The Weightless Combatby@astoundingstories
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The Weightless Combat

by Astounding StoriesOctober 22nd, 2022
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I WAS taken wholly by surprise. There was an instant when I stood numbed, fumbling for a weapon at my belt, undecided whether to run or stand my ground. Miko was no more than twenty feet from me. He checked his forward rush. The light from an overhead tube was on him; I saw in his hand the cylinder projector of his paralyzing ray.
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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 XII.

Astounding Stories of Super-Science, March 1930: Brigands of the Moon - CHAPTER XII. The Weightless Combat

I WAS taken wholly by surprise. There was an instant when I stood numbed, fumbling for a weapon at my belt, undecided whether to run or stand my ground. Miko was no more than twenty feet from me. He checked his forward rush. The light from an overhead tube was on him; I saw in his hand the cylinder projector of his paralyzing ray.

I plucked my heat-cylinder from my belt, and fired without taking aim. My tiny heat-beam flashed. I must have grazed Miko’s hand. His roar of anger and pain rang out over the turmoil. He dropped his weapon; then stooped to pick it up. But Moa forestalled him. She leaped and seized it.

“Careful! Fool––you promised not to hurt him!”

A confusion of swift action. Rankin had turned and darted away. I saw George Prince stumbling half in front of the struggling Miko and Moa. And I heard footsteps beside me; a hand gripped me, jerked at me.

Over the turmoil Prince’s voice sounded: “Gregg––Haljan!”

I recall I had the impression that Prince was frightened; he had half fallen in front of Miko. And there was Miko’s voice:

“Let go of me!”

And Moa: “Come!”

It was Balch gripping me. “Gregg! This way––run! Get out of here! He’ll kill you with that ray––”

Miko’s ray flashed, but George Prince had knocked at his arm. I did not dare fire again. Prince was in the way. Balch, who was unarmed, shoved me violently back.

“Gregg––the chart-room!”

ITURNED and ran, with Balch after me. Prince had fallen, or been felled by Miko. A flash followed me. Miko’s weapon, but again it missed. He did not pursue me; he ran the other way, through the port-side door of the library.

Balch and I found ourselves in the lounge. Shouting, frightened passengers were everywhere. The place was in wild confusion, the whole ship ringing now with shouts.

“To the chart-room, Gregg!”

I called to the passengers: “Get back to your rooms!”

I followed Balch. We ran through the archway to the deck. In the starlight I saw figures scurrying aft, but none were near us. The deck forward was dim with heavy shadows. The oval window and door of the chart-room were blue-yellow from the tube-lights inside. No one seemed on the deck there; and then, as we approached, I saw, further forward in the bow, the trap-door to the cage standing open. Johnson had been released.

From one of the chart-room windows a heat-ray sizzled. It barely missed us. Balch shouted, “Carter––don’t!”

The captain called, “Oh––you, Balch––and Haljan––”

He came out on the deck as we rushed up. His left arm was dangling limp.

“God––this––” He got no further. From the turret overhead a tiny search-beam came down and disclosed us. Blackstone was supposed to be on duty up there, with a course-master at the controls. But, glancing up, I saw, illumined by the turret lights, the figures of Ob Hahn in his purple-white robe, and Johnson the purser. And on the turret balcony, two fallen men––Blackstone and the course-master.

JOHNSON was training the spotlight on us. And Hahn fired a Martian ray. It struck Balch beside me. He dropped.

Carter was shouting, “Inside! Gregg, get inside!”

I stopped to raise up Balch. Another beam came down. A heat-ray this time. It caught the fallen Balch full in the chest, piercing him through. The smell of his burning flesh rose to sicken me. He was dead. I dropped his body. Carter shoved me into the chart-room.

In the small, steel-lined room, Carter and I slid the door closed. We were alone here. The thing had come so quickly it had taken Captain Carter, like us all, wholly unawares. We had anticipated spying eavesdroppers, but not this open brigandage. No more than a minute or two had passed since Miko’s siren in his stateroom had given the signal for the attack. Carter had been in the chart-room. Blackstone was in the turret. At the outbreak of confusion, Carter dashed out to see Hahn releasing Johnson from the cage. From the forward chart-room window now I could see where Hahn with a torch had broken the cage-seal. The torch lay on the deck. There had been an exchange of shots; Carter’s arm was paralyzed; Johnson and Hahn had escaped.

Carter was as confused as I. There had simultaneously been an encounter up in the turret. Blackstone and the course-master were killed. The lookout had been shot from his post in the forward observatory. His body dangled now, twisted half in and half out of his window.

WE could see several of Miko’s men––erstwhile members of our crew and steward-corps––scurrying from the turret along the upper bridges toward the dark and silent helio-room. Snap was up there. But was he? The helio-room glowed suddenly with dim light, but there was no evidence of a fight there. The fighting seemed mostly below the deck, down in the hull-corridors. A blended horror of sounds came up to us. Screams, shouts, and the hissing and snapping of ray weapons. Our crew––such of them as were loyal––were making a stand down below. But it was brief. Within a minute it died away. The passengers, amidships in the superstructure, were still shouting. Then above them Miko’s roar sounded.

“Be quiet! Go in your rooms––you will not be harmed.”

The brigands in these few minutes were in control of the ship. All but this little chart-room, where, with most of the ship’s weapons, Carter and I were intrenched.

“God, Gregg, that this should come upon us!”

Carter was fumbling with the chart-room weapons. “Here, Gregg, help me. What have you got? Heat-ray? That’s all I had ready.”

It struck me then as I helped him make the connections that Carter in this crisis was at best an inefficient commander. His red face had gone splotchy purple; his hands were trembling. Skilled as captain of a peaceful liner, he was at a loss now. Nor could I blame him. It is easy to say we might have taken warning, done this or that, and come triumphant through this attack. But only the fool looks backward and says, “I would have done better.”

I TRIED to summon my wits. The ship was lost to us, unless Carter and I could do something. Our futile weapons! They were all here––four or five heat-ray hand projectors that could send a pencil-ray a hundred feet or so. I shot one diagonally up at the turret where Johnson was leering down at our rear window, but he saw my gesture and dropped back out of sight. The heat-beam flashed harmlessly up and struck the turret roof. Then across the turret window came a sheen of radiance––an electro-barrage. And behind it, Hahn’s suave, evil face appeared. He shouted down:

“We have orders to spare you, Gregg Haljan––or you would have been killed long ago!”

My answering shot hit his barrage with a shower of sparks, behind which he stood unmoved.

Carter handed me another weapon. “Gregg, try this.”

I levelled the old explosive bullet projector; Carter crouched beside me. But before I could press the trigger, from somewhere down the starlit deck an electro-beam hit me. The little rifle exploded, burst its breech. I sank back to the floor, tingling from the shock of the hostile current. My hands were blackened from the exploding powder.

Carter seized me. “No use! Hurt?”


THE stars through the dome-windows were swinging. A long swing––the shadows and starlit patches on the deck were all shifting. The Planetara was turning. The heavens revolved in a great round sweep of movement, then settled as we took our new course. Hahn at the turret controls had swung us. The earth and the sun showed over our bow quarter. The sunlight mingled red-yellow with the brilliant starlight. Hahn’s signals were sounding; I heard them answered from the mechanism rooms down below. Brigands there––in full control. The gravity plates were being set to the new positions; we were on our new course. Headed a point or two off the Earth-line. Not headed for the moon? I wondered.

Carter and I were planning nothing. What was there to plan? We were under observation. A Martian paralyzing ray––or electronic beam, far more deadly than our own puny police weapons––would have struck us the instant we tried to leave the chart-room.

My swift-running thoughts were interrupted by a shout from down the deck. At a corner of the cabin superstructure some fifty feet from our windows the figure of Miko appeared. A barrage-radiance hung around him like a shimmering mantle. His voice sounded:

“Gregg Haljan, do you yield?”

Carter leaped up from where he and I were crouching. Against all reason of safety he leaned from the low window, waving his hamlike fist.

“Yield? No! I am in command here, you pirate! Brigand––murderer!”

I PUSHED him back. “Careful!”

He was spluttering, and over it Miko’s sardonic laugh sounded. “Very well––but you will talk? Shall we argue about it?”

I stood up. “What do you want to say, Miko?”

Behind him the tall, thin figure of his sister showed. She was plucking at him. He turned violently.

“I won’t hurt him! Gregg Haljan––is this a truce? You will not shoot?” He was shielding Moa.

“No,” I called. “For a moment, no. A truce. What is it you want to say?”

I could hear the babble of passengers who were herded in the cabin with brigands guarding them. George Prince, bareheaded, but shrouded in his cloak, showed in a patch of light behind Moa. He looked my way and then retreated into the lounge archway.

Miko called, “You must yield. We want you, Haljan.”

“No doubt,” I jeered.

“Alive. It is easy to kill you.”

I COULD not doubt that. Carter and I were little more than rats in a trap, here in the chart-room. But Miko wanted to take me alive: that was not so simple. He added persuasively:

“We want you to help us navigate. Will you?”


“Will you help us, Captain Carter? Tell your cub, this Haljan, to yield. You are fools. We understand that Haljan has been handling the ship’s mathematics. Him we need most.”

Carter roared: “Get back from there! This is no truce!”

I shoved aside his levelled bullet-projector. “Wait a minute!” I called to Miko. “Navigate––where?”

“Oh,” he retorted, “that is our business, not yours. When you lay down your weapons and come out of there, I will give you the course.”

“Back to the earth?” I suggested.

I could fancy him grinning behind the sheen of his barrage at my question.

“The earth? Yes––shall we go there? Give me your orders, Gregg Haljan. Of course I will obey them.”

His sardonic words were interrupted. And I realized that all this parley was a ruse of Miko’s to take me alive. He had made a gesture. Hahn, watching from the turret window, doubtless flashed a signal down to the hull-corridors. The magnetizer control under the chart-room was altered, our artificial gravity cut off. I felt the sudden lightness; I gripped the window casement and clung. Carter was startled into incautious movement. It flung him out into the center of the chart-room, his arms and legs grotesquely flailing.

AND across the chart-room, in the opposite window, I felt rather than saw the shape of something. A figure––almost invisible, but not quite––was trying to climb in! I flung the empty rifle I was holding. It hit something solid in the window; in a flare of sparks a black-hooded figure materialized. A man climbing in! His weapon spat. There was a tiny electronic flash, deadly silent. The intruder had shot at Carter; struck him. Carter gave one queer scream. He had floated to the floor; his convulsive movement when he was hit hurled him to the ceiling. His body struck, twitched; bounced back and sank inert on the floor-grid almost at my feet.

I clung to the casement. Across the space of the weightless room the hooded intruder was also clinging. His hood fell back. It was Johnson. He leered at me.

“Killed him, the bully! Well, he deserved it. Now for you, Mr. Third Officer Haljan!”

But he did not dare fire at me––Miko had forbidden it. I saw him reach under his robe, doubtless for a low-powered paralyzing ray such as Miko already had used on me. But he never got it out. I had no weapon within reach. I leaned into the room, still holding the casement, and doubled my legs under me. I kicked out from the window.

The force catapulted me across the space of the room like a volplane. I struck the purser. We gripped. Our locked, struggling bodies bounced out into the room. We struck the floor, surged up like balloons to the ceiling, struck it with a flailing arm or a leg and floated back.

GROTESQUE, abnormal combat! Like fighting in weightless water. Johnson clutched his weapon, but I twisted his wrist, held his arm outstretched so that he could not aim it. I was aware of Miko’s voice shouting on the deck outside.

Johnson’s left hand was gouging at my face, his fingers plucking at my eyes. We lunged down to the floor, then up again, close to the ceiling.

I twisted his wrists. He dropped the weapon and it sank away. I tried to reach it, but could not. Then I had him by the throat. I was stronger than he, and more agile. I tried choking him, his thick bull-neck within my fingers. He kicked, scrambled, tore and gouged at me. Tried to shout, but it ended in a gurgle. And then, as he felt his breath stopped, his hands came up in an effort to tear mine loose.

We sank again to the floor. We were momentarily upright. I felt my feet touch. I bent my knees. We sank further.

And then I kicked violently upward. Our locked bodies shot to the ceiling. Johnson’s head was above me. It struck the steel roof of the chart-room. A violent blow. I felt him go suddenly limp. I cast him off, and, doubling my body, I kicked at the ceiling. It sent me diagonally downward to the window, where I clung and regained stability.

And I saw Miko standing on the deck with a weapon levelled at me!

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Astounding Stories. 2009. Astounding Stories of Super-Science, March 1930. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved May 2022 from

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