Astounding Stories of Super-Science August 1931: Brood of the Dark Moon - Chapter II by@astoundingstories

Astounding Stories of Super-Science August 1931: Brood of the Dark Moon - Chapter II

A pulsing pain that stabbed through his head was Chet's first conscious impression. Then, as objects came slowly into focus before his eyes, he knew that above him a ray of light was striking slantingly through the thick glass of a control-room lookout.
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Astounding Stories of Super-Science August 1931, by Astounding Stories is part of HackerNoon’s Book Blog Post series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. Brood of the Dark Moon - Chapter II: Into Space

CHAPTER II. Into Space

A pulsing pain that stabbed through his head was Chet's first conscious impression. Then, as objects came slowly into focus before his eyes, he knew that above him a ray of light was striking slantingly through the thick glass of a control-room lookout.

Other lookouts were black, the dead black of empty space. Through them, sparkling points of fire showed here and there—suns, sending their light across millions of years to strike at last on a speeding ship. But, from the one port that caught the brighter light, came that straight ray to illumine the room.

"Space," thought Chet vaguely. "That is the sunlight of space!"

He was trying to arrange his thoughts in some sensible sequence. His head!—what had happened to his head?... And then he remembered. Again he saw a clubbed weapon descending, while the face of Schwartzmann stared at him through bulbous eyes....

And this control-room where he lay—he knew in an instant where he was. It was his own ship that was roaring and trembling beneath him—his and Walt Harkness'—it was flying through space! And, with the sudden realization of what this meant, he struggled to arise. Only then did he see the figure at the controls.

The man was leaning above an instrument board; he straightened to stare from a rear port while he spoke to someone Chet could not see.

"There's more of 'em coming!" he said in a choked voice. "Mein Gott! Neffer can we get away!"

He saw the luminous mass crush itself against a forward lookout and felt the jar of its body against their ship. Soft and vaporous, these cloud-like serpents seemed as they drifted through space; yet the impact, when they struck, proved that this new matter had mass.

Chet saw the figure at the controls stagger back and cower in fear; the man's bullet-shaped head was covered by his upraised arms: there was some horror outside those windows that his eyes had no wish to see. Beside him the towering figure of Schwartzmann appeared; he had sprung into Chet's view, and he screamed orders at the fear-stricken pilot.

"Fool! Swine!" Schwartzmann was shouting. "Do something! You said you could fly this ship!" In desperation he leaped forward and reached for the controls himself.

Chet's blurred faculties snapped sharply to attention. That yellow glow against the port—the jarring of their ship—it meant instant destruction once that searching snout found some place where it could secure a hold. If the air-pressure within the ship were released; if even a crack were opened!—

"Here, you!" he shouted to the frantic Schwartzmann who was jerking frenziedly at the controls that no longer gave response. "Cut these ropes!—leave those instruments alone, you fool!" He was suddenly vibrant with hate as he realized what this man had done: he had struck him, Chet, down as he would have felled an animal for butchery; he had stolen their ship; and now he was losing it. Chet hardly thought of his own desperate plight in his rage at this threat to their ship, and at Schwartzmann's inability to help himself.

"Cut these ropes!" he repeated. "Damn it all, turn me loose; I can fly us out!" He added his frank opinion of Schwartzmann and all his men. And Schwartzmann, though his dark face flushed angrily red for one instant, leaped to Chet's side and slashed at the cords with a knife.

The room swam before Chet's dizzy eyes as he came to his feet. He half fell, half drew himself full length toward the valve that he alone knew. Then again he was on his feet and he gripped at the ball-control with one hand while he opened a master throttle that cut in this new supply of explosive.

The room had been silent with the silence of empty space, save only for the scraping of a horrid body across the ship's outer shell. The silence was shattered now as if by the thunder of many guns. There was no time for easing themselves into gradual flight. Chet thrust forward on the ball-control, and the blast from their stern threw the ship as if it had been fired from a giant cannon.

The self-compensating floor swung back and up; Chet's weight was almost unbearable as the ship beneath him leaped out and on, and the terrific blast that screamed and thundered urged this speeding shell to greater and still greater speed. And then, with the facility that that speed gave, Chet's careful hands moved a tiny metal ball within its magnetic cage, and the great ship bellowed from many ports as it followed the motion of that ball.

Could an eye have seen the wild, twisting flight, it must have seemed as if pilot and ship had gone suddenly mad. The craft corkscrewed and whirled; it leaped upward and aside; and, as the glowing mass was thrown clear of the lookout, Chet's hand moved again to that maximum forward position, and again the titanic blast from astern drove them on and out.

There were other shapes ahead, glowing lines of fire, luminous masses like streamers of cloud that looped themselves into contorted forms and writhed vividly until they straightened into sharp lines of speed that bore down upon the fleeing craft and the human food that was escaping these hungry snouts.

Chet saw them dead ahead; he saw the out-thrust heads, each ending in a great suction-cup, the row of disks that were eyes blazing above, and the gaping maw below. He altered their course not a hair's breadth as he bore down upon them, while the monsters swelled prodigiously before his eyes. And the thunderous roar from astern came with never a break, while the ship itself ceased its trembling protest against the sudden blast and drove smoothly on and into the waiting beasts.

There was a hardly perceptible thudding jar. They were free! And the forward lookouts showed only the brilliant fires of distant suns and one more glorious than the rest that meant a planet.

Chet turned at last to face Schwartzmann and his pilot where they had clung helplessly to a metal stanchion. Four or five others crept in from the cabin aft; their blanched faces told of the fear that bad gripped them—fear of the serpents; fear, too, of the terrific plunges into which the ship had been thrown. Chet Bullard drew the metal control-ball back into neutral and permitted himself the luxury of a laugh.

"You're a fine bunch of highway-men," he told Schwartzmann; "you'll steal a ship you can't fly; then come up here above the R. A. level and get mixed up with those brutes. What's the idea? Did you think you would just hop over to the Dark Moon? Some little plan like that in your mind?"

Again the dark, heavy face of Schwartzmann flushed deeply; but it was his own men upon whom he turned.

"You," he told the pilot—"you were so clever; you would knock this man senseless! You would insist that you could fly the ship!"

The pilot's eyes still bulged with the fear he had just experienced. "But, Herr Schwartzmann, it was you who told me—"

A barrage of unintelligible words cut his protest short. Schwartzmann poured forth imprecations in an unknown tongue, then turned to the others.

"Back!" he ordered. "Bah!—such men! The danger it iss over—yess! This pilot, he will take us back safely."

He turned his attention now to the waiting Chet. "Herr Bullard, iss it not—yess?"

He launched into extended apologies—he had wanted a look at this so marvelous ship—he had spied upon it; he admitted it. But this murderous attack was none of his doing; his men had got out of hand; and then he had thought it best to take Chet, unconscious as he was, and return with him where he could have care.

And Chet Bullard kept his eyes steadily upon the protesting man and said nothing, but he was thinking of a number of things. There was Walt's warning, "this Schwartzmann means mischief," and the faked message that had brought him from the hospital to get the ship from its hiding place; no, it was too much to believe. But Chet's eyes were unchanging, and he nodded shortly in agreement as the other concluded.

"You will take us back?" Schwartzmann was asking. "I will repay you well for what inconvenience we have caused. The ship, you will return it safely to the place where it was?"

And Chet, after making and discarding a score of plans, knew there was nothing else he could do. He swung the little metal ball into a sharply-banked turn. The straight ray of light from an impossibly brilliant sun struck now on a forward lookout; it shone across the shoulder of a great globe to make a white, shining crescent as of a giant moon. It was Earth; and Chet brought the bow-sights to bear on that far-off target, while again the thunderous blast was built up to drive them back along the trackless path on which they had come. But he wondered, as he pressed forward on the control, what the real plan of this man, Schwartzmann, might be....

Less than half an hour brought them to the Repelling Area, and Chet felt the upward surge as he approached it. Here, above this magnetic field where gravitation's pull was nullified, had been the air-lanes for fast liners. Empty lanes they were now; for the R. A., as the flying fraternity knew it—the Heaviside Layer of an earlier day—marked the danger line above which the mysterious serpents lay in wait. Only the speed of Chet's ship saved them; more than one of the luminous monsters was in sight as he plunged through the invisible R. A. and threw on their bow-blast strongly to check their fall.

Then, as he set a course that would take them to that section of the Arctic waste where the ship had been, he pondered once more upon the subject of this Schwartzmann of the shifty eyes and the glib tongue and of his men who had "got out of hand" and had captured this ship.

"Why in thunder are we back here?" Chet asked himself in perplexity. "This big boy means to keep the ship; and, whatever his plans may have been before, he will never stop short of the Dark Moon now that he has seen the old boat perform. Then why didn't he keep on when he was started? Had the serpents frightened him back?"

He was still mentally proposing questions to which there seemed no answer when he felt the pressure of a metal tube against his back. The voice of Schwartzmann was in his ears.

"This is a detonite pistol"—that voice was no longer unctuous and self-deprecating—"one move and I'll plant a charge inside you that will smash you to a jelly!"

There were hands that gripped Chet before he could turn; his arms were wrenched backward; he was helpless in the grip of Schwartzmann's men. The former pilot sprang forward.

"Take control, Max!" Schwartzmann snapped; but he followed it with a question while the pilot was reaching for the ball. "You can fly it for sure, Max?"

The man called Max answered confidently.

"Ja wohl!" he said with eager assurance. "Up top there would have been no trouble yet for that verdammt, verloren valve. That one experimental trip is enough—I fly it!"

Those who held Chet were binding his wrists. He was thrown to the floor while his feet were tied, and, as a last precaution, a gag was forced into his mouth. Schwartzmann left this work to his men. He paid no attention to Chet; he was busy at the radio.

He placed the sending-levers in strange positions that would effect a blending of wave lengths which only one receiving instrument could pick up. He spoke cryptic words into the microphone, then dropped into a language that was unfamiliar to Chet. Yet, even then, it was plain that he was giving instructions, and he repeated familiar words.

"Harkness," Chet heard him say, and, "—Delacouer—ja!—Mam'selle Delacouer!"

Then, leaving the radio, he said, "Put my ship inside the hangar;" and the pilot, Max, grounded their own ship to allow the men to leap out and float into the big building the big aircraft in which Schwartzmann had come.

"Now close the doors!" their leader ordered. "Leave everything as it was!" And to the pilot he gave added instructions: "There iss no air traffic here. You will to forty thousand ascend, und you will wait over this spot." Contemptuously he kicked aside the legs of the bound man that he might walk back into the cabin.

The take-off was not as smooth as it would have been had Chet's slim hands been on the controls; this burly one who handled them now was not accustomed to such sensitivity. But Chet felt the ship lift and lurch, then settle down to a swift, spiralling ascent. Now he lay still as he tried to ponder the situation.

"Now what dirty work are they up to?" he asked himself. He had seen a sullen fury on the dark face of Herr Schwartzmann as he spoke the names of Walt and Diane into the radio. Chet remembered the look now, and he struggled vainly with the cords about his wrists. Even a detonite pistol with its tiny grain of explosive in the end of each bullet would not check him—not when Walt and Diane were endangered. And the expression on that heavy, scowling face had told him all too clearly that some real danger threatened.

But the cords held fast on his swollen wrists. His head was still throbbing; and even his side, not entirely healed, was adding to the torment that beat upon him—beat and beat with his pulsing blood—until the beating faded out into unconsciousness....

Dimly he knew they were soaring still higher as their radio picked up the warning of an approaching patrol ship; vaguely he realized that they descended again to a level of observation. Chet knew in some corner of his brain that Schwartzmann was watching from an under lookout with a powerful glass, and he heard his excited command:

"Down—go slowly, down!... They are landing.... They have entered the hangar. Now, down with it, Max! Down! down!"

The plunging fall of the ship roused Chet from his stupor. He felt the jolt of the clumsy landing despite the snow-cushioned ground; he heard plainly the exclamations from beyond an open port—the startled oath in Walter Harkness' voice, and the stinging scorn in the words of Diane Delacouer.

Herr Schwartzmann had been in the employ of Mademoiselle Delacouer, but he was taking orders no longer. There was a sound of scuffling feet, and once the thud of a blow.... Then Chet watched with heavy, hopeless eyes as the familiar faces of Diane and Walt appeared in the doorway. Their hands were bound; they, too, were threatened with a slim-barreled pistol in the hands of the smirking, exultant Schwartzmann.

A tall, thin-faced man whom Chet had not seen before followed them into the room. The newcomer was motioned forward now, as Schwartzmann called an order to the pilot:

"All right; now we go, Max! Herr Doktor Kreiss will give you the bearings; he knows his way among the stars."

Herr Schwartzmann doubled over in laughing appreciation of his own success before he straightened up and regarded his captives with cold eyes.

"Such a pleasure!" he mocked: "such charming passengers to take with me on my first trip into space; this ship, it iss not so goot. I will build better ships later on; I will let you see them when I shall come to visit you."

He laughed again at sight of the wondering looks in the eyes of the three; stooping, he jerked the gag from Chet's mouth.

"You do not understand," he exclaimed. "I should haff explained. You see, meine guten Freunde, we go—ach!—you have guessed it already! We go to the Dark Moon. I am pleased to take you with me on the trip out; but coming back, I will have so much to bring—there will be no room for passengers.

"I could have killed you here," he said; and his mockery gave place for a moment to a savage tone, "but the patrol ships, they are everywhere. But I have influence here und there—I arranged that your flask of gas should be charged with explosive, I discredited you, and yet I could not so great a risk take as to kill you all."

"So came inspiration! I called your foolish young friend here from the hospital. I ordered him to go at once to the ship hidden where I could not find, and I signed the name of Herr Harkness."

Chet caught the silent glances of his friends who could yet smile hopefully through the other emotions that possessed them. He ground his teeth as the smooth voice of Herr Schwartzmann went on:

"He led me here; the young fool! Then I sent for you—and this time I signed his name—und you came. So simple!"

"Und now we go in my ship to my new world. And," he added savagely, "if one of you makes the least trouble, he will land on the Dark Moon-yess!-but he will land hard, from ten thousand feet up!"

The great generator was roaring. To Chet came the familiar lift of the R. A. effect. They were beyond the R. A.; they were heading out and away from Earth; and his friends were captives through his own unconscious treachery, carried out into space in their own ship, with the hands of an enemy gripping the controls....

Chet's groan, as he turned his face away from the others who had tried to smile cheerfully, had nothing to do with the pain of his body. It was his mind that was torturing him.

But he muttered broken words as he lay there, words that had reference to one Schwartzmann. "I'll get him, damn him! I'll get him!" he was promising himself.

And Herr Schwartzmann who was clever, would have proved his cleverness still more by listening. For a Master Pilot of the World does not get his rating on vain boasts. He must know first his flying, his ships and his air—but he is apt to make good in other ways as well.

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Various. 2010. Astounding Stories of Super-Science, August 1931. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved May 2022 from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/33016/33016-h/33016-h.htm#Brood_of_the_Dark_Moon

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