The Sun, With the Leaping Corona, Burst Through the Blackness Behind Us by@astoundingstories

The Sun, With the Leaping Corona, Burst Through the Blackness Behind Us

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The Planetara was still in the earth’s shadow. The firmament––black interstellar space with its blazing white, red and yellow stars––lay spread around us. The moon, with nearly all its disc illumined, hung, a great silver ball, over 317our bow quarter. Behind it, to one side, Mars floated like the red tip of a smoldering cigarillo in the blackness. The earth, behind our stern, was dimly, redly visible––a giant sphere, etched with the configurations of its oceans and continents. Upon one limb a touch of the sunlight hung on the mountain-tops with a crescent red-yellow sheen.

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Astounding Stories of Super-Science, March 1930), by Astounding Stories is part of HackerNoon’s Book Blog Post series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. Brigands of the Moon: Chapter III.

Astounding Stories of Super-Science, March 1930: Brigands of the Moon - Chapter III. In the Helio-room

AT six A. M., earth Eastern time, which we were still carrying, Snap Dean and I were alone in his instrument room, perched in the network over the Planetara’s deck. The bulge of the dome enclosed us; it rounded like a great observatory window some twenty feet above the ceiling of this little metal cubby-hole.

The Planetara was still in the earth’s shadow. The firmament––black interstellar space with its blazing white, red and yellow stars––lay spread around us. The moon, with nearly all its disc illumined, hung, a great silver ball, over 317our bow quarter. Behind it, to one side, Mars floated like the red tip of a smoldering cigarillo in the blackness. The earth, behind our stern, was dimly, redly visible––a giant sphere, etched with the configurations of its oceans and continents. Upon one limb a touch of the sunlight hung on the mountain-tops with a crescent red-yellow sheen.

And then we plunged from the cone-shadow. The sun, with the leaping Corona, burst through the blackness behind us. The earth lighted into a huge, thin crescent with hooked cusps.

To Snap and me, the glories of the heavens were too familiar to be remarked. And upon this voyage particularly we were in no mood to consider them. I had been in the helio-room several hours. When the Planetara started, and my few routine duties were over, I could think of nothing save Halsey’s and Carter’s admonition: “Be on your guard. And particularly––watch George Prince.”

I had not seen George Prince. But I had seen his sister, whom Carter and Halsey had not bothered to mention. My heart was still pounding with the memory....

WHEN the passengers had retired and the ship quieted, I prowled through the passenger corridors. This was about the trinight hour.[3] Hot as the corridors of hell, with our hull and the glassite dome seething with the friction of our atmospheric flight. But the refrigerators mitigated that; the ventilators blasted cold air from the renewers into every corner of the vessel. Within an hour or two, with the cold of space striking us, it was hot air that was needed.

Dr. Frank evidently was having little trouble with pressure-sick passengers[4]––the Planetara’s equalizers were fairly efficient. I did not encounter Dr. Frank. I prowled through the silent metal lounges and passages. I went to the door of A 22. It was on the deck-level, in a tiny transverse passage just off the main lounging room. Its name-grid glowed with the letters: “Anita Prince.” I stood in my short white trousers and white silk shirt, like a cabin steward gawping. Anita Prince! I had never heard the name until this night. But there was magic music in it now, as I murmured it to myself. Anita Prince....

She was here, doubtless asleep, behind this small metal door. It seemed as though that little oval grid were the gateway to a fairyland of my dreams.

I turned away. And thought of the Grantline Moon Expedition stabbed at me. George Prince––Anita’s brother––he whom I had been told to watch. This renegade––associate of dubious Martians, plotting God knows what.

ISAW, upon the adjoining door, “A 20, George Prince.” I listened. In the humming stillness of the ship’s interior there was no sound from these cabins. A 20 was without windows, I knew. But Anita’s room had a window and a door which gave upon the deck. I went through the lounge, out its arch, and walked the deck length. The deck door and window of A 22 were closed and dark.

The ten-foot-wide deck was dim with white starlight from the side ports. Chairs were here, but they were all empty. From the bow windows of the arching dome a flood of moonlight threw long, slanting shadows down the deck. At the corner where the superstructure ended, I thought I saw a figure lurking as though watching me. I went that way, but it vanished.

I turned the corner, went the width of the ship to the other side. There was no one in sight save the observer on his spider bridge, high in the bow network, and the second officer, on duty on the turret balcony almost directly over me.

As I stood and listened, I suddenly heard footsteps. From the direction of the bow a figure came. Purser Johnson.

He greeted me. “Cooling off, Gregg?”

“Yes,” I said.

He went past me and turned into the smoking room door nearby.

I stood a moment at one of the deck windows, gazing at the stars; and for no reason at all I realized I was tense. Johnson was a great one for his regular sleep––it was wholly unlike him to be roaming about the ship at such an hour. Had he been watching me? I told myself it was nonsense. I was suspicious of everyone, everything, this voyage.

IHEARD another step. Captain Carter appeared from his chart-room which stood in the center of the narrowing open deck space near the bow. I joined him at once.

“Who was that?” he half-whispered.

“Johnson.”

“Oh, yes.” He fumbled in his uniform; his gaze swept the moonlit deck. “Gregg––take this.” He handed me a small metal box. I stuffed it at once into my shirt.

“An insulator,” he added, swiftly. “Snap is in his office. Take it to him, Gregg. Stay with him––you’ll have a measure of security––and you can help him to make the photographs.” He was barely whispering. “I won’t be with you––no use making it look as though we were doing anything unusual. If your graphs show anything––or if Snap picks up any message––bring it to me.” He added aloud, “Well, it will be cool enough presently, Gregg.”

He sauntered away toward his chart-room.

“By heavens, what a relief!” Snap murmured as the current went on. We had wired his cubby with the insulator; within its barrage we could at last talk with a degree of freedom.

“You’ve seen George Prince, Gregg?”

“No. He’s assigned A 20. But I saw his sister. Snap, no one ever mentioned––”

Snap had heard of her, but he hadn’t known that she was listed for this voyage. “A real beauty, so I’ve heard. Accursed shame for a decent girl to have a brother like that.”

I could agree with him there, but I made no comment.

IT was now 6 A. M. Snap had been busy all night with routine cosmo-radios from the earth, following our departure. He had a pile of them beside him. Many were for the passengers; but anything that savored of a code was barred.

“Nothing queer looking?” I suggested.

“No. Not a thing.”

We were at this time no more than some sixty-five thousand miles from the moon’s surface. The Planetara presently would swing upon her direct course for Mars. There was nothing which could cause passenger comment in this close passing of the moon; normally we used the satellite’s attraction to give us additional starting speed.

It was now or never that a message would come from Grantline. He was supposed to be upon this earthward side of the moon. While Snap had rushed through with his routine, I had searched the moon surface with our glass, as I knew Carter was searching it––and also the observer in his tower, very possibly.

But there was nothing. Copernicus and Kepler lay in full sunlight. The heights of the lunar mountains, the depths of the barren, empty seas were etched black and white, clear and clean. Grim, forbidding desolation, this unchanging moon! In romance, moonlight may shimmer and sparkle to light a lover’s smile; but the reality of the moon is cold and bleak. There was nothing to show my prying eyes where the intrepid Grantline might be.

“Nothing at all, Snap.”

And Snap’s helio mirrors, attuned for an hour now to pick up the faintest signal, were motionless.

“If he has concentrated any appreciable 319amount of radio-active ore,” said Snap, “we should get an impulse from its Gamma rays.”

BUT our receiving shield was dark, untouched. We tried taking hydrogen photographic impressions of the visible moon surface. A sequence of them, with stereoscopic lenses, forty-eight to the second. Our mirror-grid gave the magnified images; the spectro-heliograph, with its wave-length selection, pictured the mountain-levels, and slowly descended into the deepest seas.

There was nothing.

Yet in those moon caverns––a million million recesses amid the crags of that tumbled, barren surface––the pin-point of movement which might have been Grantline’s expedition could so easily be hiding! Could he have the ore insulated, fearing its Gamma rays would betray its presence to hostile watchers?

Or might disaster have come to him? Or he might not be upon this hemisphere of the moon at all....

My imagination, sharpened by fancy of a lurking menace which seemed everywhere about the Planetara this voyage, ran rife with fears for Johnny Grantline. He had promised to communicate this voyage. It was now, or perhaps never.

Six-thirty came and passed. We were well beyond the earth’s shadow now. The firmament blazed with its vivid glories; the sun behind us was a ball of yellow-red leaping flames. The earth hung, opened to a huge, dull-red half-sphere.

WE were within some forty thousand miles of the moon. Giant white ball––all of its disc visible to the naked eye. It poised over the bow, and presently, as the Planetara swung upon her course for Mars, it shifted sidewise. The light of it glared white and dazzling in our tiny side windows.

Snap, with his habitual red celluloid eyeshade shoved high on his forehead, worked over our instruments.

“Gregg!”

The receiving shield was glowing a trifle! Gamma rays were bombarding it! It glowed, gleamed phosphorescent, and the audible recorder began sounding its tiny tinkling murmurs.

Gamma rays! Snap sprang to the dials. The direction and strength were soon obvious. A richly radio-active ore body, of considerable size, was concentrated upon this hemisphere of the moon! It was unmistakable.

“He’s got it, Gregg! He’s––”

The tiny helio mirrors began quivering. Snap exclaimed triumphantly, “Here he comes! By God, the message at last! Bar off that light!”

IFLUNG on the absorbers. The moonlight bathing the little room went into them and darkness sprang around us. Snap fumbled at his instrument board. Actinic light showed dimly in the quivering, thumbnail mirrors. Two of them. They hung poised on their cobweb wires, infinitely sensitive to the infra-red light-rays Grantline was sending from the moon. The mirrors in a moment began swinging. On the scale across the room the actinic beams from them were magnified into sweeps of light.

The message!

Snap spelled it out, decoded it.

“Success! Stop for ore on your return voyage. Will give you our location later. Success beyond wildest hopes––”

The mirrors hung motionless. The shield, where the Gamma rays were bombarding, went suddenly dark.

Snap murmured, “That’s all. He’s got the ore! ‘Success beyond wildest hopes.’ That must mean an enormous quantity of it available!”

We were sitting in darkness, and abruptly I became aware that across our open window, where the insulation barrage was flung, the air was faintly hissing. An interference there! I saw a tiny swirl of purple sparks. Someone––some hostile ray from the deck beneath us, or from the spider bridge that 320led to our little room––someone out there trying to pry in!

Snap impulsively reached for the absorbers to let in the outside light––it was all darkness to us outside. But I checked him.

“Wait!” I cut off our barrage, opened our door and stepped to the narrow metal bridge.

“Wait, Snap! You stay there.” I added aloud, “Well, Snap, I’m going to bed. Glad you’ve cleaned up that batch of work.”

IBANGED the door upon him. The lacework of metal bridges and ladders seemed empty. I gazed up to the dome, and forward and aft. Twenty feet beneath me was the metal roof of the cabin superstructure. Below it, both sides of the deck showed. All patched with moonlight.

No one visible down there. I descended a ladder. The deck was empty. But in the silence something was moving! Footsteps moving away from me down the deck! I followed; and suddenly I was running. Chasing something I could hear, but could not see. It turned into the smoking room.

I burst in. And a real sound smothered the phantom. Johnson the purser was sitting here alone in the dimness. He was smoking. I noticed that his cigar held a long, frail ash. It could not have been him I was chasing. He was sitting there quite calmly. A thick-necked, heavy fellow, easily out of breath. But he was breathing calmly now.

He sat up with amazement at my wild-eyed appearance, and the ash jarred from his cigar.

“Gregg! What in the devil––”

I tried to grin. “I’m on my way to bed––worked all night helping Snap with those damn Earth messages.”

I went past him, out the door into the main interior corridor. It was the only way the invisible prowler could have gone. But I was too late now––I could hear nothing. I dashed forward into the main lounge. It was empty, dim and silent, a silence broken presently by a faint click––a stateroom door hastily closing. I swung and found myself in a tiny transverse passage. The twin doors of A 22 and A 20 were before me.

The invisible eavesdropper had gone into one of these rooms! I listened at each of the panels, but there was only silence within.

The interior of the ship was suddenly singing with the steward’s siren––the call to awaken the passengers. It startled me. I moved swiftly away. But as the siren shut off, in the silence I heard a soft, musical voice:

“Wake up, Anita––I think that’s the breakfast call.”

And her answer: “All right, George. I hear it.”

About HackerNoon Book Series: We bring you the most important technical, scientific, and insightful public domain books. This book is part of the public domain.

Various. 2009. Astounding Stories of Super-Science, March 1930. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved May 2022 from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/29607/29607-h/29607-h.htm#BRIGANDS_OF_THE_MOON_THE_BOOK_OF_GREGG_HALJAN_BEGINNING_A_FOURPART_NOVEL

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