This is the fifth installment of "Terrors Unseen", a 1931 science fiction story by Harl Vincent, a prolific writers of the 1930s who has since fallen into obscurity. Since the story is now in the public domain, I have taken it upon myself to reprint it here on my blog, so that it will not be lost to posterity when the last copy of the March 1931 issue of Astounding Stories crumbles into dust. The first four installments of the story can be found here, here, here, and here. And now, on with the show . . .
* * *
"Well," said David Shelton. "Well! Looks as if you're right, young man. I'm astonished." His watery eyes looked sheepishly over the rims of his glasses.
Lina watched their every move. She seemed to sense the seriousness of the situation far more than did her father.
Then the lights went out. It had darkened to night outside and the blackness and silence in the laboratory was like that of a tomb.
"They've cut the wires," Eddie whispered hoarsely. "Got any weapons here, Shelton?"
"Yes. A couple of automatics. I'll get them." The scientist was no coward, anyway. His whispered words came calmly through the silence.
Eddie heard him shuffle a few steps and fumble with a drawer of the desk. In a moment the cold hard butt of a pistol was thrust into his hand. It had a comforting feel.
"Stay here with Lina," he commanded. "I'll go out and see if I can find them. This looks nasty to me."
"No," came the girl's voice. "I'm going too."
"You are not," Eddie hissed. "You'll stay here or I'll know the reason. It's dark as a pocket outside and my eyes are as good as theirs. I'll get 'em if they're around here. You hear me?"
"Yes," she whispered meekly.
Edward Vail, only that morning headed for rest and quiet, was now out in the night, stalking an unknown and vicious enemy. And -- for what? As he asked himself the question, the smile of Lina seemed to answer him from the blackness. Cherchez la femme! He was getting dotty as he neared his thirties. Maybe it was the hard work that had affected his mind.
* * *
The black hulk of the old house loomed against the scarcely less dark sky. There was no moon, and in only one tiny portion of the heavens were the stars visible. Mighty few of them at that. The swish-swish of the surf came to his ears faintly. Or was it someone creeping along the wall of the house? He held his breath and waited.
They wouldn't use the robots at night. Couldn't follow their movements in the teleview, if such an attachment had been built into their control transmitter. No, the devils would be here in person.
A muttered Teutonic curse sounded close at hand. That wouldn't be Carlos. God! Were the heinies mixed up in this thing? Just like 'em to be swiping a new war machine; but hadn't they gotten enough in 1944? Without warning he was catapulted from his feet by the impact of a heavy body. He struck the ground so violently that the pistol was jarred from his hand. Disarmed before the fight had started!
Then he was rolling over and over, battling desperately with an assailant who was much larger and heavier than himself. He was dazed and weakened from his initial dive to the hard ground. All rules of boxing and wrestling were forgotten. Biting, kicking, gouging, all were the same to this silent and powerful antagonist. It was catch-as-catch-can in the darkness, and mostly the other fellow could and did. He had a grip like the clamp of a robot. Trying to dig out one of his eyes? Eddie saw stars -- and lashed out with all his might, his flying fists playing a tattoo on the other's ribs. Short arm jabs that brought grunts of agony from his big assailant. Try to blind him, would he?
Eddie somehow managed to get on top; his clutching fingers found the other's collar. Then he let loose with terrific rights and lefts that smacked home to head and face. Those outlanders don't like the good old American fist, and Eddie had room to bring them in from way back, now. The fellow had ceased struggling and Eddie's hands were getting slippery. Blood! Must be, for the stuff was warm and sticky. He rested for a moment, breathing heavily. The other was quiet beneath him -- knocked cold. He staggered to his feat triumphantly; wondered how many more of them there were.
* * *
He looked around in the darkness, straining his eyes in vain to pierce its thick veil. There was a glimmer of light over there, through a window. The laboratory! The light flickered a second and vanished. A cold fear gripped him and he stumbled through the grounds blindly, finally colliding painfully with the brick wall. He felt his way toward the door, or where he thought it should be.
He dared not call out for fear the others would hear. Where was that damned door? He rested again and listened. Not a sound was to be heard from within or without. he clawed his way frantically along the unsympathetic wall. It was a mile wide, that laboratory of Shelton's Ah -- at last! Weakly, he staggered within.
"Lina!" he whispered. "Lina! Shelton!"
There was no reply. He fumbled for a match. Funny how slowly his mind worked . . . thoughts coming jerkily like a sound film running at quarter speed . . . fingers shaking so he could scarcely strike a light. The flare showed the laboratory empty of human beings . . . Lina gone . . . that crazy robot . . . quiet now, and visible . . . but grinning at him . . . then darkness . . . .
(continue on to Part 6)