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. VOL. VI, No. 2 - When the Moon Turned Green
The monster whirled to confront Dixon.
By Hal K. Wells
It was nearly midnight when Bruce Dixon finished his labors and wearily rose from before the work-bench of his lonely mountain laboratory, located in an abandoned mine working in Southern Arizona.
He looked like some weirdly garbed monk of the Middle Ages as he stretched his tall, lithe figure. His head was completely swathed in a hood of lead-cloth, broken only by twin eyeholes of green glass. The hood merged into a long-sleeved tunic of the same fabric, while lead-cloth gauntlets covered his hands.
The lead-cloth costume was demanded by Dixon's work with radium compounds. The result of that work lay before him on the bench—a tiny lead capsule containing a pinhead lump of a substance which Dixon believed would utterly dwarf earth's most powerful explosives in its cataclysmic power.
So engrossed had Dixon been in the final stages of his work that for the last seventy-two hours he had literally lived there in his laboratory. It remained now only for him to step outside and test the effect of the little contact grenade, and at the same time get a badly needed taste of fresh air.
He set the safety catch on the little bomb and slipped it into his pocket. As he started for the door he threw back his hood, revealing the ruggedly good-looking face of a young man in the early thirties, with lines of weariness now etched deeply into the clean-cut features.
The moment that Dixon entered the short winding tunnel that led to the outer air he was vaguely aware that something was wrong. There was a strange and intangibly sinister quality in the moonlight that streamed dimly into the winding passage. Even the cool night air itself seemed charged with a subtle aura of brooding evil.
Dixon reached the entrance and stepped out into the full radiance of the moonlight. He stopped abruptly and stared around him in utter amazement.
High in the eastern sky there rode the disc of a full moon, but it was a moon weirdly different from any that Dixon had ever seen before. This moon was a deep and baleful green; was glowing with a stark malignant fire like that which lurks in the blazing heart of a giant emerald! Bathed in the glow of the intense green rays, the desolate mountain landscape shone with a new and eery beauty.
Dixon took a dazed step forward. His foot thudded softly into a small feathered body there in the sparse grass, and he stooped to pick it up. It was a crested quail, with every muscle as stonily rigid as though the bird had been dead for hours. Yet Dixon, to his surprise, felt the slow faint beat of a pulse still in the tiny body.
Then a dim group of unfamiliar objects down in the shadows of a small gully in front of him caught Dixon's eye. Tucking the body of the quail inside his tunic for later examination, he hurried down into the gully. A moment later he was standing by what had been the night camp of a prospector.
The prospector was still there, his rigid figure wrapped in a blanket, and his wide-open eyes staring sightlessly at the malignant green moon in the sky above. Dixon knelt to examine the stricken man's body. It showed the same mysterious condition as that of the quail, rigidly stiff in every muscle, yet with the slow pulse and respiration of life still faintly present.
Dixon found the prospector's horse and burro sprawled on the ground half a dozen yards away, both animals frozen in the same baffling condition of living death. Dixon's brain reeled as he tried to fathom the incredible calamity that had apparently overwhelmed the world while he had been hidden away in his subterranean laboratory. Then a new and terrible thought assailed him.
If the grim effect of the baleful green rays was universal in its extent, what then of old Emil Crawford and his niece, Ruth Lawton? Crawford, an inventor like Dixon, had his laboratory in a valley some five miles away.
An abrupt chill went over Dixon's heart at the thought of Ruth Lawton's vivid Titian-haired beauty being forever stilled in the grip of that eery living death. He and Ruth had loved each other ever since they had first met.
Dixon broke into a run as he headed for a nearby ridge that looked out over the valley. His pulse hammered with unusual violence as he scrambled up the steep incline, and his muscles seemed to be tiring with strange rapidity. He had a vague feeling that the rays of that malignant green moon were beating directly into his brain, clouding his thoughts and draining his physical strength.
Gaining the crest of the ridge, he stopped aghast as he looked down the valley toward Emil Crawford's place. Near the site of Crawford's laboratory home was an unearthly pyrotechnic display such as Dixon had never seen before. An area several hundred yards in diameter seemed one vivid welter of pulsing colors, with flashing lances of every hue crisscrossing in and through a great central cloud of ever-changing opalescence like a fiery aurora borealis gone mad.
Dixon fought back the ever-increasing lethargy that was benumbing his brain, and groped dazedly for a key to this new riddle. Was it some weird and colossal experiment of Emil Crawford's that was causing the green rays of death from a transformed moon, an experiment the earthly base of which was amid the seething play of blazing colors down there in the valley?
The theory seemed hardly a plausible one. As far as Dixon knew, Crawford's work had been confined almost entirely to a form of radio-propelled projectile for use in war-time against marauding planes.
Dixon shook his head forcibly in a vain effort to clear the stupor that was sweeping over him. It was strange how the vivid rays of that malevolent green moon seemed to sear insidiously into one's brain, stifling thought as a swamp fog stifles the sunlight.
Then Dixon suddenly froze into stark immobility, staring with startled eyes at the base of a rocky crag thirty yards away. Something was lurking there in the green-black shadows—a great sprawling black shape of abysmal horror, with a single flaming opalescent eye fixed unwinkingly upon Dixon.
The next moment the vivid moon was suddenly obscured by drifting wisps of cloud. As the green light blurred to an emerald haze, the creature under the crag came slithering out toward Dixon.
He had a vague glimpse of a monster such as one should see only in nightmares—a huge loathesome spider-form with a bloated body as long as that of a man, and great sprawling legs that sent it half a dozen yards nearer Dixon in one effortless leap.
The onslaught proved too much for Dixon's morale, half-dazed as he was by the green moon's paralyzing rays. With a low inarticulate cry of terror, he turned and ran, straining every muscle in a futile effort to distance the frightful thing that inexorably kept pace in the shadowy emerald gloom behind him.
Dixon's strength faded rapidly after his first wild sprint. Fifty yards more, and his faltering muscles failed him utterly. The dread rays of that grim green moon sapped his last faint powers of resistance. He staggered on for a few more painful steps then sprawled helplessly to the ground. His brain hovered momentarily upon the verge of complete unconsciousness.
Then he was suddenly aware of a fluttering struggle, inside his tunic where he had placed the body of the quail. A moment later and the bird wriggled free. It promptly spread its wings and flew away, apparently as vibrantly alive as before the mysterious paralysis had stricken it.
The incident brought a faint surge of hope to Dixon as he dimly realized the answer to at least part of the green moon's riddle. The bird had recovered after being shielded in the lead-cloth of his tunic. That could only mean one thing—the menace of those green moon rays must in some unknown way be radioactive. If Dixon could only get the lead-cloth hood over his own head again he also might cheat the green doom.
He fumbled at the garment with fingers that seemed as stiff as wooden blocks. There was a long moment of agony when he feared that his effort had come too late. Then the hood finally slipped over his head just as utter oblivion claimed him.
Dixon came abruptly back to life with the dimly remembered echo of a woman's scream still ringing in his ears. For a moment he thought that he was awakening on his cot back in the laboratory after an unusually vivid and weird nightmare. Then the garish green moonlight around him brought swift realization that the incredible happenings of the night were grim reality.
The clouds were gone from the moon, leaving his surroundings again clearly outlined in the flood of green light. Dixon lifted his head and cautiously searched the scene, but he could see no trace of the great spider-form that had pursued him.
Wondering curiously why the creature had abandoned the chase at the moment when victory was within its grasp, Dixon rose lithely to his feet. The protecting hood had brought a quick and complete recovery from the devastating effects of the green moon's rays. His muscles were again supple, and his brain once more functioned with clearness.
Then abruptly Dixon's blood froze as the sound of a woman's scream came again. The cry was that of a woman in the last extremity of terror, and Dixon knew with a terrible certainty that that woman was Ruth Lawton!
He raced toward the small ridge of rocks from behind which the sound had apparently come. A moment later he reached the scene, and stopped horror-stricken.
Three figures were there in a small rock-walled clearing. One was old Emil Crawford, sprawled unconscious on his side, the soft glow of a small white globe in a strange head-piece atop his gray hair shining eerily in the green moonlight.
Near Crawford's body loomed the giant spider-creature, and clutched firmly in the great claspers just under the monster's terrible fanged mouth was the slender body of Ruth Lawton. Merciful unconsciousness had apparently overwhelmed the girl now, for she lay supinely in the dread embrace, with eyes closed and lips silent.
As the monster dropped the girl's body to the ground and whirled to confront Dixon, for the first time he had a clear view of the thing in all its horror.
He shuddered in uncontrollable nausea. The incredible size of the creature was repellent enough, but it was the grisly head of the monstrosity that struck the final note of horror. That head was more than half human!
The fangs and other mouth parts were those of a giant tarantula, but these merged directly into the mutilated but unmistakable head of a man—with an aquiline nose, staring eyes, and a touseled mop of dirty brown hair. Resting on top of the head was a metallic head-piece similar to the one worn by Emil Crawford, but the small globe in this one blazed with a fiery opalescence.
The creature crouched lower, with its legs twitching in obvious preparation for a spring. Dixon looked wildly about him for a possible weapon, but saw nothing. Then he suddenly remembered the little lead grenade in his pocket. The cataclysmic power of that little bomb should be more than a match for even this monster.
His fingers closed over the grenade just as the great spider's twitching legs straightened in a mighty effort that sent it hurtling through the air straight toward him.
Dixon dodged to one side with a swiftness that caused the monster to miss by a good yard. Dixon raced a dozen paces farther away, then whirled to face the great spider. The creature's legs began scuttling warily forward. It was to be no wild leap through the air this time, but a swift rush over the ground that Dixon would be powerless to evade.
Releasing the safety catch of the grenade, Dixon hurled the tiny missile straight at the rock floor just under the feet of that vast misshapen creature. There was a vivid flash of blinding blue flame, then a terrific report. Dazed by the concussion, but unhurt, Dixon cautiously went over to investigate the result of the explosion.
One brief glance was enough. The hideous mass of shattered flesh sprawling there on the rocks would never again be a menace. The only thing that had escaped destruction in that shattering blast was the strange head-piece the thing had worn. Either the small shining globe was practically indestructible, or else it had been spared by some odd freak of the explosive, for it still blazed in baleful opalescence atop the shattered head.
Dixon hurried back to where Emil Crawford and Ruth Lawton lay. The girl's body was so rigidly inert that Dixon threw back his encumbering hood and knelt over her for a swift examination. His fears were quickly realized. Ruth was already a victim of the green moon's dread paralysis.
"Dixon! Bruce Dixon!"
Dixon turned at the call. Emil Crawford, his face drawn with pain, had struggled up on one elbow. The old man was obviously fighting off complete collapse by sheer will power.
"Dixon! Replace Ruth's shining head-piece at once!" Crawford gasped. "That will make her immune from the Green Death, and then we can—" The old man's voice swiftly faded away into silence as he again fainted.
Dixon hurriedly searched the scene and found Ruth's head-piece on the ground where it had apparently fallen in her first struggle with the giant spider, but the tiny white globe in the device was shattered and dark.
Despair gripped Dixon for a moment. Then he remembered the unbroken head-piece of the slain monster. True, the glow of its globe was opalescent instead of white, but it seemed to offer its wearer the same immunity to the green moon's rays.
He swiftly retrieved the head-piece from the spider-creature's body, and set the light metal framework in place on Ruth's auburn curls.
Results came with incredible quickness. The rigidity left Ruth's body immediately. Her breath came in fast-quickening gasps, and her eyes fluttered open as Dixon knelt over her.
"It's Bruce, Ruth—Bruce Dixon," he said tenderly. "Don't you know me, dear?"
But there was no trace of recognition in those wide-open blue eyes staring fixedly up at him. For a moment Ruth lay there with muscles strangely tense. Then with a lithe strength that was amazing she suddenly twisted free of the clasp of Dixon's arms and sprang to her feet.
The next minute Dixon gave ground, and he found himself battling for his very life. This was not the Ruth Lawton whom he had known and loved. This was a madwoman of savage menace, with soft lips writhing over white teeth in a jungle snarl, and blue eyes that fairly glittered with unrestrained, insensate hate.
He tried to close with the maddened girl, but instantly regretted his rashness. Her slender body seemed imbued with the strength of a tigress as she sent slim fingers clawing at his throat. He tore himself free just in time. Dazed and shaken, he again gave ground before the fury of the girl's attack.
He could not bring himself to the point of actively fighting back, yet he knew that in another moment he would either have to mercilessly batter his beautiful adversary into helplessness or else be himself overcome. There was no middle course.
Then old Emil Crawford's voice came again as the old man rallied to consciousness for another brief moment.
"Bruce, the opal globe is a direct link to those devils themselves! Break it, Bruce, break it—for Ruth's sake as well as your own!"
Crawford had barely finished his gasped warning when Ruth again hurled herself forward upon Dixon with tapering fingers curved like talons as they sought his throat. Dixon swept her clutching hands aside with a desperate left-handed parry, then snatched wildly at the gleaming head-piece with his right hand.
The thing came away in his grasp, and in the same swift movement he savagely smashed it against the rocky wall beside him. Whatever the opalescent globe's eery powers might be, it was not indestructible. It shattered like a bursting bubble, its fire dying in a tiny cloud of particles that shimmered faintly for a moment, then was gone.
Again, the effect upon Ruth was almost instantaneous. Every trace of her insane fury vanished. She swayed dizzily and would have fallen had not Dixon caught her in his arms. For a moment she looked up into his face with eyes in which recognition now shone unmistakably. Then her eyelids slowly closed, and she again lapsed into unconsciousness.
Dixon looked over at Emil Crawford, and found that the old man had again collapsed. Dixon knew of but one thing to do with the stricken man and girl, and that was to take them to his laboratory. The laboratory, apparently insulated by veins of lead ore in the mountain surrounding it, was the one sure spot of refuge in this weird nightmare world of paralyzing lunar rays and prowling monsters.
Flinging his tunic over Ruth's head to shield her as much as possible from the moonlight, he carried her to the laboratory, then returned for Emil Crawford. Safe within the subterranean retreat with the old scientist, Dixon removed his encumbering lead costume and began doing what he could for the stricken pair.
Ruth was still unconscious, but the cataleptic rigidity was already nearly gone from her body, and her breathing was now the deep respiration of normal sleep.
Emil Crawford's condition was more serious. Not only was the old man's frail strength nearly exhausted, but he was also badly wounded. His thin chest was seared by two great livid areas of burned flesh, the nature of which puzzled Dixon as he began to dress the injuries. They seemed of radioactive origin, yet in many ways they were unlike any radium burns that Dixon had ever seen.
While Dixon was working over him, Crawford stirred weakly and opened his eyes. He sighed in relief as he recognized his surroundings.
"Good boy, Bruce!" he commended wanly. "We are safe here among the insulating veins of lead ore in the mountain. This is where Ruth and I were trying to come after we escaped from those devils to-night. But, Bruce, how did you guess the radioactive nature of the Green Sickness in time to avoid falling a victim to it as soon as you left the shelter of your laboratory?"
"My escape was entirely luck," Dixon admitted grimly. "To-night I left my laboratory for the first time in three days. I found a world gone mad, with a strange green moon blazing down upon a land of living dead men, and with marauding monsters hideous enough to have been spawned in the Pit itself. What in Heaven's name does it all mean?"
"I am afraid that it means the end of the world, Bruce," Crawford answered quietly. "It was a little over forty-eight hours ago that the incredible event first happened. Without a moment's warning, the moon turned green! Hardly had the world's astronomers had time to speculate upon this amazing phenomenon before the Green Sickness struck—a pestilence of appalling deadliness that swept resistlessly in the path of those weird green rays. Wherever the green moon shone, every living creature succumbed with ghastly swiftness to the condition of living death that you have seen.
"Westward with the racing moon sped the Green Sickness, and nothing stayed its attack. The green rays pierced through buildings of wood, stone, and iron as though they did not exist. A doomed world had neither time nor opportunity to guess that lead was the one armor against those dread rays. To-night, Bruce, we are in all probability the only three human beings on this planet who are not slumbering in the paralytic stupor of the Green Sickness.
"Ruth and I were stricken with the rest of the world," Crawford continued. "We recovered consciousness hours later to find ourselves captives in the Earth-camp of the invaders themselves. You probably saw the display of lights that marks their camp down in the valley a mile beyond my place. We have learned since that the space ship of the invaders dropped silently down into the valley the night before the moon turned green and established the camp as a sort of outpost and observatory. They left two of their number there as pioneers, then the rest of them departed in the space ship for their present post up near the moon.
"Ruth and I were revived only that the two invaders in the camp might question us regarding life on this planet. They have a science that is based upon principles as utterly strange and incomprehensible to us as ours probably is to them. They probed my brain with a thought machine. It was an apparatus that worked both ways. What knowledge they got from me I do not know, but I do know that they unwittingly told me much in the bizarre and incredible mental pictures that the machine carried from their brains to mine.
"They are refugees. Bruce, from a planet that circled about the star that we know as Alpha Centauri, a star that is the nearest of all our stellar neighbors, being only four and a third light years distant. Their home planet was disrupted by a colossal engineering experiment of the Centaurians themselves, the only survivors being a group of fifty who escaped in a space ship just before the catastrophe.
"There were no other habitable planets in their own system, so in desperation these refugees sped out across the void to our solar system in the hope of finding a new home here. They reconnoitered our Earth secretly and found it ideal. But first they believed that they must conquer the life that already held this Earth. To do this, they struck with the Green Sickness.
"The rays that are turning the moon green emanate from the space ship hovering up there some fifty thousand miles from the moon itself. The Centaurian's rays, blending with the sunlight striking the disc of the full moon, are intensified in some unknown way, then reflected across the quarter of a million miles to the Earth, to flood this planet with virulent radiance.
"The green moonlight is radioactive in nature, and overcomes animal life within a matter of fifteen minutes or less. The rays are most powerful when the moon is in the sky, but their effect continues even after it has set, because as long as the green moonlight strikes any part of the Earth's atmosphere the entire atmospheric envelope of the planet remains charged with the paralyzing radioactive influence.
"Earth's inhabitants are not dead. They are merely stupefied. If the green rays were to cease now, most of the victims of the Green Sickness would quickly recover with little permanent injury. But, Bruce, if that evil green moon blazes on for twenty-four hours more, the brain powers of Earth's millions will be forever shattered. So weakened will they be by then that recovery will be impossible even with the rays shut off, and the entire planet will be populated only by mindless imbeciles, readily available material for the myriads of monstrous hybrids that the invaders will create to serve them.
"To-night you saw the hybrid that the invaders sent to recapture Ruth and me. It was a fit specimen of the grisly magic which those devils from outer space work with their uncanny surgery and growth-stimulating radioactive rays. The basic element of that monster was an ordinary tarantula spider, with its growth incredibly increased in a few short hours of intensive ray treatment in the Centaurian's camp. The half-head grafted to it was that of a human being. They always graft the brain cavity of a mammal to a hybrid—half heads of burros, horses, or even dogs, but preferably those of human beings. I think that they prefer to use as great a brain power as possible.
"The hybrids are controlled through the small opalescent globes on their heads, globes that are in direct tune with a huge master globe of opalescent fire in the invaders' camp. When Ruth attacked you after you placed the opal head-piece upon her head, she was for the moment merely another of the invaders' servants blindly obeying the broadcast command to kill. The white globes that Ruth and I wore when we escaped from the camp were identical with those worn by the invaders themselves, being nothing more than harmless insulators against the effect of the green moonlight."
A sudden spasm of pain convulsed Crawford's face. Dixon sprang forward to aid him, but the old man rallied with an effort and weakly waved Dixon back.
"I'm all right, Bruce," he gasped. "My strength is nearly exhausted, that is all. Like a garrulous old fool I've worn myself out talking about everything but the one important subject. Bruce, have you developed that new and infinitely powerful explosive you were working on?"
"Yes," Dixon answered grimly. "I have an explosive right here in the laboratory that can easily blow the Centaurian's camp completely off the map."
Crawford shook his head impatiently. "Destroying the camp would do no good. We must shatter the space ship itself if we are to extinguish those green rays in time to save our world."
"That is impossible if the space ship is hovering up there by the moon!" Dixon protested.
"No, it is not impossible," Crawford answered confidently. "I have a projectile in my laboratory that will not only hurtle across that great gap with incredible speed, but will also infallibly strike its target when it gets there. It is a projectile that is as irresistibly drawn by radio waves as steel is by a magnet, and it will speed as straight to the source of those waves as a bit of steel will to the magnet.
"The Centaurians in the space ship," Crawford continued, "are in constant communication with their camp through radio apparatus much like our own. If you can pack a powerful contact charge of your explosive in my projectile, I can guarantee that when the projectile is released it will flash out into space and score a direct hit against the walls of the space ship."
"I can pack the explosive in the projectile, all right," Dixon answered grimly. "We will need only a lump the size of an egg, and a small container of the heavy gas that activates it. The explosive itself is a radium compound that, when allowed to come in contact with the activating gas, becomes so unstable that any sharp blow will set it off in an explosion that in a matter of seconds releases the infinite quantities of energy usually released by radium over a period of at least twelve hundred years. The cataclysmic force of that explosion should be enough to wreck a small planet."
"Good!" Crawford commended weakly. "If you can only strike your blow to-night, Bruce, our world still has a chance. If only you—" The old man's voice suddenly failed. He sank back in utter collapse, his eyes closed and his last vestige of strength spent.
Knowing that the old man would probably remain in his sleep of complete exhaustion for hours, Dixon turned his attention to Ruth. To his surprise, he found her sitting up, apparently completely recovered.
"I'm quite all right again," she said reassuringly. "I've been listening to what Uncle told you. Go ahead and prepare your explosive, Bruce. I'll do what I can for Uncle while you're working."
Dixon donned his lead-cloth hood and tunic again and set to work. Ten minutes later he turned to Ruth with a slender foot-long cylinder of lead in his hand.
"Ruth, will this fit your Uncle's projectile?" he asked.
"Easily," she assured him. "But isn't it frightfully dangerous to carry in that form?"
"No, it's absolutely safe now, and will be safe until this stud is turned, releasing the activating gas from one compartment to mingle with the radium compound in the other section. Then the cylinder will become a bomb that any sharp jar will detonate."
"All right, let's go then," Ruth answered. "Have you any more of those lead clothes that I can wear? I could wear the globe head-piece that Uncle wore, but it would loom up in the dark like a searchlight."
Dixon did not protest Ruth's going with him. There was nothing further that could be done for Emil Crawford for hours and in the hazardous sally to Crawford's laboratory he knew that Ruth's cool courage and quick wits would at least double their chances for success in their desperate mission. He provided her with a reserve hood and tunic of lead cloth, then handed her a tiny leaden pellet.
"Keep this for a last resort," he told her. "It's a contact bomb that becomes ready to throw when this safety catch is snapped over. I wish we had a dozen of them, but that's the last capsule I had and there's no time to prepare more."
He fished a rusty old revolver out of a drawer, and placed it in his pocket. "I'll use this gun for a last resort weapon myself," he said. "The action only works about half the time, but it's the only firearm in the place."
The green moon was still high in the sky as Ruth and Dixon emerged from the tunnel, but it was already beginning to drop gradually down toward the west. Dixon wheeled his disreputable flivver out of its nearby shed. With engine silent they started coasting down the rough winding road into the valley.
For nearly two miles they wound down the long grade. Then, just as they reached the valley floor they saw, far up among the rocks to the left of the road, the thing they had been dreading—the bobbing opalescent globe that marked the presence of one of the Centaurians' hideous hybrids. The shimmering globe paused for a moment, then came racing down toward them.
The need for secrecy was past. Dixon threw the car in gear and savagely pulled down the gas lever. With throttle wide open they hurtled around the perilous curves of the narrow road, but always in the rocks beside and above them they heard the scuttling progress of some huge, many-legged creature that constantly kept pace with them.
They had occasional glimpses of the thing. Its pale jointed body was some twenty feet in length, and had apparently been developed from that of a centipede, with scores of racing legs that carried it with startling speed over the rocky terrain.
The flivver raced madly on toward the blaze of kaleidoscopic colors that marked the Centaurians' camp. Crawford's home loomed up now barely a hundred yards ahead.
As though sensing that its quarry was about to escape, the hybrid flashed a burst of speed that sent it on by the car for a full fifty yards, then down into the road directly in front, where it whirled to confront them. Dixon knew that he could never stop the car in the short gap separating them from that huge upreared figure, and to attempt swerving from the road upon either side was certain disaster.
He took the only remaining chance. With throttle wide open he sent the little car hurtling straight for the giant centipede. He threw his body in front of Ruth, to shield her as much as possible, just as they smashed squarely into the hybrid.
The impact was too much for even that monstrous figure. It was hurled bodily from the road to crash upon the jagged rocks at the bottom of a thirty-foot gully. There it sprawled in a broken mass, too hopelessly shattered to ever rise again.
The flivver skidded momentarily, then crumpled to a full stop against the rocks at the side of the road. Dixon and Ruth scrambled from the wreckage and raced for Crawford's home, scarcely fifty yards ahead.
They entered the laboratory and Ruth went directly over to where the radio-projectile rested in a wall-rack. Dixon took the gleaming cylinder down to examine it. Tapering to a rounded point at the front end, it was nearly a yard long and about five inches in diameter.
"The mechanism inside the projectile is turned off now, of course," Ruth said. "If it were turned on, the projectile would have been on its way to the space ship long ago, for the radio waves are as strong here as at the Centaurians' camp."
The girl pointed to a small metal stud in the nose of the projectile.
"When that is snapped over, it makes the contact that sets the magnetizing mechanism into action," she explained. "Then the projectile will go hurtling directly for the source of any radio waves within range. I don't know the nature of its mechanism. Uncle merely told me that it is the application of an entirely new principle of electricity."
Dixon laid the long projectile down on the work-bench, and began packing his lead cylinder of explosive inside it. He had to release the lead cylinder's safety catch before closing the projectile, which made his work a thrillingly precarious one, for any sharp blow now would detonate the unstable mixture of gas and radium compound in one cataclysmic explosion.
He sighed in relief as he finally straightened up with the completed projectile held carefully in both hands.
"All we have to do now, Ruth," he said, "is step out from under this roof and snap that energizing stud. Then this little package of destruction will be on its way to our Centaurian friends up there by that pestilential green moon."
Ruth stepped ahead to open the door for him. With the end of their task so near at hand, both forgot to be cautious.
Ruth threw the door open and took one step outside, then suddenly screamed in terror as her shoulders were encircled by a long snake-like object that came whipping down from some vast something that had been lurking just outside. Dixon tried to dodge back, but too late. Another great hairy tentacle came lashing around his shoulders, pinning his arms tightly and jerking him out of the doorway.
He had a swift vague glimpse of a hybrid looming there in the green moonlight—a tarantula hybrid that in size and horror dwarfed any of the frightful products of Centaurian science that he had yet seen.
Before Dixon had time to note any of the details of his assailant another tentacle curled around him, tearing the projectile from his grasp. Then he was irresistibly drawn up toward that grisly head where Ruth's body was also suspended in one of the powerful tentacles. The next moment, bearing its burdens with amazing ease, the giant hybrid started off.
Dixon tried with all his strength to squirm free enough to get a hand upon the revolver in his pocket, but the constricting tentacle did not give for even an inch. The only result of his effort was to twist his hood to one side, leaving him as effectually blindfolded as though his head were in a sack.
Long minutes of swaying, pitching motion followed as the hybrid sped over the rocky ridges and gullies. It finally came to a halt, and for another minute or so Dixon was held there motionless in mid-air, dimly conscious of a subdued hum of activity all about him. Then he was gently lowered to the ground again.
While one tentacle still held him securely, another tore away his hood and tunic. Almost immediately the hood was replaced by one of the protective white globe devices. Dixon blinked for a moment in half-blinded bewilderment as he got his first glimpse of the Earth-camp of the Centaurians.
The place, located on the smooth rock floor of a large natural basin, seemed a veritable cauldron of seething colors which rippled and blended in a dazzling maze of unearthly splendor. But Dixon forgot everything else in that weird camp as his startled gaze fell upon the creature standing directly in front of him.
He knew instinctively that the thing must be one of the Alpha Centaurians, for in its alien grotesqueness the figure was utterly dissimilar to anything ever seen upon Earth before.
Life upon the shattered planet of that far distant sun had apparently sprung from sources both crustacean and reptilian. The Centaurian stood barely five feet in height. Its bulky, box-like body was completely covered with a chitinous armor that gleamed pale yellowish green.
Two short powerful legs, scaled like those of a lizard, ended in feet that resembled degenerated talons. Two pairs of slender arms emanated from the creature's shoulders, with their many-jointed flexible length ending in delicate three-pronged hands.
The scaly hairless head beneath the Centaurian's white globe device bore a face that was blankly hideous. Two great lidless eyes, devoid of both pupils and whites, stared unblinkingly at Dixon like twin blobs of red-black jelly. A toothless loose-lipped mouth slavered beneath.
Dixon averted his gaze from the horror of that fearful alien face, and looked anxiously around for Ruth. He saw her almost at once, over at his right. She was tethered by a light metallic rope that ran from her waist to one of the metal beams supporting the great shimmering ball of opalescent fire which formed the central control of the hybrids.
One of the white globe devices had been placed upon Ruth's head and she was apparently unhurt, for she pluckily flashed a reassuring smile at Dixon.
Directly in front of Dixon and some forty yards away there was a large pen-like enclosure, with vari-colored shafts of radiance from banks of projectors constantly sweeping through it. Dixon drew in his breath sharply as he saw the frightful life lying dormant in that pen. It was a solid mass of hybrids—great loathesome figures fashioned from a score of different worms, insects, and spiders. The globes upon the gruesome mammalian half-heads were still dark and unfired with opalescence.
The invaders had apparently raided most of the surrounding country in obtaining those grafted half-heads. Near where Dixon stood there was a tragic little pile of articles taken from the Centaurians' victims—prospectors' picks, shovels, axes, and other tools.
Over to the left of the dormant hybrids stood the second Alpha Centaurian, curiously examining Dixon's projectile. The creature apparently suspected the deadly nature of the gleaming cylinder for it soon laid it carefully down and packed cushions of soft fabric around it to shield it from any possible shock.
Then at an unspoken command from the first Centaurian the great hybrid whirled Dixon around to face a small enclosure just behind him in which were located banks of control panels and other apparatus. One of the pieces of mechanism, with a regularly spaced stream of sparks snapping between two terminals, was apparently a radio receiver automatically recording the broadcast from the space ship. Dixon was unable to even guess the nature of the remaining apparatus.
Dixon's mind raced with lightning speed in the face of this new danger. He stealthily slipped a hand over the revolver in his pocket. There was one vulnerable spot in the great hybrid holding him, and that was the opalescent globe on the creature's head. If he could only smash that globe with one well-directed shot, he might be able to elude the Centaurians for the precious minute necessary to send the projectile on its deadly journey.
The hybrid began maneuvering Dixon toward the instrument enclosure. For a fleeting second the grip of the tentacles upon his shoulders loosened slightly. Dixon took instant advantage of it. Twisting himself free from the loosened tentacle in one mighty effort, he whirled and fired pointblank at the opalescent globe on the head looming above him.
The bullet smashed accurately home, shattering the globe like a bursting bubble. The great hybrid collapsed with startling suddenness, its life force instantly extinguished as the globe burst.
Dixon leaped to one side and swung the gun into line with the Centaurian's hideous face. He pulled the trigger—but there was no response. The rusty old firearm had hopelessly jammed.
Dixon savagely flung the revolver at the Centaurian. The creature tried to dodge, but the heavy gun struck its body a glancing blow. There was a slight spurt of body fluid as the chitinous armor was partly broken.
Dixon's heart leaped exultantly. No wonder these creatures had to create hybrids to fight for them. Their own bodies were as vulnerable as that of a soft-shelled crab!
The Centaurian quickly drew a slender tube of dark green from a scabbard in its belt. Dixon dodged back, looking wildly about him for a weapon. There was an ax in the pile only a few yards away. Dixon snatched the ax up, and whirled to give battle.
The other Centaurian had come hurrying over now to aid its mate. Dixon was effectually barred from attempting any progress toward the projectile by the two grotesque creatures as they stood alertly there beside each other with their green tubes menacing him. Dixon waited tensely at bay, remembering those searing radium burns upon Emil Crawford's body.
Then the first Centaurian abruptly leveled a second and smaller tube upon Dixon. A burst of yellow light flashed toward him, enveloping him in a cloud of pale radiance before he could dodge.
There was a faint plop as the protecting white globe upon his head was shattered. The yellow radiance swiftly faded, leaving Dixon unhurt, but he realized that the first round in the battle had been won decisively by the Centaurians. His only chance now, was to end the battle before the paralyzing rays of the green moon sapped his strength.
He warily advanced upon the Centaurians. Their green tubes swung into line and twin bolts of violet flame flashed toward him. He dodged, and the bolts missed by inches. Then Dixon nearly fell as his foot struck a bundle of cloth on the ground.
The next moment he snatched the bundle up with a cry of triumph. It was his lead-cloth tunic, torn and useless as a garment, but invaluable as a shield against the searing effects of those bolts of radioactive flame. He hurriedly wrapped the fabric in a rough bundle around his left forearm. The next time the tubes' violet flames flashed toward him he thrust his rude shield squarely into their path. There was a light tingling shock, and that was all. The bolts did not sear through.
With new confidence, Dixon boldly charged the two Centaurians. A weird battle ensued in the garishly lighted arena.
The effective range of the violet flashes was only about ten feet, and Dixon's muscular agility was far superior to that of his antagonists. By constant whirling and dodging he was able to either catch the violet bolts upon his shielded arm or else dodge them entirely.
Yet, in spite of the Centaurians' clumsy slowness, they maneuvered with a cool strategy that constantly kept the Earth man's superior strength at bay. Always as Dixon tried to close with one of them he was forced to retreat when a flanking attack from the other threatened his unprotected back. And always the Centaurians maneuvered to bar Dixon from attempting any dash toward the projectile.
The minutes passed, and Dixon felt his strength rapidly ebbing, both from his herculean exertions and from the paralyzing rays of the green moon beating down upon his unprotected head. As his speed of foot lessened the Centaurians began inexorably pressing their advantage.
Dixon was no longer escaping unscathed. In spite of his frantic efforts to dodge, twice the violet bolts grazed his body in searing flashes of exquisite agony.
His muscles stiffened still more in the attack of the Green Sickness. Desperately dodging a Centaurian bolt, he stumbled and nearly fell. As he staggered to regain his balance, one of his antagonists scrambled to the coveted position behind him.
It was only Ruth's scream of warning that galvanized Dixon's numbed brain into action in time to meet the imminent peril.
In one mighty effort he flung his ax at the Centaurian in front of him. The heavy blade cut deep into the thinly armored body. Mortally wounded, the creature collapsed.
Dixon whirled and flung up his shielded left arm just in time to intercept the violet bolt of the other Centaurian. Warily backing away, Dixon succeeded in retrieving his ax from beside the twitching body of the fallen invader.
Then, with the heavy weapon again in his hand, he remorselessly charged his remaining foe. The Centaurian's tube flashed in a veritable hail of hurtling violet bolts, but Dixon caught the flashes upon his shield and closed grimly in.
One final leap brought him to close quarters. The heavy ax whistled through the air in a single mighty stroke that cleft the Centaurian's frail body nearly in two.
Then Ruth's excited scream came again. "Bruce—the other one! Get it quick!"
Dixon turned. The wounded invader, taking advantage of their preoccupation in the final struggle with its mate, had dragged its crippled body over to the instrument enclosure. Dixon staggered toward it as fast as his half-paralyzed muscles would permit.
He was just too late. The Centaurian jerked a lever home a fraction of a second before Dixon's smashing ax forever ended his activities. The lever's action upon the pen of inert hybrids was immediate.
The sweeping lances of light vanished in a brief sheet of vivid flame which kindled the dark globes on the hybrids' gruesome heads to steady opalescence—and the dread horde came to life! Sprawling from the pen, they came scuttling toward Dixon in a surging flood—a scene out of a nightmare.
Dixon faced the oncoming horde in numb despair, knowing that his nearly-paralyzed body had no chance in flight. Then, just as the hybrids were nearly upon him, he heard Ruth's encouraging voice again.
"There's still one chance left, Bruce," she cried, "and I'll take it!"
Dixon turned. Ruth had in her hand the tiny contact grenade he had given her for a last emergency. She snapped the safety catch on the little bomb, then hurled it squarely at the giant opalescent globe looming close beside her.
There was a terrific explosion and the great globe shattered to atoms. Apparently stunned by the concussion but otherwise unhurt, Ruth was flung clear of the wreckage.
With the shattering of the central globe the strange life force of the hybrid horde vanished instantly and completely. Midway in their rush they sprawled inert and dead, with their outstretched legs so close to Dixon that he had to step over one or two to get clear.
Dixon's brain reeled in the reaction of relief from the horde's hideous menace. Then he grimly fought to clear his fast-numbing senses long enough for the one final task that he knew must still be done.
The projectile, cushioned as it was, had escaped detonation in the blast. He had only to stagger across the twenty yards separating him from it, then release the stud that would send it flashing out into space.
But his last shred of reserve strength had nearly been sapped now by the insidious rays of that malevolent green moon. Even as he started toward the projectile, he staggered and fell. Unable to drag himself to his feet again, he began grimly crawling with arms and legs as stiff and dead as that much stone.
Only ten more yards to go now. And now only five. Grimly, doggedly, with senses reeling and muscles nearly dead, the last survivor of a dying planet fought desperately on under the malignant rays of the vivid green moon!
One last sprawling convulsive effort—and Dixon had the projectile in his hands. His stiff fingers fumbled agonizingly with the activating stud. Then abruptly the stud snapped home. With a crescendo whistle of sundered air the projectile flashed upward into the western sky.
Dixon collapsed upon his back, his dimming eyes fixed upon the grim green moon. Minutes that seemed eternities dragged slowly by. Then his heart leaped in sudden hope. Had there really glowed a small blue spark up there beside the green moon—a spark marking the mighty explosion of the radium bomb against the Centaurians' space ship?
A fraction of a second later, and doubt became glorious certainty. The vivid green of the moonlight vanished. The silvery white sheen of a normal moon again shone serenely up there in the western sky!
With the extinguishing of the dread green rays, new strength surged swiftly through Dixon's tired body. He arose and hurried over to where Ruth lay limp and still near the wreckage of the great globe. He worked over her for many anxious minutes before the normal flush of health returned to her white cheeks and her eyes slowly opened.
Then he took Ruth into his arms and for a long minute the two silently drank in the beauty of that radiant silver moon above them, while their hearts thrilled with a realization of the glorious miracle of awakening life that they knew must already be beginning to rejuvenate a stricken world.
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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#The_Exile_of_Time
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