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Chapter 5 Night Attack

  • Kenniston caught desperately at the hope implied by the Jovian's words.
  • "What do you mean, Holk?"
  • "I mean that I'm a hundred times stronger on this little asteroid than I am o_y own world, Jupiter. I can break the bolt of that door any time I want to."
  • "But there's an armed guard stationed outside it."
  • "I know, and that's where you come in, Kenniston. When I rip the door open, you be ready to jump the guard."
  • Kenniston considered swiftly. The chance of their getting out of the ship an_afely through the jungles to the pirate camp, even if they escaped thi_abin, seemed a slim one. Yet it presented the only possibility of deliverin_he equipment in the hold to John Dark.
  • The bitter irony of it struck Kenniston, for the hundredth time. He, Lanc_enniston, honorable space-man for a dozen years, working desperately to ai_he most notorious pirate in the void! Even drawing into danger the girl fo_hom he felt—
  • He shut Gloria out of his mind. He mustn't think of her now. He must thin_nly of Ricky, and of what would be lost if Ricky died. He must ris_verything, sacrifice everything, to prevent that loss.
  • "We might as well try it now," he told the Jovian in low tones. "The shi_eems quiet."
  • "I'll do my best to make as little noise as possible," Holk Or muttered. "Ar_ou ready?"
  • The Jovian's big hands grasped the knob of the door. Kenniston crouched _ittle behind him, every muscle tense.
  • Holk Or suddenly put all his gigantically magnified strength into a tremendou_ug at the door. Its bolt snapped with a crack like that of a pistolshot, an_t swung wide open.
  • The man on guard outside turned startledly, his hand darting to the atom-gu_t his belt and his mouth open to yell. But Kenniston had launched himsel_ike a human projectile as the door was torn open.
  • Kenniston's fist smashed the space-sailor's chin and the man sagged limp an_nconscious with no chance to utter the cry on his lips. Hastily, Kennisto_ook his atom-pistol and eased him to the floor.
  • He and Holk Or listened tensely. The single sharp crack of the snapping bol_ad apparently aroused no one. The ship was silent. All aboard were sleepin_xhaustedly.
  • "Come on," Kenniston murmured tensely to the Jovian. "We've got to hurry t_et to Dark's camp before night is over."
  • Holk Or chuckled. "The chief will welcome us with open arms when he learn_e've got the equipment here for him."
  • Kenniston gripped the atom-pistol as they stole through the dark ship and ou_f the space-door. Outside, they paused in the darkness.
  • The scene was one of magic, unearthly beauty. The metal bulk of the cruise_nd the towering jungle around the clearing were washed by brilliant silve_ight that fell from the wonderful night sky of this World with a Thousan_oons.
  • A thousand moons indeed seemed blazing in the canopied heavens overhead! Th_hole dark sky was crowded by the shining moonlets that rushed ceaselessl_cross the firmament with the spinning of the meteor-swarm of which they wer_art. It was like the glorious vista of a world seen in dreams.
  • But Kenniston was familiar with the unearthly spectacle. He led the wa_apidly toward the northern edge of the jungle.
  • "We'll just have to plunge in and head north," he told the Jovian. "If w_each that little lake, we can soon find Dark's camp."
  • They started into the dense jungle, a fairyland of silver beams siftin_hrough the choking fronds. Something scurried close by.
  • "Kenniston, shoot!" cried Holk Or instantly.
  • Kenniston had already glimpsed the white beast scurrying toward them across _ittle patch of moonslight. It was one of the big meteor-rats. On its nec_unched one of the little gray masses—a Vestan.
  • The horror inspired by the hideous parasites tightened Kenniston's finge_onvulsively on the trigger of the atom-pistol. The crackling bolt of fir_rom the weapon ripped into the Vestan on the meteor-rat, and both parasit_nd animal victim were instantly a scorched, smoking heap.
  • "Hell, that's torn it!" cried the big Jovian. "We've roused the whole ship!"
  • Men awakened by the blast of the atom-gun were pouring out of the  _Sunsprite_ , rushing after the two escaped men. Kenniston heard Captain Walls shouting.
  • "They're in the jungle here! Spread out and surround them!" the officer wa_rdering.
  • Kenniston and the Jovian plunged forward, seeking to escape northward. Bu_hey had come up against an impenetrable abatis of brush.
  • Before they could find a way around it, they heard men crashing all aroun_hem. They were completely encircled.
  • "Kenniston, you and that Jovian walk back into the clearing with your hand_aised or we'll blast every inch of the brush till we get you!" came th_tentorian shout of the captain.
  • "The devil—they've got us boxed!" exclaimed Holk Or furiously. "We'll try t_ight our way through."
  • "No!" Kenniston declared. "We couldn't make it anyway. And I'm not going t_hoot innocent men."
  • Holk Or angrily grabbed for the atom-pistol, but Kenniston promptly threw i_way. Not even in this last extremity could he bring himself to kill.
  • "You're a fool!" gritted the Jovian. "Now there's nothing for it bu_urrender."
  • With their hands raised, they walked out of the jungle into the brillian_ilvery light of the clearing. Instantly they were surrounded by Captai_alls, Murdock and the other armed crew-men.
  • The girls and their scared chaperon, and young Lanning and Robbie Boone, wer_merging in alarm from the  _Sunsprite_. Kenniston did not look toward them.
  • Captain Walls' face was grim in the moonslight, as he and his men covered th_wo captured fugitives. "Kenniston, you and this Jovian were going to mak_our way to John Dark and tell him of our presence here, weren't you? Yo_eedn't deny it—it's plain enough."
  • "Sure we were!" exclaimed the angry Jovian. "We'd have made it, too, if _estan hadn't jumped us in the jungle."
  • "That would have meant capture of us all by Dark's pirates," said the captai_rimly. "You two are a danger to us all, while you live. I'm going to remov_hat danger. As master of a space-ship, I have legal right to order summar_xecution of any space-pirates I capture. I'm going to order that now."
  • "You're going to kill them?" exclaimed Gloria. "Oh, no—you can't!"
  • "It's absolutely necessary, before they betray us to the pirates, Mis_oring," defended the captain. "They'd be sentenced to death by the courts i_e took them back to Mars, anyway. But we daren't take a chance on keepin_hem prisoned that long."
  • "But just to shoot them down!" said Gloria horrifiedly. "I won't stand fo_hat!"
  • Murdock took her by the arm. "It's space law, Gloria," he told her earnestly.
  • "You'd better go back into the ship."
  • Kenniston stood silent in the moonslight, for he realized from the finality o_alls' voice that appeals would be utterly useless. There was no use tryin_gain to explain why he'd been willing to betray them all to save Ricky. Eve_f they listened, they wouldn't understand.
  • He felt tired, crushed, old. He'd gone a long way in the last dozen years, bu_very mile of it had only led toward this ending. He was going to die her_nder the hurtling meteor-moons of Vesta, and that meant that Ricky an_icky's dream were going to die soon too.
  • "I  _told_  you you were a fool to throw away that gun," Holk Or wa_uttering.
  • "You two march over there to the edge of the clearing," Captain Walls ordere_rimly, gesturing with his gun. "Anything you want to say first, Kenniston?"
  • "Nothing that you would listen to or understand, you people," Kennisto_nswered dully. "No, I've got nothing to say."
  • A crackling voice came out of the dark jungle at that moment.
  • " _I_  have something to say! Drop those guns, every man of you, and get you_ands up!"
  • Walls spun around with an oath, levelling his atom-pistol. But out of th_ungle crashed a streak of fire that hit the captain's arm and sent hi_eeling.
  • One of the girls screamed. Another of the  _Sunsprite's_  crew had tried t_im his weapon and had been cut down by a second bolt of atomic fire that ha_it his leg.
  • "I  _don't_  want to kill you unless you force me to," came that crisp voic_rom the darkness. "You have ten seconds to drop the guns."
  • "That's the chief, Kenniston!" yelled Holk Or excitedly. "It's John Dar_imself!"
  • The dreaded name of the pirate, a synonym for cold ruthlessness, reinforce_he threat from the darkness.
  • Murdock let his weapon fall and shouted, "Drop the atom-guns, men! If we tr_o fight, the women will be hurt!"
  • The  _Sunsprite's_  men dropped their atom-pistols. Instantly out into th_rilliant light from the jungle rushed a score of armed pirates. Martians, Earthmen, Venusians and others—this horde represented the criminal under-worl_f every planet in the System.
  • In a moment they had those in the clearing completely disarmed and lined u_gainst the ship. All except Holk Or, who was loudly greeting his pirat_omrades.
  • Kenniston saw John Dark coming across the moonslit clearing toward them. Th_otorious pirate was a tall, bulky Earthman, but he walked with th_ightfootedness of a cat in his moonshoes. His black hair was bare, and in th_ilver light his black-browed, intelligent face was coldly calm as his eye_earched the row of prisoners.
  • "So you finally got here, Kenniston. What about the repair-equipment?" h_sked sharply.
  • Kenniston nodded toward the  _Sunsprite_. "It's in the hold. We got everythin_ou listed."
  • "Good!" Dark approved. "We saw your ship crash-landing today, and started thi_ay at once. We've been beating through the jungle, fighting off the damne_estans, until we heard the uproar going on here. What happened? Who are thes_eople?"
  • Kenniston explained briefly how he had induced Gloria Loring's party to com_n a pretended treasure-hunt. He was careful to stress the wealth of th_arty, and John Dark reacted as he had expected.
  • "If they're that wealthy, their families can pay big ransoms. You've done ver_ell, Kenniston."
  • "What about Ricky?" asked Kenniston tensely. "He's all right?"
  • "Sure he's all right—he's up at the camp," Dark answered.
  • Gloria said bitterly to Kenniston, "You can congratulate yourself. You'v_anaged to save your brother."
  • John Dark addressed her. "Miss Loring, I presume you and your companions ar_illing to pay ransom for your crew also? I never take prisoners, unless the_romise a good profit."
  • "Yes, of course we'll pay the ransom of the crew!" Gloria agreed hastily.
  • "Good!" said the pirate calmly. "You'll not find your captivity any mor_rksome than necessary."
  • Mrs. Milsom, the dumpy chaperon, was goggling at the notorious pirate in a_xtreme of terror. A sardonic gleam came into Dark's eyes as he glanced a_er.
  • "You're a handsome wench," he told the plump dowager with mock admiration.
  • "I've half a mind to keep you and let the ransom go."
  • "No, no!" shrieked the terrified woman.
  • Dark burst into a roar of laughter. "All right, my shrinking beauty, we'l_ccept ransom for you."
  • He turned and shot efficient orders to his subordinates, who by now ha_athered behind him.
  • "Get that stuff out of the hold, rig up power-sledges, and start freighting i_p to the camp. You'll have to cut a path through the jungle—use atom-blaster_o burn one out."
  • One of the pirates, a hard-faced Martian, said uneasily, "That will make _acket that'll bring every Vestan on the asteroid down on us."
  • "You can keep the Vestans off if you keep your eyes open," Dark retorted. "Ge_o work, now! We've got to get the stuff up there and repair the  _Falcon_  a_nce. I'll take these prisoners up to camp."
  • Kenniston was grouped with the other prisoners. With a strong escort of arme_irates guarding them, and Dark and Holk Or ahead, they started through th_ungle toward the pirate camp.