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

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Unmoving, their ship seemed, through the long hours. Yet there were lights that passed swiftly and unnoticed, and the unending thunder from the stern gave assurance that they were not floating idly in the vast sea of space.

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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 XI

CHAPTER XI. "Nothing to Be Done"

Unmoving, their ship seemed, through the long hours. Yet there were lights that passed swiftly and unnoticed, and the unending thunder from the stern gave assurance that they were not floating idly in the vast sea of space.

The sun was behind them, and ahead was Earth in midday glory; Harkness could not tear his eyes away from that goal. He stood always at the controls, not because there was work to be done, but for the feeling it gave him of urging the ship onward.

Diane ministered to Chet and dressed the wound. There were few words exchanged between them.

The menace that had emptied Earth's higher levels of all aircraft was still there. No ships were in sight, as Harkness guided his ship toward the great sphere. His speed had been cut down, yet still he outraced the occasional, luminous, writhing forms that threw themselves upon them. Then the repelling area—and he crashed silently through and down, with their forward exhaust roaring madly to hold them in check.

A sea and a shoreline, where a peninsula projected like a giant boot—and he knew it for Italy and the waters of the Mediterranean.

"Vienna," Diane was telling him; "go to Vienna! It is nearby. And I know of a surgeon—one of the greatest!"

And an hour later, a quiet, confident man was telling them: "But yes!—of a certainty he will live. It is fortunate that you were not very far away when the accident occurred." And only then did Harkness catch Diana's eyes in an exchange of glances where unbearable relief was tempered with amusement.

The great hospital had its own landing stages on its broad roof. Their ship was anchored there, an object to excite the curiosity of a gathering throng.

"Not a healthy place for me, here in Vienna," Harkness remarked. He was lifting the ship from its anchorage, its errand of mercy done.

"Now where?" he pondered aloud. The strain of the flight was telling on him.

The girl recognized the strained look in his eyes, the deep lines that their experiences had etched upon his face. Gently she drew his hand from the controls.

"I will take it," she said. "Trust me. Lie down and rest."

Harkness had witnessed an example of her flying skill; she could handle the ship, he knew. And he threw himself upon a cot in the cabin to sink under the weight of overpowering fatigue.

He felt the soft shock of their landing. Diane was calling him, her hand extended to lead him from the open port. But he was wrenched sharply from the lethargy that held him at sight of his surroundings, and the memories they recalled.

They were in a park, and their ship rested upon a spacious lawn. Beyond were trees where a ship had shot crashingly through storm-tossed limbs. And, before him, a chateau, where a window had framed the picture of a girl with outstretched arms.

"Trust me," Diane had said. And he did trust her. But did she not know what this meant? She was delivering him into the enemy's hands. He should have kept himself from sight until he had rallied his forces.... He was stammering words of protest as she led him toward the door. Armed guards were already between him and the ship.

In a dark-panelled room Herr Schwartzmann was waiting. His gasp of amazement as he sprang to his feet reflected the utter astonishment written upon his face, until that look gave place to one of satisfaction.

"Mademoiselle," he exclaimed, "—my dear Mademoiselle Diane! We had given you up for lost. I thought—I thought—"

"Yes," said Diane quietly, "I believe that I can well imagine what you thought."

"Ah!" said Herr Schwartzmann, and the look of satisfaction deepened. "I see that you understand now; you will be with us in this matter. We have plans for this young man's disposal."

The puzzled wonder that had clouded the steady eyes of Walter Harkness was replaced by cold anger and more than a trace of contempt.

"You can forget those plans," he told Schwartzmann. "I have plans of my own."

"Poof!" exclaimed the heavy, bearded man. "We will crush you like that!" He struck one heavy fist upon the desk. "And what will you do?"

"Several things," said Harkness evenly. "I shall rid the upper levels of the monsters: I have a gas that will accomplish that. I shall restore the world's flying to normal. And, with that attended to, I will give you my undivided attention—raise forty kinds of hell with Herr Schwartzmann and the interests he represents.

"Forgery! Theft! The seizing of my properties by virtue of a lying document! You shall see what this leads to. Your companies will be wrecked; not a decent man or woman engaged in the business of a decent world will deal with you: that is a small part of what I plan."

The dark face of Herr Schwartzmann was flushed with anger. "You will never leave this place—" he began. But Harkness would not let him go on: his voice was as hard as the metal of his ship.

"You and your assassins!" he said contemptuously. "You don't dare touch me. There is another man who knows—and Diane, too." He paused to look into the eyes of the girl, which were regarding him with an inscrutable expression. "I do not know why she brought me here, but Diane also knows. You can't throttle us all."

"Diane!" The exclamation was wrung involuntarily from Schwartzmann's lips. "You speak of Mademoiselle Vernier so familiarly?"

The girl's cool voice broke in. She had watched the meeting of the men in silence; she spoke now as one taking matters into her own quite capable hands.

"You may omit the incognito, Herr Schwartzmann," she said; "it is no longer required. I have enjoyed a birthday since last we met: it was passed in a place of darkness and anguish, where strong men and brave forgot their own suffering to try by every means to bring comfort to a girl who was facing death. For that reason I say that I enjoyed it.... And that birthday was my twenty-first. You know what that means."

"But Mademoiselle Vernier—pardon!—Mam'selle Delacoeur, surely you will support me. My trustee-ship during all these successful years—"

"Is at an end," said the cool voice.

"I learned more than you were aware of in this last year while I familiarized myself with the interests that would soon be mine. No, Herr Schwartzmann, your methods do not appeal to me; they are an anachronism in the world of to-day."

Harkness was standing in stunned silence. "Delacoeur!" Diane was Mademoiselle Delacoeur! But that name had been borne by the wealthiest house of France! Old Delacoeur had died, possessed of millions beyond counting—and he had left a daughter—Diane!

His mind could not grasp the full significance of this. But one thing was clear: he could not aspire to the love of one of the queens of Earth. Whatever faint hope that remained in his heart was lost.... The cool voice was still speaking.

"You may leave now," she was saying—this girl who had been his comrade, so unfailingly tender, so true and steady in the face of incredible dangers. And Herr Schwartzmann took his dismissal as one who cannot dispute his superior.

The room was silent. Harkness stood with downcast eyes that followed with meticulous precision the intricacies of design in the rug on which he stood. A voice was speaking. Not the cool, imperative voice of Mademoiselle Delacoeur, mistress of vast estates, but the voice of Diane—the Diane he had learned to love—and it tore at his emotions until his mind was a whirl of conflicting thoughts.

A tender voice: and there was laughter in it and in the eyes that his own came despondently to meet.

"Such a man, this Walter Harkness!" she was saying. "So hard, so vindictive! Ah, the trouble he will make for me because of my conscienceless agents!"

Harkness threw out his hands in a helpless gesture. "Don't taunt me," he said. "You know you have me tied. You've drawn the charges from all my guns. There is nothing to be done."

Diane Delacoeur drew near. The raillery was gone from her voice, and the hand that she placed on his arm was trembling.

"Nothing?" she inquired. "Then, if friendly rivalry is impossible, would you consider, could there not be arranged—a merger of our interests? I am not thinking now of wealth, of which you will have far more than I: there are so much greater things in life—"

The eyes that clung to his were pleading now. And within them was the light that Walter Harkness at last could understand and define. He took the trembling hand in one of his that was suddenly strong, and with the other he raised a lovely face that no longer dared to meet his look.

"You mean—" he began, and fumbled for words to express an emotion that was beyond words. "Chet said—why, he said—that you needed me—"

Her reply came mingled with a tremulous laugh.

"I have the greatest regard," she whispered, "for Chet's judgement. But—do you—need me?"

Walt Harkness held the soft body close; bent nearer to catch the words. And he answered them with his own lips in an ecstasy of emotion that made nothing of the thrills to be found in that other conquest—of a Dark Moon.

A SCIENTIFIC HELL

Science playing the rôle of an up-to-date Persephone, visiting the underworld realm of Pluto to wrest from it hidden cosmic secrets, was described recently at a meeting of the American Geographical Society at the Engineering Building by Prof. Harlow Shapley, Harvard astronomical wizard, who told of the ultra-modern scientific version of Ulysses's descent into Hades or Dante's visit to hell.

Prof. Shapley, to whom 10,000,000 light-years are like a day to any ordinary mortal, and whose astronomical investigations have led him to the center of the cosmos, told the scientists present to descend to the bowels of the earth and construct therein "Plutonic Laboratories," where a man could learn many things unknown about beginnings and endings, and where, incidentally he may find a way of utilising the tremendous heat energy stored up in the "scientific hell."

Under the general theme of the "Third Dimension in Geography," Prof. Shapley talked about the past, present and future of the earth-moon system; how in 50,000,000 years our days and months will be forty-seven times as long as they are now; how after that the moon will again approach the earth until it is broken up by tidal disruption into ring fragments circulating around the earth like the ring around Saturn; and of shooting stars coming from far-away solar systems.

"The temperature under the surface of the earth," said Prof. Shapley, "increases one degree Fahrenheit at every seventy-six feet, about seventy degrees per mile. In some places in California we get the temperature of boiling water at a depth of less than a mile. The center of the earth is roughly 4,000 miles below the surface.

"Because of this intense internal heat of the earth it would probably be impossible to maintain permanent laboratories at greater depths than two miles," said the lecturer, "and, in addition, the installation and maintenance of Plutonic laboratories will be a scientific adventure of great difficulty and expense. Yet, if carried on in connection with the work of existing mines and borings it may mark the coming decade as one of the important epochs in man's attempt to understand the earth.

"These Plutonic laboratories, placed at various depths under the surface, fully equipped with modern scientific apparatus, and maintained indefinitely, will contribute to our knowledge in a dozen important fields of geophysic and astronomy."

What Prof. Shapley pointed to as merely a possible by-product of the proposed scientific "descent into Hades" is the commercial possibility of tapping the earth's internal source of heat. There is 31,000,000 times as much natural heat in the earth than in all the coal resources of the world. He stated that Sir Charles Parsons and John L. Hodgson, both noted British engineers, are already engaged in work on this problem.

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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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