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Title: The Raid From Mars
Author: Miles Breuer
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Language: English
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Date first posted: July 2006
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The Raid From Mars
Miles J. Breuer



CHAPTER I

The Radium Thefts

IN a corner office of the ground floor of the Department of Justice
Building in Washington, D. C., a man sat bent over his desk with his
forehead in his hands. He was a keen and powerful looking person, but
at the present he looked utterly puzzled and helpless. He was Herbert
Hawes, Chief of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, and a famous
man. Beside him on the desk, and on the floor around his chair, were
arranged stack after stack of telegrams, yellow with black headings,
and white with blue headings.

"Mercy Hospital reports mysterious disappearance of radium salts
during night"

"Entire stock of radium disappeared last night. Two attendants found
unconscious!"

"One hundred thousand dollars worth of radium disappeared from Mt.
Sinai Hospital. Nurse and doctor unconscious!"

"Total radium supply stolen. Locks demolished. No clues!"

Thus ran the telegrams, all of them. They came from all of the large
hospitals in the principal cities in the United States, and from
numerous large University laboratories. From Bangor, Maine, to
Jacksonville, Florida, from Portland, Oregon, to Los Angeles, and
crisscrosswise over the country, the story was the same.

"A raid on the country's supply of radium!" the chief gasped, and sank
down in his chair.

The realization of the enormity of the affair grew on him by leaps and
bounds.

"What a holdup!"

Now he sat at his desk with his head on his hands. There wasn't a
clue. There was nothing to go on. He could think of no way to start.
He sat there and worried.

He did not know how long be had been brooding there, when he slowly
became aware of an insistent irritation forcing itself into his
detached brain. It dawned on him that it was the telephone. He rubbed
his eyes, shook himself and grabbed the instrument.

"Hello!" he said, as quickly as he could.

"Lincoln, Nebraska, calling," came through the telephone. "Is this
Chief Hawes? Chief of Police Henderson, of Lincoln, wishes to speak to
you."

There was a momentary silence while the connection was made, then a
gruff voice spoke.

The two chiefs identified themselves to each other.

"I suppose you are investigating the disappearance of the radium,"
said the Police Chief from Lincoln.

Chief Hawes grunted in a dubious sort of fashion. Chief Henderson from
Lincoln continued:

Chief Hawes just now thought to look up at the clock. Three o'clock.
Four hours his head had lain sunk on his desk, thinking and dozing
alternately after this terrific shock had struck him.

"--the accounts in the newspapers have been most unsatisfactory, but I
gather there is a serious problem on, I have what may be a clue. Do
you want it?"

"Do I? Do I? Come on quick!" roared Chief Hawes, banging his desk with
the other fist.

Chief Henderson continued:

"There was a young chap, just a boy, in my office yesterday, with a
most fantastic tale, which now strikes me as having a possible hook-up
with this thing. It was so wild, that I told him it was bosh and sent
him about his business. Now that this thing has turned up, I feel that
there may be something in the boy's story. We ought to look into it."

"What did he have to say?" demanded Chief Hawes.

"He had a curious tale about some inventor with heart disease
communicating with Mars--; shall I send him over to you?"

"Nuts! I thought you had a clue. What d'ya want to bother me with..."

"Well," the Western Police Chief explained, "his story said just that:
stealing radium by some guys from Mars."

"Nuts!"

"Shall I send him over?" queried Chief Henderson.

"Yes! No!" roared Hawes, "I'm coming over there."

IN one of the homes on a modest residence street in Lincoln, Nebraska,
a sixteen-year old boy walked into the living-room, where his father
was reading a newspaper, and turned off the radio. By the door, at the
foot of the hat-rack, a physician's emergency bag and two canvas
paper-carriers' bags showed plainly that both father and son were busy
men.

"Dad," the boy inquired earnestly, "would it be a good or a bad thing
for the human race if someone discovered how to make people live
forever?"

"Well, well," the doctor replied. "You are being mighty serious about
it. Is that for one of your debates?"

"Yes," Ronald answered eagerly; that excuse was as good as any.

"I believe," the doctor continued, "that if everlasting life were
given to the human race, it would be a very bad thing. If no one died,
in a population which is now stationary, it would double in one
generation."

"You mean," the son reminded, "that if the birth-rate continued
unchanged."

"It would," the doctor assured him. "No ifs are needed. You can fancy,
after a few generations, the horrible crowding up of the earth. Think
of the pressure, the competition, the lowered standard of living,
worse than anything in India or China--and growing worse and no end to
it."

"But supposing," suggested Ronald, "that birth-control were put into
effect?"

"Don't make me laugh," his father countered. "Voluntarily or
individually, people would never do anything. By public measures,
perhaps in a hundred years after everybody was crazy, something might
be done. No, I rather think your gift of everlasting life would be no
boon to race, and of questionable benefit to the individual."

As the boy said nothing further, the doctor resumed his reading. At
intervals however, be glanced over the top of his paper at his son,
who sat there motionless in a stiff chair, staring straight ahead of
him and saying nothing. Undoubtedly something was preying on his mind.
The doctor, a practical man who knew boys well, said nothing,
realizing that it would all eventually come out.

The boy maintained his puzzled posture for nearly two hours before he
stirred. Then he rose, stretched himself, and remarked that he hated
to go to bed.

At that moment there was a gallop of many footsteps on the porch
floor, and a ring at the doorbell. In a moment the room was filled
with Chiefs of Police and Government officers.

"THERE used to be a light in old man Dragstedt's window every morning
at 4:30," Ronald began his explanation, "when I passed his house
carrying papers. I knew he was a sickly old man who never went
anywhere, and lived alone. Sometimes one of the windows went funny
colors in the night, as I went by with my paper-bags. He's got a crazy
chimney on his house, like a tall pipe, and shiny, like polished
metal.

"Although it is against the rules of the paper, one morning I couldn't
resist trying a peek in at one of his windows. I tiptoed up on the
porch, but the minute I stepped on his rug, an alarm went off
somewhere in the house. The door opened, and he started to roar at me,
and then collapsed on the floor. He has heart disease, and gets
attacks when he gets sore.

"I dragged him to the davenport and was going to call up my dad, but
he begged me not to. He had some pills that he took. I got them for
him and they made him better in half an hour. I stayed with him and
warmed him a glass of milk. I saw nothing in the house out of the way,
but in the direction of the queerly lighted windows there was a closed
door.

"The next day I walked boldly up and knocked on the door. He had me in
and I asked him how he was. I got to dropping in that way and found
that he was grateful for a lot of little things I could do to help
him. But, he never opened that door.

"I thought I would never find out what was in there, until one day
when I rang his doorbell and he didn't answer. I opened up and went
in, fearing that something had happened to him. I found the secret
door open, and he was just about to come in through it, when he had
another spell. He fell down and his face was so blue it gave me the
creeps. I got him to bed, gave him his tablet, and had a look at the
room. "A lot of the stuff there was undoubtedly short-wave equipment.
I've got a ham station of my own, and am up on it. The scanning
elements and the big screen of a television set were also familiar.
But there was an awful pile of strange stuff there that meant nothing
to me.

"He came to as I was standing in the middle of the apparatus room,
looking around, trying to figure out stuff. He didn't get sore; he got
to know that it would give him another spell with his heart. So I just
shut the door, warmed him some more milk, and never said a word and he
didn't either.

"But after that he let me come in and watch him working at the
apparatus. He used cw, but be had six keys instead of one; he played
five of them with the fingers of his right hand like piano keys; it
must have taken a lot of practice to get that way, because he really
made 'em sing. Another odd thing was that his transmission wave had
several tones to it--no; he must have had several transmission waves.
It gave a musical effect as he sent."

"Say!" interrupted Chief Henderson, "Where is this old bird? Dragstedt
you say? We'll listen to the rest of it from him."

"Well, I guess he's gone to them. Or they took him away with them. He
hasn't been at his house for 24 hours. But his stuff is all right."

"What do you mean by they? Who took him away?"

The boy showed embarrassment.

"Well," he hesitated; "I know you'll think I'm crazy--"

"Suppose you are!" said the police chief, his voice rough with
impatience. "Who took him away?"

"Well--the Martians. But wait till I get to 'em."

THE men settled in their chairs with a certain amount of relief.
Martians! If that was all, they needn't worry. They had thought it
might be some well-known crooks. The boy continued his narrative:

"Then one day, when he didn't come to the doorbell, I opened the door
again and walked on in. The inner door was open. I could see him at
the television apparatus. I really saw a Martian on the screen!

"I saw him plenty plain and had a long time to look at him. Dragstedt
was so absorbed that he didn't know I was there for thirty minutes.

"The thing on the screen moved, and worked little pieces of a vast
stack of machinery behind it. It had bright eyes, and arms and legs,
and wasn't so very different from people after all. But for a person,
it looked small and fragile and easy to fall to pieces. It moved with
quick jerks. As it moved, little buzzes on different notes came out of
Dragstedt's machine. It gestured with its hands, and then brought out
papers. Or, you know, whatever they use for papers. But it looked just
like papers. Some had maps and some had mathematical stuff on them.

"Then Dragstedt turned around and saw that I had been watching him. He
came near having another spell. But, he's a smart guy, and he calmed
down and held it off. He decided he might as well tell me about it. I
understand the stuff pretty well and can give you the high spots--"

"Whatever Ronald says about radio and related subjects," his father
interrupted, turning to the police officers, "you can put down as
being accurate and dependable. I myself am amazed at the amount of
knowledge he has on those things."

"Kids are hot on that stuff," the grizzled old D. C. I. chief mumbled
to himself.

"He had been a professor of physics," Ronald went on. "But he
inherited a lot of dough from a relative and got to experimenting
on his own. He was interested in picking up the portion of
radio waves that are reflected from the Heaviside layer. He
had some odd notion about the thing and was measuring intensities.
He found that the reflected portion was weaker than the transmitted
portion to an extent not explained by the square of the distance
equation. He tried it with direction beams, and the more nearly
vertical he got his beams, the greater the loss in intensity--just
opposite to what you'd expect--"

Chief Hawes grunted and mumbled something about what he would expect.

"When he finally directed a successfully controlled beam in an
accurately vertical direction, he lost most of his short-wave energy.
Can't you see--that he was putting a wave through the Heaviside
layer?"

Chief Haves grunted again, so that Donald had to smile.

"He played with it a lot, and sent out a lot of amateur broadcasting,
and cw.

"It wasn't really very long, a few weeks, till he was amazed to find
that he was getting signals in return. The poor fellow must have gone
nearly crazy before he figured out what those odd, broken tones were.

"FOR many months he worked on them, but could make no sense out of
them. After quite a while, it struck him that he ought to build a
television apparatus in connection. By that time his heart was getting
bad; he went to a doctor and the doctor wanted to put him in a
hospital. He couldn't stand that, and went back to his apparatus.
After some weary months he finally saw his first Martian on the
screen.

"Eventually he learned to talk to them. By means of the vision screen
and his multitoned cw, he and the Martians developed a language from
gestures and pointing to objects, and then gradually into words. I got
on to a good deal of the stuff myself as I watched him, and it isn't
so hard at that. When I got so that I could stand there and get what
the cw was saying, I got quite a thrill out of it.

"Well, it turned out that these Martians lived under the ground on
their planet, because it was too cold and dry on top and no air. They
had it all fixed livable underground. They were an old, old race, much
older than ours. They had learned among other things, the secret of
preventing death, or at least of putting it off indefinitely. As their
births were regulated in the laboratory merely to replace rare losses
by death, the race was stable.

"However, within the recent century, a new disease had sprung up among
them which they could not conquer with all their science. Deaths
occurred in such numbers that the laboratories could not replace them
by a sufficient number of births; their mathematicians predicted the
early extinction of the race. Their physicists said that the disease
was due to the complete loss of radioactive minerals, due to the old
age of the planet itself. I saw some of the sick ones on the
television screen, and it must have been some kind of cancer.

"What did Dragstedt do, but describe radium to them, and ask them if
they knew what it was, and if they thought it would cure their stuff.
Of course that is the first thing that would have occurred to me. No,
all their radium had finally broken itself up into non-radioactive
elements. But they grasped the idea, only too promptly.

"The gist of it is, that Dragstedt and the Martians got up a scheme,
where he is to steer them to the caches of radium when they come to
Earth in a space ship. In return, they will cure his heart disease and
give him everlasting life. Dragstedt has been all over the country,
getting the layouts of hospitals and universities, which he could
easily do, for he is a well known physicist himself.

"Those birds up there on Mars even planned mechanical things to get
around in, when they got to Earth, because their bodies are too
flimsily built for our heavier gravitation.

"That's all I know, except that I overheard that their ship is down in
the sandhills, about fifty miles southeast of Alliance; and that they
are sticking around about a week to treat old Dragstedt."



CHAPTER II

The Martian Ship

BY the next morning, the entire Eighth Army Corps was on the move,
swarming from all directions toward Alliance, Nebraska. Its airplanes,
and also two squadrons of Navy hydroplanes from the Great Lakes
Training Station, were at Alliance by daybreak.

Field artillery and tanks on flat-cars came in on the railroads from
the East, West, and South. From four directions came tracks loaded
with men and small equipment.

By noon, Alliance looked like the center of a war zone. The sky hummed
with planes. Tanks clanked along the roads, and motorized artillery
pointed its long, keen noses at the sky. Trim, khaki-clad detachments
clicked precisely along the pavements, their rifle-barrels all neatly
parallel. The entire division was mobilized. It was being strung out
in a new-moon-shaped line, thickest in the center, and the points
feeling outward, to surround the object as soon as it was found.

The airplanes located it early in the afternoon. It was described as
an egg-shaped affair as big as an ocean liner, located in a hollow in
the sand hills, practically where Ronald Worth had predicted it would
be found.

The young captain in command of the airplane squadron from the Great
Lakes Navy Base saluted General Barry, the Commander of the
expedition, and stood in front of him waiting for orders. He could not
conceal a restlessness, stepping from one foot to the other, even
though trying hard to stand rigid.

The grizzled old General smiled.

"What is the Captain jittery about?" he asked.

"Begging the General's pardon," the Captain said in embarrassment, "I
am awaiting orders to bomb the space ship. It is just a pippin of a
target. We could smash it in thirty seconds--"

"What about the radium?" the General interrupted.

The Captain's face suddenly fell, and he stood there puzzled.

"Do you know," the General continued, "that the entire nation's supply
of radium is inside that vessel. If you throw explosives down there,
you will scatter several million dollars' worth of precious stuff out
in the sand. It would cost as much money and take as much time to
recover it, as it did to make it in the first place."

"Yes, Sir!" replied the Captain meekly. "We've got a job on hand!"

In the modest residence section of Lincoln, Nebraska, three swift cars
that had just dashed across the town from the airport, drew up in
front of Dragstedt's deserted little house. General Barry; his aides,
and a squad of guards tramped into the house.

There, in the room of apparatus which old Dragstedt had built, sat
Ronald Worth, high-school student and paper-carrier. Sleepiness
showed in his eyes, and at his elbow were partly consumed bottles of
milk and plates of cheese and crackers.

"Ronald Worth calling Professor Dragstedt! Ronald Worth calling
Professor Dragstedt! Will you please answer! It will be to your
interest to communicate with us!"

The boy's voice droned monotonously on, uninterrupted by the entry of
the men into the room. Then he stopped, took a drink of milk, and put
his hand on the six keys. The queer musical drone started and whined
monotonously on. The military men stood silently about the room.

"You are sure that no other operator could take this over?" General
Barry asked.

"I'd have to teach him. It would take time. Took me months to get on
to it," the boy answered. "This is different from ordinary radios. And
common radios won't tune with those of the Martians."

"You look tired," the General said.

Suddenly the boy stiffened, and took his hand away from the keys. The
musical drone continued, in a different rhythm.

"He is answering. Wouldn't answer on the telephone, but bit on the cw
at once." Ronald was elated.

"Tell him," said General Barry, "to tell these Martians, that if they
give us back our radium, we shall treat them royally, entertain them,
show them the Earth; and then let them go home unharmed, with a gift
of enough radium for their purpose."

The cw transmitter hummed awhile; and there were stirs of impatience
among the soldiers who filled the room. After a while, the boy spoke
again.

"The best I can make out of these answers, Sir," he said, "is that the
Martians refuse to recognize us as intelligent beings. They refuse to
deal with us. They think we are just some sort of animals."

"You tell him, then," the General directed, "that we have got them
surrounded on land and in the air. We shall not permit them to rise,
and shall simply lay siege to them until they starve. Do not be
alarmed when we put a small shell through the skin of their vessel;
that will be to keep them from rising out into space. Advise them
again, that they will be better off if they surrender."

The cw spoke again for a period; and again the boy spoke, with some
excitement in his voice:

"Apparently the shell has arrived, and blown a hole in the nose of
their ship. Dragstedt didn't think it did any damage. But the Martians
have become very busy about something, moving jerkily about. The
shell-hole seems to have interfered with their arrangements for
decreased gravitation inside the vessel. He doesn't know how many
there are, but over a hundred. He says they are disturbed."

"That was Grigsby of the 110th Field Artillery that disturbed them."

"SWOOP" Martin, the crack observation pilot, circled around over the
scene of operations, at 30,000 feet. He had to use an oxygen helmet,
fitted with binocular glasses. But he was invisible and inaudible from
below.

He could see the gleaming, egg-shaped hull, nestling in the sand like
some child's toy; and around it, the dotted, splotched, irregular
circle formed by the Eighth Army Corps. As he watched, a puff of smoke
came from one of the splotches below; in a moment a puff of smoke
appeared at the smaller end of the egg; and when it cleared, a small
black hole remained in the metal. He reported it all promptly to
headquarters by radio.

The next thing that happened was that a square of metal opened in the
side of the vessel, like a door, and an odd thing stepped out of it,
and started walking out across the sand away from the ship.

In another second, a dozen airplanes, far below him, swooped down
toward the thing. The faint patter of their machine guns came up to
him. The mechanical thing that had come out of the vessel careened
over on its side and lay still. The door in the side of the hull
quickly closed.

For some minutes nothing happened, and then a row of little round
ports appeared higher up off the ground. "Swoop" Martin could not see
anything else happen, except that there were a dozen loud explosions,
with flashes of fire in the air, and the airplanes which had
fusilladed the Martian coming out of his ship, all exploded there
beneath him, and only a litter of small fragments dropped on down to
the ground. Then, systematically down there in that investing circle,
one battery after another blew up in a flash and a cloud of smoke,
huge gun barrels and artillery wheels flying high in the air mingled
with the bodies of men, whirling down to be buried in a cloud of sand.

A few seconds later there were scores of explosions in the air, as
distant airplanes blew up. There must have been communication from
them to the ground, because some of the batteries in the second and
third lines banged loudly two or three times before they finally blew
up. Their marksmanship was good. Shells shrieked across the interval
and huge holes were ripped in the shining side of the Martian vessel.

However, the Martians were the swifter. Before vital damage had been
done to their vessel, there was not a tank, not a field gun, not an
intact infantry company left. The Eighth Army Corps had been wiped out
and was represented only by a few stragglers staggering in the sand.

"God!" exclaimed "Swoop" Martin, up in his plane above range of the
damage. "All of that to pay for a couple of ounces of radium!"

As he circled around to head for safer regions, he could see repair
proceeding rapidly in the holes in the side of the Martian vessel.

AIRPLANES from the Tenth Army Corps Area were on the spot in the
morning, practically hitting their "ceiling" in order to keep out of
the way of the Martians' destructive reach. They had expected to
arrive and find the thing gone. But it was still there, and the shell-
holes all repaired.

So, the Tenth Division moved up to fill the place of the Eighth. A few
scouts first took their posts. As nothing happened, more and more men
trickled in, and were slowly followed by heavy equipment. In a few
days the line was again complete, among the blackened ruins of their
predecessors. Their orders were:

"Surround the Martians. Keep quiet. Take no action against them unless
they try to rise."

Now, those men who had filtered up to their positions at night with
pounding hearts, expecting to be suddenly wiped out at any moment,
were getting tired of week after week of inactivity. Army discipline,
always irksome, was doubly so in the heat and the sand. There was sand
in their clothes, sand in their hair, sand in their ears, sand in
their food. There were hot winds, and nothing to do but wait all day
and wonder what the airplanes above had to report. The enlisted
personnel were not the only ones who were restless. There were
constant, worried conferences in the General Headquarters tent.

"I have an idea!" exclaimed General Johnson, Commander of the Tenth
Army Corps, one hot day, when weariness was at its height.

The headquarters staff deliberated long and carefully before the
officers finally dispersed, each to his own sandy quarters. There was
much tapping of the Royal Portable typewriter and sealing of secret
orders during the next few days. There was code communication with
Washington by radio.

Finally, one dark night, the men were overjoyed by orders to get up
and move. A few moments later they were dismayed to find that their
progress was going to be backwards. They were going away from the
enemy. They pounded through the sand until they reached a paved
highway, and were then whisked away by trucks. By daybreak the
Division was comfortably making camp in a country that was not
sandhills. Eventually it was discovered that the little city in the
distance was Ravenna.

"Swoop" Martin, transferred to the Tenth Division, saluted General
Johnson, as the latter stepped out of his car.

"Ready for orders, Sir," he said.

"Lieutenant Martin, there are no orders. You may do this if you care
to volunteer, but you will not be ordered to do it."

"Instructions, I meant, Sir," said "Swoop" Martin.

In a few moments he was on the run for his plane, which stood ready
for him.



CHAPTER III

The Attack on the Martians

"SWOOP" MARTIN in his monoplane made circles around over the Martian
space-ship like a hawk. He swept around lower and lower. At a height
of about 3,000 feet, he flew away to the distance of a half mile, and
then dived steeply downward, toward the Martian vessel. A few hundred
feet above it, he turned sharply upward again, making a sort of V. At
the bottom of the V, a small black object left the scout plane, and
described a parabola, striking the Martian vessel amidships. A ragged
hole appeared, and then a dull explosion.

"Swoop" Martin was climbing fast, and thinking every moment was his
last one; expecting to be blown to atoms any second. But until he was,
he determined, he would go through with it. He guided his plane,
watched his board, and went steeply upwards.

Finally, when he was gasping for breath, he leveled off, and put on
his oxygen mask. He looked down below. Everything was the same as
before. He was puzzled.

He cruised around awhile, thinking things over, and shook his head. He
swiftly reported what had happened and asked for further orders. The
General's message was to the effect that he did not wish to give an
order of that kind; but that if Lieutenant Martin wished to volunteer
to repeat his maneuver, it might be a good idea.

Down, down, the plane swooped again, toward the tiny globule nestling
in the sand, and sent another bomb hurtling down from the front of its
V-shaped path, and again fled upwards into the heights. Again a jagged
hole was torn in the top of the space ship; again "Swoop" Martin
expected the worst as he climbed his way back to the height; again he
waited in vain for something to happen, and nothing happened.

Back at the camp near Ravenna, a group of men stirred. In fifteen
minutes, a dozen swift cars filled with officers and men, two high-
speed tanks, and two high-speed four-inch field-pieces, were headed
toward the Martian ship. They covered the ground rapidly, and by noon
were on the site of the previous camp from which they had besieged the
Martian vessel. The field-guns were set up and trained; a dozen men
climbed into the two tanks, loaded with machine guns and hand grenades.
Above, a dozen airplanes droned, and made swooping circles, much
like hawks.

The tanks started off, throwing up clouds of sand, and dashed at high
speed, straight toward the shining side of the Martian vessel. Their
crews were tense, expecting to be blotted out instantly. But nothing
happened. The old General sat at the front porthole of one of the
tanks, watching ahead, gazing at the narrowing space between the tank
and the Martian ship. Those gleaming walls began to seem very close,
and the General expected the catastrophe any moment. But they roared
and clanked onward, and still nothing happened. The airplanes came
lower, till the roar of their motors was heard above the noise of the
tanks. Still nothing happened. Behind, the men at the cannons watched
through field glasses and waited at their radios, ready to rain a
shower of shells on the Martian vessel at the least suspicion. But
nothing happened.

Finally, they were under the very lee of the metal hulk. It towered
above them like a skyscraper, and extended in both directions like a
mountain range. Still nothing happened.

"All out!" the General ordered, as the tanks stopped.

Their feet crunching in the sand, their hands full of grenades, they
made their way slowly alongside the ship. One hundred yards. Two
hundred yards, three hundred yards, they walked along, and still there
appeared no way of getting inside. The holes that "Swoop" Martin had
made were on the upper surface, and there was no way to climb.

"Try a grenade," the General ordered.

They all backed off. There was a crash of flying fragments, but no
damage to the wall.

"A four-inch shell, then!"

The only communication with the gunners was now by flags. The
General's order was rapidly wig-wagged to them. The General and his
men hurried to shelter behind a sand hummock, now genuinely expecting
complete annihilation. The gun crew placed the first shot too short
and merely threw up sand. The second was a little high, tearing open
the metal plates of the hull about twenty feet above the ground. The
third shot ripped open a hole that they could easily walk into.

For a moment the General contemplated with interest the twisted and
blackened edges of the shiny, white metal that was unknown to him.
Then he recollected that they were in danger, he and his little group
of men, peering into the depths of the dark opening. There was some
huge machinery visible, a long corridor with a bright, flat surface at
the end of it. Nothing had as yet happened to them. They were still
alive.

The General pushed back one of the men who was edging into the
opening. He claimed the privilege of being the first to walk into
danger. The men with grenades and hand-machine guns crowded behind
him. The General found himself walking down a small corridor, and the
men filed behind him. The corridor soon became a bridge out in a vast
void, black and filled with machinery of enormous proportions. Then
again it became a corridor, and the bright surface was a wall turning
at right angles.

It seemed that they spent hours walking about with pounding hearts and
thumping heads, expecting every moment to be attacked in some unknown
way from dark ambush. There was endless machinery, large and small,
everywhere.

Finally, at the end of a climb up a long stairway, they came to an
open space, at what they guessed to be about the middle of the ship.
It looked as though they had found the "living quarters" at last. They
were in a vestibule. In front of them was a metal door with a glass
window, through which they could look into a vast, ovoid, rotunda-like
room or hall.

All efforts to open the door failed. There seemed to be no lock
against which to direct operations. The metal of the door was firm as
a mountain against all their blows. So, they all stepped back, and a
well-aimed grenade tore the door open wide enough for them to go
through, their ears singing from the roar of the explosion. They went
through cautiously, two experienced enlisted-men first, with their
rifles at ready, then the officers with their pistols in their hands.

The lighting seemed to them rather dim, though it had the quality of
daylight. Probably it corresponded to the lower intensity of
illumination as found on the surface of Mars, "Crash!" went the rifle
of a soldier at something that moved slightly on a couch across the
room, a hundred yards away. Whatever it was that had moved, jerked as
though it had been kicked, shuddered a moment, and lay still.

The group stood huddled together near the door, looked around and
waited. Not a sound, not a stir in the vast room. It had all the
proportions of some huge Coliseum, though none of the ponderous
evidences of constructional difficulties. They had time to examine the
place. About two hundred cots or couches stood around its walls. It
appeared that originally they had been arranged in precise order, but
now there was confusion. All of them were occupied by little,
shriveled, flat-looking bodies, that looked astonishingly human. They
were small and frail-looking. On closer inspection they looked
especially human because the faces were so very old and sad. The skin
was blue, leathery, and wrinkled.

In the middle of the place was a cluster of some kind of apparatus: a
foundation-pillar, a platform, elongated, casing-like structures of
metal pointing in all directions like telescopes or projectors,
wheels, knobs, and levers for control. It may possibly have been the
control station for running the ship. Near one end of the space into
which they were looking, three or four of the mechanical contrivances
in which these creatures traveled around when they were on earth, lay
propped up in a heap, and a motionless body was still strapped in one
of them.

"All beds occupied but one, sir!" the veteran Sergeant said; "and that
must belong to him," pointing to the one in the machine. "Not one of
them is stirring."

"Just the same," the wary old General said, "the four of you go around
and prod everyone of them to see if there is any life left. This is no
time to get shot from behind."

A keen-looking officer with a lieutenant-colonel's leaves on his
shoulders, was also looking the bodies over. They were indeed all
dead. He walked up to one and another, and even thumped and prodded
several with professional skill and interest. The General watched him
in mute inquiry.

"Well, doctor," he finally asked, "what killed them?"

"Radiation!" the medical officer replied. "As I see it, they had
developed no natural protection against radiation because they live
underground, and because there is so little radiation of any kind on
Mars, both because of its distance from the sun and because of the
scarcity of its radioactive minerals. Apparently there was no warning
in their mathematics, of the terrific power of radium against their
own flesh, even through the lead walls of its containers. See the deep
destruction of skin and tissue on some of the older cases."

The General stood a moment, lost in thought. Then he sent two men back
to the main force with orders that proper guards be brought up for the
Martian ship.

"Now we'll look for the radium," he said. "It can't be far from here."

The men stuck close together as they moved here and there. It was a
jittery place. The vastness and dimness of it, the two-hundred odd
dead Martians, the jungles of incredibly huge machinery filling the
great spaces all around them, between them and honest daylight, with
God only knew what lurking in the depths, were conditions to which
they were unaccustomed. They would have preferred a concrete human
enemy in front of them no matter how well armed. They went to one of
the doors that were let into the wall at intervals, then to another,
then to several in succession.

The doors were of the same character as the first one they had
encountered. There seemed no way to open them except by explosives,
and this for the present they hesitated to do. The light from the
rotunda penetrated the glass windows of the doors only a short
distance, and was lost among the huge bulks and dizzy reaches of
machinery.

Suddenly a harsh cackle sounded behind them.

They wheeled around and stood petrified, the enlisted men with their
rifles automatically aimed in the direction from which the laugh had
come.

"Ha! ha! ha! ha!" rasped a harsh, dry laugh. "Go ahead and have a shot
at me, boys, and see how much harm it does!"

They saw Dragstedt standing there his eyes gleaming.

There was a moment's pause. The General whispered:

"He's insane."

"Who wouldn't be?" the medical officer said.

The madman's dry cackle rose again to the lofty ceiling:

"Ha! ha! So you think you can get the best of me, eh? Look what I can
do to you!"

He whirled a little wheel, which slowly swung one of the long casings
so that it pointed at a dead Martian on a couch. He moved his hand to
something else, and an intense red ray shot across the intervening
space. The Martian and his bed simply flew into pieces, and the
fragments also disappeared, leaving behind them faint clouds of smoky
vapor. A dull thud shook the room.

"Look! and look! and look!" the madman shouted excitedly, aiming at
one after another of the Martians, blowing them into smoke with red
streaks and dull thuds.

Crash! went a soldier's rifle as the ray began to swing too close to
them.

The soldier dropped his rifle in one hand, and held the other to his
head as though to nurse a headache.

"Swipe me! I could hit a pinhead at that distance!" he moaned.

"Fire at him again!" the General ordered. They all watched closely.

Crash! went the rifle. At the same time a small puff of smoke appeared
in the thin air about a foot from Professor Dragstedt, and in line
with his heart. The bullet had been caught and disintegrated by some
field of force.

Again the long, cackling laugh:

"You see, I've got you!"

"Yes," said the General. "What do you want?"

"I'm sailing this ship to Mars," the Professor said. "I'm going to
sell them the radium there. I'm going to be rich. I'm going to get
power! I'm going to rule. I'll be the biggest--"

"But what about us?" the General interrupted.

The madman's face became crafty.

"You will come with me, and be my royal Guard," he orated. "Or--" he
waited thoughtfully a moment as though a new and more interesting idea
had struck him--"--or, I'll blast you into smoke. What would you
rather do? Go to Mars, or get flashed into nothing?"

Someone in the group whispered:

"But the ship's got holes in it. If he goes out into space, we're all
goners in a few seconds."

Another voice whispered:

"Does he really believe he can handle this ship? And get it to Mars?
Looks complicated to me, and I'm--"

The old General's head probably worked faster than anyone else's.

"You go to hell!" he thundered to the mad professor. "We'll get you
yet, and court-martial you and shoot you."

Professor Dragstedt gave a shrill yell.

"Whoopee! All aboard for Mars! Here we go!"

He adjusted a number of little wheels, lumbered all the casings into
different positions, and took hold of a large, heavy lever.

The men looked at each other blankly. In a few seconds the cold of
space would penetrate into their bone marrow, and all the air out of
their bodies would be lost as an infinitesimal whiff in the limitless
void. Irresistibly they turned to Dragstedt again.

With a wild grin on his face, he leaned back, and gave a long, hard
pull at the heavy lever in front of him.

Suddenly they were pressed to the floor with an immense weight. The
sensation was over in a second. During that second the spectacle in
front of them took place. A fountain of a dozen streams of red beams
played for an instant at steep angles, crisscrossing each other and
forming a hyperboloid. When they subsided, the tower in the middle of
the room was a molten mass, and the only trace of Professor Dragstedt
was a whiff of smoky vapor, slowly dissipating itself in faint swirls.



THE END





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