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   Chapter 22 No.22

Islands of Space By Jr. John W. Campbell Characters: 10758

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The Nansalian fleet was already outside the city and hard at it. The fight was on! But Arcot saw that the fight was one-sided in the extreme. Ship after ship of the Nansalian fleet seemed to burst into sudden, inexplicable flame and fall blazing against another of their own ships! It seemed as though some irresistible attraction drew the ships together and smashed them against each other in a blaze of electric flame, while the ships of Sator did nothing but stay far off to one side and dodge the rays of the Nansalian ships.

Quickly, Arcot turned to Torlos. "Torlos, go out! Leave the ship! We can work better when you aren't here, since we don't have to worry about exposure to magnetic rays. I don't like to make you miss this, but it's for your world!"

Torlos showed his disappointment; he wanted to be in this battle. But he realized that what the Earthman said was true. Their weak, stone bones were completely immune to the effects of even the most powerful magnetic ray.

He nodded. "I'll go. Good Luck! And give them a few shots for me!"

He turned and ran down the corridor to the airlock. As soon as he was outside, Arcot lifted the ship.

It had taken less than a minute to get into the air, but in that minute, the Nansalian fleet had taken a terrific beating. Arcot noticed that the few ships of Sator that had been hit smashed into the ground with a terrible blaze of violet light that left nothing but a pile of fused metal.

"They've got something, all right," Arcot thought to himself as he drove the Ancient Mariner into battle.

It would be impossible for the Nansalians to lower their magnetic screen, even for a second, so Arcot simply aimed the ship toward it and turned on the power.

"Hold on!" he called as they struck it. The ship reeled and sank suddenly planetward, then it bounced up and outward. They were through the wall.

The rooms were suddenly oppressively hot, and the molecular cooler was struggling to lower it. "We made it," Morey said triumphantly, "but the eddy currents sure heated up the hull!"

They were out of the city now, speeding toward the battle. Following a prearranged system, the Nansalian ships retreated, leaving the Earthmen a free hand. They needed no help!

Wade, Fuller, and Morey began to lash out with the molecular beams, smashing the Satorian ships in on themselves, crushing them to the ground, where they exploded in violet flame.

Wade and Fuller began to work together. Wade caught one ship in the molecular ray, and Fuller hit with a heat beam. Like some titanic broom they swept it around at dozens of miles a second, leaping, twisting, smashing ship after ship. Like a snowball, the lump of glowing metal grew with each crash, till a dozen ships had fallen into it. It was a new broom, and it swept clean!

Then a magnetic beam caught the Ancient Mariner. With a shock, it slowed down at a terrific rate. Then Arcot turned on more power, and simply dragged the other ship along by its own magnetic beam! Wade tore the ship loose with his molecular beam, but the mighty mass of metal that had been his broom was gone, a glowing mass of metal on the ground.

"We haven't seen that new weapon yet," Morey called.

"Can't find us!" Arcot replied into the intercom. The sun was setting, and the blazing red star was lighting the ship, making it seem like a ball of fire when still and a flashing streak of red light when in motion.

Ship after ship of the Satorians was going down before the three beams of the Earth ship; the great fleet was dissolving like a lump of sugar in boiling water.

Suddenly, just ahead of them, an enemy ship drove toward them with obvious intent to ram; if his magnetic beam caught them, and drew them towards him, there would be a head-on collision.

Wade caught it with a molecular beam, and it became a blazing wreck on the ground.

"All rays off!" Arcot called. As soon as they were off, Arcot hit a switch, and the Ancient Mariner vanished.

Arcot drove the invisible ship high above the battle. Below, the Satorians were searching wildly for the ship. They knew it must be somewhere near, and feared that at any second it might materialize before them with its deadly rays.

Arcot stayed above them for nearly a minute while the ships below twisted and turned, wildly seeking him. Then they went into formation again and started back for the city.

"That's what I wanted!" Arcot said grimly. "In formation, they're like sitting ducks!" He dropped the ship like a plummet while the ray operators prepared to sweep the formation with their beams.

Suddenly the Ancient Mariner was visible again. Simultaneously, three rays leaped down and bathed the formation in their pale radiance. The front ranks vanished, and the line broke, attacking the ship that hung above them now. Four magnetic beams hit the Ancient Mariner at once! Arcot couldn't pull away from all four, and his gunners couldn't tell which ships were holding them.

All at once, the men felt a violent electrical shock! The air about them was filled with the blue haze of the electric weapon they had seen!

Instantly, the magnetic beams left them, and they saw behind them a single Satorian ship heading toward them, surrounded by that same bluish halo of light. A suicide ship!

Arcot accelerated away from it as Fuller hit it with a molecular beam. The

ship reeled and stopped, and the Ancient Mariner pulled away from it rapidly. Then, the frost-covered ship of the dead came on, still heading for them!

Arcot turned and went off to the right, but like a pursuing Nemesis, the strange ship came after them in the shortest, most direct route!

The molecular beams were useless now; there was no molecular energy left in the frozen hulk that accelerated toward them. Suddenly, the two envelopes of blue light touched and coalesced! A great, blinding arc leaped between the two ships as the speeding Satorian hull smashed violently against the side of the Ancient Mariner! The men ducked automatically, and were hurled against their seat-straps with tremendous force. There was a rending, crashing roar, a sea of flame-and darkness.

They could only have been unconscious a few seconds, for when the fog went away, they could see the glowing mass of the enemy ship still falling far beneath them. The lux wall where it had hit was still glowing red.

"Morey!" Arcot called. "You all right? Wade? Fuller?"

"Okay!" Morey answered.

So were Wade and Fuller.

"It was the lux hull that saved us," Arcot said. "It wouldn't break, and the temperature of the arc didn't bother it. And since it wouldn't carry a current, we didn't get the full electrical effect.

"I'm going to convince those birds that this ship is made of something they can't touch! We'll give them a real show!"

He dived downward, back into the battle.

It was a show, all right! It was impossible to fight the Earth ship. The enemy had to concentrate four magnetic rays on it to use their electric weapon, and they could only do that by sheer luck!

And even that was of little use, for they simply lost one of their own ships without harming the Ancient Mariner in the least.

Ship after ship crumpled in on itself like crushed tinfoil or hurled itself violently to the ground as the molecular beams touched them. The Satorian fleet was a fleet no longer; it was a small collection of disorganized ships whose commanders had only one thought-to flee!

The few ships that were left spearheaded out into space, using every bit of acceleration that the tough bodies of the Satorians could stand. With a good head start, they were rapidly escaping.

"We can't equal that acceleration," said Wade. "We'll lose them!"

"Nope!" Arcot said grimly. "I want a couple of those ships, and I'm going to get them!"

At four gravities of acceleration, the Ancient Mariner drove after the fleeing ships of Sator, but the enemy ships soon dropped rapidly from sight.

Twenty five thousand miles out in space, Arcot cut the acceleration. "We'll catch them now, I think," he said softly. He pushed the little red switch for an instant, then opened it. A moment before, the planet Nansal had been a huge disc behind them. Now it was a tiny thing, a full million miles away.

It took the Satorian fleet over an hour to reach them. They appeared as dim lights in the telectroscope. They rapidly became larger. Arcot had extinguished the lights, and since they were on the sunward side of the approaching ships, the Ancient Mariner was effectively invisible.

"They're going to pass us at a pretty good clip," Morey said quietly. "They've been accelerating all this time."

Arcot nodded in agreement. "We'll have to hit them as they come toward us. We'd never get one in passing."

As the ships grew rapidly in the plate, Arcot gave the order to fire!

The molecular rays slashed out toward the onrushing ships, picking them off as fast as the beams could be directed. The rays were invisible in space, so they managed to get several before the Satorians realized what was happening.

Then, in panic, they scattered all over space, fleeing madly from the impossible ship that was firing on them. They knew they had left it behind, yet here it was, waiting for them!

"Let them go," Arcot said. "We've got our specimens, and the rest can carry the word back to Sator that the war is over for them."

It was several hours later that the Ancient Mariner approached Nansal again, bringing with it two Satorian ships. By careful use of the heat beam and the molecular beam, the Earthmen had managed to jockey the two battle cruisers back to Nansal.

It was nighttime when they landed. The whole area around the city was illuminated by giant searchlights. Men were working recovering the bodies of the dead, aiding those who had survived, and examining the wreckage.

Arcot settled the two Satorian ships to the ground, and landed the Ancient Mariner.

Torlos sprinted over the ground toward them as he saw the great silver ship land. He had been helping in the examination of the wrecked enemy ships.

"Have they attacked anywhere else on the planet?" Arcot asked as he opened the airlock.

Torlos nodded. "They hit five other cities, but they didn't use as big a fleet as they did here. The plan of battle seems to have been for the ships with the new weapons to hit here first and then hit each of the other cities in turn. They didn't have enough to make a full-scale attack; evidently, your presence here made them desperate.

"At any rate, the other cities were able to beat off the magnetic beam ships with the projectors of molecular beams."

"Good," Arcot thought. "Then the Nansal-Sator war is practically over!"

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