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through opal walls - then he found himself upon a narrow table where
straps of metal were thrown quickly about to bind him fast. He was tied
hand and foot to the table that moved forward on smooth rollers to a
waiting lift.

What next? he questioned. Not death, for they had been too careful to
keep him alive, these repulsive things that stared at him with such cold
malevolence. Then what? And McGuire found himself with unpleasant
recollections of others he had seen strapped in similar fashion to an
operating table.

The lift that he had thought would rise fell smoothly, instead, to stop
at some point far below ground where the table with its helpless burden
was rolled into a great room.

He could move his head, and McGuire turned and twisted to look at the
maze of instruments that filled the room - a super-laboratory for
experiments of which he dared not think.

"Whoever says I'm not scared to death is a liar," he whispered to
himself, but he continued to look and wonder as he was wheeled before a
gleaming machine of many coils and shining, metal parts. A smooth sheet
of metal stood vertically beyond him; painted a grayish-white, he saw;
but he could not imagine its use. A throng of people, seated in the
room, turned blood-red faces toward the bound man and the metal sheet.

"Looks as if we were about to put on a show of some kind," he told
himself, "and I am cast for a leading role." He watched as best he could
from his bound position while a tall figure in robes of lustreless black
appeared to stand beside him.

The newcomer regarded him with a face that was devoid of all emotion.
McGuire felt the lack of the customary expression of hatred; there was
not even that; and he knew he was nothing more than a strange animal,
bound, and helpless, ready for this weird creature's experiments. The
one in black held a pencil whose tip was a tiny, brilliant light.

* * * * *

Abruptly the room plunged to darkness, where the only visible thing was
this one point of light. Ceaselessly it waved back and forth before his
eyes; he followed it in a pattern of strange design; it approached and
receded. Again and again the motion was repeated, until McGuire felt
himself sinking - sinking - into a passive state of lethargy. His muscles
relaxed; his mind was at rest; there seemed nothing in the entire
universe of being but the single point of light that drew him on and on
... till something whispered from the far reaches of black space....

It came to him, an insistent call. It was asking about the earth - his
own world. _What of Earth's armies and their means of defense?_ Vaguely
he sensed the demand, and without conscious volition he responded. He
pictured the world he had known; how plainly he saw the wide field at
Maricopa, and the sweeping flight of a squadron of planes! _Yes - yes!
How high could they ascend?_ From one of the planes he saw the world
below; the ships were near their ceiling; this was the limit of their
climb. _And did they fight with gas? What of their deadliness?_ And
again he was seated in a plane, and he was firing tiny bullets from a
tiny gun. No. They did not use gas. _But on the ground below - what
fortifications? What means of defense?_

McGuire's mind was no longer his own; he could only respond to that
invisible questioner, that insistent demand from out of the depths where
he was floating. And yet there was something within him that protested,
that clamored at his mind and brain.

Fortifications! They must know about fortifications - anti-aircraft
guns - means for combatting aerial attack. Yes, he knew, and he must
explain - and the thing within him pounded in the back of his brain to
draw him back to himself.

He saw a battery of anti-aircraft guns in operation; the guns were
firing; shells were bursting in little plumes of smoke high in the air.
And that self within him was shouting now, hammering at him; "You are
seeing it," it told him; "it is there before you on the screen. Stop!
Stop!"

* * * * *

And for an instant McGuire had the strange experience of witnessing his
own thoughts. Memories, mental records of past experience, were flashing
through his mind; mock battles, and the batteries were firing! And,
before him, on the metal screen, there glowed a vivid picture of the
same thing. Men were serving the guns with sure swiftness; the bursts
were high in the air - in a flash of understanding Lieutenant McGuire
knew that he was giving his country's secrets to the enemy. And in that
same instant he felt himself swept upward from the depths of that
darkness where he had drifted. He was himself again, bound and helpless
before an infernal contrivance of these devil-creatures. They had read
his thoughts; the machine beside him had projected them upon the screen
for all to see; a steady clicking might mean their reproduction in
motion pictures for later study! He, Lieutenant McGuire, was a traitor
against his will!

The screen was blank, and the lights of the room came on to show the
thin lips that smiled complacently in a cruel and evil face.

McGuire glared back into that face, and he tried with all the mental
force that he could concentrate to get across to the exultant one the
fact that they had not wholly conquered him. This much they had got - but
no more!

The thin-lipped one had an instrument in his hand, and McGuire felt the
prick of a needle plunged into his arm. He tried to move his head and
found himself powerless. And now, in the darkness of the room where all
lights were again extinguished, the helpless man was fighting the most
horrible of battles, and the battleground was within his own mind. He
was two selves, and he fought and struggled with all his consciousness
to keep those memories from flooding him.

With one part of himself he knew what it meant: a sure knowledge given
these invaders of what they must prepare to meet; he was betraying his
country; the whole of humanity! And that raging, raving self was
powerless to check the flow of memory pictures that went endlessly
through his mind and out upon the screen beyond....

He had no sense of time; he was limp and exhausted with his fruitless
struggle when he felt himself released from the bondage of the metal
straps and placed again in the hammock in his room. And he could only
look wanly and hopelessly after the figure of Professor Sykes, carried
by barbarous figures to the same ordeal.

* * * * *

Sleep, through the long night, restored both McGuire and his companion
to normal strength. The flyer was seated with his head bowed low in his
cupped hands. His words seemed wrung from an agony of spirit. "So that's
what they brought us here for," he said harshly; "that's why they're
keeping us alive!"

Professor Sykes walked back and forth in their bare room while he shook
his impotent fists in the air.

"I told them everything," he exploded; "everything!" Their astronomical
knowledge must be limited; under this blanket of clouds they can see
nothing, and from their ships they could make approximations only.

"And I have told them - the earth, and its days and seasons - its orbital
velocity and motion - its relation to the orbit of this accursed planet.
They had documents from the observatory and I explained them; I
corrected their time of firing their big gun on its equatorial position.
Oh, there is little I left untold - damn them!"

"I wish to heaven," said the flyer savagely, "that we had known; we
would have jumped out of their beastly ship somehow ten thousand feet
up, and we would have taken our information with us."

Sykes nodded agreement. "Well," he asked, "how about to-morrow, and the
next day, and the next? They will want more facts; they will pump the
last drop of information from us. Are we going to allow it?"

* * * * *

McGuire's tone was dry. "You know the answer to that as well as I do. We
have just two alternatives; either we get out of here - find some place
to hide in, then find some way to put a crimp in their plans; or we get
out of here for good. It's twenty feet, not twenty thousand, from that
window to the ground, but I think a head-first dive would do it."

Sykes did not reply at once; he seemed to be weighing some problem in
his mind.

"I would prefer the water," he said at last. "If we _can_ get away and
reach the shore, and if there is not a possibility of escape - which I
must admit I consider highly improbable - well, we can always swim out as
far as we can go, and the result will be certain.

"This other is so messy." The man had stopped his ceaseless pacing, and
he even managed a cheerful smile at the lieutenant. "And, remember, it
might only cripple us and leave us helpless in their hands."

"Sounds all right to me," McGuire agreed, and there was a tone of
finality in his voice as he added: "They've made us do that traitor act
for the last time, anyway."

* * * * *

Daylight comes slowly through cloud-filled skies; the window of the
room where the fountain sprayed ceaselessly was showing the first hint
of gold in the eastern sky. Above was the utter darkness of the
cloud-wrapped night as the two men swung noiselessly out into the
grotesque branches of a tree to make their way into the gloom below.
There, under the cover of great leaves, they crouched in silence, while
the darkness about them faded and a sound of subdued whistling noises
came to them from the night.

A wheel creaked, and in the dim light two figures appeared tugging at a
cart upon which was a cage of woven wire. Beyond them, against the
darker background of denser growth, tentacles coiled and twisted above
the row of guardian plants that surrounded the house.

One of the ghostly forms reached within the cage and brought forth a
struggling object that whimpered in fear. The low whine came distinctly
to the hidden men. They saw a vague black thing tossed through the air
and toward the deadly plants; they heard the swishing of pliant
tentacles and the yelping cry of a frightened animal. And the cry rose
to a shriek that ended with the gulping splash of thick liquid.

The giant pod next in line was open - they could see it dimly - and its
tentacles were writhing convulsively, hungrily, across the ground.
Another animal was taken from the cage and thrown to the waiting,
serpent forms that closed about and whirled it high in air. Another - and
another! The yelps of terror grew faint in the distance as the monsters
passed on in their gruesome work. And the two men, palpitant with
memories of their own experience, were limp and sick with horror.

* * * * *

In the growing light they saw more plainly the fleshy, pliant arms that
whipped through the air or felt searchingly along the ground. No hope
there for bird or beast that passed by in the night; nor for men, as
they knew too well. But now, as the golden light increased, the arms
drew back to form again the tight-wound coils that flattened themselves
beside the monstrous pods whose lips were closing. Locked within them
were the pools of liquid that could dissolve a living body into food for
these vampires of the vegetable world.

"Damnable!" breathed Sykes in a savage whisper. "Utterly damnable! And
this world is peopled with such monsters!"

The last deadly arm was tightly coiled when the men stole off through
the lush growth that reached even above their heads. McGuire remembered
the outlines he had seen from the air and led the way where, if no
better concealment could be found, the ocean waited with promise of rest
and release from their inhuman captors.

They counted on an hour's start - it would be that long before their
jailer would come with their morning meal and give the alarm - and now
they went swiftly and silently through the stillness of a strange world.
The air that flicked misty-wet across their faces was heavy and heady
with the perfume of night-blooming plants. Crimson blossoms flung wide
their odorous petals, and the first golden light was filtered through
tremendous tree-growths of pale lavenders and grays to show as unreal
colors in the vegetation close about them.

* * * * *

They found no guards; the isolation of this island made the land itself
their prison, and the men ran at full speed through every open space,
knowing as they ran that there was no refuge for them - only the ocean
waiting at the last. But their flight was not unobserved.

A great bird rose screaming from a tangle of vines; its heavy, flapping
wings flashed red against the pale trees. A pandemonium of shrieking
cries echoed its alarm as other birds took flight; the forest about them
was in an uproar of harsh cries. And faintly, from far in the rear, came
a babel of shrill calls - weird, inhuman! - the voices of the men-things
of Venus.

"It's all off," said McGuire sharply; "they'll be on our trail now!" He
plunged through where the trees were more open, and Sykes was beside him
as they ran with a burst of speed toward a hilltop beyond.

They paused, panting, upon the crest. A wide expanse of foliage in
delicate shadings swept out before them to wave gently in a sea of color
under the morning breeze, and beyond was another sea that beckoned with
white breakers on a rocky shore.

"The ocean!" gasped Sykes, and pointed a trembling hand toward their
goal. "But - I had no idea - that suicide - was - such hard work!"

The tall figure of Lieutenant McGuire turned to the shorter, breathless
man, and he gripped hard at one of his hands.

"Sykes," he said, "I'll never get another chance to say it - but you're
one good scout!... Come on!"

* * * * *

McGuire fought to force his way through jungle growth, while screaming
birds marked where they went. The sounds of their pursuers were close
behind them when the two tore their way through the last snarled tangle
of pale vine to stand on a sheer bluff, where, below, deep waters
crashed against a rocky wall. They staggered with weariness and gulped
sobbingly of the morning air. McGuire could have sworn he was exhausted
beyond any further effort, yet from somewhere he summoned energy to
spring savagely upon a tall, blood-red figure whose purpling face rose
suddenly to confront them.

One hand closed upon the metal tube that the other hand raised, and,
with his final reserve of strength, the flyer wrapped an arm about the
tall body and rushed it stumblingly toward the cliff. To be balked
now! - to be brought back to that intolerable prison and the unthinkable
role of traitor! The khaki-clad figure wrenched furiously at the deadly
tube as they struggled and swayed on the edge of the cliff.

He freed his arm quickly, and, regardless of the clawing thing that tore
at his face and eyes, he launched one long swing for the horrible face
above him. He saw the awkward fall of a lean body, and he swayed
helplessly out to follow when the grip of Sykes' hand pulled him back
and up to momentary safety.

McGuire's mind held only the desire to kill, and he would have begun a
staggering rush toward the shrieking mob that broke from the cover
behind them, had not Sykes held him fast. At sight of the weapon, their
own gas projector, still clutched in the flyer's hand, the pursuers
halted. Their long arms pointed and their shrill calls joined in a
chorus that quavered and fell uncertainly.

* * * * *

One, braver than the rest, dashed forward and discharged his weapon. The
spurting gas failed to reach its intended victims; it blew gently back
toward the others who fled quickly to either side. Above the trees a
giant ship nosed swiftly down, and McGuire pointed to it grimly and in
silence. The men before them were massed now for a rush.

"This is the end," said the flyer softly. "I wonder how this devilish
thing works; there's a trigger here. I will give them a shot with the
wind helping, then we'll jump for it."

The ship was above them as the slim figure of Lieutenant McGuire threw
itself a score of paces toward the waiting group. From the metal tube
there shot a stream of pale vapor that swept downward upon the others
who ran in panic from its touch.

Then back - and a grip of a hand! - and two Earth-men who threw themselves
out and downward from a sheer rock wall to the cool embrace of deep
water.

They came to the top, battered from their fall, but able to dive under a
wave and emerge again near one another.

"Swim!" urged Sykes. "Swim out! They may get us here - recover our
bodies - resuscitate us. And that wouldn't do!"

Another wave, and the two men were swimming beyond it; swimming feebly
but steadily out from shore, while above them a great cylinder of
shining metal swept past in a circling flight. They kept on while their
eyes, from the wave tops, saw it turn and come slowly back in a long
smooth descent.

It was a hundred feet above the water a short way out at sea, and the
two men made feeble motions with arms and legs, while their eyes
exchanged glances of dismay.

* * * * *

A door had opened in the round under-surface, and a figure, whose
gas-suit made it a bloated caricature of a man, was lowered from beneath
in a sling. From the stern of the ship gaseous vapor belched downward to
spread upon the surface of the water. The wind was bringing the misty
cloud toward them. "The gas!" said McGuire despairingly. "It will knock
us out, and then that devil will get us! They'll take us back! Our last
chance - gone!"

"God help us!" said Sykes weakly. "We can't - even - die - " His feeble
strokes stopped, and he sank beneath the water. McGuire's last picture
as he too sank and the waters closed over his head, was the shining ship
hovering beyond.

He wondered only vaguely at the sudden whirling of water around him. A
solid something was rising beneath his dragging feet; a firm, solid
support that raised him again to the surface. He realized dimly the air
about him, the sodden form of Professor Sykes some few feet distant. His
numbed brain was trying to comprehend what else the eyes beheld.

A metal surface beneath them rose higher, shining wet, above the water;
a metal tube raised suddenly from its shield, to swing in quick aim upon
the enemy ship approaching from above.

His eyes moved to the ship, and to the man-thing below in the sling. Its
clothes were a mass of flame, and the figure itself was falling headlong
through the air. Above the blazing body was the metal of the ship
itself, and it sagged and melted to a liquid fire that poured, splashing
and hissing, to the waters beneath. In the wild panic the great shape
threw itself into the air; it swept out and up in curving flight to
plunge headlong into the depths....

The gas was drifting close, as McGuire saw an opening in the structure
beside him. The voice of a man, human, kindly, befriending, said
something of "hurry" and "gas," and "lift them carefully but make
haste." The white faces of men were blurred and indistinct as McGuire
felt himself lowered into a cool room and laid, with the unconscious
form of Sykes, upon a floor.

He tried to remember. He had gone down in the water - Sykes had drowned,
and he himself - he was tired - tired. "And this," - the thought seemed a
certainty in his mind - "this is death. How - very - peculiar - " He was
trying to twist his lips to a weak laugh as the lighted ports in the
wall beside him changed from gold to green, then black - and a rushing of
torn waters was in his ears....

(_To be continued_)

* * * * *

ASTOUNDING STORIES
_Appears on Newsstands_
THE FIRST THURSDAY IN EACH MONTH




The Sea Terror

_By Captain S. P. Meek_

The trail of mystery gold leads Carnes and Dr. Bird to a
tremendous monster of the deep.

[Illustration: "_The mass hung over the ship._"]


"I beg your pardon, sir. I'm looking for Dr. Bird."

The famous Bureau of Standards scientist appraised the speaker rapidly.
Keen blue eyes stared questioningly at him from a mahogany brown face,
criss-crossed with a thousand tiny wrinkles. The tattooed anchor on his
hand and the ill-fitting blue serge suit smacked of the sea while the
squareness of his shoulders and the direct gaze of his eye spoke
eloquently of authority.

"I'm Dr. Bird, Captain. What can I do for you?"

"Thank you, Doctor, but I'm not a captain. My name is Mitchell and I am,
or was, the first mate of the _Arethusa_."

"The _Arethusa_!" Operative Carnes of the United States Secret Service
sprang to his feet. "You said the _Arethusa_? There _were_ no
survivors!"

"I believe that I am the only one."

"Where have you been hiding and why haven't you reported the fact of
your rescue to the proper authorities? Tell the truth; I'm a federal
officer!"

Carnes flashed the gold badge of the Secret Service and an expression of
anger crossed Mitchell's face.

"If I had wished to talk to an officer I could have found plenty in New
York," he said shortly. "I came to Washington in order to tell my story
to Dr. Bird."

The seaman and the detective glared at one another for a moment and then
Dr. Bird intervened.

"Pipe down, Carnes," he said softly. "Mr. Mitchell undoubtedly has
reasons, excellent reasons, for his actions. Sit down, Mr. Mitchell, and
have a cigar."

* * * * *

Mitchell accepted the cigar which the doctor proferred and took a chair.
He lighted the weed and after another glance of hostility toward the
detective he pointedly ignored him and addressed his remarks to Dr.
Bird.

"I have no objection to telling you why I haven't spoken earlier,
Doctor," he said. "When the _Arethusa_ sank, I must have hit my head on
something, for the next thing I knew, I was in the Marine Hospital in
New York. I had been picked up unconscious by a fishing boat and brought
in, and I lay there a week before I knew anything. When I knew what I
was doing I heard about the loss of my ship and was told that there were
no survivors, and I didn't know what to do. The story I had to tell was
so weird and improbable that I hesitated to speak to anyone about it. I
was not sure at first that it was not a trick of a disordered brain, but
since my head has cleared I am convinced of the truth of it ... and yet
I know that it _can't_ be so. I have read about you and some of the
things you have done, and so as soon as I was able to travel I came
here to tell you about it. You will be better able to judge than I,
whether what I tell you really happened or was only a vision."

Dr. Bird leaned back in his chair and put the tips of his fingers
together. Long, tapering fingers they were, sensitive and well shaped,
though sadly marred by acid stains. It was in his hands alone that Dr.
Bird showed the genius in his make-up, the artistry which inspired him
to produce those miracles of experimentation which had made his name a
household word in the realm of science. Aside from those hands he more
resembled a pugilist than a scientist. A heavy shock of unruly black
hair surmounted a face with beetling black brows and a prognathous jaw.
His enormous head, with a breadth and height of forehead which were
amazing, rose from a pillar-like neck which sprang from a pair of
massive shoulders and the arching chest of the trained athlete. Dr. Bird
stood six feet two inches in his socks, and weighed over two hundred
stripped. As he leaned back a curious glitter, which Carnes had learned
to associate with keen interest, showed for an instant in his eyes.

"I will be glad to hear your story, Mr. Mitchell," he said softly. "Tell
it in your own way and try not to omit any detail, no matter how trivial
it may be."

* * * * *

The seaman nodded and sat silent for a moment as though marshaling his
thoughts.

"The story really starts the afternoon of May 12th," he said, "although
I didn't realize the importance of the first incident at the time. We
were steaming along at good speed, hoping to make New York before too
late for quarantine, when a hail came from the forward lookout. I was on
watch and I went forward to see what was the matter. The lookout was
Louis Green, an able bodied seaman and a good one, but a confirmed
drunkard. I asked him what the trouble was and he turned toward me a
face that was haggard with terror.

"'I've seen a sea serpent, Mr. Mitchell,' he said.

"'Nonsense!' I replied sharply. 'You've been drinking again.'

"He swore that he hadn't and I asked him to describe what he had seen.


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Online LibraryVariousAstounding Stories of Super-Science, December 1930 → online text (page 6 of 19)