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

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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 XIII

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—And the ships, at that touch, fell helplessly down from the heights.

The Pirate Planet

PART THREE OF A FOUR-PART NOVEL

By Charles W. Diffin

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WHAT HAS GONE BEFORE

THE attack comes without warning; its reason is unknown. But Venus is approaching the earth, and flashes from the planet are followed by terrific explosions that wreak havoc throughout the world. Lieutenant McGuire and Captain Blake of the U. S. Army Air Service see a great ship fly in from space. Blake attacks it with the 91st Squadron in support, and Blake alone survives. McGuire and Professor Sykes, an astronomer of Mount Lawson, are captured.

 The bombardment ceases as Venus passes on, and the people of Earth sink into hopeless despondency. Less than a year and a half and the planet will return, and then—the end! The armament of Earth is futile against an enemy who has conquered space. Blake hopes that science might provide a means; might show our fighters how to go out into space and throttle the attack at its source. But the hope is blasted, until a radio from McGuire supplies a lead.

McGuire is on Venus. He and Sykes land on that distant planet, captives of a barbarous people. They are taken before Torg, the emperor, and his council, and they learn that these red, man-shaped beasts intend to conquer the earth. Spawning in millions, they are crowded, and Earth is to be their colony.

Imprisoned on a distant island, the two captives are drugged and hypnotized before a machine which throws their thoughts upon a screen. Involuntary traitors, they disclose the secrets of Earth and its helplessness; then attempt to escape and end their lives rather than be forced to further betrayal of their own people.

McGuire finds a radio station and sends a message back to Earth. He implores Blake to find a man named Winslow, for Winslow has invented a space ship and claims to have reached the moon.

No time for further sending—McGuire does not even know if his message has been received—but they reach the ocean where death offers them release. A force of their captors attacking on land, they throw themselves from a cliff, then swim out to drown beyond reach in the ocean. An enemy ship sweeps above them: its gas cloud threatens not the death they desire but unconsciousness and capture. “God help us,” says Sykes; “we can’t even die!”

They sink, only to be buoyed up by a huge metal shape. A metal projector raises from the ocean, bears upon the enemy ship and sends it, a mass of flame and molten metal, into the sea. And friendly voices are in McGuire’s ears as careful hands lift the two men and carry them within the craft that has saved them.

CHAPTER XIII

LIEUTENANT MCGUIRE had tried to die. He and Professor Sykes had welcomed death with open arms, and death had been thwarted by their enemies who wanted them alive—wanted to draw their knowledge from them as a vampire bat might seek to feast. And, when even death was denied them, help had come.

The enemy ship had gone crashing to destruction where its melting metal made hissing clouds of steam as it buried itself in the ocean. And this craft that had saved them—Lieutenant McGuire had never been on a submarine, but he knew it could be only that that held him now and carried him somewhere at tremendous speed.

This was miracle enough! But to see, with eyes which could not be deceiving him, a vision of men, human, white of face—men like himself—bending and working over Sykes’ unconscious body—that could not be immediately grasped.

Their faces, unlike the bleached-blood horrors he had seen, were aglow with the flush of health. They were tall, slenderly built, graceful in their quick motions as they worked to revive the unconscious man. One stopped, as he passed, to lay a cool hand on McGuire’s forehead, and the eyes that looked down seemed filled with the blessed quality of kindness.

They were human—his own kind!—and McGuire was unable to take in at first the full wonder of it.

Did the tall man speak? His lips did not move, yet McGuire heard the words as in some inner ear.

“We were awaiting you, friend Mack Guire.” The voice was musical, thrilling, and yet the listening man could  not have sworn that he heard a voice at all. It was as if a thought were placed within his mind by the one beside him.

The one who had paused hurried on to aid the others, and McGuire let his gaze wander.

THE porthole beside him showed dimly a pale green light; they were submerged, and the hissing rush of water told him that they were travelling fast. There was a door in the farther wall; beyond was a room of gleaming lights that reflected from myriads of shining levers and dials. A control room. A figure moved as McGuire watched, to press on a lever where a red light was steadily increasing in brightness. He consulted strange instruments before him, touched a metal button here and there, then opened a switch, and the rippling hiss of waters outside their craft softened to a gentler note.

The tall one was beside him again.

“Your friend will live,” he told him in that wordless tongue, “and we are almost arrived. The invisible arms of our anchorage have us now and will draw us safely to rest.”

The kindly tone was music in McGuire’s ears, and he smiled in reply. “Friends!” he thought. “We are among friends.”

“You are most welcome,” the other assured him, “and, yes, you are truly among friends.” But the lieutenant glanced upward in wonder, for he knew that he had uttered no spoken word.

Their ship turned and changed its course beneath them, then came finally to rest with a slight rocking motion as if cushioned on powerful springs. Sykes was being assisted to his feet as the tall man reached for McGuire’s hand and helped him to rise.

The two men of Earth stood for a long minute while they stared unbelievingly into each other’s eyes. Their wonder and amazement found no words for expression but must have been apparent to the one beside them.

“You will understand,” he told them. “Do not question this reality even to yourselves. You are safe!… Come.” And he led the way through an opening doorway to a wet deck outside. Beyond this was a wharf of carved stone, and the men followed where steps were inset to allow them to ascend.

Again McGuire could not know if he heard a tumult of sound or sensed it in some deeper way. The air about them was aglow with soft light, and it echoed in his ears with music unmistakably real—beautiful music!—exhilarating! But the clamor of welcoming voices, like the words from their tall companion, came soundlessly to him.

THERE were people, throngs of them, waiting. Tall like the others, garbed, like those horrible beings of a past that seemed distant and remote, in loose garments of radiant colors. And everywhere were welcoming smiles and warm and friendly glances.

McGuire let his dazed eyes roam around to find the sculptured walls of a huge room like a tremendous cave. The soft glow of light was everywhere, and it brought out the beauty of flowing lines and delicate colors in statuary and bas-relief that adorned the walls. Behind him the water made a dark pool, and from it projected the upper works of their strange craft.

His eyes were hungry for these new sights, but he turned with Sykes to follow their guide through the colorful crowd that parted to let them through. They passed under a carved archway and found themselves in another and greater room.

But was it a room? McGuire marveled at its tremendous size. His eyes took in the smooth green of a grassy lawn, the flowers and plants, and then they followed where the hand of Sykes was pointing. The astronomer gripped McGuire’s arm in a numbing clutch; his other hand was raised above.

“The stars,” he said. “The clouds are gone; it is night!”

And where he pointed was a vault of  black velvet. Deep hues of blue seemed blended with it, and far in its depths were the old familiar star-groups of the skies. “Ah!” the scientist breathed, “the beautiful, friendly stars!”

Their guide waited; then, “Come,” he urged gently, and led them toward a lake whose unruffled glassy surface mirrored the stars above. Beside it a man was waiting to receive them.

McGuire had to force his eyes away from the unreal beauty of opal walls like the fairy structures they had seen. There was color everywhere that blended and fused to make glorious harmony that was pure joy to the eyes.

THE man who waited was young. He stood erect, his face like that of a Grecian statue, and his robe was blazing with the flash of jewels. Beside him was a girl, tall and slender, and sweetly serious of face. Like the man, her garments were lovely with jeweled iridescence, and now McGuire saw that the throng within the vast space was similarly apparelled.

The tall man raised his hand.

“Welcome!” he said, and McGuire realized with a start that the words were spoken aloud. “You are most welcome, my friends, among the people of that world you call Venus.”

Professor Sykes was still weak from his ordeal; he wavered perceptibly where he stood, and the man before them them turned to give an order. There were chairs that came like magic; bright robes covered them; and the men were seated while the man and girl also took seats beside them as those who prepare for an intimate talk with friends.

Lieutenant McGuire found his voice at last. “Who are you?” he asked in wondering tones. “What does it mean? We were lost—and you saved us. But you—you are not like the others.” And he repeated, “What does it mean?”

“No,” said the other with a slight smile, “we truly are not like those others. They are not men such as you and I. They are something less than human: animals—vermin!—from whom God, in His wisdom, has seen fit to withhold the virtues that raise men higher than the beasts.”

His face hardened as he spoke and for a moment the eyes were stern, but he smiled again as he continued.

“And we,” he said, “you ask who we are. We are the people of Venus. I am Djorn, ruler, in name, of all. ‘In name’ I say, for we rule here by common reason; I am only selected to serve. And this is my sister, Althora. The name, with us, means ‘radiant light.’” He turned to exchange smiles with the girl at his side. “We think her well named,” he said.

“The others,”—he waved toward the throng that clustered about—“you will learn to know in time.”

PROFESSOR SYKES felt the need of introductions.

“This is Lieutenant—” he began, but the other interrupted with an upraised hand.

“Mack Guire,” he supplied; “and you are Professor Sykes…. Oh, we know you!” he laughed; “we have been watching you since your arrival; we have been waiting to help you.”

The professor was open-mouthed.

“Your thoughts,” explained the other, “are as a printed page. We have been with you by mental contact at all times. We could hear, but, at that distance, and—pardon me!—with your limited receptivity, we could not communicate.

“Do not resent our intrusion,” he added; “we listened only for our own good, and we shall show you how to insulate your thoughts. We do not pry.”

Lieutenant McGuire waved all that aside. “You saved us from them,” he said; “that’s the answer. But—what does it mean? Those others are in control; they are attacking our Earth, the world where we lived. Why do you permit—?”

Again the other’s face was set in sterner lines.

 “Yes,” he said, and his voice was full of unspoken regret, “they do rule this world; they have attacked your Earth; they intend much more, and I fear they must be successful. Listen. Your wonderment is natural, and I shall explain.

“We are the people of Venus. Some centuries ago we ruled this world. Now you find us a handful only, living like moles in this underworld.”

“Underworld?” protested Professor Sykes. He pointed above to the familiar constellations. “Where are the clouds?” he asked.

The girl, Althora, leaned forward now. “It will please my brother,” she said in a soft voice, “that you thought it real. He has had pleasure in creating that—a replica of the skies we used to know before the coming of the clouds.”

PROFESSOR SYKES was bewildered. “That sky—the stars—they are not real?” he asked incredulously. “But the grass—the flowers—”

Her laugh rippled like music. “Oh, they are real,” she told him, and her brother gave added explanation.

“The lights,” he said: “we supply the actinic rays that the clouds cut off above. We have sunlight here, made by our own hands; that is why we are as we are and not like the red ones with their bleached skins. We had our lights everywhere through the world when we lived above, but those red beasts are ignorant; they do not know how to operate them; they do not know that they live in darkness even in the light.”

“Then we are below ground?” asked the flyer. “You live here?”

“It is all we have now. At that time of which I tell, it was the red ones who lived out of sight; they were a race of rodents in human form. They lived in the subterranean caves with which this planet is pierced. We could have exterminated them at any time, but, in our ignorance, we permitted them to live, for we, of Venus—I use your name for the planet—do not willingly take life.”

“They have no such compunctions!” Professor Sykes’ voice was harsh; he was remembering the sacrifice to the hungry plants.

A flash as of pain crossed the sensitive features of the girl, and the man beside her seemed speaking to her in soundless words.

“Your mind-picture was not pleasant,” he told the scientist; then continued:

“Remember, we were upon the world, and these others were within it. There came a comet. Oh, our astronomers plotted its course; they told us we were safe. But at the last some unknown influence diverted it; its gaseous projection swept our world with flame. Only an instant; but when it had passed there was left only death….”

HE was lost in recollection for a time; the girl beside him reached over to touch his hand.

“Those within—the red ones—escaped,” he went on. “They poured forth when they found that catastrophe had overwhelmed us. And we, the handful that were left, were forced to take shelter here. We have lived here since, waiting for the day when the Master of Destinies shall give us freedom and a world in which to live.”

“You speak,” suggested the scientist, “as if this had happened to you. Surely you refer to your ancestors; you are the descendants of those who were saved.”

“We are the people,” said the other. “We lived then; we live now; we shall live for a future of endless years.

“Have you not searched for the means to control the life principle—you people of Earth?” he asked. “We have it here. You see”—and he waved a hand toward the standing throng—“we are young to your eyes and the others who greeted you were the same.”

McGuire and the scientist exchanged glances of corroboration.

“But your age,” asked Sykes, “measured in years?”

“We hardly measure life in years.”

Professor Sykes nodded slowly; his  mind found difficulty in accepting so astounding a fact. “But our language?” he queried. “How is it that you can speak our tongue?”

The tall man smiled and leaned forward to place a hand on a knee of each of the men beside him. “Why not,” he asked, “when there doubtless is relationship between us.

“You called the continent Atlantis. Perhaps its very existence is but a fable now: it has been many centuries since we have had instruments to record thought force from Earth, and we have lost touch. But, my friends, even then we of Venus had conquered space, and it was we who visited Atlantis to find a race more nearly like ourselves than were the barbarians who held the other parts of Earth.

“I was there, but I returned. There were some who stayed and they were lost with the others in the terrible cataclysm that sank a whole continent beneath the waters. But some, we have believed, escaped.”

“Why have you not been back?” the flyer asked. “You could have helped us so much.”

“It was then that our own destruction came upon us. The same comet, perhaps, may have caused a change of stresses in your Earth and sunk the lost Atlantis. Ah! That was a beautiful land, but we have never seen it since. We have been—here.

“But you will understand, now,” he added, “that, with our insight into your minds, we have little difficulty in mastering your language.”

This talk of science and incredible history left Lieutenant McGuire cold. His mind could not wander long from its greatest concern.

“But the earth!” he exclaimed. “What about the earth? This attack! Those devils mean real mischief!”

“More than you know; more than you can realize, friend Mack Guire!”

“Why?” demanded the flyer. “Why?”

“Have your countries not reached out for other countries when land was needed?” asked the man, Djorn. “Land—land! Space in which to breed—that is the reason for the invasion.

“This world has no such continents as yours. Here the globe is covered by the oceans; we have perhaps one hundredth of the land areas of your Earth And the red ones breed like flies. Life means nothing to them; they die like flies, too. But they need more room; they intend to find it on your world.”

"A STRANGE race,” mused Professor Sykes. “They puzzled me. But—‘less than human,’ I think you said. Then how about their ships? How could they invent them?”

“Ours—all ours! They found a world ready and waiting for them. Through the centuries they have learned to master some few of our inventions. The ships!—the ethereal vibrations! Oh, they have been cleverer than we dreamed possible.”

“Well, how can we stop them?” demanded McGuire. “We must. You have the submarines—”

“One only,” the other interrupted. “We saved that, and we brought some machinery. We have made this place habitable; we have not been idle. But there are limitations.”

“But your ray that you projected—it brought down their ship!”

“We were protecting you, and we protect ourselves; that is enough. There is One will deliver us in His own good time; we may not go forth and slaughter.”

There was a note of resignation and patience in the voice that filled McGuire with hopeless forebodings. Plainly this was not an aggressive race. They had evolved beyond the stage of wanton slaughter, and, even now, they waited patiently for the day when some greater force should come to their aid.

The man beside them spoke quickly. “One moment—you will pardon me—someone is calling—” He listened intently to some soundless call, and he sent a silent message in reply.

 “I have instructed them,” he said. “Come and you shall see how impregnable is our position. The red ones have resented our destruction of their ship.”

The face of the girl, Althora, was perturbed. “More killings?” she asked.

“Only as they force themselves to their own death,” her brother told her. “Be not disturbed.”

THE throng in the vast space drew apart as the figure of their leader strode quickly through with the two men following close. There were many rooms and passages; the men had glimpses of living quarters, of places where machinery made soft whirring sounds; more sights than their eyes could see or their minds comprehend. They came at last to an open chamber.

The men looked up to see above them a tremendous inverted-cone, and there was the gold of cloudland glowing through an opening at the top. It was the inside of a volcano where they stood, and McGuire remembered the island and its volcanic peak where the ship had swerved aside. He felt that he knew now where they were.

Above them, a flash of light marked the passage of a ship over the crater’s mouth, and he realized that the ships of the reds were not avoiding the island now. Did it mean an attack? And how could these new friends meet it?

Before them on the level volcanic floor were great machines that came suddenly to life, and their roar rose to a thunder of violence, while, in the center, a cluster of electric sparks like whirling stars formed a cloud of blue fire. It grew, and its hissing, crackling length reached upward to a fine-drawn point that touched the opening above.

“Follow!” commanded their leader and went rapidly before them where a passage wound and twisted to bring them at last to the light of day.

The flame of the golden clouds was above them in the midday sky, and beneath it were scores of ships that swept in formations through the air.

“Attacking?” asked the lieutenant with ill-concealed excitement.

“I fear so. They tried to gas us some centuries ago; it may be they have forgotten what we taught them then.”

ONE squadron came downward and swept with inconceivable speed over a portion of the island that stretched below. The men were a short distance up on the mountain’s side, and the scene that lay before them was crystal clear. There were billowing clouds of gas that spread over the land where the ships had passed. Other ships followed; they would blanket the island in gas.

The man beside them gave a sigh of regret. “They have struck the first blow,” he said. He stood silent with half-closed eyes; then: “I have ordered resistance.” And there was genuine sorrow and regret in his eyes as he looked toward the mountain top.

McGuire’s eyes followed the other’s gaze to find nothing at first save the volcanic peak in hard outline upon the background of gold; then only a shimmer as of heat about the lofty cone. The air above him quivered, formed to ripples that spread in great circles where the enemy ships were flashing away.

Swifter than swift aircraft, with a speed that shattered space, they reached out and touched—and the ships, at that touch, fell helplessly down from the heights. They turned awkwardly as they fell or dropped like huge pointed projectiles. And the waters below took them silently and buried in their depths all trace of what an instant sooner had been an argosy of the air.

The ripples ceased, again the air was clear and untroubled, but beneath the golden clouds was no single sign of life.

THE flyer’s breathless suspense ended in an explosive gasp. “What a washout!” he exclaimed, and again he thought only of this as a weapon to  be used for his own ends. “Can we use that on their fleets?” he asked. “Why, man—they will never conquer the earth; they will never even make a start.”

The tall figure of Djorn turned and looked at him. “The lust to kill!” he said sadly. “You still have it—though you are fighting for your own, which is some excuse.

“No, this will not destroy their fleets, for their fleets will not come here to be destroyed. It will be many centuries before ever again the aircraft of the reds dare venture near.”

“We will build another one and take it where they are—” The voice of the fighting man was vibrant with sudden hope.

“We were two hundred years building and perfecting this,” the other told him. “Can you wait that long?”

And Lieutenant McGuire, as he followed dejectedly behind the leader, heard nothing of Professor Sykes’ eager questions as to how this miracle was done.

“Can you wait that long?” this man, Djorn, had asked. And the flyer saw plainly the answer that spelled death and destruction to the world.

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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#pirate

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