were familiar:

    "There's only a few of us left,
    And we never were worth a damn,
    But I'll follow my vagrant star...."

Larry wondered if Ripon was hitting the bottle again. They were in a
bad spot if he was, for certainly no one else on board understood the
new equipment that Ripon had installed to solve the difficulties that
had blocked previous attempts at interplanetary travel.

In Larry's mind there was a steadily strengthening conviction that this
whole expedition was destined to failure from the start. It was too
makeshift. Too poorly organized and planned, too lightly financed.
Ill-manned and poorly equipped, led by a drunken genius on a rickety
ship that wasn't really fit to navigate at all, they were probably
sailing to their doom somewhere in the cold reaches of outer space. If
they reached the Moon at all, it would likely be as a twisted wreck
dropped on the cold slope of one of that body's barren craters. Larry
shrugged. He had made his decision, and he did not regret it.

And then, leaning beside one of the control room's glass ports while he
kept an eye on the slowly climbing needle of the speed indicator, Larry
suddenly realized that he had found the peace of mind he had so long
been seeking. The clouds were a silvery ocean far below, the Moon was a
glowing disc ahead. The _Sky Maid_ snored onward through the night with
her rockets pounding. He was again back where he belonged, standing a
watch in a vessel's control room. Nothing else seemed to matter very
much at the moment.

Ripon came out into the control room a little later, a faded uniform
cap pushed to the back of his graying head and his empty pipe clenched
in his teeth.

"It's tough not to smoke," he rumbled glumly, "but I don't want to
put a strain on our none too good air-conditioning equipment. How are
things going?"

"Not so well," Larry said, "The rockets aren't balanced, and we have
a drift to starboard. Three micro-units in every fifteen minutes. I
have to keep cutting down the port rocket tubes for short periods to
equalize it."

"How's the speed?"

"Not what it should be." Larry looked dubiously at the indicator
needle. "Even with as much rocket power as she's got, we've only built
our speed up to a thousand miles an hour even though the atmosphere
is greatly thinned. I don't think that we can build up the necessary
velocity, Chief. I'm afraid it just can't be done."

"Okay, friend Pinzon," Ripon said. Catching Larry's look of puzzled
surprise, the gaunt scientist smiled faintly. "There was once a man
named Columbus who thought he could sail the Atlantic, which had not
been done before. He was a bit of a faker and a bluff, that Genoese
adventurer, and there was more than a touch of the charlatan in him.
The Pinzon brothers who commanded the other two ships of his fleet
knew from the start that the voyage could never succeed. I'll admit
that Columbus didn't find just what he expected to find, but he did
cross the Atlantic!" Ripon laughed, and dropped a hand on Larry's
shoulder. "Hold her on to the course a while, my friend. We're not
licked quite so soon!"


                                   V

Ripon was still staring out the control room window at the disc of the
Moon ahead of them. His voice came somberly as he spoke without turning
around.

"What's the speed now?"

"Eleven hundred. Velocity of escape is twenty-five hundred."

"Y'know, Larry, it seems one of Fate's little ironies that the only
hope of saving the people of Earth from the Gray Death lies with this
creaking ship and her polyglot crew! Oh--I have no illusions about the
forlornness of our hope! We have no right to get through. But I'm not
entirely a fool, and I have a few aces in my sleeves. I guess it's time
to try out my magnetron controls. Stand by to cut rocket motors!"

Ripon moved to several strange-looking control boxes that had been set
up at one side of the room. Instrument dials glowed into light as he
threw a switch, and there came a faint hum.

"These tubes are the Magnetron Oscillators," Ripon said. "These
switches control the magnetic converters. This other bank governs the
selectors."

"But I don't get the general principle," Larry said.

"It's simply a selective utilization of the lines of magnetic force
that fill outer space. This ship is naturally para-magnetic, so that
she is easily permeable by the lines of force. By charging the wires
outside the hull I can make all or part of the ship diamagnetic.
Furthermore, I can change its charge so that the lines will draw in
either direction."

"I know enough of the general principles of magnetism to understand
that," Larry said. "You can vary the direction of the effect, and
perhaps vary the dynes. But...."

"This indicator shows the hysteresis loop, the lag of magnetic
indication behind the magnetizing force at any particular time,"
Ripon continued. "The heart of my system is the group of selectors and
amplifiers set up in the compartments directly below us. With them I
can select the magnetic currents suited to our course, and amplify them
till they move the ship along with them just as the lines of magnetic
force move iron filings about a bar magnet. At least," he said with
a sudden flash of his reckless smile, "that's what I think I can do.
If not, we'll probably never be heard of again. You'd better hope I'm
right, young feller!"

Ripon's craggy profile with its jutting beard was silhouetted against
the moon as he bent over his dials and switches. Twice he checked them,
then he lifted one hand.

"Ready--cut rockets!" he snapped. Larry threw over the lever of the
engine room indicator, and the roar of the rockets abruptly ceased.

The sudden silence was strangely startling to ears that had become
accustomed to that steady pounding astern. Running feet sounded in the
passage as Colton came charging into the control room to find what had
gone wrong. For a moment Larry had a sensation of falling, and then
the _Sky Maid_ danced about like a leaf in a wind. He steadied himself
by clinging to a stanchion and anxiously watched Ripon. The gaunt
scientist was hunched above his control boards like a gnome, his hands
leaping from switch to dial and back again at furious speed.

Then the motion abruptly ceased. The _Sky Maid_ became steady as a
rock, with the bright disc of the Moon dead ahead through the forward
port. There was a faint singing sound from one of the control boxes,
but otherwise everything was so quiet and still that it seemed as
though the ship lay motionless in space. Then Larry looked at the speed
indicator, and saw the needle moving steadily upward. The _Sky Maid_
was shooting through the heavens at a speed faster than she had ever
traveled when she was new and in good condition!

       *       *       *       *       *

"Gentlemen," said Ripon, solemnly shaking hands with both Larry and
Colton, "this is an historic moment! This is a prelude to that day when
interplanetary travel becomes as commonplace as are rocket ship flights
through the strathosphere nowadays! No longer will the name of Crispin
Gillingwater Ripon be a thing of scorn and derision. And just wait till
I get a chance to spit in the faces of some of those living fossils
back at the National University...."

"If the ship holds together!" Larry said. Ripon sighed.

"You _would_ bring that up, young feller. But maybe our luck will hold
good. At least this method of travel is less hard on an old craft than
the steady strain of a rocket blast. If the ship holds together, we'll
be on the Moon in forty-eight hours!"

Colton was grinning broadly as Ripon left the control room a minute
later. The second officer gave the points of his mustache an added
twist, and then rubbed his hands together.

"Looks like the old goat really came through with something after all,"
he said. Larry looked at him grimly. For all Ripon's eccentricities,
he was an able man in a great many things. It annoyed Larry to hear
somebody like Colton, a confessed thief and an indifferent officer,
speak of him in quite that tone of disrespect.

"Don't speak of Doc Ripon in that way when you're with me, Colton!" he
snapped. The other man's thin mouth twisted in a sneer.

"Trying to go high hat on me, Gibson? You're no better than I am."

"If we go into that I'm likely to throw you through the bulkhead,"
Larry said evenly. "So we'll just let it go that I have some gratitude
and respect for the man who picked me up out of the gutter--even if you
haven't. Now clear out of here till it's time for you to take over the
watch."

For two days and nights the _Sky Maid_ moved steadily forward on
her way. There was, of course, neither day nor night in the airless
emptiness of outer space, but they kept routine hours on board. The
whole atmosphere of the ship had brightened and changed since Ripon's
utilization of magnetic force had proven practical. Even the slovenly
crew went around with their shoulders straighter. The feeling of gloom
and failure had been succeeded by one of optimism. Now the talk was of
whether or not they would really get the desired radium salts on the
Moon, and of what reward they would all receive when they got back to
Earth. The watch off duty started a poker game based on notes against
the rewards they all expected to get.

Ahead of the _Sky Maid_, the Moon was now a vast disc that filled
half the sky when seen from the control room ports. The bigger peaks
and craters were visible to the naked eye now. Back in the after
observation room, the dwindling but still vast profile of Earth had
taken on a strange and unfamiliar appearance. It was a lonely feeling,
to be so far from that friendly planet. Larry wondered how things were
now going there, and what had caused the spread of the Gray Death in
the first place. Probably a virus brought in on a meteor from some
unknown and unhealthy planet.

The hope of mankind resting within her rusty hull, the _Sky Maid_
slogged onward. By Earthly standards she was moving at a terrific
speed, but compared with the velocity of heavenly bodies and the
vastness of interplanetary space she crawled slowly across a small
corner of the solar system.


                                  VI

At last there came the hour when the ship hovered a few hundred miles
above the surface of the Moon. Below them was a vast and uneven surface
of barren and pitted rock, round craters and jagged peaks stretching
to the horizon in all directions. Larry realized now how uneven the
surface of the satellite really was, how different from the orange-peel
appearance it had when seen through a telescope from Earth. All the
crew were at landing stations. Ripon had adjusted his controls to hold
the ship steady in space, and now he stepped back.

"There's no use bothering with helicopters," he said. "Since there's no
atmosphere here, they'd be useless. That's probably what wrecked the
ships before us--you can't make an easy landing with rockets alone, and
we have no padded landing platform."

"Can't you lower her down easy with your magnetic control?" Larry asked.

"That's what I hope to do, but we're not experienced and there may be
a jolt. Cut off the reserve air tanks, and have all hands put on space
suits."

The crew of the _Sky Maid_ looked like a group of fantastic monsters in
the metal-cloth space suits with their round helmets of duro-glass.
Designed for use by emergency repair crews aboard stratholiners in
case of trouble, the space suits would keep a man alive and warm in
an airless atmosphere for a great many hours. Small containers of
chemicals kept the air purified, and earphones made communication
possible.

"Stand by for a landing!" Ripon's voice buzzed in the ear phones as
Larry reported all hands ready. "We're going down!"

The _Sky Maid_ went down in a series of jerky drops. With eventual
refinement, a ship equipped with the Ripon Magnetic Control would
probably be able to come down as gently as a falling leaf, but this
first apparatus was crude and experimental. Just at the end one of
Ripon's elbows touched the wrong switch. The rocky surface swept up
to meet them at high speed. He shouted hoarsely and spun compensating
dials, but before he could check the momentum they struck with a heavy
crash. The ship heeled over, and all the lights went out. As Larry was
flung off his feet he heard a sharp hiss of escaping air.

       *       *       *       *       *

Momentarily half stunned, Larry lay on the floor in a corner of the
control room with the body of another of the crew across his legs. Then
he saw a bulky, space-suited figure heave to its feet across the room
and heard Ripon's voice in his ear phones.

"Leaping ray-blasts, what a crash! But I seem to be alive and in one
piece. How about the rest of you?"

Other men struggled to their feet and answered their names. One had
his helmet smashed and was already dead in the airless atmosphere that
remained after the air had rushed out through the shattered wall of the
control room, but the rest had nothing more serious than a few bruises.

"Well," Colton said. "Here we are! And here we're likely to stay."

"It may not be that serious. The first thing is to take stock of our
damage."

The _Sky Maid_, they found on making a complete survey, was far less
seriously damaged than might have been the case. The wall of the
control room was punctured by a jagged splinter of rock, but there
were only a few other minor leaks. Many of the compartments had
retained their air. Once the hole was patched and the other leaks
stopped, their reserve tanks still held enough air to let them make a
homeward voyage in safety. The network of wires outside the hull would
require considerable reconditioning, but none of the internal magnetic
equipment was ruined.

"About five days' work!" Ripon summed up. "And it's primarily a job for
the engine room force. Gibson, Colton, the two quartermasters and I
will go ashore with several days' supply of chemical capsules for the
air conditioners on our helmets. Chief Engineer Masterson remains in
command of the ship. Get her back in navigating shape as soon as you
can, Chief."

Masterson, a grimy and bullet-headed little man with a drooping
mustache and something of the look of a mournful Airedale, slapped the
side of his duro-glass helmet in a casual salute. Larry knew that the
ship was being left in good hands. He had come to have considerable
respect for the taciturn engineer. He did not know why Masterson was on
board the _Sky Maid_, very likely because he had been in some trouble
similar to Larry's own, but he was certainly an efficient engineer.
He wished he felt as sure of the three men who were going ashore with
Ripon and himself. Colton he considered thoroughly untrustworthy, and
the two quartermasters were a pair of sullen derelicts of the sort that
Ripon had picked up off the beach for most of the crew.

"Landing party ashore!" Ripon snapped. "Let's get going! This isn't an
ordinary exploring party, and every hour counts."


                                  VII

They stood on a bare expanse of pitted rock. The _Sky Maid_ had crashed
on the outer slope of one of the craters, and the ground rose steadily
to the jagged rim of the rocky bowl. Other bare peaks were all about
them, black teeth against the starry sky. The earth gleamed large and
pale above them. The scene was bleak and silent, unutterably desolate
and forlorn, and the little group of Earthlings drew closer together.
Then Ripon pointed up the ridge.

"We'll go up there and look around. Larry--you carry the radium
detector. We mustn't let the exploring fever make us forget our main
purpose in having come here."

They toiled slowly up the slope. Walking was difficult. Due to the
power of their Earthly muscles on this planet of so much lighter
gravity, they had a tendency to bound into the air at each step in
spite of the heavy leaden soles on the feet of the space suits.
Gradually they learned the necessary muscular control, a sort of
sliding step, and then they made better progress.

Ripon was some yards in the lead as they reached the rim of the crater.
For a moment the tall scientist was silhouetted against the stars, then
he abruptly dropped flat on the rock and motioned back to them to do
the same. His voice was a faint whisper in the ear phones.

"Crawl up here slowly, one at a time. Careful!"

Larry was the first to join him, lying flat on the rock at Ripon's
side. Together they peered down into the crater. It's flat floor was
swarming with some sort of queer animal!

This particular crater was a small one, and the level floor was only
some thirty yards below the rim. Larry stared in amazement at the
creatures who were coming to sit in long rows around a small mound in
the center of the crater. He hardly knew whether to call them men or
animals. They had the hard shell and articulated legs of an insect,
but their faces had a semi-human appearance in spite of the pair of
long antennae that grew out of their foreheads. Their feet made a dry
rustling sound as they clambered down over the rock, and they carried
metal clubs with spiked heads. Larry saw that they walked with four of
their six limbs while the upper pair were equipped with three curved
fingers each. On the top of each antenna was a round ball that glowed
with a phosphorescent light.

"I thought there wasn't any life on the Moon!" Larry whispered. Ripon
grinned at him through the duro-glass of his helmet.

"You thought a lot of things that were wrong, young feller!"

It was a weird scene in the cold pale light of the Earth. Some of the
insect men came out of small, dome-shaped mounds that might have been
houses. Others came climbing down the far side of the crater. Their
glowing antennae bobbed in ceaseless motion, and there was a constant
dry clicking. Suddenly Larry realized that the creatures were talking
together!

That meant that there was at least some atmosphere on the Moon!
Enough to carry sound! Perhaps it had a different composition than
the atmosphere of the Earth. It was certainly very thin, for the air
in the control room had instantly escaped through the shattered side
and the man with the broken helmet had smothered, but there was enough
here to sustain these odd creatures. Then Ripon touched him on the
arm, and Larry saw something that a group of the insect-men were very
ceremoniously carrying to the mound in the center of the crater. It was
an ordinary metal chair of a very common and familiar Earthly pattern,
the sort of chair to be found in the cabins and mess rooms of any
stratholiner.

"One of those old ships must have reached the Moon after all!" Larry
whispered. "That chair must be from the wreckage."

"Heaven help the survivors if those many-legged devils got hold of
them!"

"They can't be very strong, with the Moon's gravity so slight," Larry
said.

"That doesn't prove a thing. They can be light in frame and still very
strong. Think how many times his own weight our ant can carry, or how
far a flea can jump."

The chair had been placed in the center of the mound, and the
Insect-men drew back. Now thin jets of steam or mist began to pour up
around the mound, forming a foggy curtain that hid it. The mist only
rose a little way, then dropped slowly down again to form an icy film
on the cold rocks. The jets ceased, and mist vanished, and Larry Gibson
stared in open-mouthed amazement. A dark-haired girl was standing erect
on the crest of the mound!


                                 VIII

The girl was white-skinned and lovely, utterly different from the
grotesque creatures who surrounded her. Larry was crouching near enough
to see her faintly smiling eyes, and the curve of her red lips, and
the dark hair that fell to her waist behind. Except for the grotesque
metallic helmet on her head, and the fact that she wore no clothing
except for a silver loin cloth, she might have been a girl of the sort
to be seen along the elevated cross-walks of New York City.

"Do you see her too?" Ripon whispered.

"I do."

"We can't both be that crazy, so she must really be there. But how she
breathes in that atmosphere, and how she avoids freezing to death, is
more than I can tell you."

The ceremony had evidently some sort of a religious significance, for
the Insect-men were clicking rhythmically and were bowing down before
the dark-haired girl. Goddess of the Moon! The girl's head-dress was a
grotesque representation of an insect, set with jewels. At the tops of
the flexible antennae were a pair of giant rubies.

"Boy! Wouldn't I like to get my hands on those stones!" Colton
whispered from where he crouched on Ripon's left.

Then Larry noticed something else! A group of perhaps a hundred of
the Insect-men were moving swiftly forward between the ranks of their
bowing comrades. This group carried shields as well as clubs, and
they had the purposeful air of men with a grim and serious errand
to perform. The girl was staring over the heads of the crowd with a
distant and goddess-like manner, and did not notice the newcomers till
they had almost reached her. Then her eyes widened in alarm. She leaped
up from her throne and burst into a torrent of shrill clicking.

In an instant the crater was in a turmoil. The group of the heavily
armed Insect-men charged straight for the mound in the center. Others
flung themselves in their path, rallying to the defense of the Goddess.
There was a wild flurry of swinging clubs. The spiked heads clanged on
metal shields, or cracked sharply on the brittle brown shells of the
Insect-men. The significance of the scene before him was still obscure
to Larry, but it was evident that some kind of a revolt had broken out.

The rebels among the Insect-men were outnumbered, but their metal
shields gave them a big advantage and they were better organized.
Like a spear-point they drove straight through the confused mass of
worshipers and surrounded the low knoll in the center. They brushed its
defenders aside and swarmed up toward the dark-haired Goddess. Larry
had already drawn his ray-gun, but Ripon was the first to leap to his
feet.

"Come on, young feller!" he roared. "That girl is the first human
thing we've seen on the Moon. We can't let her down. Let's show those
many-legged devils how an Earth man can fight!"

Larry and Ripon went down the slope of the crater in a series of
bounding leaps. The milling Insect-men opened before them, seeming to
welcome these unexpected reinforcements. Some of the rebels had already
forced the struggling girl to her knees and were lashing her hands
behind her back. A solid rank of them faced about with their round
shields locked and a tossing fringe of spiked clubs waving atop the
metal wall.

       *       *       *       *       *

The two Earthlings dove for the shield-wall with their guns flashing.
Larry ducked as one of the Insect-men hurled a club which just missed
his glass helmet, then pressed the trigger of his ray-gun. The murky
beam of the rays stabbed into the shield, melted a hole through it in
a fraction of a second, and struck down the man behind. The flashing
ray-guns of the two adventurers ripped the shield-wall asunder. A wave
of the loyal Insect-men poured in behind them.

Larry shifted his ray-gun to his left hand, and snatched up a fallen
club with his right. It was heavier than he had expected, a well
balanced and efficient weapon. The hard brown shells of the rebels
cracked like china under the smashing blows of his Earthly muscles.
Then he bounded up on the mound and struck down the pair of rebels who
held the girl. Her wrists were now tied behind her.

Throwing an arm about the girl's shoulders, Larry hastily faced about.
Ripon was a few yards away. A ring of his slain lay around him, but
his weapons had been knocked from his hands and he was struggling in
the grip of a pair of the Insect-men. A third of the creatures was
swinging a club to strike a blow at the scientist's glass helmet. Larry
instantly fired, the beam of the ray striking the arm that held the
club and shearing it clean off at the shoulder. A viscous yellow liquid
dripped out, and the creature dropped writhing on the rock while it
clicked in pain. Then Colton and the two quartermasters came charging
belatedly up, and the fight was over.

The crater was dotted with the still forms of dead Insect-men. Larry
noticed that their hard shells gleamed dully in the dim light. The
surviving rebels had fled off across the far rim of the crater, and the
rest of the throng had gone chasing after them. No one remained in the
crater except the strange girl and the party from the _Sky Maid_.

When Larry had freed the girl's hands, she turned to the five Earth-men
and touched her forehead in a gesture of thanks. Then she stepped
across to touch some hidden spring on the far side of the mound, and a
trap door opened in what had apparently been solid rock. The girl led
the way down a narrow flight of stairs, motioning for the last man down
to pull the trap closed behind them.

They stood in a small chamber that had walls of roughly smoothed rock.
It was evidently the work of men, for tool marks showed here and there.
It was lighted by a green globe set in one wall. The globe appeared
to be made of some kind of flexible glass, and it glowed with a faint
greenish radiance that overcame the darkness enough to give the place
a dim and eerie light. At one side of the room was an oval hole like
a slanting well cut in the floor. Beside it stood a pile of low, flat
carts. They were about two feet wide by four feet long, and they were
supported on axles bearing small wheels the diameter of a man's hand.

The girl spoke to Larry twice, first in the clicking talk of the
Insect-men and then in some soft and musical tongue that was unlike
anything Larry had ever heard. Both times he shook his head. Motioning
for them to follow her, she put one of the low carts down near the rim
of the hole and sat on it. Then she gave a push with her hands--and
vanished.

"Come on," Larry said, raking another of the carts. Colton stared at
him.

"Down that hole?" he asked.

"Why not? We've got to find out what all this is about."

       *       *       *       *       *

A second later Larry Gibson found himself shooting down into the
interior of the Moon by means of a sloping tunnel cut in the rock. A
series of the greenish globes were set in the ceiling at intervals to
give the rocky shaft a dim light. The wheels of the cart ran in two
grooves cut in the floor, and he shot swiftly downward with a dull
humming sound.

Larry was trying to estimate the speed of his downward movement. It
was not so terribly fast, probably not really as fast as the nearness
of the walls made it appear while they flashed by on either hand. The
slope was a gentle one. Although he had gathered considerable momentum,
he had no feeling of the car being out of control.

As the minutes passed, Larry saw something else. The moisture that had
been on the outside of his space suit from the air within the _Sky
Maid_ had frozen into a white frost a few seconds after the breaking of
the control room wall let the outer cold into the ship. Now the frost
was melting! They were getting into warmer regions as they went down.
Perhaps they were also running into a heavier atmosphere! Larry held
his hand up before him, and had a distinct feeling of pressure against
it from the rush of air sweeping up to meet him. A minute later he had
tested the atmosphere with the portable oxygen-gauge carried in the
equipment pocket of any space suit. Then he took off his helmet.

The air was quite warm, and though still very thin it was definitely
breathable. Its clean, earthy odor was a pleasant contrast to the
chemical product used over and over again inside the helmet of a space
suit. A moment later he saw a brighter light ahead and realized that he
had come to the bottom of the long shaft.

They were in a square room whose walls were of polished gray stone.
As Larry got up from his cart and moved in aside from the landing
platform, the girl gave him a friendly smile. She had already taken
off her ornately jeweled head-dress and placed it in a metal cabinet
fastened to the wall. Completely without embarrassment, she tied a
strip of gayly colored silk across her bare breasts. Then she tossed
her long hair back from her forehead and bound another strip of silk to
keep it in place. "That was quite a ride," Larry said.

He had spoken in English, knowing that the girl would not understand
but hoping the sound of the words would convey a generally friendly
impression. She stared at him in startled surprise for a second.

"It is much pleasanter than the upward trip," she said at last.

"But--but you spoke in English!" Larry gasped.

"Why shouldn't I? My father is a man from Earth. I am Diana Staunton."


                                  IX

As the others came sliding down into the room, Larry gave each one a
formal introduction to Diana. The glow in the girl's eyes showed that
she enjoyed their utter amazement. For a girl who had been born on the
Moon, even though of Earthly parents, Diana Staunton had a great deal
of poise and self-possession.

"I am only a Goddess to the sluggish minds of the Insect-men," she
explained in answer to Ripon's question. "To our own people of the Lost
Caverns I am simply the daughter of one of the nobles."

"I knew your father thirty years ago," Ripon said.

"He has always told me that other men from Earth would come some day."

"Your father can tell me most of the things I want to know, but I am
wondering how you managed to survive up there on the surface where
there is little or no air and it is always so cold."

"I could not stay very long." From a fold in her loin cloth the girl
drew out a tightly closed glass bottle that held some white tablets.
"These contain oxygen mixed with some gases unknown on Earth, the whole
very strongly compressed into solid form. Ten minutes after I swallow
one, it is safe for me to go out on the surface. The effect lasts for
about fifteen minutes."

"Pretty risky if anything delays you," Larry said. Diana shrugged, and
her blue eyes grew somber.

"Someone has to do it. The loyalty of the Insect-men is our greatest
protection against the evil Lords of Gral-Thala. This is the first time
there has ever been anything like a revolt among the Insect-men. I do
not know what lies behind it, but it probably means trouble for us of
the Lost Caverns."

Colton was the last to come down the rocky shaft. Larry noticed that
the second officer was ill at ease, disinclined to meet his eyes, and
wondered if Colton was ashamed of either his late entry into the fight
or his fear of coming down into the Moon's interior. Hardly likely!
From what he knew of Gerald Colton, the man was not likely to be
ashamed of anything he did.

They went through a maze of gray walled passages, still trending
downward. Once or twice Larry thought he heard stealthy footsteps
behind them, but there was no one in sight when he looked back. On
several occasions they passed sentries wearing a makeshift armor, who
saluted Diana with long bladed swords. Sometimes they spoke to her in
English with a peculiar soft accent, sometimes in that strange tongue
that Diana had first used.

Larry noticed that these Lunarians looked only slightly different from
the peoples of Earth. They had larger eyes, and a greater delicacy of
feature. The principle distinguishing feature was their very thin legs.
Often they had wide shoulders and deep chests, but since they did not
need strong supporting muscles in view of the Moon's slight gravity
their legs were thin and narrow.

The sentries stared curiously at the Earth-men in their bulky space
suits, but the fact that the newcomers were with Diana Staunton seemed
to be sufficient passport. They began to pass a greater number of
people in the corridors, and finally they stepped through a heavily
guarded gate and came to a vast cavern.

The place was huge, extending for a good mile ahead of them and with a
lofty roof lost in the shadows overhead. Some of the gigantic columns
that supported the roof were made of heavy stone blocks. Others were
natural rock that had been smoothed and polished. All over the floor of
the cavern were narrow streets, and small cottages built of some queer
composition that came in a rainbow of different colors, and little
patches of some sort of green grass. A golden and rather misty light
pervaded the whole cavern. Square shafts of a brighter radiance darted
down from above at irregular intervals, and wherever one of them
struck the floor of the cavern there was a small patch of cultivated
ground with long-leafed plants.

"Agriculture by chemical control!" Ripon whispered in Larry's ear.
Diana glanced back at them over her shoulder.

"This is Chotan, largest of the Lost Caverns," she said. "The Council
of Elders is now in session, and it will be best that we go direct to
them."

"Why do you call these the Lost Caverns?" Larry asked.

"Because we who live here are outlaws, and the location of these vast
caves is not known to the Lords of Gral-Thala who rule the other side
of the Moon."

"Apparently not all the inhabitants of the Moon are so friendly," Ripon
said.

"If you came into the hands of the Lords of Gral-Thala," she said
grimly, "they would tear the skin from your bodies and use it to lace
their scented golden boots!"

Large-eyed Lunarians stared curiously at the Earth-men as they hurried
through the streets of the underground village. Diana led them direct
to a broad-beamed, red-roofed building that stood by itself in the
center of the cavern. A dozen elderly men sat behind a long table
of carved wood that was black and cracked with age. It was, Larry
realized, the first wooden thing he had seen since he landed on the
Moon. At either side of the chamber stood a squad of armored warriors.

Larry was staring at a curious device that was carved in the center
of the table, and carried on a banner hung above the heads of the
council, and inlaid in a white metal on the bluish steel shields of
the guards. And then he recognized it! It was the crescent Earth, the
profile of the mother planet as seen from the Moon when the Americas
were still in sunlight and the shadows of night were creeping across
the Atlantic. The sight of it made him home-sick. The crescent moon had
been a religious symbol to many of the ancient races of Earth, and it
was fitting that the crescent earth should hold a similar place on this
isolated satellite.

It seemed to Larry that Diana was a trifle nervous over something. She
had entered the council chamber with an air of confidence, lifting one
arm in a stately gesture of greeting and asking the Elders to accept
the men from Earth as friends and guests, but he sensed a degree of
uncertainty behind her manner. In hasty phrases she told the council of
the revolt of part of the Insect-men, and of the timely arrival of the
strangers from the mother planet.

"And so I request that you accept these men into the Brotherhood of the
Caverns!" she finished. The graybeards behind the long table nodded
gravely, but before they could speak another voice rang but in a sharp
challenge.

"And I, O Elders of Chotan, demand that these interlopers be put to
death in accordance with the ancient law of the Caverns concerning
unwanted strangers!"


                                   X

The speaker was a fair-haired young man in a green cloak. He looked
more like an Earthling than a Lunarian, with his sturdy legs and small
eyes. He pointed an accusing finger straight at Larry in a dramatic
gesture, and Diana wheeled to face him with anger in her voice.

"You talk very loudly of the ancient laws, Xylon, for a newcomer only
recently taken into the Brotherhood because you fled as an outlaw from
the Lords of Gral-Thala!"

"I did not make the laws!" Xylon retorted.

"The death penalty for strangers has not been strictly enforced for
many years--or _you_ would not now be alive! It is up to the decision
of the Elders!"

The council chamber was in an uproar, with shouted phrases flung back
and forth. Larry laid a hand on the butt of his ray-gun. A keen-eyed
officer of the guards caught the gesture, and instantly Larry found a
pair of rifles directed at his chest. At least, they looked like some
sort of compressed air rifles. They had fiber stocks, and long barrels,
and a cylindrical magazine beneath the barrel. Then a deep voice
dominated the tumult as a red-haired man in full armor forced his way
through to the forefront of the crowd.

"The girl is right, O Elders and members of the Brotherhood!" he
boomed. "Xylon talks like a fool. I, Pyatt of Kagan, urge that the
strangers from Earth be accepted. Let Xylon remain among us for a
little while longer before he attempts to dominate our councils!"

Larry could sense the swing of sentiment in their favor, could feel
the lessening of the tension. The man called Xylon shrugged and turned
away. Then the council took a formal vote, waving the ancient death
penalty and allowing the strangers the freedom of the Caverns. One of
the Elders near the end of the table rose to his feet. He wore the
typical black robes of the Council, but as Larry looked closely at the
man's lined face he saw the resemblance to Diana and knew that he was
looking at Lester Staunton.

"Since these men are from what was once my own land," Staunton said, "I
will make them comfortable in my house for the duration of their stay
here."

As the crowd began to stream out of the council-chamber, the red-headed
man pushed his way through to Ripon and Larry. He was unusually burly
and big-thewed for a Lunarian, and though his face was marred by a pair
of old scars he had a wide and cheerful smile.

"Welcome to the Cavern of Chotan!" he boomed. "I am Pyatt of Kagan,
military commander of all the armed forces of the Caverns. Later I
will want to talk to you about that revolt of the Insect-men, which is
something that has not happened before. Also, we will drink a goblet of
wine together."

"Then you have wines on the Moon?" Ripon asked, visibly brightening.

"Aye, wines of many sorts. Though my own taste runs more to the
strong-waters that fire the blood and set a man's head to spinning."

"I can see that you and I have a lot in common!" Ripon grinned.

       *       *       *       *       *

Just before they left, Xylon came up to shake hands with Larry.

"No hard feelings, Earthling!" he said. "It is just that the safety and
liberties of the Caverns are very precious to one like myself, who has
so recently become an outlaw, and I did not think that we should take
any chances."

"That's all right," Larry said shortly. Now that he saw Xylon at really
close range, he realized that the man was older than he had thought.
His appearance of youth vanished when you saw the many fine wrinkles
in his face and the weariness around his eyes. He had a dissolute
appearance. Xylon might be sincere in his bid for friendship, but Larry
felt that there was something serpentine and evil about the man.

With Diana and her father and a few others, they walked along one of
the many winding paths of Chotan. Larry noticed that the chemically
grown plants had no scent at all. The motionless, warm air was suffused
with a misty and golden light. Small, neat houses built in various
bright colors stood amid their plots of grass. It was a strange scene
to Earthly eyes, that cavern far below the Moon's chill surface, but it
was a pleasant spot in its way.

The women they passed along the walks were dressed like Diana, in a
gayly colored loin-cloth with a narrow band across the breasts. Most of
the men wore a loose, colored cloak in addition to the single garment.
Only a few were armed.

Larry had taken off the right mitten of his space suit to shake hands
with Pyatt and Xylon in the council chamber. Several times he had
started to replace the mitten, but something had always distracted him
and he was still carrying it in his left hand. Now, as he happened to
give the mitten a shake, a small insect of a blood-red color fell out
and landed on the walk. It looked something like a miniature scorpion.
Larry had only a hasty glimpse before Pyatt of Kagan leaped forward and
crushed the crawling thing with the heavy sole of his sandal.

"That was a _spanto_!" he said. "Their bite means death within ten
seconds. I wonder how it came to be in your glove!"

"I wonder myself!" Larry said grimly, looking across the field at the
green-cloaked figure of Xylon, who had turned off on another of the
branching walks. It would not have been hard for Xylon to have dropped
the insect in his glove! As if in answer to his thought, Diana spoke
quietly:

"I do not trust Xylon any farther than I can see him, friend Larry!
There is something unclean in his eyes when he looks at me."

"If he looks at you too much while I'm here I'll break his jaw!" Larry
said. The girl looked up at him with a sudden smile that was also a
challenge.

"I begin to understand why my father has always said that I would like
the men from Earth better than the Lunarians!"


                                  XI

They sat in Professor Staunton's laboratory, a square chamber where
Earthly equipment taken from the wreck of his space-ship was mingled
with typically Lunarian furniture and equipment. The walls were light
blue, of that polished composition resembling bakelite that was used
for building in the Caverns. The walls were about ten feet high, and
they ended in an ornamental cornice without any ceiling or roof at all.
Overhead there was a glow of misty light, and far above the rocky top
of the cavern.

"Why should we need roofs?" Diana said in reply to Larry's surprised
comment. "Here in these Caverns there is neither rain nor snow nor
wind, nor any change in temperature at all. The walls give privacy, and
there is no need for anything else."

Ripon was bending over a table on which Staunton had spread a large map
of the Moon. The cavern of Chotan was indicated by a red dot, and Larry
saw that there were a dozen others scattered around within a radius of
a few hundred miles.

"Our space-cruiser was wrecked near one of the entrances to this
cavern when we landed here thirty years ago," Staunton said. "As you
have guessed, it was the inability to land safely with rockets, in a
practically airless atmosphere where helicopters were useless, that
smashed us. As you did, we had fortunately put on space suits before
trying to land. Our ship was too badly wrecked for any chance of
return."

"But how have you succeeded in getting all these people to learn
English?" Ripon asked.

"They knew that language before I came! But it is best that I give
you a hasty outline of Lunarian history. The simple-minded but husky
Insect-men were the aboriginal inhabitants of the Moon. Long æons
ago, while most of the people of Earth were living crudely in caves
and using chipped stones for tools and weapons, an isolated people
developed a high civilization in what I have roughly identified as
the region of the Himalayas. A series of great earthquakes destroyed
their civilization, but a large number of them escaped and came to the
Moon in some kind of a space-ship. Here they found, in those days, a
small planetary body that had a thin but breathable air. They founded
a civilization on the other side of the Moon where it is always sunny,
and called it Gral-Thala. Those were pleasant days, if the old legends
are to be believed, the Golden Age of Lunarian civilization."

For a moment Staunton paused. All those in the room, including the
Lunarians who had been familiar with this tale since childhood, hung
intently on his words. The broad face of Pyatt of Kagan was somber and
moody as he sat bent forward with the scabbard of his sword resting
across his armored knees.

"As the centuries passed, the atmosphere continued to thin," Staunton
went on, "so the Ancients took care to preserve what was left.
Gral-Thala is in the fertile part of the Moon, and lies in a vast
valley completely surrounded by a lofty mountain range. By means of the
superior engineering knowledge of the Ancients, they built a lofty wall
or barrier along the crest of the range so that its top is miles above
the level of the valley floor. They then sucked all the air within
the Great Barrier. Gral-Thala itself thus lies in a great pool of air
surrounded by the ranges and the barrier. On the rest of the Moon, as
here, air only remains in deep crevices and caverns like this."

"But these caves were a great labor in themselves..." Ripon began.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Originally these caverns were built as outposts of Gral-Thala, built
here because of their nearness to valuable mineral deposits. People
came out from the sunlit cities within the Great Barrier to put in
a tour of duty in the caverns. Again life on the Moon had reached
a pleasant equilibrium. And then came the great disaster! Some two
centuries ago a group of several hundred outlaws fleeing from Earth
came here in a big space-ship."

"The _Mercury_!" Larry exclaimed.

"Exactly. Those men and women who came from Earth were few in
comparison to the population of the Moon, but they were cruel and
ruthless and they had weapons of war. The peaceful Lunarians had at
that time no weapons at all, for they had no need for them. Within a
few months the invaders made themselves Lords of all Gral-Thala! That
was when English, the language of the invaders, came to be spoken by
everybody on the Moon as well as the softer tongue of the Lunarians
themselves. A few of the hardier folk in Gral-Thala fled to these
caverns as outlaws. The invaders made only half-hearted attempts to
come after them, and with the passing of the years the location of
these refuges has been forgotten by people living within the Great
Barrier. That is why these places are now known as the Lost Caverns."

"And the invaders still rule?"

"Their descendants are still Lords of Gral-Thala. Cruel and ruthless
they always were, decadent and dissolute they have now become as well,
but they still rule the sunny valley that was the pride of the ancient
Lunarians. They hold the power, and they are aided by a few groups
among the people of Gral-Thala who have sacrificed their honor to fawn
upon their masters. Our spies, who penetrate beyond the barrier, tell
us that before long there will come a day when the people are ready for
revolt--but the time is not yet."

"But surely!" said Pyatt of Kagan, his deep voice breaking in on the
low monotone in which Staunton had spoken, "surely our visitors will
return to Earth, now that interplanetary travel has become possible,
and bring us the warriors and equipment to storm the high palaces of
the tyrants of Gral-Thala!"

"I should think that the Confederation of Earth would send help,
particularly since the original invaders were outlaws from that
planet," Staunton said. "How about it, friend Ripon? How are conditions
back on Earth at this time?"

Ripon straightened up and shook his shoulders. The glow in his eyes
faded away, and the lines in his face deepened once more.

"The Lunarians can look for no help from Earth until one thing is
accomplished," he said. "I have been letting scientific enthusiasm make
me lose sight of our reason for coming here. How are conditions on
Earth, you ask? I can tell you in a single sentence. Unless we of Earth
very quickly get a new supply of radium salts suitable for use with the
Riesling Method, in a few weeks we all perish!"

"I do not understand."

In a few hasty phrases Ripon sketched the development of the terrible
plague that was so swiftly robbing Earth of its inhabitants. At the end
Staunton leaned back in his chair.

"Such salts are available on the Moon in ample quantity," he said
slowly, and something in the quality of his voice robbed the words of
the reassurance they would otherwise have held, "but--they are all
located well within the area of the Great Barrier. And the Lords of
Gral-Thala would never let you have even a single milligram!"

"Then there's only one thing to be done!" Larry stood up and began to
peel off his space suit. "If someone will show me the way, I'll go into
Gral-Thala and bring out as much of the radiatron extract as I can
carry."

"And I will go with you!" boomed Pyatt of Kagan. "By Gorton and Laila,
mythical gods of the Moon, it will take more than a few of those
cold-eyed tyrants to stop us!"


                                  XII

Time was the thing that counted. The remorseless pressure of minutes
and hours that passed and could never be recalled! The tyrants
who lorded it over Gral-Thala had no weapons more deadly than the
electronic guns that had been common on Earth two hundred years
before. A battalion of troops from Earth, wearing armor of dura-steel
and carrying ray-guns, could probably have overthrown the Invaders
very quickly. But--there was no time! The toll of the Gray Death was
increasing with each passing hour, back there on the Good Green Planet,
and the little group on the Moon would have to do what they could
without hope of assistance.

They could not pause for proper preparations or careful planning. It
was only half an Earth day after they had landed on the Moon, time
enough to snatch a few hours' sleep, that Larry found himself moving
up toward the surface in a slowly crawling cable car. Chotan already
lay behind and far below them, and the oxygen indicator fastened to the
sleeve of the space suit showed him that the air was thinning rapidly.

Colton and Pyatt were with him. All three of them wore space suits of
the Lunarian patterns, that had a metal helmet with glass windows at
the front and sides, for the difference in design of the space suits
from the _Sky Maid_ would have made them too conspicuous. Pyatt had
come along because he had often penetrated beyond the Great Barrier in
disguise, and a second Lunarian was waiting for them up on the surface.

Ripon had also wanted to come, the idea of this daring raid setting the
old, reckless light danging in his eyes. Finally he agreed that one
of the leaders of the _Sky Maid_ expedition had better remain in the
Caverns in case of disaster to the raiders.

"That's the hell of getting along in years, young feller!" he rumbled
regretfully. "There's nothing I'd like better than to penetrate the
barrier with you and pull the whiskers off the tyrants in their lair. A
quick wit and a ready weapon! But I couldn't keep up with you younger
men if the going gets hot--though I never thought the day would come
when I'd hear Crispin Gillingwater Ripon admit a thing like that!--and
you'd better go on without me."

"We'll be back soon," Larry said. Ripon snorted.

"If you're not back in five days I'm coming after you with the crew of
the _Sky Maid_ and as many of the folk of the Caverns as I can get to
come along!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The Cavern of Chotan was in that part of the Moon which is sometimes
in sunlight and sometimes in darkness, and it was night when they came
out of the tunnel. The moisture on the space suit instantly froze into
a fine white frost. A few Lunarian sentries waited for them there,
and nearly a hundred of the Insect-men. With them were two carts that
had high wheels and springs, something like an old-fashioned Earthly
buckboard.

For a few moments, Pyatt talked to the leaders of the Insect-men in
their clicking tongue. The glowing knobs atop their antennae bobbed
up and down as they nodded their heads in understanding. Then Pyatt
motioned Colton into one of the carts and climbed in beside him.
Another Lunarian, slender even in the bulky space suit, climbed into
the second cart beside Larry. Pyatt swung his right arm forward.

A score of the Insect-men instantly scampered ahead as scouts,
spreading out like the spokes of a fan. Small parties went out to
either flank. The rest, about thirty to each cart, gripped the trailing
ropes and darted ahead with the wagons following behind them. They went
at almost incredible speed, the four legs of each giving them a steady
drive.

Even though the Insect-men were picking the smooth stretches of the
rock and were evidently following a definite though unmarked trail, it
was rough going. The light wagons jolted and banged as they whizzed
along, and Larry had to cling to the rail with both hands to keep from
being thrown off.

"Is all the way as rough as this?" he panted to his companion.

"Better soon," the Lunarian said shortly.

After about three hours they turned into a smooth and level road. It
wound up and down over the rolling rocky plain, evidently a highway of
great age. Occasionally they passed crumbling ruins beside it. Larry
supposed that the road and the ruins dated back to those very ancient
days before the Lunarians withdrew their shrinking supply of air within
the Great Barrier.

Now that the road was smooth, the Insect-men pulled the carts along at
a whizzing pace. The light wheels whirred as the wagons shot ahead. The
scene, Larry reflected, was like a nightmare. All about him were the
chill mountains and craters of the Moon, lifting their jagged peaks
against the cold stars. Ahead of the speeding wagon ran the toiling
cluster of Insect-men, their hard shells gleaming faintly in the
starlight and their glowing antennae bobbing in a swift rhythm as they
ran. The treads of the wheels rattled on the rocky surface of the road,
the horny feet of the Insect-men made a steady scraping sound as they
ran. The two men seated in the cart ahead were monstrous and misshapen
figures in their space suits.

Larry's companion had remained sullenly silent, in spite of several
efforts to start a conversation. This was unusual in one of the
normally pleasant and talkative Lunarians, but Larry had not thought
much about it. Now, as he made some remark about the speed of their
progress, he heard a low chuckle and in his earphones sounded the
voice of Diana Staunton.

"Yes, Larry, we travel fast. In a few days we will enter the zone of
sunlight."

"_You_," he exclaimed. "This expedition is too dangerous. I would never
have let you come if I had known."

"Why else do you think I kept so silent until now, when it is too late
to send me back?" she asked, and though he could not see her face
through the glass of her helmet in the darkness he could tell that she
was smiling. "Neither would Pyatt of Kagan or my father have let me
come. I stole the space suit of the young man who was to accompany you
and left him locked in a storeroom."

"You will have to remain outside when we go within the barrier."

"Where you go, I go," she said with finality.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sunrise on the Moon! There was no sudden onslaught of light as on
the Earth, for the Moon day was twenty-eight days long! Yet, as they
progressed steadily toward the horizon, the Moon's rotation brought
the edge of the sun gradually into sight above the barren horizon, and
as the days passed, a blinding glare of light swept in upon them and
they moved the dark glasses into place in front of the windows of their
space-suit helmets.

The temperature rose rapidly with the coming of the two weeks'
sunlight, and before long the frost on the space suits was melting.
Then, stretching along the crest of a mighty mountain range ahead,
Larry saw a lofty gray wall that went so high its top was almost lost
from view above. They had come within sight of the Great Barrier!


                                 XIII

Several times along the way they had been halted by sentry-patrols
from some of the other outlaw caverns, who warned them that an unusual
number of strong parties of troops from Gral-Thala were roaming the
waste-land. However, they came without incident to a tiny outlaw
hide-out. This was within half a mile of one of the caverns that was
under the domination of the Lords of Gral-Thala.

Two hours later Larry and the others stood with a score of other
people, in an air-lock in a great tunnel that led through the mountain
range and into Gral-Thala. All these people were residents of the
valley returning from a tour of duty in the caverns, and the four
outlaws from Chotan had been furnished with forged documents that gave
them the same identity.

The space suits had been removed and hung on numbered racks. The three
men wore the tight tunics and loose trousers that were the customary
dress within the valley, as distinguished from the loin cloth and cloak
of the cavern outlaws. This was fortunate, for the trousers concealed
the sturdy Earthly legs of Larry and Colton which would have stood
out in sharp contrast to the typical spindly shanks of the otherwise
well-built Lunarians. Diana wore a loose robe, with tight wrappings
concealing her hair and a thin veil over her face.

A heavy guard of soldiers checked the papers of all the travelers
before they let them through. These troops wore light armor, and each
carried an electronic gun slung from his shoulder. The officers were
evidently of the Invaders, cruel-eyed men cast in the same mold as
Xylon. The men were Lunarians, generally of a rather debased type and
drawn from among the worst element in the population. A heavy-featured
trooper glanced at Larry's papers in a perfunctory manner, then handed
them back.

"All right, all right!" he growled. "Get along. Don't block the way!"

The tunnel ended on the inner slope of the mountain range surrounding
Gral-Thala, where many cars ran down the steep incline into the city
below. It was a pleasant and smiling land that Larry Gibson saw before
him, a sunlit and fertile valley so vast that even the lofty range on
the far side was invisible over the horizon. Towns and villages dotted
the plain. Farms lay among their fertile fields. A small river wound
through the center. Directly below him, clustered against this part of
the valley wall, was a mighty city.

"This is the city of Pandonaria," Diana's voice came softly through her
veil, "capital city of Gral-Thala."

The city itself was a terraced mass of colored buildings cut by many
streets and interspersed with gardens. Several towering palaces of
white and gold, the abodes of the Lords of Gral-Thala, dominated the
lower buildings. It was good to see real sunlight again! To see birds
flying overhead! To smell the odor of flowers and growing things, in
contrast to the flat and motionless air of the Lost Caverns! It was
hard to believe that this pleasant spot was really the scene of such
a brutal tyranny as he had been told. Then they rounded a bend in the
sloping road and came to an abrupt halt.

       *       *       *       *       *

At the side of the road stood a sort of gallows, made of strips of a
ruddy metal bolted together. From it hung the nude body of a young
Lunarian girl. She was suspended by her bound wrists high above her
head, and her feet swung far off the ground. From the clotted blood at
her bound wrists, and the way the eternal sun of the valley had burned
her skin, Larry knew that she had hung there many hours. The girl was
far gone but she was not yet dead. At intervals her drooping head
moved feebly from side to side. A pair of armored soldiers leaned on
their weapons below the gallows. Around the girl's neck hung a sign,
lettered in the archaic English script that was the official language
of Gral-Thala:

    "THIS GIRL DARED STRIKE ONE OF THE NOBLES OF
    GRAL-THALA WHO CONDESCENDED TO NOTICE HER."

Fierce anger filled Larry Gibson's heart, a consuming anger that set
his clenched fists shaking. For some reason he thought of Diana. Though
she stood only a few feet away from him, he visioned her hanging from
such a gallows if the dissolute tyrants of this land ever stormed the
Lost Caverns. Then Pyatt of Kagan laid a hand on his arm.

"Careful, my friend!" the Lunarian hissed. "Your anger shows on your
face, and that is bad. We cannot help that poor girl now. Come!"

They went down into the city, avoiding the broad boulevards and keeping
to the narrower streets where the poorer people were. As they passed by
the base of one of the high palaces, they came to the body of a girl
who lay crushed on the stones and had evidently been thrown or jumped
from one of the upper windows. An aged man stood astride the body,
leaning back and shaking his skinny fists at the white and gold bulk of
the palace above him.

"Woe be upon the Lords of Gral-Thala!" he screamed in his shrill old
voice. "Triple woe upon the tyrants and upon the decadent parasites who
fawn upon them. Evil lies in wait for ye, lurking in your white palaces
with your guards and your harlots! The hour of doom is not far away!
The vengeance of Gorton and Laila may be long delayed, but it comes in
the end! Woe to the Lords of Gral-Thala!"

An uneasy, sullen, murmuring crowd was gathered around the ragged
old man although they left a broad circle of vacant space around him
and the body of his granddaughter. A few troopers of the garrison
were making a half-hearted effort to push the crowd back. They were
uncomfortable in the face of the unspoken but obvious hatred of the
throng. Larry and the others prudently kept to the back of the crowd.
Even so, they were near enough to see what happened next.

Silver bells rang sharply, and lackeys called an arrogant summons
to clear the way. In the midst of a circle of armed guards, porters
carried a swaying gilt litter. On the cushions of the litter rested a
man. It was one of the nobles of Gral-Thala, a perfumed degenerate in
silken robes with a rouged and painted face. For a moment he stared at
the crowds with his arrogantly scornful eyes. Then, as he saw the old
man beside the girl's body and heard the curses he was shouting, his
patrician face was distorted into a sneering frown.

The noble snarled an order, and one of his guards lifted his electronic
rifle. There was a flash of blinding light! A sudden clap of miniature
thunder, and a smell of ozone. The man-made lightning bolt struck the
old man in the chest and knocked him sprawling across the body of his
granddaughter. With a faint smile the noble leaned back on the cushions
of the litter and waved languidly to his porters to move on again.

"Let us go, my friends!" Pyatt whispered hoarsely. "We cannot right all
the wrongs of Gral-Thala at one stroke, and our mission is the most
important thing at the moment."


                                  XIV

They were walking slowly down one of the quiet streets of the city, a
quarter where there were few guards and little chance of discovery.
Larry noticed that all the windows were equipped with heavy shutters,
so that the light could be closed out when the inhabitants of this land
desired to sleep. It was a place of unending daylight, always turned
toward the sun, where darkness never came. Colton was more interested
in the metal rails that ran along the walks on the outside of the
buildings.

"My Lord!" he said softly, "These are gold!"

"Of course," Pyatt of Kagan said absently, "Gold is one of the most
common metals in Gral-Thala. Our problem is the matter of the radium
salts. I happen to know that they are stored in small boxes made of
ura-lead, in one of the government storehouses. It would be easier to
steal some direct from the mines, but there is no time for that because
of the question of proper packing and handling. We must risk everything
on a bold attempt to raid the warehouses."

"Suits me," Larry said quietly. Just then Diana gripped him by the arm
and jerked him back against the wall of the nearest building.

"Look there!" she hissed.

Another litter was passing along the cross street just ahead of them.
This litter went in evident haste, with lackeys swinging whips to clear
the path and the passenger bending forward to urge his bearers to
greater haste. The man who rode in the litter was Xylon!

The four outlaws stared at each other in grim and ominous surprise.
There had been no doubt of the identity of the man who had just passed
within a few yards of them.

"But what does _that_ mean?" Larry gasped.

"It means that I have been a fool!" Pyatt snarled. "Xylon is evidently
no outlaw who came to the caverns to seek shelter, but a spy sent out
by the Lords of Gral-Thala. Now I understand the reason for that revolt
among the Insect-men! He must have stirred it up in an attempt to
kidnap Diana here because of her hold over those simple creatures. Now
the location of the Lost Caverns is at last known to the tyrants, and
there will be an attack in force."

"And Xylon knows that we are here in Pandonaria!" Diana exclaimed.

"Which means that all our lives hang by a thread no heavier than a
woman's hair! We must get under cover at once! Then we will send word
back to the Caverns by secret radio, that they may prepare for an
assault. After that we will plan an attempt on the radium salts."

The outlaws of the Lost Caverns had certain confederates within the
city, and they now took refuge in the house of a small merchant who
was a distant cousin of Pyatt. Larry watched as Pyatt and the merchant
crouched over the sending set concealed in a small closet built in the
thickness of one of the walls, the arkon-bulbs flashing as they sent
the warning to Chotan to be spread to the other caverns. At last Pyatt
straightened up.

"At least that is done," he said. "Now we will wait two hours, which
will be the time of the Third Meal. There will be few people on the
streets, and the warehouse guards will be drowsy, and we will have our
best chance."

       *       *       *       *       *

Pyatt and Colton had gone somewhere else in the house, and Larry sat
with Diana in a small room whose windows looked out on the green fields
beyond the city. The girl had loosened her blue veil so that it hung in
soft folds about her chin.

"This is the first time in my life I have been anywhere but in the
Caverns and on the waste-land," she said moodily. "This valley of
Gral-Thala is a pleasant place."

"You would like Earth even better."

"I suppose I would. Will you take me back to that Earth of yours when
you return, Larry?"

"Not until the Gray Death is overcome! I would not want to take any
chance of it striking you down."

"Do you love me, Larry?" she asked, without either coquetry or
embarrassment.

"I guess I do. Of course, we've only known each other for a few
hours--but I guess I do."

"I am glad," she said simply.

The two hours passed, and Pyatt came striding back into the room. They
had given him one of the ray-guns brought ashore from the _Sky Maid_,
and he carried it thrust in his girdle close to his hand.

"It is time to go," he said. "We must make our attempt now, win or
lose. Where is Colton?"

"I thought he was with you."

"Haven't seen him in two hours!"

A hasty search of the merchant's house and small grounds revealed no
trace of the missing officer. Pyatt stood glowering blackly and pulling
at his chin.

"I don't like it," he said. "Yet, if the soldiers had taken him, they
would have come for us as well."

A different thought was running through Larry's mind, a grim and
unpleasant suspicion. He was remembering Colton's past history ...
his general sullenness ... the greed that he had shown throughout the
entire expedition. He was also remembering that he had seen Colton in
deep conversation with Xylon a few hours before they had left Chotan.

"I am afraid," he said bitterly, "that Colton has sold us out to Xylon
and the Lords of Gral-Thala for promise of reward. We had better get
out of this house right away, before...."

Larry never finished that sentence. There was a roaring crash, and the
door was shattered by the impact of a pair of electronic bolts fired
by the soldiers who had crept up to the house. Armored figures came
pouring in the door! Others were at the back. Pyatt of Kagan, fighting
furiously, went down under press of numbers. Larry managed to get his
ray-gun up and fire one blast that crumpled a charging trooper in mid
stride, but then half a dozen gripped him and the brief fight was over.
They were taken!


                                  XV

The hands of the three prisoners were tied behind their backs, and
nooses were placed around their necks. Then they were dragged out into
the street. The merchant was not taken prisoner at all, simply killed
out of hand with the body left lying across his shattered threshold. A
thin-lipped, hooked-nosed officer spat in Larry's face as he was led
past the body of the dead merchant.

"Not for you will there be such an easy ending," he sneered. "An
example is to be made. You will die before crowds, in the Plaza of the
Four Virgins, and the process will be a slow one."

They were surrounded by a double rank of guards as they were led along
by the nooses about their necks. All three had been stripped to a loin
cloth, and the sun was scorching hot upon Larry's back and shoulders.
At least, he thought thankfully, Diana's long black hair gave her some
protection. There were jeers and hoots as they were led through the
crowded streets, but most of them came from members of the tyrant class
and from the few over-dressed and foppish Lunarians who aped their
masters. The mass of the people gazed in stony and somehow sympathetic
silence.

Into one of the tall white-and-gold palaces of the Lords of Gral-Thala
they were taken, and down into stone-walled dungeons far underground.
They were placed in a single cell. They stood with their backs against
the walls, arms out-stretched and wrists lashed to rings set in the
stone, able to move little more but their heads. Then, for a while,
they were left alone.

"Well," said Larry with grim humor, "here we are."

"So it seems!" Pyatt's voice was rasping and bitter. "I am indeed a
fool for ever having allowed Xylon to live in the Cavern of Chotan, in
spite of the kind-hearted ruling of the Elders."

"What will they do with us?" Larry asked. Pyatt hesitated, licking his
lips and glancing at Diana, but the girl answered for herself.

"We shall probably be skinned alive in the public square, dying slowly
under the torture," she said. "It is the favorite punishment of the
tyrants for those they particularly hate."

It was a day of triumph for the Lords of Gral-Thala. Xylon's triumphant
return with the information that would lead to the wiping out of the
always troublesome outlaws of the Lost Caverns, and the capture of the
three prisoners, made it a holiday for the ruling class of the valley.
They came in hundreds to see the three captives. The famous military
leader of the outlaws ... the girl who was considered a goddess by the
primitive Insect-men of the waste-land ... the the stranger from that
distant Earth whence their own ancestors had fled. They came to throng
the dungeon corridor and stare in at the trio of captives spread-eagled
against the wall of the cell.

Larry watched them through the barred door. For hours on end there were
always a few of them in the corridor, staring and jeering. Foppish men
in white and gold with their curled hair laden with scent. Haughty and
jewel-clad women whose sharp featured faces held even more cruelty than
their male companions. Many were attended by Lunarian slave girls whose
fettered hands held their trains up from the floor, and the bare backs
of the slave girls were usually marked with the crossing red marks of
whips. Larry knew, now, that the tales told in the Caverns about the
cruelty of the Lords of Gral-Thala had not been exaggerated.

       *       *       *       *       *

Xylon came to see them after a while, opening the cell door and walking
in to stand sneering at them with his thumbs hooked in his jeweled
girdle.

"Colton sold you out for the promise of wealth and a place in the ranks
of our nobles," he said. "It will be a pleasure to watch you die." For
a moment he walked over to stand in front of Diana who looked back at
him with an expressionless face. "You are not a bad-looking wench. I
can take you for one of my slaves if you wish to be agreeable."

"I would rather go with an Insect-man!" the girl said with calm scorn.
Xylon shrugged and turned away.

"So be it. At that, it would be a pity to rob the crowd of the pleasure
of watching you die."

As near as Larry could judge it, the equivalent of an Earthly day had
passed before they were taken out of the cell. They were given an hour
to ease their stiffened muscles. Then the guards bound their wrists
before them, and by the trailing ends of the ropes led them out of the
dungeons and through the streets to a broad open space just at the foot
of the inclines that led down from the tunnel by which they had entered
the city.

The Plaza of the Four Virgins, named from the four gigantic statues of
polished stone that had been placed at its corners in some long ago
day before the Invaders came, was a vast paved space in front of an
ancient temple that was now used as a government building. In front of
the temple a metal scaffold had been erected with two heavy uprights
and a cross-piece. The rulers of Gral-Thala were sprawled in cushioned
ease on the steps of the temple, well guarded by their troops, and the
floor of the Plaza was filled with the common people of the city. These
latter were present in great number, a silent and ominously sullen mass.

The three prisoners were stood in a row on the scaffold. Their
hands were raised above their heads, and the ropes made fast to the
cross-piece so that they were held tautly erect and motionless. Sharp
laughter and occasional jests came from the nobles and their women
clustered on the steps, but as Larry looked out over the crowd in
the Plaza he saw faces that were grim and intent. The threat of the
electronic rifles of the guards would keep the unarmed mob from trying
to aid the prisoners, but there was no doubt where their sympathies lay.

Glancing up at the tyrants grouped on the temple steps, Larry suddenly
saw Colton. The former second officer of the _Sky Maid_ now wore the
white and gold robes of a noble of Gral-Thala. Xylon kept his promises!
Colton flushed uncomfortably when his glance met Larry's grim stare,
quickly turning his eyes away. He looked uncomfortable and ill-at-ease.
Larry glanced at him again a few minutes later and saw Colton staring
at Diana's bound and motionless form with definite misery in his eyes.

One of the nobles stepped to the front and began to address the crowd.
Shrill yells and catcalls drowned his words. The guards raged, but
the men in the front ranks of the mob were discreetly silent and they
could not reach or identify the culprits in the ranks behind. Many of
the nobles were muttering nervously among themselves, showing definite
signs of fear.

"There was never a scene like this in Pandonaria before!" Pyatt of
Kagan exulted from where he was bound beside Larry. "We may die, but
our death is likely to stir the people to such a pitch that the revolt
will soon come!"

Xylon, for all his faults, was made of sterner stuff than most of his
fellow nobles. He sneered down at the muttering crowd, then signed to
the officer commanding the guards.

"Pay no attention to the dogs," he commanded sharply. "Give these three
a taste of the whip before the flayers rip the skins from their bodies.
Begin with the girl."

A heavy-featured man in a black tunic stepped up to Diana, pulling the
lash of a heavy whip through his hands to test its suppleness. Before
he could strike there came a sudden interruption. A small car had been
speeding down the incline from the tunnel entrance and now a gilded
officer of the invaders leaped out and came running across the Plaza.

"Great news, oh Xylon and nobles of Gral-Thala!" he shouted. "One of
our patrols has captured a great force of outlaw warriors and their
insect allies, who were moving in to raid our nearer caves. Some more
Earthlings are with them!"

"Good, by Gorton!" exulted Xylon. "We will delay the execution of these
three till the others are here to see it."

Larry's last hope was gone. He had remembered Ripon's promise to
come after them if they had not returned quickly, and in the back of
his mind had been the thought that the doughty scientist might yet
accomplish a rescue in some way. Now that hope had vanished. He sighed,
and beside him Diana sagged visibly in her bonds.

"Guess it's the end," she said. "Good bye, Larry!"


                                  XVI

From where he stood on the scaffold, Larry could see a number of the
big transport cars coming down the incline. They were crowded with
prisoners and guards, and he caught the gleam of the hard brown shells
of Insect-men. Once unloaded from the cars, they all formed up in
columns and came quickly across the Plaza. Behind the front rank of
guards Larry saw Ripon, and some of the men from the _Sky Maid_, and
many whom he recognized as leaders among the Lunarians of the Lost
Caverns.

It was all over now. The prisoners trudged along like beaten men,
utterly disheartened although they were but thinly guarded. The
nobles grouped on the temple steps were laughing loudly, all their
nervousness of a moment ago gone before the reassurance of this
victory. Then, as the prisoners were halted in the Plaza directly
before the double line of soldiers that guarded the temple, an officer
beside Xylon leaned forward to point down at the commander of the
patrol that was bringing in the prisoners.

"That man wears the insignia of an Ensign of the first rank," he
shouted, "but there is no such man in the ranks of our officers! There
is treachery here!"

Before the man's words had died away, Crispin Gillingwater Ripon had
whipped a ray-gun out from under his cloak and smashed the officer's
chest into a charred pulp with the deadly blast of the rays.

In an instant the Plaza was a wild turmoil. The pretended prisoners
drew their hidden weapons. Those who had been masquerading as guards,
using the armor they had taken from the soldiers they surprised
and overwhelmed when they stormed the tunnel entrance, threw the
uniforms aside and charged into the fight. The rippling crashes of the
electronic guns rang out again and again, the murky flashes of the
Earth-men's death rays stabbed into the fray, and a clicking horde of
Insect-men charged home with their spiked clubs swinging.

[Illustration: _In an instant the Plaza was in a wild turmoil.... The
rippling crashes of the electronic guns rang out again and again. The
murky flashes of Earth-men's death rays stabbed into the fray, and a
clicking horde of Insect-men charged home with spiked clubs swinging._]

For the first few moments the fighting centered around the scaffold.
Xylon led a charge of picked men down to seize and keep the three
prisoners bound there, Ripon came storming through to effect a rescue.
When the mélee was over, Larry and Pyatt were free and Xylon had
retreated back to the temple steps, but Diana had disappeared.

"We got the rest of the crew from the _Sky Maid_ and all the men we
could collect at Chotan and crept up to the tunnel mouth," Ripon panted
as he thrust a ray-gun into Larry's hand. "We took the guards by
surprise and killed them before they could warn the valley behind."

It had been a daring raid, and at first its sheer audacity had carried
it near to complete victory. Now the superior numbers of the guards
were beginning to tell, and more of the troops of Gral-Thala came
pounding up at the double. The crash of the electronic guns became a
steady roar, and bodies were thickly strewn about the blood-smeared
surface of the Plaza of the Four Virgins. Then, with a long-drawn and
sullen shout, the mass of watching Lunarians flung themselves on the
soldiery. Hundreds died, but the others tore the guards to pieces with
their naked hands and then snatched up their weapons. The people of
Gral-Thala had risen against their oppressors at last!

       *       *       *       *       *

With the uprising of the people, the battle ceased to be a fight and
became a massacre. The troops were selling their lives, as dearly as
they could, but thousands more citizens carrying improvised weapons
were pouring in from every street and the thing was only a matter of
time. Then, in the rear of the panic stricken mass of nobles who were
fleeing into the temple to make a last stand, while the vengeful pack
bayed at their heels, Larry suddenly saw Xylon!

The tyrant was standing beside one of the great stone columns that
supported the portico of the temple. He held the half naked body of
Diana before him as a shield. The girl's hands were still tied and she
could not pull away. A swarm of Insect-men, who were bounding up the
temple steps, halted as they saw Xylon hold an electronic pistol to the
head of their goddess.

"Keep back or she dies!" he shouted. "She is hostage for our safety!"

Larry lifted his ray-gun, and then lowered it again with a groan. He
dared not shoot with Diana's struggling body in the way. Nor had he any
doubt that Xylon would kill the girl without compunction if attacked.
Xylon began to edge back toward the temple door. Larry still stood
indecisive, the others seemed frozen in their places. Then another
white-and-gold figure darted out from the temple behind Xylon. The
renegade Colton twisted the gun from Xylon's hand!

The thing was over in an instant. Xylon released Diana and turned on
Colton with an oath, and the girl instantly dropped to the ground.
Steel flickered in the sunlight. Xylon drove a long knife home between
Colton's ribs, but before he could dart away Larry's ready ray-gun
struck him down with its blast. His quivering body rolled slowly down
the steps till the Insect-men reached it and literally tore it into
bloody bits.


                                 XVII

The dying Colton was sinking fast. His face was gray as he looked up
with a faint smile at the others who were grouped around him.

"I never was much good," he said faintly. "Guess it just wasn't in the
blood. Gold always led me into twisted paths, and I couldn't resist
Xylon's offer. But it did something to me when I saw the way those
devils were going to torture the girl. Well--I guess I paid my debt at
the end."

"You've paid it--and you'll live to go back to Earth with us," Larry
said. Colton shook his head, his eyes glazing.

"Don't try to kid me. I'm cashing in my checks," he said--and died.

Now that it was all over, Larry felt very tired. He put one arm around
Diana, and leaned back against the base of the column. There was still
some intermittent fighting going on where mobs of vengeful Lunarians
had cornered some of their oppressors, but the victory was won. Ripon
looked about at the carnage with a satisfied smile and them sheathed
his ray-gun.

"It was a good fight!" he said. "I haven't had as much fun since the
time I wrecked a saloon in Port Mahon. Now, young feller, you just take
care of the lady here while I take a squad and get the radium salts
from the store-house."

"And the _Sky Maid_?" Larry asked.

"That sour-puss Masterson has been standing over the men with a ray-gun
in one hand and my last jug of rum in the other ever since you left.
All the repairs are finished. We start back to Earth as soon as we can
get our cargo aboard."

"Then the people of your planet will be saved?" Diana asked.

"They will be saved. And as soon as the Gray Death is checked I'll come
back for you. Then the Moon will have to get along without its Goddess
for a while."

"I'll be waiting," she said.





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