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"Very well, Karl." The kind old man was speaking once more. "I merely
want you to know that you are among friends - your father's friends."

* * * * *

Surprised into complete wakefulness, Karl struggled to a seated position
and surveyed the group that faced him. They were a fine looking lot,
mostly older men, but there was a refreshing wholesomeness about them.

"My father?" he faltered. "He's not alive."

"No, my poor boy. Derek Van Dorn left this life at the hands of your
uncle, Zar Boris. But we, his friends, are here to avenge him and to
restore to you his throne."

"But - but - I still do not understand."

"Of course not, because we've kept ourselves hidden from the world for
more than twenty-two years, waiting for this very moment. There are
forty-one of us, including Rudolph, my brother. We have lived in the
jungle since Boris conquered the Eastern Hemisphere. But amongst our
numbers were several scientists, two greater than was Boris, even in his
heyday. They have done wonderful things and we are now prepared to take
back what was taken from Derek - and more. His life we can not
restore - Heaven rest him - but his kingdom we can. And to his son it
shall be returned.

"You were given into Rudolph's care when little more than a babe in arms
and he has cared for you well. We've watched, you know, in the
detectoscopes - long range radiovision mechanisms that can penetrate
solid walls, the earth itself, to bring to us the images and voices of
persons who may be on the other side of the world. We've followed your
every move, my boy, and the first time we feared for you was yesterday
when the drug of the Zar's physician stole away your sense of right and
wrong. But we were in time to save you, and now we are ready to kneel at
your feet and proclaim you our king. First there is the Zar to be dealt
with and then we shall set up the new regime. Are you with us?"

* * * * *

Karl gazed at the speaker in wonder. He a king? Always to live amongst
the wearers of the purple? To be responsible for the welfare of half the
world? It was unthinkable! But Zar Boris, the murderer of his own
father - he must be punished, and at the hands of the son!

"I'll do it," he said simply. "That is, I'll do whatever you have
planned in the way of exterminating the Zar. Then we'll talk of the new
empire. But how is the Zar to be overcome? I thought he was invincible,
with his Moon men and terrible weapons."

"Ah! That, my boy, is where our scientists have triumphed. True, his
rays were terrible. They could not be combatted when he first returned.
The strange chemicals and gases of the Moon men defied analysis or
duplication. His citadel atop the city of Dorn is proof against them
all; proof against explosives and rays of all kinds known to him. The
disintegration and decomposition rays have no effect on the crystal of
its walls. It is hermetically sealed from the outer air so can not be
gassed. The vibration impulses have no effect upon its reinforced
structure. But there is a ray, a powerful destructive agent, against
which it is not proof. And our scientists have developed this agency.
You shall have the privilege of pressing the release of the energy that
destroys the arch-fiend in his lair. His dominance over, the empire will
fall. We shall take it - for you."

A strange exaltation shone from the faces of those in the room, and Karl
found that it was contagious. His bosom swelled and he itched to handle
the controls of this wonderful ray.

"This ray," continued the brother of old Rudolph, "carries the longest
vibrations ever measured, the vibrations of infra-red, the heat-ray. We
have succeeded in concentrating a terrific amount of power in its
production, and with it are able to produce temperatures in excess of
that of the interior of the earth, where all substances are molten or
gaseous. The Zar's crystal palace cannot withstand it for a second. He
cannot escape!"

"How'll you know he's there at the time?" Karl was greatly excited, but
he was curious too.

"Come with me, my boy. I'll show you." The old man led him from the room
and the others followed respectfully.

* * * * *

They stopped at a circular port and Karl saw that they were high above
the earth in a vessel that hovered motionless, quivering with what
seemed like human eagerness to be off.

"This vessel?" he asked.

"It's a huge sphere; the base of our operations. To it we drew the aero
on which you were fighting. A magnetic force discovered by our
scientists and differing only slightly from that used in counteracting
gravity. We let the rest of them go; foolishly I think. But it's done
now and we have no fear. From this larger vessel we shall send forth
smaller ones, armed with the heat-ray. The flagship of the fleet is to
be yours and you'll lead the attack on Dorn. Here - I'll show you the
Zar."

They had reached the room of the detectoscopes - a mass of mechanisms
that reminded Karl of nothing so much as the vitals of the intermediate
levels which he had visited with Leon - and Rhoda. He knew that he
flushed when he thought of her. What a fool he had been!

A disc glowed as one of the silver-robed strangers manipulated the
controls. The upper surface of Dorn swung into view. Rapidly the image
drew nearer and they were looking at the crystal pyramid that was the
Zar's palace. Down, down to its very tip they passed. Karl recoiled from
the image as it seemed they were falling to its glistening sides. The
sensation passed. They were through, penetrating solid crystal, masonry,
steel and duralumin girders. Room after room was opened to their view.
It was magic - the magic of the upper levels.

* * * * *

Now they were in the throne room. A group of purple-clad men and women
stood before the dais. Leon, Rhoda - all of his wild companions were
there, facing the dais. The Zar was raging and the words of his speech
came raucously to their ears through the sound-producing mechanism.

"You've failed miserably, all of you," he screamed. "He's gotten away
and you know the penalty. Taru - the vibrating ray!"

The Moon man already was fussing with a gleaming machine, a machine with
bristling appendages having metallic spheres on their ends, a machine in
which dozens of vacuum tubes glowed suddenly.

Rhoda screamed. It was a familiar sound to Karl. He noted with
satisfaction that Leon could hardly stand on his feet and that his face
was covered with plasters. Then, startled, he saw that Leon was
shivering as with the ague. His outline on the screen grew dim and
indistinct as the rate of vibration increased. Then the body bloated and
became misty. He could see through it. The vibrating death! His father
had gone the same way!

Karl groaned at the thought. The whine of the distant machine rose in
pitch until it passed the limit of audibility. Tiny pin-points of
incandescence glowed here and there from the Zar's victims as periods of
vibration were reached that coincided with the natural periods of
certain of the molecules of their structure. They were no longer
recognizable as human beings. Shimmering auras surrounded them. Suddenly
they were torches of cold fire, weaving, oscillating with inconceivable
rapidity. Then they were gone; vanished utterly.

The Zar laughed - that horrible cackle again.

"Great God!" exclaimed Karl, "let's go! The fiend must not live a moment
longer than necessary. Are you ready?"

Rudolph's brother smiled. "We're ready Karl," he said.

* * * * *

The great vessel hummed with activity. The five torpedo-shaped aeros of
the battle fleet were ready to take off from the cavities in the hull.
In the flagship Karl was stationed at the control of the heat-ray. His
instructions in its operation had been simple. A telescopic sight with
crosshairs for the centering of the object to be attacked; a small
lever. That was all. He burned with impatience.

Then they were dropping; falling clear of the mother ship. The pilot
pressed a button and the electronic motors started. A burst of roaring
energy streamed from the tapered stern of their vessel and the earth
lurched violently to meet them. Down, down they dived until the rocking
surface of Dorn was just beneath them. Then they flattened out and
circled the vast upper surface. From the corner of his eye Karl saw that
the other four vessels of his fleet were just behind. There was a flurry
among the wasplike clouds of pleasure craft over the city. They scurried
for cover. Something was amiss!

"Hurry!" shouted Karl. "The warning is out! There is no time to lose!"

He pressed his face to the eye-piece of his sight, his finger on the
release lever of the ray. The crystal pyramid crossed his view and was
gone. Again it crossed, more slowly this time. And now his sight was
dead on it, the gleaming wall rushing toward him. Pressure on the tiny
button. They'd crash into the palace in another second! But no, a
brilliant flash obscured his vision, a blinding light that made the sun
seem dark by comparison. They roared on and upward. He took his eye from
the telescope and stared ahead, down. The city was dropping away, and,
where the crystal palace had stood, there was a spreading blob of molten
material from which searing vapors were drifting. The roofs of the city
were sagging all around and great streams of the sparkling, sputtering
liquid dripped into the openings that suddenly appeared. Derek Van Dorn
was avenged.

"Destroy! Destroy!" yelled Karl madly. A microphone hung before him and
his words rang through every vessel of his convoy.

* * * * *

The lust of battle was upon him. A fleet of the Zar's aeros had risen
from below; twenty of them at least. These would be manned by Moon
creatures, he knew, and would carry all of the dreadful weapons which
had originated on that strange body. But he did not know that his own
ships were insulated against most of the rays used by the Zar's forces.
He knew only that he must fight; fight and kill; exterminate every last
one of the Zar's adherents or be exterminated in the attempt.

Kill! Kill! The madness was contagious. His pilot was a marvel and drove
his ship straight for the massed ships of the foe. The air was vivid
with light-streamers. A ray from an enemy vessel struck the thick glass
of the port through which he looked and the outer surface was shattered
and pock-marked. But a cloud of vapor and a dripping stream of fiery
liquid told him his own ray had taken effect on a vessel of the enemy.
One! They wheeled about and spiraled, coming up under another of the
Zar's aeros. It vanished in a puff of steam and they narrowly missed
being covered by the falling remnants of incandescent liquid. Two!
Karl's aim was good and he gloated in the fact. Three! They climbed and
turned over, dropping again into the fray. Four!

The air grew stifling, for the expended energy of the enemies' rays must
needs be absorbed. It could not disintegrate them nor decompose their
bodies, but the contacts were many and the liberation of heat enormous.
They were suffocating! But Karl would not desist. They drove on, now
beneath, now above an enemy ship. He lost count.

One of his own vessels was in trouble. The report came to him from the
little speaker at his ear. He looked around in alarm. A glowing object
reeled uncertainly over there between two of the aeros of the Zar. The
concentration of beams of vibrations was too much for the sturdy craft.
It was red hot and its occupants burned alive where they sat. Suddenly
it slipped into a spin and went slithering down into the city, leaving a
gaping opening where it fell. This sobered him somewhat, but he went
into the battle with renewed fury.

* * * * *

How many had they brought down? Fifteen? Sixteen? He tore his purple
jacket from his body. The perspiration rolled from his pores. His own
ship would be next. But what did it matter? Kill! Kill! He shouted once
more into the microphone, then dived into battle. Another and another!
In Heaven's name, how many were there? It was maddening. If only he
could breathe. His lungs were seared; his eyes smarting from the heat.
And then it was over.

Three of the Zar's aeros remained, and these turned tail to run for it.
No! They were falling, nose down, under full power; diving into the city
from which they had come. Suicide? Yes. They couldn't face the
recriminations that must come to them. And anything was better than
facing that burning death from the strange little fighters which had
come from out the skies. Dorn was a mass of wreckage.

Karl tore at the fastenings of the ports, searing his fingers on the
heated metal. His pilot had collapsed, the little aero heading madly
skyward with no guiding hand. Air! They must have air! He loosened the
pilot's jacket; slapped frantically at his wrists in the effort to bring
him to consciousness. Then he was at the controls of the vessel, tugging
on first one, then the other. The aero circled and spun, executing the
most dangerous of sideslips and dives. A little voice was speaking to
him - the voice of the radio - instructing him. In a daze he followed
instructions as best he could. The whirlings of the earth stabilized
after a time and he found he was flying the vessel; climbing rapidly.

* * * * *

A sense of power came to him as the little voice of the radio continued
to instruct. Here were the controls of the electronic motor; there the
gravity-energy. He was proceeding in the wrong direction. But what did
it matter? He learned the meaning of the tiny figures of the altimeter;
the difference between the points of the compass. Still he drove on.

"East! Turn East!" begged the little voice from the radio. "You're
heading west. Your speed - a thousand kilometers an hour - it's too fast.
Turn back, Zar Peter!"

He tore the loud speaker of the radio from its fastenings. West! He
wanted to go west! On and on he sped, becoming more and more familiar
with the workings of the little vessel as he progressed. A cooling
breeze whistled from the opened ports, a breeze that smelled of the sea.
His heart sang with the wonder of it all. He could fly. And fly he did.
Zar Peter? Never! He knew now where he belonged; knew what he wanted.
He'd find the coast of North America. Follow it until he located New
York. A landing would be easy, for had not the voice instructed him in
the use of the gravity-energy? He'd make his way to the lower levels, to
the little book shop of Rudolph Krassin. A suit of gray denim awaited
him there and he'd never discard it.

* * * * *

Onward he sped into the night, which was falling fast. He held to his
westward course like a veteran of the air lanes. The pilot had ceased to
breathe and Karl was sorry. Game little devil, that pilot. Have to shove
his body overboard. Too bad.

Rudolph's brother would understand. He'd be watching in the detectoscope.
And the others - those who had wished to seat him on a throne - they'd
understand, too. They'd have to!

Rudolph would forgive him, he knew. Paul Van Dorn - his own cousin - the
secret agents of the Zar would never locate him! Too many friends of
Rudolph's were of the red police.

He gave himself over to happy thoughts as the little aero sped on in the
darkness. Home! He was going home! Back to the gray denim, where he
belonged and where now he would remain content.




The Ape-Men of Xlotli

_By David R. Sparks_

A beautiful face in the depths of a geyser - and Kirby plunges into
a desperate mid-Earth conflict with the dreadful Feathered
Serpent.

CHAPTER I


Kirby did not know what mountains they were. He did know that the
Mannlicher bullets of eleven bad Mexicans were whining over his head and
whizzing past the hoofs of his galloping, stolen horse. The shots were
mingled with yelps which pretty well curdled his spine. In the
circumstances, the unknown range of snow mountains towering blue and
white beyond the arid, windy plateau, offering he could not tell what
dangers, seemed a paradise. Looking at them, Kirby laughed harshly to
himself.

As he dug the heels of his aviator's boots into the stallion's flanks,
the animal galloped even faster than before, and Kirby took hope. Then
more bullets and more yelps made him think that his advantage might
prove only temporary. Nevertheless, he laughed again, and as he became
accustomed to the feel of a stallion under him, he even essayed a few
pistol shots back at the pack of frantic, swarthy devils he had fooled.

[Illustration: _His head wavered back and forth and his hiss filled the
night._]

Three hours ago he had been eating a peaceful breakfast with his friend
and commandant, Colonel Miguel de Castanar, in the sunlit patio of the
commandant's hacienda. Castanar, chief of the air patrol for the
district, had waxed enthusiastic over the suppression of last spring's
revolutionists and the cowed state of up-country bandits. Captain
Freddie Kirby, American instructor of flying to Mexican pilots in the
making, had agreed with him and asked for one of the Wasps and three
days' leave with which to go visiting in Laredo. The simple matter of a
broken fuel line, a forced landing two hundred kilometres from nowhere,
and the unlucky proximity of the not-so-cowed horsemen, were the things
which had changed the day from what it had been to what it was.

The one piece of good fortune which had befallen him since the bandits
had surrounded the wrecked Wasp, looted it, and taken its lone pilot
prisoner, was the break he was getting now. During the squadron's first
halt to feed, he had knocked down his guards and made a bolt for the
grazing stallion. So far, the attempt was proving worth while.

* * * * *

On and on the stallion lunged toward the white mountains. Kirby's eyes
became red rimmed now from fatigue and the glare of the sun and the dust
of the pitilessly bare plateau. A negligible scalp wound under his mop
of straw-colored hair, slight as it was, did not add to his comfort. But
still he would not give up, for the horse, as if it sensed what its
rider needed most, was making directly for a narrow ravine which
debouched on the plateau from the nearest mountain flank.

It was the promise of cover afforded by the jagged rocks and jungle
growth of that ravine which kept hope alive in Kirby's throbbing brain.

The stallion was blown and staggering. Foam from the heavily bitted
mouth flashed back in great yellow flakes against Kirby's dust-caked
aviator's tunic. But just the same, the five mile gallop had carried
both horse and rider beyond range of any but the most expert rifle shot.
And Kirby knew that if his own splendid mount was almost ready to crash,
the horses of his pursuers must be in worse shape still. So for the
third time since the fight had begun, he laughed. This time there was no
harshness, but only relief, in the sound which came from his dry lips.

Ten minutes later, he flung himself out of his saddle. Like the caress
of a vast, soothing hand, the shadowed coolness of the ravine lay upon
him. As his feet struck ground, they splashed in the water overflowing
from a spring at the base of an immense rock. At once Kirby dropped the
reins on the stallion's neck, giving him his freedom, and as the horse
lowered his head to drink, Kirby stooped also.

There was cover everywhere. Kirby's first move after pulling both
himself and the horse away from the spring, was to glance up the long,
deeply shaded canyon which he had entered - a gash hacked into the breast
of the steep mountain as by a titanic ax. Then, reassured as to the
possibilities for a defensive retreat, he glanced back toward the
dazzling, bare plateau.

* * * * *

It was what he saw taking place amongst the sombreroed bandits out there
which made the grin of satisfaction fade from his broad mouth. His last
glance backward, before bolting into the canyon mouth, had showed him a
ragged squadron of men left far behind, yet galloping after him still.
But now -

Presently a puzzled frown made wrinkles in Freddie Kirby's wide
sunburned forehead. He relaxed his grip upon the heavy Luger, which, in
his big hands, looked like a cap pistol, and rubbed his eyes.

But he was not mistaken. The horsemen had halted! Out there on the
glaring, alkali-arid plateau, they were standing as still as so many
statues. Looking toward the canyon mouth which had swallowed their
quarry, they certainly were, but they were halted as completely as men
struck dead.

"Huh," Kirby grunted, and scratched behind his ear.

The next second he swung around to look at his horse, uncertain what he
was going to do next, but aware of the fact that right now, with a lot
of unknown country between himself and Castanar's sunlit patio, the
stallion was going to be a friend in need.

As he turned, however, prepared to take up the loose reins, something
else happened. The stallion let out a neigh as shrill as a trumpet
blast. As Kirby jumped, grabbed for the bridle, his fingers found empty
air. Like a crazy animal the stallion leaped past him, barely missing
him. Out toward the plain the horse jumped, out and away from the shaded
canyon mouth, out toward the spot where other horses waited. And despite
the animal's blown condition, the speed he put into his retreat left
Kirby dazed.

* * * * *

After a helpless, profanity-filled second, Kirby scratched behind his
ear again. As certain as the fact that almost his sole hope of getting
back to civilization depended upon the stallion, was the fact that the
brute did not intend to stop running until he dropped.

"Now what in the hell ever got into his crazy head?" Kirby muttered
grimly.

Then he turned around to glance up the shadow-filled slash of a canyon,
and sniffed.

"Huh!"

Faintly in the air had risen an odor the like of which he had never
encountered in his life. A combination, it was, of the unforgetable
stench which hangs over a battlefield when the dead are long unburied,
and of a fragrance more rare, more heady, more poignantly sweet than any
essence ever concocted by Parisian perfumer.

With the drifting scent came a sound. Faint, carrying from a distance,
the rumble which Kirby heard was almost certainly that of a geyser.

There was no telling what had brought the troop of horsemen to a halt,
but after a time Kirby knew that the cause of his horse's sudden
departure must have been a whiff of the strange perfume.

* * * * *

For a long time he stood still, watching the crazy stallion dwindle in
size, watching the line of unexpectedly timid bandits. Then, when it
became apparent that the horsemen were going to stay put either until he
came out, or showed that he never was coming out, he shrugged, and swung
on his heel so that he faced up the canyon.

The odor was dying away now, and the geyser rumble was gone. In Kirby's
heart came a mingled feeling of tense uneasiness and fascinated
curiosity. Momentarily he was almost glad that his horse _had_ bolted,
and that his pursuers _were_ blocking any lane of retreat except that
offered by the canyon. If things had been different, the queer behavior
of the Mexicans, the unaccountable actions of his horse and the equally
strange growth of his own uneasiness might have made him uncertain
whether he would go up the canyon or not. Now it was the only thing to
do, and Kirby was glad because, fear or no fear, he wanted to go on.

"I wonder," he said out loud as he started, "just what the denizens of
First Street in Kansas would say to a layout like this!"


CHAPTER II

At the end of an hour he was still wondering.

At midday the canyon was chill and dank, lit only by a half light which
at times dwindled to a deep dusk as the rock walls beetled together
hundreds of feet above his head. Always when he stumbled through one of
the darkest passages, he heard and half saw immense gray bats flapping
above him. In the half-lit reaches, he hardly took a step without seeing
great rats with gray coats, yellow teeth, and evil pink eyes. But rats
and bats combined were not as bad as the snakes. They were almost white,
and nowhere had he seen rattlers of such size. If his caution relaxed
for a second, they struck at him with fangs as long and sharp as
needles.

The tortured, twisted cedars, the paloverdi, occatilla, cholla, opunti,


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Online LibraryVariousAstounding Stories of Super-Science, December 1930 → online text (page 11 of 19)