Overcoming Fear.ca - Download the EBook CrowdsInformational Site Network Informational
   Home - Science Fiction Stories - Western Stories

Lost In Space

From: The Skylark Of Space

For forty-eight hours the uncontrolled atomic motor dragged the
masterless vessel with its four unconscious passengers through the
illimitable reaches of empty space, with an awful and constantly
increasing velocity. When only a few traces of copper remained in the
power-plant, the acceleration began to decrease and the powerful springs
began to restore the floor and the seats to their normal positions. The
last particle of copper having been transformed into energy, the speed
of the vessel became constant. Apparently motionless to those inside it,
it was in reality traversing space with a velocity thousands of times
greater than that of light. As the force which had been holding them
down was relaxed, the lungs, which had been able to secure only air
enough to maintain faint sparks of life, began to function more normally
and soon all four recovered consciousness, drinking in the life-giving
oxygen in a rapid succession of breaths so deep that it seemed as though
their lungs must burst with each inhalation.

DuQuesne was the first to gain control of himself. His first effort to
rise to his feet lifted him from the floor, and he floated lightly to
the ceiling, striking it with a gentle bump and remaining suspended in
the air. The others, who had not yet attempted to move, stared at him in
wide-eyed amazement. Reaching out and clutching one of the supporting
columns, he drew himself back to the floor and cautiously removed his
leather suit, transferring two heavy automatic pistols as he did so. By
gingerly feeling of his injured body, he discovered that no bones were
broken, although he was terribly bruised. He then glanced around to
learn how his companions were faring. He saw that they were all sitting
up, the girls resting, Perkins removing his aviator's costume.

"Good morning, Doctor DuQuesne. What happened when I kicked your

DuQuesne smiled.

"Good morning, Miss Vaneman. Several things happened. He fell into the
controls, turning on all the juice. We left shortly afterward. I tried
to shut the power off, and in doing so I balled things up worse than
ever. Then I went to sleep, and just woke up."

"Have you any idea where we are?"

"No, but I can make a fair estimate, I think," and glancing at the empty
chamber in which the bar had been, he took out his notebook and pen and
figured for a few minutes. As he finished, he drew himself along by a
handrail to one of the windows, then to another. He returned with a
puzzled expression on his face and made a long calculation.

"I don't know exactly what to make of this," he said thoughtfully. "We
are so far away from the earth that even the fixed stars are
unrecognizable. The power was on exactly forty-eight hours, since that
is the life of that particular bar under full current. We should still
be close to our own solar system, since it is theoretically impossible
to develop any velocity greater than that of light. But in fact, we
have. I know enough about astronomy to recognize the fixed stars from
any point within a light-year or so of the sun, and I can't see a single
familiar star. I never could see how mass could be a function of
velocity, and now I am convinced that it is not. We have been
accelerating for forty-eight hours!"

He turned to Dorothy.

"While we were unconscious, Miss Vaneman, we had probably attained a
velocity of something like seven billion four hundred thirteen million
miles per second, and that is the approximate speed at which we are now
traveling. We must be nearly six quadrillion miles, and that is a space
of several hundred light-years--away from our solar system, or, more
plainly, about six times as far away from our earth as the North Star
is. We couldn't see our sun with a telescope, even if we knew which way
to look for it."

* * * * *

At this paralyzing news, Dorothy's face turned white and Margaret
Spencer quietly fainted in her seat.

"Then we can never get back?" asked Dorothy slowly.

At this question, Perkins' self-control gave way and his thin veneer of
decency disappeared completely.

"You got us into this whole thing!" he screamed as he leaped at Dorothy
with murderous fury gleaming in his pale eyes and his fingers curved
into talons. Instead of reaching her, however, he merely sprawled
grotesquely in midair, and DuQuesne knocked him clear across the vessel
with one powerful blow of his fist.

"Get back there, you cowardly cur," he said evenly. "Even though we are
a long way from home, try to remember you're a man, at least. One more
break like that and I'll throw you out of the boat. It isn't her fault
that we are out here, but our own. The blame for it is a very small
matter, anyway; the thing of importance is to get back as soon as

"But how can we get back?" asked Perkins sullenly from the corner where
he was crouching, fear in every feature. "The power is gone, the
controls are wrecked, and we are hopelessly lost in space."

"Oh, I wouldn't say 'hopelessly,'" returned the other, "I have never
been in any situation yet that I couldn't get out of, and I won't be
convinced until I am dead that I can't get out of this one. We have two
extra power bars, we can fix the board, and if I can't navigate us back
close enough to our solar system to find it, I am more of a dub than I
think I am. How about a little bite to eat?"

"Show us where it is!" exclaimed Dorothy. "Now that you mention it, I
find that I am starved to death."

DuQuesne looked at her keenly.

"I admire your nerve, Miss Vaneman. I didn't suppose that that animal
over there would show such a wide streak of yellow, but I was rather
afraid that you girls might go to pieces."

"I'm scared blue, of course," Dorothy admitted frankly, "but hysterics
won't do any good, and we simply must get back."

"Certainly, we must and we will," stated DuQuesne calmly. "If you like,
you might find something for us to eat in the galley there, while I see
what I can do with this board that I wrecked with my head. By the way,
that cubby-hole there is the apartment reserved for you two ladies. We
are in rather cramped quarters, but I think you will find everything you

As Dorothy drew herself along the handrail toward the room designated,
accompanied by the other girl who, though conscious, had paid little
attention to anything around her, she could not help feeling a thrill of
admiration for the splendid villain who had abducted her. Calm and cool,
always master of himself, apparently paying no attention to the terrible
bruises which disfigured half his face and doubtless half his body as
well, she admitted to herself that it was only his example, which had
enabled her to maintain her self-control in their present plight. As she
crawled over Perkins' discarded suit, she remembered that he had not
taken any weapons from it. After a rapid glance around to assure herself
that she was not being watched, she quickly searched the coat, bringing
to light not one, but two pistols, which she thrust into her pocket. She
saw with relief that they were regulation army automatics, with whose
use she was familiar from much target practise with Seaton.

In the room, which was a miniature of the one she had seen on the
Skylark, the girls found clothing, toilet articles, and everything
necessary for a long trip. As they were setting themselves to rights,
Dorothy electing to stay in her riding suit, they surveyed each other
frankly and each was reassured by what she saw. Dorothy saw a girl of
twenty-two, of her own stature, with a mass of heavy, wavy black hair.
Her eyes, a singularly rich and deep brown, contrasted strangely with
the beautiful ivory of her skin. She was normally a beautiful girl,
thought Dorothy, but her beauty was marred by suffering and privation.
Her naturally slender form was thin, her face was haggard and worn. The
stranger broke the silence.

* * * * *

"I'm Margaret Spencer," she began abruptly, "former secretary to His
Royal Highness, Brookings of Steel. They swindled my father out of an
invention worth millions and he died, broken-hearted. I got the job to
see if I couldn't get enough evidence to convict them, and I had quite a
lot when they caught me. I had some things that they were afraid to
lose, and I had them so well hidden that they couldn't find them, so
they kidnapped me to make me give them back. They haven't dared kill me
so far for fear the evidence will show up after my death--which it will.
However, I will be legally dead before long, and then they know the
whole thing will come out, so they have brought me out here to make me
talk or kill me. Talking won't do me any good now, though, and I don't
believe it ever would have. They would have killed me after they got the
stuff back, anyway. So you see I, at least, will never get back to the
earth alive."

"Cheer up--we'll all get back safely."

"No, we won't. You don't know that man Perkins--if that is his name. I
never heard him called any real name before. He is simply
unspeakable--vile--hideous--everything that is base. He was my jailer,
and I utterly loathe and despise him. He is mean and underhanded and
tricky--he reminds me of a slimy, poisonous snake. He will kill me: I
know it."

"But how about Doctor DuQuesne? Surely he isn't that kind of man? He
wouldn't let him."

"I've never met him before, but from what I heard of him in the office,
he's even worse than Perkins, but in an entirely different way. There's
nothing small or mean about him, and I don't believe he would go out of
his way to hurt anyone, as Perkins would. But he is absolutely cold and
hard, a perfect fiend. Where his interests are concerned, there's
nothing under the sun, good or bad, that he won't do. But I'm glad that
Perkins had me instead of 'The Doctor,' as they call him. Perkins raises
such a bitter personal feeling, that anybody would rather die than give
up to him in anything. DuQuesne, however, would have tortured me
impersonally and scientifically--cold and self-contained all the while
and using the most efficient methods, and I am sure he would have got it
out of me some way. He always gets what he goes after."

"Oh, come, Miss Spencer!" Dorothy interrupted the half-hysterical girl.
"You're too hard on him. Didn't you see him knock Perkins down when he
came after me?"

"Well, maybe he has a few gentlemanly instincts, which he uses when he
doesn't lose anything by it. More likely he merely intended to rebuke
him for a useless action. He is a firm Pragmatist--anything that is
useful is all right, anything that is useless is a crime. More probably
yet, he wants you left alive. Of course that is his real reason. He went
to the trouble of kidnapping you, so naturally he won't let Perkins or
anybody else kill you until he is through with you. Otherwise he would
have let Perkins do anything he wanted to with you, without lifting a

"I can't quite believe that," Dorothy replied, though a cold chill
struck at her heart as she remembered the inhuman crime attributed to
this man, and she quailed at the thought of being in his charge,
countless millions of miles from earth, a thought only partly
counteracted by the fact that she was now armed. "He has treated us with
every consideration so far, let's hope for the best. Anyway, I'm sure
that we'll get back safely."

"Why so sure? Have you something up your sleeve?"

"No--or yes, in a way I have, though nothing very definite. I'm Dorothy
Vaneman, and I am engaged to the man who discovered the thing that makes
this space-car go...."

"That's why they kidnapped you, then--to make him give up all his rights
to it. It's like them."

"Yes, I think that's why they did it. But they won't keep me long. Dick
Seaton will find me, I know. I feel it."

"But that's exactly what they want!" cried Margaret excitedly. "In my
spying around I heard a little about this very thing--the name Seaton
brings it to my mind. His car is broken in some way, so that it will
kill him the first time he tries to run it."

"That's where they underestimated Dick and his partner. You have heard
of Martin Crane, of course?"

"I think I heard his name mentioned in the office, together with
Seaton's, but that's all."

"Well, besides other things, Martin is quite a wonderful mechanic, and
he found out that our Skylark was spoiled. So they built another one, a
lot bigger, and I am sure that they are following us, right now."

"But how can they possibly follow us, when we are going so fast and are
so far away?" queried the other girl, once more despondent.

"I don't quite know, but I do know that Dick will find a way. He's
simply wonderful. He knows more now than that Doctor DuQuesne will ever
learn in all his life, and he will find us in a few days. I feel it in
my bones. Besides, I picked Perkins' pockets of these two pistols. Can
you shoot an automatic?"

"Yes," replied the other girl, as she seized one of the guns, assured
herself that its magazine was full, and slipped it into her pocket. "I
used to practise a lot with my father's. This makes me feel a whole lot
better. And call me Peggy, won't you? It will seem good to hear my name
again. After what I've been through lately, even this trip will be a
vacation for me."

"Well, then, cheer up, Peggy dear, we're going to be great friends.
Let's go get us all something to eat. I'm simply starved, and I know you
are, too."

* * * * *

The presence of the pistol in her pocket and Dorothy's unwavering faith
in her lover, lifted the stranger out of the mood of despair into which
the long imprisonment, the brutal treatment, and the present situation
had plunged her, and she was almost cheerful as they drew themselves
along the hand-rail leading to the tiny galley.

"I simply can't get used to the idea of nothing having any weight--look
here!" laughed Dorothy, as she took a boiled ham out of the refrigerator
and hung it upon an imaginary hook in the air, where it remained
motionless. "Doesn't it make you feel funny?"

"It is a queer sensation. I feel light, like a toy balloon, and I feel
awfully weird inside. If we have no weight, why does it hurt so when we
bump into anything? And when you throw anything, like the Doctor did
Perkins, why does it hit as hard as ever?"

"It's mass or inertia or something like that. A thing has it everywhere,
whether it weighs anything or not. Dick explained it all to me. I
understood it when he told me about it, but I'm afraid it didn't sink in
very deep. Did you ever study physics?"

"I had a year of it in college, but it was more or less of a joke. I
went to a girls' school, and all we had to do in physics was to get the
credit; we didn't have to learn it."

"Me too. Next time I go to school I'm going to Yale or Harvard or some
such place, and I'll learn so much mathematics and science that I'll
have to wear a bandeau to keep my massive intellect in place."

During this conversation they had prepared a substantial luncheon and
had arranged it daintily upon two large trays, in spite of the
difficulty caused by the fact that nothing would remain in place by its
own weight. The feast prepared, Dorothy took her tray from the table as
carefully as she could, and saw the sandwiches and bottles start to
float toward the ceiling. Hastily inverting the tray above the escaping
viands, she pushed them back down upon the table. In doing so she lifted
herself clear from the floor, as she had forgotten to hold herself down.

"What'll we do, anyway?" she wailed when she had recovered her position.
"Everything wants to fly all over the place!"

"Put another tray on top of it and hold them together," suggested
Margaret. "I wish we had a birdcage. Then we could open the door and
grab a sandwich as it flies out."

By covering the trays the girls finally carried the luncheon out into
the main compartment, where they gave DuQuesne and Perkins one of the
trays and all fell to eating hungrily. DuQuesne paused with a glint of
amusement in his one sound eye as he saw Dorothy trying to pour ginger
ale out of a bottle.

"It can't be done, Miss Vaneman. You'll have to drink it through a
straw. That will work, since our air pressure is normal. Be careful not
to choke on it, though; your swallowing will have to be all muscular out
here. Gravity won't help you. Or wait a bit--I have the control board
fixed and it will be a matter of only a few minutes to put in another
bar and get enough acceleration to take the place of gravity."

He placed one of the extra power bars in the chamber and pushed the
speed lever into the first notch, and there was a lurch of the whole
vessel as it swung around the bar so that the floor was once more
perpendicular to it. He took a couple of steps, returned, and advanced
the lever another notch.

"There that's about the same as gravity. Now we can act like human
beings and eat in comfort."

"That's a wonderful relief, Doctor!" cried Dorothy. "Are we going back
toward the earth?"

"Not yet. I reversed the bar, but we will have to use up all of this one
before we can even start back. Until this bar is gone we will merely be
slowing down."

* * * * *

As the meal progressed, Dorothy noticed that DuQuesne's left arm seemed
almost helpless, and that he ate with great difficulty because of his
terribly bruised face. As soon as they had removed the trays she went
into her room, where she had seen a small medicine chest, and brought
out a couple of bottles.

"Lie down here, Doctor DuQuesne," she commanded. "I'm going to apply a
little first-aid to the injured. Arnica and iodine are all I can find,
but they'll help a little."

"I'm all right," began the scientist, but at her imperious gesture he
submitted, and she bathed his battered features with the healing lotion
and painted the worst bruises with iodine.

"I see your arm is lame. Where does it hurt?"

"Shoulder's the worst. I rammed it through the board when we started

He opened his shirt at the throat and bared his shoulder, and Dorothy
gasped--as much at the size and power of the muscles displayed, as at
the extent and severity of the man's injuries. Stepping into the
gallery, she brought out hot water and towels and gently bathed away the
clotted blood that had been forced through the skin.

"Massage it a little with the arnica as I move the arm," he directed
coolly, and she did so, pityingly. He did not wince and made no sign of
pain, but she saw beads of perspiration appear upon his face, and
wondered at his fortitude.

"That's fine," he said gratefully as she finished, and a peculiar
expression came over his face. "It feels one hundred per cent better
already. But why do you do it? I should think you would feel like
crowning me with that basin instead of playing nurse."

"Efficiency," she replied with a smile. "I'm taking a leaf out of your
own book. You are our chief engineer, you know, and it won't do to have
you laid up."

"That's a logical explanation, but it doesn't go far enough," he
rejoined, still studying her intently. She did not reply, but turned to

"How are you, Mr. Perkins? Do you require medical attention?"

"No," growled Perkins from the seat in which he had crouched immediately
after eating. "Keep away from me, or I'll cut your heart out!"

"Shut up!" snapped DuQuesne. "Remember what I said?"

"I haven't done anything," snarled the other.

"I said I would throw you out if you made another break," DuQuesne
informed him evenly, "and I meant it. If you can't talk decently, keep
still. Understand that you are to keep off Miss Vaneman, words and
actions. I am in charge of her, and I will put up with no interference
whatever. This is your last warning."

"How about Spencer, then?"

"I have nothing to say about her, she's not mine," responded DuQuesne
with a shrug.

An evil light appeared in Perkins' eyes and he took out a wicked-looking
knife and began to strop it carefully upon the leather of the seat,
glaring at his victim the while.

"Well, I have something to say...." blazed Dorothy, but she was
silenced by a gesture from Margaret, who calmly took the pistol from her
pocket, jerked the slide back, throwing a cartridge into the chamber,
and held the weapon up on one finger, admiring it from all sides.

* * * * *

"Don't worry about his knife. He has been sharpening it for my benefit
for the last month. He doesn't mean anything by it."

At this unexpected show of resistance, Perkins stared at her for an
instant, then glanced at his coat.

"Yes, this was yours, once. You needn't bother about picking up your
coat, they're both gone. You might be tempted to throw that knife, so
drop it on the floor and kick it over to me before I count three.

"One." The heavy pistol steadied into line with his chest and her finger
tightened on the trigger.

"Two." He obeyed and she picked up the knife. He turned to DuQuesne, who
had watched the scene unmoved, a faint smile upon his saturnine face.

"Doctor!" he cried, shaking with fear. "Why don't you shoot her or take
that gun away from her? Surely you don't want to see me murdered?"

"Why not?" replied DuQuesne calmly. "It is nothing to me whether she
kills you or you kill her. You brought it on yourself by your own

carelessness. Any man with brains doesn't leave guns lying around within
reach of prisoners, and a blind man could have seen Miss Vaneman getting
your hardware."

"You saw her take them and didn't warn me?" croaked Perkins.

"Why should I warn you? If you can't take care of your own prisoner she
earns her liberty, as far as I am concerned. I never did like your
style, Perkins, especially your methods of handling--or rather
mishandling--women. You could have made her give up the stuff she
recovered from that ass Brookings inside of an hour, and wouldn't have
had to kill her afterward, either."

"How?" sneered the other. "If you are so good at that kind of thing, why
didn't you try it on Seaton and Crane?"

"There are seven different methods to use on a woman like Miss Spencer,
each of which will produce the desired result. The reason I did not try
them on either Seaton or Crane is that they would have failed. Your
method of indirect action is probably the only one that will succeed.
That is why I adopted it."

"Well, what are you going to do about it?" shrieked Perkins. "Are you
going to sit there and lecture all day?"

"I am going to do nothing whatever," answered the scientist coldly. "If
you had any brains you would see that you are in no danger. Miss Spencer
will undoubtedly kill you if you attack her--not otherwise. That is an
Anglo-Saxon weakness."

"Did you see me take the pistols?" queried Dorothy.

"Certainly. I'm not blind. You have one of them in your right coat
pocket now."

"Then why didn't you, or don't you, try to take it away from me?" she
asked in wonder.

"If I had objected to your having them, you would never have got them.
If I didn't want you to have a gun now, I would take it away from you.
You know that, don't you?" and his black eyes stared into her violet
ones with such calm certainty of his ability that she felt her heart

"Yes," she admitted finally, "I believe you could--that is, unless I
were angry enough to shoot you."

"That wouldn't help you. I can shoot faster and straighter than you can,
and would shoot it out of your hand. However, I have no objection to
your having the gun, since it is no part of my plan to offer you any
further indignity of any kind. Even if you had the necessary coldness of
nerve or cruelty of disposition--of which I have one, Perkins the other,
and you neither--you wouldn't shoot me now, because you can't get back
to the earth without me. After we get back I will take the guns away
from both of you if I think it desirable. In the meantime, play with
them all you please."

"Has Perkins any more knives or guns or things in his room?" demanded

"How should I know?" indifferently; then, as both girls started for
Perkins' room he ordered brusquely:

"Sit down, Miss Vaneman. Let them fight it out. Perkins has his orders
to lay off you--you lay off him. I'm not taking any chances of getting
you hurt, that's one reason I wanted you armed. If he gets gay, shoot
him; otherwise, hands off completely."

Dorothy threw up her head in defiance, but meeting his cold stare she
paused irresolutely and finally sat down, biting her lips in anger,
while the other girl went on.

"That's better. She doesn't need any help to whip that yellow dog. He's
whipped already. He never would think of fighting unless the odds were
three to one in his favor."

* * * * *

When Margaret had returned from a fruitless search of Perkins' room and
had assured herself that he had no more weapons concealed about his
person, she thrust the pistol back into her pocket and sat down.

"That ends that," she declared. "I guess you will be good now, won't
you, Mr. Perkins?"

"Yes," that worthy muttered. "I have to be, now that you've got the drop
on me and DuQuesne's gone back on me. But wait until we get back! I'll
get you then, you...."

"Stop right there!" sharply. "There's nothing I would rather do than
shoot you right now, if you give me the slightest excuse, such as that
name you were about to call me. Now go ahead!"

DuQuesne broke the silence that followed.

"Well, now that the battle is over, and since we are fed and rested, I
suggest that we slow down a bit and get ready to start back. Pick out
comfortable seats, everybody, and I'll shoot a little more juice through
that bar."

Seating himself before the instrument board, he advanced the speed lever
slowly until nearly three-quarters of the full power was on, as much as
he thought the others could stand.

For sixty hours he drove the car, reducing the acceleration only at
intervals during which they ate and walked about their narrow quarters
in order to restore the blood to circulation in their suffering bodies.
The power was not reduced for sleep; everyone slept as best he could.

Dorothy and Margaret talked together at every opportunity, and a real
intimacy grew up between them. Perkins was for the most part sullenly
quiet, knowing himself despised by all the others and having no outlet
here for his particular brand of cleverness. DuQuesne was always
occupied with his work and only occasionally addressed a remark to one
or another of the party, except during meals. At those periods of
general recuperation, he talked easily and well upon many topics. There
was no animosity in his bearing nor did he seem to perceive any directed
toward himself, but when any of the others ventured to infringe upon his
ideas of how discipline should be maintained, DuQuesne's reproof was
merciless. Dorothy almost liked him, but Margaret insisted that she
considered him worse than ever.

When the bar was exhausted, DuQuesne lifted the sole remaining cylinder
into place.

"We should be nearly stationary with respect to the earth," he remarked.
"Now we will start back."

"Why, it felt as though we were picking up speed for the last three
days!" exclaimed Margaret.

"Yes, it feels that way because we have nothing to judge by. Slowing
down in one direction feels exactly like starting up in the opposite
one. There is no means of knowing whether we are standing still, going
away from the earth, or going toward it, since we have nothing
stationary upon which to make observations. However, since the two bars
were of exactly the same size and were exerted in opposite directions
except for a few minutes after we left the earth, we are nearly
stationary now. I will put on power until this bar is something less
than half gone, then coast for three or four days. By the end of that
time we should be able to recognize our solar system from the appearance
of the fixed stars."

He again advanced the lever, and for many hours silence filled the car
as it hurtled through space. DuQuesne, waking up from a long nap, saw
that the bar no longer pointed directly toward the top of the ship,
perpendicular to the floor, but was inclined at a sharp angle. He
reduced the current, and felt the lurch of the car as it swung around
the bar, increasing the angle many degrees. He measured the angle
carefully and peered out of all the windows on one side of the car.
Returning to the bar after a time, he again measured the angle, and
found that it had increased greatly.

"What's the matter, Doctor DuQuesne?" asked Dorothy, who had also been

"We are being deflected from our course. You see the bar doesn't point
straight up any more? Of course the direction of the bar hasn't changed,
the car has swung around it."

"What does that mean?"

"We have come close enough to some star so that its attraction swings
the bottom of the car around. Normally, you know, the bottom of the car
follows directly behind the bar. It doesn't mean much yet except that we
are being drawn away from our straight line, but if the attraction gets
much stronger it may make us miss our solar system completely. I have
been looking for the star in question, but can't see it yet. We'll
probably pull away from it very shortly."

* * * * *

He threw on the power, and for some time watched the bar anxiously,
expecting to see it swing back into the vertical, but the angle
continually increased. He again reduced the current and searched the
heavens for the troublesome body.

"Do you see it yet?" asked Dorothy with concern.

"No, there's apparently nothing near enough to account for all this

He took out a pair of large night-glasses and peered through them for
several minutes.

"Good God! It's a dead sun, and we're nearly onto it! It looks as large
as our moon!"

Springing to the board, he whirled the bar into the vertical. He took
down a strange instrument, went to the bottom window, and measured the
apparent size of the dark star. Then, after cautioning the rest of the
party to sit tight, he advanced the lever farther than it had been
before. After half an hour he again slackened the pace and made another
observation, finding to his astonishment that the dark mass had almost
doubled its apparent size! Dorothy, noting his expression, was about to
speak, but he forestalled her.

"We lost ground, instead of gaining, that spurt," he remarked, as he
hastened to his post. "It must be inconceivably large, to exert such an
enormous attractive force at this distance. We'll have to put on full
power. Hang onto yourselves as best you can."

He then pushed the lever out to its last notch and left it there until
the bar was nearly gone, only to find that the faint disk of the monster
globe was even larger than before, being now visible to the unaided eye.
Revived, the three others saw it plainly--a great dim circle, visible as
is the dark portion of the new moon--and, the power shut off, they felt
themselves falling toward it with sickening speed. Perkins screamed with
mad fear and flung himself grovelling upon the floor. Margaret, her
nerves still unstrung, clutched at her heart with both hands. Dorothy,
though her eyes looked like great black holes in her white face, looked
DuQuesne in the eye steadily.

"This is the end, then?"

"Not yet," he replied in a calm and level voice. "The end will not come
for a good many hours, as I have calculated that it will take at least
two days, probably more, to fall the distance we have to go. We have all
that time in which to think out a way of escape."

"Won't the outer repulsive shell keep up from striking it, or at least
break the force of our fall?"

"No. It was designed only as protection from meteorites and other small
bodies. It is heavy enough to swing us away from a small planet, but it
will be used up long before we strike."

He lighted a cigarette and sat at case, as though in his own study, his
brow wrinkled in thought as he made calculations in his notebook.
Finally he rose to his feet.

"There's only one chance that I can see. That is to gather up every
scrap of copper we have and try to pull ourselves far enough out of line
so that we will take an hyperbolic orbit around that body instead of
falling into it."

"What good will that do us?" asked Margaret, striving for self-control.
"We will starve to death finally, won't we?"

"Not necessarily. That will give us time to figure out something else."

"You won't have to figure out anything else, Doctor," stated Dorothy
positively. "If we miss that moon, Dick and Martin will find us before
very long."

"Not in this life. If they tried to follow us, they're both dead before

"That's where even you are wrong!" she flashed at him. "They knew you
were wrecking our machine, so they built another one, a good one. And
they know a lot of things about this new metal that you have never
dreamed of, since they were not in the plans you stole."

* * * * *

DuQuesne went directly to the heart of the matter, paying no attention
to her barbed shafts.

"Can they follow us through space without seeing us?" he demanded.

"Yes--or at least, I think they can."

"How do they do it?"

"I don't know--I wouldn't tell you if I did."

"You'll tell if you know," he declared, his voice cutting like a knife.
"But that can wait until after we get out of this. The thing to do now
is to dodge that world."

He searched the vessel for copper, ruthlessly tearing out almost
everything that contained the metal, hammering it flat and throwing it
into the power-plant. He set the bar at right angles to the line of
their fall and turned on the current. When the metal was exhausted, he
made another series of observations upon the body toward which they were
falling, and reported quietly:

"We made a lot of distance, but not enough. Everything goes in, this

He tore out the single remaining light-wire, leaving the car in darkness
save for the diffused light of his electric torch, and broke up the only
remaining motor. He then took his almost priceless Swiss watch, his
heavy signet ring, his scarf pin, and the cartridges from his pistol,
and added them to the collection. Flashing his lamp upon Perkins, he
relieved him of everything he had which contained copper.

"I think I have a few pennies in my pocketbook," suggested Dorothy.

"Get 'em," he directed briefly, and while she was gone he searched
Margaret, without result save for the cartridges in her pistol, as she
had no jewelry remaining after her imprisonment. Dorothy returned and
handed him everything she had found.

"I would like to keep this ring," she said slowly, pointing to a slender
circlet of gold set with a solitaire diamond, "if you think there is any
chance of us getting clear."

"Everything goes that has any copper in it," he said coldly, "and I am
glad to see that Seaton is too good a chemist to buy any platinum
jewelry. You may keep the diamond, though," as he wrenched the jewel out
of its setting and returned it to her.

He threw all the metal into the central chamber and the vessel gave a
tremendous lurch as the power was again applied. It was soon spent,
however, and after the final observation, the others waiting in
breathless suspense for him to finish his calculations, he made his curt

"Not enough."

Perkins, his mind weakened by the strain of the last few days, went
completely insane at the words. With a wild howl he threw himself at the
unmoved scientist, who struck him with the butt of his pistol as he
leaped, the mighty force of DuQuesne's blow crushing his skull like an
eggshell and throwing him backward to the opposite side of the vessel.
Margaret lay in her seat in a dead faint. Dorothy and DuQuesne looked at
each other in the feeble light of the torch. To the girl's amazement,
the man was as calm as though he were safe in his own house, and she
made a determined effort to hold herself together.

"What next, Doctor DuQuesne?"

"I don't know. We have a couple of days yet, at least. I'll have to
study awhile."

"In that time Dick will find us, I know."

"Even if they do find us in time, which I doubt, what good will it do?
It simply means that they will go with us instead of saving us, for of
course they can't pull away, since we couldn't. I hope they don't find
us, but locate this star in time to keep away from it."

"Why?" she gasped. "You have been planning to kill both of them! I
should think you would be delighted to take them with us?"

"Far from it. Please try to be logical. I intended to remove them
because they stood in the way of my developing this new metal. If I am
to be out of the way--and frankly, I see very little chance of getting
out of this--I hope that Seaton goes ahead with it. It is the greatest
discovery the world has ever known, and if both Seaton and I, the only
two men in the world who know how to handle it, drop out, it will be
lost for perhaps hundreds of years."

"If Dick's finding us means that he must go, too, of course I hope that
he won't find us, but I don't believe that. I simply know that he could
get us away from here."

She continued more slowly, almost speaking to herself, her heart sinking
with her voice:

"He is following us, and he won't stop even if he does see this dead
star and knows that he can't get away. We will die together."

"There's no denying the fact that our situation is critical, but you
know a man isn't dead until after his heart stops beating. We have two
whole days yet, and in that time, I can probably dope out some way of
getting away from here."

"I hope so," she replied, keeping her voice from breaking only by a
great effort. "But go ahead with your doping. I'm worn out." She drew
herself down upon one of the seats and stared at the ceiling, fighting
to restrain an almost overpowering impulse to scream.

Thus the hours wore by--Perkins dead; Margaret still unconscious;
Dorothy lying in her seat, her thoughts a formless prayer, buoyed up
only by her faith in God and in her lover; DuQuesne self-possessed,
smoking innumerable cigarettes, his keen mind grappling with its most
desperate problem, grimly fighting until the very last instant of
life--while the powerless space-car fell with an appalling velocity,
faster and faster; falling toward that cold and desolate monster of the

Next: The Rescue

Previous: Indirect Action

Add to Informational Site Network

Viewed 373