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Astounding Stories of Super-Science January 1931: The Pirate Planet - Chapter XV

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Dare to dream. Dare to go where no other has gone before.

Astounding Stories of Super-Science January 1931, by Astounding Stories is part of HackerNoon’s Book Blog Post series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. The Pirate Planet - Chapter XV

CHAPTER XV

IF Lieutenant McGuire could have erased from his mind the thought of the threat that hung over the earth he would have found nothing but intensest pleasure in the experiences that were his.

 But night after night they had heard the reverberating echoes of the giant gun speeding its messenger of death toward the earth, and he saw as plainly as if he were there the terrible destruction that must come where the missiles struck. Gas, of course; that seemed the chief and only weapon of these monsters, and Djorn, the elected leader of the Venus folk, confirmed him in this surmise.

“We had many gases,” he told McGuire, “but we used them for good ends. You people of Earth—or these invaders, if they conquer Earth—must some day engage in a war more terrible than wars between men. The insects are your greatest foe. With a developing civilization goes the multiplication of insect and bacterial life. We used the gases for that war, and we made this world a heaven.” He sighed regretfully for his lost world.

“These red ones found them, and our factories for making them. But they have no gift for working out or mastering the other means we had for our defense—the electronic projectors, the creation of tremendous magnetic fields: you saw one when we destroyed the attacking ships. Our scientists had gone far—”

“I wish to Heaven you had some of them to use now,” said the lieutenant savagely, and the girl, Althora, standing near, smiled in sympathy for the flyer’s distress. But her brother, Djorn, only murmured: “The lust to kill: that is something to be overcome.”

The fatalistic resignation of these folk was disturbing to a man of action like McGuire. His eyes narrowed, and his lips were set for an abrupt retort when Althora intervened.

“Come,” she said, and took the flyer’s hand. “It is time for food.”

SHE took him to the living quarters occupied by her brother and herself, where opal walls and jewelled inlays were made lovely by the soft light that flooded the rooms.

“Just one tablet,” she said, and brought him a thin white disc, “then plenty of water. You must take this compressed food often and in small quantities till your system is accustomed.”

“You make this?” he asked.

“But certainly. Our chemists are learned men. We should lack for food, otherwise, here in our underground home.”

He let the tablet dissolve in his mouth. Althora leaned forward to touch his hand gently.

“I am sorry,” she said, “that you and Djorn fail to understand one another. He is good—so good! But you—you, too, are good, and you fear for the safety of your own people.”

“They will be killed to the last woman and child,” he replied, “or they will be captured, which will be worse.”

“I understand,” she told him, and pressed his hand; “and if I can help, Lieutenant Mack Guire, I shall be so glad.”

He smiled at her stilted pronunciation of his name. He had had the girl for an almost constant companion since his arrival; the sexes, he found, were on a level of mutual freedom, and the girl’s companionship was offered and her friendship expressed as openly as might have been that of a youth. Of Sykes he saw little; Professor Sykes was deep in astronomical discussions with the scientists of this world.

But she was charming, this girl of a strange race so like his own. A skin from the velvet heart of a rose and eyes that looked deep into his and into his mind when he permitted; eyes, too, that could crinkle to ready laughter or grow misty when she sang those weird melodies of such thrilling sweetness.

Only for the remembrance of Earth and the horrible feeling of impotent fury, Lieutenant McGuire would have found much to occupy his thoughts in this loveliest of companions.

HE laughed now at the sounding of his name, and the girl laughed with him.

 “But it is your name, is it not?” she asked.

“Lieutenant Thomas McGuire,” he repeated, “and those who like me call me ‘Mac.’”

“Mac,” she repeated. “But that is so short and hard sounding. And what do those who love you say?”

The flyer grinned cheerfully. “There aren’t many who could qualify in that respect, but if there were they would call me Tommy.”

“That is better,” said Althora with engaging directness; “that is much better—Tommy.” Then she sprang to her feet and hurried him out where some further wonders must be seen and exclaimed over without delay. But Lieutenant McGuire saw the pink flush that crept into her face, and his own heart responded to the telltale betrayal of her feeling for him. For never in his young and eventful life had the man found anyone who seemed so entirely one with himself as did this lovely girl from a distant star.

He followed where she went dancing on her way, but not for long could his mind be led away from the menace he could not forget. And on this day, as on many days to come, he struggled and racked his brain to find some way in which he could thwart the enemy and avert or delay their stroke.

IT was another day, and they were some months on their long journey away from the earth when an inspiration came. Althora had offered to help, and he knew well how gladly she would aid him; the feeling between them had flowered into open, if unspoken love. Not that he would subject her to any danger—he himself would take all of that when it came—but meanwhile—

“Althora,” he asked her, “can you project your mind into that of one of the reds?”

“I could, easily,” she replied, “but it would not be pleasant. Their minds are horrible; they reek of evil things.” She shuddered at the thought, but the man persisted.

“But if you could help, would you be willing? I can do so little; I can never stop them; but I may save my people from some suffering at least. Here is my idea:

“Djorn tells me that I had it figured right: they plan an invasion of the earth when next the two planets approach. He has told me of their armies and their fleets of ships that will set off into space. I can’t prevent it; I am helpless! But if I knew what their leader was thinking—”

“Torg!” she exclaimed. “You want to know the mind of that beast of beasts!”

“Yes,” said the man. “It might be of value. Particularly if I could know something of their great gun—where it is and what it is—well, I might do something about that.”

The girl averted her eyes from the savage determination on his face. “No—no!” she exclaimed; “I could not. Not Torg!”

McGuire’s own face fell at the realization of the enormity of this favor he had demanded. “That’s all right,” he said and held her soft hand in his; “just forget it. I shouldn’t have asked.”

But she whispered as she turned to walk away: “I must think, I must think. You ask much of me, Tommy; but oh, Tommy, I would do much for you!” She was sobbing softly as she ran swiftly away.

And the man in khaki—this flyer of a distant air-service—strode blindly off to rage and fume at his helplessness and his inability to strike one blow at those beings who lived in that world above.

THERE were countless rooms and passages where the work of the world below went on. There were men and women whose artistic ability found outlet in carvings and sculpture, chemists and others whose work was the making of foods and endless experimentation, some thousand of men and women in the strength of their endless youth, who worked for the love of the  doing and lived contentedly and happily while they waited for the day of their liberation. But of fighters there were none, and for this Lieutenant McGuire grieved wholeheartedly.

He was striding swiftly along where a corridor ended in blackness ahead. There was a gleaming machine on the floor beside him when a hand clutched at his arm and a warning voice exclaimed: “No further, Lieutenant McGuire; you must not go!”

“Why?” questioned the lieutenant. “I’ve got to walk—do something to keep from this damnable futile thinking.”

“But not there,” said the other; “it is a place of death. Ten paces more and you would have vanished in a flicker of flame. The projector”—he touched the mechanism beside them—“is always on. Our caves extend in an endless succession; they join with the labyrinth where the red ones used to live. They could attack us but for this. Nothing can live in its invisible ray; they are placed at all such entrances.”

“Yet Djorn,” McGuire told himself slowly, “said they had no weapons. He knows nothing of war. But, great heavens! what wouldn’t I give for a regiment of scrappers—good husky boys with their faces tanned and a spark in their eyes and their gas masks on their chests. With a regiment, and equipment like this—”

And again he realized the futility of armament with none to serve and direct it.

IT was a month or more before Althora consented to the tests. Djorn advised against it and made his protest emphatic, but here, as in all things, Althora was a free agent. It was her right to do as she saw fit, and there was none to prevent in this small world where individual liberty was unquestioned.

And it was still longer before she could get anything of importance. The experiments were racking to her nerves, and McGuire, seeing the terrible strain upon her, begged her to stop. But Althora had gained the vision that was always before her loved one’s eyes—a world of death and disaster—and he, here where the bolt would be launched, and powerless to prevent. She could not be dissuaded now.

It was a proud day for Althora when she sent for McGuire, and he found her lying at rest, eyes closed in her young face that was lined and tortured with the mental horror she was contacting. She silenced his protests with a word.

“The gun,” she whispered; “they are talking about the gun … and the bombardment … planning….”

More silent concentration. Then:

“The island of Bergo,” she said, “—remember that! The gun is there … a great bore in the earth … solid rock … but the casing of titanite must be reinforced … and bands shrunk about the muzzle that projects … heavy bands … it shows signs of distortion—the heat!…”

She was listening to the thoughts, and selecting those that bore upon gun.

“… Only fifty days … the bombardment must begin … Tahnor has provided a hundred shells; two thousand tals of the green gas-powder in each one … the explosive charges ready … yes—yes!…”

“Oh!” she exclaimed and opened her troubled eyes. “The beast is so complacent, so sure! And the bombardment will begin in fifty days! Will it really cause them anguish on your Earth, Tommy?”

“Just plain hell; that’s all!”

McGuire’s voice was low; his mind was reaching out to find and reject one plan after another. The gun!… He must disable it; he could do that much at least. For himself—well, what of it?—he would die, of course.

The guard he had been taught to place about his own thoughts must have relaxed, for Althora cried out in distress.

 “No—no!” she protested; “you shall not! I have tried to help you, Tommy dear—say that I have helped you!—but, oh, my beloved, do not go. Do not risk your life to silence this one weapon. They would still have their ships. Remember what Djorn has told of their mighty fleets, their thousands of fighting men. You cannot stop them; you can hardly hinder them. And you would throw away your life! Oh, please do not go!”

McGuire was seated beside her. His face was hidden in one hand while the other was held tight between the white palms of Althora’s tense hands. He said nothing, and he shielded his eyes and locked his mind against her thought force.

“Tommy,” said Althora, and now her voice was all love and softness, “Tommy, my dear one! You will not go, for what can you do? And if you stay—oh, my dear!—you can have what you will—the secret of life shall be yours—to live forever in perpetual youth. You may have that. And me, Tommy…. Would you throw your life away in a hopeless attempt, when life might hold so much? Am I offering so little, Tommy?”

And still the silence and the hand that kept the eyes from meeting hers; then a long-drawn breath and a slim figure in khaki that stood unconsciously erect to look, not at the girl, but out beyond the solid walls, through millions of miles of space, to the helpless speck called Earth.

“You offer me heaven, my dear,” he spoke softly. “But sometimes”—and his lips twisted into a ghost of a smile—“sometimes, to earn our heaven, we have to fight like hell. And, if we fail to make the fight, what heaven worth having is left?

“And the people,” he said softly; “the homes in the cities and towns and villages. My dear, that’s part of loving a soldier: you can never own him altogether; his allegiance is divided. And if I failed my own folk what right would I have to you?”

HE dared to look at the girl who lay before him. That other vision was gone but he had seen a clear course charted, and now, with his mind at rest, he could smile happily at the girl who was looking up at him through her tears.

She rose slowly to her feet and stood before him to lay firm hands upon his shoulders. She was almost as tall as he, and her eyes, that had shaken off their tears but for a dewy fringe, looked deep and straight into his.

“We have thought,” she said slowly, “we people of this world, that we were superior to you and yours; we have accepted you as someone a shade below our plane of advancement. Yes, we have dared to believe that. But I know better. We have gone far, Tommy, we people of this star; we have lived long. Yet I am wondering if we have lost some virtues that are the heritage of a sterner race.

“But I am learning, Tommy; I am so thankful that I can learn and that I have had you to teach me. We will go together, you and I. We will fight our fight, and, the Great One willing, we will earn our heaven or find it elsewhere—together.”

She leaned forward to kiss the tall man squarely upon the lips with her own soft rose-petal lips that clung and clung … and the reply of Lieutenant McGuire, while it was entirely wordless, seemed eminently satisfactory.

ALTHORA, the beautiful daughter of Venus, had the charm and allure of her planet’s fabled namesake. But she thought like a man and she planned like a man. And there was no dissuading her from her course. She was to fight beside McGuire—that was her intention—and beyond that there was no value in argument. McGuire was forced to accept the insistent aid, and he needed help.

Sykes dropped his delving into astronomical lore and answered to the call, but there was no other assistance. Only the three, McGuire, Althora and Sykes.  There were some who would agree to pilot the submarine that was being outfitted, but they would have no part in the venture beyond transporting the participants.

More than once McGuire paused to curse silently at the complaisance of this people. What could he not do if they would help. Ten companies of trained men, armed with their deadly electronic projectors that disintegrated any living thing they reached—and he would clutch at his tousled hair and realize that they were only three, and go grimly back to work.

“I don’t know what we can do till we get there,” he told Sykes. “Here we are, and there is the gun: that is all we know, except that the thing must be tremendous and our only hope is that there is some firing mechanism that we can destroy. The gun itself is a great drilling in the solid rock, lined with one of their steel alloys, and with a big barrel extending up into the air: Althora has learned that.

“They went deep into the rock and set the firing chamber there; it’s heavy enough to stand the stress. They use a gas-powder, as Althora calls it, for the charge, and the same stuff but deadlier is in the shell. But they must have underground workings for loading and firing. Is there a chance for us to get in there, I wonder! There’s the big barrel that projects. We might … but no!—that’s too big for us to tackle, I’m afraid.”

“How about that electronic projector on the submarine?” Sykes suggested. “Remember how it melted out the heart of that big ship? We could do a lot with that.”

“Not a chance! Djorn and the others have strictly forbidden the men to turn it on the enemy since they have given no offense.

“No offense!” he repeated, and added a few explosive remarks.

“No, it looks like a case of get there and do what dirty work we can to their mechanism before they pot us—and that’s that!”

BUT Sykes was directing his thoughts along another path.

“I wonder …” he mused; “it might be done: they have laboratories.”

“What are you talking about? For the love of heaven, man, if you’re got an idea, let’s have it. I’m desperate.”

“Nitrators!” said the scientist. “I have been getting on pretty good terms with the scientific crowd here, and I’ve seen some mighty pretty manufacturing laboratories. And they have equipment that was never meant for the manufacture of nitro-explosives, but, with a few modifications—yes, I think it could be done.”

“You mean nitro-glycerine? TNT?”

“Something like that. Depends upon what materials we can get to start with.”

The lieutenant was pounding his companion upon the back and shouting his joy at this faintest echo of encouragement.

“We’ll plant it alongside the gun—No, we’ll get into their working underground. We’ll blow their equipment into scrap-iron, and perhaps we can even damage the gun itself!” He was almost beside himself with excitement at thought of a weapon being placed in his straining helpless hands.

IT was the earth-shaking thunder of the big gun that hastened their final preparations and made McGuire tremble with suppressed excitement where he helped Sykes to draw off a syrupy liquid into heavy crystal flasks.

There were many of these, and the two men would allow no others to touch them, but stored them themselves and nested each one in a soft bed within the submarine. Then one last repetition of their half-formed plans to Djorn and his followers and a rush toward the wharf where the submarine was waiting.

Althora was waiting, too, and McGuire wasted minutes in a petition that he knew was futile.

“Wait here, Althora,” he begged. “I will come back; this is no venture for  you to undertake. I can take my chances with them, but you—! It is no place for you,” he concluded lamely.

“There is no other place for me,” she said; “only where you are.” And she led the way while the others followed into the lighted control room of the big under-water craft.

McGuire’s eyes were misty with a blurring of tears that were partly from excitement, but more from a feeling of helpless remonstrance that was mingled with pure pride. And his lips were set in a straight line.

The magnetic pull that held them to their anchorage was reversed; the ship beneath them was slipping smoothly beneath the surface and out to sea, guided through its tortuous windings of water-worn caves and rocky chambers under the sea by the invisible electric cords that drew it where they would.

And ahead on some mysterious island was a gun, a thing of size and power beyond anything of Earth. He was going to spike that gun if it was the last act of his life; and Althora was going with him. He drew her slim body to him, while his eyes stared blindly, hopefully, toward what the future held.

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Various. 2009. Astounding Stories of Super-Science, January 1931. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved May 2022 from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/30177/30177-h/30177-h.htm#page109

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