Astounding Stories of Super-Science May 1931: Dark Moon - Chapter VII by@astoundingstories

Astounding Stories of Super-Science May 1931: Dark Moon - Chapter VII

Spent and shaken, the three passed onward into the cave. Harkness searched his pockets for his neolite flash; found it—a tiny pencil with a tip of glass—and the darkness of the inner cave was flooded with light. A box of food tablets was in a pocket of Chet's jacket, and there was water that trickled in a tiny stream out of the rocks. It could have been worse, Diane pointed out with forced gaiety. But Harkness, who had gone back for a final look at the entrance to the cave, found it difficult to smile.
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Astounding Stories

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Astounding Stories of Super-Science May 1931, by Astounding Stories is part of HackerNoon’s Book Blog Post series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. Dark Moon - Chapter VII: In the Labyrinth

CHAPTER VII. In the Labyrinth

Spent and shaken, the three passed onward into the cave. Harkness searched his pockets for his neolite flash; found it—a tiny pencil with a tip of glass—and the darkness of the inner cave was flooded with light.

A box of food tablets was in a pocket of Chet's jacket, and there was water that trickled in a tiny stream out of the rocks. It could have been worse, Diane pointed out with forced gaiety. But Harkness, who had gone back for a final look at the entrance to the cave, found it difficult to smile.

He had found the entrance an opening no longer: it was sealed with a giant web of ropy strands—a network, welded together to a glutinous mesh. They were sealed in as effectively as if the opening were closed by a thick door of steel.

They gathered fungus that grew in thready clumps on the walls, and this served as a mattress to soften the rocky floor that must be their bed. And Harkness sat silent in the darkness long after the others were asleep—sat alone on guard, to think and to reach, at last, a conclusion.

A cleavage in the rocks made a narrow crack to the outside world, and through it the starlight filtered dimly. The thread of light grew brilliantly golden—moonlight, a hundredfold more bright than moonlight on Earth. And he realized that the source of light was their own globe, Earth, shining far through space!

It lighted the cave with a mellow glow. It shone upon the closed eyes of the sleeping girl, and touched lightly upon the rounded softness of a lovely face beneath a tangle of brown curls. Harkness stared long and soberly at the picture she made, and he thought of many things.

No parasite upon society was this girl. He had known such; but her ready wit, her keen grasp of affairs, had been evident in their talks on the journey they had made. They had stamped her as one who was able to share in the work and responsibilities of a world where men and women worked together. Yet there was nothing of the hardness that so many women showed. And now she was altogether feminine, and entirely lovely.

Not far away, Chet Bullard was sleeping heavily. His hand, injured painfully when they tore it from the clinging mass, had been bandaged by Diane. It troubled him now, and he flung one arm outward. His hand touched that of the girl, and Harkness saw the instant quiet that came upon him at the touch. And Diane—her lips were smiling in her sleep.

They had been much together, those two; theirs had been a ready, laughing comradeship. It had troubled Harkness, but now he put all thought of self aside.

"This trip," he thought, "can end only in disaster—if it has not already done so. What a fool I was to bring these two!" And: "If I want to risk my own life," he told himself bitterly, "that's my own affair. But for Chet, and Diane, with their lives ahead of them—" His determination was quickly reached.

He would go back. Somehow, some way, he would get them to the ship. They would return to Earth. And then.... His plans were vague. But he knew he could interest capital; he knew that this new world, that was one great mine of raw metals, would not go long unworked. The metallic colorations in rock walls and mountains had fairly shouted of rich ores and untold wealth.

Yes, they would go back, but he would return. He would put from his mind all thought of this girl; he would forget forever those nebulous plans that had filled him with hope for a happiness beyond all hoping. And he would come back here prepared for conquest.

He put aside all speculation as to what other horrible forms of life the little world might hold: he would be prepared to deal with them. But he still wondered if there were people. He had hoped to find some human life.

And this hope, too, left him; his sense of this globe as an undeveloped world was strong upon him. The monsters; the tropical, terrible vegetation; the very air itself—all breathed of a world that was young. There had not been time for the long periods of evolution through which humanity came.

He tried to tell himself of the wealth that would be his; tried to feel the excitement that should follow upon such plans. But he could only feel a sense of loss, of something precious that was gone. Diane—named for the moon: she seemed more precious now to the lonely man than all else on moon or Earth. She could never be his; she never had been. It was Chet upon whom the gods and Diane had smiled. And Chet deserved it.

Only in this last conviction did he find some measure of consolation during the long night.

"We will rip the big web out with detonite," Harkness told the others when morning came. "But I want to get the spider, too."

A touch upon the web with a stick brought an instant response. Again they saw in all its repulsiveness the thing that seemed a creature of some horrible dream. The eyes glared, while hairy feelers seized the web and shook it in furious rage. Harkness, fearing another discharge of the nauseating, viscous liquid, withdrew with the others far back in the cave.

"Wait," he told them. "I have a plan."

The creature vanished, and Harkness went cautiously forward to the web. He took a detonite cartridge from his belt and placed it on the floor close to the ropy strands. Another, and another, until he had a close-packed circle of the deadly things. Then he placed a heavy, metallic piece of rock beside them and proceeded, with infinite care, to build a tower.

One irregular block upon another: it was like a child at play with his toys. Only now the play was filled with deadly menace. The stones swayed, then held in precarious, leaning uncertainty; the topmost was directly above the cartridges on the floor.

"Back!" he ordered the others, "and lie flat on the floor. I must guess at the amount of explosive for the job."

Chet and Diane were safe as Harkness weighed a fragment of metal in his hand. One throw—and he must not hit the tower he had built.... The rock struck into the network of cords; he saw it clinging where it struck, and saw the web shaking with the blow.

Over his shoulder, as he ran, he glimpsed the onrush of the beast. Again the eyes were glaring, again the feelers were shaking furiously at the web. They touched the leaning stones!

He had reached the place where Chet and Diane lay and saw the beginning of the tower's fall; and in the split second of its falling he threw himself across the body of the prostrate girl to shield her from flying fragments of stone. A blast of air tore at him; his ears were numbed with the thunder of the blast—a thunder that ended with a crashing of stone on stone....

Slowly he recovered his breath; then raised himself to his feet to look toward the entrance. It would be open now, the way cleared. But, instead of sunlight, he saw utter dark. Where the mouth of the cave had been was blackness—and nothing else!

He fumbled for his flash, and stood in despairing silence before what the light disclosed.

The rock was black and shining about the mouth of the cavern. It had split like glass. In shattered fragments it filled the forward part of the cave. The whole roof must have fallen, and a crashing slide above had covered all.

Chet was beside him; Harkness dared not look toward the girl coming expectantly forward.

"We'll use more of the same," Chet suggested: "we will blast our way out."

"And bring down more rock with each charge," Harkness told him tonelessly. "This means we are—"

Diane had overheard. Harkness' pause had come too late.

"Yes?" she encouraged. "This means we are entombed?—buried here? Is that it?"

Her voice was quiet; her eyes, in the light of the little flash, were steady in their look upon the man who was leader of the expedition. Diane Vernier might shudder with horror before some obscene beast—she would tremble with delight, too, at sight of some sudden beauty—but she was not one to give way to hysteria when a situation must be faced. No despair could be long-lived under the spell of those eyes, brave and encouraging.

"No," said Walter Harkness: "we will find some way to escape. This is blocked. We will follow the cave back and see where it leads. There must be other outlets. We're not quitting now." He smiled with a cheerful confidence that gave no hint of being assumed, and he led the way with a firm step.

Diane followed as usual, close to Chet. But her eyes were upon their leader; they would have repaid him for a backward look.

To a mineralogist this tunnel that nature had pierced through the rock would have been an endless delight, but to a man seeking escape from his living tomb it brought no such ecstasy. The steady, appraising glance of Harkness was everywhere—darting ahead, examining the walls, seeking some indication, some familiar geological structure, that might be of help.

He stopped once to kick contemptuously at a vein of quartz. Three feet in thickness—and it crumbled to fragments under his foot to release a network of gold.

"Rotten with it," he said.

And the only comment came from Chet: "A fat lot of good it does us!" he replied.

The cavern branched and branched again; it opened to a great room higher than their light could reach; it narrowed to leave apertures through which they crawled like moles; it became a labyrinth of passages from which there seemed no escape. Each turn, each new opening, large or small—it was always the same: Harkness praying inaudibly for a glimpse of light that would mean day; and, instead—darkness!—and their own pencil of light so feeble against the gloom ahead....

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Various. 2009. Astounding Stories of Super-Science, May1931. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved May 2022 from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/30532/30532-h/30532-h.htm#Page_148

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