Astounding Stories of Super-Science July 1931, by Astounding Stories is part of HackerNoon’s Book Blog Post series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. VOL. VII, No. 1 – The Slave Ship From Space
"The slaves!" gasped Jim, and involuntarily backed into the room.
The Slave Ship From Space
By A. R. Holmes
Twice that night the two young men had seen the thing, and their hour for turning in had long since passed as they lay half reclining on the ground by their campfire waiting, hoping that it would return once more. Their interest in the strange visitant had completely banished all sensations of fatigue from a full day of vacation fishing in the cold Adirondack streams among which they were camping for that month.
They had discussed the appearance until there was nothing more they could say; and now as for the last hour, they watched in silence, only moving to knock the dottle from their pipes and to get fresh lights off the splinters they stuck into their slumbering fire. The velvet night was now at full reign, and the myriad stars in their familiar patterns leaned close—brilliant jewels for man to share but never pluck.
Jim Wilson had seen the thing first—a pinpoint of cherry red that moved upward in a perfect arc against the brilliant white constellations of the east. As it rose, it grew perceptibly larger, to dwindle again as it arced over the western horizon.
Nearly an hour later it had appeared again; but this time, when halfway up the skies, it had changed its direction until it was heading directly over the spot where the two thrilled campers were watching; and as it approached they saw its color fade slowly until it had disappeared completely from sight among the inky patches between the stars overhead. For minutes the two were not able to locate it—until Jim, once again, had pointed to a faint red spot that grew in color and intensity as it drew away from the zenith. Once again it had disappeared over the rim of the western world—and from then on there was no thought of sleep in the minds of Jim Wilson and Clee Partridge. They were watching the skies, hoping it would return.
"What was the thing?" Jim Wilson exclaimed suddenly with exasperation. "I've been racking my brain, Clee, but nothing I can think of makes sense. It couldn't have been a plane, and it couldn't have been a meteor. And if it was a fire-fly—well, then I'm one too." He paused, and looked at the other. "Any new suggestions?" he asked.
"Me—I still think it was a space ship from Mars or Venus," Clee Partridge answered drily; "searching for a couple of good Earth-men to help 'em out of some jam. You noticed the way it disappeared for a moment when it was overhead: it was looking us over."
"Then it'll be back," answered Jim, not to be outdone, "for it's not apt to find anyone better qualified. I, myself, would kinda like to take a joy-ride out through the Great Dipper."
Clee smiled and looked down at the luminous dial of his wrist watch. The two resumed their vigil, and there was quietness between them. For some time they lost themselves in the sparkling glory of the firmament, hardly moving, except to pull closer the collars of their flannel shirts against the increasing coldness of the mountain air.
And then for the third time that night the mysterious sky traveler sprang over the trees on the eastern horizon. Suddenly it appeared; both men saw it at once; and this time it made a clear, beautiful arc straight for the zenith. As it raised, it grew in size, a beautiful, delicate cherry star spanning the whole welkin. The two men got to their knees and watched it, breathless with fascination.
"Look!" cried Jim suddenly.
As had happened on its second appearance, the thing began to slow up and its color gradually faded as it drew directly overhead. By the time it should have reached the zenith it could no longer be seen. It had dissolved against the inky spaces above.
"It should come into view again in a moment," Clee said; "a little farther on, like the other time."
They watched, thrilled by the mystery of the midnight phenomenon. Minutes passed, but still it did not appear. Clee grew restive, and as his eyes chanced on his wrist watch he started violently and held out his arm for Jim to see. The radium-painted hands and dial were glowing with unusual brilliance.
Looking quickly into the skies again, Clee sensed something wrong; something different. For a moment he could not figure out what—and then it came to him. One of the great stars, one that he had been watching in its climb up the sky through the night, had disappeared!
He got excitedly to his feet, grabbed his companion's arm and pointed out this strange thing—and as he pointed another star blinked out and did not reappear.
"Something's happening up there," Jim said soberly. "I don't know what; but I, for one, don't feel quite comfortable."
He kept peering at the place pointed out, at a spot of black even darker than the inky sky; or did he only imagine it was darker? he asked himself. Soon the spot enlarged; became a distinct patch; then, growing still, obliterated one star after another around its borders. It made a pure circle; and before long the starlight glinting off its sides showed it to be a great, tinted sphere.
Swiftly it dropped down on the two men, and they watched it hypnotized, incapable of moving. It was only a hundred yards overhead when some presence of mind returned to Clee.
"Run, Jim!" he yelled, moving away. "It's coming straight down!"
Wilson came out of his daze and the two sprinted wildly for the path that led down the spur on which their camp was located. They had not made more than fifty yards when they heard a dull thud, and, turning, saw the great sphere resting on the ground with a slight rocking motion that quickly ceased.
A gully cut into the trail ahead, and when they reached it Clee grabbed his partner's arm and pulled him off to one side, where, panting with their sudden exertion, they wormed up to the brow and peeped over at their strange visitor.
The sphere stood in the starlight on the very spot they had been occupying when they first saw it. Right in their campfire it lay—a great, dark-red crystal shape perhaps fifty feet in diameter, whose surface sparkled with innumerable facets. It rested quietly on the ground, as if oblivious of the two routed men breathlessly watching it from a short distance. No ports or variations of any kind were visible to mar its star-reflecting sides.
"It must be some new kind of dirigible!" murmured Jim; "but why did it go and pick on us for its midnight call!"
"It's a space ship from Mars," answered Clee with a serious face. "They heard you, and're coming to take you for your ride. See?" he added quickly, pointing.
A large door was opening in the side of the sphere, and the illumination within threw a bright beam of amber-colored light in their direction. A metallic ramp slid out and angled down to the ground.
Breathlessly the two men waited to see who would emerge, but a long time went by without their catching the slightest sign of life within. The face of Clee's wrist watch was fluorescing brilliantly now, and moment by moment the weird glow was increasing. Jim stirred nervously.
"I don't mind telling you, I'm scared," he said.
"Aw, they won't make you walk back," consoled Clee; but he was scared himself. Why didn't something happen? Why didn't someone come out of the ship?
Jim thought he heard a noise, and touched Clee on the shoulder, pointing to a place on the trail down which they had come a few minutes before. Clee looked, and as he did so the hair on the back of his neck stood up. For the bushes along the side of the path were moving as if they were being brushed aside by someone in passing—someone making a straight line to the spot where they lay concealed. And no one was there!
"Can they be invisible?" breathed Jim, every pore in his body prickling.
For a moment the two men could hardly breathe, so great was their unnamed fear. During that time no other movements could be noted. Then Clee suddenly pointed to a bush only five yards away. Half a dozen leaf-tipped branches were bending slowly in their direction—and then a sharp crack, as of a broken twig, came to them from the same spot.
Panic, blind and unreasoning, swept them. "Run!" gasped Jim; and together, instinctively, they turned and scrambled down the side of the ridge to get away, anywhere, far from the approaching menace of they knew not what. Reckless of possible injury, they slid and stumbled down the brush-covered slope—and right behind them came sudden crashing sounds of pursuit.
New fears lent wings to their flight, but the sounds behind continued inexorably at their heels no matter how fast they ran or how lucky they were in making past obstacles. Their pursuer was as fast as they. They had no idea who—or what—it might be, for in the brief glances they snatched over their shoulders they could not see anything at all!
The going was bad, and the two campers had not gone more than a quarter-mile when they were breathing hard, and felt that they could not make one more step without collapsing on the ground to give their laboring lungs a chance to catch up. Panting like dogs they dragged themselves along through pine and birch trees, around large rocks and over briar-covered hills, only a few steps ahead of their pursuer.
Then Partridge, a little in the lead as they made their way up a steep slope, heard Jim suddenly go sprawling; heard him gasp:
"It's got me!"
Turning, he saw his partner rolling and threshing violently on the ground, and now and then lashing out at the empty air with his fists. Without a moment's hesitation he jumped from his position above—jumped square and hard into the space which Jim's invisible assailant should be occupying. With a great thud he crashed into some unseen body in the air, and went down, the breath knocked out of him. As he got to his knees an odor like that of cloves came to his nostrils, and something caught him around the neck and began constricting. Frantically he tried to tear himself loose, but the harder he struggled the more strangling became the grip on his neck; and at last, faint from the growing odor and the lack of air, his efforts dwindled into a spasmodic tightening and relaxing of the muscles.
Then, for a moment, the hold on his neck must have loosened, for he found himself able to breathe a little. Turning, he saw Jim at his side, apparently similarly held.
"If I could only—see it!" Clee managed to get out. Jim's spasmodic, bitter answer came a moment later.
"Being invisible—tremendous advantage!" he gasped.
In desperation the two men again began to fight against the clutches that were holding them, and this time the grip about their necks unexpectedly loosened—to bring to their noses the odor of cloves overpowering in strength. And that was all they knew before they lapsed into a black and bottomless void….
Through the lifting haze of returning consciousness Clee felt a command to get up. As he automatically complied he saw that Jim was doing likewise. Once on his feet he felt another impulse to go to the cherry-crystal sphere, visible in the distance; but his legs were weak, and neither he nor Jim could walk very well until out of the nothingness around them came something of invisible bulk to lend them support.
Slowly, carefully, straight for the waiting globe the two men were conducted; and in his state of half-consciousness Clee wondered at the impotence of his will to make his body offer resistance. They passed right by their tent and up the ramp to the inside of the strange sphere.
Clee's impressions were blurred and dull, but he noticed that they were in a small room brilliant with amber light, on one wall of which there was a circular area which contained a dozen or more instruments and levers and wheels. As his eyes rested on them, one of the levers moved, seemingly of itself, and the ramp came sliding into the ship and the thick door slowly swung closed. Then they were conducted along a short, narrow passageway into which opened, on the right, a small dim room; and there the grip about their bodies loosened and they slumped to the floor. The door whereby they had entered, closed.
A faint vibration became noticeable; they suddenly felt very heavy; and to the accompaniment of a low but rising hum they saw one wall of their room begin to glow with a beautiful cherry color. Although they had been too stupefied to try to speak, this spurred their tired bodies, and they dragged themselves over to it. They found the wall to be of some kind of hard crystal; it was the outer shell of the sphere; and it now gleamed redly transparent.
Far out and down the men saw a great convex surface on which lay narrow ribbons of silver, winding veinlike through dark areas that were in some places lit by little clusters of twinkling lights. As they watched, the distances on the surface shrank in on themselves; they could see the outline of a great circle. The sight stimulated the exhausted men. In a hushed and awestruck voice, Jim Wilson broke the silence.
"We've been kidnaped," he said. "Being taken God knows where, out among the stars…."
He was getting the sky-ride he had asked for.
Clee smiled faintly, and was going to remind him of this; but he was too tired to make the effort. He only looked at the tremendous scene below: at the Earth they knew so well, with its familiar streets, comfortable fireplaces, the faces of those they loved and those others who were their friends….
The Earth soon became a ball—a globe such as he had used at school, showing clearly the outline of the continents and oceans. And little by little it dwindled, until it was only a ghostly shape far out in nothingness….
A little later, had the two Earthlings not been deep in sleep, they might have seen enter a strange-looking man clad in odd garments—a man whose great, bulging head was quite bald, and whose wrinkled, leprous-white face wore an expression of unutterable wisdom and majesty. In his hands he carried a strange piece of apparatus which he held to Jim's wrist while it emitted a coarse vibratory hum that whined slowly up in pitch until it passed the range of hearing. He did the same thing to Clee, and then he quietly left.
But the two Earthlings knew nothing of this. Limp on the floor, oblivious to everything, they slept….
Some hours later found the kidnapped men well recovered and sitting on the floor of their cell talking over their situation. As usual, Wilson was thinking out loud.
"What can they be?—or who?" he asked, frowning with his thought. "They can't be from Earth, for no one there could invent such a ship as this and keep it a secret; and even if someone had, he could never have done the equally astounding thing of inventing a way to render living bodies invisible. I doubt if the thing that caught us was human, by what I was able to feel in my short struggle with it. There was something that might have been a hand; but the strength and the weight of its body was enormous!"
"Well, we'll probably soon see," commented Clee with philosophic resignation and pulling out of a hip pocket a package of tobacco and his corn-cob pipe. "Or, rather, we may soon know. Our captors may keep themselves invisible; and of course it's barely possible that it's their natural state to be invisible, so that we may never hope to see them. What I'm chiefly afraid of, is that they are from some other planet, and that that's where we are being taken—though heaven knows what any creatures so infinitely far ahead of us Earthlings scientifically could want with a pair of young Earth lawyers!"
He offered the package to Jim. "Here, have a smoke; you'll feel better," he said. "While there's tobacco there's hope."
"At least they don't seem disposed to kill us right off," returned Jim, handing back the tobacco after lighting his own pipe. "Later—if there's to be any 'later' for us—we may be able to find a way to get out of this room; though how we'd run the ship, to get back home, is another hard brick wall…. Maybe the controls are invisible, too!" he suggested with a wry grin. "Ever take any pre-law courses on how to work the invisible controls of a space ship?"
Clee's reply was spoken low, and was entirely irrelevant.
"That's funny," he said.
He was looking at the face of the watch on his left wrist. For the first time since they had been abducted, its abnormal brightness had left it.
As Jim watched, inquiringly, Clee moved his right hand a little, and once more the dial leaped out through the dimness with unnatural brilliance. Jim saw that his friend was holding in this hand the package of tobacco. Clee repeated the demonstration.
"The dial glows with unusual brightness always—except when I hold the package of tobacco in front of it at this spot," he said wonderingly, half to himself. "If I remember my science right, ultra-violet light would make the radium on the dial glow; and the lead in the tin-foil of the tobacco wrapping would screen it off. Let's see—"
He crossed to the other side of the room and held his watch and the package of tobacco in various positions until he again found one line along which the watch-dial gave off only its customary light.
"Yes," he said, "—exactly in the extended line made by my watch and this package of tobacco is the source of the ray which makes the watch-dial glow. It's probably the control room of this ship."
"An extraordinary deduction, my dear Sherlock," commented Wilson drily; "and valuable. I wish you'd now take a moment and deduce the reason for the mysterious appearance of the lumps on the back of our necks. I know I didn't have mine before I was taken for this sky-ride."
As he spoke, his hand sought the back of his neck where there was a fat lump about the size of a quarter—a lump not painful, for all its newness and size. Hard pushing with probing fingers had revealed something that seemed to be hard and flat, buried within; but close examinations failed to show any wound or scar, and the men had no notion what the lumps might be. Clee's was just like Jim's.
But Clee did not respond to his friend's invitation. A heavy mood had come over him; he was standing by the outer wall, looking out. Jim went and stood beside him, his hand on his shoulder, and together they gazed through the cherry-crystal wall of their prison ship out on the loneliness of the immeasurable miles outside. For them, space was red, instead of the deep black they knew they would see through colorless glass. Brilliant pinpoints of light, millions of them, in all sizes, made up the infinite space that was the background of their adventure.
To which one—near which one were they going? Would they ever return to their Earth again? Would their friends ever know of the incredible adventure that had overtaken them?—or would they, after the few weeks of searching and inquiry that must follow their disappearance, at last conclude that some nameless mountain disaster had made them victims, and give them up for dead? No doubt. And month after succeeding month their memory would fade from the minds of those who had loved them, while they would be—where?…
A peculiar, dynamic thought came simultaneously into the minds of the two men. It was not a word: it seemed more like a feeling; but its unquestionable import was "Come." Together they rose, and looked at each other wonderingly. Again came the feeling. They started for the door.
"But that's foolish!" Jim said aloud, as if objecting to his own thought. "The door's locked! We tried it!" He looked at Partridge, who returned his gaze blankly—and then, in spite of what he had said, he reached out and turned the latch.
The door swung open!
Expressions of surprise died on the men's lips as again came the compelling urge to go to some unknown destination.
"Suggestion!" said Clee, as he passed through the doorway. "Someone's suggesting—telepathically willing—that we come to him! And I—God help me—I can't resist!"
His neck corded with veins and muscles with his effort to restrain his body from obeying the mysterious command that was drawing it onward. Wilson, one arm outstretched in a repelling gesture, his legs stiff and tight, was also trying to resist. But the will that had sounded within them was stronger than theirs, and slowly, inevitably, they were drawn down the passage.
Their carpeted way took them back to the entrance chamber and then up a steeply sloping corridor that led upward to the left. As they passed along they saw that the hand of a master had made on the walls, in panel effect, marvelously complicated decorations in many-colored mosaic. No man of Earth could ever have done such work, the two men realized—and this thought did not cheer them any.
At the top of their curving passage a doorway led them into a spacious room hung with soft, finely woven tapestries with a metallic lustre and furnished with deep-napped rugs and luxurious chairs and divans. Through this room the intangible threads of the alien will directed them—on into a wide-vaulted alcove about one-third its size. There, the strange clutch on them relaxed, and they looked about, at first apprehensively, then with growing boldness and curiosity.
"This is the control room!" exclaimed Clee suddenly; and after a moment Jim agreed with him. It was the simplicity of the controls which had prevented them from recognizing it at first. Against the left wall was a great table with a tilted top, bearing, in its center, a raised and hooded eyepiece giving a view into a large, enclosed black box. On each side were several rows of small, shiny, metallic levers and what they took to be instrument dials—round, cup-shaped depressions with pointers free to move across dials lined with disorderly and meaningless convolutions. For the full length of the middle wall, straight ahead, was a broad table of some jet-black polished material, and on it was a large array of instruments and apparatus, all unfamiliar to them. Against the draperies of the wall to their right was one large cushioned chair, simple and beautiful in its lines.
No living person or thing could be discerned in either the main room or the alcove.
For several minutes the two men walked all about, examining everything they saw with curiosity and interest; and then Clee discovered a peculiar thing. His watch-dial, glowing very brightly now, would perceptibly increase in brilliance every time he neared the great chair. With sudden inspiration he took out his package of tobacco and held it in the line his watch made with the chair—and he found that his watch stopped glowing. He tried it again from another angle, and the result was the same. From that chair came the electrical disturbance that was making his watch-dial glow—yet nowhere near the chair was any bit of electrical apparatus to be seen.
What he did see in the chair, though, almost caused his heart to stop beating. The cushions of the seat, compressed before, began to puff out to full volume, as if someone had just risen from them. And then, faintly but sharply outlined in the long-napped rug in front, appeared the print of a human shoe!
"A man!" breathed Clee. "A human being!"
The two men stood frozen in their tracks. Clee's arm, with the package of tobacco in his hand, was still outstretched toward the great chair, but now the dial of his watch was glowing brightly again. Something within caused him in spite of his terror to move the package between the watch and the space above the footprint on the rug. The glowing stopped. The man—devil—whatever it was that made the print—was the source of the strange excitation!
This took but a second—the interval before another shoe-print formed in the rug in their direction. Jim gasped something unintelligible and started to back away; but no sooner did Partridge start to follow suit, than a compulsion to stand still came over them. Caught where they were, unable to move, they saw the shoe-prints come towards them. Slowly, step by step, twelve inches apart, they came, and did not stop until they were only four or five feet away.
"We'll jump him, if we get the chance!" hissed Jim, never taking his eyes off the prints.
"Yes," came the answer; but Clee's further words were cut off in the making by an added compulsion to keep quiet. Were their words understood? The two men were locked, speechless, where they stood. And by some creature with a human footprint whom they could not see!
The touch of firm flesh came out of the nothingness of space about them, to poke and pry all over their bodies. Anger began to take the place of their fear, as, for some time, impotent of resistance, they had to submit to the examination given them. They were prodded and felt like dogs at a show; their breathing and heart action were carefully listened to; their mouths were opened and their teeth inspected as if they were horses offered for sale. Both men were inwardly fuming.
"Dogs!" shouted Clee in his thoughts. "Treating us like dogs, to see how healthy we are! Does he want us for slaves?"
At last the examination came to a stop, and they saw the shoe-prints in the rug go over to the black table and remain there, heels toward them, while various pieces of apparatus were invisibly moved across the table top. For a moment the compelling will did not seem, to Clee, to be constraining him as much is it had, and he began to wonder if he might not have a little control over his body again. Tentatively he tried to break through the oppressing blanket of foreign will; his arms and legs moved a little; he succeeded! He caught Jim's eye and showed him. He thrilled all over at his discovery, and his will to move measurably increased with his growing confidence that he could.
The toes of the prints were still turned away. He was going to try and get the man or monster who was making them.
He gestured to Jim, and with a great effort took a step in the invisible man's direction. A thrill of gladness helped him on—for Jim was following suit!
Again and again, with greatest mental effort, they made steps toward the footprints, which, remaining side by side and motionless, gave them increasing hope of stealing up unobserved. When they were only three feet away Clee motioned to Jim, and with a tremendous effort of will they jumped at the space where their enemy should be.
They hit him hard, and bore him heavily to the floor. By the feel, he was a man such as they! Clee's blood leaped with the lust for revenge, and blanking his mind against strong urges to cease his attack he rained savage blows at the place he was holding.
But almost at once they had evidence that their opponent was not such a man as they. A terrific pain stabbed suddenly through them, and they doubled up on the floor, writhing in agony. It was as if every nerve in their bodies had turned into white-hot wire, and was searing through their flesh. Again and again came the terrible stabs of pain—and their source seemed to be the mysterious lumps at the back of their necks!
At last they ceased coming, and Jim and Clee stretched out on the floor all but unconscious from the terrific shocks of fiery agony. They were completely helpless; further thoughts of resistance were unthinkable. But they were not left lying long. There came a telepathic compulsion to stand up; and they found themselves obeying, in spite of the shrieking protest of their every nerve.
Twitching, stumbling, they were made to do servile things—to kneel on the floor; get up again; turn round and round; bow low, then stretch backwards. And out of the air around them came shocking blows which landed on their faces, necks and chests; feet which kicked out at their shins; and they had to stand there and take it, helpless to resist.
Then Clee, as the nearer of the two men, was pushed over to the work-table, where an oval head-piece of finely-woven wire was fitted over his head. Another very large one, standing next to it, and connected to it by wires which led to a small instrument panel nearby, lifted into the air until it must have settled about the head of their persecutor. A dial on the panel turned slowly. And gradually the helmet resting in the air dissolved into nothingness before their eyes.
A slight nausea swept over Clee as it did so, and in the midst of it he felt a series of sharp, staccato thoughts—thoughts which did not seem to be composed of words, and yet were clear and intelligible.
"Fool of a fool!" crackled in his brain with almost a physical effort, "do you think to resist Xantra? Do you think with your sub-human minds to overcome one of the Tillas, Masters of the Universe? Close you were to death—and death indeed would have come had I not other plans for you.
"Know that henceforth you and your companion are my slaves. You will jump at my slightest will; serve me as best you can with such intelligence as you may possess. For faithful, willing service you shall have food and clothing and a portion of leisure. Disobedience and tardiness will bring you the pain you have already tasted; revolt, or the attempt to escape—death; but only after torture such as you have never known.
"I shall never repeat this mode of communication: it is as physically nauseating to me as to you. And you may never expect to see me, though I can always see you. By vibrational means I have given you the universal atomic rhythm of all Tillian slaves; and, although in that state your fellow-slaves will be visible to you, I, your master, will not!
"You will now return to your place of confinement. After you have recovered you will be taken in hand by your fellow-slaves and shown your duties. And if your instinct for self-preservation is only one-tenth normal, you will never again be such a stupid sub-animal fool as to attempt to resist Xantra—to fly in the face of the inevitable!"
The sharp, staccato voice in Clee's brain stopped; his nausea began to leave him; his helmet was removed; and had he been looking he might have seen the other one slowly materialize on the table. The ordeal was over just in time, for the last remnants of his strength was giving out—as was Jim's. The two Earth-men slumped down, and would have fallen but for the telepathic will, stronger than theirs, that forced them erect again. There came a very strong compulsion to return to their cell, and bruised, stumbling, their nerves still afire from their strange stabbing pains, they made their way back.
They fell to the floor and passed into unconsciousness—beaten, subdued. Slaves….
After a long blank interval a distinct thought crossed Clee's mind. He was in heaven, and an angel voice had spoken. There it was again! Cool hands were stroking his wrists and forehead. He opened his eyes and looked, but seeing no one closed them again.
The Voice returned, and two of the words which kept repeating were somehow familiar. "So sorry … so sorry…." The Voice was low and cool and feminine. And someone was bathing his battered head…. He rolled over and got up on one elbow. He still could see no one.
The Voice said: "Oh, I'm so glad you're better! I thought you'd never come to!"
Mechanically Clee asked: "Who are you?"
"Vivian Gray," came the quick answer; "from Boston. And you?"
Clee did not answer, but started to lie back again. Things were all wrong: he couldn't even see anyone. He'd go back to sleep, and wake up some other time. But the Voice wouldn't let him.
"Oh, you must listen!" it said. "I haven't much time!"
"Why—right here!" came the surprised answer. "Can't you see me?"
"No," answered Clee, still not himself. He added categorically: "I can see Jim. I can see the door. I can see my hands, but I can't see you."
"Oh, then it must be true! Xantra told me he was going to make you one of his common slaves; but I hoped—I hoped—"
This didn't mean much to Clee; but with the words came memory of all that had happened, and with sudden concern he crept over to where Jim was lying, to see how he was. He found him blinking and stirring, aroused by the voices. Quickly he explained the invisible presence to him, warning him to be on guard.
"Oh, but I'm a friend—Vivian Gray—kidnapped from Earth just like you!" came quick explanation out of the air. "Xantra stole me from Cape Cod, where I was vacationing, about the time he took you. Xantra is the one whose space ship we are on. He looks much like a man; he is some kind of a man; but he's not from Earth—"
"You've seen him?" interrupted Clee, beginning to believe the Voice a little.
"Yes," came the instant response; "not when he abducted me—he had made himself invisible for that—but always after. Haven't you yet?" And then, without waiting for his answer, she gave it herself. "But of course you couldn't see him if he's already given you the universal atomic rhythm the slaves have. You'd then be able to see only each other, and the other slaves; not Xantra and not me.
"I think he makes his slaves that way for protection," she explained. "They can't very well plot or rebel against him when they can't even see him, and never know but what he's around."
"Who are these slaves you keep mentioning?" Jim broke in. "How many of them are there on this ship: and how many like Xantra?"
"Xantra is the only one of his kind," came the answer. "The slaves are a race of inferior people found on his planet—wherever that is: I couldn't understand, from his explanation, just where. They are creatures much like ugly human beings with a touch of the ape, and are entirely bald, very strong and not very intelligent. There're seven or eight on board. Normally they are good-natured: but sometimes when they have a hard master, like Xantra, they take to hating him; and when they do that they can be very fierce and treacherous. That's the main reason for Xantra's stopping at Earth: to see what kind of slaves we humans will make. He is hoping that we will be more intelligent than those he has—and more docile, and safer to have around."
"Well," snorted Jim belligerently, "if Mr. Xantra thinks that I'm going to be safe to have around, he's a lot dumber than I am!"
"Oh, it's good to hear you talk that way," the girl's voice went on. "We three have got to stick together, and find some way to escape!
"I've so much to say!" she went on; "but I daren't stay long, for fear of getting caught. What you said is where my chief hope lies: Xantra doesn't realize how intelligent we are, and how dangerous; and we mustn't let him know! I think he believes we are much like his present slaves: he gets away with murder with them. You've noticed the lumps on the back of your necks? Well, they have them, too; it's something that's attached to the spinal cord and gives him telepathic control over them; also the power to hurt them dreadfully—as you've unfortunately found out. His slaves don't understand these lumps; they don't seem to know that he would lose control if they could only in some way get rid of the things in their necks!"
For the first time since the girl started talking, Clee spoke. His voice was low and grave, and there was a tinge of suspicion in it.
"Just how does it happen," he asked, "that you know so much about things here?"
The girl's voice broke as she gave her answer.
"I'm ashamed to tell you," she said. "Xantra—he—he admires me as a healthy animal; one close, in species, to himself. He thinks by being nice to me that he might be able to make me a willing companion to share his trip!" For a moment the girl was silent; and when she spoke again there was a hard note in her voice.
"I let him have hopes," she said, "—deliberately. I planned to make him trust me, and give me the run of the ship, so I could find out all I could. So far—before you came—I saw no slightest hope of ever escaping back to Earth; but I had at least to look for a quick, sure way to death, in case—in case—"
"You—and us too!" exclaimed Clee impulsively. "No Earth-man—no American, at least—is ever going to submit to slavery. If the worst comes to the worst, we'll at least die together, Vivian!"
Jim added soberly: "And perhaps, if we do, no one from Xantra's planet will ever again come to Earth looking for 'docile' slaves…."
For a moment everyone was silent, affected by the thought behind what they had said. Then the girl's voice suggested, with a touch of Earth formality that was almost ludicrous under the circumstances: "But you two men have not yet introduced yourselves!"
Both Clee and Jim smiled, and told her their names, and in the slight pause that followed Clee said awkwardly, almost shyly: "Miss Gray, we don't know what's in store for us here, and it—it's possible that we may never know each other any better: so would you—I mean, I wonder would you mind if I reached out and touched you. In spite of all we have said. I—I can hardly realize that you are there, somewhere, before me."
Out of the nothingness came an impulsive soft hand that closed over his. There was both a smile and something deeper in Vivian's voice as she said, "Here," and raised his hand until it touched her brow and the thick smooth hair of her head. Then she placed it a little lower, over her face; and gently Clee's fingers told him what his eyes could not read.
"In case you never see me—why, I—I'd like you to know that I'm really, not bad looking," she said; and Clee knew she was blushing as he smiled at the eternal feminine in her.
But the smile suddenly left his face. His hand had felt her give a distinct start. Then—
"He's calling!" she gasped faintly. "Xantra's calling for me to come to him!" Her voice, as she spoke, moved, and Clee knew she was going towards the door.
"No!" he cried impulsively. "Don't risk it! Stay here, and we'll begin our fight against him right now!"
"I will be safe," came Vivian's reassuring voice from the door. "I can manage him a while yet." Her further words came with a rush. "But I wanted to tell you—I had a faint plan. If I could get hold of the anaesthetic—the vial of stuff that smells like cloves—"
The door was closing now, and the two men knew she was moving down the corridor. They listened in vain for her to complete what she had been saying. Just before the door clicked shut, Jim jammed his foot in it, preventing it from closing.
"Gee, that girl has courage!" Clee murmured.
For a moment the two men looked at each other. Jim was thinking about the opened door, and the chance they had to get out. But Clee's mind was on something else.
"Well, Jim," he said, "you and I have a nasty job ahead."
Jim looked at Clee wonderingly as he took out his pipe and stuck it in the crack of the door, allowing him to remove his foot. Clee explained to him what Xantra had told him with the thought-sending helmets; reminded him of what they had learned from Vivian about the lumps on their necks. After he had finished he said quietly but decisively:
"Now, we're going to try and remove whatever is under these lumps. Have you got anything sharp? Your knife? Something with an edge on it?"
It would mean escape from the domination of Xantra's will!—from his terrible stabbing punishment!—if they could remove them! Jim breathed a little quicker in his excitement.
"But once we do it—if we can do it—it'll mean that we'll have to make our break to escape right away," he reminded Clee. "We'll be caught if Xantra wills us to come to him and we don't appear!"
"You know what will happen to Vivian if we delay the attempt." Clee reminded him levelly: and Jim knew that Clee was right—that their break for freedom must start right then and there….
He looked through his pockets and produced some cigarettes, matches, a pipe, a nailfile and some utterly useless odds and ends. Clee's hands came out of his pockets empty. "I've got nothing at all," he said—and picked up the nailfile and looked at it questioningly. "We'll have to use this, I guess…. Well, I'm first."
He lay face down on the floor and loosened his collar. Quietly, he made several suggestions. "Light a match and heat the tip in the flame," he said. "The point's pretty dull, but cut as deep and quick and clean as you can. If I yell, pay no attention; I'll try to hold still. Unless it bleeds very much, best not make a bandage; we've nothing clean enough."
That was all he said; and Jim, his heart beating like mad, and a lump in his throat, could find no words at all. He sterilized the tip of the file as directed, studied the lump a moment, then, after a rough, affectionate shake of his friend's shoulder, he knelt close to his task. One quick hard cut; a sharp gasp from Clee; a repetition; then two more times crossways—and a firm, spongelike metallic disc lay revealed. Then the worst—raising it a little, and breaking the several fine wires that led from it through the flesh within….
Clee lay panting, the sweat running down the deep wrinkles of pain on his face. Dark blood oozed from the jagged wound. But he smiled a little, and some of the pain-wrinkles in his face smoothed away, when Jim showed him the disk….
For a short time Clee rested, quieting his nerves, while Jim staunched the flow of blood.
And then it was Jim's turn; and he bore the sharp agony as stoically as Clee….
It was perhaps a strange thing; but at this great moment in the lives of the two men they felt no need to talk. For the few minutes they rested after they had done, no word was spoken; but in that time a bond of friendship was formed that only death could ever break….
They did not rest long. Every moment brought them nearer to the inevitable discovery of what they had done. Their muscles were still quivering, the wounds on their necks still slowly bleeding, when Clee rose and aroused Jim. The most dangerous, desperate part of their wild revolt lay just ahead.
They were able to make but the vaguest of plans, not knowing what to anticipate outside. They only knew that they would first have to strike boldly for possession of the control alcove—which, without doubt meant they would have, somehow, to kill Xantra—to find and kill a man they could not see, yet who could see them. An enormous task. And only the first of several.
For a moment, realizing this, they hesitated at the door. But the die had been cast; there was nothing for them to do but go forward—and quickly; so, giving Jim a final warning that they must stick together, Clee opened wide the door and stepped out into the corridor.
What he saw there halted, him in his tracks.
"The slaves!" gasped Jim, and involuntarily both Earth-men backed into the room again. The creatures they had seen at once followed them inside.
There were four of them. As tall as men, they were, and the general cast of their bodies was identical. But they were different in shocking little details. Their heads were much larger, and in the shape of inverted pears, like those of hydrocephalics; their eyes, popped and dull. The thin lips beneath their stubs of noses were ever writhing and twisting in horrible grimaces. And, worst, their skins were sickly-white, and were absolutely bald of hair. The only clothes they wore were loin-cloths and very large sandals, which exposed to full view their chunky, muscular bodies.
All this the two men took in at a glance. They knew they could never hope to cope, unarmed, with four such creatures as these, so they stood with their backs to the wall, alertly awaiting their first move.
"Easy," warned Clee. "They're probably only coming to take us in hand, as Vivian said."
The nearest of the slaves stepped a little closer to the two men, and by the twitching of its eyelids and the increased mouthings of its lips it was apparent that the creature was highly excited. A high, variable moaning sound came from its throat. Curiously, boldly, it looked Clee all over—and then it did an amazing thing. Seeing the blood on the back of his neck, it swung him around, put its writhing lips to the still-bleeding wound and dog-like licked it clean.
The gesture was altogether a friendly one.
Another of the slaves of Xantra went up and did the same to Jim, and the two men looked at each other with relief. This meant that the removal of the disks had not been understood by the creatures!
It was with growing hope that they allowed themselves to be conducted from their cell, through the sloping corridor into a doorway they had passed coming in, and down a curving flight of steps into a large room below. They were in the space at the very bottom of the ship, for, through the redly-glowing transparent walls that curved on each side and below, they could see the infinite deeps of star-filled space. Three other slaves were there, waiting for them. At the far side of the room their guide pointed to two small stalls, with a partition between, which they understood were to be their beds. They were across from a long row of similar ones.
"Making us right at home," commented Jim. "I wonder if they'll serve cakes and tea."
"Wish they would," added Clee; "I'm getting damned hungry. But we've got work to do—and we've got to do it quick!"
His eyes swept the room, looking among the sparse furnishings for something they might be able to use as a weapon. He saw nothing, but the sight of the lump on the neck of a nearby slave gave him an idea.
"I wonder if these slaves would fight for us if we removed the lumps from their necks," he said musingly, his eyes narrow. "I wish there were some way to talk to them…."
He looked from one to another of the animal-men making a circle about them, wondering what to do; then quickly he made his decision. "Jim, I'm going to try. It'll have to be done by signs; I've got to make them understand, and get their permission."
At once he raised his hand to get the slaves' attention; then, raising both fists high in the air, he shook them violently, at the same time gritting his teeth, working his face, and growling in animal anger at something overhead. He was trying to show the slaves his anger at Xantra, above.
The slaves fell away from him in surprise and alarm, not understanding what he was trying to put across. He continued his demonstration, hopping about furiously, but still without result. Then Jim cried out:
"Touch the place on your neck!"
Clee did so, and the result was startling. Quickly there ran around the circle throaty growls of anger, and every slave raised a hand to the lump on its neck. Evidently they had all felt the awful punishment-pain of their master.
Heartened by this, Clee extended his pantomime. Stopping his demonstration of anger, he put one finger on the wound on his neck and fell to the floor, writhing in simulated pain. As he lay there groaning, the easily aroused animal-men moaned with him in sympathy. Then Jim, inspired, stepped into the act. Taking out his nailfile, he bent over the prostrate Clee and pretended to cut into his neck, making a great show of removing something and throwing it away; and as he did so Clee jumped to his feet and grinned and hopped about the room in a wildly exaggerated affectation of joy and relief. Then he stopped his acting and carefully showed the slaves the wounds in his and Jim's necks, by finger movements doing his best to make it clear that they had removed something from there.
And then, taking no chances, he repeated the whole pantomime, Jim, at the proper place, acting his part as before.
When at last he stopped and looked around, he was over-joyed at his apparent success in putting across the idea. All over the room the animal-men were repeating his show in its various phases.
"Now I've got to take the disk out of one of them," said Clee, "and it's a mighty dangerous thing to attempt! You see how easily their emotions are aroused. If I hurt too much—!"
"I know," responded Jim, "but we've got to risk it, for if we succeed we've got a good bunch of tough fighters at our backs. We need every bit of help we can get!"
Carefully they made their few preparations, and Clee, again by acting, indicated to one of the animal-men what he wanted to do. He seemed to make himself well understood, for without hesitation the creature lay face down on the floor. The others all gathered around as Clee bent over it, and Jim scanned their faces closely for any sign of suspicion or resentment. Seeing none, he told Clee to start; then held his breath in awful suspense.
The disk appeared near the surface, and with a quick slice Clee made his first incision. With the cut, the prone slave bucked and snarled. Clee murmured soothing words to it in English, and, as the creature quieted down, made another cut. Again came the bucking and throaty protest; and this time, to Jim's dismay, he saw in the bestial faces of the animal-men around them a sympathetic swing of emotional protest. A little more, now; and Clee would be able to take the disk out; but would the slaves restrain themselves until then?
Again Clee allowed the brute body under him to calm down. Then, as he was about to cut once more, from somewhere above in the space ship came the piercing scream of a woman. Something was happening to Vivian.
Clee half started to rise, to run to her aid, but he forced himself to be reasonable. Weaponless, visible, he could never hope to rescue an invisible girl from someone he couldn't even see. He was on the point of making valuable allies; in just a few moments more—! He decided to hurry through with the job he had undertaken.
All below had heard the scream. The circle around him was shifting uncertainly, and peculiar sounds were coming out of the brutes' twisting mouths as he bent again over their fellow on the floor.
Clee's hand was trembling like an aspen leaf as he prepared to make the next incision. He was completely unnerved, and with the utmost efforts of his will he was unable to control the nailfile. And he had to hurry!
He sliced as straight as he could at the bleeding lump; the slave moved; and the point of the file slipped deep into the creature's flesh!
At that, with a snarling growl the brute below arched from the floor and flung Clee sprawling. From all around the circle came menacing growls as the bleeding animal-man lumbered to its feet and came after him in a definite attack. Jim, not at that moment the center of their attention, pushed one of the slaves in the way of the charging brute and the two of them half fell; and before they could recover their balance Clee was on his feet making after Jim to the steps that led up out of the room.
"Up!" came Jim's shout. "Fast! We've made them enemies!"
Above them on the stairs was descending another slave, innocent of what had transpired below, and the two men bowled it over in their haste to get past. All the way to the bottom of the stairs it tumbled; and that delayed pursuit for the moment needed by the Earth-men to gain the upper corridor. Quickly they darted through the door; there was no way they could lock or block it, so they had to run on. Taking to the left, they found themselves in the little entrance room, and from there their only course led up the corridor leading to Xantra's quarters and the control alcove.
Arrived there, the two men found the door ajar, but they paused irresolute before it, hardly daring to go in. They had no choice, however, for behind, only fifteen feet away, came the van of the animal-men. They pushed through the door, closed and bolted it, then, wheeling tigerishly, surveyed the room.
They saw no one.
They were not relieved at this. Xantra might well be there; he, as well as Vivian, would be invisible to them. And he had every opportunity of striking first; even then he might be preparing to deal with them, if he was in the room. The slaves were not attempting to break in the door to get them—and this was ominous: it argued that the master was there.
The two men stood motionless at the door, peering intently at the rug in search of telltale footprints. Then Clee touched Jim's shoulder and whispered faintly in his ear:
"Cloves! Smell it?"
Jim nodded. Slowly, on guard every second, they advanced to the alcove. They saw no sign of anyone there, though the odor of cloves was stronger. Jim grabbed a chair and held it ready, and Clee followed suit with a small, heavy tabouret. Cautiously, methodically, the two men began to reconnoitre the large room, examining foot by foot the rug in search of the faint clear prints that would reveal the presence of their enemy. The smell of cloves was beginning to dull their brains a little. Clee saw the danger in this, and whispered to Jim:
"Faster! Xantra may be insidiously anaesthetizing us! We've got to find where he is—quick!"
They hastened their search, feeling more and more sure that Xantra was close by. And not till then did Clee remember that he had a way to discover Xantra's location. Jim heard him curse under his breath; saw him put down the tabouret and take out his tobacco; and knew at once what he was about to do. He went close to Clee, to guard him with his chair against possible attack.
The face of Clee's wrist watch was glowing brightly; it took only a second to find with the package of tobacco a spot which cut the dial's unnatural glow. As they found it the skin on the two men's bodies prickled all over. The line from the dial to the package of tobacco, if continued, would reach a spot on the floor not six feet away. And looking carefully there they could barely make out, in the bent hairs of the rug, a broken outline that might have been made by a prone figure.
As they prepared to jump they heard from that place a low sigh—and just before them appeared the distinct print of a human hand. Xantra was rising! And coincident with this a sudden banging at the door told them that the slaves at last had started to break in!
As one man the two Earthlings leaped on Xantra; he would have to be taken care of first. When they had fastened on his rising body they punched and pounded it furiously. Though their enemy was undoubtedly only half conscious, the sudden attack aroused him and he resisted vigorously. But then Clee made a lucky connection on what he felt to be his jaw, and the invisible form in their arms went limp.
"Get a rope—wire—anything to bind him with—quick!" yelled Clee. "I'll hold him!"
The pounding at the door was increasing ominously is Jim dashed over to the work-table. Rapidly he looked for something suitable, and in a few seconds was back with a length of stout wire which they quickly wrapped around the ankles and wrists of the limp form Clee was holding. As the wire touched Xantra it gradually disappeared from their sight, but their fingers reassured them that he was tightly bound.
Then they were at the door, which, shivering and bending from the battering without, showed signs of giving in. With herculean efforts they dragged a heavy divan over and wedged it tightly against it; then added other furniture in a tight supporting pile. But the door, of some light metal, was not built to stand such a siege, and was buckling further inward with each blow being dealt it. More and more plainly the two men could hear the triumphant snarls and howls of the animal-men.
Frantically they ransacked the rooms looking for what they thought might be weapons, but found none. They looked at each other with dismay. It was only a question of time—minutes—before the slaves would break in. What could they do?
In that tense moment of indecision a low, weak voice reached their ears—a woman's voice, and one they remembered well.
"Vivian!" cried Clee, and ran to the alcove, from whence it had seemed to come. The girl's next words brought them understanding.
"Clee—Jim—it's Xantra! He's willing the slaves to break in! He's lying bound on the floor, but he's conscious!"
Clee ran to where he had left the invisible man, cursing himself under his breath for being an utter ass for not having guessed this. His groping fingers quickly found the squirming Xantra's neck; and he had begun to throttle him into unconsciousness when Vivian called out:
"No! Don't! That won't stop the slaves: they've already been given the order! We've got to make Xantra stop them! Here—drag him to the work-table! I've got something—"
Wondering what the girl was about, Clee relaxed his grip on the invisible man's neck and complied. But he suddenly understood—and Jim, too—when he saw coming through the air the pair of thought-sending helmets. He had a way of communicating with Xantra, of course! He saw the larger helmet lower to rest over the head he was still holding; then soft hands placed the other over his own.
As it settled down a great crash sounded in the other room: the door had given in. It was still held almost in place by the tightly-wedged furniture, but that would not hold the animal-men long.
"Hurry!" cried Jim. "I'll stand by the door!" And he was already on his way to it.
Clee saw the small panel on the table above; saw the knob on it turn. He caught Vivian's excited voice. "Tell him to order them to stop," she said; "or else—or else—"
"He dies!" finished Clee, viciously thumbing into the air where the invisible Xantra's neck was.
With all the intensity he could muster, Clee concentrated on one simple, strong thought. He hardly heard the triumphant cries of the slaves as they felt the blocking furniture give before their efforts; all his energy was being expended in the will to get his thought across.
"Tell those slaves to stop breaking in or you die!" he commanded.
The noises at the door continued. Either Xantra had not understood, or else he was stubborn. He repeated his command and threat, and still the crashing sounds came to his ears.
Desperate, he played his last card; and unconsciously his lips formed the words of his next mental command, so that it was understood by the breathlessly watching Vivian.
"Tell them to stop!" he willed. "No more air till you do!" And with the words his fingers closed tightly over the other's throat.
The sounds at the door continued; for a moment the invisible form between Clee's knees writhed violently—and then suddenly, almost magically, a silence fell over the whole room. Clee had forced his will on Xantra! He had made him stop the slaves!
And just in time.
Clee's fingers relaxed a little on the throat of the man beneath him. He turned and said: "Quick, Vivian—find that anaesthetic!" A moment later it was pressed in his hands. "Say when," he told the girl, and held it beneath the nose of the helpless man. Xantra's head at once fell back, and he heard Vivian telling him to stop. He pulled away the bottle, corked it and stood up.
"Well, that's that," he said.
For a moment he was silent. Only the noises made by Jim in strengthening the barricade at the door could be heard in the room. Then he said, earnestly:
"I wish I could see you, Vivian—right now; but that'll have to wait. I guess…."
A low laugh came from the place where the girl was standing. A hand touched his arm, and he found himself being conducted into the alcove. Vivian laughed again; said, teasingly, "What a stupid expression on your face!" then commanded him to shut his eyes, and keep them shut. He felt something being attached to his wrists; heard a coarse hum that quickly rose in pitch until it passed the range of hearing. He was caught up in a surprising exhilaration; he heard the hum again, sliding down and down in pitch, while every atom in his body felt a sickening vibration that grew ever coarser. Then suddenly he felt normal; the things on his wrists were removed and Vivian told him he could open his eyes.
He did so. He had guessed what she had done, but he was surprised, nevertheless, to see the straight, slender, attractive girl who stood before him.
"You see, Xantra used this on me twice—the latter time to restore me, so I would be able to see him. I watched him carefully," the girl explained.
Clee gazed at Vivian in greatest confusion. Why—she was beautiful! He grew conscious of a growing need to say something, and eventually the asinine thing that left his lips was:
"Yes—you—you aren't bad looking at all."
The girl turned away, blushing; and it was Jim who relieved Clee from his awkward situation. He came swinging happily through the alcove portal to suddenly stop in blank surprise. Clee had disappeared!
It did not take long to restore Jim to his normal self, and Vivian and Clee laughed at the great sigh of relief he unconsciously gave when he found himself able to see the girl who before had been only a disembodied Voice to him. Clee explained to Vivian what had happened to them down below, and she in turn told them how she and Xantra had come to be unconscious when they reached the control alcove.
"I found the anaesthetic by its smell soon after I went to Xantra," she explained. "I tried to conceal it in my dress, but Xantra saw me and tried to take it away; and in the struggle that followed I guess we both got anaesthetized. When I came to I saw you and Jim trying to hold back the slaves; and I could see Xantra on the floor, conscious—which you couldn't—and knew he was ordering the slaves on. So I told you, and—here we are!
"Do you want to see Xantra now?" she added.
Clee would never forget the sight of the bound figure that met his eyes on the floor on the large room. The clothes were odd; the figure was much that of a normal man, though the shoulders were more sloped and the head much larger; but it was the face, its expression, that held him.
Unhealthy, leprous-white was the skin, and there was not one hair, eyelash or eyebrow on the whole head. The closed eyes lay in deep caverns surrounded by a thousand fine wrinkles, which crisscrossed all over his face in every direction. The face and head were freakish—monstrous; and yet, somehow, over it rested an expression of infinite wisdom and calm. He lay bound and still and unconscious, at the mercy of men far below him intellectually, this man from another planet. Clee could not help but compare him to a stoical man staked out on an anthill to die….
"We'll have to keep him unconscious with the anaesthetic," he said at length; "he's too dangerous to monkey with. And that means we've got to find out how to run this ship—take it back ourselves."
"Leave that to me!" said Jim, feeling quite chipper. "Never saw anything yet I couldn't drive. Where is it—Cape Cod, you want to be let off, Miss Gray?… O. K. This is my joy-ride, and I'll see that you're delivered at your front door."
More than two days later, again at night, the few look-outs on the lonely fishing craft off Cape Cod might have seen a pinpoint of cherry-red appear off the eastern horizon and make a wide arc up the heavens.
Its course was erratic, and it made sudden angles as it drew near the zenith. It glowed more and more brightly as it approached—until it disappeared from sight overhead.
For some minutes it was invisible; and then, suddenly, only a few hundred yards overhead, it emerged into view again, a great sphere of faintly glowing, cherry-red crystal. Rapidly—with dangerous speed—it descended, straight for the shore-line of Massachusetts Bay. And as it neared, its erratic side-to-side dashes increased, rather than diminished.
Down at a wide angle it came for the beach; then, when it was a hundred feet away, it sheared suddenly out to sea. There, only a few feet above the water, it darted to the side once more—and fell, and skipped along the water at dizzying speed.
But it did not go far. With its first contact with the water a great crack split the night air; and a little further, the ship split into hundreds of small pieces, all of which slid along the surface of the water until, their momentum lost, they came to a stop and slowly sank from view. A dozen figures were left threshing on the surface; but one by one they disappeared, till there were only four left. Then one of the four sank from sight….
Slowly but steadily the remaining three drew near to the welcoming shore, and at last stood dripping and tired on the sandy beach. For some time they stood there in silence, reviewing all the incredible adventure they had been through, as they gazed off across the water to the place where the slave ship had gone down.
But one of them—Jim—had something to say, and at last it came out.
"Well, I told you I'd drive you safely back!"
Clee, his arm around the waist of the exhausted Vivian, smiled and answered:
"But I don't see Vivian's front door."
"We're close enough!" Jim snorted. "After all, I did hit the Earth!"
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Various. 2010. Astounding Stories of Super-Science, July 1931. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved May 2022 from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/31168/31168-h/31168-h.htm#Page_5
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