Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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"HELLO... Hello, Earth... Hello... Calling wave nine, Space Ship Corporation... Wave nine... Calling Space Ship Corporation. Standing by for radiophone from Space Ship Corporation... Wave nine... Come in, Earth."
Chet Chadwick pushed a lank strand of black hair from his forehead and snapped on the radiophone receptor button beside his seat in the control room of the gigantic space liner. For a moment he shifted his lanky frame to face his co-pilot, chubby Monk Sands.
"Wonder what in hell they want?"
Sands' round pleasant features were noncommittal, and he shrugged his wide plump shoulders in bewilderment. "Dunno. Mebbe the Chief wants to check on us, huh?"
In the next instant the radiophone receptor crackled faintly, and after a blurred vibration hum a voice flooded into the control room. At the sound of the first several words, both pilots sat bolt upright. The voice was low, sweet, and feminine.
"Hello, Chet," said the feminine voice. "How are you darling? And how is dear Monk?"
Chet Chadwick sucked in his breath sharply, ignoring the sharp glance that Monk Sands suddenly turned on him. The voice went on.
"I'll bet you two big Test Pilots are surprised to hear from me, darlings," the voice cooed. "But I just couldn't wait three more days until you returned to Earth, Chet—and you too, Monk. I just couldn't wait to see you both, so I asked your boss to let me talk to you from the company control rooms.
"Just in case you haven't guessed who this is, Chet—and Monk, I won't make you worry. It's Olga, darlings. Do hurry back from your nasty test trials in that nasty old space liner, Chet darling. And you, too, Monk. See you in three days, dears."
Crackling came back to the radiophone receptor, the hum grew once more, and the light above the board indicated that the conversation was concluded. Chet Chadwick leaned over and snapped off the button, still keeping his eyes averted from those of his copilot.
"So!" Monk Sands' voice broke the ominous silence. "So!"
"Now, Monk," Chadwick began, repressing a smile.
"Don't now-Monk me," his companion bellowed as his usually bland face took on a slow tinge of purple. "So it's Chet and Monk, eh? Since when have you been beating my time with Olga, you louse?"
Chadwick struggled to assume an air of injured innocence. He raised his hands from the controls of the space liner in an expressive gesture. "Monk," his voice was reproachful, "do you think I'd double-cross a pal?"
The rotund little Test Pilot's voice shook with rage and sarcasm as he replied. "Oh no, you skunk, you'd never double-cross a pal. You've never kept your paws off my women in all the time I've had the misfortune to know you. There was Winnie in Singapore, Carol on Venus, Marge on Ceres, Helen on Jupiter—," his voice broke off disgustedly. Then: "So many more that I can't remember them all. And now, damn your long hide, I find out you've been trying to make a name for yourself with Olga!"
Chadwick kept his face straight, but his gray eyes twinkled as he spoke. "Now Monk, you know that there isn't anything between Olga and I. The only reason she pays any attention to me is because I'm your buddy. It's purely platonic, I swear!"
"Platonic! Yah, just like Romeo and Juliet were platonic!"
"Now Monk. This isn't any time for a misunderstanding. We can't argue about women. We've got to put this baby into a power drop in another moment. Hell, if we don't finish these tests, we'll never get this liner back to Earth in three days."
"You're changing the subject," Sands said suspiciously.
"We can talk it over when we get our tests done," Chadwick replied. Then, as if the matter were closed until future notice, he began to check his instrument panel. Sands watched him wordlessly, seething in rage and indignation.
"Check the percussion panel," Chadwick instructed his infuriated companion. Sands, muttering sullenly to himself, began to make a systematic check of the gauges before him. After a moment he looked up. "All set!"
Chadwick finished his own readings, nodding as he lifted his head. "Good enough, dearie. Hang on tight. We're going to give this ship plenty of hell in a minute."
CUTTING the rockets to half-percussion drive, Chadwick gave the huge space liner its head, and in the space of several swift seconds the nose of the ship dropped with sickening suddenness. At that moment, as the enormous experimental liner slid into a power drop through space, Chadwick spoke one taunting sentence to his copilot.
"Olga's a good kid," he said, "but I never could stand her lipstick!" Then he threw open the percussion throttle, driving the liner into a steep dive.
As the rockets banged to an explosive crescendo, so did Monk Sands.
His mouth fell open and his hands, letting free of the dual controls, worked convulsively. He was literally sputtering with outraged indignation. Chet Chadwick had only time to shout, "Dammit, you goof, get your paws back on those controls!"
But even as the words left Chadwick's mouth, he knew it was too late. The pull of the dive on the controls was too much for one pilot to guide. He felt the force of the recoil tear them from his hands. Even above the noise of the rockets, both pilots heard the sound of the magnetic direction gear snapping, whipping off into space, leaving the liner rudderless.
Instantly Chadwick cut off the percussion throttle and, with the aid of his co-pilot, pulled the nose of the gigantic liner to an even keel once more. Out of control, the liner was drifting listlessly in space.
"Now you've done it!" Chadwick's voice was a bark.
"Me?" Sands' tone was almost squeaky in its rising ire. "Me?"
"Who in hell but you?" Chadwick demanded. "Couldn't even keep your paws on the controls long enough to complete a test. I oughta—" he broke off significantly.
Sands was on his feet instantly, fists balled, advancing toward his co-pilot. "Go ahead. Finish your sentence. You oughta what?"
Chadwick uncoiled his lanky frame from his seat and faced Sands.
"Oughta bust you on the button!" Chadwick said.
"Why, you elongated, woman-stealing skunk! Just try it, that's all I'd like. Just try it!"
Suddenly Chadwick relaxed. "This is a fine howdoyuhdo. Here we are fighting over a woman while we drift about in a crippled ship!"
Sands, frowning, turned and walked to the porthole at the left of the control room. "Cripes," he said looking out at the blackness surrounding the liner. "I'd forgotten. What in hell are we gonna do?"
"We'll have to make repairs. That much is certain. We can't maneuver this baby back to Earth without a magnetic direction gear. It's also certain that we can't fix it while we're dangling here in space," Chadwick answered.
"Mebbe we ought to find out where we are?" Sands decided.
"Check on the radio compass," his companion instructed. "We're only a day out of Saturn's range. We must be somewhere above one of her moons."
Monk Sands grunted reply as he bent above the compass chart. His curly blond head moved up and down several times as he took "shootings" of their position. At last he raised his head and faced Chadwick.
"We're lucky," he said tersely, "and then again we're not."
"What do you mean?"
"Since we can only move up or down, it's a damned lucky thing that we're over a planet. But since that planet happened to be one of the zoned areas, we're not so lucky."
Chadwick whistled. The "zoned areas" were those planets marked off by Earth Council as uninhabitable and worthless for any one of a number of reasons. They lay outside the interplanetary transportation lanes and were never troubled by interplanetary contact. It was a cinch that it would be next to impossible to make any repairs on a zoned planet.
"What's the name of this blob in the cosmos that we're hanging over?" Chadwick asked.
"Titan," Sands replied. Then he picked up an interplanetary pilot guide, thumbing through it. "To give it the way the book does," he announced. "Titan zoned area, one of the satellites of Saturn. Climatically uninhabitable, this world was deserted in 2821 when its radium deposits were exhausted." The chubby pilot closed the book and looked at his companion.
"Hell," Chadwick replied sourly. "Titan hasn't seen a human being in five hundred years. How the devil are we ever going to make our repairs in a place like that?"
"We can't be choosy," Sands replied. "So down we go."
Chadwick took his place before the controls once more. As he did so, he spoke. "Mebbe we'd better notify Earth and have them send someone out to pick us up."
Monk Sands looked at him quizzically. "And have those boobs back at the plant find out what happened?" There was reproach in his voice.
"Yeah," Chadwick agreed. "I didn't think of that. I guess we'd better not. We can make the repairs ourselves." He paused, as though searching for a reason stronger than mere pride. "Besides," he added. "It would take them damn near three days to get here."
As the pair concentrated their silent attention on getting the huge space liner safely down to the planet that lay somewhere below them, both were thinking one thing, the team of Chadwick and Sands had a long reputation to live tip to—and they'd be damned if they'd fold up on this job...
TWELVE almost wordless hours later—during which time there had been no mention of Olgas in particular and women in general—Chet Chadwick looked up from his control panel. "There she is," he said briefly. "Titan!"
Monk Sands was silent as he looked down at the rapidly approaching satellite, but he nodded his head in reply.
Twenty minutes later, both pilots watched the rough terrain rushing up at them, and braced themselves for the necessarily bumpy landing that was to come. Handling the controls was delicate for some moments, but five minutes later Chet Chadwick rose from his seat and stepped to the side portholes of the space liner.
The huge craft had been eased down in the middle of what seemed to be a vast pampas, broken only by jutting crags of lunar rock formation. To every side seemed to stretch waste and desolation.
"No wonder they abandoned the place, once the radium sources had been sapped," Sands remarked.
Silently, then, the pair walked over to the lockers in the compartment behind the control room. There they began to laboriously clothe themselves in space suits. They were dressed and standing before the compression door when Chadwick signaled Sands to tune in his receptor box for conversation.
"One of us better wait inside here, while the other takes a look around," Chadwick said from inside his glass helmet.
Sands nodded, stepping toward the door, but Chadwick's tall form blocked his way. "You wait. I'll go outside," he commanded. Sands shrugged and watched his companion press the compression door release and disappear out onto the plains of Titan. Then he walked over to the control panels and sat down to wait Chadwick's return.
Twenty minutes later, Monk Sands was growing impatient. Sweat was rolling down his face from the heat of the cabin and he rose to peer out of the porthole in an effort to see Chadwick. But the other was not in sight.
Ten minutes more passed, and Monk Sands was feeling a bit of worry as well as impatience. He rose, cursing, and walked over to the compression door, pressing the release button. An instant later he stepped out onto the rocky terrain.
ABOUT him stretched the same dull gray reaches of crags and pampas that he had glimpsed from inside the ship. But as he looked to left and right, he was still unable to catch sight of Chadwick. He looked back at the long, bullet-like hulk of the space liner. Perhaps Chet was over on the other side. Laboriously, Sands began to trudge around the nose of the ship. He had rounded the front and was able to glimpse the territory on the other side of the large liner when he gasped in astonishment, stopping dead in his tracks. At the tail of the liner, coming toward him, was Chadwick's lanky form. But that wasn't what made Monk Sands gape unbelievingly. Chet was walking beside another space clad figure—and through the glass helmet of the other's suit, Monk recognized the features of an astonishingly pretty young woman!
"Well I'll be a blank-blink-blank," Monk muttered. "That roving Casanova can find a woman even on an uninhabited planet!" Then his eyes widened in appreciation. "And what a looker! How in hell did that doll ever get on this godforsaken spot?"
Sands had forgotten that Chet was now within range of his receptor-transmitter apparatus, and was startled to hear his fellow pilot's reply. "What do you think of this baby?" Chadwick's excited voice came to him.
Chadwick and the strange girl were within ten yards of Sands, now. "Where did you find her?" the chubby co-pilot asked.
"Lord knows," Chadwick replied. "She came out from behind one of those crags after I left the ship." He pointed to the garb of the girl. "What do you think of that space suit?"
Sands frowned. He hadn't noticed it until now, but the girl was wearing a space suit that had been outmoded for centuries. No wonder the girl was silent. She didn't even have communication gear.
Then the two men and the girl were together, and Monk took a swift appraisal of the strange young lady. His first guess, as to her prettiness, had been wrong. She wasn't pretty. She was beautiful, excruciatingly beautiful!
Red half-parted lips above a delicately moulded chin, tilted nose, level gray eyes, and a tumbled halo of lustrous raven hair gave ample testimony that the body within the cumbersome space suit was also lovely.
For fully a minute, Monk gaped stupidly at the incredible beauty of the girl, then he turned to Chadwick.
"What, that is, how—I thought—"
"That Titan was uninhabited," Chadwick finished for him. "Yeah, so did I. But this cutie here seems to disprove it."
The girl was watching both Sands and Chadwick closely, as if in an effort to follow their conversation by the movements of their lips. Then Chadwick had a possessive arm around her waist and began to move toward the nose of the space liner. Sands was at the side of his co-pilot and the girl instantly.
"What's the pitch, Chet?" the rotund little pilot asked.
"Want to get her inside the cabin of the ship," Chadwick explained. "Then she can remove her space helmet and we can communicate with her."
"If," Sands interposed, "she speaks a language we can understand."
"That won't make a great deal of difference," Chadwick answered, and Sands saw him grin beneath his glass helmet.
"Oh," the little pilot put a fine edge of sarcasm into his tone, "so it's going to be Chet Chadwick, Interplanetary Romeo all over again, eh?"
"Stick to Olga," his companion snapped. "You were all hot and hiccuppy about her a little while ago."
THE trio was just rounding the nose of the ship when it happened.
Sands heard Chadwick curse in wild surprise, and at the same instant felt a whip-like tentacle wrap around his waist, lifting him high into the air. He threshed his arms wildly about in a desperate effort to free himself.
The tentacle tightened, yet held him gently. Sands stopped kicking and turned his head—to meet the wild stare of Chadwick who was held in exactly the same position by another tentacle.
Then his eyes met the vapid gaze of two flat, enormously large eyes, peering out from the round blue skull of an incredible monster!
Sands tried to shout, and suddenly realized the uselessness of such an action. He heard Chadwick spluttering helplessly from his dangling perch in the other tentacle of the creature. Something prompted him to look down at the ground, and to his amazement he saw the girl, unmolested and unperturbed, staring calmly at the scene!
Then, gently, Sands felt the tentacle lowering him to the ground once more, saw Chadwick also being deposited back on his feet. Both of them wheeled instantly, the moment they felt their feet touching ground, and faced the towering creature.
"Leaping meteorites!" Sands blurted. "And we thought Titan was uninhabited. What sort of a thing is this?"
"Not a very lovely looking specimen, whatever he is," Chadwick said hoarsely. "Where did he come from so fast? I didn't see him around when I ran into the girl."
At mention of the girl, Sands wheeled to face her. Her face still wore the same look of solemn appraisal.
Bewilderedly, he turned again to face the tentacled monster. The creature, Sands could see more clearly now, was fully thirteen feet tall, with grotesque, spindly legs that accounted for three-fourths of its incredible height. Its thin torso was wasp-waisted, and of a mottled blue-green coloring. The tentacles, he saw, emerged from elbows on either arm, and were purple colored and the length of a man's body. Each arm, if they could be called arms, possessed two of these tentacles.
Instinctively, Monk Sands and Chet Chadwick moved closer together, as though their nearness might ward off any further designs of the towering monster. Sweat was rolling profusely down Monk's round face, and looking at Chadwick he saw that the other was swallowing slowly.
Then the girl stepped before them, placing her hands on the arm of each, moving them forward toward the Titanian. Chadwick and Sands tore free from her grasp at the same moment.
"Lovely girl friends, you pick," Sands grated, "she wants to feed us to her pet."
Suddenly the huge monster bent slightly, and in a swift motion threw his tentacles around the pair once more. The girl was gazing at them solemnly still, but was pointing toward a crag of lunar formation in the distance.
"She likes our company," Chadwick said unsmilingly, "and seems to think that we'd better go in that direction if we know what's good for little boys."
Sands looked swiftly upward again, met the flat emotionless eyes of the Titanian. "I think we'd better get moving, then. Before Oscar, here, gets any more ideas."
Then, with the girl leading the way, and the Titanian bringing up the rear, the strange procession began to move off across the rocky terrain.
They were within a hundred yards of the lunar rock formation that the girl had indicated when she turned, beckoning them to move ahead of her. Sands wasn't certain, but he thought, as they drew closer to the gigantic crag, that he could see a stirring behind it.
"There seems to be something moving around behind that knoll," he said to Chadwick.
"Probably pixies," his companion replied sardonically.
A split-second later, Monk's suspicions were confirmed, for moving with awkward swiftness, three Titanians, identical to their captor in the rear, stepped forth from behind the crag and advanced toward them!
"A welcoming committee from the Chamber of Commerce," Monk heard Chadwick mutter, without a trace of humor in his voice. And as his companion spoke, Sands realized that the lanky pilot was just as apprehensive as himself, but was trying to keep his own and Monk's courage alive.
The Titanians were on them in the next moment, forming a sort of guard around the pair as they approached the huge crag. "Mebbe," Sands said hoarsely, "we can make a break for it?"
Chadwick's voice was sharp, but calming. "Take it easy, Monk. There's nothing we can do until we get the wind of this thing."
As they rounded the crag the little party stopped abruptly, Sands and Chadwick gasping in astonishment at the same moment. The crag was nothing more than a hollowed shaft, stone on one side, and structural chrome on the other. It was the worked-out pit of a very old radium mine.
FOR a moment the grotesque Titanians milled about uncertainly. The two earthmen took advantage of this to survey their surroundings. The shaft was bored into the rock formation of the crag on a steadily declining angle, but the most astonishing feature of it was its proportions. One of the Titanians happened to be standing at the entrance to the pit, and comparative measurements showed that it was wide and high enough to enable the creature to move about comfortably at its mouth.
"These are the ancient radium mines of 2000," Chadwick almost whispered, "but they've been enlarged all out of proportion to fit the bodies of these tower creatures."
"But—," Sands words were cut off sharply, for in that instant he felt the tentacles of one of the Titanians wrap about his waist, saw another seize Chadwick—and then the two earthmen were carried bodily down the steep incline, into the darkness of the shaft I Everything was blackness in another moment. "Chet," Sands heard himself shouting, "are you all right?" He could still hear the heavy breathing of his companion coming through his receptor.
"Yeah, fella. I'm okay," Chadwick's reply was reassuring. "How about you? What kind of a ride are you getting?"
Under any other circumstances the chubby little pilot would have laughed aloud at the bland unconcern in his lanky pal's voice. As it was, however, he gained relief and a sense of strengthened courage from the other's reply.
"I'm still in circulation," he said, trying to keep his voice as unconcerned as Chadwick's. Then further conversation became impossible as the journey grew rougher. It seemed as though every step taken by the Titanian who held him was getting more and more awkward. Evidently the footing on the shaft was becoming increasingly difficult.
The tentacles still held him with firm but unyielding gentleness, but as the creature lurched awkwardly along through the darkness, the rocking motion smashed Monk's head against the thick glass of his space helmet several times.
He could hear a muttered curse from Chadwick, and guessed that the other was finding the same difficulty. Then another jarring step sent his head smashing into the side of the helmet for the third time. It was a harder blow than any of the others, and left him dizzy, sick, nauseated. Blood trickled from the corner of his mouth and he licked it back with his tongue.
There wasn't the faintest glimmer of light anywhere in the shaft, and Sands wondered about the large circular eyes of the monsters, wondered if perhaps they could see in the blackness of the old mine.
Suddenly, out of his receptor apparatus, he heard the sound of a sharp cry from Chadwick, followed by a noise like a long sigh.
"Chet," Monk shouted quickly. "Chet, are you okay?"
There was no answer, merely the faint sound of subdued breathing. "Chet," Sands shouted again. "What's happened? Can't you hear me?"
Monk Sand's head smashed against the glass plate of his helmet for the fourth time....
"MONK," a voice was crying, "Monk! Snap out of it!"
Sands opened his eyes slowly, shut them again for an instant to accustom himself to the blinding glare of his surroundings. He moved his hand to shield his eyes and became aware that he was no longer clad in his space suit.
Monk opened his eyes once more to become fully cognizant of his surroundings for the first time.
Chadwick was bending over him, had been the one who shook him into consciousness. He noticed that Chet, too, was no longer wearing space gear.
A second glance told him that he was lying on damp stone in the center of an incredibly large cavern of some sort. The ceiling of the place, far above them, was marked by jagged icicle-like formations of rock that hung pendant-fashion downward.
The cavern itself was almost a mile in circumference, entirely clear of any obstructions. At one end of it, much to Monk's astonishment, was a long elevated rock platform on which were assembled some fifty human beings, laboriously swinging large sledge hammers on a huge sheet of metal that moved along before them!
Chadwick noticed Sand's expression.
"Yeah, Monk," he said softly, "it's not a dream. Those are earthmen. Don't ask me how they got here!" Chadwick pointed his ringer at the opposite end of the cavern. "Those human beings are slaves to the Titanians!"
Monk saw some twenty of the grotesque, tentacled creatures moving about a raised dais at the other end of the enormous natural room. On the dais, squatting ludicrously and Buddha-like on an elevated throne, was another of the Titanians—his feelers holding a sort of double-knobbed sceptre!
"The King, or Boss, or High-Mucky-Muck, ruler of this joint!" Chadwick said.
And then, while his rotund companion listened with growing incredulity, Chet Chadwick related the events that occurred after he regained consciousness. He had, Chadwick said, been jolted into insensibility when his head smashed into the side of the turret-like space helmet. That was just before Monk received a similar blow and was knocked out. Later, Chadwick woke in the cavern, beside Sands. The girl that they had first encountered was standing above him, no longer dressed in the cumbersome and antiquated space suit in which they had first seen her.
"My Lord, Monk," Chet went on explosively, "you've never seen such a woman! Glorious!"
"She was a knockout, even in the space suit," Sands observed dryly.
Chadwick resumed his narration. The girl had been able to speak English, had told him that she and the other earth people in the cave were enslaved by the spindle-legged Titanians.
"But where are they from, the girl and the earth people?" Sands demanded excitedly. "Why did they come to Titan when they know it's been sectored off by Earth Council for the last five centuries?"
"Don't know," Chadwick replied. "She didn't get a chance to tell me that. They—the Titanians took her off before she had a chance to explain. She did say, however, that she was forced to remain calm, placid, when we were seized by the strange creatures."
"Yah," said Sands accusingly, "I was coming to that. Why did she seem to act like she was watching nothing at all when Oscar sneaked upon us?"
"She says she had to; that we'd have been snuffed out if we'd been warned and tried to resist!"
Sands' cherubic features wrinkled in perplexity. "What does it all add up to? Where'd they take the girl."
"I didn't see that," Chadwick continued, "because one of them stalked over to me, whipped me up in his tentacles and carried me over to the Big Shot—the lad over there on the dais, with the sceptre in his hand." Chadwick paused for breath, wiping perspiration from his stubbled jaw.
"Get on with it," Sands snapped impatiently.
"Well, the Big-Shot held that damned sceptre over me—I was still dangling in the air, held by those tentacles—and moved it back and forth across my head. I couldn't get a good glance at it, for I'd slipped my helmet back on after they'd taken the girl away, but it seemed to be a phosphorous sort of wand, made out of some blue metal.
"The thing crackled with electrical vibrations, and I felt the damnedst buzzing sensation in my head. Then, after about two minutes of this, the Big-Shot seemed satisfied, and ordered me to be taken back. I watched while they did the same thing to you. You were still unconscious at the time. Then they brought you back."
"Which—?" said Monk.
"—Brings us up to date. They took our space suits away and I brought you around less than five minutes after that happened." Chadwick concluded.
"It sounds like something out of a twentieth century nursery rhyme," said Sands. "Now what are we going to do about it?"
CHADWICK turned his lean profile toward the other end of the huge cavern. His eyes narrowed as he gazed at the rock formation on which the earthmen were working ceaselessly with their great sledges. It was difficult, from where the two pilots were, to make out anything but general appearances of the toiling earthmen. The distance was too great for facial characteristics to be visible.
"Did the girl tell you how many earthmen the Titanians had in captivity?" Sands asked, noticing the object of his pal's attention.
"I'm not sure, but I think that those lads swinging the hammers up there, and the girl herself, are the only people of our race, besides ourselves, on this miserable planet."
Suddenly Chadwick's face tensed. He grabbed his co-pilot by the arm. "Listen, it just occurred to me. One girl and close to fifty men! Doesn't that sound odd?"
Monk frowned. "You don't know that she's the only earth woman held captive here."
Chadwick became impatient. "Do you think those people up there, swinging those big hammers, are women?" he replied sarcastically.
Monk whistled. "Mebbe you're right. It does seem damned odd!"
"And another thing," Chadwick was continuing with tense excitement, "I'm trying to remember a remark she made just before the Titanians took her away." He paused, knitting his brows in fierce concentration. "I was still groggy for the better part of the few moments speech I had with her. But I think—mind you I'm not sure—she made some remark about brains. Something about watching the 'sapper'!"
" 'Sapper'," Monk replied, "What in the name of everything unholy is a 'sapper'?"
Chadwick never had a chance to reply, for at that moment, apparently at a command from the grotesque Titanian on the dais, two of the spindle-legged creatures advanced stolidly across the cavern floor toward them.
"Here they come. Hang on to your hat!" Monk shouted, rising to his feet. Chadwick was instantly beside him, and the two watched the Titanians moving swiftly down on them.
"Take it easy, Monk," Chadwick said, hitching his belt in a gesture characteristic of the lanky test pilot when in trouble. "They haven't actually harmed us as yet, and maybe they don't intend to."
"Yah," Monk said from the side of his mouth, eyes fixed on the advancing monsters. "Yah, mebbe they don't. But I don't think that's love gleaming out of their pop-eyes!"
Then the nightmarish creatures were towering above them, their tentacle arms weaving back and forth, wide flat eyes expressionless.
"What I wouldn't do for a ray gun at this minute!" grated Sands.
"I told you to take it easy," Chadwick warned. "Any protection we could use is back in the spaceship. Don't forget it!"
The tentacles were whipping menacingly about the pair, as if in an effort to herd them in a certain direction.
The pair turned and began a rapid march across the damp stone floor of the cavern, drawing closer and closer to the sledge-swinging toilers. The Titanians kept an insistent pressure behind them.
Fifty yards from the long stone platform on which the earthmen were toiling, Chadwick halted abruptly, grabbing his companion's arm.
"Monk!" His voice was hoarse. "Monk, for God's sake, look!"
Chadwick pointed at the group on the stone platform.
The bodily contours of the men on the platform were human, but their actual appearance was ape-like, hairy, almost aboriginal! They paused now in their labor. It was clear that they had seen the two new arrivals, for eyes gleamed sharply from beneath incredibly shaggy eyebrows, and thick lips drew back from fang-like teeth as they conversed among one another excitedly.
Their gibberish, which carried across the intervening distance to the horrified pair, was a weird combination of snarls and mangled English!
Bands of iron, linked by a long chain, were fastened around the necks and legs of each of the half-humans on the platform!
AT that moment the Titanians, evidently enraged at the delay, swept their whip-like arms around the two, and carried them the remaining distance.
Bedlam broke loose among the toilers as Sands and Chadwick sprawled on the stone ledge at their feet. For an instant the huge cavern was ominously silent. Then the ape-like men broke forth in a frenzied commotion of half-howls and shouts.
There was a sudden flurry at the other end of the vast cave. Eight or ten Titanians moved with incredible speed across the damp floor. In what seemed less than seconds, they were grouped along the platform, their tentacles lashing out on the backs of the shackled workers.
Gentleness was gone from the touch of those odd appendages. They flailed mercilessly down upon the unprotected hides of the slaves. A pungent acrid odor filled the air.
Monk and Chet were lying face downward on the ledge between the two groups—Titanians and half-humans.
"That smell!" Chet gasped. "It's burning flesh!"
Monk was staring in fascination at the spindle-legged monsters. "Their tentacles are red-hot whips," he said hoarsely. "Those damned monsters have some electrical force in their bodies. Look at the sparks flying from them!"
Chadwick, who had been giving his attention to the plight of the sledge slaves, turned his head for an instant to see their tormentors.
What Sands had shouted was true. Electrical sparks were literally flashing and crackling from the incredibly grotesque bodies of the Titanians!
Then, as suddenly as they had started the commotion, the shackled workers dropped to their knees, moaning piteously, their heads lowered under the cruel beatings.
Minutes later, the whip-like arms of the Titanians ceased. Methodically, then, the number who had come to the platform with the first outbreak moved back across the cavern to the dais of their leader on the opposite side. The two creatures who had herded Monk and Chet across the cavern still hovered over them, as if waiting a command.
The Titanians lifted Chet and Monk once more, and carried them to a passage that led off from the center of the cavern into a darkened alcove. Then down the passageway, finally pausing before an enormous metal door.
One of the spindle creatures pushed this inward, revealing a brightly lighted, but small and stone-hewn prison cell. Chet and Monk were dropped to the floor of the place. The Titanians retreated, clanging the door shut behind them.
"I must say," Monk said bitterly when he and Chet were alone a few seconds later, "that we can't complain about not being taken on a tour of the joint. They've moved us around more than a pair of checkers."
Chadwick didn't reply. His brows were wrinkled in concentration, and his lips were a thin tight line across his face.
"Monk," he said after a moment. "Remember what I told you about the girl, about those slaves on the platform being her people?"
Sands climbed to his feet, scratching his head in confusion. "Damn! I almost forgot about that. Why," he paused, trying to phrase what he wanted to say, "those poor devils couldn't be of the same genus as her. It's impossible, Chet. Impossible!"
"That's just what I mean," Chadwick groaned desperately, placing his head wearily in his hands. "It's impossibly confusing. Aside from the small fact that we might not be alive in any succeeding minute, there's this snarled mystery to worry about."
"Let's worry about us, and the 'small matter' of our lives, first," Sands said dryly. "Then, if we have the time or inclination, we can look up anything we don't know about the joint in a nice encyclopedia!" He walked over to the tall metal door, and after gazing at it and rubbing his hand along its surface, kicked it experimentally with his foot.
"If we can figure this out," Chadwick said half to himself, "we might be able to find the key to get us out of this mess."
"It's all very logical," his companion agreed dryly, "but doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense!" Before turning back to Chadwick, Monk gave the door a parting kick. The kick was answered from the other side of the door!
The confinements of the small cell were deathly silent as Monk and Chadwick, heads cocked breathlessly to one side, listened for a repetition of the noise.
Then it came again, this time a little louder. The sound of a foot tapping twice on the metal door.
Both men looked questioningly at one another.
"It's a cinch it isn't our long legged buddies," Chadwick whispered.
"Yah," Monk replied with heavy sarcasm. "Go to the door and let 'em in, whoever it is."
Chadwick withered his plump little companion with a glance, then stepped swiftly over to the metal door. After listening with his ear to the metal sheeting, he rapped twice on it with his fist.
Two more raps answered.
"Earthmen?" The words were faint, coming from the other side of the door, and the pair opened their mouths to reply simultaneously.
Monk let Chet take over.
"Yes," the lanky pilot agreed. "Who is it?"
"It is the girl who met you above the ground, when you landed on Titan," came the soft reply.
Chadwick steadied his hammering pulses, saying, "Can you help us out of here?"
"There is a loose stone beside the door," the voice answered. "It is as high as a man's chin." Monk was already groping along the wall in search of the stone.
"She said a man's chin, runt!" Chadwick snorted, pushing him aside to search for the stone himself. In a moment he grunted in satisfaction, his fingers tugging at a loose stone the dimensions of a large baseball. Then it was in his hand, and while they gazed in pop-eyed astonishment, the door opened noiselessly!
The girl with the red lips and raven hair stood at the threshold. Her face wore the same expression of calm detachment as when Chadwick had last seen her.
"Come," she said speaking swiftly, "follow me. There is a place we can hide until it is over!"
The girl was dressed in a tight tunic which, Chadwick noted, was as outmoded as her space suit had been. Once more his brows kinked in concentration. There was something strange that he couldn't quite place, about her.
At another side passage the Girl turned.
"Wait," she said breathlessly. Then she moved her hand along the damp stone walls of the passage, searching for something. She found it and in an instant an electrical whine filled the air. A moment later a portion of the wall moved slowly outward, revealing the brightly lighted interior of another stone chamber!
They were inside, the girl, Chet, and Monk, and the wall was swinging back into place. Chadwick faced the girl. "Come, now. What's all this about? Tell us what's happened, how you got here, who those poor devils shackled to the steel-hammering line are!"
The girl looked at them for a moment, her red lips half parted, her gray eyes misted. When she spoke her voice was low and liquid, like bubbling music.
"My name," she began simply, "is Naomi Brand. For what has seemed to be many years, I have been held captive on Titan—one woman with fifty men of our race. We are, all of us, earth dwellers. The monstrous creatures you have seen are the inhabitants of Titan—spindle-legged beings who have lived for centuries in the depth of Titan's darkened sub-areas."
Naomi Brand seemed to shudder for a moment, then, mechanically, as if she had told the story to herself repeatedly, she continued. "When we first fell into the hands of the creatures of Titan we were on our way back to Earth. We had no suspicion that such danger lurked on this planet. But swiftly, and without warning, the Titans captured our party, killed my father, and all the women save myself."
Chadwick was swallowing hard, his brow furrowed with a frown.
The girl went on. "They took the men, shackling them to stone—as you saw—and made them slaves. Myself, when they found I was unfit for work, they permitted me to survive somehow." Naomi Brand broke, her voice choking. "You are the first earthmen to arrive here since our capture. I have waited, prayed, for aid—and now that you've come, you, too, are victims of the spindled monsters."
Naomi Brand broke into sobs, and Monk Sands moved instinctively to her, put his arms comfortingly about her.
"Okay, Romeo," Chadwick snapped. "Break it up. We've got a lot to get done, and a lot more to find out!"
Monk Sands glared at his fellow pilot savagely. "Listen, Chet, this poor kid has gone through a million hells. Don't you have any heart in you?"
Chadwick's lean features were grim and uncompromising as he replied with a fierce patience. "Look, Monk. This is no time to get full of tears and flapdoodle. We're in one helluva jam, and unless we can figure this thing out pretty quick—we're never going to have to!"
Naomi's tears stopped as suddenly as they started, and she turned her lovely face to Chadwick questioningly. "What will we be able to do?"
Chet started a furious pacing back and forth across the damp floor of the stone chamber. Desperately, he tugged at a wild lock of his lank black hair, as if in an effort to drag ideas from his skull by the violence of the gesture.
"Have to know more," he said, stopping suddenly. "What were you telling me before—about 'sappers', I mean?"
Naomi's eyes were wide. "The brain sappers?"
Both Monk and Chadwick showed their amazement in the glances they turned on Naomi. "Brain sappers?" they chorused bewilderedly.
"Yes," Naomi answered. "The sceptre held in the hand of the King Titanian. It is charged with electrical vibrations from his body, I believe. When waved above the head of an earthman, the voltage set up produces a state similar to hypnosis."
"How do you know this?" Chet demanded.
"Why," Naomi answered in perplexity. "It was done to the men on the long stone platform, when all of us were first captured. It is the reason why they have never been able to plan, plot to free themselves from the domination of the Titanians."
Sands' face was pale as he turned to Chadwick. "Chet, good Lord, did you hear what she said? That electrical hocus-pocus was done to both of us, too!"
Chadwick bit his underlip. "Yeah, it was. But, so far, there hasn't been any effect on either of us. And the girl—," he broke off, turning to Naomi. "What about it? Was the 'sapper', or whatever you call it, used on you?"
Naomi shook her head in negative reply. "Just on the men," she said.
Suddenly Chadwick took a fresh attack on the problem. "You haven't seen the men who were captured in your party—except from a distance—since they were shackled to the work line, have you?"
Naomi shuddered. "No. I have only seen them from a distance."
Chadwick sighed inwardly. Then the girl didn't know the change that had come over her friends since their capture. It was just as well. If she were to see them now, half-human, gibbering—.
"There's only one thing we can do, Chet," Sands' voice brought Chadwick out of his speculations. "We must get back to the spaceship. We've got weapons aboard that can burn these monsters to an elongated crisp."
Chadwick looked at Naomi. "How well do you know these underground passages?"
"Perfectly," the girl answered. "I have been allowed to roam."
"Good," the lanky pilot broke in. "You'll have to lead us out of here, and up to our ship."
The trio was moving toward the wall exit of the chamber, and Naomi was tugging at the stone that would set the door in motion, when Sands spoke.
"Wait," he said. "Our space gear has been taken from us. We won't even be able to step out into that atmosphere without it."
Chadwick cursed. For a moment he hesitated. Then Naomi broke in. "It is all right. I know where there are other space suits. The ones that were taken from my party when we were seized!"
Both men looked at the girl with relief. "That's all I want to know," Sands declared. "Let's get going!"
THROUGH the darkened passages and along the damp corridors, Monk and Chet followed Naomi. After what seemed to be miles of groping progress, the girl halted.
"In here," she whispered into the darkness. They followed her through a low opening in a dimly-lit alcove off the passage.
"We are just below the main chamber," Naomi whispered. The sound of sledges, ringing faintly in the distance verified her remark.
Naomi crossed the tiny cave and bent over a mound in one of the corners. When Chadwick and Sands joined her, they saw that she was rummaging through a pile of dusty, antiquated, space suits. "Here they are," she breathed. "Select suits to fit you."
"Must have gotten these at an antique sale," Sands muttered as the three began to dress themselves in the outmoded space gear.
"These belonged to your party?" Chadwick said curiously.
"Yes," Naomi replied. "But they have not been used for some time."
Chadwick was directly under the ceiling opening, and as he climbed into the clumsy suit, the glow struck directly on lettering that was stamped inside his space jacket. For a moment he looked at it in stark disbelief. That date—He opened his mouth, as though to speak, then abruptly clamped his jaws tight.
In order to facilitate conversation, the trio carried their antiquated space helmets under their arms as they moved along the passageway. Although Sands and Chadwick were forced to hold fast to each other's belts, Naomi moved swiftly along through the utter blackness without faltering for an instant. Chadwick's eyes narrowed as he noticed this, but he said nothing. After what seemed an eternity of pushing along through the darkened tunnels of Titan, Naomi paused, pointing to a faint glow far down the corridor.
"That opening," she said, "is one I discovered some time ago. It is too small for the Titans and was made when—" she stopped abruptly. "It is too small for the Titanians," she repeated quickly, "and consequently is unobserved and unused by them."
For a second, Chadwick felt an unexplainable chill run down his spine. Then Monk was talking excitedly. "There's no sense in all three of us trying to make it to the space liner. It merely triples our chances of being discovered. One of us will have a better chance alone, Chet. And the other can stay with Naomi." As Monk spoke his arm was once again around Naomi's waist.
"You wait with me, here—Monk," Naomi said softly. "It is so dark, and I fear the horrible creat—"
Chadwick broke in. "Okay," he snapped, "it looks like I'm elected. You two remain here. I'll be back—with enough ray juice to fry this joint." He looked at Sands for an instant, trying to flash him a message, but his companion was gazing, cow-eyed, into the girl's lovely gray eyes.
Moments later, Chadwick made his way cautiously forth from the tunnel opening and out onto the barren wastes of Titan. He moved swiftly, taking shelter behind occasional lunar rock formations. He saw no sign of the Titanians, but remembering their swift approach, took no chances. In the distance, he could see the gigantic space liner, apparently unmolested as yet.
Working his way along slowly but steadily, Chadwick gave thought to Monk, back in the cave with Naomi. There was something fishy, something very fishy, about that girl—about this whole damned mess. Those half-human slaves in the enormous cavern—Naomi's party—could they have degenerated so, merely through hypnosis administered by the King Titanian.
Suddenly two spindle-legged Titanians moved across his line of vision. Chadwick dropped flat on his face behind a rock. They disappeared, finally, behind a series of crags some five hundred yards away. Chadwick moved once more.
And these suits—antiquated, impossibly outmoded, Naomi had said they belonged to her party. Chadwick's lean face, beneath the turret of his space helmet, was worried, perplexed. What was all this adding up to?
Chadwick was a hundred yards from the space liner when his jaw dropped open in amazement. It wasn't the spaceship which he and Monk had arrived in—but instead, was a weather-beaten, smaller, odd-looking craft!
He cursed, fluently, roundly, savagely. Precious moments wasted because he had mistaken this for the space liner in the murk! An unbidden thought brought an odd feeling creeping up the base of his spine. Was this the space ship used by Naomi and her people when they arrived on, or were leaving, Titan!
"I've a hunch," the lean pilot muttered to himself, "that this is going to fill in a lot of answers!" He advanced to the weatherbeaten space craft.
Fifteen yards short of the ship, he stopped. "My God," he said hoarsely, "it can't be!" His lips moved mechanically as he read the inscription on the side of the ship.
"PLANETARY MINING CORPORATION," it said. "TITAN RADIUM BASE". Then, underneath the huge lettering: "Final Expedition, 2000 A.D."
EVERYTHING was swimming before Chadwick's eyes. 2000 AD! Mechanically, he approached the ship. Five hundred years old! Five hundred years old!
The gnawing suspicion that had been preying on him for the past hours was now a ghastly certainty. Naomi and the slave-men of the Titanians were the surviving members of the last mining expedition on Titan—an expedition that had been concluded five centuries ago. Somehow, in some incredible fashion, Naomi and the men on the work platform in the cavern had remained alive on Titan for five hundred years!
He pictured Naomi, probably in the arms of his pal at that moment. Unexplainably he shuddered. Five hundred years old!
Then he was inside the ancient spaceship. Everything, as he moved about the cabin, confirmed his suspicions. Every gadget, instrument, and weapon in the ship was an antique in space travel. But everything seemed miraculously preserved—preserved like Naomi.
Chadwick strapped several old-fashioned rocket guns to his waist and clambered out of the ancient space ship.
He paused for an instant, to test the antiquated weapons on a jutting rock formation just outside the ship. They performed admirably, burning blue holes in the rock. Chadwick stuffed them back in his waistband and proceeded on.
Chadwick was not interrupted on his way back to the tunnel entrance. As a result, he was back at the entrance in less than ten minutes. He looked back over his shoulder before entering the shaft. All clear. He hadn't been seen.
"Monk," Chadwick took his helmet off, and shouted down the darkened passage. "Monk! Where are you?"
There was no answer. A moment later, when he came to the place he'd left his pal and Naomi, they were nowhere to be seen!
Then he was moving, almost running, down the long passageway of the deserted radium pits. His breath was hot in his lungs, and fear burned in his brain—fear that he was late, too late, to do anything for Monk.
"That damned little fool," Chadwick gasped. "I should have seen that he'd gone daffy over the girl. He was ready to do any fool stunt she asked of him."
Chadwick lost track of time. As he groped, half-running, half-stumbling, along the damp darkness of the tunnel, everything but his one determination became a blur to him. It might have been hours, or merely minutes, before he stumbled upon a side shaft leading to a white glare of light in the distance.
"The cavern," Chadwick muttered. "That must be the main cavern to the joint!"
He burst into the enormous high-ceiling room. The sight that met his eyes stunned him momentarily. Monk was playing hero to a packed house!
Perhaps forty Titanians stood stoically herded in a corner, their tentacled arms hanging limply at their sides, their flat, expressionless faces fixed unwaveringly at a small space-suited figure before them—Monk Sands.
Chadwick's flickering glance took in the dais where the King Titanian had held court, and gasped. The spindle-legged creature was sprawled grotesquely forward on his face, feelers outstretched and twitching spasmodically. There was a flaming red hole in the center of the monster's body!
Monk Sands was holding an ancient rocket pistol, pointing it on the emotionless Titanians.
At the far corner of the room, moving along the stone platform and unshackling the hairy, aboriginal men, was Naomi! Chadwick shouted.
Monk wheeled, to look swiftly in his direction. At that instant the first of the Titanians lunged awkwardly but swiftly forward. Chadwick brought one of his rocket guns up level, prayed for accuracy at that distance, and squeezed the trigger.
The gun flashed flame. The Titanian fell to the cavern floor—a hole burned through the center of his strange head. Then the others were moving—heedless of the pistols of the two earth-men, their flailing tentacles snapping through the air with the speed of whips.
Monk dashed toward Chadwick, and the two stood side by side. In the next confusing moments Monk and Chet pumped their ancient weapons for all they were worth, sending one after another of the onrushing Titanians crashing to the stone floor.
Chadwick had felled one of the creatures, burning through the monster's spindle legs and didn't notice the creature moving along on its stumps toward him. He heard Monk's hoarse shout, stepped back in time to avoid the stinging blow directed at his head. His gun flashed again, and the creature sank to the stone for good.
"Come on," Chadwick shouted. "They're too much for us. Lets get the hell out of here!"
Monk gave him an astonished look. "Leave Naomi? Don't be a sap. Do what you want to do, Chadwick, I'm staying by her!" Their exchange was cut off once more by the necessity of rapid rocket work on more advancing Titanians.
Sweat ran down Chadwick's angular face. He cursed loudly. From the corner of his eye, he could see Naomi freeing the last of the half-humans.
THE shrieks and yowls of the horde of hairy Earthmen dashing heedlessly across the stone floor toward the spindle-legs was a horrifying din. The ape-like men were fifty yards from the creatures of Titan before they were noticed. Then they were in the midst of the spindle-legs, clawing, tearing!
Chadwick saw one vicious ape-man spring almost six feet from the floor to clutch at the waist of a Titanian. In the next moment the flailing arms of the monster beat down on the unprotected back of the half-human. But the aboriginal sank his long fangs into the Titanians chest, and the creature rolled to the floor—blue liquid oozing from the gaping wound.
Chadwick was looking for Naomi. Finally he saw her. Monk did too, and shouted in terror. "Naomi!"
But the Titanian was swifter than the guns of Monk or Chadwick, swifter than the death that was coming over him. The creature's tentacles flashed out, winding python-like about Naomi's waist, crushing in mercilessly.
When Chet and Monk got to Naomi's side, the Titanian was dead—his tentacles still wrapped around the waist of the crushed slim body. A crushed body from which no blood ran!
But Monk hadn't noticed this in his grief. He dropped to his knees, weeping hysterically, pillowing Naomi's raven-haloed head in his lap.
Chet had no time to think. He stood above Monk and the dying girl, pumping his rocket pistol with a fury born of blind rage. "Five hundred years... five hundred of them... centuries..." the words flashed over and over again in his brain.
Most of the Titanians were battling desperately with their former slaves. Chet grabbed Monk by the arm.
"Quick," he shouted. "To the passage. Get out while we can!"
"No," Monk snarled. "I'm staying. Naomi's gone. I'm gonna stay here until every one of those—are gone, too!"
There was nothing else for Chadwick to do. With a grunt, he brought his pistol butt down on his pal's head. He caught Monk's limp body as the little fellow sagged forward. Throwing him over his shoulder, Chadwick ran...
Once above ground, staggering under the weight of the limp body, Chadwick looked wildly about. There was no sign of Titanians. Those above ground were probably hastening below to aid their fellow-monsters in the battle against the half-humans. There would be no time for them to repair their own space liner. Chadwick struck out without hesitation for the ancient rocket ship he'd left less than an hour ago.
If it was preserved like everything else it'd still be in running order.
Some hours later, Chet Chadwick, at the controls of a spluttering antiquated rocket ship—a mere five hundred years old—looked down at the stirring form of his rotund companion. The bump he'd laid on Monk Sands' head was as big as an egg. Chadwick grinned.
"He's going to have a hard time forgetting Naomi," he said half-aloud. "Poor devil." But it'd be much better than knowing that Naomi had been worse than dead for five hundred years, only this screwy radium tainted world kept her in a false life. What would have happened if we'd gotten her away in space, away from the radiations...? Chadwick shuddered and turned pale.
For a moment he was silent, his angular features bathed in reflection. "I know what I'll do," Chadwick said softly. "I'll let him have Olga back again! That'll make him forget, and what he don't know will never bust him!"
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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