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

Download this book: [ ASCII ]

Look for this book on Amazon


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

´╗┐Title: Keeper of the Deathless Sleep
Author: dePina, Albert
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 "Keeper of the Deathless Sleep" ***


                     Keeper of the Deathless Sleep

                           by Albert De Pina

            Nardon, the Correlator, had banded together the
           greatest brains of the Solar System to battle the
            menace spawned by Saturn--was leading them into
              the stronghold of the Energasts themselves.

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                      Planet Stories Winter 1944.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


_"We cannot fight," Antaran said. "Not now.... We must be patient a
while longer. Venus still holds the secret of Vulcan base and without
allotropic metal our fleet would be so much papier mache!" He fell
silent._

_In the soft, smoky-blue twilight of the great subterranean room
beneath the Universarium, Bill Nardon gazed expressionlessly at the
angular austerity of the Council Leader's face, and remained silent._

_"Three more spacers today!" Antaran sank slowly into the yielding
firmness of a priceless crysto-plast chair. "Disappeared...." He
paused. "Must you have this hellish blue fog, Bill?" He frowned in
distaste. Bill Nardon smiled slowly from where he lay on a great couch
of alabastrine, utterly relaxed. "Would you rather have a mountain
night, a summer twilight, or dawn?" His great shoulders shook a little
with silent laughter until the mane of dark red hair that hung to his
shoulders seemed to twinkle with pinpoints of light. He pressed a
series of selectors on the back of the couch, and slowly a rosy light
like a tardy dawn diffused through the room together with the smell of
the sea. "Don't look so outraged, Antaran; that Spartan conditioning of
yours is a tragedy!" The aged Council leader shrugged his shoulders._

_"Listen to me!" Antaran said brusquely. "Half a hundred thousand men
and women from six planets cannot be hidden away like so much plunder.
Sooner or later someone is bound to escape and give away the mystery.
Yet months have passed and no trace of them has been found. Correlate
that!"_

_He sniffed at the marvelously fresh odor of the sea and blinked at the
rose-gold light of the static dawn as if it weren't a scientific and
artistic miracle, but something not quite decent._

_"The loss in terms of life and treasure is negligible. It's what it
purports in the long run that's serious. Already Venus has clamped down
on shipments of radio-actives and Mars has declared limited martial
law. No trade with Neptune is possible in the face of their embargo,
and the European coalition of Terrans and Panadurs have closed their
world! The logical development of this psychological state of nerves
is...."_

_"War." Bill Nardon said softly, almost in a whisper that died in the
faint sea-breeze that eddied about the room. For a long time there
was silence, while the "Correlator" played with the selectors on the
couch unaware of doing so in his profound absorption, and the tardy
dawn faded into bright daylight which in turn gave way to the perfumed
mystery of a starry night deep within the mountains and the odor of
pine stole about the room. A ripple of music almost as soft as a sigh
invaded the chamber, gathering in volume and poesy of melody like an
enchanted lullaby to a wonder child or, a woman utterly beloved._

_When the "Correlator" came to, Antaran had gone._

       *       *       *       *       *

The rain's silver curtain had lifted for some time--over an hour
now--Bill Nardon mused. The blinding blueness of the skies was
reflected on the satiny sheen of the platino-plastic structures of the
spaceport, now glorious in its display of opulence for the benefit of
the arriving delegations of five worlds. The Terran display of grandeur
had been planned to increase with exquisite skill all the way to the
_Universarium_.

Which in itself was a piece of effrontery, Bill thought with a sardonic
smile, considering that with Earth, only six worlds were represented,
which was far from being the Universe. Not to mention that each
planet was sovereign, jealously and hypersensitively suspicious of
the slightest encroachment upon their rights and domains. Bill was
certainly aware of the fact that the word _Universarium_ would be a
cause for resentment.

They were arriving now. Upon the gigantic Ethero-solidograph that
covered an entire wall of the spacious room, deep in the bowels of the
_Universarium_, Bill Nardon could see the great inter-planetary vessels
emerge from outer space, where both space and time have but a remote
and relative meaning, and flash like inter-stellar daggers into the
outer fringe of the stratosphere.

"Warships! All of them!" He mused aloud, while the slightly satirical
smile deepened, hovering on his square-cut lips, crinkling the corners
of the long, strangely colored eyes--almost electric blue.

"Warships?" he mused.

Bill saw them extend lateral fins upon the icy fragility of the upper
air, much as a bird extends its wings, and come shrieking through the
tortured air in a mad race to be the first to land upon the expectant
Earth. In great flawless spirals--beautiful beyond belief--they lost
altitude, leaving behind a vortex of clouds boiling furiously at their
passage. Venus was in the lead. Bill Nardon recognized the powerful
cruiser by its insignia of a serpent biting its tail, fashioned of
_Josmians_--Venusian pearls. Close behind it was Europa, with the
insignia of a blazing Jupiter on its side; Neptune with its emblazoned
shield of a tiered city, and little Mercury with the royal emblem of
incandescent Sol. And at the very end, aloof, disdainful, the truly
magnificent work of science and art that was the Martian vessel, which
characteristically wore no emblem at all, and seemed to be content to
be the last to arrive, so long as it kept from being contaminated by
close contact with the races of other worlds than Mars.

A great swirl of ceremonial music rose from the immense spaceport, the
cathedral-like architectonics weaving intricate patterns upwards to the
skies as if to receive in an ocean of melody the arriving delegates.

Bill Nardon sighed, his task was about to begin. With a slight movement
of his right hand, he touched the controls gleaming on the desk before
him, and the scene at the spaceport rushed with vertiginous speed into
close focus; still he was not satisfied, but continued to manipulate
the Ethero-solidograph controls until the emerging occupants of the
Venusian ship grew on the screen to life-size. With infinite care he
studied and analyzed their faces, their exquisite fragile bodies with
the long, membranous wings; noted the almost imperceptible shadow
of baffled apprehension beneath the mask of imperturbability, and
found--nothing. But that was to be expected. After all, of all the
planets, Venus was the least warlike, which was fortunate indeed.

       *       *       *       *       *

The tall, rangy Europans, offspring of Terran colonists, with their
strange, silver-furred Panadur co-rulers, came next. Bill lingered over
the Panadur leader, so strangely human in his four feet of upright,
slender body, completely furred in gleaming silver fur to the very
throat-line, with the delicate triangular face dominated by immense
beryl eyes. Strange creatures of a world within a world, drawing
their sustenance from the eerie radio-active caverns of their great
Jupiterian satellite. The Neptunians were descendants of Earthmen too,
but subtly changed by the awesome environment of their gigantic world.

The Mercurians were a problem in themselves. For of all the planets,
theirs was a ruthless Matriarchy. The striding, uncompromising Amazons
that emerged from that blunt, utilitarian-looking ship, were in
themselves a promise of trouble. They gazed around them out of blazing
dark eyes, and their metallic complexions seemed to flow oddly like
quicksilver with their movements, as if their features were fluid.
Only the eyes, hard, suspicious, expecting the worst, retained their
unyielding character. When the Martians emerged, tall, tawny-haired,
with their immense violet eyes and exaggeratedly narrow waists, that
contrasted with their broad shoulders, it occurred to Bill that the
least accident would precipitate an holocaust that would end in the
most gigantic hecatomb the universe had ever seen. He shuddered to
think what would happen if the least delegate were to meet with harm.
From the very beginning, he had protested against this inter-planetary
meeting on Terra, and great as his influence was, profound as the
respect was in which his unique powers were held, the Council vote had
been against him.

Still, Bill Nardon could not rid himself of the feeling that this was
a wild goose chase, that nothing would be accomplished by a meeting of
the highest dignitaries of the Inter-Planetary League--in short, that
the great danger of an _accident_ that was being incurred was not only
unnecessary--but futile, which was far worse.

Asprawl in the great hetero-plastic chair, his long legs extended, his
superb torso completely relaxed, he looked as if even his great muscles
would never again lift that magnificent body upright. But all the while
his unique mind was absorbed in assembling multitudes of details and
facts, coordinating and correlating psychological factors and psychic
coordinates with the speed of thought into a clear picture which in the
end proved--absolutely nothing. He was baffled. To the tragic problem
which would soon be under discussion in the stupendous _Universarium_,
expressly built for that momentous purpose, he would be able to bring
precisely nothing.

For once he had failed. And Bill damned the cold efficiency of the
Master Neurograph machine that had unerringly summarized his strange
mental coordinates. For Bill's mind had the peculiar gift of being able
to grasp a series of basic facts and from them deduce with supernal
accuracy the individual answer to any _human_ problem. What took the
great Philosophers in Psychiatry VI days, and weeks, and even months to
solve, Bill Nardon could coordinate and give the correct answer to in
hours, sometimes minutes.

There was nothing mysterious about it. Given enough time, Bill Nardon
could have explained in detail how he could solve a particular problem
in human equations--if he cared to, which he never did--it was merely
a mental ratio of activity in the upper part of his brain, where the
most involved and difficult thinking is done, many times greater
than that of the normal human brain. To this was added an intensity
and scope of _awareness_ surpassing any Neurographic records known.
The result was the coordination of details, the synchronizing of
factors--nay, _nuances_ so tenuous that they were non-existent to even
the philosophical minds.

As a result, Bill Nardon had been immediately removed from his job as
an explorer and transferred to Security I, answerable only to the very
head of the Supreme Council itself.

To him it had been a tragedy. The ecstasy of the vast reaches of
space; the illimitable freedom, birthright of explorers, the intimate
communion with the stars had been transmuted into a guarded existence
as if he were one of the most valuable factors in the security of
Earth, which unquestionably he was. Every luxury, every whim even, was
his to indulge, he could have anything ... literally anything, but
freedom!

And now he had failed. In his sardonic mood he was glad that he
had been unable to find even a tiny clue. In all that glittering,
heterogenous assemblage Bill had not found even a slight _nuance_ to
pounce upon. Involuntarily he shook his head, and the dark red mane
that fell to his shoulders in the conventional style of the day,
swirled about his shoulders, again he shook his head as if some almost
imperceptible irritant were annoying him. And suddenly he sat upright,
his eyes narrowed and steel-blue. In his intense absorption in the
scene on the Ethero-solidograph, the elfin probing of his mind had gone
unnoticed. A profound surprise mingled with the instant pointing of all
his faculties as he became aware. That _anyone_ could penetrate his
mental defenses was unthinkable!

       *       *       *       *       *

Even before his awareness of peril was complete, Bill became a blur of
motion that coiled and sprang erect. And the incredible shape that had
launched itself with razor-like talons outspread unerringly for the
sprawling Terran's throat thudded against iron-hard stomach muscles,
over which a thin beryllium mesh tunic afforded protection. Almost at
the very instant it struck, the creature launched itself again, with
demoniacal fury, taloned hands reaching with super-human strength for
the bared throat, its taloned feet trying to disembowel the Terran.
Bill fought silently, driving a shattering blow to the open mouth with
its gleaming fangs, with the other striving to keep it at arm's length.
But the thing twisted with a sinuous motion and flung itself to one
side, then leaped in again, driving like a tiger for the Terran legs,
as Bill sprang to one side and then dived for the flashing creature.

Bill caught one of its legs and instantly it coiled back upon itself
and fastened its fanged mouth upon his forearm. Only the invulnerable
Beryllium mesh saved it from being fanged through; as it was, the awful
pressure of those inhuman teeth was excruciating agony. In desperation
Bill aimed another slashing blow at the maniacal face of the being, and
saw it become indistinct with blood; using every ounce of strength at
his command, the Earthman slowly forced back the face of the thing and
with a convulsive movement shattered its vertebrae. When Bill released
it, the creature dropped limp on the bloodied translucence of the
Jadite flooring.

Reeling from fatigue, his body a mass of bruises, Bill methodically
examined his attacker. It was about four feet tall, humanoid in shape,
even as to features which were delicate--surprisingly beautiful in
the repose of death. It had the face of a very beautiful woman in
miniature. But there was nothing lovely about the competent taloned
hands with their cording of steely muscles, or about the oddly shaped
flexible feet--almost hands in themselves, like that of the now extinct
apes of thousands of years back when Terra had been young. The body
had evidently been evolved with a great simplicity of purpose--and,
strangest of all, it was sexless!

And this was the thing that had been able to penetrate the defenses
of his mind, almost succeeding in probing it without Bill being aware
of it. In coordinating his findings, it occurred to Bill Nardon that
this unholy creature was the nearest thing to a _homunculi_ he had ever
known! But whence had it come? How correlate such a _mind of power_
with such utterly ruthless, coldly calculating ferocity.

Bill shivered a little, and it was not altogether from his recent
exertions in defense of his life. Stretched upon the exquisite
whiteness of the plastic Jadite flooring, there was an infinitely
appealing beauty to its face in the ultimate sleep, as if it were a
welcome repose. The light brown eyes still open mirrored sadness--that
was the incredible fact. The mind that had tip-toed the shores of
his consciousness with sandals of foam, was still. But Bill Nardon's
mind recovered from the horror of the unexpected attack, felt even
more the icy chill of failure as it sought factors and only found an
impenetrable mystery instead.

"No planet ... no world known to me," and Bill had traveled half a
galaxy in his time, "has spawned this creature. This," he paused, his
eyes electric with excitement, "is a manufactured, an artificially
evolved being! But who? Not the Martians surely; the Venusians? The
Neptunians? No, no race in the entire six planets is capable of
creating...." In the very midst of his soliloquy he paused startled.
"The Panadurs! Only they with their strange powers could achieve such
a miracle.... But would they? In all the annals of Europa there is
no clue to the "Will to Conquer." Besides, to the Panadurs life was
sacred...." His thoughts swirled feverishly, and, impenetrably, the
mystery became more and more involved as the glittering assemblage of
delegates from other worlds traveled to the great _Universarium_.

       *       *       *       *       *

For a timeless moment of absolute silence, every being present stood
with bowed head in reverence to the Absolute. Then they took their
assigned places around the immense Council table grimly. The crisis was
at hand.

When Bill Nardon entered, he was late, for the preliminaries, the usual
diplomatic fencing and jockeying for favorable positions was over. The
smouldering resentment of six belligerent worlds was frankly in the
open.

Antaran, Head of the Supreme Council of Terra, presided at the head of
the table--there had been no difficulty about that--as was his due as
Host; but Venus and Mars had been diplomatically seated at his right
and left, respectively, facing each other and with equal honors, where
they could glare at each to their hearts' content. Neptune had been
given the other end of the table facing Antaran, and to his right the
Amazonian leader from Mercury. The balance of the delegates had been
scattered around the council table interspersed cleverly with members
of Terra's Council.

Bill saw instantly Antaran's anxious frown as he entered and caught the
half-annoyed, half-anxious query at his lateness, telepathed in their
secret code. He merely signalled, "Wait, Antaran!" and proceeded to
stand behind the Terran Leader's chair as unobtrusively as possible.
But it _had_ been an entrance! His stately height of six feet five
inches, in the close fitting tunic of beryllium, the dark red mane
of wavy hair falling to his shoulders, allied to the lateness of his
coming, gave him an importance in the eyes of the visiting delegates
which, just now, he would have liked to avoid.

But when Antaran arose, all eyes centered coldly upon the Council
Leader. A sensuous fragrance of Venusian Jasmines wafted like an
invisible presence as the Martian Leader insolently applied a gossamer
handkerchief to his nostrils in defense of the odors of the other
races, and the tiny, winged Venusian ambassador glared with scorn.
The Amazonian being from Mercury clanked her power-rapier uneasily,
while the tall Neptunian unconsciously touched his belt. Above them,
the cathedral-like dome of the tremendous Hall of Planets rose until
the graduating hues of its intricately carved Sapphirine plastic walls
paled from translucent sapphire to aquamarine, to beryl to palest
mauve, and then only the sheerest rose-gold or diffused sunlight where
the intricate interlacing of arches was like a cob-web pattern in the
distance.

"We are gathered here," Antaran began without preamble in his terse,
icy voice, "to discuss a problem that threatens...." He paused as if
not willing to voice the ghastly thought, "to plunge our Universe into
suicidal strife, and engulf the magnificent fruits of inter-planetary
civilization."

Bill Nardon while engaged in appraising the reactions of those
present, couldn't help being amused with part of his mind at the Terran
Leader's purple periods. "Dearly loves speeches!" He exclaimed mentally
in the curious mental short-hand with which he was wont to soliloquize.

"Ship after inter-planetary ship has disappeared without trace
somewhere in transit between the inner and outer planets.... That is,"
he amended, "the known outer planets which include uninhabited Jupiter
and its uncolonized Moons, the great centers of civilization--Europa
and Neptune. I cannot speak for Uranus which has only been partly
explored, and those two unknown quantities, Pluto and especially
Saturn, that planet of maddening contradictions on which no space
vessel has been able to land. Thousands upon thousands of passengers,
colonists of all races, and untold treasure has vanished into thin air,
without trace. I submit," Antaran drew himself to his full skeletal
height of over six feet, thin to the point of emaciation and austere
in all the dignity of his two hundred years, "I submit that Terra is
blameless--that the infamy of this outrage is surpassed only by the
mystery of the purpose behind it all!" He stood grim and silent, with
folded arms, his translucent gray eyes searching the faces before him.

And pandemonium broke loose! The Martian exquisite forgot his affected
snobbishness and his perfumed handkerchief, and was shouting:

"The floor! Grant me the floor!"

While the blazing eyed virago from Mercury unceremoniously shoved the
tall Neptunian aside and was bellowing in stentorian tones:

"I take the floor, Terran! I take the floor!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Oddly enough, it was the tiny Panadur from Europa who eventually got
it. He had leaped upon the Council table and stood immobile, sending
powerful telepathic vibrations in utter silence, for his race was
voiceless. Before the incredible power of that involved mind, the
Terrans, the surpassingly telepathic Venusians, even the Martians gave
way. Only the Mercurian creature bellowed still, until Antaran granted
the floor to the Panadur. And the telepathic flood poured out. The
being from Europa accounted for his world in no uncertain terms. To
them life was sacred, and the last thing in the Universe they wanted
was strife!

Planet after planet laid their cards on the table. Even Mars, for all
their supercilious affectation, made a categorical denial. And as the
mystery deepened, mutual suspicion flamed higher and higher. It was
Venus that finally gave voice to what was in all their minds.

"After all, treasure is replaceable, great as the loss may be. But at
least a dozen inter-planetary spacers built of the invulnerable metal
from Vulcan have disappeared! A few more of such Venusian ships, and
whatever planet is responsible will have a respectable fleet of the
most deadly ships of space known to our Universe! Our inter-planetary
treaty with Mars and Terra and Mercury gave us undisputed and undivined
sovereignty over Vulcan Base and the invulnerable metal of its mines,
because having in our grasp the conquest of Terra and Mars, we kept the
peace! Now, after ages of adhering to the treaty, we are faced with
virtual attack. We demand a solution!"

It was then that Bill decided it was high time to intervene. With a
gesture he signalled to the outer arch of the Hall of Planets, while
simultaneously he requested the floor. Antaran granted the request
while a slight frown of puzzlement crinkled the pale, parchment-like
brow crowned with snowy hair. And into the silent Hall came two
ordine-plastic robots bearing between them a plastic box. They laid it
on the floor, before the Council table and as silently withdrew. All
eyes were centered on the plastic box, and the _personal_ vibrations of
the delegates were overpowering, as Bill strode calmly towards the box
and wordlessly opened the lid.

With one effortless gesture he lifted the inert and stiffening form of
the _homunculi_ that had attacked him, and flung it into the center
of the table. Even as they arose in amazement, he swept them with a
bright, electric blue glare and with the unsuspected force of his
tremendous mind-power he gave them a faithful, telephathic picture
of what had occurred. They all saw it. The battle to the death; the
creature's probing of his mind--_All!_

And there was no doubt as to its authenticity, the proof was before
their eyes, and no mind--not even Bill Nardon's--could possible fake
such a harrowing experience and bring before them the _corpus delicti_,
not even through telekinesis!

"That," Bill Nardon telepathed succinctly, "is a definite clue. I do
not know of any race in our inter-planetary League able to _create_
such a creature. I only have a suggestion to make. Once I was an
explorer. I can be one again. Ordinary minds cannot cope with this
problem. Terra will have to risk me if a solution to this mystery
is to be achieved. I suggest a suicide expedition. If Mars, Venus,
Neptune, Mercury and Europa will join Terra in sending a group of their
best, their keenest minds, and their highest trained inter-planetary
explorers, we may have a chance to relay back to the inhabited planets
whatever we discover.

"I said _suicide_ expedition--I meant just that. A single cruiser,
armed by the combined science of all planets. Let Venus provide
Vulcanite, because it's invulnerable; the atomic engines supplied by
Terra--those are details. Every Ethero-Magnum Station between the inner
and outer planets to be constantly on the alert--as far as Neptune!"
His narrowed eyes swept them briefly, noting the instant negative
reaction from the Venusian at the mention of Vulcanite. Suspicion
lingered. Doubts rooted on a million incidents of the past--intrigues
so involved as to drive a mind mad. Injustices. The last fratricidal
war that had set their Universe aflame.

       *       *       *       *       *

The stately Martian had recovered his aplomb; the wisp of handkerchief
he pressed to his nostrils as he eyed the inert creature asprawl on the
table diffused a breath of fragrance, cool as a mountain breeze. He
gestured toward it fastidiously, his violet eyes inscrutable.

"That ... _homunculi_, or android ... nothing mysterious about it.
Superb biosynthesis, I grant you, but Terra _could_ produce it!" The
last words were like a stab.

"And so _could_ Mars," the Venusian said wearily in instant
contradiction. "The point it, what could anyone of us hope to gain by
war?" The word was out at last. The chill atmosphere of horror the
appearance of the _homunculi_ had inspired, became icy, seemed to
seep like the breath of death through the lofty Hall. In the silent
pause their faces were like masks as the tiny Venusian eyed them with a
sardonic glance. "Power, perhaps?" He continued. "No one planet wears
the crown of empire--no one ever will as long as Venus holds Vulcan!"
He said it softly, but with a Universe of power in his voice.

The sloe-eyed Amazon from Mercury stirred uneasily, and the Neptunian
delegate seemed uncertain as to the next move. In silence, Bill Nardon
waited patiently.

A swift glance of intelligence flashed between the rangy Europan
Earthman and his inseparable Panadur companion. And then the latter
rose. He held up a silver-furred arm perfectly moulded, and gestured
with his oddly human but thumbless hand.

"This being could have easily traveled by spacer from whence it
came--as easily as we did!" The Panadur telepathed. "A small ship would
be practically indetectable; besides, in view of our coming, even if
seen it would have been taken for one of our ships. It occurs to me
that this being may not have been created by another race, but _is in
itself_ the very danger we have to face!"

"No!" Bill Nardon exclaimed with utter conviction. "I caught it
exploring my mind. In the instant that I contacted his, I _knew_ it was
not independent ... it was _directed_. Three things only have I been
unable to solve: It brought no weapons save its own murderous powers;
it was purposely directed at me as if to destroy the only 'Correlating'
mind in our League. And, most mysterious of all--in death, an ineffable
sadness overlays its features, where the expression of bestial lust to
kill should have been frozen in death." As Bill finished, the Martian
delegate stood up:

"I suppose my Government would be willing to release the Multi-Energon
Screen for this expedition--retaining its secret, of course--provided,"
he flared, "provided Venus releases the necessary Vulcanite for the
hull!" They glared at each other from both sides of the Council Table
in ominous silence.

The Panadur gazed at them with evident scorn. "Europa," he telepathed
with a curious sort of sardonic benignity, "would be quite willing
to supply radiant energy bombs!" The nearest thing to a smile seemed
to flit over his delicate features, as he noted their reaction to the
dreaded reminder.

"And we will furnish plastics such as your worlds have never seen!" The
man from Neptune spoke at last. The Amazon merely clanked her awful
_Power-rapier_ significantly.


                                  II

"No strikes yet!" Bill Nardon said softly, his eyes glued to the
Electronoscope. "Sense anything, Freml?"

"Only an outflow of thought-energy ... infinitely distant.... I
don't quite know, Nardon. It's voiceless ... patternless, to me at
least." The Panadur leader sounded uncertain. Even to his stupendous
mind-power, the voiceless susurration, alive, malignant, was a tenuous
thing sensed more than felt, directionless, part of the vast, galactic
night that engulfed the _bait ship_ in blackness so velvety it was
like smothering charred ash. The gigantic super-spacer in the building
of which six planets had tried to outdo each other, knifed through
the impalpable vibrations in its endless flight. Back of it, a tiny
smouldering disk, like a glowing ruby-brooch, nearly three-quarters of
a billion miles away, was the sun.

Ahead, Saturn was slowly coming into position, and the great wings of
light that were its rings shone with the glory of an eternal rainbow,
paling the immense crystalline jewel that was Pluto.

The tension within the spacer mounted perceptibly. Yet interminably
the hours dragged on and on. All screens were down, save those for
meteorite protection, as if deliberately inviting an attack. Every
member of the heterogeneous crew knew their assigned tasks so that
mechanically they would spring to their stations at the least warning.

Saturn grew immense, glorious beyond belief, until Bill Nardon was
forced from the Electronoscope by the intolerable light. It was then
that some one laughed. Rather, it was a cachinnation sounding eerily in
their midst.

Abruptly, Bill Nardon tensed, his preternatural faculties alert.
He swung slowly from the eye piece of the 'scope and faced the
emissaries--scientists-explorers all, of the six planets. It was the
Neptunian who had laughed. He was shaking silently now, as if some
hidden mirth convulsed him.

"We're close to the last planetary outpost," he observed, "and, nothing
yet! This isn't an expedition, Nardon ... it's a farce! What can you
expect to find in Saturn? A frozen waste of solid, glassy hydrogen and
helium, an infinite wilderness of 'hot-solid' gases under unimaginable
pressure. You know Saturn has an atmosphere of at least twenty thousand
miles in depth!"

"I know nothing of the kind," Bill answered evenly, with studied calm.
"Saturn has never been properly 'correlated.' Liquids and solids don't
compress; besides, even if Saturn were as you say a frozen waste with
a temperature of say 180┬░ C. below zero, that would still be too hot
for hydrogen, which cannot exist as a liquid at that temperature. I
needn't mention helium which requires a temperature lower still for
liquefaction."

"You're leading us," the Neptunian hissed through clenched teeth, "into
gales of methane and ammonia roaring around a dead world of frightful
cold; into a frozen hell where if the atmosphere doesn't crush us,
we'll never escape the overwhelming gravitational pull.... You ... you
fiend." The last words were a shriek just as he launched himself in a
tigerish leap straight for the throat of the Terran "Correlator."

And Bill sprang aside, his left hook instinctively catapulting to
the unprotected chin of the Neptunian. But it failed to stop him.
Off balance, slightly stunned by the blow, the maddened delegate
from Neptune whirled on the Terran, aiming a staggering blow that
whizzed past Bill's head with savage force. Off balance, the Neptunian
staggered forward, his lean features contorted by bestial rage and the
lust to kill. He was like a man possessed.

Bill Nardon was icy calm now. The harrowing training all members of the
Explorer Class had to undergo, had come to the surface, and to the tall
Terran everything had ceased to exist but the task at hand. He rolled
aside slightly, sending a straight left to the Neptunian's head,
driving him off balance again. Bill weaved to and fro, lightly balanced
on his toes as the Neptunian came boring back with terrible tenacity.
Bill's right arm was a peg on which he hung the blows of the man
from Neptune, while lashing like a cobra, his boxer's left, long and
weaving, stabbed in again and again. The "Correlator" didn't want to
kill the man. For here was another mystery. The attack was absurd, from
the standpoint of their aims and goals. But he had no time to correlate
the facts and arrive at a decision.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Neptunian rushed murderously eager, and Bill let his heels
touch the floor, refused to give way. He took a staggering blow to
the midriff, and went pale from pain, but with the swiftness of a
striking _Calamar_, he countered with a vicious left to the face and
a slashing right cross. The Neptunian staggered uttering a hoarse cry
as his features seemed to run like the quicksilver face of the Amazon
from Mercury. He staggered and fell to the blood-spattered ordine
plastic floor of the cruiser. Bill stood heaving, only now the answer
was apparent to him, but again his thoughts were cut short, for the
Neptunian was far from through. Into the ghastly face, a new expression
of diabolical fury had appeared, and as he lurched to his feet, his
right hand clawed at his belt for a weapon. Only power-rapiers had been
allowed them individually until a landing was effected, and it was
fortunate, for as the clawing fingers closed about the rapier's hilt,
an unholy light came into the Neptunian's eyes.

Bill heard a thunderous battle-cry as a bulky shape sprang between him
and the Neptunian, but he swept his rescuer aside. It was the Amazon,
her own power-rapier drawn for battle.

"No interference!" he exclaimed in a voice as cold as outer space. His
own blade was in his hand now, the flexible Columbium-steel activated
by the dreadful electronic fire. The touch of that blade disintegrated
flesh and bone and metal even. They were face to face now, confronting
each other with the wary savagery of Venusian Ocelandians. The smell of
death was in the air, and too, the wordless, tremendous, inarticulate
vibration from an unknown source that seemed to hint at inconceivable
horror, and ebbed and flowed about them. They could all sense it now,
as it increased as if in a crescendo of triumph.

And at that instant the Neptunian struck. One moment they were circling
for an opening, their ghastly weapons ready, and the next the singing
blades met in midair as Bill Nardon parried the slashing blow. And
then reason tottered as time stood still. Where the blades had been a
flaring vortex of unendurable blue light sprang between them like a
hellish fan of electronic fury opening before their eyes.

The Neptunian's blade had disappeared, consumed in the incredible
holocaust; only the neutralized hilt of Vulcanite remained in his
palsied hand as they reeled aside, blinded and unnerved. Bill's blade
swished through the air as he reversed it and struck the Neptunian on
the left temple with the Vulcanite hilt. The man's knees went rubbery
and without a sound he slumped to the floor.

"The screen ... throw on the Multi-Energon screen!" Bill bellowed.
"This man was being _directed_, someone else may be next!" The powerful
hum of the inner screen within the cruiser, that rendered everything
within impervious to every known power, arose in the brief silence. And
none too soon. Suddenly the cruiser lurched, and trembled like a great
wounded stallion.

Bill had a confused picture of the addled members of several planets
clinging to ultra-mullioned gravity seats as the ship began to spin.
Every possible aid of science had been lavished on the cruiser, even
to the most exacting provisions against physical injury, or the danger
from an unexpected crash-landing in some far off world. But even their
combined science, great as it was, had not foreseen the unpredictable
enough to counteract this blow.

As if a cosmic hand had grasped the hurtling, spinning ship, it
described an orbital parabola, flashing like a living thing through
space, and headed at an unimaginable acceleration directly into the
phantasmal light of the great winged world. Bill's dazzled eyes saw
the tiny Panadur fight to strap himself to the acceleration seat on
which he perched, while frantically he strove to retain consciousness.
Everything seemed ringed with prismatic rainbows from the awful glare
of the electronic flash, as Bill resolutely set his conscious and
sub-conscious mind in alignment to fight off oblivion. But nothing
human could withstand consciously the orbital fall of the great ship,
as it dived into the fathomless abyss of night in a concentric spiral
that narrowed tighter and tighter, wheeling in direct ratio with the
rotation of the mammoth planet, at which it was aimed like the spear of
a cosmic angel.

Bill's last comforting thought was the Multi-Energon screen. Nothing,
his superb mind conceived, could possibly penetrate that. A crash was
imminent, he knew, but against that they were prepared. He tried to
contact whatever it was that had sent the polyglot vibrations and had
managed to grip the Neptunian's brain, and only a confused disorder,
as of many minds abandoning their temporary union came to him, and
then ... the profound illimitable darkness of complete oblivion.

       *       *       *       *       *

None aboard saw the fantastic scene as the cruiser neared Saturn and
was trapped by the hungry pull of the planet. None witnessed the
macabre sight of stupendous mountains rising to impale them as they
struck its atmosphere. Uncannily, the cruiser began to decelerate
as the robot control went into action, activated by the atmospheric
pressure. In a great swinging arc, the super-spacer settled lower and
lower, until at last, immense lateral fins shot out of its sides, and
secondary rockets belched forth, braking the headlong rush.

Beneath them, a world of light and shadows shimmered under the
unearthly loveliness of the great rings, as if illumined by a sidereal
current of glowing jewels. Three of the nine moons were in transit,
phantasmal in their silent loveliness as they hovered over the parent
world. Beneath, the liquid sparkle of an unknown ocean undulated
softly, twinkling with myriad star points as if spangled with stardust.

At last the inter-planetary cruiser came to rest, ploughing up
immense furrows in the glittering sands of the shore, in a partial
crash-landing. The robot controls, magnetically activated to decelerate
in direct ratio with the proximity of land, had held true. The almost
incandescent tertiary-outer hull of the ship, began to cool to a dull
silvery hue. In the near distance, a glorious city of towering spires
and prismatic domes, was like a fairy scene on a colossal scale. But
no fingers of light issued from its towers and domes. No living beings
issued from its portals to investigate the arrival of these voyagers of
space.

Only the querulous susurration of the spumeless waves of the great
shining sea disturbed the eternal silence of Saturn. The silence of
a dead world had enveloped the Terran ship, even as within it, the
unconscious members of its heterogeneous crew were wrapped in the
silence of oblivion.

The wheeling moons, one blue, one palest amber, and one, the largest
like a glowing ruby of the skies, passed on, while time marched on in
its endless cavalcade.

       *       *       *       *       *

Bill gasped in a spasm of living torture as consciousness returned in
a flood. Slowly he opened long blue eyes that were tragic with pain,
and surveyed the inert forms all about him in the great control cabin
of the ship. To one side, the partly crushed form of the Neptunian
delegate sprawled abnormally twisted. Bill knew instantly the man was
dead, and a flicker of sorrow touched his eyes. There had been no time
to strap him to an acceleration chair. It was their first casualty. To
his right a slight movement betrayed returning life to the Amazonian
being from tiny Mercury. The woman, if she could be termed that, moaned
unconsciously and then opened her coal black eyes with a stupefied
look. They widened as comprehension came. The great cruiser was at
rest, and through the visiports flooded the jewelled illumination of
Saturn's rings. An indistinct croak issued from her throat, and was
echoed by the "_Ahh_" of excruciating pain as the fastidious Martian
also came to. With an effort, Bill Nardon unstrapped himself and rose
unsteadily, flexing cramped muscles that shrieked exquisite torture at
every movement he made. But he managed to reach the emergency cabinet
and extract a priceless Neptunian flask of Jadite, jewelled with
Sapphirines. He opened and satisfied himself that it was filled with
_Sulfalixir_, then ministered to their needs. The miraculous stimulant
was like a draught of life-essence to them. Not until then, did he
ascend to the observation dome. The sight that greeted his eyes was to
remain as long as he lived a memorable experience.

Behind him trooped the others, to stand in awe at the spectacle before
them. "Saturn!" Bill Nardon breathed. "For countless ages unvisited by
man ... and yet, a habitable world!" In the distance, the shimmering
city glowed with a thousand hues under the illumination of the rings,
silent, aloof.

"Cut multiple screen briefly and obtain atmospheric samples," Bill
Nardon broke the spell. "I'll want everyone wearing Energon helmets for
the interval while the screen's off."

He gestured to the assembled scientists, coldly efficient. The
breathless moment of matchless thrill was over. The winged Venusian
left immediately on his way to the Geology lab, while the Martian
followed to make atmospheric tests. The Neptunian scientist in charge
of chemistry was dead, so Bill sent a Terran subordinate in his stead.
At last only the Panadur whose task was psycho-synthesis due to his
abnormal telepathic sensitiveness remained with Bill, who besides being
Commander, had the arduous task of correlating findings.

"We've landed _alive_! That is the incredible fact," the Panadur
flashed. "And now that we're here, it seems our enemy--whatever it is,
has changed its plans. At least, I sense no peril."

"Here," Bill replied mentally, handing the silvery creature a flexible
crysto-plast helmet powered by the Energon principle, "Don your helmet.
The screen is being cut, and we can't risk any more _seizures_." He
paused while he adjusted his own helmet, then went on: "If we are
alive, we have the multiple-energon screen to thank," he said slowly.
"Whatever seized us in space meant to end our journey right then and
there. Remember the man from Neptune!"

"That city is human ... I sense it!" The Panadur telepathed, as the
impenetrable barrier of the screen was cut off. "Odd, the vibration
is low, almost imperceptible, where it should be tremendous if it's
inhabited!"

"We're plagued by mysteries!" Bill replied exasperated. "Well, next
thing's to vibrate the news to Europa and Neptune via Astro-Magnum....
Hope it hasn't been damaged--no Ethero-Magnum could bridge the distance
to the nearest planets!"

But Freml, the Panadur, wasn't listening even with part of his mind;
the great shining city in the near distance seemed to have a hypnotic
fascination for him. Slowly he took off the Energon screen helmet,
and seemed to concentrate its mental power into its highest apex of
ultra-sensitivity. At last it turned its glaucous beryl eyes on Bill
Nardon, shining with a great excitement, and poured a telepathic stream:

"There is life in that city ... an ocean of life! But it's not
active ... it's dormant, submerged ... helpless!" The Panadur seemed to
grope for qualifying adjectives; impatiently it went on: "But _there is
one_ that is not dormant, and it is a mind of power!"

Into their midst the Martian scientist raced with a wild look in his
eyes.

       *       *       *       *       *

"The atmosphere ... Commander ... it can't be! It's a hydrogen, oxygen
compound stabilized by an unknown gas that has properties of living
energy ... there's nothing like it in our known universe ... it's like
a sentient thing!"

"Is it breathable?" Bill's laconic query.

"Yes, exhilarating even ... but I have yet to test for secondary
metabolic effects.... I ... for once in my existence I was too excited
to complete the tests!" The Martian scientist was abashed. "It has one
remarkable property, though, its vibratory conductivity exceeds that of
water many times, not to speak of air."

"That will aid us in sending by Astro-Magnum," Bill thought instantly,
and their attuned minds received the message. "Astro-radio will receive
an impetus in its passage through this atmosphere we had not counted
on!"

And something else they had not counted on was advancing toward them
like a vast curtain of scintillating light. It was Bill who saw it
first, covering half of the vast horizon, terrible in the unearthly
beauty of its swirling vortices of prismatic stars.

In a prodigious leap Bill Nardon was at the conveyor that slid
noiselessly into the control room, in those few dreadful seconds, it
seemed to him he would never have time to reach the control board as
he raced with extinction. When his hand closed over the switch that
activated the outer Multi-Energon Screen, a wave of nausea swept him
from the intensity of the reaction.

And without warning the starry swarm struck. Like billions of miniature
stars exploding, the ship was enveloped in coruscating flame, lurid,
unbearable in the dazzling glare of the holocaust, until even
Bill Nardon doubted if the mathematically perfect Energon Screen
providing an infinite overlapping series, would hold. Beneath was the
invulnerable hull of Vulcanite, he knew. But would even Vulcanite be
impervious to this bombardment once the screen gave way?

"All scientists at emergency stations!" He barked as he telepathed at
the same time. "Battle crews man all weapons and hold fire pending
orders. Everyone wear helmets!"

       *       *       *       *       *

He, himself took over the Electro-Flash, Neptune's gift to the
Expedition. In a way, it was the ultimate weapon, disrupting as it did
the very electronic balances of organic and inorganic matter.

And then, as abruptly as it had come, the terrible grandeur of the
living curtain was withdrawn, receding into the far distance like a
vast nebula of microscopic stars.

Bill shook himself. This must be telekinesis, a nightmare instilled
into their minds, it couldn't be real! But the white-faced Venusian
that fluttered in, flashing incoherent messages as he tried to
telepath, dispelled that thought.

"Commander ... I have checked the graph of power intake of automatic
absorber P-6, set to absorb cosmic rays for auxiliary power.... I...."
He passed a tiny, weary hand over his smooth brow, and his azure wings
hung limp, "I can't believe it ... we have more power, _more atomic
power_ than when we began this trip! It is as if we had tapped an
incredible source of radio-active energy!"

Silently, a Terran scientist handed Nardon a developed electro-photo
of a small segment of the "curtain" of fire. Unmistakably outlined
were myriad tiny insect bodies, unquestionably composed of some living
radio-active substance.

"The Absolute be praised!" Bill breathed fervently. "No known ship--not
even Vulcanite could possibly withstand a radio-active bombardment
of such scope!" He turned slowly to where the Martian scientists
stood silent in a group. "I salute you," he telepathed gravely.
"Your Multi-Energon screen is the greatest defensive weapon in our
Universe." Embarrassedly, the tall, violet-eyed Martians stirred
uncomfortably; they had a deep distaste for any emotions and suppressed
them ruthlessly. Other findings began to trickle in. The nameless
inter-stellar spacer that had emerged from the combined ingenuity of
half a dozen worlds, spurred by the ultimate incentive of a brooding
and catastrophic peril, all the more terrible because it was unknown,
literally swarmed with specialists in every known science. It remained
for the special mind of Bill Nardon to correlate all the scientific
details and weld them into a final complete knowledge, behind which
it was his task to find and solve the _primum mobile_--the motivating
factor that they sought.

One thing emerged beyond the shadow of a doubt. Each attack had
been characterized by a complete absence of a known _presence_. The
individual attempt on Bill's life on earth had been carried out by
a creature acting outside its own volition; the magnetic force that
had drawn their ship into Saturn itself, likewise was disembodied,
and now this radio-active swarm that would have consumed them but for
the Energon screen--it too gave no clue as to the final, directing
intelligence behind. And yet, in their very midst, a great scientific
mind had gone mad.

The stalemate was clear. Thus far they had weathered the unimaginable
behind their Energon Screen. But they were trapped within just as
effectively as long as they were unable to emerge. The sum total of
their knowledge resolved itself to a series of bizarre incidents--to
which it might be added the cryptic thought-projection of Freml, the
Panadur. He had mentioned "_an ocean of submerged life ... helpless_"
had been his final description. Yet he had also indicated a "Mind
of Power" far from helpless or submerged indeed. And great as it
might be, _one single entity_ was, foe or not, worthy of challenge.
The incomplete puzzle in Bill Nardon's mind revolved with all the
maddening quality of a picture almost discerned, yet eluding the final
composition that would give it recognizable form.

The question was, should they correlate all findings and attempt a
return to Earth, and utilize their meager knowledge in preparation of
some sort of a defense. Or, take the final risk and visit that silent
city whence Freml had drawn vibrations of intelligent life. Bill Nardon
already knew what his decision would be. He would call a conference,
of course, but in his mind the determination to confront whatever that
'Mind of Power' was--_alone_, had already crystallized.

And in another mind, alien beyond belief, in comparison with his, the
same idea had taken root. For Freml, the Panadur, had not told Bill
Nardon all he had obtained in that last mental projection of his. A
deep, inhuman horror had traveled the incredibly-faint thought waves.
Something ancient beyond calculation, as if the essence of evil itself
had come alive, had bridged the gap.


                                  III

"I see no wisdom in risking your life too. For if I perish, my task
falls upon your shoulders, Freml. In that emergency, you were selected
to command the ship ... remember?"

Voicelessly the Panadur assented, and continued to patter softly beside
Bill Nardon.

"I've brought with me the League's ultimate weapons," the red-headed
Terran continued. "Electro-flash, power-rapier ... if those were to
fail, what use would there be in attempting to remain? Thus, I would
make a suggestion--return to the spacer in the Z-auxiliary that brought
us to the city; I'll keep in touch with you through the ethero-radio,"
he lifted his left arm exposing the watch-like instrument on his wrist.

The Panadur lifted his great beryl eyes to the tall Terran and
telepathed softly, "You don't expect me to agree to that!"

"No," Bill smiled, "it was the expression of a hope. But tell me this,
if as I expect, there's strife, what can you hope to add in my favor
that would be as important as your being safe in the ship, were I to
die?"

Freml didn't answer right away. It was not hesitation, Bill knew that,
but the Panadur had blanked his mind. There were things they didn't
impart whenever they touched on secrets of his race. Then--

"A weapon _you_ do not have!" He seemed to consider the next thought
before he telepathed:

"You know my race can store the accumulative power of radiant energy,
and _direct_ it at will.... It's in the legends ... that's how we saved
the first Earthmen who trod Europa."

They were in the very heart of the silent city now, and the lofty domes
and exaggerated spires swam in the glaucous dusk that was Saturn's
eternal day. Overhead great stars blazed like flaming roses, and the
glory of the rings was a spangled ocean of glowing jewels, shimmering
in patternless rhythms of color. Their sense of reality drained away as
the full impact of its dissolving magic gripped their minds.

At last they stood before the portals of the great building whose lofty
tower was the city's dominant note. For here the vibrations had led
them, vibrations of life--dormant, helpless--and something else too.

Their senses preternaturally alert weapons ready, they exchanged one
final look, then Bill Nardon pushed the great portal before him, and it
swung silently inwards. And then the great stars, the wheeling moons,
the glorious rings that poured down enchantment, were forgotten before
the sight that gripped them as they stepped inside. For on an infinite
series of tiers that filled the lofty immensity of the room lay inert
beings.

Row upon endless row of creatures that to all appearances could have
been highly evolved Terrans, except for an exaggerated refinement of
features, an evident fragility of bodies, as if evolved almost to the
very brink of decadence. Their marmoreal flesh had the cold whiteness
of death, and their hair had grown until it spread in great festoons
of yellow and black and silver grey. A fine, glittering film of dust
overlay their tunics and flesh, and over all, the impalpable feeling of
disaster, of a gigantic tragedy, hung like a pall.

"Cataleptic!" Freml flashed the thought, as he examined the nearest
beings. "A living death!"

"Rather," Bill Nardon said slowly, "a deathless sleep!" It occurred
to him that the entire city was thus peopled with sleepers in
oblivion--the ocean of submerged life Freml had sensed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Upward through the broad ramps of a now motionless conveyor they
ascended floor after floor, filled to over-flowing with inert
Saturnians, until at last the conveyor ceased and only the polished
walls of some unknown substance of what appeared to be an ascensor,
remained. Nardon examined it carefully before pressing the colored
disk on the side of its closed door. Noiselessly the panel slid
aside revealing a shining quadrangle. Unhesitatingly they entered
and the door automatically closed. A series of vari-colored disks
made a triangular pattern on the left, and Bill pressed the black
one at its apex. It shot upwards swiftly without the slightest jar,
its incomparable smoothness gave no hint of the extraordinary speed
save for the slight, hollow feeling in the pit of their stomachs its
occupants felt. After a brief interval it stopped, decelerating as
smoothly as it had begun, and the sliding door swept aside. And before
them opened a great, transparent alcove beyond whose translucent walls
and ceiling, the colossal theatricalism of the heavens was visible.

But Bill Nardon and the Panadur had no eyes for the sidereal spectacle
above, two figures in the foreground held their eyes. A girl and what
was evidently a man. Two figures, no more. And just now there was not
the faintest hint of a belligerent move. Somehow the sight of that girl
seated immobile with her exquisite hands folded on her lap, and the
startling peacefulness of the man at the towering instrument he was
playing, had a curious anticlimactic effect on Bill. He had not known
what to expect--but surely, not this!

"Beware!" came the Panadur's warning with unusual force, as they
advanced at the ready into the center of the alcove.

The man at the instrument ceased playing, and calmly, casually almost,
leaned over to the silent girl and kissed her softly upon the lips,
brushing the flower-like mouth with a fleeting caress. And before their
uncomprehending eyes, a spectral-blue flash lit the alcove with its
ghastly glare, as their lips met! Instantly, the girl's marvelously
tinted flesh, like Venusian nacre superimposed on gold, with the
highlights gleaming through, _paled_ to the translucent whiteness of
Jadite.

For she was golden--her eyes, her hair, the extraordinary lashes that
gleamed with the age-old patina of ancient gold. Only her cold, remote
serenity was as if she were enveloped in an invisible icy sheath. There
was no hint of feeling, of emotional force even ... until Bill gazed
into her eyes and saw the infinite depths of tragedy. As they stood
transfixed, she stirred a little and said in a low, magnificent voice:

"I am Margalida, the _Aurean_, transmitting for my Lord. If you
prefer, I shall telepath." Her deep contralto was glorious in itself,
but she spoke as impersonally, as _neutral_, even, as if she were a
mechanical instrument, nothing more. And had they known, it could
not be otherwise, for her task was to serve only as an instrument of
transmission for the telepathic vibrations of the creature at the
instrument. Hers was a conquered race, a race sunk in cataleptic
oblivion, and she no longer had a will. Her double usefulness made
her life secure, for the time being. For the Cinnabarian whom she
termed her "Lord" in keeping with the custom of his race, chose, to
communicate only through the medium of an enslaved mind. Never, never
directly, so that the telepathic vibrations of alien races had to pass
through the spectrum of the captive brain and be rendered harmless. The
Cinnabarians emitted directly, but received only through the subject
being.

"The incredible effrontery of it!" Bill Nardon flashed to the Panadur.
"Has _his_ mind protected against our thoughts, and will only
communicate through this tragic being!" Bill's lips curled in a grimace
of contempt, revealing a row of dazzling, even teeth. "With such a mind
of power, this ... Vampire of Life Force ... elects to communicate with
us indirectly only! Maybe he fears he might be contaminated ... the
colossal effrontery!"

"_He's absorbing everything we're thinking_," Freml thought coldly.
For some minutes now, he had been engaged in "_Brooding_," the nearest
term Earth had for the Panadur process of concentrating their energy
potential, raising it to its ultimate power. His exquisite, silvery fur
was an angry silver-violet now, and the beryl eyes were brilliant like
faceted jewels.

"I am Kleg," the telepathic vibration came winging from the man, and
even before the girl transmitted, both Bill and Freml had received
the message. "The divine overlords of _Danae_ have permitted your
invasion.... If you and your companions would live, you must place
yourselves and your vessel at our disposal." He was playing again, the
music weaving an unearthly spell in muted minors; it rose and sank
in a shower of notes that sped like living, winged things under his
caressing touch. Only it was an instrument on which no human being
could ever hope to play, for Kleg had four flexible arms, and slender,
tendril-like fingers on his four narrow hands that flashed with
vertiginous rapidity, as he probed deliberately with the unholy scalpel
of his satanic music the emotional depths of the Terran and the Panadur.

"Rot! Permitted indeed! You dragged us here with some magnetic device.
Tell your vampiric overlords, we acknowledge only One Divinity--the
Absolute." Bill's eyes were barely open, mere electric-blue lines
above his high cheek bones, while in his right hand he held the deadly
Power-rapier, and an electronic-flash in the other.

Kleg turned slightly from the piano-like instrument, with its three
separate keyboards, with a curiously fastidious motion, and on the
strange thin face with its knife-like nose and chill, transparent eyes
the barest semblance of a smile parted slightly the cruel curve of
the faintly outlined lips. He let his four flexible arms with their
slim hands and long, sensitive thumbs fall from the keyboards of the
instrument, and rose to his towering height of over seven feet in one
sinuous motion of faultless elegance. His exaggerated slenderness made
Bill's superb physique seem primitive--barbaric.

       *       *       *       *       *

Suddenly the Cinnabarian's transparent eyes went black and without
warning a coruscating lance of living energy shot from his lips.
But in the infinitesimal fraction of time, Freml, the Panadur, had
acted. The awful energy potential he'd been generating in the involved
processes of his being flashed like a thunderbolt of power and met the
Cinnabarian's in mid air. A hellish flare of incandescence blinded
them as the universe seemed to explode before their eyes. Reeling
apart with dazzled eyes, they sensed the emergence of a new foe, and
Bill's power rapier wove a vortex of electronic disintegration as he
twirled it before himself and the Panadur; after a while, although
their sight was ringed with a myriad rainbows and prismatic rings, they
could see several ape-like _homunculi_ at bay, darting before them,
seeking an opening whence they might reach the Terran and the Panadur.
The Cinnabarian stood back, leaning against the immense instrument,
limp and deathly white, as if drained of energy, which indeed he was.
He eyed the _Aurean_ girl hungrily, but Bill was between him and the
helpless slave.

[Illustration: _Nardon's sword sang in his hand._]

In a frenzy of fury, one of the _homunculi_ made a wild leap,
and impaled itself on the flashing blade. The sickening odor of
disintegrating flesh and bone was a stench in their nostrils as the
creature fell cloven to the floor.

Bill Nardon was mercilessly using the electro-flash on the taloned
creatures now, as they redoubled their efforts to reach them. As
several died, others rushed in, debouching from the ascensor,
slithering from under the instrument, until the carnage was appalling.
At last, Bill's electro-flash went dead. He had no time to recharge,
but drew the less efficient and thunderous atomo-pistol from his belt,
and aiming it at the foremost _homunculi_ pulled the trigger. A starkly
curious thing instantly happened even before the last roaring echoes of
the discharge had dwindled.

The tall Cinnabarian with an involuntary shriek of mortal pain doubled
over, much like warriors on Terra had doubled up and died when a
dreadful Radite bomb fell too near and the devastating concussion
snuffed out their lives. The vibrations of the atomo-pistol had
killed him, although the tall being from outer-space was untouched.
And over the embattled _homunculi's_ faces a curious change came, as
their eyes seemed to go blank, and they stood uncertain, bewildered,
making no effort to attack. With one swift motion of his powerful arm,
Bill gathered the unconscious form of the _Aurean_ girl and retreated
to the ascensor followed by the Panadur. Unheeded, the ethero-radio
on his wrist flashed red and blue, as the others back in the spacer
tried to communicate with them. They had heard what had happened in an
incoherent fashion, but had no way of knowing the story in full.

"We've got them now!" Bill exulted, as he raced down the ramps once
they'd left the ascensor. "We've got them, Freml!"

"Beware!" the Panadur flashed again. "They never suspected we of Europa
possessed _their_ power. I sensed from the moment I saw that kiss, that
Kleg would strike in that fashion--only, he drained himself in his
eagerness to blast us. The next time _they_ will be more careful!"

"The next time I'll do my communicating with electro-cannon!" Bill
exclaimed. "Although just where are the rest of those hellions? What
Kleg was doing alone in the tower's a mystery to me."

They got into the swift Z-Auxiliary and started the return journey
to the spacer, under the lambent fires of the titanic rings. And now
the _Aurean_ girl trembled and became convulsed on the seat of the
auxiliary where Bill had placed her. "They're trying to reach her, no
doubt--from wherever they are ... damn them!" Bill flamed. He took off
his own transparent Energon helmet and fastened it on the unconscious
girl. He was gratified as the convulsions ceased.

       *       *       *       *       *

A measure of color had returned to her wan features and her heart
was beating with greater strength. Bill thought of administering the
restorative _Sulfalixir_, but he dared not risk removing the Energon
screen headpiece. Freml, the Panadur, caught his urgent thoughts,
drained of life energy to the point of exhaustion, Margalida might not
survive. And she must live, _she must_! Was Bill's intense thought.
Behind that alabastrine brow lay the knowledge of a thousand mysteries
that must be cleared up.

"I will aid her," Freml telepathed with a tired sigh. He went close
to the girl, and his fragile hand stroked her throat, then quietly he
placed his face close to the faltering heart and transmitted some of
the precious energy that still remained to him. Slowly, imperceptibly
at first, the exquisite bosom beneath the tunic of a material sheer
as dim blue fog, began to rise and fall with regularity. Into the
exquisite face, the delicate nacre hue with gold highlights crept
slowly. Not until then did Freml rise. "Danger's past," he telepathed
laconically. "Hurry, Bill! I shall need to borrow energy from my
people ... soon!"

And indeed there was a need for haste, for at last the hidden
enemy had decided to strike in person. All else had failed despite
machiavellian plans. This time they meant to stamp out of existence
these presumptuous creatures that had blasted one of their kind--an
overlord. Besides in the unconscious mind of the _Aurean_ girl, their
hellish secrets lay.

Out of the foamless waves of the strangely shining sea, immense
iridescent globes floated upwards swiftly, gaining altitude and then
deploying into a triangular formation like an inverted pyramid.

It was an awesome sight. In a frenzy for foreboding, Bill gave the
Z-Auxiliary its maximum acceleration. He knew it was a race with
time, and time was on the wing. Ahead of them the super-spacer loomed
glistening in the fantastic light, and short as the distance was, it
seemed as if they would never make it in the face of that swooping
formation of menacing globes. Out of the foremost sphere, a lengthening
finger of livid fire pointed directly at their tiny, hurtling craft.

Bill Nardon maneuvered in a wide zig-zag then aimed for the yawning
auxiliary lock of the Spacer, and hurtled within to a jarring, crashing
stop in the mesh of synchronized magnetic fields that achieved
degravitation, arresting mass and speed synchronously. The huge lock
clanged shut instantly, and with what breath remained in his battered
body, Bill Nardon managed to shout into the communication system:

"Inner and outer Energon screens ..." he gasped. "Man all emergency
and battle stations.... Prepare to launch, we're going up!" Blood was
seeping a scarlet thread out of his ears and nose. Freml, the Panadur,
was a limp heap on the auxiliary's floor, as energy drained, the sudden
acceleration had blanked out even his stupendous mind.

Bill pressed the exit lever of the Auxiliary and got up stiff and
weary, his body a living ache. And even before he got to the exit,
Nydron was there, inscrutable as usual, product of several races from
the wild days of the last inter-planetary war, until it was doubtful
if he himself knew his antecedents, or his age, for that matter. But
Terra counted only on achievement--not racial purity. They had at
last learned that much, and Nydron's military genius was ... well,
Nydron's. He was bowing slightly now, and behind him Bill discerned
the _Juvenals_, who under the direction of a Juvenal Surgeon, repaired
bodies through a rejuvenating therapy that involved an extremely
delicate sub-glandular technique.

Bill waved to them to take charge of Freml and the _Aurean_ girl, and
wished he himself could afford the luxury of sinking into the ineffably
peaceful, dreamless sleep which was the first step in the process;
but no time for that now. He glanced at the light-copper features of
Nydron, that might be a modified-Martian, with a dash of Mercury thrown
in.

"I see our military expert is ready for all contingencies!" He strove
to be light, casual almost. "Have your forces been instructed, Nydron?
I mean ... to meet this unexpected attack?"

"All screens are on, Commander. As per your orders we're blasting off
in seconds. I shall modify strategy and technique according to what
information you may give me." The long, lambent green eyes of the man
widened briefly illumining the smooth, narrow face which though unlined
gave the feeling of incredible age. "As you doubtlessly know, _any_
enemy has a weak link in the chain--an ... an ..."

"Achilles heel?" Bill's eyes flicked with humor.

Nydron assented with the barest flicker. Everything about him seemed
outwardly static, thanks to his amazing economy of movement.

"Any luck with the Astro-radio during my absence?" Bill asked as they
hurried from the Auxiliary into the control room of the Spacer. If
they could only contact even one of the inhabited outer planets!

"We've been sending steadily. No response!" Nydron replied laconically.
A convulsive tremor shook the titanic spacer, and the shrill ascending
whine of the warning signal rose to inaudibility.

Overhead the inverted pyramid of scintillating globes seemed about to
engulf the throbbing ship.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Peace, gentlemen!" Antaran's voice floated cool and sardonic beneath
the lofty transepts of the Hall of Planets in the Universarium.

"Your charges are ... well, ancient history--almost....

"Of course Terra sent part of its fleet following the departure of the
_Expedition_. But would _you_ have had it otherwise? It was not only a
measure of protection for our most unique mind--Nardon's--but you must
admit, protection also for the other occupants of the spacer." It was
exasperating, maddening, that admirable self-possession with a hint of
laughter.

"How do we know _that_ was the sole purpose of your fleet?" Flushed,
his magnificent tunic dishevelled, the Martian Ambassador asked
furiously.

"You invite reprisals!" A Neptunian was saying. "War Fleets are banned
from space except by unanimous consent--you've broken the law! Or is it
that you're scrapping the Treaty already?" He glared at the Head of the
Terran Council belligerently, and with the complete approval of half a
dozen races.

"No laws have been broken ... _Gentlemen_." He emphasized the term.
"You see, we're all party to the deed. Really now, don't tell me you
were not aware that Mars, Venus, Neptune ... Mercury even, in fact,
every signatory to the Inter-Planetary League made instant preparations
the moment the 'Suicide' Spacer blasted off. Why, there wasn't a planet
but had its fleet in readiness to follow!"

Antaran smiled sweetly into their embarrassed faces.

"Admitted," the Martian said stiffly, "but those were merely pardonable
precautions!"

"Precautions that became immediate action as soon as our fleet segment
was discovered in space!" Antaran's voice went cold. "Like a comet
dragging a lengthening tail, each planet we passed sent out part of its
fleet, until _all of us_ were represented. Haven't your Governments
advised you ... Gentlemen?"

Smiling still, although inwardly disgusted at the eternal suspicion
of the various worlds, he slowly drew an Astrograph from his tunic,
silencing them as their suspicious curiosity was aroused.

"As I already hinted," he said affably, "I'm afraid all of you are
slightly behind the times. Let me read you this message from ... _your_
planet, Vermil!" Antaran nodded to the Neptunian Diplomat. "It's a
message via Ethero-radio sent us copied from the original Astrograph
Neptune received from outer space:

"Combined Fleet reports sighting Spacer enter Saturn's atmosphere.
Mathematics of orbital maneuver computed. Will correlate to attempt
duplication. Astro-radio messages from Spacer indicate planet
inhabited."

Electrified, their faces ludicrous, they stood before the white-haired
leader in silence.

"Everyone of our Governments is now aware of this." Antaran said in
kindly tones. "We've had to maintain the utmost secrecy, for if the
billions that people the various worlds had learned what we were up
against, there would have been panics, upheavals ... it would have
been the signal for inimical minds among the '_have-nots_' to attempt
the age-old cycle. Remember, Gentlemen ... excepting the Panadurs,"
he gazed with veiled admiration at the Ambassador of that mysterious
race, "none of the rest of us have lost their Will to Battle ...
which perhaps," he added as an after-thought, with a sort of brooding
amusement, "is just as well!"

They were still dazed, as the tremendous implications of Antaran's
words filled their minds.

A new planet had been added to their group. A new world had come into
being. '_Inhabited_,' the Astrograph had read! And it was a fabulous
world next in size only to Jupiter and the Sun. It would revolutionize
their economy, possibly add illimitable riches in raw materials and....
But their minds were too filled with the staggering prospects to
visualize just now the stupefying reality of what it meant to open up
Saturn.

All belligerence was forgotten. Each emissary from the various worlds
had withdrawn into his individual shell, lest the thundering ideas that
swirled in their minds become common property.

The eternal game for favored position would begin soon, Antaran knew,
yet Saturn was still an _unknown_ quantity. Opening a new world was
far from being as easy as that. Perhaps all their fleets might never
return, and other expeditions would have to go forth. He sighed a
little. And it occurred to him that perhaps he was getting old.


                                  IV

"Hurry them!" Bill's thoughts crackled at the Martian expert in charge
of ordnance. "I want no refinements--give me good, old fashioned
atomo-cannon with the greatest possible concussion. Power them to emit
shattering volumes of sound upon discharge!"

The Martian's violet eyes widened. "A complete reversal of all trends,
Commander!" he exclaimed mentally. "But it shall be done immediately."
He withdrew slightly mystified.

An intolerable net of violet fire enveloped the Spacer, as the
maneuvering globes enlarged the pyramid to avoid the upward rush of the
great ship. Up, and up the flashing cruiser sped through the screaming
air, and the enveloping net of rays from the alien globes. And suddenly
it levelled off and belched its answer. From myriad hidden points, huge
dark masses catapulted into space, as the spacer instantly rose above
them in a burst of acceleration.

With frightful accuracy, the ghastly fingers of livid fire that
criss-crossed the violet net, swung from the globes to meet this new
menace before it could shower among them, and the dark masses exploded
into a holocaust of sound that sped through the riven air at the
frightful speeds Saturn's atmosphere induced. Like leaves in a great
wind the fiery globes tossed and whirled, breaking formation. But again
they reformed, maintaining the pyramid with mathematical precision, and
the ghastly, violet web of intolerable power deepened, intensified
until it was a glowing amethyst hue, and the spears of livid fire
probed like cosmic lances at the frantically maneuvering spacer.

"The Multi-Energon Screen's a blessing, Commander--how long we shall
be able to enjoy it, is the problem," Nydron observed drily. "I'm
convinced this is a battle where logistics have no value."

Bill Nardon's features went taut. The calmer Nydron appeared, the
greater the nature of the crisis. He favored his military expert with
a long, searching glance. Into the pause, the Martian Aide's thoughts
intruded anxiously:

"Surely, the Energon screen's not faltering!" It was unthinkable.

"No, but at the rate it's consuming energy in warding off that
electronic barrage, it's but a question of time until we're left with a
mechanical and mathematically perfect screen dead from lack of power!"

"And, you had in mind, Nydron...?" Bill was aware the great military
expert had something to propose. Only, Nydron's strategy was never
orthodox, and quite often overwhelming.

Nydron shrugged his shoulders and inhaled deeply of a pungent Venusian
cigarette. "We've reached a stalemate. Those fiends out there," he
gestured towards the Globes, "can't penetrate our screen, but they can
detonate our strato-bombs at will. The question is, which source of
power will last longer, theirs or ours!" He paused, and puffed again.

"Every soldier knows death's to be expected sooner or later--it's part
of our creed. But you've brought a shipful of master minds, doubtless
of irreplaceable value to the Inter-Planetary League. Now, if these
were purely a military expedition ..." He left the rest unsaid.

"In that event, what would you do?" Bill strove to be as patient as
he could, for Nydron was allowing only those thoughts he wanted, to
trickle through.

"Employ the sub-atomic Dispersal Beam to penetrate their defensive
screen, pick off individual Globes and launch radiant energy bombs
as close as possible, and see if that doesn't take care of their ...
what you termed their Achilles Heel. Of course," he murmured softly,
"that _might hasten our end_, by using up our reserves of power all the
sooner."

"Sub-atomic dispersal beam!" the Martian went stiff. "Why, that might
be an Energon neutralized ... you mean to say that Terra...!"

"Naturally." Nydron seemed to be enjoying himself. "What else could it
be? You didn't think Terra was going to remain wholly helpless? Every
poison has an antidote. However, it has not been tried as yet."

It was as brilliant and ruthlessly simple a plan, as only Nydron's mind
could conceive.

       *       *       *       *       *

From what Bill Nardon had witnessed in the silent city's tower, he
had correlated the Cinnabarian's hyper-sensitivity to vibration. The
strange being had died from the concussion of the atomo-pistol. No
wonder they even filtered mental vibrations through a docile, captive
mind before they permitted the telepathed messages to reach them.
Bill had demanded atomo-cannon with intensified detonative power, but
this--this plan to strip them of their protective screen and spray
them with radiant energy bombs which continued to detonate until the
last minute spark was released--if it worked, it was the answer to
their problem. The danger was very great, Bill knew. But in seconds he
weighed the involved factors, and found only one definitive answer. He
gave it.

"Nydron," Bill said formally. "You're in absolute military charge of
strategy, answerable to no one--not even to me! Your plan should make
history. Every scientific mind on this ship, is at your disposal if
needed. I told you which was their weakest link.... I think you've
found the answer. While you give the necessary orders, I'm going to
visit the clinic. The Juvenalian treatment should by now permit my
questioning the _Aurean_ girl safely. There are a few points not quite
clear in my mind," he smiled. "It would be a dreadful thing to die and
never know the complete answer to this mystery."

But Nydron was not interested in mysteries. His lambent eyes glowed
with inner fires, as he bowed in the ceremonial manner to the
Scientist-in-Chief, who had placed absolute command in his hands.

If there were the barest chance of victory, he would seize it. He
knew that regardless of the outcome, the immortality of his name was
assured, but if he won, this would be a victory unparalleled in the
annals of their worlds. "It is a great honor, Commander," he said
simply. "The greatest I have known. The Absolute willing, we shall win!"

Without wasting a single precious second, Nydron began issuing orders,
sharp, definitive. The Dispersal Beam projectors swung into place,
and the new radiant energy missiles, contributed by the Panadurs,
took the place of the Strato-bombs. Battle-crews awaited tense and
grim the initial frightful blast, for neither one nor the other had
been tried before, and the combination of the Dispersal Beam and
Radiant-energy Bombs was awe inspiring. Meanwhile the spacer maneuvered
with vertiginous speed close to the eastern wall of Globes that formed
a side of the quadrilateral, inverted pyramid. And then began the
weirdest chase witnessed by man. For as the pyramid sought to expand
to avoid the hurtling ship, the spacer accelerated suddenly and
focused twin beams of light that became concentric yellow whorls of
disintegrating, radio-active energy. It bathed two globes briefly, and
simultaneously, a shower of bombs sped unerringly to their mark.

The stupendous concussion rocked even their spacer, as the
Radiant-energy Bombs burst in a hellish burst of fire that no human
eyes could endure, as if a new sun had been born in the skies. Where
the globes had been, nothing remained, and those that had been close
nearby, and had been touched by the yellow vortex of the beams, were
spinning, lurching out of control in a headlong dive towards the
shining sea below.

A great cry of joy went up within the Terran ship, fierce and terrible,
as the battle-crews achieved first kill.

But instantly the pyramid shifted globes and closed the gap, and the
amethyst-hued net of unimaginable force deepened again until it became
almost black. And then a lengthening beam of milky-whiteness shot out
of the globe at the apex, probing, relentless ... and wherever it
touched, gigantic tongues of flame licked upwards along its length, as
it consumed the screen's energy.

Nydron knew how limitless was the power of that white beam. And too,
how close their margin was. From every projector he had the Dispersal
Beam bathe as many globes as possible, and then the radiant energy
bombs lashed out.

Saturn seemed to reel. The pyramid was riven, even as the spacer was
tossed like a row-boat on a stormy sea. A deafening crescendo of
titanic sound flowed over the planet, and coruscating walls of fire
enveloped space, as if the titanic rings of Saturn had spilled over
into the stricken world.

And relentlessly, the emerald-tinged yellow vortex of the beams
continued to be focused on the Cinnabarian globes, while the unbroken
salvos of sound went on endlessly until the last fragment of radiant
energy was consumed in its own supernal fire, and globes fell like
shooting stars.

       *       *       *       *       *

"We've never known what galaxy spawned them," Margalida, the _Aurean_
girl said slowly, in a vibrant contralto that was like the deepest
tones of a violin. She shuddered as some unnameable horror of the
Cinnabarians flowed through her mind. "But ultimately it was we who
unknowingly opened the door to them. They must have been waiting for
aeons to enter our Universe ... only, they didn't quite know how to
manipulate the forces necessary to use hyperspace. We did that for
them." The silence in the Juvenal chamber was almost a tangible thing.

"You understand the secrets of hyperspace?" There was a Universe of awe
in Bill Nardon's tones. "Our greatest scientists hardly dare experiment
with the principles involved as yet!"

"Not I, of course," Margalida gave him a wan smile, "but our
scientists ... there are hardly a dozen left, at peace in the deathless
sleep. According to your time, this happened over a century ago. I had
not come into being then, for I was born in slavery under the rule of
the _Energasts_." She pronounced the strange word conveying a mental
picture of the four-tentacled overlords.

"For centuries my people had listened to the vibrations of your
Astrographs, faint, almost undecipherable, but as time passed, we
learned your languages, your customs, recorded even the ages of warfare
that swept your planets like a plague. But we could not reach you--oh,
we knew the principles of space flight, but always the gravitational
balance of the 'Rings' stopped us; it was a sidereal barrier that
seemed impossible to surmount. Strange, we achieved the mathematical
formula for orbital flight simultaneously with the breaching of
hyperspace. And then it was too late, for in trying to reach you by the
shortest possible route, we opened the doors on a Universe that ...
that...." But she couldn't go on. The tangible horror of those alien
beings who had invaded Saturn overcame her.

Bill Nardon waited until the spasm was over. Then, very gently he
inquired: "But with a science so magnificent that you could use
hyperspace, surely you must have had weapons that would make ours seem
like toys?"

Margalida shook her exquisite head. "Weapons! The very memory of such
a thing has been erased from the race consciousness of my people,
Terran. It would be so utterly unthinkable for us to slay _anything_,
that I doubt if I could make you understand how utterly alien to us
such an act would be. For ages and ages no _Aurean_ has taken life ...
our will--literally--could not function in that direction. We managed
to close the gap, for as you doubtless know, hyperspace is not exactly
an energy field, but related to it, and so long as there is matter in
gaseous state at both terminals of the orifice, a gap can be repaired
in a very brief time cycle. But already it was too late. Hordes of
_Energasts_ had rushed through from Cinnabar, slaying, drinking our
life-energy in a horrible thirst for the divine fire. Entire cities
were left deserted, drained of all life, while every living thing in
our world came under their power.

"Millions fled to the uninhabited parts of the planet, crossing the
immense oceans of lava in a molten state that provide the necessary
heat to maintain life, thinking that perhaps the invaders could not
follow. At last, my people made their last stand here, in this valley,
and built _Sonara_, the city where you found me, and we made a pact
that every _Aurean_ would submit to cataleptic sleep at the first sign
of the _Energasts_.

"But even in that they defeated us. They took us by surprise, bridging
the lava oceans in their globes, and enslaving all that had no time to
go into catalepsis. Only three million remain now--the sleeping ones.
All the rest, and the generations that were born to them, perished in
the 'Kiss.' I'm one of the conscious few, for the Energasts needed some
of us for telepathic transmission. Vibration, as you now know, is their
death.

"_Down in the depths of that great sea_ they've built their cities,
where preparations for the invasion of your planets has gone on for
fifty of your years."

"But couldn't you have made some sort of compromise? Murder on such a
vast scale seems pointless, even if they're vampires of life!" Bill
Nardon was puzzled.

"Compromise!" A tragic smile lifted the corners of the carven lips.
"Yes, we had our choice--although to us there was no alternative--to
serve as an invading army to conquer your planets ... or die!" The
_Aurean_ girl was silent as if nothing more need be said.

       *       *       *       *       *

A vast astonishment held Bill mute, and something akin to a boundless
admiration. Here was a people so high in the mental and spiritual
scale, that rather than offer resistance and kill, had carried passive
resistance to the ultimate point--to the ultimate oblivion even, of
catalepsis!

"Would you care to watch the battle?" Bill Nardon asked softly.
"Perhaps it will repay you for the agonies you've undergone. I'm
sure those four-armed vampires are going to get a taste of their own
medicine they're never likely to forget!"

A strange light came into the girl's eyes, something like the ghost of
an incalculable past, but she sighed smiling, and shook the golden head
that seemed to be crowned with an aura of light.

As Bill stood unwilling to go, held by the glory of the amazing
_Aurean_ being, the tele-panel in the communications quadrangle glowed
into life, and the voice of Nydron himself broke the spell:

"Commander, we're about to begin!" That was all. It was so
characteristic of the man. The screen went blank, and Bill Nardon
pivoted towards the door enroute to the control room.

The broad shining sea below was a maelstrom of fury, as if convulsed by
submarine volcanoes, as the spinning globes hurtled into its depths.
Mountainous spouts of the shimmering liquid seemed to be reaching
their descending spacer. Towards the far horizon, the rapidly receding
outline of a few surviving spheres raced in pell-mell flight. Silence
reigned, but for the tortured heaving of the lashing waves.

"Land as close to the city as possible!" Bill Nardon directed. "And,
cut all screens, we'll need every ounce of power." His face was gray,
for he needed no experts to tell him what the battle had cost them in
energy output. Still, they were alive. Horribly battered and drained
to the point of exhaustion, but alive ... that was the miracle! But
now, he had the horrible feeling of a Commander whose base has been
destroyed. Where refuel? Where obtain the precious energy to withstand
another assault? Bill knew this was not the end. What Cinnabarians
still remained in those fathomless depths would never rest until the
spacer and all within it was erased from Saturn's face.

Bill thought with a grimace of all those inter-planetary spacers that
had vanished without trace. "Without Energon Screens, without the
invulnerable Vulcanite or the Dispersal Beam, they never had the ghost
of a chance...!" he exclaimed inwardly, and his long, vise-like hands
slowly knotted at his sides. Beads of perspiration rolled down his
cheeks as he concentrated on finding a solution to their problem.

The staccato sound of the landing signal swept through the ship as
they prepared to make contact. In the near distance the great city
shone under the illumination of the rings, enveloped in the sepulchral
silence of its cataleptic legions.

Bill's eyes widened as the thought slowly evolved into ordered
processes in his mind. "The _Aureans_...." Involuntarily he spoke
aloud. "Hyperspace!" If he could awaken even one of those remaining
ancients who knew the secret of hyperspace, he might contact Terra, or
one of the inhabited planets. Hope rose like an exultant flame, and he
hurried to the Juvenal chamber where Margalida recovered.

At the doorway of the control room, he almost collided with Freml, the
Panadur, and it suddenly occurred to Bill he had not seen the silvery
Psycho-synthetist for some time.

"Where have you been? Under the treatment?" Bill inquired.

"Of course not!" Freml telepathed disdainfully. "What need have I of
such crude methods? As soon as I awoke I left the chamber ... my people
supplied some energy, I needed nothing else. But you're hurrying...."

"To the Juvenal Chamber. We have no time to waste!" Bill flashed. "If
we can awaken one of those cataleptic _Aurean_ scientists, we may get
from him the necessary equations to use hyperspace, Freml.... It means
we can contact our worlds ... obtain aid!"

"Perhaps I can help," the Panadur thought slowly. "It should not be so
difficult to bring them back to conscious life."

He followed Bill into the hushed atmosphere of the Juvenal, his own
mind strangely blanked as he communicated with the other Panadurs
aboard. It was their way, mysterious, aloof.

And now that the screens were down, the subtle, all-pervading
vibrations of the Cinnabarians had commenced again.

       *       *       *       *       *

They would have to don Energon helmets, Bill thought wearily. It was
a battle without end. But the sight of Margalida was to him like the
sight of an eden seen from the bleak monotony of desert wastes. His
electric-blue eyes kindled as the girl smiled, a question in her eyes.
She extended a fragile hand that might have been carven of Jadite, and
in the husky voice with the harp-like cadences she said:

"I know you've won ... and for the first time in my life, I have been
glad to know that beings have died!"

It was as near as she could come to exult in the extinction of the
dreaded _Energasts_.

"You're improving!" Bill's face was illumined by a dazzling smile.
"I'm afraid that if you're among us for some time, in the end you'll
share our atavistic instincts; even Freml here can blast a hellion
out of existence when the need arises," he said with a bright glance
to the Panadur. "However, we need your help, Margalida. We want to
awaken at least one, more if possible, of the remaining scientists in
the deathless sleep. Do you know where they are? Can you direct us to
them?"

"Yes," she assented gravely. "They sleep in the second tower, where the
traction beams that captured the ships of space for the _Energasts_,
are located. I will lead you to them."

"Bring your fellow Panadurs, Freml, we shall need them," Bill
telepathed. "This will have to be done with all possible
precautions--any moment there may be another attack." A little pulse at
the base of his throat trembled as he gazed at Margalida.

The burning roses that were the stars had paled a little, before all
the preparations were completed and they were ready to leave the ship.
Only Nydron and his battle-crews, with several of the lesser scientists
were to remain, for this might be the only chance they would have to
wrest the secret from the dormant minds. And then there was Margalida,
nothing must happen to her. So Bill Nardon left nothing to chance. Even
the austere Juvenal surgeon was to go along, and a protective bodyguard
of Mercurian Amazons, power-rapiers and all--bristling with lethal
weapons.

These last were the most eager of all. Seeing them in their bulky,
serried ranks, Bill Nardon flashed them a clear, blue glance and
grinned. The mental picture of these ruthless creatures tangled in
mortal combat with the taloned _homunculi_ of the _Energasts_, would
have astonished the gods.

But all their preparations were in vain, for suddenly the Ethero-Magnum
screen began to glow in the control room, as other screens glowed in
the stately central cabin, in the Juvenal Chamber, and even upon the
walls of the battle-stations so that what one saw, was the property of
all. The sound of indrawn breaths sounded explosive in the stillness;
an unbearable tension made the atmosphere electric.

For one agonized instant, no one dared to hope--an anticlimax would
have been terrible to endurances that had been tested to the breaking
point. In this planet of contradictions and alien madness, _anything_
was possible.

Out of the misty darkness of outer space, the streaks of silver that
were ships flashed headlong into the monstrous embrace of Saturn,
wheeling over the planet's outermost gravitational limits, in
awe-inspiring orbital fall. The strange tug-of-war between the pull
of the vast rings, and the giant planet itself, must be neutralized.
Swinging in tremendous arcs to lessen the speed they hadn't dared
diminish in space, they came in roaring with all braking rockets
flaming in great blasts. Behind them, still more silver streaks came
into view.

For an awful moment it seemed as if the forces against them would
defeat the ships. They seemed to hang static in space, as they turned
the night of Saturn red with the furious cataracts of rocket fire. And
then--

"They're going to make it. They are!" Bill Nardon exulted fiercely.


                                   V

The foremost, a Terran spacer, had cut its rockets and swerved,
peeling off in a magnificent plunge from dizzying heights into the
atmosphere. Behind it streamed the balance of the Terran Fleet, like
hounds that had sighted its quarry. And in the nebulous reaches of the
stratosphere, the swarm that was still more ships flashed, reflecting
the splendor of the rings.

The lofty screen divided itself into two parts now. One segment showed
the Terran ship come coasting down in great, breath-taking spirals,
followed by its sister vessels, while the upper section mirrored the
out-distanced and far more numerous portion of the immense fleet of
spacers. They saw the Terran ship level suddenly, and from its bomb
bays, a shower of black projectiles dropped swiftly toward some target
they could not see. It banked in another wide turn and again its deadly
bombs showered down on the maelstrom the first bombs had caused below.

And then they saw the cause of the unexpected maneuver. An immense
iridescent globe had risen from the shimmering depths of the sea.
Another and another rose from the surface like cosmic bubbles rising
from the tossing waves, hurrying to intercept the new invaders before
they had a chance to land. The sinister violet haze was rapidly
reaching out already, like an immense, empurpled amoeba reaching out
with hungry tendrils.

At a sign from Bill Nardon, the great strategist Nydron was at the
Tele-radio, transmitting orders to the Terran ship that now darted and
lashed out with its disintegrating rays like a Manthis over a nest of
rattlesnakes. "Use your sub-atomic Dispersal Screen, you fools!" He was
roaring, "and then strike ... strike hard with everything you got!" One
hand was pounding into the reddened palm of the other.

The balance of the fleet was thundering down now, and they saw the
sudden burst of incandescent lightning that was the Energon screen as
the Martian vessels turned their unrivalled protection on, then it
vanished into invisibility as the screen took hold.

And from the Terran ship, and its sister vessels that had finally
caught up, the great yellow beams that turned into vortexes of emerald
tinged power burst out, bathing the sinister Globes, enveloping them in
their lethal stream. And then, the holocaust began. It seemed as if the
liquid depths were spawning hundreds and hundreds of the great spheres,
while overhead the sullen skies were black with the flashing vessels of
the Inter-Planetary League.

       *       *       *       *       *

A great Venusian ship caught in the empurpled fog, described a parabola
as it plunged out of control and a milky-white beam from the Globes
caught it as if on a spear and it plunged headlong into the sea below.
The titanic struggle was so appalling that even strong men accustomed
to the vicissitudes of battle trembled at the sight.

There was no quarter now. Extinction of one side or the other was the
ultimate outcome--there could not be any other possible answer, in that
fantastic hecatomb.

"How much power have we?" Bill Nardon asked quietly, and his eyes,
shadowed with the knowledge of the awful burden he was about to take
upon himself, dwelt briefly on the expectant ones of the Military
Strategist.

"Enough for about six hours, if we use the Energon Screen." Nydron said
it quietly and with eagerness that was like an expressed hope. "I think
we can tip the balance ... don't you?"

Bill glanced for an instant into the screen, where shimmering globes
and the League's ships were falling into the tossing, exploding chaos
that was the sea.

He thought of the Martian fleet, protected by the Energon, but
powerless to neutralize the Cinnabarian defenses without the Terran
Dispersal Beam; of the Venusian ships, helpless in that holocaust,
despite their invulnerable Vulcanite Hulls, and, with a catch in his
throat, of the gallant Terran vessels, able to draw the fangs from the
spheres with the Dispersal Beam, but open to the lethal power of those
hellish white beams of the _Energasts_, because they did not have the
Multi-Energon. But organized, they could wreak untold havoc on the
enemy.

"Give battle orders; we are going up. The Martians, under the
protection of their Energon Screens, to get as close as possible to the
globes, ready to hurl their bombs, while the Terran ships behind them,
screened by the Martian Fleet, aim their Dispersal Beams to neutralize
their violet power screens. Keep the Venusians and Mercurians as
reserves--that roughly, should be our strategy, modify it as needed,
Nydron.... We'll lead!"

He gazed up into the flaming clouds where the League's Fleet and the
_Energasts_ had swept upwards in coruscating swirls of intolerable
radiance, and then his gaze came to rest on the golden glory of the
_Aurean_ girl. "Margalida," he said softly, as if there were an
ineffable magic in that name. "Almond blossom," he murmured softly
to himself, as if in those few, last tragic moments, he would stamp
forever the imprint of her loveliness in his heart.

There was no sound. The tortured atmosphere of the planet regained
a measure of peace. Only the sea remained monstrously convulsed
as if striving to spew the shattered Globes and spacers now sunk
beneath its waves. And on the windswept shore, only a fraction of the
Inter-Planetary League's great ships had come to rest.

       *       *       *       *       *

Of the _Energasts_ there was no sign--not a single violet globe
remained in all that vast expanse, under the blazing glory of the
eternal stars. But the victory had been almost a defeat. Countless
vessels from all six planets, and still more countless dead would lie
forever beneath Saturn's shimmering sea. But the relentless fury of the
_Energasts_ had been stilled.

And yet.... It was not over. The enemy was helpless for a while. He
must not be given time to strike again.

For beneath those billowing mountains of translucent liquid that seemed
to be strewn with flashing stars, cities--immense cities filled with
_Energasts_, what remained of them, had not felt their power as yet.
The Absolute only knew what fiendish plans even now were being framed,
while the victors strove to recover a measure of strength, and sanity.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the great central cabin of the spacer, where scientists and experts
had collected, to lighten in a measure the awful tension of so many
hours, Bill Nardon suddenly looked up from the piano--the only real
luxury he had requested for himself--and said softly as if thinking
aloud:

"So many cities lie in ruins ... so many nations have been bombed.
But this will be the first time in history that a great sea is bombed
from shore to distant shore, until not a single shard remains of their
structures!"

He looked at Nydron.

"Eh?" Nydron seemed to swim up from a great weariness, and became
tense, alert. "You mean, we'll project the Dispersal Beam into the
depths and systematically bomb mile after mile of sea with radiant
bombs?" His eyes were awed. "It might take years!"

"Precisely," Nardon nodded with superlative calm. "Even if it takes a
century, until not a single _Energast_ remains to pollute Saturn!" He
smiled coldly, and his long, narrow hands evoked a melodious ripple
from the keys.

"Among my studies in correlation, are the appraisal of the methods of
the Ancients, from immemorial times. There was one Nation, in reality a
city, which was periled by the rivalry of another great metropolis. And
in their war of extinction, one city--Rome, evolved a ghastly slogan
which guided its treatment of its enemy, the slogan was: '_Delenda
est Cartago!_' And if it takes a century, we shall be able to say,
'_Delenda est Cinnabar!_' He fell silent, and in the momentary hush,
his hands began to weave a mesh of beauty as they hovered over the
piano keys. It was a magical undulation of the B Flat tonality ... a
divine lullaby to a wonderful child--a girl utterly beloved.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Keeper of the Deathless Sleep" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files. We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's search system for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.




Home