Astounding Stories, July, 1931, p.1Various
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VOL. VII, No. 1 CONTENTS JULY, 1931
COVER DESIGN H. W. WESSO _Painted in Water-Colors from a Scene in "The Doom from Planet 4."_
THE DOOM FROM PLANET 4 JACK WILLIAMSON 5 _A Ray of Fire, Green, Mysterious, Stabs Through the Night to Dan on His Ship. It Leads Him to an Island of Unearthly Peril._
THE HANDS OF ATEN H. G. WINTER 20 _Out of the Solid Ice Craig Hews Three Long-Frozen Egyptians and Is at Once Caught Up into Amazing Adventure._ (A Complete Novelette.)
THE DIAMOND THUNDERBOLT H. THOMPSON RICH 46 _Locked in a Rocket and Fired into Space! Such Was the Fate which Awaited Young Stoddard at the End of the Diamond Trail!_
THE SLAVE SHIP FROM SPACE A. R. HOLMES 68 _Three Kidnapped Earthlings Show Xantra of the Tillas How "Docile" Earth Slaves Can Be._
THE REVOLT OF THE MACHINES NAT SCHACHNER AND ARTHUR L. ZAGAT 86 _Something in the Many-Faceted Mind of the Master Machine Spurs It to Diabolical Revolt Against the Authority of Its Human Masters._
THE EXILE OF TIME RAY CUMMINGS 109 _Only Near the End of the World Does Fate Catch Up with Tugh, the Cripple Who Ran Amuck Through Time._ (_Conclusion._)
THE READERS' CORNER ALL OF US 129 _A Meeting Place for Readers of Astounding Stories._
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* * * * *
The Doom from Planet 4
_By Jack Williamson_
_For long seconds he was plunging down through space._]
[Sidenote: A ray of fire, green, mysterious, stabs through the nightto Dan on his ship. It leads him to an island of unearthly peril.]
"S O S. S O S. S O S." Three short, three long, three short, theflashes winked from the dark headland. Dan McNally, master and ownerof the small and ancient trading schooner, _Virginia_, caught thefeeble flickering light from the island as he strode across thefore-deck. He stopped, stared at the looming black line of landbeneath the tropical stars. Again light flashed from a point of rockfar above the dim white line of phosphorescent surf, spelling out thesignal of distress.
"Somebody bane callin' with a flashlight, I t'ank," the big Swede,Larsen, rumbled from the wheel.
Dan thought suddenly of a reply. He rushed into the charthouse, toreturn in a moment with a lighted lantern and a copy of the _NauticalAlmanac_ which would serve to hide the flame between flashes. Heflashed an answer.
Again the pale light flickered from the dark mass of land, spellingwords out rather slowly, as if the sender were uncertain in hisknowledge of Morse. Surprised as Dan had been by the signal from anisland marked on the charts as uninhabited, he was astonished at themessage that now came to him.
"You are in terrible danger," he read in the flashes. "Dreadful thinghere. Hurry away. Radio for warships. I am--"
The winking light suddenly went out. Dan strained his eyes to watchthe point where it had been, and a few seconds later he saw a curiousthing. A darting, stabbing lance of green fire flashed out across thebarren, rocky cliff, lighting it fleetingly with pale green radiance.It leapt out and was gone in an instant, leaving the shoulder of theisland dark as before.
Dan watched for long minutes, but he saw nothing more brilliant thanthe pale gleam of phosphorescence where the waves dashed against thesheer granite wall of the island.
"What you t'ank?" Larsen broke in upon him.
* * * * *
Dan started, then answered slowly. "I don't know. First I thoughtthere must be a lunatic at large. But that green light! I didn't likeit."
He stared again at the looming mass of the island. Davis Island is oneof the innumerable tiny islets that dot the South Pacific; merely thesummit of a dead volcano, projecting above the sea. Nominally claimedby Great Britain, it is marked on the charts as uninhabited.
"Radio for warships, eh?" he muttered. A wireless transmitter was oneof many modern innovations that the _Virginia_ did not boast. She hadbeen gathering copra and shell among the islands long before suchthings came into common use, though Dan had invested his modestsavings in her only a year before.
"What would anyone want with warships on Davis Island?" The nameroused a vague memory. "Davis Island?" he repeated, staring inconcentration at the black sea. "Of course!" It came to him suddenly.A newspaper article that he had read five years before, at about thetime he had abandoned college in the middle of his junior year, tofollow the call of adventure.
The account had dealt with an eclipse of the sun, visible only fromcertain points on the Pacific. One Dr. Hunter, under the auspices of aWestern university, had sailed with his instruments and assistants toDavis Island, to study the solar corona during the few preciousmoments when the shadow covered the sun, and to observe thedisplacement of certain stars as a test of Einstein's theory ofrelativity.
The reporter had interviewed the party at San Francisco, on the eve ofsailing. There had been photographs of the chartered vessel, of Dr.Hunter and his instruments, and of his daughter, Helen, who acted ashis secretary. She looked not at all like a scientist, Dan recalled.In fact, her face had seemed rather pretty, even in the blurrednewspaper half-tone.
But the memory cast no light upon the present puzzle. In the ramblingyears that had led him to this spot upon the old _Virginia_, he hadlost touch with the science that had interested him during his collegedays. He had heard nothing of the results of the Hunter expedition.But this island had been its destination.
* * * * *
He turned decisively to the man at the wheel. "Larsen, we'll standwell offshore till daylight," he said. "Then, unless
The sentence was never finished. Through the corner of his eye, Dansaw a ray of green light darting toward them from the island. A lineof green fire seemed to reach out and strike him a physical blow.Green flame flared around him; and somehow he was hurled from thebridge, clear of the rail and into the sea.
His impression of the incident was very confused. He seemed to havestruck the water with such force that his breath was knocked out. Hestruggled back to the surface, strangling, and coughing the bitterbrine from his lungs. It was several minutes before he was comfortablytreading water, and able to see what had happened.
The old schooner was then a hundred yards away, careening crazily, anddrifting aimlessly before the light breeze. The strange green fire hadvanished. Parts of the ship apparently had been carried away ordisintegrated by the ray or the force of which it was a visibleeffect. The mainmast was down, and was hanging over the side in atangle of rigging.
Bright yellow flames were dancing at a dozen points about the wreckageon the listing deck. A grotesque broken thing, queerly illuminated bythe growing fires, was hanging over the wheel--the body of Larsen. Noliving thing was visible; and Dan, after a second look at the wreck ofthe bow, knew that he must be the sole survivor of the catastrophe.
"Too bad about the boys," he muttered through teeth that chattered,for the cold water had already chilled him. "And poor old Larsen."
He thought again of the warning flashed from the shore. "Guess theremust be something hellish afoot after all," he muttered again. "Theflicker of green that stopped the signals, and the green fire that gotus--what can they mean?" He looked toward the looming black shadow ofthe island, and began divesting himself of his clinging, soddengarments. "I don't wonder somebody wanted battleships. But even abattleship, if that green ray hit it--"
He drew a deep breath and ducked his head while he unlaced his shoesand kicked out of them. Then, with a final look at the burning wreckof the _Virginia_, he tore off the last bit of his underclothing andswam for the shore in an easy crawl.
* * * * *
The rocky ramparts of Davis Island were three or four miles away. Butthere was no wind; the black sea was calm save for a long, hardlyperceptible swell. A strong swimmer and in superb condition, Dan feltno anxiety about being able to make the distance. There was danger,however, that a shark would run across him, or that he could not finda landing place upon the rocky shore.
Four bells had rung when he had seen the first flash; it had been justten o'clock. And it was some four hours later that Dan touched bottomand waded wearily up a bit of smooth hard beach, through palelyglittering phosphorescent foam.
He rubbed the brine from his tired limbs, and sat down for a time, ina spot where a fallen boulder sheltered his naked body from the coolmorning wind. In a few moments he rose, flexed his muscles and peeredthrough the starlit darkness for a way up the cliff behind the beach.He found it impossible to distinguish anything.
"Got to keep moving, or find some clothes," he muttered. "And I maystumble onto what made the green light. Darn lucky I've been so far,anyhow. Larsen and the others--but I shan't think of them. Wonder whowas flashing the signals from the island. And did the green fire gethim?"
He turned to look out over the black plain of the sea. Far out, the_Virginia_ lay low in the water, a pillar of yellow flame rising fromher hull. As he watched, the flame flickered and vanished: the oldschooner, he supposed, had sunk. Then he noticed a pale glow come intobeing among the stars on the eastern horizon.
"Hello," he muttered again. "So we're going to have a moon? In thelast quarter, but still it ought to light me up from this beach."
A moment later the horns of the crescent had come above the black rimof the sea. Dan waited, swinging his arms and tramping up and down onthe sand, until the silvery moon had cleared the horizon andilluminated the rugged face of the cliff with pale white radiance.
He chose a path to the top of the cliff and clambered up, emerging ina jungle-like thicket of brush. Picking his way with the greatestcaution, yet scratching his naked skin most painfully, he made his wayfor a few yards through the brush to a point of vantage from which hecould look about.
He was, he perceived, in a narrow valley or ravine, with rugged blackwalls rising sheer on either side. The silvery light of the crescentmoon fell upon the rank jungle that covered the narrow floor of thecanyon, which rose and dwindled as it penetrated inland.
* * * * *
Gazing up the canyon, Dan gasped in amazement at what he saw.
Mars, the red planet, hung bright and motionless, low in the westernsky, gleaming with deep bloody radiance. Directly beneath it, bathedin the white light of the moon, was a bare, rocky peak that seemed thehighest point of the island. And upon that highest pinnacle, thatchanced to be just below the ruddy star, was an astounding machine.
Three slender towers, of a white metal that gleamed in the moonlightwith the silvery luster of aluminum, rose from the rocky peak. Theysupported, in a horizontal position, an enormous metal ring. It mustbe, Dan reckoned swiftly, at least a hundred feet in diameter, andheld a hundred feet above the summit of the mountain.
The huge ring gleamed with a strange purple radiance. A shimmeringmist of red-violet light surrounded it. An unknown force seemed tothrob within the mighty ring, drawing the mantle of purple haze aboutit.
And suspended inside the ring and below it was a long, slender needleof dazzling white light. To Dan, from where he stood in the canyon, itseemed a fine, sharp line, though he knew it must be some kind ofpointer, luminous with the strange force pulsing through it.
The strange needle wavered a little, with quick, uncertain motions.The brilliance of its light varied oddly; it seemed to throb with aqueer, irregular rhythm.
And the gleaming needle pointed straight at the planet Mars!
Dan stood a long time, watching the purple ring upon the silvertowers, with the shining white needle hanging below it. He stared atMars, glowing like a red and sinister eye above the incrediblemechanism.
His mind was in a wild storm of wonder shot with fear. What was themeaning of the gleaming ring and needle? What connection did thisgreat device have with the signal of distress from the cliff, and thegreen fire that had destroyed the _Virginia_? And why did the glowingneedle point at Mars?
* * * * *
He did not know when he first began to hear the sound. For a time itwas merely part of the strange mystery of the island, only anotherelement in the atmosphere of fear and wonder that surrounded him. Thenit rose a little, and he became suddenly sharply conscious of it as anadditional menace. The sound was not loud, but deep and vibrant. Awhir or hum, like that of a powerful, muffled motor, but deeper thanthe sound of any motor man has ever made. It came down the gorge, fromthe direction of the machine on the mountain.
That deep, throbbing noise frightened Dan as none of his previousexperiences had done. Shivering from fear as much as from cold, hecrouched down beside a huge boulder in the edge of the tangle of brushthat covered the bottom of the ravine. His heart pounded wildly. Hewas in the clutches of an unreasoning fear that some terrible Thinghad seen him, and was about to seek him out. For a moment he had touse all his will to keep himself from panic flight through the brush.The unknown is always terrible, and he had invaded the domain of aforce he could not understand.
In a moment, however, he recovered himself. He would be as safe therein the jungle, he thought, as anywhere on the island. He thought ofstarting a fire, then realized that he had no matches, and that hewould not dare to make a light if he were able. He pulled a fewhandfuls of dry grass to make a sort of bed, upon which he huddled up,thanking his lucky stars that the island was in semi-tropicallatitudes.
His mind returned again to the riddles that confronted him: the greenflash and the strange mechanism on the peak. He recalled fantasticstories he had read, of hermit scientist
"The green flash is a sort of a death ray," he summed up, aloud. "Andthey shoot it from that bright needle. No wonder they don't want to bebothered! Somebody may be fixing to upset civilization!
"But it's queer that the needle points at Mars...."
Of this last fact, which might have been a clue to the most reasonablesolution of the mystery, if a rather astounding one, he was able tomake nothing. In fact, huddled up on his pile of grass in some degreeof comfort, he presently went to sleep, still pondering in vain uponthis last clue.
* * * * *
He was awakened by a soft, insistent purring sound, rather like thatof a small electric motor run without load at very high speed.Recollection of the night's events came abruptly to him, and he sprangto his feet in alarm, finding his muscles sore and stiff from hiscramped position.
From one side Dan heard the rumble of thunder, and, glancing up, sawthat the sky above the sea was overcast with a rolling mass of dark,menacing clouds. There was a strange portentous blackness about thesestorm clouds that filled him with a nameless fear.
Suddenly he was struck with the thought that it was not thunder thathad wakened him. The noise he had heard had not the rumbling orbooming quality of thunder. As he stood there he again becameconscious of the low, whirring sound, behind him. He whirled around toface it. The shock of what he saw left him momentarily dizzy andtrembling--though undoubtedly his surroundings had much to do with itseffect upon him.
The sound came from a glistening metal machine which stood half-hiddenin the brush a dozen yards away _looking at him_!
The thing was made of a lustrous, silvery metal, which Dan afterwardssupposed to be aluminum, or some alloy of that metal. Its gleamingcase was shaped more like a coffin, or an Egyptian mummy-case, thanany other object with which he was familiar, though rather larger thaneither.
That is, it was an oblong metal box, tapering toward the ends, withthe greatest width forward of the middle. Twin tubes projected fromthe end of it, lenses in them glistening like eyes. Just below themsprang out steely, glistening tentacles several feet long, writhingand twitching as if they were alive. The tangle of green brush hid thething's legs, so that Dan could not see them.
* * * * *
Suddenly it sprang toward him, rising ten feet high and covering halfthe distance between them. It alighted easily upon the two long,jointed metal limbs upon which it had leapt, and continued to keep thelens-tubes turned toward Dan, so he knew that the grotesque metalthing was _watching him_.
The limbs, he observed, were similar to the hind legs of agrasshopper, both in shape and position. And evidently the thing leaptupon them in about the same way. Then he noticed another curious thingabout it.
Three little bars of metal projected above the thickest part of itscase, on the upper side. Their ends were joined by a little ring,three inches across. The tiny metal ring glowed with purpleluminosity. A purple haze seemed to cling about it, as to the hugering Dan had seen on the towers above the peak. And suspended insidethis ring was a tiny metal needle, shimmering with pulsating whitefire.
On the back of this metal monster was a miniature replica of thestrange mechanism upon the pinnacle. The little needle pointed up thecanyon. A glance that way showed Dan that it pointed at the greatdevice upon the mountain, which looked even more brilliant on thisgloomy morning than in the uncertain radiance of the moon. Thecolossal ring was shrouded in a splendid mantle of purple flame; andthe long, slender needle, which seemed to have swung on down to followMars below the horizon, still throbbed with scintillating white fire.
For several minutes the two stood there, studying each other. A nakedman, tense and bewildered in the presence of mysterious forces--and agrotesque machine, cased in gleaming white metal, whose parts seemedto duplicate most of the functions of a living creature.
Then one of the writhing tentacles that shot from the "head" of themachine reached back under the metal case, and reappeared graspingwhat appeared to be a flat disk of emerald, two inches across and halfan inch thick.
This green disk it held up, with a flat side toward Dan. There was nosound, but a flash of green light came from it, cutting a wide swathinto the jungle, and littering its path with smoking and flamingdebris.
* * * * *
But Dan, expecting something of the kind, had flung himself sidewiseinto the shelter of the boulder beside which he had slept. Behind it,he gathered his feet under him, picked up a rock of convenient sizefor throwing, and waited, ready and alert.
He heard the soft humming sound on the other side of the boulder. Aglittering object flashed above him. Crashing through the brush themetal monster came to earth on the same side of the boulder with him.
But the metal thing had not turned in its flight: consequently itsrear end was toward Dan. As it began cumberously to turn about, hehurled his rock with an accuracy that came of a boyhood on the farm.Instinct had made him try for the little ring and needle on the backof the monster, apparently its most vulnerable part.
Whether by luck or skill, the rock struck the gleaming ring, crushingit against the needle--and instant paralysis overtook the metal thing.Its tentacles and limbs became fixed and rigid, and it toppled over inthe brush.
Dan walked over to it, and examined it briefly. The green disk hadfallen on the ground, and he picked it up. It was made of emeraldcrystal, it had a little knob of glistening metal set in one side.Rather afraid of it, Dan forebore to twist the knob. But he stillclutched it in his hand a few moments later, when, partly for fearthat others of its kind would come to succor the fallen monster, andpartly to secure shelter from the threatening rain, he retired intothe shadows of the tangled jungle.
He spent perhaps half an hour in creeping back to what he supposed aplace of comparative safety. For some time he lay there in the coolgloom, brushing occasional insects off his bare skin, wishing by turnsthat he had a cup of coffee and a good beefsteak, and that he couldpuzzle out a logical solution of all the astounding things he had metin the island. After the encounter with the metal monster, he felt histheory of the hermit scientists a bit inadequate.
* * * * *
Presently his attention was attracted by the unmistakable mew of akitten. Then he heard the padding sound of cautious human footsteps,and a clear feminine voice calling "Kitty, kitty," in low tones. Thesteps and the voice seemed coming toward him; since there was no soundof crackling brush, he supposed there was a trail which he had notfound.
"Hello," he ventured, when the voice seemed only a few yards awaythrough the green tangle.
At the same instant a gray kitten appeared out of the underbrush, andfrisked trustfully across to him. He put out a hand, caressed it,picked it up. In a moment the feminine voice replied, "Hello yourself.Who are you?"
A crackling sound came from the brush, as if the speaker were startingtoward him. Dan, abruptly conscious of his lack of attire, saidquickly, "Wait a minute! I haven't anything on, you see. I'm DanMcNally. I owned the schooner that something happened to off theisland last night."
A delicious, trilling laugh greeted the panic of his first words. Thenthe clear, sweet voice, serious again, replied, "So you swam ashorefrom the boat I signaled?"
"Gee, but I'm glad to find you! And you say you haven't any clothes? Iwonder what...." The voice paused reflectively, then resumed, "Here'sa sheet that I got to signal with in the daytime, if I had a chance.You might wrap it around you until we find something better."
The low, liquid laugh rang out again; again there was a rustling inthe brush, and presently an arm appeared, holding a rolled-up sheet.
"All right," he called. "Throw it this way."
* * * * *
In a moment, with the sheet draped around him like a Rom
At the trail he met a trim, active-looking young woman, clad inout-of-door attire and with a canvas knapsack on her back. Bareheaded,she wore her brown hair closely shingled. Her face, Dan recognizedfrom the photograph he had seen five years before, though it was morelovely than the splotched newspaper picture had hinted. Her brown eyeswere filled with laughter at his predicament and his present unusualgarb.
He bowed with mock gravity and said, "How do you do, Miss HelenHunter?"
Brown eyes widened in surprise. "You know me?" she asked.
"Not half so well as I hope to," he grinned.
Then, handing her the kitten, he spoke seriously. "What about thisisland? The green flashes? The big machine on the mountain? The metalthing that jumps about like a grasshopper? What's it all about? Youknow anything about it?"
"Yes, I know a good deal about it," she told him soberly. "It's rathera terrible story. And one you may not believe--no, you've seen them!But the kitten is hungry, and you must be, too, if you swam ashore."
"Well, yes, I am." Dan admitted.
The storm clouds were drifting out to sea; the sun was beginning toassert itself, and it now lighted up the scene with a cheerfulbrightness. She slung off her pack and sat down cross-legged at theside of the trail. Dan sat down opposite her as she opened theknapsack and produced a can of condensed milk, one of sardines, acan-opener, and half a loaf of bread.
"I had to select my supplies rather at random," she said, "and you'llhave to make the best of them."
She started to open the sardines. "You'd better give it to me," Danadvised. "You might cut your hand."
"You think so?" she asked, deftly lifting the lid, fishing out a fishfor the kitten, and presenting the can to Dan. Then with capablehands she broke off a large chunk of bread, which she handed him.
"Go ahead and finish this up," she said. "I've already had breakfast."She punched two holes in the end of the milk can, and poured some ofthe thick yellow fluid into the palm of her left hand, from which shelet the kitten lap it.
"And now for the mystery of the island," Dan demanded, forgettingbread and sardines in his eagerness.
* * * * *
The girl turned her face to him. "I'm Helen Hunter, as you seem toknow," she began. "I came here with my father five years ago toobserve an eclipse of the sun. When it was all over, and the shipcalled to take us off, he decided to send the results of ourobservations by one of the other men. He wanted to stay here to carryon another experiment--the one that led to that machine on the hill.Part of the other men were willing to stay. The yacht left us here,and has been back from San Francisco every six months since, with mailand supplies."
"And what was the experiment?" Dan demanded eagerly.
"Have you ever looked at Mars through a good telescope?" shecountered. "Then you must have seen the canals--straight dark linesrunning from the white polar caps to the equatorial zone. Allscientists did not agree as to what they were, but nobody couldsuggest a natural origin for them.
"My father was one of those who thought that the canals were fertile,cultivated strips, irrigated with water brought down from the meltingice-caps. Irrigation systems meant intelligent life upon the planet,and his experiment was an attempt to communicate with thatintelligence."
"And he succeeded?" Dan was astounded.
"Yes. The means was simple enough: other men had suggested it yearsbefore, in fact. Any fairly bright light on Mars--such as the beam ofa searchlight directed toward earth--would be visible in a goodtelescope, when the planet is favorably situated: it follows that sucha light on earth should be visible to an observer with a similarinstrument on Mars.
"It was possible, of course, but unlikely, that Mars would haveintelligent inhabitants still ignorant of the telescope. It was alsopossible that their senses would be different from ours--that, if theysaw at all, it would be with a different part of the spectrum. Fathertook the chance. And he succeeded.
"The call was simple: merely three flashes of light, repeated againand again. We used a portable searchlight, mounted on a motor-truck,such as is used in the army. The three flashes meant that we were onthe third planet of the solar system. The answering call, from thefourth planet, should be four flashes, of course.
"For three nights we kept signaling. One of the men watched themotor-generator, and I operated the searchlight, swinging it on Marsand off again, to make the flashes. Dad kept his eye screwed to thetelescope. Nothing happened and he got discouraged. I persuaded him tokeep on for another night, in case they hadn't seen us at first; orneeded more time to get their searchlight ready.
"And on the fourth night poor Dad came out of the observatory,shouting that he had seen four flashes."
* * * * *
Dan gasped, speechless with astonishment. "Then that machine, with theneedle pointing at Mars, and the green flashes, and the thing thatjumped at me--"
Helen waved a white hand for silence. "Just keep cool a minute! I'mcoming to them.
"The four flashes just began it. In a few days Dad and the Martianswere communicating by a sort of television process. He would mark offa sheet of paper into squares, blacken some of the squares to make apicture or design, then have me send a flash for each black square,and miss an interval for each white one, taking them in regular order.The Martians seemed to catch on pretty soon; in a few days Dad wasreceiving pictures of the same sort.
"Rather a slow way of communication, perhaps. But it worked betterthan one might think at first. In a month Dad had receivedinstructions for building a small machine like that big one on thehill. It is something like radio--at least it operates with vibrationsin the ether--but it's as much ahead of our radio as an airplane is inadvance of a fire-balloon. I understand a good bit about it, but Iwon't try to explain it now.
"And in the next three years Dad learned no end of things from thepeople on Mars. One queer thing about it was, that they never let ussee them on the television apparatus, no matter how many of theirscientific secrets they gave us. Dad and I exhibited ourselves, but Idon't know yet what the Martians look like--though I have made aguess.
"By the end of the third year they had showed Dad how to make one ofthose metal things--"
"Like that one that jumped at me?" Dan broke in with a shudder.
"Yes. They seem almost alive; but they are machines, like our robots,and controlled by the radio apparatus. The eyes use photo-electriccells, and relay what is before them to the Master Intelligence." Thegirl spoke these last words in a low tone, shrinking involuntarily.She paused a moment, then shrugged and continued.
"The first machine did not obey my father. It was controlled bysignals that came from Mars, over the big station on the hill. And itwent to work, making more apparatus, building more machines, enlargingthe receiving station. It worked in obedience to the MasterIntelligence on Mars!
"That was a year ago. The last time the yacht called, my father andthe other men still hoped to control the machines. They let her goback without us. The machines tolerated us a while; paid no attentionto us; they were busy working mines and building huge, strange thingsthat must be flying machines; the plateau on the other side of thepeak is crowded with them.
"For the machines are preparing to leave the island! They are going toconquer the world for the Master Intelligence on Mars!
"Months ago my father discovered this, and realized that he had looseddoom upon the earth. He and the three other men planned to destroythat big station on the peak. All the signals to the machines arerelayed through that, from Mars. The machines seemed to pay no heed asthey made their preparations.
"Then one night, about three weeks ago, they tried to dynamite thestation." The girl's shoulder trembled; she paused to brush a tearfrom her eye, then went on hastily, in a voice grown husky withemotion. Dan felt an odd desire to take her slight form in his armsand comfort her in her grief.
Dan handed her the disk of green crystal he had taken from the thingthat had attacked him. She examined it silently, then went on.
"Dad had left me in bed, but I heard an explosion. I think the bombswent off when the green fire struck them. I knew what had happened,and got out of the house just before the machines arrived. Theywrecked the place with their green flashes.
"And for the last three weeks I've been hiding in the jungle, orwatching for ships. Three times I've raided the ruins of the house forsomething to eat: fortunately it didn't burn, like your ship. Andthat's all, I suppose--except I'm awfully glad that you got ashore."
"Thanks," Dan said, earnestly. "And what are we going to do now?"
* * * * *
"I don't know," Helen answered in a troubled tone. "I'm afraid. Afraidfor all humanity. On the television, I've seen enough of Mars to besure that it is a world of machines, controlled by one MasterIntelligence. And even that may be a machine. We make machines thatcompute the tides and carry out other computations that are almostbeyond the power of the human mind: why couldn't a machine think?
"The Master Intelligence of Mars plans to add the Earth to his domain.Unless we can do something to stop it, in a few years the world willbe overrun with gigantic robot-machines, controlled by force fromacross the gulf of space. Humanity cannot resist them. Imagine abattleship pitted against that green annihilating ray, and all theother science of an elder planet!
"Life is to be blotted out! The Master Intelligence of Mars will ruletwo worlds of mechanical monsters!"
Dan sat in a dazed vision of horror to come, until Helen straightenedup as if shaking off a mantle of fear, and smiled heroically, if a bitwanly.
"Now you must eat your bread and sardines, to give you strength tofight for humanity!" she cried, with a laugh that she strived, not toosuccessfully, to make cheerful and gay.
Obediently, he began to eat, finding an excellent appetite....
It was several minutes later that he fancied he heard a whirring andcrackling in the brush behind them. He sprang to his feet in alarm.
"It can't be far back to where I left the machine," he cried. "Do yousuppose there's danger that--"
The mechanical ears of the metal things may have picked up the soundof his voice: but in any event, green flame flashed about them on theinstant. Feeling a sudden protective impulse, Dan started towardHelen. That was his last recollection, before what seemed a terrificconcussion swept him into the abyss of unconsciousness....
* * * * *
His first thought, when he awakened, was of the girl. But he was alonein the silence of the canyon. He sat up, realizing that many hours hadpassed, for the air was growing cool again, and the sun was low behindthe peak at the head of the ravine. The huge, mysterious machine ofthe purple ring and the vibrating white needle were blazingsplendidly.
He took more detailed stock of his immediate surroundings. The tangleof brush that had sheltered them had been cut away by the greenannihilating ray. Charred stumps remained to show where it had firedbushes beyond the trail. His own shoulder was blistered, a hole wasburned in the sheet wound about him, and the hair was singed from theback of his head.
Suddenly trembling with horror, he looked about for anything to showthat Helen had perished by the ray. Discovering nothing, he breathed asigh of relief.
"She must be still alive, anyhow," he muttered. "And I've had anotherlucky break! The ray was too high to get me. They must have left mefor dead."
Presently he became conscious of torturing thirst. He retired throughthe brush, along the rocky wall of the canyon. By sunset he came upona little natural basin in a rock, half full of rain water. It was nonetoo clean, but he drank his fill of it, and felt relief.
Looking up the canyon, he could see the great mechanism on the peak,gleaming in the dusk. Intensely-glowing purple mist clung about thegreat metal ring, and the slender, delicate needle swung below it,still vibrating, still throbbing with brilliant, white radiance. Itpointed at the red eye of Mars, which had just winked into view.
Dan stared at it a long time.
"It all sounds crazy," he muttered, "but it isn't! The MasterIntelligence of Mars, she said, is controlling the mechanical thingsthrough that! The doom of the Earth is coming through that whiteneedle! If only I could smash it, somehow!"
He looked down at the white folds of the sheet that draped him, andclenched his hands impotently. "No gun! Not even a pocket-knife.Nothing but my bare hands!" He bit his lip.
* * * * *
Still he stared challengingly at the gleaming mechanism on the peak.An idea slowly took form in his mind; an exclamation abruptly escapedhim. Narrowly he eyed the trussed girders of the silver towers whichsupported the great ring, muttering to himself.
"Yes, I can do it! If I don't get caught! I can climb it, well enough.The needle looks a bit frail. I should be able to smash it! I'd liketo see Helen again, though."
He gathered the sheet around him, and began picking a cautious way upthe canyon, staying always in the cover of boulders or brush. A fewtimes he disturbed a rock, or snapped a twig beneath his foot. Then hewaited out of sight for long minutes, though he had no reason tobelieve that the metal monsters were on the alert for him.
"I've got to do it! The world depends on it!" he kept saying again andagain in his mind.
The quick darkness of the tropics had fallen almost before he started.But he welcomed the night, for, if it made his own silent progressmore difficult, it reduced the hazard that he would be discovered.
Gauging the time by the slow wheeling of the diamond-like stars acrossthe velvet sky, he thought that two hours had passed when he reachedthe head of the canyon. He stood up cautiously to survey the littleplateau at the summit of the hill.
It was several acres in extent, quite level, and almost clear ofvegetation. At the farther side was a pile of wreckage, which, hesupposed, had been the quarters of Dr. Hunter's party, before they hadbeen destroyed.
Many huge machines stood about the plateau, vast, dark masses loomingin the starlight. Mostly they were either not running or very silentin operation; but a very deep, vibrant humming sound came from onenear him. Smaller shapes were moving about them, with long easy leaps.These, he knew, were the mechanical monsters, though it was too darkto distinguish them.
* * * * *
But by far the most prominent object upon the plateau was the enormousgleaming thing that Helen had said was the station over which came thesignals from the Master Intelligence on Mars. One of its three towerssprang up not far from where he stood. The huge, refulgent ring,swathed in its mist of purple fire, was a full hundred feet above him;and the slender needle, pulsing with white flame, swinging within andbelow the colossal ring, was itself a hundred feet in length.
The white needle, for all its length, seemed hardly thicker than aman's finger. It was mounted at the top of a curiously complex anddelicate-looking device that spread broadly out between the threetowers, below the center of the huge purple ring.
Dan looked at it and decided that his plan had at least a chance ofsuccess--though he had no hope that it would not be fatal to him.
Quickly and silently he ran to the base of the mighty silver towersnearest him and began to climb the side toward the ravine, where themaze of girders would hide him, at least partially, from any watchersback on the plateau. The starlight and the faint weird radiance of thepurple ring above sufficed to guide him.
The cross-braces on the girder he had chosen were spaced closelyenough to serve as the rungs of a ladder. Dan climbed easily, pausingtwice for breath, and to look down at the dark plateau. The vast,humming machines loomed up strangely in the pale purple light thatfell from the gleaming ring.
"The expeditionary force of the Master Intelligence of Mars," hethought, "preparing to set out against humanity! And what I can do isthe only chance to stop it!"
* * * * *
He climbed again with renewed energy. A few yards more brought him tothe colossal metal ring. Resting upon the three towers, it was acircular band of shining metal a foot thick and as wide as a road. Theintense purple glow extended several feet from its surface.
Dan touched it tentatively. He felt a tingling electric shock. And hethought he could feel a radiation coming from it, giving him a curioussensation of cold. As he reached his hands up and grasped the upperedge of the great ring, he felt what seemed a physical current ofcold.
Controlling his tendency to shiver, he climbed upon the last brace,and, lifting his weight with his hands, threw himself face down uponthe flat upper surface of the vast ring. He lay bathed in cold purplefire. He tingled with the chill of it. A frozen current seemed topenetrate his body. Involuntarily he trembled, lost his grip anddangled precariously from the rim.
Only a frantic scrambling restored his hold. Then, fighting thesensation of freezing cold that came from the mist of purple flame, hedrew himself forward and got to his feet upon the broad surface of themetal ring. On both sides it curved away like a circular track.Red-violet fire shimmered about it, bathing him to the waist in achilling torrent.
Through coruscating frozen flame he waded to the inner rim of thecolossal ring. Below him hung the needle, a mere straight line ofwhite fire, a hundred feet in length. Eye-dazzling radiancescintillated along it, waxing and waning with a curious throbbingrhythm. The needle vibrated a little, but it pointed directly at thered point of Mars, now almost directly overhead.
Repressing a shudder, Dan looked down at the complex and delicateapparatus upon which the slender needle was mounted. It was a lightframe of white metal bars, with spidery coils and huge glowing tubesand flimsy spinning disks mounted in it. The gleaming needle wasmounted much like a telescope at the top of the device, fully fiftyfeet below him.
"Looks flimsy enough," Dan muttered. "I'll go through it like asixteen-inch shell! Who would have thought I'd end this way!"
* * * * *
He stepped back for a moment, and stood on the polished metal, hiddento the waist in cold purple flame. Lest it impede his movements, hetore the sheet from him and threw it aside. He let his eyes sweep fora last time over the familiar constellations blazing so splendidly inthe black sky above. He had a pang of heartache, as if the stars wereold friends. His glance roved fondly over the dark, indistinct massesof the island, and across the black plain of the sea.
"Well, no good in waiting," he muttered again. "Sorry I can't seeHelen. Hope she gets off all right."
He backed to the outer rim and drew a deep breath, like one about todive. Then, with set face, he sprinted forward. As he did so ablinding flash of green light flickered up before him. He ducked hishead and leapt from the inner edge of the vast glowing ring.
For long seconds, it seemed, he was plunging down through space, feetfirst. Air rushed screaming about his ears. But his mind was quitecalm, and registered an astonishingly large series of impressions.
He saw the delicate, gleaming machine rushing up to meet him, theshimmering white needle swung on its top.
He took in the silent, dark plateau, with the masses of the greatmachines rising like ominous shadows here and there, and themechanical monsters leaping busily about it, almost invisible in thedim, ghostly radiance that fell from the purple ring.
He saw a vivid flame of green reach up past him from somewhere below.He knew, without emotion or alarm, that he had been discovered, andthat it was too late for his discoverers to stop him.
He found time, even, for a fleeting thought of death. His mind framedthe question, "What will I be in a moment from now?"
Then he had struck the great white needle, and was crashing into thedelicate apparatus below it. Waves of pain beat upon his mind likeflashes of blinding light. But his last mental image, as he passedinto oblivion, was a picture of Helen's face. Oddly, it was not herface as he had last seen it, but a reproduction of the old newspaperhalf-tone, curiously retouched with life and color.
* * * * *
There is little more to tell. It was some weeks later when Dan cameback out of a world of delirium and dreams, to find himself lying onhis back in a tent, very much bandaged. He was alone at the moment,and at first could not recall that tremendous last day of hisconscious life.
Then he heard a thrillingly familiar feminine voice calling "Kitty,kitty, kitty." He tried to move, a dull pain throbbed in his breast,and a groan escaped him. In a moment Helen appeared; the gray kittenwas forgotten. She looked very anxious and solicitous--and also, Danthought, very beautiful.
"No, no!" she cried. "You are going to be all right! Dad made me learna little elementary medicine before we came here, and I know. But youmustn't speak! Not for days yet! I'll have to guess what you want. Andyou can wink when I guess the right thing.
"Gee, but I'm glad you've come to! You'll be as well as ever, prettysoon. The kitten was lots of comfort. Still--"
Dan attempted to move. She leaned over him, shifted his weight andsmoothed the sheet with strong, capable hinds. "You want to know aboutwhat happened to the machine monsters?"
"Well, you remember when they found us, and shot the green ray at us.They left you there--I thought you were dead--and carried me up hereon the hill. Perhaps they wanted me for a laboratory subject to testthe green ray on, or something of the kind. Anyhow, they carried meinto a big shed filled with strange machines.
"They kept me there until that night. Then, all of a sudden, theyall--stopped! They froze! They were dead!
"The tentacles of the one that was holding me were set about me. But Iworked free, and got out of the shed. It took all night. And when Icame out, just at sunrise, I saw that the purple fire was gone fromthe great ring. The needle was knocked down, and the apparatussmashed.
"I found you there in the wreckage. You made a human bullet ofyourself to smash it! The greatest thing a man ever did!"
* * * * *
Though normally rather modest, Dan felt a glow of pride at the honestadmiration ringing in her clear voice, and shining from her warm browneyes.
"So I gathered up what was left of you," she went on, "and tried toput you back together again. A good many bones were broken, and youhad more cuts and bruises than I could mention; but the apparatus hadbroken the force of the fall, and you were still alive. You areremarkably well put together, I should say; and unusually lucky, aswell!
"And, well, the machines and apparatus are scattered about all overthe island. Every one of them stopped the instant you smashed theconnection with the directing intelligence on Mars. There'll be quitea stir in the scientific world, I imagine, in about three weeks, whenthe yacht comes and carries us back with a lot of plans and specimens.We must send about a thousand engineers back here to study what weleave behind us.
"And do you want anything else?" She bent over and watched hisbandaged face. Looking up into her bright eyes, thrilling to the cool,comforting pressure of her hand on his forehead, Dan reflected. Thenhe winked.
"Something you want me to do?"
"When? Right now?"
"After the yacht comes."
"What is it?" She looked him in the eye, blushed a little, andlaughed.
Astounding Stories, July, 1931 by Various / Science Fiction have rating 3.4 out of 5 / Based on17 votes