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The World with a Thousand Moons

The World with a Thousand Moons

Edmond Moore Hamilton

Update: 2020-04-22

Chapter 1 Thrill Cruise

  • Lance Kenniston felt the cold realization of failure as he came out of th_uilding into the sharp chill of the Martian night. He stood for a moment, hi_ean, drawn face haggard in the light of the two hurtling moons.
  • He looked hopelessly across the dark spaceport. It was a large one, for thi_ncient town of Syrtis was the main port of Mars. The forked light of th_lying moons showed many ships docked on the tarmac—a big liner, severa_reighters, a small, shining cruiser and other small craft. And for lack o_ne of those ships, his hopes were ruined!
  • A squat, brawny figure in shapeless space-jacket came to Kenniston's side. I_as Holk Or, the Jovian who had been waiting for him.
  • "What luck?" asked the Jovian in a rumbling whisper.
  • "It's hopeless," Kenniston answered heavily. "There isn't a small cruiser t_e had at any price. The meteor-miners buy up all small ships here."
  • "The devil!" muttered Holk Or, dismayed. "What are we going to do? Go on t_arth and get a cruiser there?"
  • "We can't do that," Kenniston answered. "You know we've got to get back t_hat asteroid within two weeks. We've got to get a ship here."
  • Desperation made Kenniston's voice taut. His lean, hard face was bleak wit_nowledge of disastrous failure.
  • The big Jovian scratched his head. In the shifting moonslight his battere_reen face expressed ignorant perplexity as he stared across the bus_paceport.
  • "That shiny little cruiser there would be just the thing," Holk Or muttered, looking at the gleaming, torpedo-shaped craft nearby. "It would hold all th_tuff we've got to take; and with robot controls we two could run it."
  • "We haven't a chance to get that craft," Kenniston told him. "I found out tha_t's under charter to a bunch of rich Earth youngsters who came out here in i_or a pleasure cruise. A girl named Loring, heiress to Loring Radium, is th_ead of the party."
  • The Jovian swore. "Just the ship we need, and a lot of spoiled kids are usin_t for thrill-hunting!"
  • Kenniston had an idea. "It might be," he said slowly, "that they're tired o_he cruise by this time and would sell us the craft. I think I'll go up to th_erra Hotel and see this Loring girl."
  • "Sure, let's try it anyway," Holk Or agreed.
  • The Earthman looked at him anxiously. "Oughtn't you to keep under cover, Holk?
  • The Planet Patrol has had your record on file for a long time. If you happene_o be recognized—"
  • "Bah, they think I'm dead, don't they?" scoffed the Jovian. "There's no dange_f us getting picked up."
  • Kenniston was not so sure, but he was too driven by urgent need to waste tim_n argument. With the Jovian clumping along beside him, he made his way fro_he spaceport across the ancient Martian city.
  • The dark streets of old Syrtis were not crowded. Martians are not a nocturna_eople and only a few were abroad in the chill darkness, even they bein_rapped in heavy synthewool cloaks from which only their bald red heads an_olemn, cadaverous faces protruded.
  • Earthmen were fairly numerous in this main port of the planet. Swaggerin_pace-sailors, prosperous-looking traders and rough meteor-miners made up th_ost of them. There were a few tourists gaping at the grotesque old blac_tone buildings, and under a krypton-bulb at a corner, two men in the dra_niform of the Patrol stood eyeing passersby sharply. Kenniston breathed mor_asily when he and the Jovian had passed the two officers without challenge.
  • The Terra Hotel stood in a garden at the edge of town, fronting the moonli_mmensity of the desert. This glittering glass block, especially built t_ater to the tourist trade from Earth, was Earth-conditioned inside. It_ravitation, air pressure and humidity were ingeniously maintained at Eart_tandards for the greater comfort of its patrons.
  • Kenniston felt oddly oppressed by the warm, soft air inside the resplenden_obby. He had spent so much of his time away from Earth that he had becom_ore or less adapted to thinner, colder atmospheres.
  • "Miss Gloria Loring?" repeated the immaculate young Earthman behind th_nformation desk. His eyes appraised Kenniston's shabby space-jacket and th_ulking green Jovian. "I am afraid—"
  • "I'm here to see her on important business, by appointment," Kennisto_napped.
  • The clerk melted at once. "Oh, I see! I believe that Miss Loring's party i_ow in The Bridge. That's our cocktail room—top floor."
  • Kenniston felt badly out of place, riding up in the magnetic lift with Hol_r. The other people in the car, Earthmen and women in the shimmerin_ynthesilks of the latest formal dress, stared at him and the Jovian as thoug_ondering how they had ever gained admittance.
  • The lights, silks and perfumes made Kenniston feel even shabbier than he was.
  • All this luxury was a far cry from the hard, dangerous life he had led for s_ong amid the wild asteroids and moons of the outer planets.
  • It was worse up in the glittering cocktail room atop the hotel. The place ha_lassite walls and ceiling, and was designed to give an impression of th_avigating bridge of a space-ship. The orchestra played behind a phon_ontrol-board of instruments and rocket-controls. Meaningless space-chart_ung on the walls for decoration. It was just the sort of pretentious sham, Kenniston thought contemptuously, to appeal to tourists.
  • "Some crowd!" muttered Holk Or, looking over the tables of richly dressed an_ewelled people. His small eyes gleamed. "What a place to loot!"
  • "Shut up!" Kenniston muttered hastily. He asked a waiter for the Loring party, and was conducted to a table in a corner.
  • There were a half dozen people at the table, most of them young Earthmen an_irls. They were drinking pink Martian desert-wine, except for one sulky- looking youngster who had stuck to Earth whisky.
  • One of the girls turned and looked at Kenniston with cool, insolentl_ninterested gaze when the waiter whispered to her politely.
  • "I'm Gloria Loring," she drawled. "What did you want to see me about?"
  • She was dark and slim, and surprisingly young. There were almost childis_ines to the bare shoulders revealed by her low golden gown. Her thoroughbre_race and beauty were spoiled for Kenniston by the bored look in her clea_ark eyes and the faintly disdainful droop of her mouth.
  • The chubby, rosy youth beside her goggled in simulated amazement and terror a_he battered green Jovian behind Kenniston. He set down his glass with _heatrical gesture of horror.
  • "This Martian liquor has got me!" he exclaimed. "I can see a little gree_an!"
  • Holk Or started wrathfully forward. "Why, that young pup—"
  • Kenniston hastily restrained him with a gesture. He turned back to the table.
  • Some of the girls were giggling.
  • "Be quiet, Robbie," Gloria Loring was telling the chubby young comedian. Sh_urned her cool gaze back to Kenniston. "Well?"
  • "Miss Loring, I heard down at the spaceport that you are the charterer of tha_mall cruiser, the  _Sunsprite_ ," Kenniston explained. "I need a craft lik_hat very badly. If you would part with her, I'd be glad to pay almost an_rice for your charter."
  • The girl looked at him in astonishment. "Why in the world should I let yo_ave our cruiser?"
  • Kenniston said earnestly, "Your party could travel just as well and a lot mor_omfortably by liner. And getting a cruiser like that is a life-or-deat_usiness for me right now."
  • "I'm not interested in your business, Mr. Kenniston," drawled Gloria Loring.
  • "And I certainly don't propose to alter our plans just to help a stranger ou_f his difficulties."
  • Kenniston flushed from the cool rebuke. He stood there, suddenly feeling _avage dislike for the whole pampered group of them.
  • "Beside that," the girl continued, "we chose the cruiser for this trip becaus_e wanted to get off the beaten track of liner routes, and see something new.
  • We're going from here out to Jupiter's moons."
  • Kenniston perceived that these bored, spoiled youngsters were out here huntin_or new thrills on the interplanetary frontier. His dislike of them increased.
  • A clean-cut, sober-faced young man who seemed older and more serious than th_est of the party, was speaking to the heiress.
  • "Unhardened space-travellers like us are likely to get hit by gravitatio_aralysis out in the outer planets, Gloria," he was saying to the heiress. "_on't think we ought to go farther out than Mars."
  • Gloria looked at him mockingly. "If you're scared, Hugh, why did you leav_our nice safe office on Earth and come along with us?"
  • The chubby youth called Robbie laughed loudly. "We all know why Hugh Murdoc_ame along. It's not thrills he wants—it's you, Gloria."
  • They were all ignoring Kenniston now. He felt that he had been dismissed bu_e was desperately reluctant to lose his last hope of getting a ship. Someho_e  _must_  get that cruiser!
  • A stratagem occurred to him. If these spoiled scions wouldn't give up thei_hip, at least he might induce them to go where he wanted.
  • Kenniston hesitated. It would mean leading them all into the deadliest kind o_eril. But a man's life depended on it. A man who was worth all these ric_oung wastrels put together. He decided to try it.
  • "Miss Loring, if it's thrills you're after, maybe I can furnish them,"
  • Kenniston said. "Maybe we can team up on this. How would you like to go on _oyage after the biggest treasure in the System?"
  • "Treasure?" exclaimed the heiress surprisedly. "Where is it?"
  • They were all leaning forward, with quick interest. Kenniston saw that hi_ait had caught them.
  • "You've heard of John Dark, the notorious space-pirate?" he asked.
  • Gloria nodded. "Of course. The telenews was full of his exploits until th_atrol caught and destroyed his ship a few weeks ago."
  • Kenniston corrected her. "The Patrol caught up to John Dark's ship in th_steroid, but didn't completely destroy it. They gunned the pirate craft to _reck in a running fight. But Dark's wrecked ship drifted into a dangerou_one of meteor swarms where they couldn't follow."
  • "I remember now—that's what the telenews said," conceded the heiress. "Bu_ark and his crew were undoubtedly killed, they said."
  • "John Dark," Kenniston went on, "looted scores of ships during his career. H_massed a hoard of jewels and precious metals. And he kept it right with hi_n his ship. That treasure's still in that lost wreck."
  • "How do you know?" asked Hugh Murdock bluntly.
  • "Because I found the lost wreck of Dark's ship myself," Kenniston answered. H_ated to lie like this, but knew that he had no choice.
  • He plunged on. "I'm a meteor-miner by profession. Two weeks ago my Jovia_artner and I were prospecting in the outer asteroid zone in our littl_ocket. Our air-tanks got low and to replenish them, we landed on the asteroi_esta. That's the big asteroid they call the World with a Thousand Moons, because it's circled by a swarm of hundreds of meteors.
  • "It's a weird, jungled little world, inhabited by some very queer forms o_ife. In landing, my partner and I noticed where some great object had crashe_own into the jungle. We discovered it was the wreck of John Dark's ship. Th_reck had drifted until it crashed on Vesta, almost completely burying itsel_n the ground. No one was alive on it, of course."
  • Kenniston concluded. "We knew Dark's treasure must still be in the burie_reck. But it would take machinery and equipment to dig out the wreck. So w_ame here to Mars, intending to get a small cruiser, load it with th_ecessary equipment, and go back to Vesta and lift the treasure. Only w_aven't been able to get a ship of any kind."
  • He leaned toward the girl. "Here's my proposition, Miss Loring. You take u_nd our equipment to Vesta in your cruiser, and we'll share the treasure wit_ou fifty-fifty. What do you say?"
  • The blonde girl beside Gloria uttered a squeal of excitement. "Pirat_reasure! Gloria, let's do it—what a thrill it would be!"
  • The others showed equal excitement. The romance of a treasure hunt in the wil_steroids lured them, rather than the possible rewards.
  • "We'd certainly be able to take back a wonderful story to Earth if we foun_ohn Dark's treasure," admitted Gloria, with quick, eager interest.
  • Hugh Murdock was an exception to the general enthusiasm. He asked Kenniston,
  • "How do you know the treasure's still in the buried wreck?"
  • "Because the wreck was still undisturbed," Kenniston answered. "And because w_ound these jewels on the body of one of John Dark's crew, who had been flun_lear somehow when the wreck crashed."
  • He held out a half-dozen gems he took from his pocket. They were Saturnia_oon-stones, softly shining white jewels whose brilliance waxed and waned i_erfect periodic rhythm.
  • "These jewels," Kenniston said, "must have been that pirate's share of th_oot. You can imagine how rich John Dark's own hoard must be."
  • The jewels, worth many thousands, swept away the lingering incredulity of th_thers as Kenniston had known they would.
  • "You're sure no one else knows the wreck is there?" Gloria asked breathlessly.
  • "We kept our find absolutely secret," Kenniston told her. "But since I can'_et a ship any other way, I'm willing to share the hoard with you. If I wai_oo long, someone else may find the wreck."
  • "I accept your proposition, Mr. Kenniston!" Gloria declared. "We'll start fo_esta just as soon as you can get the equipment you'll need loaded on th_Sunsprite_."
  • "Gloria, you're being too hasty," protested Hugh Murdock. "I've heard of thi_orld with a Thousand Moons. There're stories of queer, unhuman creatures the_all Vestans, who infest that asteroid. The danger—"
  • Gloria impatiently dismissed his objections. "Hugh, if you are going to star_orrying about dangers again, you'd better go back to Earth and safety."
  • Murdock flushed and was silent. Kenniston felt a certain sympathy for th_oung businessman. He knew, if these others did not, just how real was th_lien menace of those strange creatures, the Vestans.
  • "I'll go right down to the spaceport and see about loading the equipmen_board your cruiser," Kenniston told the heiress. "You'd better give me a not_o your captain. We ought to be able to start tomorrow."
  • "Pirate treasure on an unexplored asteroid!" exulted the enthusiastic Robbie.
  • "Ho for the World with a Thousand Moons!"
  • Kenniston felt guilty when he and Holk Or left the big hotel. Thes_oungsters, he thought, hadn't the faintest idea of the peril into which h_as leading them. They were as ignorant as babies of the dark evil an_nearthly danger of the interplanetary frontier.
  • He hardened himself against the qualms of conscience. There was that at stake, he told himself fiercely, against which the safety of a lot of spoiled, ric_oung people was absolutely nothing.
  • Holk Or was chuckling as they emerged into the chill Martian night. He tol_enniston admiringly, "That was one of the smoothest jobs of lying I eve_eard, that story about finding John Dark's treasure. Take it from me, it wa_lick!"
  • The Jovian guffawed loudly as he added, "What would their faces be like i_hey knew that John Dark and his crew are still living? That it was John Dar_imself who sent us here?"
  • "Be quiet, you idiot!" ordered Kenniston hastily. "Do you want the whol_atrol to hear you?"