Astounding Stories of Super-Science, May 1930, by Astounding Stories is part of HackerNoon’s Book Blog Post series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. Vol. II, No. 2, Chapter XXIX: On the Brigand Ship
Anita's words echoed in my memory: "We must act our best to be convincing." It was not her ability that I doubted as much as my own. She had played the part of George Prince cleverly, unmasked only by an evil chance.
I steeled myself to face the searching glances of the brigands as they shoved around us. This was a desperate game into which we had plunged! For all our acting, how easy it would be for some small chance thing abruptly to undo us! I realized it, and now, as I gazed into the peering faces of these men from Mars, I cursed my witless rashness which had brought Anita into this!
The brigands—some ten or fifteen of them here on the deck—stood in a ring around us. They were all big men, nearly of a seven-foot average, dressed in leather jerkins and short leather breeches, with bare knees and flaring leatherboots. Piratical swaggering fellows, knife-blades mingled with small hand-projectors fastened to their belts. Gray, heavy faces, some with scraggling, unshaved beard. They plucked at us, jabbering in Martian.
Ilton, the ruling race and official language of the Martian Union.
"Yes," he said readily, "I am Commander here." He spoke English with the same freedom and accent of Miko. "Is this George Prince's sister?"
"Yes. Her name is Anita Prince. Tell your men to take their hands off her."
He waved his men away. They all seemed more interested in Anita than in me. He added:
"I am Set Potan." He addressed Anita. "George Prince's sister? You are called Anita? I have heard of you. I knew your brother—indeed, you look very much like him."
He swept his plumed hat to the grid with a swaggering gesture of homage. A courtierlike fellow this, debonair as a Venus cavalier!
He accepted us. I realized that Anita's presence was immensely valuable in making us convincing. Yet there was about this Potan—as with Miko—a disturbing suggestion of irony. I could not make him out. I decided that we had fooled him. Then I remarked the steely glitter of his eyes as he turned to me.
"You were an officer of the Planetara?"
The insignia of my rank was visible on my white jacket-collar which showed beneath the Erentz suit, now that my helmet was off.
"Yes, I was supposed to be. But a year ago I embarked upon this adventure with Miko."
He was leading us to his cabin. "The Planetara wrecked? Miko dead?"
"And Hahn and Coniston. George Prince, too—we are the only survivors."
While we divested ourselves of our Erentz suits at his command, I told him briefly of the Planetara's fall. All had been killed on board save Anita and me. We had escaped, awaited his coming. The treasure was here; we had located the Grantline camp, and were ready to lead him to it.
Did he believe me? He listened quietly. He seemed not shocked at the death of his comrades. Nor yet pleased: merely imperturbable.
I added with a sly, sidelong glance, "There were too many of us on the Planetara. The purser had joined us, and many of the crew. And there was Miko's sister, the Setta Moa—too many. The treasure divides better among less."
An amused smile played on his thin gray lips. But he nodded. The fear which had leaped in me was allayed by his next words.
"True enough, Haljan. He was a domineering fellow, Miko. A third of it all was for him alone. But now...."
The third would go to this sub-leader, Potan! The implication was obvious.
I said, "Before we go any further—I can trust you for my share?"
I figured that my very boldness in bargaining so prematurely would convince him. I insisted, "And Miss Prince? She will have her brother's share?"
Clever Anita! She put in swiftly, "I give no information until you promise! We know the location of the Grantline camp, its weapons, its defense, the amount and location of the ore. I warn you, if you do not play us fair...."
He laughed heartily. He seemed to like us. He spread his huge legs as he lounged in his settle, and drank of the bowl which one of his men set before him.
"Little tigress! Fear me not—I play fair!" He pushed two of the bowls across the table. "Drink, Haljan. All is well with us, and I am glad to hear it. Miss Prince, drink my health as your leader."
I waved it away from Anita. "We need all our wits; your strong Martian drinks are dangerous. Look here, I'll tell you just how the situation stands—"
I plunged into a glib account of our supposed wanderings to find the Grantline camp; its location off in the Mare Imbrium—hidden in a cavern there. Potan, with the drink, and under the gaze of Anita's eyes, was in a high good humor. He laughed when I told him that we had dared to invade the Grantline camp, had smashed its exit portes, had even gotten up to have a look at where the ore was piled.
"Well done, Haljan! You're a fellow to my liking!" But his gaze was on Anita. "You dress like a man, or a charming boy."
She still wore the dark clothes of her brother. She said, "I am used to action—man's garb pleases me. You shall treat me like a man, give me my share of the gold-leaf."
He had already demanded of us the meaning of that signal from the Mare Imbrium. Miko's signal! It had not come again, though any moment I feared it. I told him that Grantline had doubtless repaired his damaged portes and sallied out to assail me in reprisal. And seeing the brigand ship landing on Archimedes, had tried to lure it.
I wondered if my explanation were very convincing. It did not sound so. But he was flushed now with the drink. And Anita added:
I took it up. "It's like this, Potan: if he could get you to land unsuspectingly near the mouth of his cavern...."
I pictured how Grantline might have figured on a sudden surprise attack upon the ship. It was his only chance to catch it unprepared.
We were all three in friendly, intimate mood now. Potan said, "We'll land down there right enough! But I need a few hours for my assembling."
"He will not dare advance," I said. "For one thing, he can't leave the treasure."
"He knows we have unmasked his lure," Anita put in smilingly. "Haljan and I joining you—that silenced him. His light went out very promptly, didn't it?"
She flashed me a side-gaze. Were we acting convincingly? But if Miko started up his signals again, they might so quickly betray us! Anita's thoughts were upon that, for she added:
"Grantline will not dare show his light! If he does, Set Potan, we can blast him with a ray from here! Can't we?"
"Yes," Potan agreed. "If he comes within ten miles, I have one powerful enough. We are assembling it now."
"And we have thirty men?" Anita persisted. "When we sail down to attack him it should not be very difficult to kill all the Grantline party. Thirty of us—that's enough to share in this treasure. I'm glad Miko is dead."
"By Heaven, Haljan, this girl of yours is small, but very blood-thirsty!"
"That accursed Miko murdered her brother," I explained.
Acting! And never once did we dare relax! If only Miko's signals would hold off and give us time!
We may have talked for half an hour. We were in a small, steel-lined cubby, located in the forward deck-space of the ship. The dome was over it. I could see from where I sat at the table that there was a forward observatory tower under the dome quite near here. The ship was laid out in rather similar fashion to the Planetara, though considerably smaller.
Potan had dismissed his men from his cubby so as to be alone with us. Out on the deck I could see them dragging apparatus about—bringing the mechanisms of giant projectors up from below, beginning to assemble them. Occasionally some of the men would come to our cubby windows to peer in at us curiously.
My mind was roaming as I talked. For all my manner of casualness, I knew that haste was necessary. Whatever Anita and I were to do must be quickly done. But to win this fellow's utter confidence first was necessary, so that we might have the freedom of the ship, might move about unnoticed, unwatched.
I was horribly tense inside. Through the dome windows across the deck from the cubby the rocks of the Lunar landscape were visible. I could see the brink of this ledge upon which the ship lay, the descending crags down the precipitous wall of Archimedes to the Earthlit plains far below. Miko, Moa, and a few of the Planetara's crew were down there somewhere.
Anita and I had a fairly definite plan. We were now in Potan's confidence. With this interview at an end, I felt that our status among the brigands would be established. We would be free to move about the ship, join in its activities. It ought to be possible to locate the signal-room, get friendly with the operator there.
Perhaps we would find a secret opportunity to flash a signal to Earth. This ship, I was confident, would have the power for a long-range signal, if not of too sustained a length. It was a desperate thing to attempt but our whole procedure was desperate! And I felt—if Anita perhaps could cajole the guard or the duty-man from the signal-room—I might send a single flash or two that would reach the Earth. Just a distress call, signed "Grantline." If I could do that and not get caught.
Anita was engaging Potan in talking of his plans. The brigand leader was boasting of his well-equipped ship, the daring of his men, and questioning her about the size of the treasure. My thoughts were free to roam.
A signal to Earth. And while we were making friends with these brigands, the longest range electronic projector was being assembled. Miko then could flash his signal and be damned to him! I would be on the deck with that projector. Its operator, and I would turn it upon Miko—one flash of it and he and his little band would be wiped out.
But there was our escape to be thought of. We could not remain very long with these brigands. We could tell them that the Grantline camp was on the Mare Imbrium. It would delay them for a time, but our lie would soon be discovered. We must escape from them, get away and back to Grantline. With Miko dead—a distress signal to Earth—and Potan in ignorance of Grantline's location, the treasure would be safe until help arrived from Earth.
It all fitted together so nicely! It seemed possible of success.
Our futile plans! Star-crossed always, doomed, fated always to be upset by such unforeseen evil chances!
"By the infernal, little Anita, you look like a dove, but you're a tigress! A comrade after my own heart—blood-thirsty as a fire-worshipper!"
Her laugh rang out to mingle with his. "Oh no, Set Potan! I am treasure-thirsty."
"We'll get the treasure, never fear, little Anita."
"With you to lead us, Potan, I'm sure we will."
A man entered the cubby. Potan looked frowningly around. "What is it, Argle?"
The fellow answered in Martian, leered at Anita and withdrew.
Potan stood up. I noticed that he was unsteady with the drink.
"They want me with the work at the projectors."
"Go ahead," I said.
He nodded. We were comrades now.
"Amuse yourself, Haljan. Or come out on deck if you wish. I will tell my men you are one of us."
"And tell them to keep their hands off Miss Prince."
He stared at me. "I had not thought of that—a woman among so many men."
His own gaze at Anita was as leeringly offensive as any of his men could have given. He said, "Have no fear, little tigress."
Anita laughed. "I am afraid of nothing."
But when he had lurched from the cabin she touched me. Smiled with her mannish swagger, for fear we were still observed, and murmured:
"Oh, Gregg, I am afraid!"
We stayed in the cubby a few moments, whispering—trying to plan.
"You think the signal room is in the tower, Gregg? This tower outside our window here?"
"Yes, I think so."
"Shall we go out and see?"
"Yes. Keep near me always."
"Oh, Gregg. I will!"
We deposited our Erentz suits carefully in a corner of the cubby. We might need them so suddenly! Then we swaggered out to join the brigands working on the deck.
About HackerNoon Book Series: We bring you the most important technical, scientific, and insightful public domain books. This book is part of the public domain.
Astounding Stories. 2009. Astounding Stories of Super-Science, May 1930. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved May 2022 from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/29809/29809-h/29809-h.htm#Page_195
This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org, located at https://www.gutenberg.org/policy/license.html.