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A Burn on a Martian Armby@astoundingstories
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A Burn on a Martian Arm

by Astounding StoriesOctober 5th, 2022
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I DID not appear at that morning meal. I was exhausted and drugged with lack of sleep. I had a moment with Snap, to tell him what had occurred. Then I sought out Carter. He had his little chart-room insulated. And we were cautious. I told him what Snap and I had learned: the Gamma rays from the moon, proving that Grantline had concentrated a considerable ore-body. I also told him the message from Grantline.
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Astounding Stories of Super-Science, March 1930, by Astounding Stories is part of HackerNoon’s Book Blog Post series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. Brigands of the Moon: Chapter IV.

CHAPTER IV. A Burn on a Martian Arm

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

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

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

“You think he overheard Grantline’s message?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Who was it? You seem to feel it was George Prince?”

“Yes.”

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

“Johnson is all right, Gregg.”

“Is he? Does he know anything about this Grantline affair?”

“No––no,” said the captain hastily. “You haven’t mentioned it, have you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ob Hahn,” I repeated. “I should have heard of you, no doubt. But––”

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

“He’s preaching the religion of the Venus Mystics,” Snap explained.

“And this enlightened gentleman,” said Ob Hahn ironically, “has just termed it fetishism. The ignorance––”

“Oh, I say!” protested the man at Ob Hahn’s side. “I mean, you seem to think I intended something opprobrious. As a matter of fact––”

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

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

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

I ordered my breakfast and let the argument go on.

“Won’t make me miserable,” said Snap. “I love an argument. You said, Sir Arthur?...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Various. 2009. Astounding Stories of Super-Science, March 1930. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved May 2022 from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/29607/29607-h/29607-h.htm#BRIGANDS_OF_THE_MOON_THE_BOOK_OF_GREGG_HALJAN_BEGINNING_A_FOURPART_NOVEL

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