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´╗┐Title: Vandals of the Void
Author: Wilson, Robert Pierpont
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 "Vandals of the Void" ***

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                          Vandals of the Void

                           By ROBERT WILSON

               The Void had spawned these hell-creatures
               of destruction, had sown them deep within
               Earth's soil. And now Earth was reaping a
              whirlwind of death--weapons futile against
              the immortal conquerors from another space.

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                      Planet Stories Spring 1945.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

Art Douglas saw one of the very first of them, found and brought in by
two drivers from the huge steel burrowing worm which was at that time
conducting the sub-crust explorations many miles below the rolling
Kansas prairies. Why the men should have brought the discovery to
an organization such as the Interplanetary Research Institute, was
something not quite clear to Art. They must have known, he reflected
bitterly, how utterly bogged down the Institute was, how close to
absolute disintegration, from inability to work or progress, and the
resultant effect on the morale of the highly trained scientists who
made up its staff.

But the weird organism which lay before him on the laboratory bench
dispelled all such thoughts immediately. His imaginative, yet
scientific brain leaped to meet the challenge and the Interplanetary
Research Institute became only a workshop full of tools, ready for his

It was only natural that he should first assume that the
creature-plants were probably native to the level at which they had
been found, and that this was their natural environment. How terribly
wrong this was to prove! Of the terrible menace in the thing before
him, Douglas could not dream; although he could plainly see its
potentialities. For it had been found boring through solid rock.

It seemed to have been designed for just that. Its form was that of
spiral screw, about a foot long, tapering from a diameter of about an
inch at one end, to four inches at the other. In color it was a dull
blue-black, the surface fine textured and smooth, and steely hard.
Its strength was of steel also, for it was constantly whipping about,
trying to fasten its three needle sharp jaws, which were located at the
smaller end, in anything it might find. One of the men who brought it
had suffered a frightful gash in the forearm before they had learned
that this could be avoided by picking it up at the larger end. The
creature could not quite achieve the feat of bending itself double.

Art found that once it had hooked those fierce jaws into anything, it
started boring and could not be torn loose. However, it would bore
_only upward_! When laid on a flat table, it merely writhed about,
looking for some object above it. He held a thick piece of board over
it. The head had bored through in a few seconds, but when he turned
the board over, it backed out hastily, and flopped to the table again,
where it resumed its endless searching, searching for something,
anything overhead, in which it could fasten its tenuous grip.

Art called and had a huge two ton block of granite brought in by the
overhead crane. In its lower side he ordered some workmen to chip a
cavity, a little larger than the creature on the table. The thing was
dropped on the floor, and the block carefully lowered over it, so that
it was imprisoned in the cavity. Art had a hunch that it would have
made little difference to the creature whether it was allowed the
cavity, or merely had the block dropped on it. A little shudder ran
through him at the thought of such unearthly strength. He decided to go
to lunch, before he got too deeply involved.

       *       *       *       *       *

Passing through the outer office, he met Elene Moor, lovely secretary
to Doctor Theller, Chief Director of the Institute and his immediate
superior. He had known Elene in college before securing this position,
and he remembered the sudden elation he had felt when he discovered
that he would be working near the girl for whom he had felt such a
hopeless yearning in school. She had been so popular, so surrounded by
young men whose zest for life, talent for fun, and supply of ready cash
had utterly overwhelmed him. Now, after five years of Interplanetary,
such a dull apathy had settled over him that even Elene's golden
loveliness failed to stir him.

"Might as well lunch with me, Elene," he said, seeing that she was
about to leave. "I have an interesting topic of conversation for the
first time in ages, it seems. In fact, I'm very anxious to tell you
about it."

She looked at him closely. Something certainly had aroused his
interest. His keen blue eyes were alight, and his rugged frame seemed
to be invested with a nervous energy which had long been dormant.
Elene was glad; he almost looked like the Art she had loved, and had
such hopes for, when he had first come to the Institute. But his
fine intellect had seemingly withered, stultified by the impossible
situation which existed at Interplanetary in the year 2186. Several
centuries of scientific struggling had finally produced a mode of
interplanetary travel. In 2135, successful landings and safe returns
had been made to and from Mars. A year later, Venus was also reached.
But fifty-one years had produced little knowledge of any value;
progress was at a standstill. Certainly the Martians had been found
to be a highly developed and scientific race. They were peaceful and
friendly. But they were also very wise. They were acquainted with
the history of man on Earth as far back as the time of Christ. Their
astronomical instruments made it possible to see plainly events there,
under the proper conditions. With the coming of wireless, they had
been able to intercept any and all signals they chose. They knew about
all they needed or wanted to know about Earth. That was what made
them so wary. For they had seen the torture of the early Christians,
and the cruel subjugation of the known world by the Romans. They had
seen in turn, the overrunning of Rome by the barbarian hordes. They
had known Attila the Hun. They had witnessed the Spanish Inquisition.
They had seen the slaughter of the aborigines in the new world, their
gradual extinction by the white colonists. They had known Napoleon,
and most monstrous and horrible of all, Hitler. They had finally seen
the Great Gas War, which had so decimated the ranks of mankind, that
it had been necessary to set up the International Peace Council, which
established peace by the only method which mankind seemed to be able to

       *       *       *       *       *

It was rather simple. The laws were very strict: briefly, the
manufacture, transporting, or even possession of any kind of murder
weapon, other than what might be carried by a man for his personal
defense, was considered sufficient evidence of intent to kill, and
carried a death penalty. The agents and inspectors of the Council were
everywhere, entering any machine shop or factory at will, constantly
checking all sources of raw material, making almost impossible any
secret manufacture of any type of armament.

But even this could not convince the canny Martians--for they knew that
thousands of years of barbarism were covered only by a thin veneer.
At any time, man's innate desire to conquer, pillage, and exterminate
another race might break through. The Martians well knew the age-old
tactics of infiltration used by colonists of Earth. Consequently, only
a few scheduled rocket trips per year were permitted. The personnel of
each expedition was restricted to a few scientists, who were carefully
investigated. They were allowed to study the language, customs, and
art of Mars. But scientific achievements and secrets were taboo. No
Earthman was permitted to roam at will on Mars--the knowledge they
acquired there was given them by an interviewing committee of high
ranking Martians, whose ability to sidestep a direct question was

Of course, there were a few political hotheads on Earth who advocated
building a huge fleet of rocket ships, powered with disintegrators,
and sending an expedition to subdue the red planet. Naturally, this
merely served to corroborate the bad opinion of Earth held by the
superscientists of Mars. A few men, such as Doctor Theller and Art,
knew what awful disasters such a move would bring. Not only did
the Martians have weapons which made the terribly effective, but
uncontrollable, atomic disintegrator look like a clumsy toy, but they
could also throw up a force field around their entire planet, at an
unknown height, against which any invading ship would smash into
blazing fragments.

True, there was Venus. Venus, the Jungle Planet. There were two
environments of Venus--water and jungle. Both were filled with a
teeming growth of nightmarish monsters, among which had been found
no intelligent beings. The creatures of Venus were born, fought and
ate one another, bred and died. That was all. The whole thing was one
vast aquarium. Most of the species had been classified during the ten
years following the first landing. There had been many expeditions at
first. But gradually they tapered off. Attempts at colonization were
given up as hopeless. The climate was sultry and oppressive, but worst
of all was the fact that practically all of the vegetation of Venus
was poisonous to humans. Any food crops introduced from Earth were
strangled by the lush native vegetation, which grew at an incredible
rate. Venus had no economic value. Minerals there were, but the expense
of freighting them back to Earth by rocket ship made mining impractical.

As Elene mulled over these gloomy thoughts, she and Art had covered the
short distance from the office to the tube that led to Food Center. As
they entered, she saw that he also was preoccupied. In good time, he
would tell her what had aroused his sudden enthusiasm. An empty car
came by. A photoelectric cell registered their presence in the tube. It
stopped, Art dropped a token in a slot in its side, and the door slid
silently open. As they entered, Art grinned and said:

"They're junking these cars next year. Seems they have developed a new
model. They were losing money on these--they waste a lot of time. They
always stop for you whether you want a car or not; perhaps you're just
waiting to meet someone, or just got off a car."

"I hardly see what they can do about that," laughed Elene. "Telepathic
communication between man and a machine is something considered pretty
far in the future."

"They still use the photo cell," answered Art, "but now it registers a
complete picture of you. By a system of hand signals the prospective
passenger will be able to indicate whether he wants a car, where he
is going, et cetera. Even the control panel, which we now set for our
destination, will be eliminated."

       *       *       *       *       *

Soon they were seated in the one huge cafeteria which served the entire
city of Washington. Various levels were frequented by different classes
of citizens, and Art and Elene chose a quiet one, usually patronized by
scientific and medical students. Their meal was ordered by dialing from
a numbered menu and arrived automatically in a few seconds, piping hot.

Once they were settled, Art began to tell the girl of the weird thing
that had been brought him.

"I've had no time at all to work on it, of course," he began, "but
this much I can almost say for sure--this thing is not an organism
like anything else on Earth's crust. Its life processes do not depend
on oxidation. It's not composed, as we are, principally of hydrogen,
oxygen, and carbon. Carbon, perhaps, yes; that might give it some of
its hardness--but it's inert, not involved in any chemical action. The
thing neither breathes nor eats!"

"Please, Art, start at the beginning--you haven't told me what it looks
like, or anything!"

"O.K., O.K.," he grinned, and obligingly did so, concluding with, "It's
not much, maybe--hasn't anything to do with planetary research, but
it's a job--something to keep me busy. That's hard enough to find,
these days."

"Art," she said quickly, "it seems to me that there's plenty to do now,
as never before; so much untapped knowledge right at our fingertips--"

"I don't see how you can say that," he interrupted bitterly. "I
wouldn't exactly call Mars at our fingertips."

"Why Mars? It's always Mars, Mars. You don't have to go there. Find out
the secrets they know for yourself. Just because you're stymied that
doesn't mean you can't go ahead yourself. A young man with initiative

"So I haven't any initiative!" he flared. "Well, how about yourself?
After all, a woman now is as good as a man, you know--with modern
advantages, physical strength and endurance aren't so important. A
woman with enough courage and will power can do as much as any man."

"Yes, Art, but a woman is still a woman. All the scientific progress in
the world can't change that--she still plays the passive role. Woman
would cease to be feminine otherwise. That was proved way back in the
twentieth century."

"I suppose you're right," he muttered. It had set him thinking. Was
he losing his manhood? The human race didn't have so much need for
expansion any more. Only greed and craving for adventure would set a
man exploring now. And he had neither. Or had he? He thought of the
daydreams he sometimes had--of roaming through the primitive jungles
of Venus, searching perhaps for a trace of a near human, intelligent
civilization, blasting his way through hordes of threatening monsters.
But all that was silly; he was a trained man, and it would be very
foolish to risk such a brain as his in that hotbed of violence.

Still, what good was that precious brain doing anyone at
Interplanetary? The shortage of radium prevented their going ahead with
the program of experiments which Dr. Theller had mapped out. The idea
of wasting their dwindling supply in a roundabout process of learning
what the Martians could so easily tell them, had turned the staff of
the Institute into a pack of frustrated malcontents.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Earth easily supported its population of ten billion. Masterpieces
of engineering had irrigated and made fertile practically all of the
Earth's surface, except around the poles. There was no need to grow
crops, anyway, other than that fresh natural foods were more palatable.
Enough food for a hundred billion people could be manufactured
synthetically from the sun's rays. There was no need, say, for
colonizing Venus, but such a project would certainly provide an outlet
for the energies of a bored young scientist.

Art still sulked as they returned to the laboratory, but the idea had
been planted in his mind, and the more he thought, the nearer he came
to admitting that Elene was right. Little did he dream that he would
soon be so busy that looking for thrills would be the least of his

A white faced attendant met them at the front door of the laboratory.

"Dr. Douglas! That thing--we can't control it--it's--" Art ran to the
room where he had left the creature. The granite block was where he
had left it, but had a neat round hole in its top. Then he looked at
the opposite wall of the room. It was a crumbling ruin. The wormlike
animal had evidently wriggled its way to the plastocrete wall where it
had started boring. As the wall was only five or six inches thick, it
had kept emerging from one side or another, dropping to the floor, and
starting all over again. The attendants, not knowing how to pick it up,
had left it alone after suffering several gashes. They were afraid to
handle it too roughly, for fear of damaging it. Art smiled grimly at
this. He picked the thing up, threw it on the table. He decided that he
would dissect the specimen here and now, find the secret of its mighty
strength. But at that moment Dr. Theller came in.

"Well, Art, I hope you've thoroughly familiarized yourself with that
creature because--"

"To tell you the truth, Dr. Theller, I don't know a darn thing about
it!" retorted Art cheerfully.

"You're going to learn, Art--and mighty soon! I'm going to send you out
to Los Angeles. Something catastrophic is happening out there. I can't
get anything very clear over the televisor--I see confused pictures of
buildings crashing, utter panic everywhere. All the accounts I've heard
are garbled--but creatures like this seem to have something to do with

"Find out what you can, do what you can, then report back. Of course,
the city has no defenses, other than the police force, and they are
armed only with shock guns." It was true--war was non-existent;
defensive armament was unnecessary. Everything was fireproof, making a
fire department likewise unnecessary.

Art took off in his strato flier from the roof of the laboratory,
climbing rapidly until he reached the thin isothermal layer, ten miles
up. Then he leveled off, and accelerated slowly to a speed of over one
thousand mph. At this rate, he would be able to reach Los Angeles in
not over two and a half hours. The time dragged as Art tried to picture
the disaster that had overtaken the West Coast city, and just how it
could have been caused by animals like the one he had seen.

Art always disliked riding the strato layer. Too far below him were
the rich, rolling prairies, the mountains covered with mighty timber
trees and lush greenery. There was no desert, no wasteland. Any land
not level enough to grow crops, or occupied by cities, was covered by
thick forest. The only exceptions were the higher peaks of the Rockies,
brilliant white patches against the green carpet. It was a beautiful
old planet, this Mother Earth.

Far ahead and to his right, Art finally glimpsed the sparkle of
sunlight of the Inland Sea. Once there had been a ghastly blazing hot
desert there, called Death Valley, Art remembered from his school
geography. Two centuries ago, engineers had dug a tunnel and let the
water of the Pacific in, thereby giving the surrounding desert land
a much moister climate. Such a primitive measure would not have been
necessary in modern times. Distilled sea water could be piped anywhere,
in any desired amount, for irrigation.


The sighting of the Inland Sea was a signal to start decelerating. The
Los Angeles zone signal appeared, a red light on his control panel. The
L.A. beam picked him up, swung him gently to the left, and brought him
in automatically.

Below him he saw swarms of family fliers, all coming from the city.
As he dropped down he found the traffic system entirely disorganized.
Outgoing fliers were filling the incoming lanes. After narrowly missing
sudden death several times, Art savagely dialed traffic center. The
televisor screen lit up--but instead of a picture of the control
officer seated at his switchboard, Art saw only an empty chair. It
was only then that he realized the extent of the panic that gripped
Los Angeles--for the control officer was sworn to remain at his post
through the direst emergencies.

Now he was over the city--the vast terraced, pyramidical structures
of the metropolitan area, each a mile square at the base, with a
narrow rim of landing strip around each level. But as he descended
lower he saw that they were no longer structures, but ruins. Even as
he watched, they were crumbling and caving in on themselves. Some of
them were already mere vast heaps of rubble. Projecting his helicopter
propellers, he dropped down and hovered over one of them. Everywhere
the broken plastoglass was covered with writhing, squirming duplicates
of the creature back in his laboratory.

Art fished out his code book, found the wave length of Los Angeles
Police Commissioner Horne, and rapidly dialled it. The strained and
perspiring face of the Commissioner appeared, sitting at the controls
of his ship as he vainly tried to straighten out the evacuating traffic.

"Douglas of the Institute reporting, Commissioner."

"Hope you brought some disintegrators!" barked the chief. "They're the
only thing that will touch these beasts. The shock ray has no effect
whatsoever on them. An electron torch will burn them, but that's no
good--you can't go about killing them one by one. There are billions of
them--they're everywhere!"

"Possibly you'd better describe the situation from the beginning for my
benefit, Commissioner," Art interposed.

"What!" roared Horne. "Theller gave me to understand that you had had
experience with these things, and understood them. Now you tell me--"

"Easy, Commissioner. I've seen one of these things before for a few
minutes, and that's all. You asked for help and Dr. Theller sent me
out here in good faith to do what I can." This served to quiet the
policeman somewhat, for he merely grunted, "O.K., meet me at the top
level of the Administration group; that's the silver one, the only one
that still has a top level. You'll have to find it. We had to move out
the traffic control--that section of the building's ready to go any
minute now."

A dull grinding roar rose from everywhere below Art as he crossed
the city. Clouds of dust billowed up as the huge pyramids fell in
upon themselves piece by piece. He saw now the grimly effective way
in which the creatures did their job. As long as there was one piece
left standing on another, they would bore and chew until it was reduced
to fragments. Blind instinct, rather than malice, seemed to impel
them. But the effect was equally devastating. Art saw scores of people
wiped out by falling wreckage when the rapidly shuttling overloaded
fliers failed to remove them in time. He saw one man, trapped amidst a
mass of the writhing horrors, make a sudden dash for freedom, and go
down screaming in agony as dozens of savage jaws instantly fastened
themselves in his flesh. Art shuddered. Something had to be done to
stop this carnage.

       *       *       *       *       *

By the time he sighted the commissioner's flier atop the silver pyramid
of the Civic Center, he had evolved the rudiments of a plan.

He wasted no time on amenities as he met the police chief, but came to
the point immediately. "Here's my idea of it, Horne. Los Angeles as
a city is doomed. But I think we can save most of the people who are
still here."

"How about those disintegrators?" cut in Horne. The disintegrator,
being still in the experimental stage, was dynamite in the hands of the
untrained. The terrific atomic explosions it set up were uncontrollable
and unpredictable. Only the most highly respected and trusted
scientists were even allowed to handle one. Horne nursed an idea that
all his patrolmen should have been issued one to pack on their hips,
and that if they had, this would never have happened.

"I have a couple with me. We can use them, but we'll have to be
extremely careful. My main proposal is to get to San Francisco, Los
Vegas, and all the other principal cities around here organized. Have
them send millions of civilian fliers. Did you ever hear of the battle
of Dunkirk in World War II? The British saved their army to fight again
another day, just in that manner."

"Do you suppose I haven't thought of that?" snapped the chief. "I've
already asked them. They're afraid to come. Only a few ships have
trickled in."

"We've got to convince them that it's safe for a flier," insisted
Art. "Show them on the televisor--send your patrolmen out to

"All right," agreed Horne. "We'll try it. But I don't believe we can
get them all out in time even so. Do you know that there are ten
million people out in the poorer residential section, very few of
whom own a flier, who depend on the public surface cars for their
transportation? Central Power is dead--not a car moves in the city. My
patrolmen have been out in La Brea six hours, trying to find an avenue
of escape, through which they can lead those people out on foot. Every
time they run into a new growth of these--these damnable monsters, and
have to start all over again."

"That's where we'll use our disintegrators," explained Art. "We'll
blast a path through which we can lead these people to safety." Art
got on the televisor and contacted the government broadcasting center
in San Francisco. "Do you have a news broadcast on now?" he asked. The
girl clerk answered in the affirmative.

"Please put me on," Art begged. "I'm from Interplanetary Research.
Here's my badge. This is a serious emergency. The lives of millions
of people are hanging in the balance. You must put me on the air!" A
moment later, the news broadcast which was even then picturing the
catastrophe in billions of homes all over the world, was abruptly cut
off, and Art's face appeared in its stead.

"Fellow citizens, you all know the desperate situation here in Los
Angeles--but do you know that you can save a life, perhaps a dozen?
There are ten million people here who face a terrible death unless they
are picked up immediately. Hop in your fliers and get right down here!
There is no danger for a ship which hovers a little above the ground.
_Do not try to land!_ The Los Angeles Traffic Patrol will guide you to
proper zones. Please hurry. Thank you." Art snapped off the switch and
turned to the chief. "Now, let's try to make some kind of map of the
already devastated areas. We'll have to check in some manner to be sure
there are no living people left in them, then blast our path through
with the disintegrators."

       *       *       *       *       *

Horne readily assented to this plan, and dispatched a number of
patrolmen to examine closely the ruined sections. All vicinities which
had been taken over entirely by the destroyers, were to be marked by
dropping tiny smoke bombs which would send up a dense column of smoke.
As the commissioner and Art entered the latter's flier and took off,
Art explained the difficulties of using a disintegrator.

"The atomic disintegration of a lump of matter the size of your fist
sets off an explosion strong enough to blow one of these big buildings
to small fragments. You can imagine what would happen to yourself and
the surrounding country if you merely turned a disintegrator beam on
the ground, or against a building near you. We tone down the effect
somewhat by causing these pistols which I have here, to project a ray
about the diameter of a hair from your head. Not only that, but the
ray is immediately cut off, lasting only for the duration of one wave
length. Even so, the firing of one is a plenty tricky business."

In an hour's time the air patrolmen had laid out a winding, serpentine
trail over ten miles long through the bristling mounds of debris. A
warning broadcast was sent directing all citizens within sight of the
smoke to get underground, lie low, and plug their ears.

"Here we go," said Art, stationing himself at a tiny port in the rear
of his flier. "Zoom down over that first signal--as soon as you've
passed over it, kick her up again at a slight angle." Horne obeyed.
They passed the target; nothing happened. He was beginning to wonder
what Art was waiting for, when a half mile past the smoke column, Art
fired. The resulting concussion surprised even Art. He felt the ship
lurch as it was thrown like a huge projectile high above the city. He
grinned as he watched Horne, cursing and fighting until he had the
bucking ship under control.

[Illustration: _The disintegrator blasted, and hell exploded on the

"Let's take a look," he said, sobering at once. He had an uneasy
feeling concerning the way in which the grounded population was taking
the shock. But his fears were not realized--the stranded folk nearest
the explosion cheered and gave the ancient thumbs-up sign, as they
skimmed low above the rooftops. Evidently most of the force of the
explosion had expended itself upward.

"Get below--here we come again!" shouted Art through an open port.

The sun was descending beyond the blue Pacific, but they went on with
their work of continually blasting, blasting, far into the night.
Clouds of private fliers began to appear from neighboring California
and other southwest cities. Art's desperate appeal had had its effect.
By midnight, people were beginning to stumble through the string of
smoking craters that had been made for them, toward the untouched
open fields and groves to the north. By four o'clock, they were
stringing out on the many roads and streets which left the city in that
direction. Busses and private cars had been summoned, and were picking
them up, to scatter them through neighboring cities where they might
find accommodations.

Art and Horne, bruised and stunned from continual concussion and
buffeting, exhausted from lack of sleep, looked at each other.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Guess that's it," said Art. "You'll have to keep the men along the
trail with their electron rays, to keep those devils from closing in
at the edges." They had found that a line of men armed with these
short-range weapons, could kill enough of the creatures to keep them
from spreading. The electron ray generated enough sheer heat to melt
metal, which was necessary to destroy the organisms.

"The city should be cleared by noon," Art went on. "I'd advise you
to destroy the whole works immediately. I'll leave you one of the
disintegrators. But be careful. Make sure all the wounded are out."

"Are you leaving already?" asked Horne, surprised. "How come?"

"Just heard from Dr. Theller," Art answered wearily. "It seems I'm
wanted in Detroit. Same thing is happening there."

"No!" gasped Horne. "In Detroit! What do you suppose is the connection?"

"I don't know," Art replied. "I only wish I had time to work this out,
to get some of these things in the lab and analyze them--it would help
so much to know what we're fighting."

Art decided he would stop at the laboratory on the way back, and see
if Dr. Theller had been able to find out anything of the nature of the
specimen he had left behind. As he entered, he saw that the place was
strangely deserted. Dr. Theller and Elene he found in the former's
office, however.

"I counted on your stopping in," said the Institute head as Art came
in. "Things are in pretty serious shape all over. You did a great job
in Los Angeles. Now I'm going to ask you to repeat that performance--"

"Detroit?" Art interrupted.

"No--I've already sent several good men there. You don't realize how
this thing has spread. In the last hour, Singapore, Cairo and Athens
have all called us. London, in fact, the whole of southeastern England,
is stricken. The British Foundation has some fine men, however; they
think they'll be able to handle it."

"Dr. Theller, must he leave at once?" asked Elene, with an anxious look
at Art's weary face.

"I'll be all right, Elene," Art assured her. "A hot shower, hot drink,
and a transfusion of supervitalized plasma, and I'll never know I
missed a night's sleep. I've been eating a food tablet every now and
then, so I'm not at all hungry."

"All right, Art, you get fixed up--then you're off for Cairo. I'll have
the commissary issue you some more disintegrators. I wouldn't ask you
to do this, but every minute counts. I'm thinking of taking off for
Athens and leaving Elene in charge, myself."

"Oh, I almost forgot to ask you, Dr. Theller, have you examined the
specimen here yet?"

A chagrined look came over the scientist's face.

"Well, I hate to admit this, Art, but the thing escaped in the
confusion. Don't see how it could have gotten very far away. I'll have
some of the men look around the grounds for it."

Art shook his head slowly as he went out. Such incompetency seemed
unlike the aged savant, but he guessed that inactivity had taken its
toll of the old man.


The week following was a long, hideous nightmare, during which Art flew
from city to city, fighting the ghastly scourge which was cropping
up more and more rapidly, all over the globe. Vladivostok, Berlin,
Cuba--he could hardly remember them all. He was glad he could not
sleep, because he knew his dreams would be tortured by visions of men
and women being cut to ribbons by millions of rending jaws. It was
dreadfully apparent to Art what was happening. The creatures appeared
in a particular area almost simultaneously. Every bit of life was wiped
out, except for perhaps a few small shrubs and grasses. Huge trees,
buildings, even mountains, all came crashing down. All sources of food
supply were wiped out. The creatures could be cleared from the ground
by disintegration, but more soon came to take their place.

Art flew back to the laboratory in Washington from Manchuria, scene of
his latest struggle, shortcutting across the polar cap. He noted with
sick dismay that even the ice fields were beginning to bristle with
black stubble.

Arriving in Washington, Art landed at the Institute. He searched
hurriedly for Dr. Theller, but was unable to find him Elene, however,

"Art! I'm so glad to see you safe! Tell me--is it really as terrible as
it looks over the televisor?"

"Ever so much worse," Art answered grimly. "We've got to do something,
and quick. I know the Martians could help us. Has Dr. Theller appealed
to them?"

"Didn't you know?" she asked, wide eyed. "We haven't had any contact
with Mars all week. Two ships were scheduled to arrive from there, and
haven't been heard from."

Art whistled softly. "Guess I've been missing quite a bit of news

"That's not all," Elene continued. "You know Denny was out on Venus
with a crew. He sent in some kind of wire to Dr. Theller about
discovering some ancient ruins, traces of a lost civilization, and
saying that he was heading back. That was over a week ago--he was due
in day before yesterday. I've tried repeatedly to contact him on the
way, with no success. Dr. Theller certainly behaves strangely--I don't

Art wasn't listening. He was thinking of Denny--the bronzed,
hard-bitten space pilot, who had always represented to him all the
glamour of the far flung outposts. And been just a darn good friend,
too. The perils of Venus were many and varied--but on the other hand,
he had the utmost confidence in Denny's ability to take care of his
space ship and crew through almost any situation.

"Art, I'm beginning to have a dreadful feeling that somehow this is
all tied in together," said Elene hesitantly. "I've been wanting to
talk it over with you for ever so long. This plague of subterranean
monsters--communications with Mars cut off--Denny out there somewhere,
cut off, too--"

       *       *       *       *       *

"Perhaps there's not so much cause for concern over Denny," Art put
in soothingly. "After all, any sort of trivial accident might have
occurred which would delay him this long."

"Yes, Art, but I feel that even though the creatures don't seem to have
much intelligence, there is some kind of horrible plan behind the whole
thing, and that the stopping of traffic with the other planets is part
of that plan."

"That is quite a theory, Elene, my dear," came a patronizing voice from
behind, "but it's quite possible that I and my colleagues may be able
to work out a solution without the aid of my secretary." Dr. Theller
had entered the room unnoticed. Elene flushed, and was on the verge of
making an equally caustic retort, but bit back the words.

"As far as Denny is concerned," the doctor went on, "he has been going
out there for a good many years now; unless I miss my guess, the space
madness is creeping in on his brain. That story of finding remains of
a lost civilization--that's really pretty steep, you know. It's well
known that the evolution of fauna on Venus has not, and will not,
progress to the point of producing reasoning, speaking beings for
millions of years."

"I can't believe that of Denny!" flashed Art. "Space madness attacks
those who can't stand the solitude, exposure and utter loneliness of
that awful void. You know that Denny always laughed at those things. He
was iron. And I don't believe he's getting old, either. The last time I
saw him, he was in his prime."

A hot argument was averted only by the flashing of signals at one side
of the room, which announced a televisor communication. Elene was
nearest and flipped the switch. The face of a middle-aged man, tense
with suppressed excitement, appeared on the screen. He scanned their
faces closely. It was Haight, of the British Foundation.

"Theller--Douglas--all of you!" he blurted. "Listen! I've
just found--oh, but what fools we were not to see! Those
organisms--they're--but I can't possibly tell you over the air. I'll
be there as fast as a strato-ship can take me. I'm bursting to tell
someone. There's not a soul here in the lab; it's very late. Expect me
in three hours, at the most." The screen went black.

       *       *       *       *       *

Art and Elene were on the roof of the laboratory, enjoying the soft
summer evening, and talking over this new turn of events. The city
was quiet around them. New hope seemed to blaze within them with the
brilliance of the countless stars overhead. Perhaps Haight's discovery
meant the turning of the tide in this losing struggle in which they had
been participating. Art felt that he could relax for the first time
since that heartbreaking week had begun. As his fatigue fell away, he
felt a great longing come over him. How near he had come to losing this
lovely woman by his side. All those years of dull routine in the lab,
near her every day, yet doing nothing about it! But Art had changed
to a man of action, through sheer necessity, and he wore his new
personality with heady exuberance. He took the girl in his arms.

"Darling, life is very good," he murmured. "I don't want us to die. I
don't want to be pushed off this lovable old earth of ours by an alien
form of life. And it's chiefly because of you. But we're not going to
let that happen, are we? We're going to fight until every last hideous,
ugly one of them is gone."

"Yes, sweet," she sighed contentedly, "And Art, please--when it's all
over--let's not just sink back into the old way of life again. I think
our love will be able to stand even that test from now on--but let's
not put it to that test. Can't we get out of Interplanetary, travel,
open up new worlds, just anything like that?"

"I have a hunch that from now on we're going to require plenty of
danger in our everyday life," he laughed. "After we're married--"

A shrill whine interrupted them, and they broke apart. Far out in the
midnight sky, hours had slipped away like so many minutes, and Haight
was arriving. He had been hurling his ship along at a reckless speed
and was braking only at the last minute. Now they could see the dark
shape arching down toward the laboratory. Suddenly it seemed to stop,
to poise in midair. Then it dissolved into a blinding white flash.
The deafening roar of the explosion came seconds later. Art and Elene
looked at each other in mute horror and despair, amid a great silence
broken only by tiny, distant sounds as the fragments of Haight and his
ship rained down gently on the city of Washington.

"We'll keep fighting," Art finally said in a dull voice.


Beneath Art's flier swept the tumbled mountains of Ozark Park. Once
there had been people who lived there and actually eked a living from
cultivating those steep and stony hillsides. Long ago that had been
given up as impractical and unnecessary, however, and the whole region
had been turned into one vast national forest. It was covered from one
end to another with mighty timber, stocked in profusion with all kinds
of wild game. That is, it had been covered the last time Art saw it.
Now, the great trees lay tumbled about like so many match sticks, their
great roots gnawed away by blind, mindless creatures. There was not a
green thing in sight. A pall of smoke hung low overhead--great fires
were raging everywhere in the dry stuff. Man had no time to protect the
trees, when his own cities were being destroyed.

Art had just left Mexico City, and was headed for Chicago. There he
intended to introduce an experiment with which he had had some degree
of success elsewhere. He had constructed an ark of thick plastocrete,
into which the passengers could be hermetically sealed. Oxygen and food
were synthetically manufactured, enabling them to live without danger
from the unknown poison in the water. But in his heart, he knew that
this was a poor device, that there must be some simpler, more direct
solution. After the death of Haight, he had wanted to take one of the
Institute's ships, and blast off for Mars. He was sure that the savants
of that age-old planet could help. But Dr. Theller had been strongly
against this, in fact refused to permit it.

As he sped over the ruined forest, a grim look came over Art's face. He
had not seen Elene since the night of Haight's death, four days ago.
Since then he had been in the thick of the fight, as before. Elene had
been suspicious that the death of the British scientist had been no
accident, and had promised to investigate and keep in touch with him.
Her lovely face had appeared several times in his televisor screen,
during the first two days, although she had nothing to report except
that she loved him. But two more days had passed without a word. Art
could raise nobody at the laboratory. He frowned, and thought that he
had better have a look there, before he went on to Chicago.

Something caught his eye, below and ahead. There was a patch of
untouched forest, a little canyon that had not as yet been invaded by
the monsters that were ruining the surrounding country. There the huge
trees still waved, calm and unmolested. But there was something else,
something sharp and bright that had captured his attention. Yes, there
it was again--a tiny fleck of sky blue. The same sky blue with which
his ship, like all the fliers of the Interplanetary Institute, were

       *       *       *       *       *

He swung around, and came down in a tight spiral. As he levelled
off, he saw a tiny figure, standing at the side of the wrecked ship.
It waved frantically, and no doubt shouted. Art settled gently in a
thicket of vining maple, and clambered stiffly out of his ship, as the
marooned pilot came running toward him. Great Glorious Galaxies! It was

"Oh, Art, I don't know how you found me, but I'm so glad it's you,
darling," she sobbed in his arms.

"Elene, I wasn't looking for you--didn't even know you were lost!" he
exclaimed. "It's a miracle that I stumbled on you like this."

"But didn't Dr. Theller--no--of course he wouldn't--"

"How did you ever happen to crash _here_?"

"Dr. Theller sent me with Paul Hedrik, that new boy, you remember,
the nice blond one--to check casualty lists in San Francisco. We were
crossing the Park, at about thirty thousand, when we ran out of rocket
fuel. Well, that wasn't so serious, we could easily make a long glide,
and if we could find a place safe from these--worms--we could make a
helicopter landing. But Paul saw this little canyon dead ahead. It was
the only safe looking place for miles. That meant we had to come in at
a steep angle. He licked in the braking jets, hoping there would be a
little fuel left in the lines. There was. One of the jets was plugged
or something--it exploded back into the cockpit. Paul was killed
instantly. I was stunned. The ship was out of control, but I finally
came to and managed to make a crash landing somehow."

"Where's Paul's body?" Art asked.

"Still in there." She pointed to the wrecked flier. "My televisor was
smashed. I couldn't stand the thought of sleeping in there. I made a
little camp over there by the creek. It was awfully cold, even though I
built a fire. But I wasn't frightened--I had my friends--"

"Your friends!" exclaimed Art. "Who--"

"Don't you see them?" she asked, pointing. And he did see what the
gloom of the forest had at first hidden from his unaccustomed eyes. The
leafy corridors were swarming with creatures. Deer, oppossum, raccoon,
bear, even a puma or two, all were gathered there in dumb resignation.
They knew with unerring instinct that they were trapped, that there was
no escape from this tiny island. They made no attempt to molest each
other, or the humans who such a short time ago had been their deadly
enemies. They drank occasionally from the little creek, but they did
not eat.

"You see, I couldn't be lonely," she continued. "It could even have
been fun, if I hadn't known that those millions of horrible little jaws
were out there in the dark, gnawing, gnawing. You can even hear them.
You can hear the big trees crashing down, all day, all night."

"Easy, honey--it's all over now. We're going to get out of here. We'll
get Paul's body, and--"

"But Art, don't you see what this means? If Paul hadn't forgotten to
fill the fuel tank, it we had had a full tank, we'd have been blown to
atoms when that jet exploded--it was only an accident that I escaped.
But that plugged jet was no _accident_--that was deliberate. Don't
you think it is strange that Dr. Theller shouldn't let you know when
I have been lost for two days? And that he was the only one besides
us who knew about Haight's discovery, and his coming to Washington,
and that the same accident happened to Haight? And what happened to
Denny? I tell you, there are all sorts of things about Dr. Theller
that are beginning to add up. From the very first he's occupied only a
passive role in this battle, done nothing whatever to help. He let that
specimen get away the first day, and has never had another in there for

"What!" exclaimed Art. "No--Elene--it can't be. You don't know what
you're saying!"


"On the contrary, the young lady is quite right," came a deep bass
voice from behind him. Art whirled in sudden panic, reaching for his
electron gun. But what he saw froze him to immobility. A tall, gaunt
figure, its ebony skin decked with a harness of white plastic, in which
were set countless glossy black stones. The head narrow and acquiline
to the extreme, with huge, haunting black eyes. A Martian! And one of
the Greater Ring of scientists who governed the red planet, judging by
the trappings.

"You do not recognize me," chuckled the deep voice. "Why, I remember
you well. You came to Mars with Dr. Theller, let me see, June last
year, and November the year before, I believe it would be, according to
your calendar. They say we all look alike to Earthmen--but surely you
know Klalmar-lan. I was on the Committee both times."

"Of course I do," beamed Art, holding out his hand. "You had me a bit
rattled there for a minute. But you can't imagine how glad we are to
see you. Elene, meet Klalmar-lan. This is Miss Moor, my fiancee."

"Klalmar-lan," said Elene, "as Art has already told you, we are
immensely relieved to see you. We hope that you can help us rid our
planet of this scourge. Unless you do, the human race and every form of
animal life on Earth is doomed."

"I have the means of accomplishing that," he answered gravely. "For
how else do you suppose this tiny refuge has remained here, other than
through my doing?" They stood in amazement as he went on. "Furthermore,
I am rather ashamed of you, Art, for letting so many things which
should have been obvious to a man of your calibre, slip by you. But I
guess Theller did a pretty good job of covering up."

"How do you happen to be here in such an out of the way spot?" asked

"I had to have a hideout on Earth from which I could steal out and make
a few observations," the Martian explained. "And it's a good thing I
did, from what I hear. I arrived here from Venus yesterday morning,
about five--"

"Only a few hours before we crashed!" exclaimed Elene.

"Yes--the forest in this vicinity was just beginning to be attacked. I
landed on the side hill above here, and blanketed this canyon with a
choker ray. I didn't want to make it too noticeable--"

"Wait," Art interrupted, "how about this choker ray--that's the whole
thing--that's what we want to know!"

"I'll get to that," rebuked Klalmar-lan. "Anyway, I saw this ship
crash--but knowing it was one of Theller's, I had to be careful about
offering assistance. I have been watching Miss Moor and wondering if I
should have to protect her from all this vicious looking fauna which
you have here in such profusion. But I didn't dare trust her until
I heard her talk to you. My object was to contact some trustworthy
person here on Earth. Now that I've found you, I think we'd better
take off for Venus immediately. My ship is right up the hill above us.
Incidentally, I have a surprise there--an old friend of yours."

       *       *       *       *       *

Mystified, the couple followed him through thick underbrush to the
space ship. They entered behind him and froze in astonishment. There,
lying on a bunk, white and still and swathed in bandages, was Denny!

"Don't be alarmed," Klalmar-lan reassured them. "I've got him under a
neural anesthetic. He's suffered a bad radium burn, but I think he'll
be all right. Should recover consciousness in a couple of hours."
Klalmar-lan was at the controls, and they were rising rapidly. The
little spot of green was visible through the rear port, falling away
behind them.

"I first met Denny on Venus, where I had been sent to watch for the
coming of Ghlak-Ileth, or Hell-worms, as we call them; for they
are no new experience to us Martians. Some three thousand Earth
years ago, they turned our once beautiful planet into a red desert,
almost exterminating our race. Three thousand years before that, our
astronomers had watched as uninhabited Mercury gave up its treasure.
According to all our calculations, Venus should have been next. When
I talked to Denny in his jungle camp, he informed me that he had
discovered remains of an ancient civilization on Venus.

"I knew then that something was terribly wrong with our theory--for we
had always considered Venus a very young planet, whose evolution of
life had not even produced a mammalian form, and would not for millions
of years. Now it seemed more plausible that at a remote age Venus was
inhabited by intelligent beings, perhaps more highly developed than
we on Earth or Mars, and that some great catastrophe wiped them out,
leaving survivors, the ancestors of the present day fauna.

"The answer," he went on, "was plain--the Ghlak-Ileth had already been
to Venus! In all probability, Earth would suffer the effect of the next
raid! Denny had started for Earth with his crew. I hurried to my ship
and followed him. About two hours out, my mass detector indicated the
presence of matter about ten thousand miles ahead, but moving _toward_
me. In a little while I saw it, approaching headon. A huge blob of a
ship, gleaming like quicksilver, shaped like a great flat-bellied slug.
The Ghosts of Outer Space had come again!"

"Hold it!" cried Art. "This is getting beyond me. Who are these--"

"We call them Ghosts, or Voornizar, because they bear little
resemblance to anything mortal, although they are terribly real. They
are the masters, the creators of these Hell-worms, whom they planted
countless eons ago on the planets of our Solar System. The impelling
energy of these Ghlak-Ileth, as with their masters, and in fact all the
machinery they use, is the disintegration of radium, of which they are
partially composed. They devour it for food.

"We believe that the Voornizar originate in some planetary system
far beyond the awful void which surrounds our solar family. Long
ago, they found their radium supply disappearing, and were forced to
wander in search of new deposits. They developed the Ghlak-Ileth in
their laboratories to do the work of removing the radium. They were
probably planted as tiny eggs or spores, each with an infinitesimal bit
of radium to furnish life energy. When the creatures hatched, their
instinct was to dig downward. As they went, they fed on radium and
other elements.

"Thus, ever growing and multiplying, they remained, finally absorbing
every bit of radium in the planet. After a fixed period, they became
imbued with the impulse to return to the surface. There they were
collected by the Voornizar, who returned at exactly the proper time,
to extract the radium for their own use. The period of three thousand
years is, we believe, the time necessary for a round trip from here
to the habitat of the Voornizar. However, it may be only the period
between meals--for time means nothing to them--nor do heat, cold or
lack of atmosphere affect them."

"How can we possibly combat such a menace?" asked Elene hopelessly.

       *       *       *       *       *

"This time we Martians are ready," Klalmar-lan told them. "Before, we
were forced to resort to pitiful devices such as lead lined boats,
which shut out the deadly emanations of the _radon_ gas which seeped
to the surface from the Ghlak-Ileth on the sea bottoms. But now we
have developed a weapon--the choker ray, harmless to organisms like
ourselves, but able instantly to halt any sort of disintegration,
particularly radio-activity. It will stop the Voornizar instantly.

"As soon as I recognized this Voornizar ship, I let her have the
choker beam. She immediately lost headway, began to drift. I came
alongside and boarded her, being careful to put on a space suit, for
the Voornizar require no atmosphere, and would not be likely to have
the ship's interior conditioned. I found what I expected. There was not
a living creature, or moving piece of machinery aboard. I had heard the
fearsome Ghosts described many times, but these were the first I had
seen. Their silvery, amorphous bodies are said to glow with a blinding
white effulgence, but in death, these had turned to a dull leaden
hue. There were hundreds of them in the great ship, which seemed to
me mostly occupied by machinery with which to attract and grapple the
radium worms, and holds in which to store them.

"On an upper deck, I found a row of small staterooms, which I thought
wise to investigate. And well that I did, for my former presumption
that nothing lived on the ship was not quite correct. That was one who
_barely_ lived--"

"Barely is the word, my friend," came a weak voice from the bunk, "I
don't know what you did to those devils, but you sure stopped them in
their tracks."

Denny had recovered consciousness. The trio hurried to his side.

"So they couldn't quite kill you?" Art grinned down at the space pilot.

"Weren't trying!" replied Denny briefly. "They seemed interested in
the discoveries I'd made on Venus. Had the nicest ways of getting
information; simple, too. All they had to do was touch my skin and I
got a radium burn."

"You must have passed out just after I used the ray on them,"
Klalmar-lan commented. "But how did they get you in the first place?"

"Just slipped up behind us, showing a friendly signal, and slapped
some kind of paralysis ray on us--went through the permirium hull and
everything. They came aboard--but only took me off. The rest of the
crew they left lying there, paralyzed. Then they just swung away a
few miles and disintegrated the whole works. That was pretty tough to
take--some of those boys had been to hell and back with me."

"They paid for that massacre," growled Klalmar-lan. "But that was only
one of their countless thousands, perhaps millions of ships. I believe
that they have a huge base on Venus, from which they are preparing to
swoop down on Earth when the Ghlak-Ileth are ready. We will have to
locate that base. Then we will radio the Martian Fleet. We have half a
million ships, armed with choker rays and disintegrators. Long have we
prepared to seize the treasure of Venus, and at the same time revenge
ourselves on our ancient enemy. Speaking for the Greater Ring," and
he drew himself up proudly, "I can promise you that we will fight as
fiercely to save your race from extinction, though there be no gain, if
it will in some measure alleviate the great wrong we have done you in
leaving you unwarned and unprepared."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Thank you, Klalmar-lan," answered Denny simply. "However, I've got to
warn you--there's something rotten on our side of it. Those _Things_
spoke English--and had a pretty fair knowledge of Earth science and
Earth affairs."

"Yes, we know where the rotten spot is located," replied Klalmar-lan.
"He's been building up a machinery against us for some time, unknown
to some of you who worked nearest him. Got away with several of our
secrets, too--the force field, for one--"

"The force field!" ejaculated Art. "That's how he got Haight! Remember
that night, Elene?"

"Of course," she cried. "Haight had found the secret of the Ghlak-Ileth
and their high radium content."

"Yes," agreed Klalmar-lan, "and that secret Dr. Theller knew he must
suppress at all costs. The force field he no doubt projected as a beam
through some hidden port in the laboratory roof. Playing it about like
an invisible searchlight, he met the incoming flier with a barrier as
effective as a stone wall."

"The Voornizar must have contacted him long ago, and made some kind
of deal--probably offered him all the radium he could use," mused
Art. "I would guess that he planned to establish a new laboratory
on Venus--that's why he was so interested in that city you found,
Denny--interested enough to discredit your story on Earth, and order
you held by the Voornizar!"

"And to go a step farther," interjected Klalmar-lan, "I will wager that
we find the Voornizar's base not so far from that city."

"What ghastly treachery!" gasped Elene. "To betray his own Mother Earth
to annihilation. Already millions have died--"

Art, watching her, saw her freeze in silence. He tried to glance at the
others, but his eyeballs would not move in their sockets. He tried to
move; his whole body was gripped in a rigid paralysis! There was utter
silence and stillness in the hurtling ship. Art's thoughts were racing.
What fools they had been, flocking around Denny's bunk when he came
to. They had totally neglected to watch the control panel, where the
mass detector would have warned them of an approaching ship. Now they
had been surprised and seized with the same deadly paralysis that had
trapped Denny before.

The air lock swung inward. None of the four were surprised to see Dr.
Theller step through the port, keeping a careful distance between
himself and the two grotesque monstrosities who followed him. Theller
was without space suit or arms. Art stared with horrified fascination
at the two Voornizar. The dazzling, white hot radiance that ceaselessly
flowed from them made it difficult to identify their form. They seemed
to have none; yet they could take any shape. Fundamentally, they
were a tube about a foot in diameter and some seven feet high. They
had a slit-like mouth near the top, and a huge crystalline eye which
surmounted their exact top. They seemed to favor a bilateral form,
although the number of pairs of arms appeared indeterminate. But as
Art watched, above each slit mouth appeared a huge beak nose and above
this, deep, staring sightless hollows. A horrible caricature of a human
face! Demoniac laughter came from the lipless mouth of one!

       *       *       *       *       *

"So you pitiful Martians had a weapon that would stop the Voornizar!"
it boomed. "You fool, did you not know that we are immortal? Only when
we lack radium can one of us die--and then, he only suspends animation
until sustenance can be brought. I know not the principle of the thing
you fashioned, although its effect is to halt radio-activity. Think
ye that would kill us?" The thing's laughter roared. "We merely lay
inert--waiting only for the next contact with a living Voornizar or
any bit of active radium, to set our life process in motion once more.
Think ye that you can fight a million mighty ships with such a harmless

"Had you known that the transport you captured carried me, Dwalbuth,
mighty Shan of the Voornizar, you might not have so carelessly left us
drifting in space, to be found and revived by Dr. Theller."

"Before we release you from the paralysis," spoke up Theller, "I want
to tell you that resistance is futile. These people can project, from
that single eye, a ray of any frequency, ranging from ultraviolet to
infra-red, and would have no trouble in burning you to a crisp in a
fraction of a second. Also, as Pilot Denny has reason to know, their
slightest touch will cause a severe burn." He searched Denny, still
lying on the bunk, found nothing. He removed Art and Elene's electron
pistols. From Klalmar-lan's belt he took the choker ray gun, gave it a
contemptuous glance, and flung it squarely in Klalmar-lan's face, just
as Dwalbuth flicked a bluish light from a tiny torch over the four,
releasing them from the paralysis. Klalmar-lan caught the gun, staring
down at it with dumb despair and sick disappointment written all over
his handsome ebony face.

"We'll put them in my ship," said Theller, motioning them toward
the lock. Denny rose and hobbled painfully along with them. "The
Earth people I can use for helpers, if I can educate them to the
practicability of such a course; the Martian I will destroy, after I
have wrung from him a few of the secrets I need for my conquest of his


"I assure you that these are the most comfortable accommodations to
be found anywhere on Venus," commented Denny sardonically as he gazed
around the dank cell in which the four found themselves imprisoned.
"Speaking from experience, I mean that."

"This is your city, then, of which you spoke?" queried the Martian.

"Yes. I spent very little time in exploring it, however, as I was
due to report back and was in a hurry. I do know that it's mostly
underground, and of almost inconceivable antiquity, however. Of the
nature of its former inhabitants, their language, or the name of the
city, I could learn nothing."

"My guess that the Voornizar's base was in, or somewhere near this city
was correct," asserted Klalmar-lan, dropping his voice. He glanced at
the guard looming outside the heavily barred metal door, and beckoned
them to a far, gloomy corner of the dungeon. The Earth people were
startled to hear a chuckle of fiendish glee. It came from the Martian!
He was swinging his ray pistol by the trigger guard, shaking in nearly
inaudible mirth.

"By the Two Moons! What ego!" he hissed, lapsing into his native
tongue, which the others understood to some extent. "They have such
contempt for my poor Martian brainchild, they do not even take it from

"Well, it's practically useless, as near as I can see, against any
number of the creatures," shrugged Elene. "I suppose we could knock
out the guard, but the lock on the door is still impossible. The next
Voornizar who comes along would revive him, and we'd only be in for
more restrictions."

"Ah, but you do not understand. Watch." A lizard-like reptile had run
down the slimy wall, paused at the bottom. Klalmar-lan aimed the gun at
it, pressed the trigger. Nothing happened. "That was the choker ray.
Now, observe--I move this little catch here, press the button again."
There was a little frying sound. A puff of vapor rose above the lizard,
and it shrank instantly to a blackened lump. The Earthians stared in

Art finally found voice. "How did you do it?"

"Simple--a disintegrator. Result, the disintegration is only begun,
when it is cut off. No explosion. Only a few elements in the victim
begin to go, but the molecular structure is broken down nevertheless. I
can set it for any degree I want.

"Dwalbuth called me a fool, but it is he who is stupid in his conceit.
Immortal! Bah! There is nothing that cannot be disintegrated."

"Then I move; we get out of here, right now!" whispered Art vehemently.
"People are dying on Earth, every minute."

"Right," agreed Denny. "Let's go." He limped to the door. "Say, guard--"

Standing behind him, the gun hidden, Klalmar-lan poured the rays over
the Voornizar, through Denny, door and all. The creature slumped
heavily to the floor, its fiery luminescence fading to a dull leaden
gray. Klalmar-lan stepped forward, turned up his disintegrator, and
impassively played the beam over the Thing on the floor, until nothing
remained but a heap of blackened slag. Then he went to work on the
lock. In a moment they were free. Art kicked the ashes of the guard
into a dark, obscure corner of the cell.

       *       *       *       *       *

"We've got to find our way to the upper level, get to a televisor
someway," panted Klalmar-lan, as they hurried up the inclined

"Don't know if I can remember all the twists and turns we followed when
they brought us down or not," Denny puzzled. "How about you, Art?" Art
shook his head doubtfully.

"You intend to bring the Martian fleet here--that is, if you can
contact them?" Elene inquired of Klalmar-lan.

"No--not here--to Earth! While they are neutralizing the Ghlak-Ileth
there, we must in some way hold off the menace here."

"You're right," Art agreed. "The fleet can't fight off a million
Voornizar ships and kill the Ghlak-Ileth, too. And it's imperative that
they get to Earth with no delay."

Through pitch black corridors, twisting, climbing, dropping again, the
party groped their way. Art had a tiny torch, which he risked flashing
on occasionally, but this helped little. All hope of retracing their
steps was soon abandoned. The lower levels of the ancient city had been
a veritable labyrinth. Realizing that they were hopelessly lost, they
stopped to take stock of the situation. Leaning against a dank, moss
grown wall, Art felt something slimy brush his leg. He flashed on his
light, and his sanity reeled. He saw a great, rat-like figure, the size
of man on his knees! The eye in its humanoid face were closed against
the light--its teeth were bared in the snarl of a cornered rat. Then it
scuttled away clumsily. Great God! It was a man shambling on his knees,
naked and unclean!

Art heard a little moan of horror--Elene had turned away, her face in
her hands.

"Did you see it, Klalmar-lan?" he muttered hoarsely to the Martian.

"Yes, my friend," was the sad reply. "I believe we have witnessed all
that is left of the glory that was Venus. A skulking creature of the
sewers--creeping on its knees." He shuddered. "They nearly did that to
us once--and they will do it to Earth, if we do not find a way out of
here soon."

There was a metallic rattle, far down the corridor, and a livid,
glowing stab of light appeared. It was a Voornizar, running--the empty
cell had been found.

"It's all right," hissed Art, "he can't possibly see us. Here we have
the advantage." Klalmar-lan grimly drew his ray gun, but Art halted
him. "Wait--I've got a plan. You stick here. Keep out of sight. The
rest of us will give ourselves up. We'll try to get him to take us to
Dwalbuth or Theller. Then you follow. See?"

Klalmar-lan nodded silently, stepped back into the shadows. Grasping
Elene and Denny by the hand, Art ran toward the Voornizar, shouting.

"Get us out of this horrible place before we go mad!" he croaked. Elene
managed a sob or two. The Voornizar grinned evilly at their panic, then
peered behind them.

"Where is the Martian?" he snarled.

"We got separated in the dark some time ago--never could locate him
again," Art answered.

"We'll find him; he can't go far," rasped the creature. "Meanwhile, I
will take you to Dwalbuth, who will see that you suffer adequately for
this attempt at escape. In the absence of the Earthman, who wants to
preserve you as his assistants, our Mighty Shan will dispose of you as
he sees fit."

The guard carried a powerful torch, and had no trouble in finding
the way out of the pits. They entered a level which had evidently
been the quarters of the well-to-do class of ancients. There were
many furnishings and decorations, most of which were badly faded
and deteriorated. Hosts of Voornizar were hurrying about on various
errands. Dwalbuth had evidently established headquarters here, from
which he superintended the preparation of the huge radium fleet. How
Klalmar-lan would ever follow them through this swarming hive was
beyond Art.

       *       *       *       *       *

The guard led them to a huge room where Dwalbuth was snarling orders to
a group of his lieutenants. On sighting the Earthmen, he dismissed his

"Perhaps," he began, "I have not made it clear to you just how
insignificant you, and your form of life, is in our scheme of things.
We have wiped out many races stronger than you, on a score of planets,
in my time. We are strong, immortal; you are weak, you suffer pain
easily. Do not try my patience with any more escape attempts. And you
had better tell me what you have done with that guard." There was
only silence. He screamed, "_What did you do with that guard?_" A
great three-toed claw, or hand, shot out, stopped an inch from Elene's
terror-stricken face.

"I have heard that your men consider you beautiful to look upon,"
sneered Dwalbuth, "I will change that face to a seared mask if you do
not tell me, immediately." Then Art leaped. He threw himself on the
arm with its grasping claw, bore it down. White hot, burning agony
shot through his hands and arms. Then, miraculously, it stopped.
Dwalbuth was sagging to the floor. But there came a vicious crackling
as the guard whirled to train his heat ray on them. Then he, too,
collapsed. Klalmar-lan stood in the door, grinning as he switched on
his disintegrator.

"Fasten this door the best you can," he commanded, "while I finish off
these two. Hate to take the time, but we can't risk their recovering."
This done, he stepped to the televisor, dialled his commander-in-chief
in the Greater Ring's Martian stronghold. In a few terse words, he
explained the situation and sent the fleet hurtling toward Earth. By
this time, a great pounding had begun at the door. But the Earthians
had not been idle--they had been searching frantically for an exit. And
Elene had found one, a tiny passageway behind a once secret, but now
half-rotted-away panel. They scrambled into it, crawled for a short
way. Then the tunnel debouched into a larger corridor in which they
could stand up and run. Luckily, it was crooked, and winding; for they
heard the angry snap and hiss of searching heat rays not far behind.

"Watch this," said Klalmar-lan, turning his disintegrator up higher. A
Voornizar appeared around a corner, and exploded with a muffled roar.

"Don't get the mixture too rich!" laughed Art as the fragments showered
around them. "Say, Klalmar-lan, how in blazes did you get through that
mob to follow us?"

"Easy," grinned the black man. "When you came out on that level, I was
lurking close behind. There was nothing for me to do but fall right in
with you. If you had looked around, you'd have seen me right at your
elbow. Of course, when you came to the door of Dwalbuth's staff room,
I dropped out, and just stood outside the door, acting the part of a
bored prisoner, until the fun started."

Art chuckled at the Martian's audacity. The sounds of pursuit were
getting fainter behind them. The Voornizar were learning new respect
for their once despised captives.

The tunnel now narrowed down to a width which made it passable by one
person only, and ran perfectly straight. The party formed in single
file, Klalmar-lan bringing up the rear. Denny led, with Art's flash, as
Art was nursing scorched hands and arms.

"They'll be getting after us with that paralysis ray directly," Art
worried. "What do you say to blocking the tunnel? We can surely depend
on its emerging somewhere."

"The War Gods help us if _they_ know where it comes out! But I think
you've got an idea there," agreed Klalmar-lan, turning his ray on the
roof of the tunnel a good distance behind them. It crumbled, slowly at
first, then gave way with a roar, the fragments of rock and masonry
completely choking the aperture. Klalmar-lan did not stop until he had
filled the passage for a good hundred feet.

"We can get back through there, if we have to, by using this gun, but
the Voornizar will have to dig or bore their way. Their disintegrators
are like yours of Earth--uncontrolled. They are useful out in space
for destroying an enemy space ship at a distance, but one blast under
ground here would set off enough thermal energy to blow this whole city
off the green face of Venus."

       *       *       *       *       *

Denny was crouching on the floor. "Look at this!" he exclaimed. His
tiny flash revealed fresh marks in the damp sand which covered the
floor at that point. They were blurred, and had no resemblance to human

"At least one Voornizar passed this way," commented Klalmar-lan, "but
my guess is that Dwalbuth made these tracks, and was the only one who
knew the secret of this passage."

"It's a sure thing it's leading us to some place of
importance--Dwalbuth didn't take this walk for the fresh air," Denny

The tunnel's length seemed interminable, although Art estimated they
had not covered over four or five Earth miles. They found a tiny spring
of pure water trickling down the moss-shrouded stone wall, and drank
gratefully. Their lunch consisted of a few food tablets which Art had
been carrying.

At last a dim glow of light appeared ahead. Advancing warily, they
found the passage ran squarely into a plate metal barrier, which leaned
away from them at a slight angle. About head height, there was a small
ragged hole burned into it, through which came the light they had seen.
Denny applied his eyes to this.

"Smokin' Mercury!" he exclaimed, sotto voice. "Get a load of this,
Art!" Art looked. The sight was awesome. Far below, and stretching
into the dim distance, was a vast cavern. As far as the eye could see,
its floor was covered with huge silvery shapes--the mighty cruisers of
the Voornizar. Their close-packed ranks seemed to stretch for miles
into the darkness. The only light was the luminescence of the ships
themselves. The great domed roof was shrouded with gloom. The vantage
point from which Art looked seemed to be located high in the curved
side, and the metal barricade against which the tunnel ended was
actually the shell of the Gargantuan cavity.

Klalmar-lan then had a quick glance, then turned to them, elated.

"This is it! We've stumbled on the main pool. There must be nearly a
million ships down there."

Elene was looking now--she was unable to see any egress through which
the ships could be trundled to the surface. Doubtless there was a ramp
or elevator of some sort, probably on the far side beyond their range
of vision. Many Voornizar were moving among the great hulks, servicing
them, effecting minor repairs.

"We are now probably well outside the city proper," continued
Klalmar-lan. "Apparently this was once a great assembly hall, where
huge mass meetings or possibly some kind of sporting events, were held.
Some ancient king, wishing to spy upon the doings of his subjects
unobserved, caused this passageway to be dug and the peekhole to be
cut. Dwalbuth, in turn, utilized it for somewhat the same purpose."

"Looks like the work of a twentieth-century acetylene torch," laughed

"That might afford an excellent clue as to the comparative development
of their civilization," agreed Klalmar-lan gravely. "But enough
theorizing. We must utterly destroy all these ships. Wait here."

They watched as he moved back through the tunnel a short distance. He
trained his pistol on the wall. Rapidly a hole began to appear.

"It can't be far to the surface," he told them. "I'm going to burn a
tunnel upward at a steep angle. Keep a good watch in both directions."
Just then Art, his eye glued to the opening, saw that something was
amiss below. The Voornizar were running about excitedly. Faintly he
heard their discordant shouting, and the crackle of heat rays. Then he
saw, skimming and swerving above the rows of giant ships, a familiar
sight! Klalmar-lan's own spaceship, in which they had originally
embarked from Earth! Wildly, it plunged toward Art, then swung
erratically away and headed in a steep climb for the top of the dome.
Several small patrol fliers appeared, racing in pursuit. Searchlights
lanced through the blackness, illuminating the heretofore invisible
ceiling, which was apparently just what the pilot of Klalmar-lan's
ship hoped for. A passing searchlight beam revealed for an instant a
round, jagged hole in the center of the room; the little rocket ship
shot through it like an escaping minnow. The hole had evidently been
newly made by the Voornizar for the passage of their smaller and more
maneuverable craft, a half dozen of which now flashed through in

Art turned and related what he had seen.

       *       *       *       *       *

"That was Theller, or I'm not a broken down space eater," growled
Denny, "Here, let me spell you on that excavation work a while,
Klalmar-lan." Klalmar-lan had a tough job--it was getting more
difficult as the hole progressed. Hot gobbets of molten lava came
splashing down from time to time, preventing him from entering the
hole and following up his work. Acrid, choking fumes began to fill
the tunnel, but Klalmar-lan refused to let Denny or Art take over, on
account of their burned hands. It was two hours before daylight began
to show, fifty feet above.

"Now, while those rocks are cooling sufficiently for us to crawl
out, I'll show you what my plan is," said Klalmar-lan. "Has anyone
a chrono?" Elene slipped one from her wrist, handed it to him.
Quickly, he slipped it out of its case, began removing various parts.
He attached it to the trigger ring of his pistol, made a delicate
adjustment. Then he set the gun to full disintegrator. He rigged it so
that the muzzle pointed through the peep-hole, aimed at the ships below.

"We've got six hours to get out of here and put plenty of miles between
us and this place," he informed them. Hurriedly they scrambled up the
chimney he had made. The rock had cooled rapidly, as it was pouring
rain above, and water ran down in little rivulets. The four of them
were drenched by the time they reached the surface. The rain was
beating down in such a torrent that they could hardly get their breath.
It was warm, like a tepid shower. It was difficult to see more than a
few feet, but it was evident that they were in thick jungle.

"Let's head West," shouted Denny. "There's a bay that runs in here,
toward the city. We came in that way before, from the sea. Shouldn't
be far from here. If we can get on the open beach, it'll be lots
better going than this damned jungle." With this they had to agree,
and no time was lost in plunging into the jungle in the direction he
had indicated. The four were now weaponless, and would have fallen
easy prey to any one of a dozen varieties of carnivorous monsters
who habitually roamed the forest. But the creatures evidently did
not consider the rain conducive to good hunting, and so they were
unmolested. Two hours of exhausting struggle brought them out on the
beach, which had not been over a mile away.

"Now we can make time," said Denny. "This narrow strip of beach will
take us almost straight away from the space port for about twenty

"We'll do our best to cover it in the four hours we have left," Art
chuckled. They set out at a rapid clip, keeping a wary eye on both
jungle and sea, from either of which might spring sudden death at
any moment. The rain stopped, but lead-colored clouds still swirled
overhead, for Venus was eternally overcast. Plenty of drinking water
was to be found in the hollows of huge leaves--but the need for food
was becoming keen with all of them. Still, they did not dare tarry long
enough to find sustenance.

"There are a few species of fish in these waters which I know to be
edible," explained Denny. "When it's safe to stop, we can catch a few."

       *       *       *       *       *

"You may stop right now!" commanded a harsh voice from behind them.
They whirled--there, in the fringe of the jungle, his gray hair awry,
his eyes glittering with desperation, stood Doctor Theller, covering
them with the wide mouth of an electronic pistol.

"You--the Martian--I need your services. Come along--there's no time to
lose. The rest of you come, too." There was nothing to do but trudge
ahead of him through the jungle in the direction he indicated. There,
as they had expected, lay Klalmar-lan's ship.

"You are having a little trouble with my ship?" inquired the Martian
insolently, winking at his comrades.

"Yes, damn you--and you're going to fix it!" snarled the scientist.
"It was necessary for me to fly through a narrow opening--I grazed the
edge slightly. Two of the starboard main propulsion jets were sheared
away. I had no trouble losing my pursuers in the mist, but when I cut
in the main jets to leave the atmosphere, I merely looped about in
crazy trajectories. The right adjustment of the firing pattern would
compensate for this, but I could not find it. On one of my own ships,
yes, but this confounded Martian oddity is beyond my understanding. I
had to drop down here, and attempt to trace out the connections from
the firing panel. This I have been unable to do. You will do it for me!"

"Apparently you no longer occupy your former position of esteem with
the Voornizar," mocked Art.

"Get in the ship!" snapped Theller, glancing sharply at them. "You,
Klalmar-lan, pilot the ship. Set the course for Mars."


"Yes. We will land in a remote area, where we will pose as refugees
from Earth. That is, all of us except Klalmar-lan, of whom I will
dispose before reaching there. I am not beaten yet. I have friends
there, and with the secrets I have learned of the Martian weapons and
defenses, I will be able to build anew."

Art stepped forward, ignoring the threatening gun muzzle. "Doctor
Theller, it strikes me that you are in no position to dictate terms
to us. You are in as great a danger as we, how great a danger, you do
not even dream. Only Klalmar-lan can pilot this crippled ship. This he
can, and will, refuse to do. Now here are our terms. We will take you
to Mars alive, where we will turn you over to the authorities." Art was
loath to reveal as yet that they could set their course for Earth and
arrive there in perfect safety. "You do not dare kill any of us."

"Don't I?" sneered the scientist. "Watch me. If Klalmar-lan does not
get into that pilot seat before I count ten, I will blast Elene to a
cinder. Then I will kill you, Art. Then Denny. When only Klalmar-lan is
left, I will destroy him by inches, burning away a hand or foot at a
time." The electronic pistol swung toward Elene and he began counting.
White-faced, Art motioned despairingly to Klalmar-lan. The Martian's
black eyes were obsidian as he silently strapped himself in the seat.
The rest followed, Doctor Theller last, his pistol covering them.
Suddenly there was a sickening lurch, a numbing crash, and blackening


Through a dull, throbbing ache, Art began to wonder where he was.
His body seemed first to be spinning in a vast void, and yet again
seemed to be pinned against a hard cold surface. He felt repeated
small shocks, as of missiles striking him. From a distance a voice
was calling insistently. Rubbing sticky blood from his eyes, he saw a
greater flat expanse stretching away above him. Then his eyes focused.
It was the deck of the flier! And there at its far end sat Klalmar-lan
in the pilot seat! He was looking over his shoulder, calling, "Art!
Art! Get that ray pistol! Quickly!" Art looked about him sluggishly.
He saw the gun lying only a few feet from his face. But beyond it,
there was a crawling figure--a mad ravening thing whose clawlike hand
was even now extended to grasp the weapon! Art tried to move--he
could not budge. Something was pinning him down--the body of Denny.
He heaved desperately, but the man seemed to weigh tons. The truth of
the situation came to Art. The ship was still within the gravity of
Venus, and accelerating at a rate far beyond that of normal flight. The
inexorable force of the acceleration was pressing the four passengers
against the rear panel of the ship. Klalmar-lan could not leave his
pilot's seat, for he would never be able to return! And even then,
Theller's hand was closing on the grip of the pistol. The rocket ship
spun on its longitudinal axis like a giant gyroscope. Art felt himself
thrown from wall to wall, battered and bruised, but miraculously
retaining consciousness. He was free now, of the encumbrance. The
whirling stopped, and he drew himself painfully to a sitting position.
He looked wildly around for the gun. It was nowhere to be seen; but
Theller, pulling a long, bodkin-like dagger from his boot, was close
upon him. The dagger was raised for the plunge into Art's unprotected
heart, but there came a low hum from the front of the ship. Theller
collapsed, his muscles constricted into taut bands of agony by the
shock ray.

And Art's pain-wracked body once more found the peace of oblivion.

Sounds of laughter and conversation finally woke him again. Relaxed
and refreshed, he knew that he had slept long. He sat up in the bunk.
He was swathed in bandages, and medications had eased the pain of
his bruises and burns. Elene and Denny, also heavily bandaged, were
watching him smilingly. Klalmar-lan came toward him from the pilot's

"You're a fine pilot!" roared Art, in mock fury. "That was about the
worst take-off I have ever seen!" Klalmar-lan ruefully had to admit
that it was pretty bad.

"I had to do it, though, Art," he said. "It was our only chance. I
watched out of the corner of my eye. As soon as you were in, I threw
on the main jets, full power, thinking to leave Theller behind, but
I didn't time it quite right. He had managed to get in first. Of
course, you were all thrown heavily against the rear panel, which,
being padded, prevented serious injury. Naturally, we all blacked out
for a time from the acceleration. We had passed through the cloud
layer before I myself regained consciousness. Just in time to see the
most beautiful sight! The rear mirrograph showed the whole thing. The
clouds, which extend a full six miles above Venus' surface, parted like
a puff of smoke, and a huge flower of white flame, miles in diameter,
sprang up at us.

"The concussion boosted our speed at a terrific rate. But I discovered
that at least three Voornizar fighters had been scattered far enough
to avoid destruction, and were now speeding in savage pursuit. When I
saw Theller coming to, and crawling after that gun, I didn't know what
to do for a moment. I couldn't leave the cockpit and expect to return
without neutralizing our tremendous acceleration, which meant leveling
off, in which case our pursuers would be on us instantly.

"I shouted at you, threw pieces of my harness, anything to rouse you.
You finally woke, but Theller practically had the pistol by that time.
I spun the ship over a couple of times, which was cruel punishment
for all of you, but necessary. Well, I thought all was over when I
saw Theller about to knife you. But spinning the ship had dislodged
something from under the seat which Theller had evidently fastened
there previously--a shock ray pistol. I paralyzed him with that. In a
few hours we were out of Venus' gravity, and I was able to leave the
controls and revive the four of you." He strode to a bunk where Theller
lay, securely bound.

       *       *       *       *       *

"And now, I think you'd better tell me what happened to those two
Martian ships which disappeared enroute to Earth. At the time, knowing
of the secrets you had stolen from us, but nothing of your connection
with Voornizar, we were forced to regard it as an act of war on the
part of Earth, and cut off communications until we could investigate it
in our own way. Now it is obvious that you gave their schedule to the
Voornizar and had them intercepted."

"They disintegrated every trace of both of them!" shrieked the
murderer. "And I'm glad, glad, do you hear? I'd like to destroy
everything Martian! If my plan had gone right, some day I would have
brought you black devils to your knees. Knowing that I cannot do that,
I only want death."

"That wish you shall have--for on Mars a death sentence awaits you,"
Klalmar-lan answered grimly.

"On Mars?" asked Art swiftly. "But Klalmar-lan, Elene and I must get to
Earth. Even though the danger is over, we are badly needed for the work
of rebuilding and reorganizing. And--besides--we, well, hang it all, we
want to find someone to marry us."

"Don't worry, my friends," Klalmar-lan assured them. "You shall go to
Earth. In about two hours we will meet a Martian patrol which left Mars
for Venus at the same time the fleet left for Earth. I will transfer
to their ship with my prisoner, leaving you mine. I hope you will not
object to my taking an Earthian to Mars for trial--but my only motive
is to save the trouble of a trial when you will want to be devoting
your efforts to more important work."

"He's right," agreed Denny, "and here's another thing. Don't worry
about getting back to Earth to get married. Have you forgotten that I'm
a full commander, with the right to marry any couple aboard a ship in

Art and Elene hadn't forgotten.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Transcriber's Note: Original text had 2 Section IV headings. Section
headings renumbered to correct.]

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