Astounding Stories of Super-Science, February 1930, by Astounding Stories is part of HackerNoon’s Book Blog Post series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. The Beetle Horde - Chapter XI: The World Set Free
THEY waited two days at Settler's Station. To push along the line into the desert would have been useless, and both men were convinced that an airplane would arrive for them. But it was not until the second afternoon that the aviator arrived, half-dead with thirst and fatigue, and almost incoherent.
His was the last plane on the Australian continent. He brought the news of the destruction of Adelaide, and of the siege of Melbourne and Sydney, as he termed it. He told Dodd and Tommy that the two cities had been surrounded with trenches and barbed wire. Machine guns and artillery were bombarding the trenches in which the beetles had taken shelter.
"Has any one been out on reconnaissance?" asked Tommy.
Nobody had been permitted to pass through the barbed wire, though there had been volunteers. It meant certain death. But, unless the beetles were sapping deep in the ground, what their purpose was, nobody knew.
TOMMY and Dodd led him to the piles of smoking, stinking débris and told him.
That was where the aviator fainted from sheer relief.
"The Commonwealth wants you to take supreme command against the beetles," he told Tommy, when he had recovered. "I'm to bring you back. Not that they expect me back. But—God, what a piece of news! Forgive my swearing—I used to be a parson. Still am, for the matter of that."
"How are you going to bring us three back in your plane?" asked Tommy.
"I shall stay here with Jimmydodd," said Haidia suavely. "There is not the least danger any more. You must destroy the beetles before their shells have grown again, that's all."
"Used to be a parson, you say? Still are?" shouted Dodd excitedly. "Thank God! I mean, I'm glad to hear it. Come inside, and come quick. I want you too, Tommy!"
Then Tommy understood. And it seemed as if Haidia understood, by some instinct that belongs exclusively to women, for her cheeks were flushed as she turned and smiled into Dodd's eyes.
Ten minutes later Tommy hopped into the biplane, leaving the happy married couple at Settler's Station. His eyes grew misty as the plane took the air, and he saw them waving to him from the ground. Dodd and Haidia and he had been through so many adventures, and had reached safety. He must not fail.
HE did not fail. He found himself at Sydney in command of thirty thousand men, all enthusiastic for the fight for the human race, soldiers and volunteers ready to fight until they dropped. When the news of the situation was made public, an immense wave of hope ran through the world.
National differences were forgotten, color and creed and race grew more tolerant of one another. A new day had dawned—the day of humanity's true liberation.
Tommy's first act was to call out the fire companies and have the beetles' trenches saturated with petrol from the fire hoses. Then incendiary bullets, shot from guns from a safe distance, quickly converted them into blazing infernos.
But even so only a tithe of the beetle army had been destroyed. Two hundred planes had already been rushed from New Zealand, and their aviators went up and scoured the country far and wide. Everywhere they found trenches, and, where the soil was stony, millions of the beetles clustered helplessly beneath great mounds of discarded shells.
An army of black trackers had been brought in planes from all parts of the country, and they searched out the beetle masses everywhere along the course that the invaders had taken. Then incendiary bombs were dropped from above.
DAY after day the beetle massacre went on. By the end of a week the survivors of the invasion began to take heart again. It was certain that the greater portion of the horde had been destroyed.
There was only one thing lacking. No trace of Bram had been seen since his appearance at the head of his beetle army in front of Broken Hill. And louder and more insistent grew the world clamor that he should be found, and put to death in some way more horrible than any yet devised.
The ingenuity of a million minds worked upon this problem. Newspapers all over the world offered prizes for the most suitable form of death. Ingenious Oriental tortures were rediscovered.
The only thing lacking was Bram.
A spy craze ran through Australia. Five hundred Brams were found, and all of them were in imminent danger of death before they were able to prove an alias.
And, oddly enough, it was Tommy and Dodd who found Bram. For Dodd had been brought back east, together with his bride, and given an important command in the Army of Extermination.
DODD had joined Tommy not far from Broken Hill, where a swarm of a hundred thousand beetles had been found in a little known valley. The monsters had begun to grow new shells, and the news had excited a fresh wave of apprehension. The airplanes had concentrated for an attack upon them, and Tommy and Dodd were riding together, Tommy at the controls, and Dodd observing.
Dodd called through the tube to Tommy, and indicated a mass that was moving through the scrub—some fifty thousand beetles, executing short hops and evidently regaining some vitality. Tommy nodded.
He signalled, and the fleet of planes circled around and began to drop their incendiary bombs. Within a few minutes the beetles were ringed with a wall of fire. Presently the whole terrain was a blazing furnace.
Hours later, when the fires had died away, Tommy and Dodd went down to look at the destruction that had been wrought. The scene was horrible. Great masses of charred flesh and shell were piled up everywhere.
"I guess that's been a pretty thorough job," said Tommy. "Let's get back, Jim."
"What's that?" cried Dodd, pointing. Then, "My God, Tommy, it's one of our men!"
IT was a man, but it was not one of their men, that creeping, maimed, half-cinder and half-human thing that was trying to crawl into the hollow of a rock. It was Bram, and recognition was mutual.
Bram dropping, moaning; he was only the shell of a man, and it was incredible how he had managed to survive that ordeal of fire. The remainder of his life, which only his indomitable will had held in that shattered body, was evidently a matter of minutes, but he looked up at Dodd and laughed.
"So—you're—here, damn you!" he snarled. "And—you think—you've won. I've—another card—another invasion of the world—beside which this is child's play. It's an invasion—"
Bram was going, but he pulled himself together with a supreme effort.
"Invasion by—new species of—monotremes," he croaked. "Deep down in—earth. Was saving to—prove you the liar you are. Monotremes—egg-laying platypus big as an elephant—existent long before pleistocene epoch—make you recant, you lying fool!"
Bram died, an outburst of bitter laughter on his lips. Dodd stood silent for a while; then reverently he removed his hat.
"He was a madman and a devil, but he had the potentialities of a god, Tommy," he said.
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Various. 2009. Astounding Stories of Super-Science, February 1930. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved May 2022 from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/28617/28617-h/28617-h.htm#The_Beetle_Horde
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