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 IV: The Return to the Dark Moon
No man faces death in so shocking a form without feeling the effects. Death had flicked them with a finger of flame and had passed them by. Chet Bullard found his hands trembling uncontrollably as he fumbled for a book and opened it. The tables of figures printed there were blurred at first to his eyes, but he forced himself to forget the threat that was past, for there was another menace to consider now.
And uppermost in his mind, when his thoughts came back into some approximate order, was condemnation of himself for an opportunity that was gone.
"I could have jumped him," he told himself with bitter self-reproach; "I could have grabbed the pistol from Kreiss—the man was petrified." And then Chet had to admit a fact there was no use of denying: "I was as paralyzed as he was," he said, and only knew he had spoken aloud when he saw the puzzled look that crossed Harkness' face.
Harkness and Diane had drawn near. In a far corner of the little room Schwartzmann had motioned to Kreiss to join him; they were as far away from the others as could be managed. Schwartzmann, Chet judged, needed some scientific explanation of these disturbing events; also he needed to take the detonite pistol from Kreiss' hand and jam it into his own hand. His eyes, at Chet's unconscious exclamation, had come with instant suspicion toward the two men.
"Forty-seven hours, Walt," the pilot said, and repeated it loudly for Schwartzmann's benefit; "—forty-seven hours before we return to this spot. We are driving out into space; we've crossed the orbit of the Dark Moon, and we're doing twenty thousand miles an hour.
"Now we must decelerate. It will take twenty hours to check us to zero speed; then twenty-seven more to shoot us back to this same point in space, allowing, of course, for a second deceleration. The same figuring with only slight variation will cover a return to the Dark Moon. As we sweep out I can allow for the moon-motion, and we'll hit it at a safe landing speed on the return trip this time."
Chet was paying little attention to his companion as he spoke. His eyes, instead, were covertly watching the bulky figure of Schwartzmann. As he finished, their captor shot a volley of questions at the scientist beside him; he was checking up on the pilot's remarks.
Chet was leaning forward to stare intently from a lookout, his head was close to that of Harkness.
"Listen, Walt," he whispered; "the Moon's out of sight; it's easy to lose. Maybe I can't find it again, anyway—it's going to take some nice navigating—but I'll miss it by ten thousand miles if you say so, and even the Herr Doktor can't check me on it."
"Just check me on this," he told Harkness.
He put down meaningless figures, while the man beside him remained silent. Over and over he wrote them—would Harkness never reach a decision?—over and over, until—
"I don't agree with that," Harkness told him and reached for the stylus in Chet's hand. And, while he appeared to make his own swift computations, there were words instead of figures that flowed from his pen.
"Only alternative: return to Earth," he wrote. "Then S will hold off; wait in upper levels. Kreiss will give him new bearings. We'll shoot out again and do it better next time. Kreiss is nobody's fool. S means to maroon us on Moon—kill us perhaps. He'll get us there, sure. We might as well go now."
Chet had seen a movement across the room. "Let's start all over again," he broke in abruptly. He covered the writing with a clean sheet of paper where he set down more figures. He was well under way when Schwartzmann's quick strides brought him towering above them. Again the detonite pistol was in evidence; its small black muzzle moved steadily from Harkness to Chet.
"For your life—such as is left of it—you may thank Herr Doktor Kreiss," he told Chet. "I thought at first you would have attempted to kill us." His smile, as he regarded them, seemed to Chet to be entirely evil. "You were near death twice, my dear Herr Bullard; and the danger is not entirely removed.
"'Forty-seven hours' you have said; in forty-seven hours you will land us on the Dark Moon. If you do not,"—he raised the pistol suggestively—"remember that the pilot, Max, can always take us back to Earth. You are not indispensable."
Chet looked at the dark face and its determined and ominous scowl. "You're a cheerful sort of soul, aren't you?" he demanded. "Do you have any faint idea of what a job this is? Do you know we will shoot another two hundred thousand miles straight out before I can check this ship? Then we come back; and meanwhile the Dark Moon has gone on its way. Had you thought that there's a lot of room to get lost in out here?"
"Forty-seven hours!" said Schwartzmann. "I would advise that you do not lose your way."
Chet shot one quizzical glance at Harkness.
"That," he said, "makes it practically unanimous."
Schwartzmann, with an elaborate show of courtesy, escorted Diane Delacouer to a cabin where she might rest. At a questioning look between Diane and Harkness, their captor reassured them.
"Mam'selle shall be entirely safe," he said. "She may join you here whenever she wishes. As for you,"—he was speaking to Harkness—"I will permit you to stay here. I could tie you up but this iss not necessary."
And Harkness must have agreed that it was indeed unnecessary, for either Kreiss or Max, or some other of Schwartzmann's men, was at his side continuously from that moment on.
Chet would have liked a chance for a quiet talk and an exchange of ideas. It seemed that somewhere, somehow, he should be able to find an answer to their problem. He stared moodily out into the blackness ahead, where a distant star was seemingly their goal. Harkness stood at his side or paced back and forth in the little room, until he threw himself, at last, upon a cot.
And always the great stern-blast roared; muffled by the insulated walls, its unceasing thunder came at last to be unheard. To the pilot there was neither sound nor motion. His directional sights were unswervingly upon that distant star ahead. Seemingly they were suspended, helpless and inert, in a black void. But for the occasional glowing masses of strange living substance that flashed past in this ocean of space, he must almost have believed they were motionless—a dead ship in a dead, black night.
But the luminous things flashed and were gone—and their coming, strangely, was from astern; they flicked past and vanished up ahead. And, by this, Chet knew that their tremendous momentum was unchecked. Though he was using the great stern blast to slow the ship, it was driving stern-first into outer space. Nor, for twenty hours, was there a change, more than a slackening of the breathless speed with which the lights went past.
Twenty hours—and then Chet knew that they were in all truth hung motionless, and he prayed that his figures that told him this were correct.... More timeless minutes, an agony of waiting—and a dimly-glowing mass that was ahead approached their bow, swung off and vanished far astern. And, with its going, Chet knew that the return trip was begun.
He gave Harkness the celestial bearing marks and relinquished the helm. "Full speed ahead as you are," he ordered: "then at nineteen-forty on W.S. time, we'll cut it and ease on bow repulsion to the limit."
And, despite the strangeness of their surroundings, the ceaseless, murmuring roar of the exhaust, the weird world outside, where endless space was waiting for man's exploration—despite the deadly menace that threatened, Chet dropped his head upon his outflung arms and slept.
To his sleep-drugged brain it was scarcely a moment until a hand was dragging at his shoulder.
"Forty-seven hours!" the voice of Schwartzmann was saying.
And: "Some navigating!" Harkness was exclaiming in flattering amazement. "Wake up, Chet! Wake up! The Dark Moon's in sight. You've hit it on the nose, old man: she isn't three points off the sights!"
The bow-blast was roaring full on. Ahead of them Chet's sleepy eyes found a circle of violet; and he rubbed his eyes savagely that he might take his bearings on Sun and Earth.
As it had been before, the Earth was a giant half-moon; like a mirror-sphere it shot to them across the vast distance the reflected glory of the sun. But the globe ahead was a ghostly world. Its black disk was lost in the utter blackness of space. It was a circle, marked only by the absence of star-points and by the halo of violet glow that edged it about.
Chet cut down the repelling blast. He let the circle enlarge, then swung the ship end for end in mid-space that the more powerful stern exhaust might be ready to counteract the gravitational pull of the new world.
Again those impalpable clouds surrounded them. Here was the enveloping gas that made this a dark moon—the gas, if Harkness' theory was correct, that let the sun's rays pass unaltered; that took the light through freely to illumine this globe, but that barred its return passage as reflected light.
Black—dead black was the void into which they were plunging, until the darkness gave way before a gentle glow that enfolded their ship. The golden light enveloped them in growing splendor. Through every lookout it was flooding the cabin with brilliant rays, until, from below them, directly astern of the ship, where the thundering blast checked their speed of descent, emerged a world.
And, to Chet Bullard, softly fingering the controls of the first ship of space—to Chet Bullard, whose uncanny skill had brought the tiny speck that was their ship safely back from the dark recesses of the unknown—there came a thrill that transcended any joy of the first exploration.
Here was water in great seas of unreal hue—and those seas were his! Vast continents, ripe for adventure and heavy with treasure—and they, too, were his! His own world—his and Diane's and Walt's! Who was this man, Schwartzmann, that dared dream of violating their possessions?
A slender tube pressed firmly, uncompromisingly, into his back to give the answer to his question. "Almost I wish you had missed it!" Herr Schwartzmann was saying. "But now you will land; you will set us down in some place that you know. No tricks, Herr Bullard! You are clever, but not clever enough for that. We will land, yess, where you know it is safe."
From the lookout, the man stared for a moment with greedy eyes; then brought his gaze back to the three. His men, beside Harkness and Diane, were alert; the scientist, Kreiss, stood close to Chet.
"A nice little world," Schwartzmann told them. "Herr Harkness, you have filed claims on it; who am I to dispute with the great Herr Harkness? Without question it iss yours!"
He laughed loudly, while his eyes narrowed between creasing wrinkles of flesh. "You shall enjoy it," he told them; "—all your life."
And Chet, as he caught the gaze of Harkness and Diane, wondered how long this enjoyment would last. "All your life!" But this was rather indefinite as a measure of time.
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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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