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Planet of the Gods

Planet of the Gods

Robert Moore Williams

Update: 2020-04-22

Chapter 1

  • "What do you make of it?" Commander Jed Hargraves asked huskily.
  • Ron Val, busy at the telescope, was too excited to look up from the eye-piece.
  • "There are at least two planets circling Vega!" he said quickly. "There may b_ther planets farther out, but I can see two plainly. And Jed, the neares_lanet, the one we are approaching, has an atmosphere. The telescope reveals _lur that could only be caused by an atmosphere. And—Jed, this may seem s_mpossible you won't believe it—but I can see several large spots on th_urface that are almost certainly lakes. They are not big enough to be calle_ceans or seas. But I am almost positive they are lakes!"
  • According to the preconceptions of astronomers, formed before they had _hance to go see for themselves, solar systems were supposed to be rare birds.
  • Not every sun had a chance to give birth to planets. Not one sun in _housand, maybe not one in a million; maybe, with the exception of Sol, no_nother one in the whole universe.
  • And here the first sun approached by the Third Interstellar Expedition wa_ircled by planets!
  • The sight was enough to drive an astronomer insane.
  • Ron Val tore his eyes away from the telescope long enough to stare at Captai_argraves. "Air and water on this planet!" he gasped. "Jed, do you realiz_hat this may mean?"
  • Jed Hargraves grinned. His face was lean and brown, and the grin, spreadin_ver it, relaxed a little from the tension that had been present for months.
  • "Easy, old man," he said, clapping Ron Val on the shoulder. "There is nothin_o get so excited about."
  • "But a solar system—"
  • "We came from one."
  • "I know we did. But just the same, finding another will put our names in al_he books on astronomy. They aren't the commonest things in the universe, yo_now. And to find one of the planets of this new system with air an_ater—Jed, where there is air and water there may be life!"
  • "There probably is. Life, in some form, seems to be everywhere. Remember w_ound spores being kicked around by light waves in the deepest depths o_pace. And Pluto, in our own system, has mosses and lichens that th_iologists insist are alive. It won't be surprising if we find life ou_here." He gestured through the port at the world swimming through spac_oward them.
  • "I mean intelligent life," Ron Val corrected.
  • "Don't bet on it. The old boys had the idea they would find intelligent lif_n Mars, until they got there. Then they discovered that intelligent creature_ad once lived on the Red Planet. Cities, canals, and stuff. But the peopl_ho had built the cities and canals had died of starvation long before human_ot to Mars. So it isn't a good bet that we shall find intelligence here."
  • The astronomer's face drooped a little. But not for long. "That was true o_ars," he said. "But it isn't necessarily true here. And even if Mars wa_ead, Venus wasn't. Nor is Earth. If there is life on two of the planets o_ur own solar system, there may be life on one of the planets of Vega. Wh_ot?" he challenged.
  • "Hey, wait a minute," Hargraves answered. "I'm not trying to start a_rgument."
  • "Why not?"
  • "If you mean why not an argument—"
  • "I mean, why not life here?"
  • "I don't know why not," Hargraves shrugged. "For that matter, I don't kno_why_ , either." He looked closely at Ron Val. "You ape! I believe you'r_oping we will find life here."
  • "Of course that's what I'm hoping," Ron Val answered quickly. "It would mean _ot to find people here. We could exchange experiences, learn a lot. I kno_t's probably too much to hope for." He broke off. "Jed, are we going to lan_ere?"
  • "Certainly we're going to land here!" Jed Hargraves said emphatically. "Why i_he hell do you think we've crossed thirty light years if we don't land on _orld when we find one? This is an exploring expedition—"
  • Hargraves saw that he had no listener. Ron Val had listened only long enoug_o learn what he wanted to know, then had dived back to his beloved telescop_o watch the world spiraling up through space toward them. That world meant _ot to Ron Val, the thrill of discovery, of exploring where a human foot ha_ever trod in all the history of the universe.
  • New lands in the sky! The Third Interstellar Expedition—third because tw_thers were winging out across space, one toward Sirius, the other towar_ygnus—was approaching land! The fact also meant something to Jed Hargraves, possibly a little less than it did to Ron Val because Hargraves had mor_esponsibilities. He was captain of the ship, commander of the expedition. I_as his duty to take the ship to Vega, and to bring it safely home.
  • Half of his task was done. Vega was bright in the sky ahead and the toug_ubble of steel and quartz that was the ship was dropping down to rest on on_f Vega's planets. Hargraves started to leave the nook that housed Ron Val an_is telescope.
  • The ship's loudspeaker system shouted with sudden sound.
  • "Jed! Jed Hargraves! Come to the bridge at once."
  • That was Red Nielson's voice. He was speaking from the control room in th_ose of the ship. Nielson sounded excited.
  • Hargraves pushed a button under the loudspeaker. The system was two-way, allowing for intercommunication.
  • "Hargraves speaking. What's wrong?"
  • "A ship is approaching. It is coming straight toward us."
  • "A ship! Are you out of your head? This is Vega."
  • "I don't give a damn if it's Brooklyn! I know a space ship when I see one. An_his is one. Either get up here and take command or tell me what you wan_one."
  • Discipline among the personnel of this expedition was so nearly perfect ther_as no need for it. Consequently there was none. Before leaving earth, skille_ental analysts had aided in the selection of this crew, and had welded i_ogether so artfully that it thought, acted, and functioned as a unit. Je_argraves was captain, but he had never heard the word spoken, and neve_anted to hear it. No one had ever put "sir" after his name. Nor had anyon_ver questioned an order, after it was given. Violent argument there might be, before an order was given, with Hargraves filtering the pros and cons throug_is rigidly logical mind, but the instant he reached a decision the argumen_topped. He was one of the crew, and the crew knew it. The crew was one wit_im, and he knew it.
  • He might question Nielson's facts, once, in surprise. But not twice. I_ielson said a ship was approaching, a ship  _was_  approaching.
  • "I'm coming," Hargraves rapped into the mike. "Turn full power into th_efense screen. Warn the engine room to be ready for an emergency. Sound th_all to stations. And Red, hold us away from this planet."
  • Almost before he had finished speaking, a siren was wailing through the ship.
  • Although he had used the microphone in the nook that housed the telescope, Ro_al had been so interested in the world they were approaching that he had no_eard the captain's orders. He heard the siren.
  • "What is it, Jed?"
  • Hargraves didn't have time to explain. He was diving out the door and racin_oward the bridge in the nose of the ship. "Come on," he flung back over hi_houlder at Ron Val. "Your post is at the fore negatron."
  • Ron Val took one despairing glance at his telescope, then followed th_ommander.
  • As he ran toward the control room, Hargraves heard the ship begin to radiate _ew tempo of sound. The siren was dying into silence, its warning tas_inished. Other sounds were taking its place. From the engine room in th_tern was coming a spiteful hiss, like steam escaping under great pressur_rom a tiny vent valve. That was the twin atomics, loading up, building up th_nconceivable pressures they would feed to the Kruchek drivers. A sligh_umble went through the ship, a rumble seemingly radiated from every molecule, from every atom, in the vessel. It  _was_  radiated from every molecule! Tha_umble came from the Kruchek drivers warping the ship in response to th_ontrols on the bridge. Bill Kruchek's going-faster-than-hell engines, engineers called them. A fellow by the name of Bill Kruchek had invented them.
  • When Bill Krucheck's going-faster-than-hell drivers dug their toes into th_attice of space and put brawny shoulders behind every molecule within th_ield they generated, a ship within that field went faster than light. Th_ruchek drivers, given the juice they needed in such tremendous quantities, took you from hell to yonder in a mighty hurry. They had been idling, driftin_he ship slowly in toward the planet. Now, in response to an impulse fro_ielson on the bridge, they grumbled, and hunching mighty shoulders for th_oad, prepared to hurl the ship away from the planet. Hargraves could feel th_essel surge in response to the speed. Then there was a distant thud, and h_ould feel the surge no longer. The anti-accelerators had been cut in, neutralizing the effect of inertia.
  • Shoving open a heavy door, Hargraves was in the control room. A glance showe_im Nielson on the bridge. Leaning over, his fingers on the bank of button_hat controlled the ship, he was peering through the heavy quartzit_bservation port at something approaching from the right. Beside him, on hi_ight, a man was standing ready at the radio panel. And to the left of th_ridge two men had already jerked the covers from the negatron and wer_tanding ready beside it.
  • Ron Val leaped past Hargraves, dived for a seat on the negatron. That was hi_ost. He had been chosen for it because of his familiarity with optica_nstruments. Along the top of the negatron was a sighting telescope. Ron Va_ooked once to see where the man on the bridge was looking, then his finger_lew to the adjusting levers of the telescope. The negatron swung around t_he right, centered on something there.
  • "Ready," Ron Val said, not taking his eyes from the 'scope.
  • "Hold your fire," Hargraves ordered.
  • He was on the bridge, standing beside Red Nielson. Off to the right he coul_ee the enemy ship. Odd that he should think of it as an enemy. It wasn't. I_as merely a strange ship. But there were relics in his mind, vague racia_emories, of the days when stranger and enemy were synonymous. The times whe_his was true were gone forever, but the thoughts remained.
  • "Shall we run for it?" Nielson questioned, his hands on the controls tha_ould turn full power into the drivers.
  • "No. If we run, they will think we have some reason for running. That might b_ll they would need to conclude we are up to no good. Is the defense screen o_ull power?"
  • "Yes." Nielson pushed the lever again to be sure. "I'm giving it all it wil_ake."
  • Hargraves could barely see the screen out there a half mile from the ship. I_as twinkling dimly as it swept up cosmic dust.[[1]](footnotes.xml#footnote_1)
  • The oncoming ship had been a dot in the sky. Now it was a round ball.
  • "Try them on the radio," Hargraves said. "They probably won't understand u_ut at least they will know we're trying to communicate with them."
  • There was a swirl of action at the radio panel.
  • "No answer," the radio operator said.
  • "Keep trying."
  • "Look!" Nielson shouted. "They've changed course. They're coming straigh_oward us."
  • The ball had bobbled in its smooth flight. As though caught in the attractio_f a magnet it was coming straight toward them.
  • For an instant, Hargraves stared. Should he run or should he wait? He didn'_ant to run and he didn't want to fight. On the other hand, he did not want t_ake chances with the safety of the men under his command.
  • His mission was peaceful. Entirely so. But the ball was driving straigh_oward them. How big it was he could not estimate. It wasn't very big. Oddly, it presented a completely blank surface. No ports. And, so far as he coul_ell, there was no discharge from driving engines. The latter meant nothing.
  • Their own ship showed no discharge from the Kruchek drivers. But no ports—
  • It came so fast he couldn't see it come. The flash of light! It came from th_all. For the fractional part of a second, the defense screen twinkled wher_he flash of light hit it. But—the defense screen was not designed to tur_ight or any other form of radiation. The light came through. It wasn't light.
  • It carried a component of visible radiation but it wasn't light. The bea_truck the earth ship.
  • _Clang!_
  • From the stern came a sudden scream of tortured metal. The ship rocked, careened, tried to spin on its axis. On the control panels, a dozen red light_lashed, winked off, winked on again. Heavy thuds echoed through the vessel.
  • Emergency compartments closing.
  • Hargraves hesitated no longer.
  • "Full speed ahead!" he shouted at Red Nielson.
  • "Ron Val. Fire!"
  • This was an attack. This was a savage, vicious attack, delivered withou_arning, with no attempt to parley. The ship had been hit. How badly it ha_een damaged he did not know. But unless the damage was too heavy they coul_utrun this ball, flash away from it faster than light, disappear in the sky, vanish. The ship had legs to run. There was no limit to her speed. She coul_o fast, then she could go faster.
  • "Full speed—"
  • Nielson looked up from the bank of buttons. His face was ashen. "She doesn'_espond, Jed. The drivers are off. The engine room is knocked out."
  • There was no rumble from Bill Kruchek's going-faster-than-hell engines. Th_iss of the atomics was still faintly audible. Short of annihilation, nothin_ould knock them out. Energy was being generated but it wasn't getting to th_rive. Leaping to the controls, Hargraves tried them himself.
  • They didn't respond.
  • "Engine room!" he shouted into the communication system.
  • There was no answer.
  • The ship began to yaw, to drop away toward the planet below them. The plane_as far distant as yet, but the grasping fingers of its gravity were reachin_oward the vessel, pulling it down.
  • Voices shouted within the ship.
  • "Jed!"
  • "What happened?"
  • "Jed, we're falling!"
  • "That ball, Jed—"
  • Voices calling to Jed Hargraves, asking him what to do. He couldn't answer.
  • There was no answer. There was only—the ball! It was the answer.
  • Through the observation port, he could see the circular ship. It was gettin_eady to attack again. The sphere was moving leisurely toward its alread_rippled prey, getting ready to deliver the final stroke. It would answer al_uestions of this crew, answer them unmistakably. It leered at them.
  • _Wham!_
  • The ship vibrated to a sudden gust of sound. Something lashed out from th_essel. Hargraves did not see it go because it, too, went faster than the ey_ould follow. But he knew what it was. The sound told him. He saw the hol_ppear in the sphere. A round hole that opened inward. Dust puffed outward.
  • _Wham, wham, wham!_
  • The negatron! The blood brother of the defense screen, its energie_oncentrated into a pencil of radiation. Faster than anyone could see i_appen, three more holes appeared in the sphere, driving through its oute_hell, punching into the machinery at its heart.
  • The sphere shuddered under the impact. It turned. Light spewed out of it, beaming viciously into this alien sky without direction. Smoke boiled from th_all. Turning it seemed to roll along the sky. It looked like a huge burnin_nowball rolling down some vast hill.
  • Ron Val lifted a white face from the sighting 'scope of the negatron.
  • "Did—did I get him?"
  • "I'll say you did!" Hargraves heard somebody shout exultantly. He wa_urprised to discover his own voice was doing the shouting. The sphere wa_inished, done for. It was out of the fight, rolling down the vast hill of th_ky, it would smash on the planet below.
  • They were following it.
  • There was still no answer from the engine room.
  • "Space suits!" Hargraves ordered. "Nielson, you stay here. Ron Val, yo_thers, come with me."