The ship that Chet Bullard and Harkness had designed had none of th_nstruments for space navigation that the ensuing years were to bring. Chet'_ccuracy was more the result of that flyer's sixth sense—that same uncann_ower that had served aviators so well in an earlier day. But Chet was glad t_ee his instruments registering once more as he approached a new world.
Even the sonoflector was recording; its invisible rays were darting downwar_o be reflected back again from the surface below. That absolute altitud_ecording was a joy to read; it meant a definite relationship with the world.
"I'll hold her at fifty thousand," he told Harkness. "Watch for some outlin_hat you can remember from last time."
There was an irregular area of continental size; only when they had crossed i_id Harkness point toward an outflung projection of land. "That peninsula," h_xclaimed; "we saw that before! Swing south and inland… . Now down forty, an_ast of south… . This ought to be the spot."
Perhaps Harkness, too, had the flyer's indefinable power of orientation. H_uided Chet in the downward flight, and his pointing finger aimed at last at _luster of shadows where a setting sun brought mountain ranges into stron_elief. Chet held the ship steady, hung high in the air, while the quick- spreading mantle of night swept across the world below. And, at last, when th_ittle world was deep-buried in shadow, they saw the red glow of fires from _idden valley in the south.
"Fire Valley!" said Chet, "Don't say anything about me being a navigator.
Wait, you've brought us home, sure enough."
"Home!" He could not overcome this strange excitement of a homecoming to thei_wn world. Even the man who stood, pistol in hand, behind him was, for th_oment, forgotten.
Valley of a thousand fires!—scene of his former adventures! Each fumerole wa_dding its smoky red to the fiery glow that illumined the place. There wer_agged mountains hemming it in; Chet's gaze passed on to the valley's end.
Down there, where the fires ceased, there would be water; he would land there!
And the ship from Earth slipped down in a long slanting line to cushio_gainst its under exhausts, whose soft thunder echoed back from a bare expans_f frozen lava. Then its roaring faded. The silvery shape sank softly to it_ocky bed as Chet cut the motor that had sung its song of power since th_oment when Schwartzmann had carried him off—taken him from that frozen, forgotten corner of an incredibly distant Earth.
"Iss there air?" Schwartzmann demanded. Chet came to himself again with _tart: he saw the man peering from the lookout to right and to left as if h_ould see all that there was in the last light of day.
"Strange!" he was grumbling to himself. "A strange place! But those hills—_aw their markings—there will be metals there. I will explore; later I return: I will mine them. Many ships I must build to establish a line. The firs_ransportation line of space. Me, Jacob Schwartzmann—I will do it. I will haf_ore than anyone else on Earth; I will make them all come to me crawling o_heir bellies!"
Chet saw the hard shine of the narrowed eyes. For an instant only, he dared t_onsider the chance of leaping upon the big, gloating figure. One blow and _uick snatch for the pistol!… Then he knew the folly of such a plan: Schwartzmann's men were armed; he would be downed in another second, his bod_ shattered, jellied mass.
Schwartzmann's thoughts had come back to the matter of air; he motioned Che_nd Harkness toward the port.
Diane Delacouer had joined them and she thrust herself quickly between the tw_en. And, though Schwartzmann made a movement as if he would snatch her back, he thought better of it and motioned for the portal to be swung. Chet felt hi_lose behind as he followed the others out into the gathering dark.
The air was heavy with the fragrance of night-blooming trees. They were clos_o the edge of the lava flow. The rock was black in the light of a starry sky; it dropped away abruptly to a lower glade. A stream made silvery sparklings i_he night, while beyond it were waving shadows of strange trees whose trunk_ere ghostly white.
It was all so familiar… . Chet smiled understandingly as he saw Walt Harkness'
arm go about the trim figure of Diane Delacouer. No mannish attire coul_isguise Diane's charms; nor could nerve and cold courage that any man migh_nvy detract from her femininity. Her dark, curling hair was blowing back fro_er upraised face as the scented breezes played about her; and the soft beaut_f that face was enhanced by the very starlight that revealed it.
It was here that Walt and Diane had learned to love; what wonder that th_ragrant night brought only remembrance, and forgetfulness of their presen_light. But Chet Bullard, while he saw them and smiled in sympathy, kne_uddenly that other eyes were watching, too; he felt the bulky figure of Her_chwartzmann beside him grow tense and rigid.
But Schwartzmann's voice, when he spoke, was controlled. "All right," h_alled toward the ship; "all iss safe."
Yet Chet wondered at that sudden tensing, and an uneasy presentiment foun_ntrance to his thoughts. He must keep an eye on Schwartzmann, even more tha_e had supposed.
Their captor had threatened to maroon them on the Dark Moon. Chet did no_uestion his intent. Schwartzmann would have nothing to gain by killing the_ow. It would be better to leave them here, for he might find them usefu_ater on. But did he plan to leave them all or only two? Behind the steady, expressionless eyes of the Master Pilot, strange thoughts were passing… .
There were orders, at length, to return to the ship. "It is dark already,"
Schwartzmann concluded; "nothing can be accomplished at night.
"How long are the days and nights?" he asked Harkness.
"Six hours." Harkness told him; "our little world spins fast."
"Then for six hours we sleep," was the order. And again Herr Schwartzman_onducted Mademoiselle Delacouer to her cabin, while Chet Bullard watche_ntil he saw the man depart and heard the click of the lock on the door o_iane's room.
Then for six hours he listened to the sounds of sleeping men who were sprawle_bout him on the floor; for six hours he saw the one man who sat on guar_eside a light that made any thought of attack absurd. And he cursed himsel_or a fool, as he lay wakeful and vainly planning—a poor, futile fool who wa_nable to cope with this man who had bested him.
Nineteen seventy-three!—and here were Harkness and Diane and himself, capture_y a man who was mentally and morally a misfit in a modern world. A throw- back—that was Schwartzmann: Harkness had said it. He belonged back in ninetee_ourteen.
Harkness was beyond the watching guard; from where he lay came sounds o_estless movement. Chet knew that he was not alone in this mood of hopeles_ejection. There was no opportunity for talk; only with the coming of day di_he two find a chance to exchange a few quick words.
The guard roused the others at the first sight of sunlight beyond the ports.
Harkness sauntered slowly to where Chet was staring from a lookout. He, too, leaned to see the world outside, and he spoke cautiously in a half-whisper:
"Not a chance, Chet. No use trying to bluff this big crook any more. He'_ere, and he's safe; and he knows it as well as we do. We'll let him ditc_s—you and Diane and me. Then, when we're on our own, we'll watch our chance.
He will go crazy with what he finds—may get careless—then we'll seize th_hip—" His words ended abruptly. As Schwartzmann came behind them, he wa_asually calling Chet's attention to a fumerole from which a jet of vapor ha_ppeared. Yellowish, it was; and the wind was blowing it.
Chet turned away; he hardly saw Schwartzmann or heard Harkness' words. He wa_hinking of what Walt had said. Yes, it was all they could do; there was n_hance of a fight with them now. But later!
Diane Delacouer came into the control-room at the instant; her dark eyes wer_till lovely with sleep, but they brightened to flash an encouraging smil_oward the two men. There were five of Schwartzmann's men in the ship beside_he pilot and the scientist, Kreiss. They all crowded in after Diane.
They must have had their orders in advance; Schwartzmann merely nodded, an_hey sprang upon Harkness and Chet. The two were caught off their guard; thei_rms were twisted behind them before resistance could be thought of. Dian_ave a cry, started forward, and was brushed back by a sweep of Schwartzmann'_rm. The man himself stood staring at them, unmoving, wordless. Only the fles_bout his eyes gathered into creases to squeeze the eyes to malignant slits.
There was no mistaking the menace in that look.
"I think we do not need you any more," he said at last. "I think, Her_arkness, this is the end of our little argument—and, Herr Harkness, you lose.
Now, I will tell you how it iss that you pay.
"You haff thought, perhaps, I would kill you. But you were wrong, as you man_imes have been. You haff not appreciated my kindness; you haff not understoo_hat mine iss a heart of gold.
"Even I was not sure before we came what it iss best to do. But now I know. _aw oceans and many lands on this world. I saw islands in those oceans.
"You so clever are—such a great thinker iss Herr Harkness—and on one of thos_slands you will haff plenty of time to think—yess! You can think of your goo_riend, Schwartzmann, and of his kindness to you."
"You are going to maroon us on an island?" asked Walt Harkness hoarsely.
Plainly his plans for seizing the ship were going awry. "You are going to pu_he three of us off in some lost corner of this world?"
Chet Bullard was silent until he saw the figure of Harkness struggling t_hrow off his two guards. "Walt," he called loudly, "take it easy! For God'_ake, Walt, keep your head!"
This, Chet sensed, was no time for resistance. Let Schwartzmann go ahead wit_is plans; let him think them complacent and unresisting; let Max pilot th_hip; then watch for an opening when they could land a blow that would count!
He heard Schwartzmann laughing now, laughing as if he were enjoying somethin_ore pleasing than the struggles of Walt.
Chet was standing by the controls. The metal instrument-table was beside him; above it was the control itself, a metal ball that hung suspended in ai_ithin a cage of curved bars.
It was pure magic, this ball-control, where magnetic fields crossed an_ecrossed; it was as if the one who held it were a genie who could throw th_hip itself where he willed. Glass almost enclosed the cage of bars, and th_hole instrument swung with the self-compensating platform that adjuste_tself to the "gravitation" of accelerated speed. The pilot, Max, had move_cross to the instrument-table, ready for the take-off.
Schwartzmann's laughter died to a gurgling chuckle. He wiped his eyes befor_e replied to Harkness' question.
"Leave you," he said, "in one place? _Nein!_ One here, the other there. _housand miles apart, it might be. And not all three of you. That would be s_nkind—"
He interrupted himself to call to Kreiss who was opening the port.
"No," he ordered: "keep it closed. We are not going outside; we are going up."
But Kreiss had the port open. "I want a man to get some fresh water," he said;
"he will only be a minute."
He shoved at a waiting man to hurry him through the doorway. It was only _entle push: Chet wondered as he saw the man stagger and grasp at his throat.
He was coughing—choking horribly for an instant outside the open port—the_ell to the ground, while his legs jerked awkwardly, spasmodically.
Chet saw Kreiss follow. The scientist would have leaped to the side of th_tricken man, whose body was so still now on the sunlit rock; but he, too, crumpled, then staggered back into the room. He pushed feebly at the port an_wung it shut. His face, as he turned, was drawn into fearful lines.
"Acid!" He choked out the words between strangled breaths.
Chet turned quickly to the spectro-analyzer: the lines of oxygen and nitroge_ere merged with others, and that meant an atmosphere unfit for human lungs!
There had been a fumerole where yellowish vapor was spouting: he remembered i_ow.
"So!" boomed Schwartzmann, and now his squinting eyes were full on Chet.
"You—you _schwein_! You said when we opened the ports there would be _urprise! Und this iss it! You thought to see us kill ourselves!
"Open that port!" he shouted. The men who held Chet released him and spran_orward to obey. The pilot, Max, took their place. He put one hand on Chet'_houlder, while his other hand brought up a threatening metal bar.
Schwartzmann's heavy face had lost its stolid look; it was alive with rage. H_hrust his head forward to glare at the men, while he stood firmly, his fee_ar apart, two heavy fists on his hips. He whirled abruptly and caught Dian_y one arm. He pulled her roughly to him and encircled the girl's trim figur_ith one huge arm.
"Put you _all_ on one island?" he shouted. "Did you think I would put yo_all_ out of the ship? You"—he pointed at Harkness—"and you"—this time it wa_het—"go out now. You can die in your damned gas that you expected would kil_e! But, you fools, you imbeciles—Mam'selle, she stays with me!" Th_truggling girl was helpless in the great arm that drew her close.
Harkness' mad rage gave place to a dead stillness. From bloodless lips in _halk-white face he spat out one sentence:
"Take your filthy hands off her—now—or I'll—"
Schwartzmann's one free hand still held the pistol. He raised it with deadl_eliberation; it came level with Harkness' unflinching eyes.
"Yes?" said Schwartzmann, "You will do—what?"
Chet saw the deadly tableau. He knew with a conviction that gripped his hear_hat here was the end. Walt would die and he would be next. Diane would b_eft defenseless… . The flashing thought that followed came to him as sharpl_s the crack of any pistol. It seemed to burst inside his brain, to lift hi_ith some dynamic power of its own and project him into action.
He threw himself sideways from under the pilot's hand, out from beneath th_eavy metal bar—and he whirled, as he leaped, to face the man. One lean, brow_and clenched to a fist that started a long swing from somewhere near hi_nees; it shot upward to crash beneath the pilot's outthrust jaw and lift hi_rom the floor. Max had aimed the bar in a downward sweep where Chet's hea_ad been the moment before; and now man and bar went down together. In th_ame instant Chet threw himself upon the weapon and leaped backward to hi_eet.
One frozen second, while, to Chet, the figures seemed as motionless as i_arved from stone—two men beside the half-opened port—Harkness in convulsiv_rithing between two others—the figure of Diane, strained, tense and helples_n Schwartzmann's grasp—and Schwartzmann, whose aim had been disturbed, steadying the pistol deliberately upon Harkness—
"Wait!" Chet's voice tore through the confusion. He knew he must gri_chwartzmann's attention—hold that trigger finger that was tensed to send _etonite bullet on its way. "Wait, damn you! I'll answer your question. I'l_ell you what we'll do!"
In that second he had swung the metal bar high; now he brought it crashin_own in front of him. Schwartzmann flinched, half turned as if to fire a_het, and saw the blow was not for him.
With a splintering crash, the bar went through an obstruction. There was soun_f glass that slivered to a million mangled bits—the sharp tang of meta_roken off—a crash and clatter—then silence, save for one bit of glass tha_ell belatedly to the floor, its tiny jingling crash ringing loud in th_eathly stillness of the room… .
It had been the control-room, this place of metal walls and of shining, polished instruments, and it could be called that no longer. For, battered t_seless wreckage, there lay on a metal table a cage that had once been forme_f curving bars. Among the fragments a metal ball that had guided the grea_hip still rocked idly from its fall, until it, too, was still.
It was a room where nothing moved—where no person so much as breathed… .
Then came the Master Pilot's voice, and it was speaking with quiet finality.
"And that," he said, "is your answer. Our ship has made its last flight."
His eyes held steadily upon the blanched face of Herr Schwartzmann, whose lim_rms released the body of Diane; the pistol hung weakly at the man's side. An_he pilot's voice went on, so quiet, so hushed—so curiously toneless in tha_ilent room.
"What was it that you said?—that Harkness and I would be staying here? Well, you were right when you said that, Schwartzmann: but it's a hard sentence, that—imprisonment for life."
Chet paused now, to smile deliberately, grimly at the dark face so bleache_nd bloodless, before he repeated:
"Imprisonment for life!—and you didn't know that you were sentencing yourself.
For you're staying too, Schwartzmann, you contemptible, thieving dog! You'r_taying with us—here—on the Dark Moon!"