Locked City can be found in

ISFDB.org Magazine Entry


By Thorton Ayre

Exiled from Earth, and facing certain
death, they found the Metropolis of Mars
deserted, except for 7 strange characters

Sentence of Death

"RODNEY CALAB, Eva Calab, and Boris Rengard—you stand accused and convicted before this court as traitors to the cause of world progress—as defeated leaders in an effort to overthrow world government..."

The cold, impartial voice of Baxter Holroyd became silent for a moment. Every eye in the packed Hall of Judicature turned to where he sat—a grossly fat, vulgar, bald headed man, half leaning on his high and solitary desk, his pale eyes fixed in gloating triumph on the three in the dock before him.

This was no normal trial, no matter of espionage, but the final act of ruthless injustice that spelled doom for the vast, downtrodden bands of Earth who had seen in the vigorous, intelligent Rodney Calab a new savior from oppression.

Democracy, fascism, communism... Together with hundreds of other distinct policies they were all merged into a common dust in a record of nearly fifty years of desperate slaughter and struggle. First Europe and Great Britain; then the United States (with her isolation scheme in pieces) sank too. Japan and Russia rolled into the whirlpool. Across the world raged war at its vilest. Democracy and liberty were swept out of all knowledge. Iron dictatorship had won.

For ten years now, Baxter Holroyd, better known as the Iron Dictator, controlled the Earth's peoples with a severity and cruelty that bad no parallel with the past. Science went on, cities were rebuilt, civilization picked itself up again—but all for the good of Holroyd. Anybody daring to raise a finger against him or his retinue knew the answer was always instant death.

Rod Calab and his wife, Eva, defied that possibility. Together, with the young chemist Boris Rengard to help them, they struggled desperately and in secret to devise ways and means of scientifically undermining Holroyd's power; were within an ace of success. Then came exposure, trial, and now—

"There are various means this court could adopt to dispose of you," Holroyd resumed smoothly. "You could be shot, you could be burned slowly with heat rays, you could be exiled to the new Polar continents... All those things we could do, but we shall not.

"Today, in this proud year of 1990 it is science that definitely holds sway, that bows down before the rule I have instituted for the common good of the people. To the end of furthering that science you shall be given a chance to live..."

The three remained silent—Calab, tall, lean limbed, dark haired, with a resolute jaw; his wife upright and defiant, blonde headed and blue eyed. Both of them moved only slightly. Boris Rengard did not even do that. Small and lofty browed, unruly hair as red as a sunset and eyes so dark they seemed to have no pupils, he stood gripping the rail in front of him, knuckles white through the taut skin of lean hands. Whether facing death or life science was his only stimulus. He waited expectantly, almost coolly, staring up into the grinning, flabby face looming above.

"Yes, a chance for life," Holroyd repeated softly, but it was a softness that had the bitterness of nitric acid. "You may be aware—you in particular, Rengard—that our science now is faced by two major problems, atomic force and the feasibility of space travel. I say 'feasibility' because space travel by rocket ship is an accomplished fact.

"The work of Calva Neil, your close ally in your attempt to overthrow me and whose life I now spare only because of his genius, has unlocked the void for us. But where are there lives we can sacrifice in the first experimental trip across such a vast gulf as, say, forty million miles? Criminals are too useful; ordinary citizens too valuable.

"That the journey can be made, we know full well, but the strain on a human frame has yet to be ascertained. No man has ever yet been into space.... You three will make the initial journey!"

A heavy silence dropped on the hall as the Dictator mused for a moment, rustled his papers.

"The chosen objective," he resumed, "is Mars. Principally because it is obviously a dead world; also because its conjunction is favorable at the moment; and again because a forty million mile journey will tell us all we need to know if a longer trip is ever attempted.

"You, three will be rendered unconscious for a period of two weeks. During that time the rocket ship carrying you will cross the gulf, controlled as on previous occasions by the Neil Remote System. I need hardly add that, in view of his recent collusion with you, Neil will be heavily guarded during the process.

"It is certain you will land on Mars without mishap. If you have succumbed to the strain you will obviously be dead. If you have survived you will awaken. When you do that, certain concealed micro-waves networked across the interior of your cabin will react on photoelectric cells as your bodies intercept their paths. The cells will in turn actuate along a remote controlled beam and-produce a response back here on Earth.

"We shall know by that means that you are alive—that space travel can be accomplished by human beings. Because you do not know the position of these beams, because you will be too dazed on recovery to even bother thinking about them, you will be quite unable to prevent the signals going forth. Is that clear?"

"And if we do live?" asked Rengard stonily.

The Dictator smiled icily. "Then, my friends, Mars is all yours!" he grinned. "A mostly waterless, airless planet to do with as you will. It is one world we shall never trouble to colonize, but if you can reach it, it makes us secure when we decide to take over Venus and other possible worlds. Then outwards—to the Galaxies!" Holroyd paused, oozing for a moment that spell binding power that had made him the ruler of a harassed, post-war world.

"Your ship will have enough fuel to reach Mars—no more," he resumed. "You will have no provisions, and no water. If you do awake, you will soon die... horribly, as you deserve—"

In the jammed hall outside came a commotion.

"I won't do it! Damn you, Holroyd, I won't!"

The Dictator and three in the dock turned. In an instant they recognized the blond head and ruddy-cheeked face of Neil, their defeated friend, perhaps one of the cleverest young electrigeniuses of the age. He shook his fist savagely across the astonished mob of people.

"I'll not guide any ship containing my friends!" he roared. "They are my friends, always will be, and no radio control of mine is going to send them to such a death as that!"

"No?" Holroyd's thick lips were sneering. "We will see to that later, my friend. Guards, take him away! Hold him under strict observation until further orders. Take these three prisoners away too. Sentence is passed!"

He leaned back and watched complacently the prompt execution of his commands.

Just after sundown he was watching again, from his apartment window in the Executive Building, the departure of a rocket ship climbing in a streak of sparks to the cloudy sky. Languidly he turned to the televisor and switched it on. It gave him a picture of the remote control radio room in another quarter of the vast Executive Building.

Young Calva Neil was hunched over the controls of his amazing apparatus. Every moment was clearly one of extreme helpless bitterness. Time and again he looked up at the iron-faced guards around him with their leveled ray guns . . . then with a hopeless shrug of his shoulders turned back to his task.

Baxter Holroyd switched off, and smiled-the smile of a being who has more of the snake in him than the man.

The Deserted City

ROD CALAB moved dully, heavy headed, aching. His body throbbed as though it had been subjected to an interminable succession of hammer blows. Wearily he opened his eyes, found himself gazing at a roof of curved metal illumined by weak reflected sunshine.

Little by little remembrance seeped back—the anesthesia. on Earth in the prison cell, the memory of a last helpless struggle. The journey to Mars? Forgetful of his pains he eased off, the soft spring bed against the wall—eased rather too rapidly indeed for the lesser gravitation instantly made itself evident and sent him sprawling.

After a minute's careful effort he found just how much energy he needed. Gently he picked his way to Eva and Rengard as they lay motionless on their beds, eyes closed, faces white and rigid. Anxiously he felt their pulses. They were still alive, sluggishly so in the grip of unconsciousness. There was nothing could be done for them but wait for the awakening.

His head clearing a little Rod stumbled to the window, clutched the frame and stared outside. It was a view that brought hopelessness into his gray eyes. The vessel had landed in the midst of a near-horizoned desert. It stretched away, uneven and bumpy, totally empty of life. Overhead the sky was blue black, powdered with brightly gleaming stars, the green spot of Earth itself visible low down in the west-— or what Rod judged to be the west.

"Grand place to have a thirst!" he whispered, licking his dry lips. The stimulus shot into him at the time of the anesthetic had kept his body nourished during the two weeks, but now he felt the ravaging pangs of thirst and hunger. Wearily he rubbed his aching head. Then he turned about and looked at the fuel gauge.

There was still some explosive in the chambers—about enough to cover 2,000 miles. No more. Return to Earth was an absolute impossibility. With fingers that ached he operated the external air devices, made a wry face at the readings. The atmosphere outside was unbreathable in its thinness, approximating that of Earth's stratosphere.

"Damned lousy place!" he growled bitterly, and licked his lips again.

"I agree with you, Rod."

He turned in swift surprise and found Rengard sitting up on his bed, his red head in his hands. Savagely he ruffled his flaming locks, then looked up with a faint grin.

"Well, we made it," he commented. "Guess Holroyd's aware of it by now, too. Our alarm signal will have reacted, I suppose. Not that it does us much good, of course," he finished moodily.

He tested his weight against the gravity, moved to Rod's side and sourly studied the instruments. Then, shrugging, he flung wide the doors of the storage cabinet and gazed at the empty shelves with bitter eyes.

"Nice going!" he sighed. "Holroyd certainly kept his word. If we're to get out of this hole we've plenty of fast thinking to do."

"There isn't a way out," Rod growled. "Holroyd knew that when he sent us here. We're just prize guinea pigs, that's all."

He turned aside at a low cry from Eva. Gently he supported her as she began to recover consciousness. In ten minutes she was fully awake, in possession of the cheerless facts.

"Wonderful!" she shrugged; then with a whimsical smile, "What a pity space didn't make an end of us. Not much sense in being wakened up to die, is there?" She turned and looked at Rengard. He was standing by the window now, hands deep in pockets. "Any ideas, Ren?" she asked. "You're usually the one to get 'em."

"Maybe I have," he mused. ...

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