Planet of the Gods, p.1Robert Moore Williams
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PLANET OF THE GODS
By Robert Moore Williams
[Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from Amazing Stories December1942. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.copyright on this publication was renewed.]
[Sidenote: Two planets circling Vega! But a more amazing discoverywaited the explorers when they landed!]
"What do you make of it?" Commander Jed Hargraves asked huskily.
Ron Val, busy at the telescope, was too excited to look up from theeye-piece. "There are at least two planets circling Vega!" he saidquickly. "There may be other planets farther out, but I can see twoplainly. And Jed, the nearest planet, the one we are approaching, has anatmosphere. The telescope reveals a blur that could only be caused by anatmosphere. And--Jed, this may seem so impossible you won't believeit--but I can see several large spots on the surface that are almostcertainly lakes. They are not big enough to be called oceans or seas.But I am almost positive they are lakes!"
According to the preconceptions of astronomers, formed before they had achance to go see for themselves, solar systems were supposed to be rarebirds. Not every sun had a chance to give birth to planets. Not one sunin a thousand, maybe not one in a million; maybe, with the exception ofSol, not another one in the whole universe.
And here the first sun approached by the Third Interstellar Expeditionwas circled by planets!
The sight was enough to drive an astronomer insane.
Ron Val tore his eyes away from the telescope long enough to stare atCaptain Hargraves. "Air and water on this planet!" he gasped. "Jed, doyou realize what this may mean?"
Jed Hargraves grinned. His face was lean and brown, and the grin,spreading over it, relaxed a little from the tension that had beenpresent for months.
"Easy, old man," he said, clapping Ron Val on the shoulder. "There isnothing to get so excited about."
"But a solar system--"
"We came from one."
"I know we did. But just the same, finding another will put our names inall the books on astronomy. They aren't the commonest things in theuniverse, you know. And to find one of the planets of this new systemwith air and water--Jed, where there is air and water there may belife!"
"There probably is. Life, in some form, seems to be everywhere. Rememberwe found spores being kicked around by light waves in the deepest depthsof space. And Pluto, in our own system, has mosses and lichens that thebiologists insist are alive. It won't be surprising if we find life outthere." He gestured through the port at the world swimming through spacetoward them.
"I mean intelligent life," Ron Val corrected.
"Don't bet on it. The old boys had the idea they would find intelligentlife on Mars, until they got there. Then they discovered thatintelligent creatures had once lived on the Red Planet. Cities, canals,and stuff. But the people who had built the cities and canals had diedof starvation long before humans got to Mars. So it isn't a good betthat we shall find intelligence here."
* * * * *
The astronomer's face drooped a little. But not for long. "That was trueof Mars," he said. "But it isn't necessarily true here. And even if Marswas dead, Venus wasn't. Nor is Earth. If there is life on two of theplanets of our own solar system, there may be life on one of the planetsof Vega. Why not?" he challenged.
"Hey, wait a minute," Hargraves answered. "I'm not trying to start anargument."
"If you mean why not an argument--"
"I mean, why not life here?"
"I don't know why not," Hargraves shrugged. "For that matter, I don'tknow _why_, either." He looked closely at Ron Val. "You ape! I believeyou're hoping we will find life here."
"Of course that's what I'm hoping," Ron Val answered quickly. "It wouldmean a lot to find people here. We could exchange experiences, learn alot. I know it's probably too much to hope for." He broke off. "Jed, arewe going to land here?"
"Certainly we're going to land here!" Jed Hargraves said emphatically."Why in the hell do you think we've crossed thirty light years if wedon't land on a world when we find one? This is an exploringexpedition--"
Hargraves saw that he had no listener. Ron Val had listened only longenough to learn what he wanted to know, then had dived back to hisbeloved telescope to watch the world spiraling up through space towardthem. That world meant a lot to Ron Val, the thrill of discovery, ofexploring where a human foot had never trod in all the history of theuniverse.
New lands in the sky! The Third Interstellar Expedition--third becausetwo others were winging out across space, one toward Sirius, the othertoward Cygnus--was approaching land! The fact also meant something toJed Hargraves, possibly a little less than it did to Ron Val becauseHargraves had more responsibilities. He was captain of the ship,commander of the expedition. It was his duty to take the ship to Vega,and to bring it safely home.
Half of his task was done. Vega was bright in the sky ahead and thetough bubble of steel and quartz that was the ship was dropping down torest on one of Vega's planets. Hargraves started to leave the nook thathoused Ron Val and his telescope.
The ship's loudspeaker system shouted with sudden sound.
"Jed! Jed Hargraves! Come to the bridge at once."
That was Red Nielson's voice. He was speaking from the control room inthe nose of the ship. Nielson sounded excited.
Hargraves pushed a button under the loudspeaker. The system was two-way,allowing for intercommunication.
"Hargraves speaking. What's wrong?"
"A ship is approaching. It is coming straight toward us."
"A ship! Are you out of your head? This is Vega."
"I don't give a damn if it's Brooklyn! I know a space ship when I seeone. And this is one. Either get up here and take command or tell mewhat you want done."
Discipline among the personnel of this expedition was so nearly perfectthere was no need for it. Consequently there was none. Before leavingearth, skilled mental analysts had aided in the selection of this crew,and had welded it together so artfully that it thought, acted, andfunctioned as a unit. Jed Hargraves was captain, but he had never heardthe word spoken, and never wanted to hear it. No one had ever put "sir"after his name. Nor had anyone ever questioned an order, after it wasgiven. Violent argument there might be, before an order was given, withHargraves filtering the pros and cons through his rigidly logical mind,but the instant he reached a decision the argument stopped. He was oneof the crew, and the crew knew it. The crew was one with him, and heknew it.
He might question Nielson's facts, once, in surprise. But not twice. IfNielson said a ship was approaching, a ship _was_ approaching.
* * * * *
"I'm coming," Hargraves rapped into the mike. "Turn full power into thedefense screen. Warn the engine room to be ready for an emergency. Soundthe call to stations. And Red, hold us away from this planet."
Almost before he had finished speaking, a siren was wailing through theship. Although he had used the microphone in the nook that housed thetelescope, Ron Val had been so interested in the world they wereapproaching that he had not heard the captain's orders. He heard thesiren.
"What is it, Jed?"
Hargraves didn't have time to explain. He was diving out the door andracing toward the bridge in the nose of the ship. "Come on," he flungback over his shoulder at Ron Val. "Your post is at the fore negatron."
Ron Val took one despairing glance at his telescope, then followed thecommander.
As he ran toward the control room, Hargraves heard the ship begin tora
Shoving open a heavy door, Hargraves was in the control room. A glanceshowed him Nielson on the bridge. Leaning over, his fingers on the bankof buttons that controlled the ship, he was peering through the heavyquartzite observation port at something approaching from the right.Beside him, on his right, a man was standing ready at the radio panel.And to the left of the bridge two men had already jerked the covers fromthe negatron and were standing ready beside it.
* * * * *
Ron Val leaped past Hargraves, dived for a seat on the negatron. Thatwas his post. He had been chosen for it because of his familiarity withoptical instruments. Along the top of the negatron was a sightingtelescope. Ron Val looked once to see where the man on the bridge waslooking, then his fingers flew to the adjusting levers of the telescope.The negatron swung around to the right, centered on something there.
"Ready," Ron Val said, not taking his eyes from the 'scope.
"Hold your fire," Hargraves ordered.
He was on the bridge, standing beside Red Nielson. Off to the right hecould see the enemy ship. Odd that he should think of it as an enemy. Itwasn't. It was merely a strange ship. But there were relics in his mind,vague racial memories, of the days when stranger and enemy weresynonymous. The times when this was true were gone forever, but thethoughts remained.
"Shall we run for it?" Nielson questioned, his hands on the controlsthat would turn full power into the drivers.
"No. If we run, they will think we have some reason for running. Thatmight be all they would need to conclude we are up to no good. Is thedefense screen on full power?"
"Yes." Nielson pushed the lever again to be sure. "I'm giving it all itwill take."
Hargraves could barely see the screen out there a half mile from theship. It was twinkling dimly as it swept up cosmic dust.
[Footnote 1: Originally devised as a protection against meteors, it wasa field of force that would disintegrate any solid particle that struckit, always presuming it did not tangle with an asteroid or a meteor toobig for it to handle. A blood brother of the negatron, it made spaceflight, if not a first-class insurance risk, at least fairly safe.--Ed.]
The oncoming ship had been a dot in the sky. Now it was a round ball.
"Try them on the radio," Hargraves said. "They probably won't understandus but at least they will know we're trying to communicate with them."
There was a swirl of action at the radio panel.
"No answer," the radio operator said.
"Look!" Nielson shouted. "They've changed course. They're comingstraight toward us."
The ball had bobbled in its smooth flight. As though caught in theattraction of a magnet it was coming straight toward them.
For an instant, Hargraves stared. Should he run or should he wait? Hedidn't want to run and he didn't want to fight. On the other hand, hedid not want to take chances with the safety of the men under hiscommand.
His mission was peaceful. Entirely so. But the ball was driving straighttoward them. How big it was he could not estimate. It wasn't very big.Oddly, it presented a completely blank surface. No ports. And, so far ashe could tell, there was no discharge from driving engines. The lattermeant nothing. Their own ship showed no discharge from the Kruchekdrivers. But no ports--
It came so fast he couldn't see it come. The flash of light! It camefrom the ball. For the fractional part of a second, the defense screentwinkled where the flash of light hit it. But--the defense screen wasnot designed to turn light or any other form of radiation. The lightcame through. It wasn't light. It carried a component of visibleradiation but it wasn't light. The beam struck the earth ship.
* * * * *
From the stern came a sudden scream of tortured metal. The ship rocked,careened, tried to spin on its axis. On the control panels, a dozen redlights flashed, winked off, winked on again. Heavy thuds echoed throughthe vessel. Emergency compartments closing.
Hargraves hesitated no longer.
"Full speed ahead!" he shouted at Red Nielson.
"Ron Val. Fire!"
This was an attack. This was a savage, vicious attack, delivered withoutwarning, with no attempt to parley. The ship had been hit. How badly ithad been damaged he did not know. But unless the damage was too heavythey could outrun this ball, flash away from it faster than light,disappear in the sky, vanish. The ship had legs to run. There was nolimit to her speed. She could go fast, then she could go faster.
Nielson looked up from the bank of buttons. His face was ashen. "Shedoesn't respond, Jed. The drivers are off. The engine room is knockedout."
There was no rumble from Bill Kruchek's going-faster-than-hell engines.The hiss of the atomics was still faintly audible. Short ofannihilation, nothing could knock them out. Energy was being generatedbut it wasn't getting to the drive. Leaping to the controls, Hargravestried them himself.
They didn't respond.
"Engine room!" he shouted into the communication system.
There was no answer.
The ship began to yaw, to drop away toward the planet below them. Theplanet was far distant as yet, but the grasping fingers of its gravitywere reaching toward the vessel, pulling it down.
Voices shouted within the ship.
"Jed, we're falling!"
"That ball, Jed--"
Voices calling to Jed Hargraves, asking him what to do. He couldn'tanswer. There was no answer. There was only--the ball! It was theanswer.
Through the observation port, he could see the circular ship. It wasgetting ready to attack again. The sphere was moving leisurely towardits already crippled prey, getting ready to deliver the final stroke. Itwould answer all questions of this crew, answer them unmistakably. Itleered at them.
The ship vibrated to a sudden gust of sound. Something lashed out fromthe vessel. Hargraves did not see it go because it, too, went fasterthan the eye could follow. But he knew what it was. The sound told him.He saw the hole appear in the sphere. A round hole that opened inward.Dust puffed outward.
_Wham, wham, wham!_
The negatron! The blood brother of the defense screen, its energiesconcentrated into a pencil of radiation. Faster than anyone could see ithappen, three more holes appeared in the sphere, driving through itsouter shell, punching into the machinery at its heart.
The sphere shuddered under the impact. It turned. Light spewed out ofit, beaming viciously into this alien sky without direction. Smokeboiled from the ball. Turning
Ron Val lifted a white face from the sighting 'scope of the negatron.
"Did--did I get him?"
"I'll say you did!" Hargraves heard somebody shout exultantly. He wassurprised to discover his own voice was doing the shouting. The spherewas finished, done for. It was out of the fight, rolling down the vasthill of the sky, it would smash on the planet below.
They were following it.
There was still no answer from the engine room.
"Space suits!" Hargraves ordered. "Nielson, you stay here. Ron Val, youothers, come with me."
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