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 I.
Tells of the Grantline Moon Expedition and of the Mysterious Martian Who Followed Us in the City Corridor
ONE may write about oneself and still not be an egoist. Or so, at least, they tell me. My narrative went broadcast with a fair success. It was pantomimed and the public flashed me a reasonable approval. And so my disc publishers have suggested that I record it in more permanent form.
I introduce myself, begging grace that I intrude upon your busy minutes, with my only excuse that perhaps I may amuse you. For what the commercial sellers of my pictured version were pleased to blare as my handsome face, I ask your indulgence. My feminine audience of the pantomimes was undoubtedly graciously pleased at my personality and physical aspect. That I am “tall as a Viking of old”––and “handsome as a young Norse God”––is very pretty talk in the selling of my product. But I deplore its intrusion into the personality of this, my recorded narrative. And so now, for preface, to all my audience I do give earnest assurance that Gregg Haljan is no conceited zebra, handsomely striped by nature, and proud of it. Not so. I am, I do beg you to believe, a very humble fellow, striving for your approval, hoping only to entertain you.
My introduction: My name, Gregg Haljan. My age, twenty-five years. I was, at the time my narrative begins, Third Officer on the Space-Ship Planetara. Our line was newly established; in 2070, to be exact, following the modern improvements of the Martel Magnetic Levitation.
OUR ship, whose home port was Great-New York, carried mail and passenger traffic to and from both Venus and Mars. Of astronomical necessity, our flights were irregular. This spring, with the two other planets both close to the earth, we were making two complete round trips. We had just arrived in Great-New York, this May evening, from Grebhar, Venus Free State. With only five hours in port 309here, we were departing the same night at the zero hour for Ferrok-Shahn, capital of the Martian Union.
We were no sooner at the landing stage than I found a code-flash summoning Dan Dean and me to Divisional Detective Headquarters. Dan “Snap” Dean was one of my closest friends. He was radio-helio operator of the Planetara. A small, wiry, red-headed chap, with a quick, ready laugh and a wit that made everyone like him.
The summons to Detective-Colonel Halsey’s office surprised us. Snap eyed me.
“You haven’t been opening any treasury vaults, have you, Gregg?”
“He wants you, also,” I retorted.
He laughed. “Well, he can roar at me like a traffic switchman and my private life will remain my own.”
We could not think why we should be wanted. It was the darkness of mid-evening when we left the Planetara for Halsey’s office. It was not a long trip. We went direct in the upper monorail, descending into the subterranean city at Park-Circle 30.
WE HAD never been to Halsey’s office before. We found it to be a gloomy, vaultlike place in one of the deepest corridors. The door lifted.
“Gregg Haljan and Daniel Dean.”
The guard stood aside. “Come in.”
I own that my heart was unduly thumping as we entered. The door dropped behind us. It was a small blue-lit apartment––a steel-lined room like a vault.
Colonel Halsey sat at his desk. And the big, heavy-set, florid Captain Carter––our commander of the Planetara––was here. That surprised us: we had not seen him leave the ship.
Halsey smiled at us gravely. Captain Carter said, “Sit down, lads.”
We took the seats. There was an alarming solemnity about this. If I had been guilty of anything that I could think of, it would have been frightening. But Halsey’s first words reassured me.
“It’s about the Grantline Moon Expedition. In spite of our secrecy, the news has gotten out. We want to know how. Can you tell us?”
Captain Carter’s huge bulk––he was about as tall as I am––towered over us as we sat before Halsey’s desk. “If you lads have told anyone––said anything––let slip the slightest hint about it––”
Snap smiled with relief; but he turned solemn at once. “I haven’t. Not a word!”
“Nor have I,” I declared.
THE Grantline Moon Expedition! We had not thought of that as a reason for this summons. Johnny Grantline was a close friend to us both. He had organized an exploring expedition to the Moon. Uninhabited, with its bleak, forbidding, airless, waterless surface, the Moon––even though so close to the Earth––was seldom visited. No regular ship ever stopped there. A few exploring parties of recent years had come to grief.
But there was a persistent rumor that upon the Moon, mineral riches of fabulous wealth were awaiting discovery. The thing had already caused some interplanetary complications. The aggressive Martians would be only too glad to explore the Moon. But the U.S.W. definitely warned them away. The Moon was World Territory, we announced, and we would protect it as such.
The threatened conflict between the Earth and Mars had come to nothing. There was, this year of 2079, a thorough amity between all three of the inhabited planets. It still holds, and I pray that it may always hold.
There was, nevertheless, a realization by our government, that whatever riches might be upon the Moon should be seized at once and held by some reputable Earth Company. And when Johnny 310Grantline applied, with his father’s wealth and his own scientific record of attainment, the government was only too glad to grant him its writ.
THE Grantline Expedition had started six months ago. The Martian government had acquiesced in our ultimatum, yet brigands have been known to be financed under cover of a governmental disavowal. And so the expedition was kept secret.
My words need give no offense to any Martian who comes upon them. I refer to the history of our earth only. The Grantline Expedition was on the Moon now. No word had come from it. One could not flash helios even in code without letting all the universe know that explorers were on the Moon. And why they were there, anyone could easily guess.
And now Colonel Halsey was telling us that the news was abroad! Captain Carter eyed us closely; his flashing eyes under the white bushy brows would pry a secret from anyone.
“You’re sure? A girl of Venus, perhaps, with her cursed, seductive lure! A chance word, with you lads befuddled by alcolite?”
We assured him we had been careful. By the heavens, I know that I had been. Not a whisper, even to Snap, of the name Grantline in six months or more.
Captain Carter added abruptly, “We’re insulated here, Halsey?”
“Yes, talk as freely as you like. An eavesdropping ray will never get into these walls.”
THEY questioned us. They were satisfied at last that, though the secret had escaped, we had not done it. Hearing it discussed, it occurred to me to wonder why Carter was concerned. I was not aware that he knew of Grantline’s venture. I learned now the reason why the Planetara, upon each of her voyages, had managed to pass fairly close to the Moon. It had been arranged with Grantline that if he wanted help or had any important message, he was to flash it locally to our passing ship. And this Snap knew, and had never mentioned it, even to me.
Halsey was saying, “Well, we can’t blame you, but the secret is out.”
Snap and I regarded each other. What could anyone do? What would anyone dare do?
Captain Carter said abruptly, “Look here, lads, this is my chance now to talk plainly to you. Outside, anywhere outside these walls, an eavesdropping ray may be upon us. You know that? One may never even dare whisper since that accursed ray was developed.”
Snap opened his mouth to speak but decided against it. My heart was pounding.
Captain Carter went on, “I know I can trust you two more than anyone else under me on the Planetara––”
“What do you mean by that?” I demanded. “What––”
He interrupted me. “Nothing at all but what I say.”
HALSEY smiled grimly. “What he means, Haljan, is that things are not always what they seem these days. One cannot always tell a friend from an enemy. The Planetara is a public vessel. You have––how many is it, Carter?––thirty or forty passengers this trip to-night?”
“Thirty-eight,” said Carter.
“There are thirty-eight people listed for the flight to Ferrok-Shahn to-night,” Halsey said slowly. “And some may not be what they seem.” He raised his thin dark hand. “We have information––” He paused. “I confess, we know almost nothing––hardly more than enough to alarm us.”
Captain Carter interjected, “I want you and Dean to be on your guard. Once on the Planetara it is difficult for us to talk openly, but be watchful. I will arrange for us to be doubly armed.”
Vague, perturbing words! Halsey said, “They tell me George Prince is listed for the voyage. I am suggesting, 311Haljan, that you keep your eye especially upon him. Your duties on the Planetara leave you comparatively free, don’t they?”
“Yes,” I agreed. With the first and second officers on duty, and the captain aboard, my routine was more or less that of an understudy.
I said, “George Prince! Who is he?”
“A mechanical engineer,” said Halsey. “An under-official of the Earth Federated Radium Corporation. But he associates with bad companions––particularly Martians.”
I had never heard of this George Prince, though I was familiar with the Federated Radium Corporation, of course. A semi-government trust, which controlled virtually the entire Earth supply of radium.
“He was in the Automotive Department,” Carter put in. “You’ve heard of the Federated Radium Motor?”
WE had, of course. A recent Earth invention which promised to revolutionize the automotive industry. An engine of a new type, using radium as its fuel.
Snap demanded, “What in the stars has this got to do with Johnny Grantline?”
“Much,” said Halsey quietly, “or perhaps nothing. But George Prince some years ago mixed in rather unethical transactions. We had him in custody once. He is known now as unusually friendly with several Martians in New York of bad reputation.”
“Well––” began Snap.
“What you don’t know,” Halsey went on quietly, “is that Grantline expects to find radium on the Moon.”
“Exactly,” said Halsey. “The ill-fated Ballon Expedition thought they had found it on the Moon some years ago. A new type of ore, as rich in radium as our gold-bearing sands are rich in gold. Ballon’s first samples gave uranium atoms with a fair representation of ionium and thorium. A richly radio-active ore. A lode of the pure radium is there somewhere, without doubt.”
HE added vehemently, “Do you understand now why we should be suspicious of this George Prince? He has a criminal record. He has a thorough technical knowledge of radium ores. He associates with Martians of bad reputation. A large Martian Company has recently developed a radium engine to compete with our Earth motor. You know that? You know that there is very little radium available on Mars, and our government will not allow our own radium supply to be exported. That Martian Company needs radium. It will do anything to get radium. What do you suppose it would pay for a few tons of really rich radio-active ore––such as Grantline may have found on the Moon?”
“But,” I objected, “that is a reputable Martian company. It’s backed by the government of the Martian Union. The government of Mars would not dare––”
“Of course not!” Captain Carter exclaimed sardonically. “Not openly! But if Martian brigands had a supply of radium––I don’t imagine where it came from would make much difference. That Martian Company would buy it.”
Halsey added, “And George Prince, my agents inform me, seems to know that Grantline is on the Moon. Put it all together, lads. Little sparks show the hidden current.
“More than that: George Prince knows that we have arranged to have the Planetara stop at the Moon and bring back Grantline’s radium-ore. This is your last voyage this year. You’ll hear from Grantline this time, we’re convinced. He’ll probably give you the signal as you pass the Moon on your way out. Coming back, you’ll stop at the Moon and transport whatever radium-ore Grantline has ready. The Grantline Flyer is too small for ore transportation.”
In the silence that followed, Snap and I regarded each other. Halsey added abruptly,
“We had George Prince typed that time we arrested him four years ago. I’ll show him to you.”
He snapped open an alcove, and said to his waiting attendant, “Get me the type of George Prince.”
The disc in a moment came through the pneumatic. Halsey, smiling wryly, adjusted it.
“A nice looking fellow. Nicely spoken. Though at the time we made this he was somewhat annoyed, naturally. He is older now. Twenty-nine, to be exact. Here he is.”
The image glowed on the grids before us. His name, George Prince, in letters illumined upon his forehead, showed for a moment and then faded. He stood smiling sourly before us as he repeated the official formula:
“My name is George Prince. I was born in Great-New York City twenty-five years ago.”
IGAZED at this life-size, moving image of George Prince. He stood somber in the black detention uniform. A dark, almost a girlishly handsome fellow, well below medium height––the rod beside him showed five feet four inches. Slim and slight. Long, wavy black hair, falling about his ears. A pale, clean-cut, really handsome face, almost beardless. I regarded it closely. A face that would have been femininely beautiful without its masculine touch of heavy black brows and firmly set jaw. His voice as he spoke was low and soft; but at the end, with the concluding words, “I am innocent!” it flashed into strong masculinity. His eyes, shaded with long, girlish black lashes, by chance met mine. “I am innocent.” His curving sensuous lips drew down into a grim sneer....
The type faded at its end. Halsey replaced the disc in its box and waved the attendant away. “Thank you.”
He turned back to Snap and me. “Well, there he is. We have nothing tangible against him now. But I’ll say this: he’s a clever fellow, one to be afraid of. I would not blare it from the newscasters’ microphone, but if he is hatching any plot, he has been too clever for my agents.”
We talked for another half-hour, and then Captain Carter dismissed us. We left Halsey’s office with Carter’s final words ringing in our ears. “Whatever comes, lads, remember I trust you....”
SNAP and I decided to walk a portion of the way back to the ship. It was barely more than a mile through this subterranean corridor to where we could get the vertical lift direct to the landing stage.
We started off on the lower level. Once outside the insulation of Halsey’s office we did not dare talk of this thing. Not only electrical ears, but every possible eavesdropping device might be upon us. The corridor was two hundred feet or more below the ground level. At this hour of the night this business section was comparatively deserted. The through tube sounded over our heads with the passing of its occasional trains. The ventilators buzzed and whirred. At the cross intersections, the traffic directors dozed at their posts. It was hot and sticky down here, and gloomy with the daylight globes extinguished, and only the night lights to give a dim illumination. The stores and office arcades were all closed and deserted; only an occasional night-light burning behind their windows.
Our footfalls echoed on the metal grids as we hurried along.
“Nice evening,” said Snap awkwardly.
“Yes,” I said, “isn’t it?”
I felt oppressed. As though prying eyes and ears were here. We walked for a time in silence, each of us busy with memory of what had transpired in Halsey’s office.
Suddenly Snap gripped me. “What’s that?”
“Where?” I whispered.
WE stopped at a corner. An entryway was here. Snap pulled me into it. I could feel him quivering with excitement.
“What is it?” I demanded in a whisper.
“We’re being followed. Did you hear anything?”
“No!” Yet I thought now I could hear something. Vague footfalls. A rustling. And a microscopic electrical whine, as though some device were near us.
Snap was fumbling in his pocket. “Wait, I’ve got a pair of low-scale phones.”
He put the little grids against his ears. I could hear the sharp intake of his breath. Then he seized me, pulled me down to the metal floor of the entryway.
“Back, Gregg! Get back!” I could barely hear his whisper. We crouched as far back into the doorway as we could get. I was armed. My official permit for the carrying of the pencil heat-ray allowed me to have it always with me. I drew it now. But there was nothing to shoot at. I felt Snap clamping the grids on my ears. And now I heard something! An intensification of the vague footsteps I had thought I heard before.
There was something following us! Something out in the corridor there now! A street light was nearby. The corridor was dim, but plainly visible; and to my sight it was empty. But there was something there. Something invisible! I could hear it moving. Creeping towards us. I pulled the grids off my ears.
Snap murmured, “You’ve got a local phone.”
“Yes! I’ll get them to give us the street glare!”
IPRESSED the danger signal, giving our location to the nearest operator. In a second or two we got the light. The street in all this neighborhood burst into a brilliant actinic glare. The thing menacing us was revealed! A figure in a black cloak, crouching thirty feet away across the corridor.
Snap was on his feet. His voice rang shrilly, “There it is! Give it a shot, Gregg!”
Snap was unarmed, but he flung his hands out menacingly. The figure, which may perhaps not have been aware of our city safeguard, was taken wholly by surprise. A human figure. Seven feet tall, at the least, and therefore, I judged, doubtless a Martian man. The black cloak covered his head. He took a step toward us, hesitated, and then turned in confusion.
Snap’s shrill voice was bringing help. The whine of a street guard’s alarm whistle nearby sounded. The figure was making off! My pencil-ray was in my hand and I pressed its switch. The tiny heat-ray stabbed through the glare, but I missed. The figure stumbled, but did not fall. I saw a bare gray arm come from the cloak, flung up to maintain its balance. Or perhaps my pencil-ray of heat had seared the arm. The gray-skinned arm of a Martian.
Snap was shouting, “Give him another!” But the figure passed beyond the actinic glare and vanished.
We were detained in the turmoil of the corridor for ten minutes or more with official explanations. Then a message from Halsey released us. The Martian who had been following us in his invisible cloak was never caught.
We escaped from the crowd at last and made our way back to the Planetara, where the passengers were already assembling for the outward Martian voyage.
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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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