This is the fifth installment of "Microcosmic Buccaneers", an early story by pioneering science fiction writer Harl Vincent. The first four installments can be found here, here, here, and here. As we join our story, thirty-third century scientist Minott V8CA and his youthful ward Grayson R36B have shrunk themselves down to subatomic size. Having been captured by subatomic alien pirates, they are being taken to see the pirate leader . . .
The Kama proved to be the commander of the swiftly moving ship and he faced them in a forward compartment whose transparent sides revealed to them the glories of the sub-universe through which they were traveling. From the mind of this officer there came the command to observe the heavens, and he watched them narrowly as they gazed through the windows.
Far below them was a swiftly receding orb that they knew was the planet Els from which they had been abducted. The super-microscope had shown them a similar view of the sphere. But there all familiarity ceased, for they had not shifted the focus of their instrument after discovering the one inhabited electron. To the left there shone the three suns, the red one displaying a magnificent corona of flaming streamers that dazzled them with its glory. The two smaller suns, those of the cold light, had no coronas but shone with the wavering radiance of enormous mercury vapor lights. The firmament was of ebon blackness and was dotted with no less than fifteen major bodies and countless more distant stars and nebulae. Ahead of them there loomed a rapidly nearing body that shone with a yellow light and about which revolved two smaller bodies, one of a greenish hue and the other the same tint as the parent body. The speed of the pirate vessel must have been terrific, for the shifting of size and position of the visible bodies was inconceivably rapid. They would arrive at their destination very soon indeed.
"It is as I thought," the mental message of the Kama interrupted their thoughts. "My Prags were mistaken. Thou hast told them truth. Thy thoughts are entirely unfamiliar with this system as well as with Oc, the island universe out beyond the twenty-seven planets. For this thou shalt be saved and shall commune with the scientists of Pra. Long have they theorized on the possible existence of universes within universes, of matter divided and sub-divided to the point where little exists save empty space. Thou comest from a vaster universe wherein our system is but an infinitely small particle. Is it not so?"
Minott stared agape. "It is true, Kama," he said, "but little did we think to find theories similar to our own in this realm, nor to find a combination of savagery and enlightenment such as the inhabitants of Pra seem to have. What is the meaning of it all?"
"It is an inheritance from the distant past," came the unspoken reply. "Not all inhabitants of Pra are Prags, as we are termed by the Elsians, but the Prags are the rightful rulers of our universe. It has been thus from time immemorial. But ruling the universe in peace is an impossible accomplishment. Therefore we, the chosen few, dominate by force the remote provinces of Pra itself and the entire universe of which it is part. This we do by swooping down on the provinces regularly, levying tribute in the form of manpower and of wealth. It is divine inheritance, a prerogative none can gainsay. By the outlanders we are cursed and feared, are termed buccaneers, pirates, freebooters. Yet it is our right. The Prags must exist not by labor but by their superior mentality. The inferior races of our system must pay constant homage and provide us with the living and luxuries that are ours by divine right."
"You meet with no resistance?" asked Minott.
"Occasionally. But it is futile. The outlanders are not sufficiently clever to outwit the omnipotent, omniscient Prags."
Grayson sputtered his wrath. "Of all the conceited, vicious tommy-rot I ever listened to, this is the vilest. The Prags are nothing but drones -- drones that sting however, and that live by the labors and sufferings of the less fortunate. Possibly those ugly skulls of yours contain more gray matter, but the Elsians have the better qualities. They have kindness, love, and tolerance in their make-up, whereas the Prag is utterly devoid of the finer feelings. It is a disgusting exhibition of evolution as a coldly scientific proposition -- without pity, without tenderness, without love. Instead of the gods you have set yourselves up to be, you are monsters that should be destroyed. Would that some power could blast you from the universe; destroy your ugly bodies and minds -- not your souls, for you have none."
Grayson breathed hard as he concluded. Minott feared mightily for the result of this bitter speech. But the unspoken reply was without rancor.
"Thou hads't done better to save thy breath," it came through to their minds. "Thy feelings are known. The mental attitude registers with us far more easily than useless speech which we cannot hear. But it is pardoned; it is expected; it is merely the hatred of the slave for its master. However, you two will prove interesting and valuable to our Great Ones, whom you shall soon visit. From them you can hide nothing."
There was no adequate reply, so the two earth men remained mute, staring moodily at the great shining sphere that now loomed so large in the heavens. The Kama nodded and the Prag who had brought them to his presence came in and led them back to their cell.
A voice greeted them from the darkness as the door clanged to behind them, the soft voice that now spoke their language.
"What is to be your fate?" it inquired solicitously.
"We are to meet the Great Ones, whosoever they may be," replied Grayson. "We are to tell them of the world from which we come and to discuss science with them."
"That is a far happier fate than ours," came the gentle voice. "You should be thankful that your lives are not to be sacrificed in the mines and workshops of the Prags, as are ours. We have no hope."
"Is that what becomes of the captives from your land?" asked Minott. "Surely the few of you who are with us in this cell would not be sufficient excuse for the raiding trip of this immense ship."
"We are doomed to hard labor under conditions of such grueling severity that our lives are shortened to less than half their normal span," spoke the voice. "And as to the number of the captives, we five are but a small proportion. There are four great prison cells in these vessels. Each contains one hundred Elsians. We five are merely an overflow and were thrown in this small cell with you two because there was not room. They have also brought large quantities of precious metals from our city."
"What rotten scoundrels they are!" exclaimed Grayson. "So such raids occur often?"
"Only often enough to replenish their stores and to replace the workers who have died off in their misery. But there is also the raid, or rather the expected visit, when they compel us to give up three hundred of our fairest maidens. This occurs once each revolution of Els."
"Once a year!" exclaimed Grayson. "Good grief, do they take your women for mating purposes?"
"No. Merely for their amusement -- to grace their debauches and orgies, and to die, before their time, of shame and of physical decay brought about by the life they are forced to lead. No, the Prags do not mate with our women. That would pollute the strain they have so carefully evolved through eons of time."
"Horrible!" exploded Grayson. "Can nothing be done to forestall them? Have you not retaliated? Can you not organize manpower and materials to destroy these beasts?"
"Hush!" replied the Elsian. "We must not speak of such things. Our every word may even now be going on record and be used against us. There are plans, but we must not speak of them."
Grayson and Minott shivered with horror at the tale of the Elsian. Neither replied. And then they felt a retardation of the speed of the vessel. It came to a sudden stop.
"We are about to land," spoke the invisible Elsian.
"Yes, in the land of the Prags," said Grayson, with loathing in his voice.
(continue to part 6)