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   Chapter 37 No.37

Tarrano the Conqueror By Ray Cummings Characters: 17906

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Battle

I found myself in the air; with my men around me we hovered. Then Georg's command from the instrument room sounded in my ears. I gave the signal; and flying wedge-shaped, we hurled ourselves forward. It was like lying on the air, diving head foremost. The rush of wind sang past me; the ground, a hundred feet below, was a white surface flowing backward.

We were heading for the base of one of Tarrano's barrage projectors. It was mounted within the wall; but the wall itself was protected merely by a fan-shaped subsidiary beam-a weaker barrage over that small area, which by concentrated effort we hoped to break.

From a helan away on both sides of me I saw other wedges of our men coming slanting in to assail the same point; overhead a corps of girls was hovering. Our towers, three of them concentrated here, had risen to a moderate height; their rays were playing upon the threatened area; a steady fountain of sparks showed where they were striking the barrage.

A silent bombardment of flashing beams and sparks. At five hundred feet we added our own smaller rays to the turmoil. If the barrage would break at this point....

The instrument room, watchful of everything, sailed over me. On my mirror I saw Georg's intent face; his voice said:

"Careful, Jac! They may come out."

Prophetic words! The segment of barrage here suddenly vanished. A ray darted out. Beside it, a cloud of flying figures came out of the city like insects from a hive.

An inferno of almost hand to hand fighting. It was everyone for himself; and I gave the order for my men to break formation. Ordered them to get up close to the wall if they could ... to strike, with the closest possible range at the base of the enemy ray....

I flung myself forward. Tarrano's men soon were around me. Twisting, darting figures ... tiny beams of death to be fended off with my shield....

A body fell past me in the air ... others, while I looked at them, in the blink of an eyelid, vanished into nothingness ... One of our towers sailing high, suddenly went dark, turned over, wavered down, dismembered with leprous missing parts-and then in a puff was obliterated.

I found myself nearly up to the wall, and higher than its top. The segment of barrage remained broken. I could see into the city-the Ice Palace, still seemingly deserted. And near it, the base of the powerful ground ray which was assailing our towers ... If I could get past the wall, unnoticed, get within range of that projector....

Most of the fighting was now behind me. We seemed to be holding our own ... the squad of girls was coming down; I prayed that Elza might not be among them....

The instrument room had vanished beyond my sight; but Georg's voice said:

"We're sending reinforcements! Gather your men-hold off for a moment!"

From every pan of our line other units of men and towers were coming. We had broken through the barrage here. If we could now, by a concerted rush, get our force over the wall, into the city....

Within the instrument room, Georg sat watching. The inactivity of his own part, the comparative lack of personal danger, galled him. But he was too occupied with his duties to give it more than passing thought. We had broken the barrage at one point ... from every quarter he was rushing reinforcements there to take advantage of the break....

And then Tarrano's trickery became apparent. We had not broken his barrage; he had deliberately withdrawn it, to encourage us, to bring our other units to the spot.... Our power house, neglected, was momentarily comparatively defenseless. The enemy barrage at the point of the wall nearest it, suddenly lifted. Beams darted from the opening ... men came out in a cloud....

I held back momentarily from the wall and gathered my remnant of men about me. Only half my former strength; but with sinking heart I tried to assure myself that the others had not heeded my call. The fighting here had slackened; Tarrano's men had risen high, engaged at long range by our girls, from whom they were slowly, trickily retreating as though to lure the girls above the city; and my heart was thankful when I heard the relayed order from Rhaalton for the girls to withdraw-not to pass above the wall, even at high altitude. The order came just in time; the barrage here flashed on again, trapping a few of our men behind it.

I was aware of this new attack on the power house. Our units were hurriedly being ordered back. Georg, in desperation, had flung his instrument vehicle at the enemy ray ... My connection broke; and then another connection brought me someone's voice with the report that the instrument room had darkened that main enemy ray, but had itself crashed to the ground ... I wondered if Georg were killed ... later, I heard someone say that he was safe within the power house....

I disobeyed my final orders; I did not swing back toward the power house; instead, with my men around me, we fled back from this segment of the wall to the higher lying white plain behind it.

I have spoken of the down-grade of this land here, culminating in the depression which marked this part of the wall. It was that depression which gave me my idea. Our heat-ray cylinders had so far been useless. They had a range of only two hundred feet, and no power to attack a barrage. Some of them had futilely been used; the snow and ice on the ground above our recent fighting was melted in patches-pools of boiling water lay on the naked rock; and the water, flowing down the depression, had reached the ice-wall-a tiny stream of it, eating into the wall, slowly, surely....

With my men I flew up the slope. The ice and snow here melted under the close-range play of our heat-cylinders. Rivulets of boiling water began creeping toward the city. Other men at my call joined us. Two hundred of us soon were melting the ice. The rivulets merged into brooks, to streams-and soon a river torrent of hissing, boiling water gathering volume as it went, was surging at the wall. The wall began melting-itself feeding this monster which was eating at its vitals ... a yawning hole began opening at the base of the wall ... it began sagging at the top ... crumbling....

The segment of barrage here went dark. No trickery now; the barrage at this point actually was broken. The boiling river went through the wall, swept down the slope into the city. Through the great clouds of steam I could see the Ice Palace with its brittle outlines softening under the heat ... one of its thin spires broke off and fell....

Feverishly we added to the river source. The whole area here was grey with steam. Girls had joined us ... Elza was not among them ... Elza! With my triumph there lay always in the background of my consciousness the weight of my fear for Elza....

The fighting in the other sector had continued desperately. Our power house was hopelessly damaged; the towers, with their power gone, were using their batteries; soon they would be exhausted. But now we abandoned that sector; our remaining towers-all our flying forces-came to this melting area where the vanishing city lay defenseless before us.... We hurled ourselves into it, using only our heat-rays. Everywhere we added to the boiling torrent; even the interference heat of the fighting was to our advantage. This brittle city which owed its very existence to the congealing cold, lay enveloped in a cloud of steam.

Then Tarrano played his last card. The cubical building of metal with the cables depending from it, still hung motionless. It now burst into sound. A low electrical hum; then louder to a whine-a scream. Our men and girls were in the air around it. I too was there. Tarrano's men-the remaining few who were desperately fighting-had suddenly withdrawn.

And then we knew the purpose of this hanging room. A strange form of some tremendous electro-magnet. I could feel it pulling at me. My power to guide myself in the air was wavering.

From my height I could see down into this ceilingless rectangle. It was un-manned by humans. A room of whirling, flashing knives! Above it, even then some of our men were struggling in its magnetic grip ... being drawn down into it ... a girl's power must suddenly have collapsed; she was sucked in with a rush-torn to fragments by the whirling knives....

The area of magnetism seemed to spread for a helan or more. Everywhere around me I saw our men and girls struggling with it, fighting to keep away, but closing in a ring around it ... faster, continually more helpless until at last, their bodies out of control whirling end over end, they were sucked in like water rushing into a turbine.... One of our weakened towers attacked it; but some of the remnants of Tarrano's projectors caught the tower and darkened it.

Through the rising clouds of steam I could see the magnet vaguely now. But I could feel it pulling; and soon, in spite of myself, I was fairl

y close above it. I strove to keep my wits. The others who were meeting their death lost control of their bodies at the last and could not use their cylinders. I had some battery power remaining; I snapped on my disintegrating ray to test it. It was my last desperate recourse.

I righted my body, and yielding to the magnetic pull, ceasing to struggle, I dove head first at that yawning rectangle. A gleaming blur of knives ... blood-stained now ... within these rectangular walls horrible carnage....

A second of despair; but my ray struck true ... Around me was chaos; my senses reeled, went black for an instant. But I recovered, found myself whirling in the empty air....

The city was melting into a turmoil of boiling water and surging steam. The fighting everywhere had ceased. Wavering figures were rising-fugitives struggling away. With my senses still confused, I righted myself, undecided where to go or what to do. Above me two figures were still in combat. One of them-a man-assailed by a heat-ray, came hurtling down past me. The other wavered-a girl with her flying mechanism out of control. She was a hundred feet or more above me, wavering downward. Elza! I shot myself up to her, seized her in my arms, my own supporting mechanism sustaining us both. Elza, spent, but uninjured, I held her close.

"Elza dear! My Elza!"

We hung there in the air. From out the vanishing city, rising through the steam came a small metal vehicle. A pointed cylinder, in height no more than twice that of a man. It came up slowly. Its rectangular door was open. As it reached our level and went past us quite close, I saw a man's figure standing there. Tarrano! Tarrano alone! From the wreckage of his city, making his escape alone!

Without thought-holding Elza tightly within my arms-I flung us upward. Tarrano saw us, recognized us. He slackened his upward pace. With my sober reason gone, I strove to overtake him; saw the sardonic leer on his face but did not realize that he was waiting for us. We caught up with his vehicle; he pulled us through the doorway, to the floor of the narrow circular room with its heavy translucent panes.

He was bending over me, leering. "Jac Hallen! And my little Lady Elza! How fortunate!"

I cast off Elza and gained my feet. For an instant we stood-Tarrano and I-measuring each other. He seemed calm; his face bore a slow sardonic smile; he was unarmed, drawn back against the concavity of the wall, watching me with his steady, keen eyes. Behind him through the low window, I saw the white ground now far below us; we were rising swiftly.

"So you brought my Lady Elza back to me, Jac Hallen?"

He got no further, for with a leap I was upon him. To use my weapons in these narrow quarters would have been suicide. My body pinned him against the wall as I lunged; my fingers strove for his throat.

He was no larger than I, but the strength of him was extraordinary. His body stiffened to resist my impact; one of his hands gripped my wrist; his other hand-the heel of it-came up beneath my chin, forcing my head back.

He fought silently, with movements that seemed almost deliberate. Into the center of the room we struggled. I saw that Elza was upon her feet, a hand pressed to her mouth in terror.

"Elza!"

I had meant to tell her to use the control levers which were on a small table nearby-to bring us back to the ground; but with this momentary diverting of my attention, Tarrano's fist struck me full in the face. I staggered back. Elza screamed-called something to Tarrano. I staggered, but I did not fall; and as Tarrano stood there, still with his slow smile, I recovered myself and was again upon him. Locked together we swayed to the control table. My back was to it. Tarrano's slender fingers with a grip like alemite, had found my throat. Slowly, irresistibly he forced me backward over the table. I was helpless; my breath was stopped; Tarrano's triumphant face bending over me was fading with my senses.

"In just a moment, Lady Elza...."

He was telling her calmly that in a moment he would be finished with me. Did the man's egotism, here at the last, delude him into the belief that Elza wanted him to conquer me? With all the weapons of science discarded-this primitive struggle of man against man with the woman as prize-did the thought of that delude him into the belief that her love was his, now that he was killing me?

I never knew. But beneath the roaring of my head, I heard his gentle words to her. And then, behind him, I saw her coming forward. A heavy metal object which she had picked up from the floor was in her hand. Tarrano saw her also-in a mirror on the table-saw her raise the jagged weapon. Raise it to strike; not at me-at himself. His face was close above mine. In that second, I saw in his expression the realization that Elza was attacking him.

Whatever his emotions, like a flash he acted. His grip on my throat loosened. His arm, swinging backward, warded off Elza's trembling, hesitant blow. The metal block, intended for his head, was knocked from her hand; it fell clattering to the floor. And reaching over, Tarrano gripped the vehicle's control lever, wrenched it bodily from its fastenings! Control of the vehicle was irrevocably lost! We were falling!

Breathless moments! Tarrano idly stood apart; his face a mask. My breath restored, I was recovering. I drew myself erect.

Death! But my confused thoughts went to Elza. Her flying mechanism was partially sustaining; my own probably was still effective. Before Tarrano was aware of my purpose, I had pushed Elza forcibly through the doorway. Into the rush of air her figure disappeared. But Tarrano gripped me as I tried to follow her. Gripped me and clung. A breathless, dizzy instant. Locked together, our bodies shifted crazily. I tried to get him out the doorway with me, but he fought against it.... Smiling-always smiling....

Elza fell safely. But they told me that Tarrano and I hovered for days unconscious on the borderland between life and death, living finally, for our vehicle had plunged into a tremendous snow-bank, to break its fall.

* * *

Last scene of all ... They would not have Tarrano on any of the three worlds. While still living, the very personality of him was a menace. With his woman Tara, who refused to leave him and whom he tolerated, they banished him to that tiny asteroid which pursued its solitary way between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

A lonely, barren little world, with its single, primitive race of spindly beings-timid, frail beings, half-human, half insect. We took him there-Maida and Georg, Elza and I. He anticipated his dislike of the asteroid's slight gravity, and demanded weighted shoes so that he might walk with the normal feeling of Earth and Venus.

"You give me too much freedom," he told us solemnly.

And there amid the rocks, with Tara we set him down. As we parted, he turned to Elza. She and I were joined in marriage by then. He faced her, took one of her hands and pressed its palm to his forehead, the gesture of homage and respect.

"Goodbye, Lady Elza. I wish for you all life's happiness." He smiled, but it was a very wistful smile. And then he swung away abruptly.

"Tara! Prepare me food. Leave me-I would be alone." His imperious gesture dispersed also the crowd of natives who were curiously regarding him. Here, in his last little domain, he would still be master.

Our vehicle slowly rose. From its windows we watched him. Ignoring us utterly, weighted down by his heavy shoes, he paced his barren rocks, head lowered, alone with those thoughts he never shared with anyone.

Tarrano, the Conqueror!

The End.

* * *

[1] New York City, about where Yonkers now stands.

[2] Tokyo-Yokohama, Japan.

[3] Now Long Island.

[4] Now Europe and Asia.

[5] A medical word, translated here as cancer, though possibly not that.

[6] Now Montreal.

[7] Now Cape Chelyuskin, Laimur Peninsula, Siberia.

[8] Hayes Peninsula, Northwest Greenland, near the present site of Etah.

[9] Now Matto Grosso State, Brazil.

[10] A cement or mortar used in stone constructions-evidently partially combustible.

[11] A universal insulating fabric, as rubber insulates electricity and asbestos bars heat.

[12] A small winged board without power, used for emergency descents by volplaning down from disabled aeros.

[13] The Rocky Mountains, in the United States or possibly Alberta.

[14] Elta-a term or title denoting rank by birth.

[15] Canal, as it now is thought to be.

[16] Evidently the upper Amazon.

[17] About 4,000 feet.

[18] Orchestra.

[19] A scent or perfume, highly intoxicating.

[20] A popinjay-fop.

[21] Half-way between midnight and dawn.

[22] An awkward, unpronounceable word which for the purposes of this narrative may be termed Industriana.

[23] Quicksilver.

[24] Similar doubtless to our present-day X-ray.

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