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

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Astounding Stories

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 XVI


THROUGHOUT the night they drove hour after hour at terrific speed. The ship was running submerged, for McGuire was taking no slightest chance of their being observed from the air. He and the others slept at times, for the crew that handled the craft very evidently knew the exact course, and there were mechanical devices that insured their safety. A ray was projected continuously ahead of them; it would reflect back and give on an indicator instant warning of any derelict or obstruction. Another row of quivering needles gave by the same method the soundings from far ahead.

But the uncertainty of what their tomorrow might hold and the worry and dread lest he find himself unable to damage the big gun made real rest impossible for McGuire.

But he was happy and buoyant with hope when, at last, the green light from the ports showed that the sun was shining up above, and the slackening drive of the submarine’s powerful motors told that their objective was in sight.

They lay quietly at last while a periscope of super-sensitiveness was thrust cautiously above the water. It brought in a panoramic view of the shoreline ahead, amplified it and projected the picture in clear-cut detail upon a screen. If Lieutenant McGuire had stood on the wet deck above and looked directly at the island the sight could have been no clearer. The colors of torn and blasted tree-growths showed in all their pale shades, and there was stereoscopic depth to the picture that gave no misleading illusions as to distance.

The shore was there with the white spray of breakers on a rocky shoal, and a beach beyond. And beyond that, in hard outline against a golden sky, was a gigantic tube that stood vertically in air to reach beyond the upper limits of the periscope’s vision.

MCGUIRE tingled at the sight. To be within reach of this weapon that had sent those blasting, devastating missiles upon the earth! He paced back and forth in the small room to stop and stare again, and resume his pacing that helped to while away the hours they must wait. For there were man-shapes swarming over the land, and the dull, blood-red of their loose uniforms marked them as members of the fighting force spawned by this prolific breed.

“Not a chance until they’re out of the picture,” said the impatient man; “they would snow us under. It’s just as I thought: we must wait until the gun is ready to fire; then they will beat it. They won’t want to be around when that big boy cuts loose.”

“And then?” asked Althora.

 “Then Sykes and I will take our collection of gallon flasks ashore, and I sure hope we don’t stumble.” He grinned cheerfully at the girl.

“That reinforced concrete dome seems to be where they get down into the ground; it is close to the base of the gun. We will go there—blow it open if we have to—but manage in some way to get down below. Then a time-fuse on the charge, and the boat will take me off, and we will leave as fast as these motors can drive us.”

He omitted to mention any possible danger to Sykes and himself in the handling of their own explosive, and he added casually, “You will stay here and see that there is no slip-up on the getaway.”

He had to translate the last remark into language the girl could understand. But Althora shook her head.

“You do try so hard to get rid of me, Tommy,” the laughed, “but it is no use. I am going with you—do not argue—and I will help you with the attack. Three will work faster than two—and I am going.”

McGuire was silent, then nodded his assent. He was learning, this Earth-man, what individual freedom really meant.

ONLY the western sky showed golden masses on the shining screen when McGuire spoke softly to the captain:

“Your men will put us ashore; you may ask them to stand by now.” And to Professor Sykes, “Better get that ‘soup’ of yours ready to load.”

The red-clad figures were growing dim on the screen, and the blotches of colors that showed where they were grouped were few. Some there were who left such groups to flee precipitately toward a waiting airship.

This was something the lieutenant had not foreseen. He had expected that the force that served the gun would have some shock-proof shelter; he had not anticipated a fighting ship to take them away.

“That’s good,” he exulted; “that is a lucky break. If they just get out of sight we will have the place to ourselves.”

There were no red patches on the screen now, and the picture thrown before them showed the big ship, its markings of red and white distinct even in the shadow-light of late afternoon, rising slowly into the air. It gathered speed marvelously and vanished to a speck beyond the land.

“We’re getting the breaks,” said McGuire crisply. “All right—let’s go!”

The submarine rose smoothly, and the sealed doors in the superstructure were opened while yet there was water to come trickling in. Men came with a roll of cloth that spread open to the shape of a small boat, while a metal frame expanded within it to hold it taut.

McGuire gasped with dismay as a seaman launched it and leaped heavily into the frail shell to attach a motor to one end.

“Metal!” the captain reassured him; “woven metal, and water-tight! You could not pierce it with anything less than a projector.”

SYKES was ready with one of the crystal flasks as the boat was brought alongside, and McGuire followed with another. They took ten of the harmless-looking containers, and both men held their breaths as the boat grounded roughly on the boulder-strewn shore.

They lifted them out and bedded them in the sand, then returned to the submarine. This time Althora, too, stepped into the boat. They loaded in the balance of the containers; the motor purred. Another landing, and they stood at last on the island, where a mammoth tube towered into the sky and the means for its destruction was at their feet.

But there was little time; already the light was dimming, and the time for the firing of the big weapon was drawing near. The men worked like  mad to carry the flasks to the base of the gun, where a dome of concrete marked the entrance to the rooms below.

Each man held a flask of the deadly fluid when Althora led the way where stairs went deep down into the earth under the domed roof. This part of the work had been foreseen, and the girl held a slender cylinder that threw a beam of light, intensely bright.

They found a surprising simplicity in the arrangements underground. Two rooms only had been carved from the solid rock, and one of these ended in a wall of gray metal that could be only the great base of the gun. But nowhere was a complication of mechanism that might be damaged or destroyed, nor any wiring or firing device.

A round door showed sharp edges in the gray metal, but only the strength of many men could have removed its huge bolts, and these two knew there must be other doors to seal in the mighty charge.

“Not a wire!” the scientist exclaimed. “How do they fire it?” The answer came to him with the question.

“Radio, of course; and the receiving set is in the charge itself; the barrel of the gun is its own antenna. They must fire it from a distance—back on the island where we were, perhaps. It would need to be accurately timed.”

“Come on!” shouted McGuire, and raised the flask of explosive to his shoulder.

EACH one knew the need for haste; each waited every moment for the terrible blast of gun-fire that would jar their bodies to a lifeless pulp or, by detonating their own explosive, destroy them utterly. But they carried the flasks again to the top, and the three of them worked breathlessly to place their whole supply where McGuire directed.

The massive barrel of the gun was beside them; it was held in tremendous castings of metal that bolted to anchorage in the ground. One great brace had an overhanging flange; the explosive was placed beneath it.

Professor Sykes had come prepared. He attached a detonator to one of the flasks, and while the other two were placing the explosive in position he fastened two wires to the apparatus with steady but hurrying fingers; then at full speed he ran with the spool from which the wires unwound.

McGuire and Althora were behind him, running for the questionable safety of the sand-hills. Sykes stopped in the shelter of a tiny valley where winds had heaped the sand.

“Down!” he shouted. “Get down—behind that sand dune, there!”

He dropped beside them, the bared ends of the wires in his hands. There was a battery, too, a case no larger than his hands. Professor Sykes, it appeared, had gained some few concessions from his friends, who had learned to respect him in the field of science.

One breathless moment he waited; then—

“Now!” he whispered, and touched the battery’s terminals with the bare wires.

TO McGuire it seemed, in that instant of shattering chaos, that the great gun itself must have fired. He had known the jar of heavy artillery at close range; he had had experience with explosives. He had even been near when a government arsenal had thrown the countryside into a hell of jarring, ear-splitting pandemonium. But the concussion that shook the earth under him now was like nothing he had known.

The hill of sand that sheltered them vanished to sweep in a sheet above their heads. And the air struck down with terrific weight, then left them in an airless void that seemed to make their bodies swell and explode. It rushed back in a whirling gale to sweep showers of sand and pebbles over the helpless forms of the three who lay battered and stunned.

 An instant that was like an age; then the scientist pointed with a weak and trembling hand where a towering spire of metallic gray leaned slowly in the air. So slowly it moved, to the eyes of the watchers—a great arc of gathering force and speed that shattered the ground where it struck.

“The gun!” was all that the still-dazed lieutenant could say. “The—the gun!” And he fell to shivering uncontrollably, while tears of pure happiness streamed down his face.

The mammoth siege gun—the only weapon for bombardment of the helpless Earth—was a mass of useless metal, a futile thing that lay twisted and battered on the sands of the sea.

THE submarine now showed at a distance; it had withdrawn, by prearrangement, to the shelter of the deeper water. McGuire looked carefully at the watch on his wrist, and listened to make certain that the explosion had not stopped it. Sykes had told him the length of the Venusian day—twenty hours and nineteen minutes of Earth time, and he had made his calculations from the day of the Venusians. And, morning and night, McGuire had set his watch back and had learned to make a rough approximation of the time of that world.

The watch now said five-thirteen, and the sun was almost gone; a line of gold in the western sky; and McGuire knew that it was a matter only of minutes till the blast of the big gun would rock the island. One heavy section of the great barrel was resting upon the shattered base, and McGuire realized that this blocking of the monster’s throat must mean it would tear itself and the island around it to fragments when it fired. He ran toward the beach and waved his arms wildly in air to urge on the speeding craft that showed dim and vague across the heaving sea.

It drove swiftly toward them and stopped for the launching of the little boat. There was a delay, and McGuire stood quivering with impatience where the others, too, watched the huddle of figures on the submarine’s deck.

It was Althora who first sensed their danger. Her voice was shrill with terror as she seized McGuire’s arm and pointed landward.

“Tommy—Tommy!” she said. “They are coming! I saw them!”

ASWARMING of red figures over the nearby dunes gave quick confirmation of her words. McGuire looked about him for a weapon—anything to add efficiency to his bare hands—and the swarm was upon them as he looked.

He leaped quickly between Althora and the nearest figures that stretched out grasping hands, and a red face went white under the smashing impact of the flyer’s fist.

They poured over the sand-hills now—-scores of leaping man-shapes—and McGuire knew in an instant of self-accusation that there had been a shelter after all, where a portion of the enemy force had stayed. The explosion had brought them, and now—

He struck in a raging frenzy at the grotesque things that came racing upon them. He knew Sykes was fighting too. He tore wildly at the lean arms that bound him and kept him from those a step or two away who were throwing the figure of a girl across the shoulders of one of their men, while her eyes turned hopelessly toward McGuire.

They threw the two men upon the sand and crowded to kneel on the prostrate bodies and strike and tear with their long hands, then tied them at ankles and wrists with metal cords, and raised them helpless and bound in the air.

One of the red creatures pointed a long arm toward the demolished gun and shrieked something in a terror-filled tone. The others, at the sound, raced off through the sand, while those with the burden of the three captives followed as best they could.

“The gun!” said Professor Sykes in  a thick voice: the words were jolted out of him as the two who carried him staggered and ran. “They know—that it—hasn’t—gone off—”

THE straggling troop that strung out across the dim-lit dunes was approaching another domed shelter of heavy concrete. They crowded inside, and the bodies of the three were thrown roughly to the floor, while the red creatures made desperate haste to close the heavy door. Then down they went into the deeper safety of a subterranean room, where the massive walls about them quivered to a nerve-deadening jar. It shook those standing to the floor, and the silence that followed was changed to a bedlam by the inhuman shrieking of the creatures who were gloating over their safety and the capture they had achieved. They leaped and capered in a maniacal outburst and ceased only at the shrill order of one who was in command.

At his direction the three were carried out of doors and thrown upon the ground. McGuire turned his head to see the face of Althora. There was blood trickling from a cut on her temple, and her eyes were dazed and blurred, but she managed a trembling smile for the anxious eyes of the man who could only struggle hopelessly against the thin wires that held him.

Althora hurt! Bound with those cutting metal cords! Althora—in such beastly hands! He groaned aloud at the thought.

“You should never have come; I should never have let you. I have got you into this!” He groaned again in an agony of self-reproach, then lay silent and waited for what must come. And the answer to his speculations came from the night above, where the lights of a ship marked the approach of an enemy craft.

THE ships of the red race could travel fast, as McGuire knew, but the air monster whose shining, pointed beak hung above them where they lay helpless in the torturing bonds of fine wire, was to give him a new conception of speed.

It shot to the five thousand-foot level, when the captives were safe aboard, and the dark air shrieked like a tortured animal where the steel shell tore it to tatters. And the radio, in an adjoining room, never ceased in its sputtering, changing song.

The destruction of the Earth-bombarding gun! The capture of the two Earth-men who had dared to fight back! And a captive woman of the dreaded race of true Venusians! There was excitement and news enough for one world. And the discordant singing of the radio was sounding in the ears of the leaders of that world.

They were waiting on the platform in the great hall where Sykes and McGuire had stood, and their basilisk eyes glared unwinkingly down at the three who were thrown at their feet.

The leader of them all, Torg himself, arose from his ornate throne and strode forward for a closer view of the trophies his huntsmen had brought in. A whistled word from him and the wires that had bound Althora’s slim ankles were cut, while a red-robed warrior dragged her roughly to her feet to stand trembling and swaying as the blood shot cruelly through her cramped limbs.

Torg’s eyes to McGuire were those of a devil feasting on human flesh, as he stared appraisingly and gloatingly at the girl who tried vainly to return the look without flinching. He spoke for a moment in a harsh tone, and the seated councilors echoed his weird notes approvingly.

“What does he say?” McGuire implored, though he knew there could be nothing of good in that abominable voice. “What does he say, Althora?”

THE face that turned slowly to him was drained of the last vestige of color. “I—do not—know,” she said in a whisper scarcely audible; “but he thinks—terrible things!”

 She seemed speaking of some nightmare vision as she added haltingly, “There is a fleet of many ships, and Torg is in command. He has thousands of men, and he goes forth to conquer your Earth. He goes there to rule.” She had to struggle to bring the words to her lips now. “And—he takes me—with—him!”

“No—no!” the flyer protested, and he struggled insanely to free his hands from the wires that cut the deeper into his flesh. The voice of Althora, clear and strong now, brought him back.

“I shall never go, Tommy; never! The gift of eternal life is mine, but it is mine to keep only if I will. But, for you and your friend—” She tried to raise her hands to her trembling lips.

“Yes,” said Lieutenant McGuire quietly, “for us—?”

But there were some things the soft lips of Althora refused to say. Again she tried vainly to raise her hands, then turned her white, stricken face that a loved one might not see the tears that were mingling with the blood-stains on her cheeks, nor read in her eyes the horror they beheld.

But she found one crumb of comfort for the two doomed men.

“You will live till the sailing of the ships, Tommy,” she choked, “and then—we will go together, Tommy—you and I.”

Her head was bowed and her shoulders shaking, but she raised her head proudly erect as she was seized by a guard whose blood-red hands forced her from the room.

And the dry, straining eyes of Lieutenant McGuire, that watched her going, saw the passing to an unknown fate of all he held dear, and the end of his unspoken dreams.

He scarcely felt the grip of the hands that seized him, nor knew when he and Sykes were carried from the room where Torg, the Emperor, held his savage court. The stone walls of the room where they were thrown could not hold his eyes; they looked through and beyond to see only the white and piteous face of a girl whose lips were whispering: “We will go together, Tommy—you and I.”

(Concluded in the next issue)


THE largest cavern ever discovered, at Carlsbad Cavern, N. M., is soon going to be explored.

Carlsbad Cavern is so large that that three sky-scrapers a half-mile apart could be built in the largest of its innumerable “rooms,” according to Mr. Nicholson, who was there once before, about a year ago. Only 22 miles of the cavern’s apparently limitless tunnels have been explored, revealing such natural beauties that President Coolidge established it as a national monument.

The stalagmites in the cavern tower 100 feet high. The age of the cavern was put at 60,000,000 years by Dr. Willis T. Lee of the National Geographic Society, after his survey three years ago.

The caverns were discovered fifteen years ago by a New Mexican cowboy named Jim White, according to Mr. Nicholson. White was riding across a desert waste one day when he saw what appeared to be smoke from a volcano. After riding three hours in the direction of the smoke he discovered that it was an enormous cloud of bats issuing from the mouth of a gigantic cavern. He decided the cavern deserved exploration, and a few years later he and a Mexican boy were lowered in a barrel over the 750-foot cliff which overhangs the cavern.

The stalagmites of the cavern, according to Mr. Nicholson, are very vibrant and resonant. One can play a “xylophone solo” on them with practice, he said, but it is dangerous, since a certain pitch would crack them.

The temperature of the cavern is 56 degrees Fahrenheit, never varies, day and night, winter and summer. The air is purified every twenty-four hours in some mysterious fashion, though there are no air currents. This is explained by the theory that there exists a great subterranean stream at a lower level, probably 1,200 feet down.

Specimens of stalagmites will be collected and reconstructed for the American Museum of Natural History. The explorers expect to find also flying fish, flying salamanders, rare insects and thousands of bats. A Government representative will go along, and drawings and motion pictures will be made.

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Various. 2009. Astounding Stories of Super-Science, January 1931. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved May 2022 from

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