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   Chapter 4 No.4

Tarrano the Conqueror By Ray Cummings Characters: 14579

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


To the North Pole

"You stand back! You do not touch me!"

The Venus girl fairly hissed the words. Her eyes were dilated; her white hair hung in a tumbling, wavy mass over her shoulders. She stood tense-a frail, girlish figure in a short, grey-cloth mantle, with long grey stockings beneath.

We were startled. Georg stopped momentarily; then he jumped at her. It was a false move, for before we could reach her, with a piercing cry, she was tearing at the instruments on the table; her fingers, with burns unheeded, ripping the delicate wires, smashing the small mirrors, flinging everything to the floor.

A few seconds only, but it was enough. She was panting when Georg caught her by the wrists, and we others gathered around them.

"Ahla!" Elza cried in horror.

I can appreciate the shock to Elza, who had trusted, even loved this girl.

Dr. Brende stood in confused astonishment, staring at the wreck of the instrument table. From a naked wire a little black coil of smoke was coming up. I fumbled about and switched the current out of everything.

We were cut off from all communication with the world. It gave me a queer feeling-made the small island we were on seem so remote.

Georg was shaking the girl, demanding with whom she had been talking and why. But she fell into sullen silence, and nothing we could do would make her break it. It infuriated me, that stubbornness; it was all I could do to keep from harming her in my efforts to make her talk.

Georg, at last, pulled me away; he led the girl to a couch and sternly bade her sit there without moving. She seemed willing enough to do that; she still had not spoken, but her eyes were watching us closely.

Dr. Brende was examining the smashed instruments. "Ruined. We cannot use them. Those messages-we must send them. I must talk to Robins--"

We went into the corridor, out of earshot of the girl, but where we could watch her. That we were in immediate danger was obvious, and we all realized it. Ahla had told some of her people that we were here on the island; doubtless was planning to have them come here at once and seize us.

How far away from us were they? I had seen in the mirror the interior of a cave-like room. Where was it? Might it not be near at hand-over on the mainland? Might not these enemies arrive on the island at any moment?

Georg suggested that we send our messages from the aeros. We had my own car-and a larger car of the Brendes. More than ever now, Dr. Brende was worried over the safety of his Siberian laboratory; but from the aero we could talk to Robins.

We went to the landing stage. I wanted to tie up Ahla, but as Georg said, she could do nothing now that the instrument room was out of commission. We admonished her sternly to stay where she was, and left the house.

On the open landing stage my small aero was lying where I had left it; but a moment's glance showed us it was wrecked-its instruments and its driving mechanism demolished!

There was no doubt about it now; Ahla had planned to keep us on the island while her people came and seized us. Fortunately the Brende car was well housed and barred. We saw that the gates had been tampered with, but with the limited time Ahla had to work in, she had been unable to force them. We swung them wide, and to our infinite relief found the car unharmed.

At once Dr. Brende called Robins. But the laboratory did not answer!

"It may be your sending apparatus," I suggested. "Send your message down to Headquarters-with their high power they'll get Robins quickly enough."

He tried that-sending also his answer to the previous coded message Headquarters had sent him. It was now 11:45. We waited some eight minutes, during which time I rushed back to the house. Ahla was sitting obediently where I had left her.

"You stay there," I told her. "If you move, I'll break every bone in your rotten little body."

Back at the landing stage I found Dr. Brende in despair. Headquarters could not raise Robins. They had relayed the message to Wrangel and Spitzbergen Islands-but the stations there reported similarly. Dr. Brende's laboratory did not answer its call.

This decided us. We had no wish to remain where we were. The Brende car, far larger than the small one of mine, was fully equipped and provisioned. We rolled it out, and in a moment were flying in the air.

Dr. Brende's car was large, commodious, and smooth-riding. A pleasure to fly in such a car! Georg was at the controls. I sat close beside Elza in the semi-darkness, gazing down through the pit-rail window to where the island was dropping away beneath us. It was a perfect night; the moon had set; the stars and planets gleamed in an almost cloudless sky. Red Mars, I saw, very nearly over our heads.

It was now midnight, and for the moment we chanced to have the air to ourselves. We rose to the 10,000-foot level, then headed directly North. It carried us inland; soon the sea was out of sight behind. Lights dotted the landscape-a town or city here and there, and occasionally a tower.

Dr. Brende was poring over charts, illumined by a dim glow-light beside him. "Can we get power all the way, Georg?... Elza child, hadn't you better lie down? A long trip-you'll be tired out."

"Call Royal Mountain[6]," Georg suggested. "Ask them about serving us power; I'll stay 10,000 or below. Under one thousand, when we get further north. Ask them if they can guarantee us power all the way."

The station at Royal Mountain would guarantee us nothing on this night; they advised us to keep low. Their own power-sending station was working as usual. But this night-who could tell what General Orders might come? Everyone's nerves were frayed; this Director demanded gruffly to know who we were.

"Tell him none of his business," I put in. My own nerves were frayed, too.

"Quiet!" warned Georg. "He'll hear you-and it is his business if he wants to make it so. Tell him we are the Inter-Allied News, father. That is true enough, and no use putting into the air that Dr. Brende is flying north."

Royal Mountain let us through. We passed well to the east of it about 12:45-too far away to sight its lights. The cross-traffic was somewhat heavier here. Beneath it, at 5,000 and 6,000 feet, a steady stream of cars was passing east and west.

We were riding easily-little wind, almost none-and were doing 390 miles an hour. You cannot bank or turn very well at such a speed; it is injurious to the human body. But our course was straight north. Dr. Brende showed it to me on his chart-north, following the 70th West Meridian. Compass corrections as we got further north-and astronomical readings, these would take us direct to the Pole. I could never fathom this air navigation; I flew by tower lights, and landmarks-but to Dr. Brende and Georg, the mathematics of it were simple.

At two o'clock we had crossed the route of the Chicago-Great London Mail flyer. But we did not see the vessel. The temperature was growing steadily colder. The pit was inclosed, and I switched on the heaters. Elza had fallen asleep on the side couch, with my promise to awaken her at the first sign of dawn.

At two-thirty, the Greater New York-East Indian Express overhauled us and passed overhead. It was flying almo

st north, bound for Bombay and Ceylon via Novaya Zemlya. It was in the 18,000-foot lane. The air up there was clear, but beneath us a fog obscured the land.

At intervals all this time Dr. Brende had been trying to raise Robins-but there was still no answer. We did not discuss what might be the trouble. Of what use could such talk be?

But it perturbed us, for imagination can picture almost anything. Georg even felt the strain of it, for he said almost gruffly:

"Stop it, father. I don't think you should call attention to us so much. Get the meteorological reports from the Pole-we need them. If they tell us this weather will hold at 10,000 and below, we'll make good time."

Soon after three o'clock we swept over Hudson Strait into Baffinland. We were down to 4,000 feet, but the fog still lay under us like a blanket. It clung low; we were well above it, in a cloudless night, with no wind save the rush of our forward flight.

Then came the pink flush of dawn. True to my promise I awakened Elza. But there was nothing for her to see; the stars growing pale, pink spreading into orange, and then the sun. But the fog under us still lay thick.

We were holding our speed very nearly at 380 an hour. By daylight-about five o'clock, after a light meal-we were over Baffin Bay. I had relieved Georg at the controls. The headlands of North Greenland lay before us. Then the fog lifted a little, broke away in places. The water became visible-drift and slush-ice of the Spring, with lines of open water here and there.

And then the fog closed down again, lifting momentarily at six o'clock when we passed over the north-western tip of Greenland. The tower there gave us its routine signal, which we answered in kind. There was little traffic along here; a few local cars in the lowest lanes.

Shortly after six, when we were above Grantland, another of the great trans-Arctic passenger liners went over us. The San Francisco Night line, for Mid-Eurasia and points South. It was crossing Greenland, from San Francisco, Vancouver, Edmonton, to the North Cape, the Russias, and African points south of Suez.

At seven o'clock, with the sun circling the lower sky, the fog under us suddenly dissipated completely. We were over the Polar ocean. Masses of drift ice and slush, but for the most part surprisingly clear. At eight o'clock, flying low-no more than a thousand feet-we sighted the steel tower with foundations sunk into the ocean's depths which marks the top of our little Earth.

We flashed by the tower in a moment, answering the director's signal perfunctorily. Southward now, on the 110th East Meridian, without deviating from the straight course we had held.

It was truly a beautiful sight, this Polar ocean. Masses of ice, glittering in the morning sunlight. A fog-bank to the left; but everywhere else patches of green water and floes that gleamed like millions of precious stones as they flung back the light to us. Or again, a mass of low, solid ice, flushed pink in the morning light. And behind us, just above the horizon, a segment of purple sky where a storm was gathering-a deep purple which was mirrored in the placid patches of open water, and darkened the ice-floes to a solemn, sombre hue.

Elza was entranced, though she had made many trans-Polar trips. But Georg, now again at the controls, kept his eyes on the instruments; and the doctor, trying vainly once more to talk with his laboratory, now so close ahead of us, sat in moody silence.

It was 9:38 when we sighted, well off to the right, the rocky headland of Cape Chelusin[7]-the most northerly point of Eurasia. A long, low cliff of grey rock, ridged white with snow in its clefts. We swung toward it, at greatly decreased speed, and at an altitude of only a few hundred feet.

This was all a bleak, desolate region-curiously so-and I think, one of the very few so desolate on Earth. As we advanced, the Siberian coast spread out before us. Mountains behind, and a strip of rocky lowland along the sea. There were patches of snow-the mountains were white with it; but on the lowlands, for the most part the Spring sun had already melted it. The Spring was well advanced; there were many open channels in the water over which we were skimming-drift-ice, and slush-ice which soon would be gone.

Cape Chelusin! It was here that Dr. Brende had placed his Arctic laboratory-as far from the haunts of man as he could find-a hundred miles from the nearest person, so he told me. And as I gazed about me I realized how isolated we were. Not a car in the whole circular panorama of sky; no sign of vessel on the water; no towns on the land.

It was just after ten in the morning when we dropped silently to the small landing stage a hundred yards or so from the shore. We disembarked in the sunlight of what would have been a pleasant December morning in Greater New York; and I gazed about me curiously. A level lowland of crags with the white of snow in their hollows; a collection of broad, low buildings nearby, with a narrow steel viaduct running down to them from the landing stage. And behind everything, the frowning headland of the Cape.

The buildings stood silent, without sign of life. There was no one in sight anywhere. No one out to greet us; I thought it a little strange but I said nothing.

We started down the viaduct. Under us, in patches of soil, I could see the vivid colors of the little Arctic flowers already rearing their heads to the Spring sunlight. I called Elza's attention to them. A vague apprehension was within me; my heart was pounding unreasonably. But this was Dr. Brende's affair, not mine; and I wanted to hide my perturbation from Elza.

The viaduct reached the ground; a path led on to the houses.

Suddenly Dr. Brende called out:

"Robins! Robins! Grantley! Where are you!"

The words seemed to echo back faintly to us; but the buildings remained silent.

"You'd better wait here with Elza," Georg said.

"I'll go on-see what--"

He checked his words, and started forward. But Dr. Brende was with him, and in doubt what to do I followed with Elza.

We entered the nearest building, into a low, dim room, with doors on the sides. In the silence I seemed to hear my heart pounding my ribs. Elza's face was pale and perturbed, but she smiled very courageously at me.

"Wait!" said Georg. "You wait here."

He turned into a side door leading to another room, and in an instant was back with a face from which the color had departed.

"They're not in there," he said unsteadily. "Elza-you go outside with father.... They must be around somewhere, Jac. Come, look."

There was a rustle behind us. Arms came around me, pinning me. I heard Elza scream, saw Georg fighting two dark forms which had leaped upon him.

I was flung to the ground, but I fought-three men, it seemed to be, who were upon me. Then Georg's voice:

"Jac! Stop-they'll kill you."

I yielded suddenly, and my assailants jerked me to my feet. A group of Venus men were surrounding us. Georg, his jacket torn to ribbons, was backed up against the wall with three or four Venus men holding him.

And on the floor nearby Dr. Brende lay prone, with a crimson stain spreading on his white ruffled shirt, and Elza sobbing over him.

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