Brigands of the Moon can be found in




ISFDB.org Magazine Entry



Black mutiny and brigandage stalk the Space-ship Planetara as she speeds to the Moon to pick up a fabulously rich cache of radium-ore.

Brigands of the Moon

(The Book of Gregg Haljan)
BEGINNING A FOUR-PART NOVEL

By Ray Cummings


Foreword by Ray Cummings

I HAVE been thinking that if, during one of those long winter evenings at Valley Forge, someone had placed in George Washington’s hands one of our present day best sellers, the illustrious Father of our Country would have read it with considerable emotion. I do not mean what we call a story of science, or fantasy—just a novel of action, adventure and romance. The sort of thing you and I like to read, but do not find amazing in any way at all.

But I fancy that George Washington would have found it amazing. Don’t you? It might picture, for instance, a factory girl at a sewing machine. George Washington would be amazed at a sewing machine. And the girl, journeying in the subway to and from her work! Stealing an opportunity to telephone her lover at the noon hour; going to the movies in the evening, or listening to a radio. And there might be a climax, perhaps, with the girl and the villain in a transcontinental railway Pullman, and the hero sending frantic telegrams, or telephoning the train, and then chasing it in his airplane.

George Washington would have found it amazing!

And I am wondering how you and I would feel if someone were to give us now a book of ordinary adventure of the sort which will be published a hundred and fifty years hence. I have been trying to imagine such a book and the nature of its contents.

LET us imagine it together. Suppose we walk down Fifth Avenue, a pleasant spring morning of May, 2080. Fifth Avenue, no doubt, will be there. I don’t know whether the New York Public Library will be there or not. We’ll assume that it is, and that it has some sort of books, printed, or in whatever fashion you care to imagine.

The young man library attendant is surprised at our curiously antiquated aspect. We look as though we were dressed for some historical costume ball. We talk old-fashioned English, like actors in an historical play of the 1930 period.

But we get the book. The attendant assures us it is a good average story of action and adventure. Nothing remarkable, but he read it himself, and found it interesting.

We thank him and take the book. But we find that the language in which it is written is too strange for comfortable reading. And it names so many extraordinary things so casually! As though we knew all about them, which we certainly do not!

So we take it to the kind-hearted librarian in the language division. He modifies it to old-fashioned English of 1930, and he puts occasional footnotes to help explain some of the things we might not understand. Why he should bother to do this for us I don’t know; but let us assume that he does.

And now we take the book home–in the pneumatic tube, or aerial moving sidewalk, or airship, or whatever it is we take to get home.

And now that we are home, let’s read the book. It ought to be interesting.


CHAPTER I
Tells of the Grantline Moon Expedition and of the Mysterious Martian Who Followed Us in the City Corridor

ONE may write about oneself and still not be an egoist. Or so, at least, they tell me. My narrative went broadcast with a fair success. It was pantomimed and the public flashed me a reasonable approval. And so my disc publishers have suggested that I record it in more permanent form.

I introduce myself, begging grace that I intrude upon your busy minutes, with my only excuse that perhaps I may amuse you. For what the commercial sellers of my pictured version were pleased to blare as my handsome face, I ask your indulgence. My feminine audience of the pantomimes was undoubtedly graciously pleased at my personality and physical aspect. That I am “tall as a Viking of old”—and “handsome as a young Norse God”—is very pretty talk in the selling of my product. But I deplore its intrusion into the personality of this, my recorded narrative. And so now, for preface, to all my audience I do give earnest assurance that Gregg Haljan is no conceited zebra, handsomely striped by nature, and proud of it. Not so. I am, I do beg you to believe, a very humble fellow, striving for your approval, hoping only to entertain you.

My introduction: My name, Gregg Haljan. My age, twenty-five years. I was, at the time my narrative begins, Third Officer on the Space-Ship Planetara. Our line was newly established; in 2070, to be exact, following the modern improvements of the Martel Magnetic Levitation.1

As early as 1910 it was discovered that an object magnetized under certain conditions was subject to a loss of weight, its gravity partially nullified. The Martel discovery undoubtedly followed that method.

OUR ship, whose home port was Great-New York, carried mail and passenger traffic to and from both Venus and Mars. Of astronomical necessity, our flights were irregular. This spring, with the two other planets both close to the earth, we were making two complete round trips. We had just arrived in Great-New York, this May evening, from Grebhar, Venus Free State. With only five hours in port here, we were departing the same night at the zero hour for Ferrok-Shahn, capital of the Martian Union.

We were no sooner at the landing stage than I found a code-flash summoning Dan Dean and me to Divisional Detective Headquarters. Dan “Snap” Dean was one of my closest friends. He was radio-helio operator of the Planetara. A small, wiry, red-headed chap, with a quick, ready laugh and a wit that made everyone like him.

The summons to Detective-Colonel Halsey’s office surprised us. Snap eyed me.

“You haven’t been opening any treasury vaults, have you, Gregg?”

“He wants you, also,” I retorted.

He laughed. “Well, he can roar at me like a traffic switchman and my private life will remain my own.”

We could not think why we should be wanted. It was the darkness of mid-evening when we left the Planetara for Halsey’s office. It was not a long trip. We went direct in the upper monorail, descending into the subterranean city at Park-Circle 30.

WE had never been to Halsey’s office before. We found it to be a gloomy, vaultlike place in one of the deepest corridors. The door lifted.

“Gregg Haljan and Daniel Dean.”

The guard stood aside. “Come in.”

I own that my heart was unduly thumping as we entered. The door dropped behind us. It was a small blue-lit apartment—a steel-lined room like a vault.

Colonel Halsey sat at his desk. And the big, heavy-set, florid Captain Carter—our commander of the Planetara—was here. That surprised us: we had not seen him leave the ship.

Halsey smiled at us gravely. Captain Carter said, “Sit down, lads.”

We took the seats. There was an alarming solemnity about this. If I had been guilty of anything that I could think of, it would have been frightening. But Halsey’s first words reassured me.

“It’s about the Grantline Moon Expedition. In spite of our secrecy, the news has gotten out. We want to know how. Can you tell us?”

Captain Carter’s huge bulk—he was about as tall as I am—towered over us as we sat before Halsey’s desk. “If you lads have told anyone—said anything—let slip the slightest hint about it—”

Snap smiled with relief; but he turned solemn at once. “I haven’t. Not a word!”

“Nor have I,” I declared.

THE Grantline Moon Expedition! We had not thought of that as a reason for this summons. Johnny Grantline was a close friend to us both. He had organized an exploring expedition to the Moon. Uninhabited, with its bleak, forbidding, airless, waterless surface, the Moon—even though so close to the Earth—was seldom visited. No regular ship ever stopped there. A few exploring parties of recent years had come to grief.

But there was a persistent rumor that upon the Moon, mineral riches of fabulous wealth were awaiting discovery. The thing had already caused some interplanetary complications. The aggressive Martians would be only too glad to explore the Moon. But the U.S.W.2 definitely warned them away. The Moon was World Territory, we announced, and we would protect it as such.

“United States of the World,” which came into being in 2057 upon the centenary of the Yellow War.

The threatened conflict between the Earth and Mars had come to nothing. There was, this year of 2079, a thorough amity between all three of the inhabited planets. It still holds, and I pray that it may always hold.

There was, nevertheless, a realization by our government, that whatever riches might be upon the Moon should be seized at once and held by some reputable Earth Company. And when Johnny Grantline applied, with his father’s wealth and his own scientific record of attainment, the government was only too glad to grant him its writ.

THE Grantline Expedition had started six months ago. The Martian government had acquiesced in our ultimatum, yet brigands have been known to be financed under cover of a governmental disavowal. And so the expedition was kept secret.

My words need give no offense to any Martian who comes upon them. I refer to the history of our earth only. The Grantline Expedition was on the Moon now. No word had come from it. One could not flash helios even in code without letting all the universe know that explorers were on the Moon. And why they were there, anyone could easily guess.

And now Colonel Halsey was telling us that the news was abroad! Captain Carter eyed us closely; his flashing eyes under the white bushy brows would pry a secret from anyone.

“You’re sure? A girl of Venus, perhaps, with her cursed, seductive lure! A chance word, with you lads befuddled by alcolite?”

We assured him we had been careful. By the heavens, I know that I had been. Not a whisper, even to Snap, of the name Grantline in six months or more.

Captain Carter added abruptly, “We’re insulated here, Halsey?”

“Yes, talk as freely as you like. An eavesdropping ray will never get into these walls.”

THEY questioned us. They were satisfied at last that, though the secret had escaped, we had not done it. Hearing it discussed, it occurred to me to wonder why Carter was concerned. I was not aware that he knew of Grantline’s venture. I learned now the reason why the Planetara, upon each of her voyages, had managed to pass fairly close to the Moon. It had been arranged with Grantline that if he wanted help or had any important message, he was to flash it locally to our passing ship. And this Snap knew, and had never mentioned it, even to me.

Halsey was saying, “Well, we can’t blame you, but the secret is out.”

Snap and I regarded each other. What could anyone do? What would anyone dare do?

Captain Carter said abruptly, “Look here, lads, this is my chance now to talk plainly to you. Outside, anywhere outside these walls, an eavesdropping ray may be upon us. You know that? One may never even dare whisper since that accursed ray was developed.”

Snap opened his mouth to speak but decided against it. My heart was pounding.

Captain Carter went on, “I know I can trust you two more than anyone else under me on the Planetara—”

“What do you mean by that?” I demanded. “What—”

He interrupted me. “Nothing at all but what I say.”

HALSEY smiled grimly. “What he means, Haljan, is that things are not always what they seem these days. One cannot always tell a friend from an enemy. The Planetara is a public vessel. You have—how many is it, Carter?—thirty or forty passengers this trip to-night?”

“Thirty-eight,” said Carter.

“There are thirty-eight people listed for the flight to Ferrok-Shahn to-night,” Halsey said slowly. “And some may not be what they seem.” He raised his thin dark hand. “We have information—” He paused. “I confess, we know almost nothing—hardly more than enough to alarm us.”

Captain Carter interjected, “I want you and Dean to be on your guard. Once on the Planetara it is difficult for us to talk openly, but be watchful. I will arrange for us to be doubly armed.”

Vague, perturbing words! Halsey said, “They tell me George Prince is listed for the voyage. I am suggesting, Haljan, that you keep your eye especially upon him. Your duties on the Planetara leave you comparatively free, don’t they?”

“Yes,” I agreed. With the first and second officers on duty, and the captain aboard, my routine was more or less that of an understudy.

I said, “George Prince! Who is he?”

“A mechanical engineer,” said Halsey. “An under-official of the Earth Federated Radium Corporation. But he associates with bad companions—particularly Martians.”

I had never heard of this George Prince, though I was familiar with the Federated Radium Corporation, of course. A semi-government trust, which controlled virtually the entire Earth supply of radium.

“He was in the Automotive Department,” Carter put in. “You’ve heard of the Federated Radium Motor?”

WE had, of course. A recent Earth invention which promised to revolutionize the automotive industry. An engine of a new type, using radium as its fuel.

Snap demanded, “What in the stars has this got to do with Johnny Grantline?”

“Much,” said Halsey quietly, “or perhaps nothing. But George Prince some years ago mixed in rather unethical transactions. We had him in custody once. He is known now as unusually friendly with several Martians in New York of bad reputation.”

“Well—” began Snap.

“What you don’t know,” Halsey went on quietly, “is that Grantline expects to find radium on the Moon.”

We gasped.

“Exactly,” said Halsey. “The ill-fated Ballon Expedition thought they had found it on the Moon some years ago. A new type of ore, as rich in radium as our gold-bearing sands are rich in gold. Ballon’s first samples gave uranium atoms with a fair representation of ionium and thorium. A richly radio-active ore. A lode of the pure radium is there somewhere, without doubt.”

HE added vehemently, “Do you understand now why we should be suspicious of this George Prince? He has a criminal record. He has a thorough technical knowledge of radium ores. He associates with Martians of bad reputation. A large Martian Company has recently developed a radium engine to compete with our Earth motor. You know that? You know that there is very little radium available on Mars, and our government will not allow our own radium supply to be exported. That Martian Company needs radium. It will do anything to get radium. What do you suppose it would pay for a few tons of really rich radio-active ore—such as Grantline may have found on the Moon?”

“But,” I objected, “that is a reputable Martian company. It’s backed by the government of the Martian Union. The government of Mars would not dare—”

“Of course not!” Captain Carter exclaimed sardonically. “Not openly! But if Martian brigands had a supply of radium—I don’t imagine where it came from would make much difference. That Martian Company would buy it.”

Halsey added, “And George Prince, my agents inform me, seems to know that Grantline is on the Moon. Put it all together, lads. Little sparks show the hidden current.

“More than that: George Prince knows that we have arranged to have the Planetara stop at the Moon and bring back Grantline’s radium-ore. This is your last voyage this year. You’ll hear from Grantline this time, we’re convinced. He’ll probably give you the signal as you pass the Moon on your way out. Coming back, you’ll stop at the Moon and transport whatever radium-ore Grantline has ready. The Grantline Flyer is too small for ore transportation.”

HALSEY'S voice turned grimly sarcastic. “Doesn’t it seem queer that George Prince and a few of his Martian friends happen to be listed as passengers for this voyage?”

In the silence that followed, Snap and I regarded each other. Halsey added abruptly,

“We had George Prince typed that time we arrested him four years ago. I’ll show him to you.”

He snapped open an alcove, and said to his waiting attendant, “Get me the type of George Prince.”

The disc in a moment came through the pneumatic. Halsey, smiling wryly, adjusted it.

“A nice looking fellow. Nicely spoken. Though at the time we made this he was somewhat annoyed, naturally. He is older now. Twenty-nine, to be exact. Here he is.”

The image glowed on the grids before us. His name, George Prince, in letters illumined upon his forehead, showed for a moment and then faded. He stood smiling sourly before us as he repeated the official formula:

“My name is George Prince. I was born in Great-New York City twenty-five years ago.”

I GAZED at this life-size, moving image of George Prince. He stood somber in the black detention uniform. A dark, almost a girlishly handsome fellow, well below medium height—the rod beside him showed five feet four inches. Slim and slight. Long, wavy black hair, falling about his ears. A pale, clean-cut, really handsome face, almost beardless. I regarded it closely. A face that would have been femininely beautiful without its masculine touch of heavy black brows and firmly set jaw. His voice as he spoke was low and soft; but at the end, with the concluding words, “I am innocent!” it flashed into strong masculinity. His eyes, shaded with long, girlish black lashes, by chance met mine. “I am innocent.” His curving sensuous lips drew down into a grim sneer....

The type faded at its end. Halsey replaced the disc in its box and waved the attendant away. “Thank you.”

He turned back to Snap and me. “Well, there he is. We have nothing tangible against him now. But I’ll say this: he’s a clever fellow, one to be afraid of. I would not blare it from the newscasters’ microphone, but if he is hatching any plot, he has been too clever for my agents.”

We talked for another half-hour, and then Captain Carter dismissed us. We left Halsey’s office with Carter’s final words ringing in our ears. “Whatever comes, lads, remember I trust you....”

SNAP and I decided to walk a portion of the way back to the ship. It was barely more than a mile through this subterranean corridor to where we could get the vertical lift direct to the landing stage.

We started off on the lower level. Once outside the insulation of Halsey’s office we did not dare talk of this thing. Not only electrical ears, but every possible eavesdropping device might be upon us. The corridor was two hundred feet or more below the ground level. At this hour of the night this business section was comparatively deserted. The through tube sounded over our heads with the passing of its occasional trains. The ventilators buzzed and whirred. At the cross intersections, the traffic directors dozed at their posts. It was hot and sticky down here, and gloomy with the daylight globes extinguished, and only the night lights to give a dim illumination. The stores and office arcades were all closed and deserted; only an occasional night-light burning behind their windows.

Our footfalls echoed on the metal grids as we hurried along.

“Nice evening,” said Snap awkwardly.

“Yes,” I said, “isn’t it?”

I felt oppressed. As though prying eyes and ears were here. We walked for a time in silence, each of us busy with memory of what had transpired in Halsey’s office.

Suddenly Snap gripped me. “What’s that?”

“Where?” I whispered.

WE stopped at a corner. An entryway was here. Snap pulled me into it. I could feel him quivering with excitement.

“What is it?” I demanded in a whisper.

“We’re being followed. Did you hear anything?”

“No!” Yet I thought now I could hear something. Vague footfalls. A rustling. And a microscopic electrical whine, as though some device were near us.

Snap was fumbling in his pocket. “Wait, I’ve got a pair of low-scale phones.”

He put the little grids against his ears. I could hear the sharp intake of his breath. Then he seized me, pulled me down to the metal floor of the entryway.

“Back, Gregg! Get back!” I could barely hear his whisper. We crouched as far back into the doorway as we could get. I was armed. My official permit for the carrying of the pencil heat-ray allowed me to have it always with me. I drew it now. But there was nothing to shoot at. I felt Snap clamping the grids on my ears. And now I heard something! An intensification of the vague footsteps I had thought I heard before.

There was something following us! Something out in the corridor there now! A street light was nearby. The corridor was dim, but plainly visible; and to my sight it was empty. But there was something there. Something invisible! I could hear it moving. Creeping towards us. I pulled the grids off my ears.

Snap murmured, “You’ve got a local phone.”

“Yes! I’ll get them to give us the street glare!”

I PRESSED the danger signal, giving our location to the nearest operator. In a second or two we got the light. The street in all this neighborhood burst into a brilliant actinic glare. The thing menacing us was revealed! A figure in a black cloak, crouching thirty feet away across the corridor.

Snap was on his feet. His voice rang shrilly, “There it is! Give it a shot, Gregg!”

Snap was unarmed, but he flung his hands out menacingly. The figure, which may perhaps not have been aware of our city safeguard, was taken wholly by surprise. A human figure. Seven feet tall, at the least, and therefore, I judged, doubtless a Martian man. The black cloak covered his head. He took a step toward us, hesitated, and then turned in confusion.

Snap’s shrill voice was bringing help. The whine of a street guard’s alarm whistle nearby sounded. The figure was making off! My pencil-ray was in my hand and I pressed its switch. The tiny heat-ray stabbed through the glare, but I missed. The figure stumbled, but did not fall. I saw a bare gray arm come from the cloak, flung up to maintain its balance. Or perhaps my pencil-ray of heat had seared the arm. The gray-skinned arm of a Martian.

Snap was shouting, “Give him another!” But the figure passed beyond the actinic glare and vanished.

We were detained in the turmoil of the corridor for ten minutes or more with official explanations. Then a message from Halsey released us. The Martian who had been following us in his invisible cloak was never caught.

We escaped from the crowd at last and made our way back to the Planetara, where the passengers were already assembling for the outward Martian voyage.

CHAPTER II
A Fleeting Glance—”

I STOOD on the turret-balcony of the Planetara with Captain Carter and Dr. Frank, the ship surgeon, watching the arriving passengers. It was close to the zero hour: the level of the stage was a turmoil of confusion. The escalators, with the last of the freight aboard, were folded back. But the stage was jammed with the incoming passenger baggage: the interplanetary customs and tax officials with their X-ray and Zed-ray paraphernalia and the passengers themselves, lined up for the export inspection.

At this height, the city lights lay spread in a glare of blue and yellow beneath us. The individual local planes came dropping like birds to our stage. Thirty-eight passengers for this flight to Mars, but that accursed desire of every friend and relative to speed the departing voyager brought a hundred or more extra people to crowd our girders and bring added difficulty to everybody.

Carter was too absorbed in his duties to stay with us long. But here in the turret Dr. Frank and I found ourselves at the moment with nothing much to do but watch.

“Think we’ll get away on time, Gregg?”

“No,” I said. “And this of all voyages—”

I checked myself, with thumping heart. My thoughts were so full of what Halsey and Carter had told us that it was difficult to rein my tongue. Yet here in the turret, unguarded by insulation, I could say nothing. Nor would I have dared mention the Grantline Moon Expedition to Dr. Frank. I wondered what he knew of this affair. Perhaps as much as I—perhaps nothing.


HE was a thin, dark, rather smallish man of fifty, this ship’s surgeon, trim in his blue and white uniform. I knew him well: we had made several flights together. An American—I fancy of Jewish ancestry. A likable man, and a skillful doctor and surgeon. He and I had always been good friends.

“Crowded,” he said. “Johnson says thirty-eight. I hope they’re experienced travelers. This pressure sickness is a rotten nuisance—keeps me dashing around all night assuring frightened women they’re not going to die. Last voyage, coming out of the Venus atmosphere—”

He plunged into a lugubrious account of his troubles with space-sick voyagers. But I was in no mood to listen. My gaze was down on the spider incline, up which, over the bend of the ship’s sleek, silvery body, the passengers and their friends were coming in little groups. The upper deck was already jammed with them.

The Planetara, as flyers go, was not a large vessel. Cylindrical of body, forty feet maximum beam, and two hundred and seventy-five feet in overall length. The passenger superstructure—no more than a hundred feet long—was set amidships. A narrow deck, metallic-enclosed, and with large bulls-eye windows, encircled the superstructure. Some of the cabins opened directly onto the deck. Others had doors to the interior corridors. There were half a dozen small but luxurious public rooms.

THE rest of the vessel was given to freight storage and the mechanism and control compartments. Forward of the passenger structure the deck level continued under the cylindrical dome-roof to the bow. The forward watch-tower observatory was here; officers’ cabins; Captain Carter’s navigating rooms and Dr. Frank’s office. Similarly, under the stern-dome, was the stern watch-tower and a series of power compartments.

Above the superstructure a confusion of spider bridges, ladders and balconies were laced like a metal network. The turret in which Dr. Frank and I now stood was perched here. Fifty feet away, like a bird’s nest, Snap’s instrument room stood clinging to the metal bridge. The dome-roof, with the glassite windows rolled back now, rose in a mound-peak to cover this highest middle portion of the vessel.

Below, in the main hull, blue-lit metal corridors ran the entire length of the ship. Freight storage compartments; gravity control rooms; the air renewal systems; heater and ventilators and pressure mechanisms—all were located there. And the kitchens, stewards’ compartments, and the living quarters of the crew. We carried a crew of sixteen, this voyage, exclusive of the navigating officers, and the purser, Snap Dean, and Dr. Frank.


THE passengers coming aboard seemed a fair representation of what we usually had for the outward voyage to Ferrok-Shahn. Most were Earth people—and returning Martians. Dr. Frank pointed out one. A huge Martian in a gray cloak. A seven-foot fellow.

“His name is Set Miko,” Dr. Frank remarked. “Ever heard of him?”

“No,” I said. “Should I?”

“Well—” The doctor suddenly checked himself, as though he were sorry he had spoken.

“I never heard of him,” I repeated slowly.

An awkward silence fell suddenly between us.

There were a few Venus passengers. I saw one of them presently coming up the incline, and recognized her. A girl traveling alone. We had brought her from Grebhar, last voyage but one. I remembered her. An alluring sort of girl, as most of them are. Her name was Venza. She spoke English well. A singer and dancer who had been imported to Great-New York to fill some theatrical engagement. She’d made quite a hit on the Great White Way.

She came up the incline, with the carrier ahead of her. Gazing up, she saw Dr. Frank and me at the turret window and waved her white arm in greeting. And flashed us a smile.

Dr. Frank laughed. “By the gods of the airways, there’s Alta Venza! You saw that look, Gregg? That was for me, not you.”

“Reasonable enough,” I retorted. “But I doubt it—the Venza was nothing if not impartial.”


I WONDERED what could be taking Venza now to Mars. I was glad to see her. She was diverting. Educated. Well-traveled. Spoke English with a colloquial, theatrical manner more characteristic of Great-New York than of Venus. And for all her light banter, I would rather put my trust in her than any Venus girl I had ever met.

The hum of the departing siren was sounding. Friends and relatives of the passengers were crowding the exit incline. The deck was clearing. I had not seen George Prince come aboard. And then I thought I saw him down on the landing stage, just arrived from a private tube-car. A small, slight figure. The customs men were around him: I could only see his head and shoulders. Pale, girlishly handsome face; long, black hair to the base of his neck. He was bareheaded, with the hood of his traveling-cloak pushed back.

I stared, and I saw that Dr. Frank was also gazing down. But neither of us spoke.

Then I said upon impulse, “Suppose we go down to the deck, Doctor?”

He acquiesced. We descended to the lower room of the turret and clambered down the spider ladder to the upper deck-level. The head of the arriving incline was near us. Preceded by two carriers who were littered with hand-baggage, George Prince was coming up the incline. He was closer now. I recognized him from the type we had seen in Halsey’s office.

AND then, with a shock, I saw it was not so. This was a girl coming aboard. An arch-light over the incline showed her clearly when she was half way up. A girl with her hood pushed back; her face framed in thick black hair. I saw now it was not a man’s cut of hair; but long braids coiled up under the dangling hood.

Dr. Frank must have remarked my amazed expression.

“Little beauty, isn’t she?”

“Who is she?”

We were standing back against the wall of the superstructure. A passenger was near us—the Martian whom Dr. Frank had called Miko. He was loitering here, quite evidently watching this girl come aboard. But as I glanced at him he looked away and casually sauntered off.

The girl came up and reached the deck. “I am in A 22,” she told the carrier. “My brother came aboard two hours ago.”

Dr. Frank answered my whisper. “That’s Anita Prince.”

She was passing quite close to us on the deck, following the carrier, when she stumbled and very nearly fell. I was nearest to her. I leaped forward and caught her as she went down.

“Oh!” she cried.

With my arm about her, I raised her up and set her upon her feet again. She had twisted her ankle. She balanced herself upon it. The pain of it eased up in a moment.

“I’m—all right—thank you!”

IN the dimness of the blue-lit deck, I met her eyes. I was holding her with my encircling arm. She was small and soft against me. Her face, framed in the thick, black hair, smiled up at me. Small, oval face—beautiful—yet firm of chin, and stamped with the mark of its own individuality. No empty-headed beauty, this.

“I’m all right, thank you very much—”

I became conscious that I had not released her. I felt her hands pushing at me. And then it seemed that for an instant she yielded and was clinging. And I met her startled, upflung gaze. Eyes like a purple night with the sheen of misty starlight in them.

I heard myself murmuring, “I beg your pardon. Yes, of course!” I released her.

She thanked me again and followed the carrier along the deck. She was limping slightly from the twisted ankle.

An instant, while she had clung to me—and I had held her. A brief flash of something, from her eyes to mine—from mine back to hers. The poets write that love can be born of such a glance. The first meeting, across all the barriers of which love springs unsought, unbidden—defiant, sometimes. And the troubadours of old would sing: “A fleeting glance; a touch; two wildly beating hearts—and love was born.”

I think, with Anita and me, it must have been like that....

I stood gazing after her, unconscious of Dr. Frank, who was watching me with his humorous smile. And presently, no more than a quarter beyond the zero hour, the Planetara got away. With the dome-windows battened tightly, we lifted from the landing stage and soared over the glowing city. The phosphorescence of the electronic tubes was like a comet’s tail behind us as we slid upward.

At the trinight hour the heat of our atmospheric passage was over. The passengers had all retired. The ship was quiet, with empty decks and dim, silent corridors. Vibrationless, with the electronic engines cut off and only the hum of the Martel magnetizers to break the unnatural stillness. We were well beyond the earth’s atmosphere, heading out in the cone-path of the earth’s shadow, in the direction of the moon.

CHAPTER III
In the Helio-room

At six A. M., earth Eastern time, which we were still carrying, Snap Dean and I were alone in his instrument room, perched in the network over the Planetara’s deck. The bulge of the dome enclosed us; it rounded like a great observatory window some twenty feet above the ceiling of this little metal cubby-hole.

The Planetara was still in the earth’s shadow. The firmament—black interstellar space with its blazing white, red and yellow stars—lay spread around us. The moon, with nearly all its disc illumined, hung, a great silver ball, over our bow quarter. Behind it, to one side, Mars floated like the red tip of a smoldering cigarillo in the blackness. The earth, behind our stern, was dimly, redly visible—a giant sphere, etched with the configurations of its oceans and continents. Upon one limb a touch of the sunlight hung on the mountain-tops with a crescent red-yellow sheen.

And then we plunged from the cone-shadow. The sun, with the leaping Corona, burst through the blackness behind us. The earth lighted into a huge, thin crescent with hooked cusps.

To Snap and me, the glories of the heavens were too familiar to be remarked. And upon this voyage particularly we were in no mood to consider them. I had been in the helio-room several hours. When the Planetara started, and my few routine duties were over, I could think of nothing save Halsey’s and Carter’s admonition: “Be on your guard. And particularly—watch George Prince.”

I had not seen George Prince. But I had seen his sister, whom Carter and Halsey had not bothered to mention. My heart was still pounding with the memory....

When the passengers had retired and the ship quieted, I prowled through the passenger corridors. This was about the trinight hour.3 Hot as the corridors of hell, with our hull and the glassite dome seething with the friction of our atmospheric flight. But the refrigerators mitigated that; the ventilators blasted cold air from the renewers into every corner of the vessel. Within an hour or two, with the cold of space striking us, it was hot air that was needed.

3: Trinight Hour, i.e., 3 A. M.

Dr. Frank evidently was having little trouble with pressure-sick passengers4—the Planetara’s equalizers were fairly efficient. I did not encounter Dr. Frank. I prowled through the silent metal lounges and passages. I went to the door of A 22. It was on the deck-level, in a tiny transverse passage just off the main lounging room. Its name-grid glowed with the letters: “Anita Prince.” I stood in my short white trousers and white silk shirt, like a cabin steward gawping. Anita Prince! I had never heard the name until this night. But there was magic music in it now, as I murmured it to myself. Anita Prince....

4: Pressure sickness. Caused by the difficulty of maintaining a constantly normal air pressure within the vessel owing to the sudden, extreme changes from heat to cold.

She was here, doubtless asleep, behind this small metal door. It seemed as though that little oval grid were the gateway to a fairyland of my dreams.

I turned away. And thought of the Grantline Moon Expedition stabbed at me. George Prince—Anita’s brother—he whom I had been told to watch. This renegade—associate of dubious Martians, plotting God knows what.

I saw, upon the adjoining door, “A 20, George Prince.” I listened. In the humming stillness of the ship’s interior there was no sound from these cabins. A 20 was without windows, I knew. But Anita’s room had a window and a door which gave upon the deck. I went through the lounge, out its arch, and walked the deck length. The deck door and window of A 22 were closed and dark.

The ten-foot-wide deck was dim with white starlight from the side ports. Chairs were here, but they were all empty. From the bow windows of the arching dome a flood of moonlight threw long, slanting shadows down the deck. At the corner where the superstructure ended, I thought I saw a figure lurking as though watching me. I went that way, but it vanished.

I turned the corner, went the width of the ship to the other side. There was no one in sight save the observer on his spider bridge, high in the bow network, and the second officer, on duty on the turret balcony almost directly over me.

As I stood and listened, I suddenly heard footsteps. From the direction of the bow a figure came. Purser Johnson.

He greeted me. “Cooling off, Gregg?”

“Yes,” I said.

He went past me and turned into the smoking room door nearby.

I stood a moment at one of the deck windows, gazing at the stars; and for no reason at all I realized I was tense. Johnson was a great one for his regular sleep—it was wholly unlike him to be roaming about the ship at such an hour. Had he been watching me? I told myself it was nonsense. I was suspicious of everyone, everything, this voyage.

I heard another step. Captain Carter appeared from his chart-room which stood in the center of the narrowing open deck space near the bow. I joined him at once.

“Who was that?” he half-whispered.

“Johnson.”

“Oh, yes.” He fumbled in his uniform; his gaze swept the moonlit deck. “Gregg—take this.” He handed me a small metal box. I stuffed it at once into my shirt.

“An insulator,” he added, swiftly. “Snap is in his office. Take it to him, Gregg. Stay with him—you’ll have a measure of security—and you can help him to make the photographs.” He was barely whispering. “I won’t be with you—no use making it look as though we were doing anything unusual. If your graphs show anything—or if Snap picks up any message—bring it to me.” He added aloud, “Well, it will be cool enough presently, Gregg.”

He sauntered away toward his chart-room.

“By heavens, what a relief!” Snap murmured as the current went on. We had wired his cubby with the insulator; within its barrage we could at last talk with a degree of freedom.

“You’ve seen George Prince, Gregg?”

“No. He’s assigned A 20. But I saw his sister. Snap, no one ever mentioned—”

Snap had heard of her, but he hadn’t known that she was listed for this voyage. “A real beauty, so I’ve heard. Accursed shame for a decent girl to have a brother like that.”

I could agree with him there, but I made no comment.

IT was now 6 A. M. Snap had been busy all night with routine cosmo-radios from the earth, following our departure. He had a pile of them beside him. Many were for the passengers; but anything that savored of a code was barred.

“Nothing queer looking?” I suggested.

“No. Not a thing.”

We were at this time no more than some sixty-five thousand miles from the moon’s surface. The Planetara presently would swing upon her direct course for Mars. There was nothing which could cause passenger comment in this close passing of the moon; normally we used the satellite’s attraction to give us additional starting speed.

It was now or never that a message would come from Grantline. He was supposed to be upon this earthward side of the moon. While Snap had rushed through with his routine, I had searched the moon surface with our glass, as I knew Carter was searching it—and also the observer in his tower, very possibly.

But there was nothing. Copernicus and Kepler lay in full sunlight. The heights of the lunar mountains, the depths of the barren, empty seas were etched black and white, clear and clean. Grim, forbidding desolation, this unchanging moon! In romance, moonlight may shimmer and sparkle to light a lover’s smile; but the reality of the moon is cold and bleak. There was nothing to show my prying eyes where the intrepid Grantline might be.

“Nothing at all, Snap.”

And Snap’s helio mirrors, attuned for an hour now to pick up the faintest signal, were motionless.

“If he has concentrated any appreciable amount of radio-active ore,” said Snap, “we should get an impulse from its Gamma rays.”

BUT our receiving shield was dark, untouched. We tried taking hydrogen photographic impressions of the visible moon surface. A sequence of them, with stereoscopic lenses, forty-eight to the second. Our mirror-grid gave the magnified images; the spectro-heliograph, with its wave-length selection, pictured the mountain-levels, and slowly descended into the deepest seas.

There was nothing.

Yet in those moon caverns—a million million recesses amid the crags of that tumbled, barren surface—the pin-point of movement which might have been Grantline’s expedition could so easily be hiding! Could he have the ore insulated, fearing its Gamma rays would betray its presence to hostile watchers?

Or might disaster have come to him? Or he might not be upon this hemisphere of the moon at all....

My imagination, sharpened by fancy of a lurking menace which seemed everywhere about the Planetara this voyage, ran rife with fears for Johnny Grantline. He had promised to communicate this voyage. It was now, or perhaps never.

Six-thirty came and passed. We were well beyond the earth’s shadow now. The firmament blazed with its vivid glories; the sun behind us was a ball of yellow-red leaping flames. The earth hung, opened to a huge, dull-red half-sphere.

WE were within some forty thousand miles of the moon. Giant white ball—all of its disc visible to the naked eye. It poised over the bow, and presently, as the Planetara swung upon her course for Mars, it shifted sidewise. The light of it glared white and dazzling in our tiny side windows.

Snap, with his habitual red celluloid eyeshade shoved high on his forehead, worked over our instruments.

“Gregg!”

The receiving shield was glowing a trifle! Gamma rays were bombarding it! It glowed, gleamed phosphorescent, and the audible recorder began sounding its tiny tinkling murmurs.

Gamma rays! Snap sprang to the dials. The direction and strength were soon obvious. A richly radio-active ore body, of considerable size, was concentrated upon this hemisphere of the moon! It was unmistakable.

“He’s got it, Gregg! He’s—”

The tiny helio mirrors began quivering. Snap exclaimed triumphantly, “Here he comes! By God, the message at last! Bar off that light!”

I FLUNG on the absorbers. The moonlight bathing the little room went into them and darkness sprang around us. Snap fumbled at his instrument board. Actinic light showed dimly in the quivering, thumbnail mirrors. Two of them. They hung poised on their cobweb wires, infinitely sensitive to the infra-red light-rays Grantline was sending from the moon. The mirrors in a moment began swinging. On the scale across the room the actinic beams from them were magnified into sweeps of light.

The message!

Snap spelled it out, decoded it.

Success! Stop for ore on your return voyage. Will give you our location later. Success beyond wildest hopes—

The mirrors hung motionless. The shield, where the Gamma rays were bombarding, went suddenly dark.

Snap murmured, “That’s all. He’s got the ore! ‘Success beyond wildest hopes.’ That must mean an enormous quantity of it available!”

We were sitting in darkness, and abruptly I became aware that across our open window, where the insulation barrage was flung, the air was faintly hissing. An interference there! I saw a tiny swirl of purple sparks. Someone—some hostile ray from the deck beneath us, or from the spider bridge that led to our little room—someone out there trying to pry in!

Snap impulsively reached for the absorbers to let in the outside light—it was all darkness to us outside. But I checked him.

“Wait!” I cut off our barrage, opened our door and stepped to the narrow metal bridge.

“Wait, Snap! You stay there.” I added aloud, “Well, Snap, I’m going to bed. Glad you’ve cleaned up that batch of work.”

I BANGED the door upon him. The lacework of metal bridges and ladders seemed empty. I gazed up to the dome, and forward and aft. Twenty feet beneath me was the metal roof of the cabin superstructure. Below it, both sides of the deck showed. All patched with moonlight.

No one visible down there. I descended a ladder. The deck was empty. But in the silence something was moving! Footsteps moving away from me down the deck! I followed; and suddenly I was running. Chasing something I could hear, but could not see. It turned into the smoking room.

I burst in. And a real sound smothered the phantom. Johnson the purser was sitting here alone in the dimness. He was smoking. I noticed that his cigar held a long, frail ash. It could not have been him I was chasing. He was sitting there quite calmly. A thick-necked, heavy fellow, easily out of breath. But he was breathing calmly now.

He sat up with amazement at my wild-eyed appearance, and the ash jarred from his cigar.

“Gregg! What in the devil—”

I tried to grin. “I’m on my way to bed—worked all night helping Snap with those damn Earth messages.”

I went past him, out the door into the main interior corridor. It was the only way the invisible prowler could have gone. But I was too late now—I could hear nothing. I dashed forward into the main lounge. It was empty, dim and silent, a silence broken presently by a faint click—a stateroom door hastily closing. I swung and found myself in a tiny transverse passage. The twin doors of A 22 and A 20 were before me.

The invisible eavesdropper had gone into one of these rooms! I listened at each of the panels, but there was only silence within.

The interior of the ship was suddenly singing with the steward’s siren—the call to awaken the passengers. It startled me. I moved swiftly away. But as the siren shut off, in the silence I heard a soft, musical voice:

“Wake up, Anita—I think that’s the breakfast call.”

And her answer: “All right, George. I hear it.”

CHAPTER IV
A Burn on a Martian Arm

I DID not appear at that morning meal. I was exhausted and drugged with lack of sleep. I had a moment with Snap, to tell him what had occurred. Then I sought out Carter. He had his little chart-room insulated. And we were cautious. I told him what Snap and I had learned: the Gamma rays from the moon, proving that Grantline had concentrated a considerable ore-body. I also told him the message from Grantline.

“We’ll stop on the way back, as he directs, Gregg.” He bent closer to me. “At Ferrok-Shahn I’m going to bring back a cordon of Interplanetary Police. The secret will be out, of course, when once we stop at the moon. We have no right, even now, to be flying this vessel as unguarded as it is.”

He was very solemn. And he was grim when I told him of the invisible eavesdropper.

“You think he overheard Grantline’s message?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Who was it? You seem to feel it was George Prince?”

“Yes.”

I was convinced that the prowler had gone into A 20. When I mentioned the purser, who seemed to have been watching me earlier in the night, and again was sitting in the smoking room when the eavesdropper fled past, Carter looked startled.

“Johnson is all right, Gregg.”

“Is he? Does he know anything about this Grantline affair?”

“No—no,” said the captain hastily. “You haven’t mentioned it, have you?”

“Of course I haven’t. I’ve been wondering why Johnson didn’t hear that eavesdropper. I could hear him when I was chasing him. But Johnson sat perfectly unmoved and let him go by. What was he sitting there for, anyway, at that hour of the morning?”

“You’re too suspicious, Gregg. Overwrought. But you’re right—we can’t be too careful. I’m going to have that Prince suite searched when I catch it unoccupied. Passengers don’t ordinarily travel with invisible cloaks. Go to bed, Gregg—you need a rest.”

I WENT to my cabin. It was located aft, on the stern deck-space, near the stern watch-tower. A small metal room, with a desk, a chair and bunk. I made sure no one was in it. I sealed the lattice grill and the door, set the alarm trigger against any opening of them, and went to bed.

The siren for the mid-day meal awakened me. I had slept heavily. I felt refreshed. And hungry.

I found the passengers already assembled at my table when I arrived in the dining salon. It was a low-vaulted metal room of blue and yellow tube-lights. At the sides its oval windows showed the deck, with its ports of the dome-side, through which a vista of the starry firmament was visible. We were well on our course to Mars. The moon had dwindled to a pin-point of light beside the crescent earth. And behind them our sun blazed, visually the largest orb in the heavens. It was some sixty-eight million miles from the earth to Mars, this voyage. A flight, under ordinary circumstances, of some ten days.

There were five tables in the dining salon, each with eight seats. Snap and I had one of the tables. We sat at the ends, with three passengers on each of the sides.

Snap was in his seat when I arrived. He eyed me down the length of the table.

“Good morning, Gregg. We missed you at breakfast. Not pressure-sick, I hope?”

There were three passengers already seated at our table—all men. Snap, in a gay mood, introduced me.

“This is our third officer, Gregg Haljan. Big, handsome fellow, isn’t he? And as pleasant as he is good-looking. Gregg, this is Sero Ob Hahn.”

I MET the keen, dark-eyed somber gaze of a Venus man of middle age. A small, slim, graceful man, with sleek black hair. His pointed face, accentuated by the pointed beard, was pallid. He wore a white and purple robe; upon his breast was a huge platinum ornament, a device like a star and cross entwined.

“I am happy to meet you, sir.” His voice was soft and sleek.

“Ob Hahn,” I repeated. “I should have heard of you, no doubt. But—”

A smile plucked at his thin, gray lips. “That is the error of mine, not yours. My mission is that all the universe shall hear of me.”

“He’s preaching the religion of the Venus Mystics,” Snap explained.

“And this enlightened gentleman,” said Ob Hahn ironically, “has just termed it fetishism. The ignorance—”

“Oh, I say!” protested the man at Ob Hahn’s side. “I mean, you seem to think I intended something opprobrious. As a matter of fact—”

“We’ve an argument, Gregg,” laughed Snap. “This is Sir Arthur Coniston, an English gentleman, lecturer and sky-trotter—that is, he will be a sky-trotter; he tells us he plans a number of voyages.”

The tall Englishman in his white linen suit bowed acknowledgment. “My compliments, Mr. Haljan. I hope you have no strong religious convictions, else we will make your table here very miserable!”

THE third passenger had evidently kept out of the argument. Snap introduced him as Rance Rankin. An American—a quiet, blond fellow of thirty-five or forty.

I ordered my breakfast and let the argument go on.

“Won’t make me miserable,” said Snap. “I love an argument. You said, Sir Arthur?...

“I mean to say, I think I said too much. Mr. Rankin, you are more diplomatic.”

Rankin laughed. “I am a magician,” he said to me. “A theatrical entertainer. I deal in tricks—how to fool an audience—” His keen, amused gaze was on Ob Hahn. “This gentleman from Venus and I have too much in common to argue.”

“A nasty one!” the Englishman exclaimed. “By Jove! Really, Mr. Rankin, you’re a bit too cruel!”

I could see we were doomed to have turbulent meals this voyage. I like to eat in quiet; arguing passengers always annoy me. There were still three seats vacant at our table; I wondered who would occupy them. I soon learned the answer—for one seat at least. Rankin said calmly:

“Where is the little Venus girl this meal?” His glance went to the empty seat at my right hand. “The Venza—wasn’t that her name? She and I are destined for the same theater in Ferrok-Shahn.”

So Venza was to sit beside me. It was good news. Ten days of a religious argument three times a day would be intolerable. But the cheerful Venza would help.

“She never eats the mid-day meal,” said Snap. “She’s on the deck, having orange juice. I guess it’s the old gag about diet, eh?”

MY attention wandered about the salon. Most of the seats were occupied. At the captain’s table I saw the objects of my search. George Prince and his sister sat one on each side of the captain. I saw George Prince in the life now as a man who looked hardly twenty-five. He was at this moment evidently in a gay mood. His clean-cut, handsome profile, with its poetic dark curls, was turned toward me. There seemed little of the villain about him.

And I saw Anita Prince now as a dark-haired, black eyed little beauty, in feature resembling her brother very strongly. She presently finished her meal. She rose, with him after her. She was dressed in Earth fashion—white blouse and dark jacket, wide, knee-length trousers of gray, with a red sash her only touch of color. She went past me, flashed me her smile and nod.

My heart was pounding. I answered her greeting, and met George Prince’s casual gaze. He, too, smiled, as though to signify that his sister had told him of the service I had done her. Or was his smile an ironical memory of how he had eluded me this morning when I chased him?

I gazed after his small, white-suited figure as he followed Anita from the salon. And thinking of her, I prayed that Carter and Halsey might be wrong. Whatever plotting against the Grantline Expedition might be going on, I hoped that George Prince was innocent of it. Yet I knew in my heart it was a futile hope. Prince had been that eavesdropper outside the helio-room. I could not really doubt it. But that his sister must be ignorant of what he was doing, I was sure.

MY attention was brought suddenly back to the reality of our table. I heard Ob Hahn’s silky voice:

“We passed quite close to the moon last night, Mr. Dean.”

“Yes,” said Snap. “We did, didn’t we? Always do—it’s a technical problem of the exigencies of interstellar navigation. Explain it to them, Gregg—you’re an expert.”

I waved it away with a laugh. There was a brief silence. I could not help noticing Sir Arthur Coniston’s queer look, and I think I have never seen so keen a glance as Rance Rankin shot at me. Were all these people aware of Grantline’s treasure on the moon? It suddenly seemed so. I wished fervently at that instant that the ten days of this voyage were over and we were safely at Ferrok-Shahn. Captain Carter was absolutely right. Coming back we would have a cordon of interplanetary police aboard.

Sir Arthur broke the awkward silence. “Magnificent sight, the moon, from so close a viewpoint—though I was too much afraid of pressure-sickness to be up to see it.”

I HAD nearly finished my hasty meal when another incident shocked me. The two other passengers at our table came in and took their seats. A Martian girl and man. The girl had the seat at my left, with the man beside her. All Martians are tall. This girl was about my own height—that is, six feet, two inches. The man was seven feet or more. Both wore the Martian outer robe. The girl flung hers back. Her limbs were encased in pseudo-mail. She looked, as all Martians like to look, a very warlike Amazon. But she was a pretty girl. She smiled at me with a keen-eyed, direct gaze.

“Mr. Dean said at breakfast that you were big and handsome. You are.”

They were brother and sister, these Martians. Snap introduced them as Set Miko and Setta Moa.5

5: “Set and Setta,” the Martian equivalent of Mr. and Miss.

This Miko was, from our Earth standards, a tremendous, brawny giant. Not spindly, like most Martians, this fellow, for all his seven feet of height, was almost heavy-set. He wore a plaited leather jerkin beneath his robe, and knee pants of leather out of which his lower legs showed as gray, hairy pillars of strength. He had come into the salon with a swagger, his sword-ornament clanking.

“A pleasant voyage so far,” he said to me as he started his meal. His voice had the heavy, throaty rasp characteristic of the Martian. He spoke perfect English—both Martians and Venus people are by heritage extraordinary linguists. Miko and his sister Moa had a touch of Martian accent, worn almost away by living for some years in Great-New York.

The shock to me came within a few minutes. Miko, absorbed in attacking his meal, inadvertently pushed back his robe to bare his forearm. An instant only, then it dropped again to his wrist. But in that instant I had seen, upon the gray flesh, a thin sear turned red. A very recent burn—as though a pencil-ray of heat had caught his arm.

My mind flung back. Only last night in the City Corridor, Snap and I had been followed by a Martian. I had shot at him with the heat-ray; I thought I had hit him on the arm. Was this the mysterious Martian who had followed us from Halsey’s office?

CHAPTER V
Venza the Venus Girl

It was shortly after that mid-day meal when I encountered Venza sitting on the starlit deck. I had been in the bow observatory; taken my routine castings of our position and worked them out. I was, I think, of the Planetara’s officers the most expert handler of the mathematical mechanical calculators. The locating of our position and charting the trajectory of our course was, under ordinary circumstances, about all I had to do. And it took only a few minutes each twelve hours.

I had a moment with Carter in the isolation of his chart-room.

“This voyage! Gregg, I’m getting like you—too fanciful. We’ve a normal group of passengers, apparently; but I don’t like the look of any of them. That Ob Hahn, at your table—”

“Snaky-looking fellow,” I commented. “He and the Englishman are great on arguments. Did you have Prince’s cabin searched?”

My breath hung on his answer.

“Yes. Nothing unusual among his things. We searched both his room and his sister’s.”

I did not follow that up. Instead I told him about the burn on Miko’s thick gray arm.

HE stared. “I wish to the Almighty we were at Ferrok-Shahn. Gregg, to-night when the passengers are asleep, come here to me. Snap will be here, and Dr. Frank. We can trust him.”

“He knows about—about the Grantline treasure?”

“Yes. And so do Balch and Blackstone.”

Balch and Blackstone were our first and second officers.

“We’ll all meet here, Gregg—say about the zero hour. We must take some precautions.”

He suddenly felt he should say no more now. He dismissed me.

I found Venza seated alone in a secluded corner of the starlit deck. A porthole, with the black heavens and the blazing stars, was before her. There was an empty seat nearby.

“Hola-lo,6 Gregg! Sit here with me. I have been wondering when you would come after me.”

6: A Venus form of jocular, intimate greeting.

I sat down beside her. “What are you doing—going to Mars, Venza? I’m glad to see you.”

“Many thanks. But I am glad to see you, Gregg. So handsome a man.... Do you know, from Venus to the earth and I have no doubt on all of Mars, no man will please me more.”

“Glib tongue,” I laughed. “Born to flatter the male—every girl of your world.” And I added seriously, “You don’t answer my question? What takes you to Mars?”

“Contract. By the stars, what else? Of course, a chance to make a voyage with you—”

“Don’t be silly, Venza.”

I ENJOYED her. I gazed at her small, slim figure gracefully reclining in the deck chair. Her long, gray robe parted—by design, I have no doubt—to display her shapely, satin-sheathed legs. Her black hair was coiled in a heavy knot at the back of her neck; her carmined lips were parted with a mocking, alluring smile. The exotic perfume of her enveloped me.

She glanced at me sidewise from beneath her sweeping black lashes.

“Be serious,” I added.

“I am serious. Sober. Intoxicated by you, but sober.”

I said, “What sort of a contract?”

“A theater in Ferrok-Shahn. Good money, Gregg. I’m to be there a year.” She sat up to face me. “There’s a fellow here on the Planetara, Rance Rankin, he calls himself. At our table—a big, good-looking blond American. He says he is a magician. Ever hear of him?”

“That’s what he told me. No, I never heard of him.”

“Nor did I. And I thought I had heard of everyone of any importance. He is listed for the same theater where I’m going. Nice sort of fellow.” She paused, and added suddenly, “If he’s a professional entertainer, I’m a motor-oiler.”

IT startled me. “Why do you say that?”

Instinctively my gaze swept the deck. An Earth woman and child and a small Venus man were in sight, but not within earshot.

“Why do you look so furtive?” she retorted. “Gregg, there’s something strange about this voyage. I’m no fool, nor you, and you know it as well as I do.”

“Rance Rankin—” I prompted.

She leaned closer toward me. “He could fool you. But not me—I’ve known too many real magicians.” She grinned. “I challenged him to trick me. You should have seen him trying to evade!”

“Do you know Ob Hahn?” I interrupted.

She shook her head. “Never heard of him. But he told me plenty at breakfast. By Satan, what a flow of words that devil-driver can muster! He and the Englishman don’t mesh very well, do they?”

She stared at me. I had not answered her grin; my mind was too busy with queer fancies. Halsey’s words: “Things are not always what they seem—” Were these passengers masqueraders? Put here by George Prince? And then I thought of Miko the Martian, and the burn upon his arm.

“Come back, Gregg! Don’t go wandering off like that!” She dropped her voice to a whisper. “I’ll be serious. I want to know what in the hell is going on aboard this ship. I’m a woman, and I’m curious. You tell me.”

“WHAT do you mean?” I parried.

“I mean a lot of things. What we’ve just been talking about. And what was the excitement you were in just before breakfast this morning?”

“Excitement?”

“Gregg, you may trust me.” For the first time she was wholly serious. Her gaze made sure no one was within hearing. She put her hand on my arm. I could barely hear her whisper: “I know they might have a ray upon us—I’ll be careful.”

“They?”

“Anyone. Something’s going on. You know it—you are in it. I saw you this morning, Gregg. Wild-eyed, chasing a phantom—”

“You?”

“And I heard the phantom! A man’s footsteps. A magnetic reflecting invisible cloak. You couldn’t fool an audience with that—it’s too commonplace. If Rance Rankin tried—”

I gripped her. “Don’t ramble, Venza! You saw me?”

“Yes. My stateroom door was open. I was sitting with a cigarillo. I saw the purser in the smoking room. He was visible from—”

“Wait! Venza, that prowler went through the smoking room!”

“I know he did. I could hear him.”

“Did the purser hear him?”

“Of course. The purser looked up, followed the sound with his gaze. I thought that was queer. He never made a move. And then you came along and he acted innocent. Why? What’s going on, that’s what I want to know!”

I HELD my breath. “Venza, where did the prowler run to? Can you—”

She whispered calmly, “Into A 20. I saw the door open and close—I even think I could see the blurred outline of him. Those magnetic cloaks!” She added, “Why should George Prince be sneaking around with you after him? And the purser acting innocent? And who is this George Prince, anyway?”

The huge Martian, Miko, with his sister Moa came strolling along the deck. They nodded as they passed us.

I whispered, “I can’t explain anything now. But you’re right, Venza: there is something going on. Listen! Whatever you learn—anything you encounter which looks unusual—will you tell me? I—well, I do trust you—really I do!—but the thing isn’t mine to tell.”

The somber pools of her eyes were shining. “You are very lovable, Gregg. I won’t question you.” She was trembling with excitement. “Whatever it is, I want to be in it. Here’s something I can tell you now. We’ve two high-class gold-leaf gamblers aboard. Did you know that?”

“No. Who are—”

“Shac and Dud Ardley. Let me state every detective in Great-New York knows them. They had a wonderful game with that Englishman, Sir Arthur Coniston, this morning. Stripped him of half a pound of eight-inch leaves—a neat little stack. A crooked game, of course. Those fellows are more nimble-fingered than Rance Rankin ever dared to be!”

I SAT staring at her. She was a mine of information, this girl.

“And Gregg, I tried my charms on Shac and Dud. Nice men, but dumb. Whatever’s going on, they’re not in it. They wanted to know what kind of a ship this was. Why? Because Shac has a cute little eavesdropping microphone of his own. He had it working in the night last night. He overheard George Prince and that big giant Miko arguing about the moon!”

I gasped. “Venza, softer!”

Against all propriety of this public deck she pretended to drape herself upon me. Her hair smothered my face as her lips almost touched my ear.

“Something about treasure on the moon—Shac couldn’t understand what. And they mentioned you. He didn’t hear what they said because the purser joined them.” Her whispered words tumbled over one another. “A hundred pounds of gold leaf—that’s the purser’s price. He’s with them, whatever it is. He promised to do something for them.”

She stopped. “Well?” I prompted.

“That’s all. Shac’s current was interrupted.”

“Tell him to try it again, Venza! I’ll talk with him. No! I’d better let him alone. Can you get him to keep his mouth shut?”

“I think he might do anything I told him. He’s a man.”

“Find out what you can.”

She sat away from me sud...

This is only a preview of this story. The site administrator is evaluating methods to bring it to you.