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

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

Harkness would never forget the helpless body in his arms, nor the tender look that came slowly to the opened eyes that gazed so steadily into his. And yet it was Chet that she seemed to want for the thousand little services during the week that followed. And Harkness tried to still the hurt in his heart, and he told himself that it was her happiness be wanted more than his; that if she found greater pleasure in having Chet near, then his love was unworthy if it placed itself as a bar to that other happiness.
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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 X

CHAPTER X. "But Awfully Dumb...."

Harkness would never forget the helpless body in his arms, nor the tender look that came slowly to the opened eyes that gazed so steadily into his. And yet it was Chet that she seemed to want for the thousand little services during the week that followed. And Harkness tried to still the hurt in his heart, and he told himself that it was her happiness be wanted more than his; that if she found greater pleasure in having Chet near, then his love was unworthy if it placed itself as a bar to that other happiness.

He talked by signs with the hairless one whom he called Towahg. It was the sound the other made as he struck upon his chest. And he learned that Towahg could guide him to the ship.

The tribe had left them alone. Only Towahg seemed inclined to friendliness; and Harkness frequently saw the one who was their leader in ugly, silent contemplation of them when Towahg brought food and water to their cave.

Diane was recovering, but her progress was slow. She was able at once to walk and go slowly about, but the least exertion tired her. It had been a close call, Harkness knew, and he realized that some time must pass before she could take up the hardships of the trail. And in the meantime much might happen.

He felt that he must reach the ship at the first possible moment and return for the others; Towahg would show him the way. He explained the plan to Chet and Diane only to meet with emphatic dissent.

"You would go alone?" the girl exclaimed. "To meet heaven knows what dangers? No, no, Walter; you must not! Wait; I am stronger; I can go soon, I know."

Chet, too, was for delay—Diane was better, and she would improve steadily. They could carry her, at first. But Harkness looked at the jungle he must penetrate and knew that he was right.

He gave Towahg a bow and arrows like his own and those that Chet kept for defense, but the arrows were of sharpened wood without detonite tips. He grinned toward Chet as he showed the savage how to handle the marvellous thing.

"We've advanced these people a thousand years in the science of arms," he said. "They should make Diane their first Minister of Munitions, or worship her as their own lovely goddess of the chase."

A weapon that would throw farther than the strongest man could cast a spear—here was magic indeed! And Towahg knelt and grovelled on the ground at his benefactor's feet.

Harkness made light of the dangers he must face, but he knew in his own mind he might fail. And the time of leaving found him curiously depressed. He had gripped Chet's hand, then turned to Diane for what might be a last good-by. The quick enfoldment of her soft body in his arms was as unpremeditated as the kiss he placed upon her lips.... He swung away abruptly, and fell in behind his guide without a word. The way led first across the place of smoke and fire.

Danger ahead on this strange trail; he knew it well. But he took it as it came; and his guide, and his crude weapon, and his steady eye and sureness of foot on rocky crags all saw him through. And he mentally mapped the hills and valleys and the outcrops of metals that he would explore some later time. Only seven of the short six-hour days of this little earth had passed when he drew near the ship.

He was ready for an attack. There was the broken rubble that marked the entrance of the cave. Beneath it, he knew, were mangled, horrible remains. This one beast alone, it seemed, had been the ruler of the valley, for no other appeared.

The mass that had blocked the doorway was crystalline now, and broke to brittle fragments at a blow. He entered the familiar cabin of the ship. There was nothing disturbed; the sealed inner door had barred entrance to any inquiring beasts.

Far down the valley he saw a naked, running figure. Towahg had escorted this sky-god to the great bird that had brought him, but the courage of even so advanced a tribesman as he must have limits. He was still running along the path they had come when Harkness closed and sealed the door.

There was an instrument among their stores for taking samples of gas. Harkness attached it to the ship before he left, and he took a few precious minutes for a flight into the heights. That gas up there was fatal to the monsters of space: he must secure a sample and learn its composition.

A closing of the switch on wires that led to the instrument outside, and he knew that the container had emptied its contents of water, drawn in the gas and sealed itself.

Then the swift descent.

He flew low as he circled back. They had traveled far on their journey below ground; it was even a longer route where he and Towahg had circled about. But it was the only route he knew; he could take no chances on a short-cut and a possible long-drawn search for the little valley.

He followed the trail. The quick dusk was near; but in an hour's slow flying, while his eyes searched the hills and hollows, the valley was in sight.

He came down slowly in a black sky, with only the soft, muffled roar of the lower exhausts. It was growing dark, and he leaned from an open door to see more clearly his position. All was different from the air, and he needed time and careful scrutiny to get the bearings of the place.

The soft thunder from below was in his ears when a sound pierced through. His own name! And it was Diane's voice calling him in a terrified tone.

"Walter!" she cried. "Help! Help! Oh, Walter, come quickly!"

The scene below was lighted by fitful fires. He was above the upper valley, a hundred yards from their cave: his mind was oriented in an instant, and he knew each foot of ground.

And here, where neither Diane nor Chet should be, was Diane. He saw her running in the bright glare of his landing light that he now switched on; saw a black shape hurl itself upon her; she was struggling. He threw himself back at the controls to send the ship like a thunderbolt upon the earth.

A pistol was in his hand as he leaped from the still-rocking ship and threw himself upon the thing that ran and tried to carry a struggling burden in its arms.

He could not fire; but he brought the pistol down upon a heavy skull. The hairy figure seemed never to feel the blow. It dropped the body of Diane and turned, and its slavering, shining fangs were set in a horrible face that Harkness recognized.

It was the leader of the tribe, and he had dared to attack. But where was Chet? What of his arrows and their detonite tips? These thoughts were crowding through his mind in the instant that ape-like fingers gripped at his throat—the instant while he was bringing the pistol forward and up.

A light charge of detonite in pistol ammunition—but no living body could withstand the shock. Harkness leaped over the fallen foe to reach the girl. She was half risen to a sitting posture as he came.

"Dieu!" she was whispering; "Ah, le bon Dieu!" Then she cried out: "Walter! Oh, Walter, they have killed Chet! Down there!" Her hand was pointing. She grasped at Harkness' hand to draw herself to her feet and race with him toward the cave.

"Just at dark," she explained gaspingly as they ran. "It was their chief, and there were others with him. They leaped upon Chet—before he could reach for his bow. They had seemed so friendly after you left—but they were short of food—"

Her voice was sobbing now, but she kept on, and she set a pace that Harkness could not outdistance.

"One aimed a spear at me, and Chet threw himself between. I saw the spear strike—then I ran. I thought I heard your motors—I screamed for you—"

They were nearing the caves. A fire was burning in the open glade where grotesque figures leaped and danced in cannibal glee about a figure that lay motionless upon the ground.

The tattered, wind-blown clothing—the curling hair, blond in the fire's light—it was Chet.... And now Harkness could fire.

His pistol held twenty rounds. He emptied it into the shrieking group, then jammed in more of the shells and fired again. He fired until no target remained, and every savage figure was either vanished among the trees or inert and lifeless upon the ground, their only motion the stirring of their hairy coverings in the breeze.

Harkness was beside the prostrate figure. He raised Chet's head within his arms; Diane's brown head leaned close, her gasping breath broken by dry sobs. The firelight flickered upon the closed lids to give them semblance of life.

"Chet," said Walter Harkness softly. "Chet, old man—can't you speak? We'll save you, Chet; you're not done for yet." But he felt as he spoke that the words were a horrible lie; the blood that ran slowly now from a wound in Chet's side seemed to speak more truly than did he.

Yet Chet Bullard opened his eyes. His breath was the merest flutter; the listeners bent their heads close to hear.

"Made it, did you?" asked Chet in a ghastly whisper. "And you've saved Diane?... Good!... Well, it's been a great trip.... It's been worth the price...."

Harkness seized at the girl's name. Here was something that might strike home to the sinking man; might rouse him.

"Yes, Diane is saved," he told Chet: "saved for you, old fellow. You must live—for Diane's sake. You love her, and she needs you."

Again the tired eyes opened. Once more the fluttering breath formed words; lips moved to bring a pale ghost of Chet's ready smile like a passing light across his face.

"Needs me? Diane?" It was a question and a denial. He was looking straight at Harkness as he added: "It's you she needs.... You're one square old sport, Walt, but dumb—awfully dumb...."

Glorious adventure!—and the price is so often death. "A great trip," Chet Bullard had said; "it's been worth the price." Chet was prepared to pay in full.

But—there was the ship! Walt Harkness, as she finished bandaging the body of the unconscious man, stared first at the metal cylinder, gleaming, brilliant in the Earthlight; then his gaze went to the Earth that had risen over distant peaks with the glory of a thousand moons. And he dared to hope.

He brought the ship softly to rest close to where Chet lay, then placed the limp form on the self-adjusting floor of the control room. There must be no shifting of the body as the pull of gravitation ceased. Soft blankets made a resting place for him.

The entrance port was closed and sealed; and the ship rose gently under his touch. And, below them, the mirrors showed a world that sank away. Diane's head was pressed near to his to watch that vanishing world.

Each rugged mountain was softened in the Earthlight's mellow glow; they melted together, and lost all sharpness of form. And the light faded and vanished as they rose into the blanket of gas that blocked off the return rays and made of this world a dark moon.

No regret now for the territory that was unexplored. Harkness told himself he would return. And, with the vanishing of that world his thoughts were only of the little flame of life that still flickered in Chet's body, and of the Earth, and of the metal ball that was swinging them out and away.... The sound of the stern exhaust built up and up to the roaring thunder that meant the blast was opened full....

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Various. 2009. Astounding Stories of Super-Science, May 1931. 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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