The Coming Of The Soldiers

: The Raid On The Termites

For a moment Jim was handicapped in fleetness and agility by the fact

that his arms were hampered. But the two hideous guards, though each was

a dozen times more powerful than any man its size, were handicapped in a

chase, too--by the very weight of their enormous mandibles. In their

thundering chase after Jim, they resembled nothing so much as two

powerful but clumsy battleships chasing a relatively puny but much more

agile destroyer.

Behind the great bulk of a paralyzed June bug, Jim halted for a fraction

while he tore his arms at last free of the clinging brown stuff. The

guards rushed around the June bug at him.

He leaped for the row of hanging cisterns; and there, while he dodged

from one to another of the loathsome vats, he thought over a plan that

had come to his racing mind. It wasn't much of a plan, and it seemed

utterly futile in the face of the odds against him. But he had boasted,

before starting this mad adventure, that Man's wits were superior to any

bug's. It was time now to see if his boast had been an empty one.

He feinted toward the far end of the laboratory. The guards, acting

always as if they had a dozen eyes instead of none, rushed to prevent

this, cutting across his path and closing the exit with clashing jaws.

Jim raced toward the spot where Denny lay. This was within twenty yards

of the spot where, behind his ring of guards, the big-brained ruler now

cowered. But, while one of the syringe-monsters sent a brown stream

blindly toward the leaping, shifting man, no other attacking move was

made. The soldiers remained chained to their posts. Jim retrieved his

spear--and the first part of his almost hopeless plan had succeeded!

It was good, the feel of that smooth steel. He balanced the ponderous

weapon lightly. An ineffective thing against the plates of living armor

covering the scissor-mandibles. But it was not against them--at least

not directly--that he was planning to use it now!

* * * * *

Once more he darted toward the living cisterns. The soldiers followed

close behind.

Under the bulging abdomen of the termite containing the reddish acid,

Jim halted as though to make a defiant last stand against the guards.

They stopped, too, then began to advance on him from either side, more

slowly, like two great cats stalking a mouse.

Muscles bunched for a lightning-quick move, eyes narrowed to mere slits

as he calculated distances and fractions of a second. Jim stood there

beneath the great acid vat. The mandibles were almost within slicing

distance now.

The guards opened wide their tremendous jaws, forming two halves of a

deadly horn circle that moved swiftly to encompass him. They leaped....

With barely a foot left him, Jim darted back, then poised his spear and

shot it straight toward the bulging, live sack that held the acid above

the guards.

The acid spurted from the spear hole. Jim clenched his fists and

unconsciously held his breath till his chest ached, as the scarlet

liquid spread over the great hulks that twisted and fought in ponderous

frenzy to untangle legs and antennae and mandibles from the snarl their

collision had made of them.

The acid bit through steel and human flesh. On the other hand, it had

not harmed the horny flipper of the termite worker that had flicked it

onto the garden slug. Did that mean that the flipper was immunized to

the stuff, like the lining of the stomach, which is unharmed by acids

powerful enough to decompose other organic master? Or did it mean that

all horn was untouched by it?

He groaned aloud. The two great insects had drawn apart by now, and had

sprung from under the shattered acid vat. Again they were on the trail.

The maneuver had been fruitless! The chase was on again, which

meant--since he could not hope to elude the blind but ably directed

creatures forever--that all hope was lost....

* * * * *

Then he shouted with triumph. A massive foreleg dropped from one of the

guards, to crash to the floor. Whether or not the acid was able to set

on the horny exterior of the termites, it was as deadly to their soft

interiors as to any other sort of flesh! The acid had found the joint of

that foreleg and had eaten through it as hot iron sinks through butter!

Still the injured creature came on, with Jim ever retreating, twisting

and dodging from one side of the huge room to the other, leaping over

the smaller paralyzed insects and darting behind the larger carcasses.

But now the thing's movements were very slow--as were the movements of

its companion.

Another leg fell hollowly to the floor, like an abandoned piece of

armor; and then two at once from the second termite.

Both stopped, shuddering convulsively. The agony of those two enormous,

dumb and blind things must have been inconceivable. The acid was by now

spending its awful force in their vitals, having seeped down through

every joint and crevice in their living armor. They were hardly more

than huge shells of horn, kept alive only by their unbelievable


One more feeble lunge both made in concert, toward the puny adversary

that had outwitted them. Then both, as though at a spoken command,

stopped dead still. Next instant they crashed to the floor, shaking it

in their fall.

* * * * *

For a second Jim could only stand there and gaze at their monstrous

bodies. His plan had succeeded beyond all belief; and realization of

this success left him dazed for an instant. But it was only for an


Recovering himself, he raced to the acid vat to recover the spear he'd

punctured it with--only three feet of it was left: the rest had been

eaten away by the powerful stuff--and then wheeled to help Denny.

By now the crackling brown stuff had fallen from Denny, too--enough, at

least for him to struggle to his feet and hasten its cracking by tearing

at it with partially loosened hands. As Jim reached him, he freed

himself entirely save for the last few bits that stuck to him as bits of

shell cling to a newborn chick.

They turned together toward the corner where the termite-ruler was

cowering behind the guards that surrounded it. Intellect to a degree

phenomenal for an insect, this thing might have; but of the blind fierce

courage possessed by its subjects, it assuredly had none! In proof of

this was the fact that when the half dozen specialized soldiers ringing

it round might have leaped to the aid of the two clumsy door guards and

probably have ended the uneven fight in a few minutes, the craven

monarch had ordered them to stay at their guard-posts rather than take

the risk of remaining unguarded and defenseless for a single moment!

Increasing intelligence apparently had resulted (as only too often it

does in the world of men) in decreasing bravery!

An attack on the thing, closely guarded as it was, seemed hopeless.

Those enormous, flat-topped heads held ready to present their steely

surfaces as shields! Those armored terrors with the syringe-heads--one

of which still held a full cargo of the terrible brown fluid that at a

touch could bind the limbs of the men once more in the straitjacket

embrace! What could the two do against that barrier?

* * * * *

Nevertheless, without a word being spoken, and without a second's

hesitation, Jim and Denny advanced on the bristling ring--and the heart

of termite power it enclosed. Not only was the slimmest of hopes of

escape rendered impossible while the super-termite lived to direct its

subjects against them--but also they had a reckoning to collect from the

thing if they could....

Denny glanced down at his hand, from which slow red drops still oozed.

At their approach, the guarding ring shifted so that the soldier whose

head was still bulging with the brown liquid, faced them. The two men

stopped, warily. They must draw the sting from that monster before they

dared try to come closer.

Jim feinted, leaping in and to one side. The guard turned with him,

moved forward a bit as though to discharge a brown stream at him--but

held its fire. Jim moved still closer, then leaped crabwise to one side

as the brain behind the guards telepathed in a panic for its blind

minion to release some of its ammunition. The flood missed Jim only by


Denny took his turn at gambling with death. He shouted ringingly, and

ran a dozen steps straight at the monster that was the principal menace.

At the last moment he flung himself aside as Jim had done--but this time

the stream was not to be drawn.

Still most of the deadly liquid was left; the thing's head bulged with

it. And no real move could be made till that head was somehow emptied.

"Your spear!" panted Denny, who was armed only with the three-foot club

which was all that was left of the spear that had entered the acid bag.

Jim nodded. As he had done under the acid vat, he drew it back for a

throw--and shot it forward with all the power of his magnificent


The glittering length of steel slashed into the flabby, living syringe.

A fountain of molasseslike liquid gushed out.

* * * * *

The move had not been elaborately reasoned out; it had been a natural;

almost instinctive one, simply a blow struck for the purpose of draining

the dread reservoir of its sticky contents. But the results--as logical

and inevitable as they were astounding and unforeseen--were such that

the move could not have been wiser had all the gods of war conspired to

help the two men with shrewd advice.

The searching spear-point had evidently found the brain behind the

syringe of the thing; for it reared in an agony that could only have

been that of approaching death, and ran amuck.

No longer did the ruling brain that crouched behind it have the power to

guide its movements, it seemed. The telepathic communications had been

snapped with that crashing spear-point. It charged blindly, undirected,

in havoc-wreaking circles. And in an instant the whole aspect of the

battle had been changed.

The ring of living armor presented by the other soldiers was broken as

the enormous, dying termite charged among them. Furthermore, the

fountain of thick brown liquid exuding from its head, smeared the limbs

of the soldiers the blind, crazed thing touched, as well as its own.

In thirty seconds or less the wounded giant was down, still alive, but

wriggling feebly in a binding sheath of its own poison. And with it, so

smeared as to be utterly out of the struggle, were three of the others.

Quick to seize the advantage, Jim leaped to wrench his spear from the

conquered giant's head. And side by side he and Denny started again the

charge against the ruler's guards, which, while still mighty in defense,

were by their very nature unable to attack.

* * * * *

Three of these guards were left. Two of them were the freaks with the

great, armored, bung-heads--and the soft and vulnerable bodies. The

third was of the syringe type, with invulnerable horn breastplate and

body armor--but with a head that, now its fatal liquid was exhausted,

was useless in battle.

"Take 'em one by one," grunted Jim, setting the example by swinging his

spear at the body of the nearest guard. "We'll get at that damn thing

with the overgrown brains yet!"

His spear clanged on iron-hard horn as the termite swung its unwieldy

head to protect its unarmored body. The force of the contact tore the

spear from his hand; but almost before it could drop, he had recovered

it. And in that flashing instant Denny had darted in at the side of the

thing and half disembowelled it with a thrust of the acid-blunted point

of his three-foot bar, and a lightninglike wrench up and to the side.

"Only two left!" cried Jim, stabbing at the flabby head of the

syringe-monster that loomed a foot above his own head. "We'll do it yet,


But at that moment a clashing and rattling at the doorway suddenly burst

in on the din of the eery fight. Both men stared at each other with

surrender in their eyes.

"Now we are all through!" yelled Jim, almost calm in his complete

resignation. "But we'll try to reach that devilish thing before we're


* * * * *

In the heat of the swift, deadly fray, the two men had forgotten for the

moment, that these few soldiers ranged against them were not all the

fighters in the mound city. But the quaking intellect they were striving

to reach had not forgotten! At some time early in the one-sided struggle

it had sent out a soundless call to arms. And now, in the doorway,

struggling to force through in numbers too great for the entrance's

narrow limits, were the first of the soldier hordes the ruler had

commanded to report here for fight duty. And behind them, as far as the

eye could see, the tunnel was blocked by yet others marching to kill

the creatures that menaced their leader. The abortive effort at escape,

it seemed, was doomed.

The strength of desperation augmented Jim's naturally massive muscular

power. He whirled his spear high over his head, clubwise. Disdaining now

to try for a thrust behind and to one side of the great conical head

that faced him, he brought the bar down with sledge-hammer force on the

horn-plated thing.

As though it had been a willow wand, the big bar whistled through the

air in its descent. With a crack that could be heard even above the

crashing mandibles of the soldiers pouring across the hundred-yard floor

toward the scene of battle, the bar landed on the living buckler of a


The head could not have been actually harmed. But the brain behind it

was patently jarred and numbed for an instant. The great creature stood

still, its head weaving slowly back and forth. Jim swung his improvised

club in another terrific arc....

* * * * *

Denny darted around behind the ponderously wheeling bulk of the last

remaining guard to the team of worker termites. He, too, swung his arms

high--over the bloated brain-bag that cowered down between the backs

that bore it--leaping here and there to avoid the blunt mandibles of the

burden bearers. He, too, brought down his three-foot length of bar with

all the force he could muster, the sight of that swollen, hideous head

atop the withered remnants of termite body lending power to his muscles.

And now, just as the nearest of the soldiers reached out for them, the

termite-ruler lay helpless on the backs of its living crutches, with its

attenuated body quivering convulsively, and its balloonlike, fragile

head cleft almost in two halves. It was possible that even that terrific

injury might not be fatal to a thing so great and flexible of brain, and

so divorced from the ills as well as the powers of the flesh. But for

the moment at least it was helpless, an inert mass on the patient backs

of the termite team.

"To the acid vat," snapped Jim. "We'll make our last stand there."

Dodging the nearest snapping mandibles, Denny ran beside his companion

to where the termite, dead now, with its distended abdomen deflated and

the last of the acid trickling from the hole caused by Jim's spear,

still hung head down from the ceiling.

The powerful ruler of this vast underground city was crushed--for the

moment at least. But the fate of the two humans seemed no less certain

than it had before. For now the huge chamber was swarming with the giant

soldiers. In numbers so great that they crashed and rattled against each

other as they advanced, they marched toward the place where the broken

monarch still quivered in weak convulsions--and behind which, near the

acid vat, the two men crouched.