Thursday, May 7, 2009

"Microcosmic Buccaneers" by Harl Vincent, part 4

This is the fourth installment of "Microcosmic Buccaneers", an early story by pioneering science fiction writer Harl Vincent. The first three installments can be found here, here, and here. As we join our story, thirty-third century scientist Minott V8CA and his youthful ward Grayson R36B find themselves trapped on the world-that-is-actually-an-electron to which they transported themselves. They have been telepathically ordered to enter a cylindrical flying ship . . .

In a New World

The darkness sprang into intense light as the door closed behind them. Blinded to the point of hypnosis, they saw nothing but eyes -- eyes that glared and stared; inspected them as if they were laboratory specimens of an infinitely inferior sort.

Then the blinding light was gone -- gone so suddenly that the darkness seemed terrifying. But it was not for long. The unspoken voice came once more. "They are different!" it said.

Soft hands laid hold of them, flabby fingers pawed their bodies.

"Ugh!" protested Grayson.

Then they were in a room of comfortable brightness and warmth. Six pairs of the eyes regarded them, and for the first time they were aware of the features in which those all-seeing, all-knowing optics were set. These were not the creatures they had viewed through the super-microscope. Far from human was their appearance. But there was more of intelligence -- of sinister cunning and evil intent in those blue-rimmed eyes than in the most despicable and villainous of mortals. The heads were hairless and globular, the parchment-like skin drawn tight over the ugly skulls. Ears they had none -- nor mouths -- nor chins. Nothing there was that marked them as human, save those eyes -- and these were superhuman in their penetrating quality and discernment.

Again their came the voice that sounded not: "Creatures of exceptional knowledge," it said, "whence came ye? Surely not from the savage tribes of Els, nor from Pra or its satellites. In our solar system there are no other inhabited planets. Then, whence came ye?"

Grayson and Minott stared at one another without making reply. Each had understood the question propounded, yet neither comprehended fully, nor had they heard an uttered sound.

"Reply!" came the command. "Full well we know that thy lesser intelligences are incapable of communicating with such as we, on the terms of equality. Yet, from the impulses that come to us, we are aware how ye communicate one with the other. Ye are possessed of antiquated organs, ears, lips, bronchial tubes, like the Elsians. Speak then, that we may read thy thoughts."

The older man was struck dumb, but Grayson's youthful vigor asserted itself in rising anger.

"We are from Earth," he said, "on a friendly mission. And we are astonished at the unfriendly reception we have been accorded."

"Earth?" came the voice that was unhearable, "Why speakest thou that which is untrue? Thy words, though we hear them not, convey to our superior minds meanings that are false."

* * *

Minott nudged his impetuous partner into sullen silence.

"Earth, as we call it," he repeated in a conciliatory voice, "is a planet of another and faraway system. My friend speaks the truth. We are from Earth, and we have no enmity against the peoples of your system."

"Thou liest as well! There is but one other system -- the system of Oc, and that is so far distant as to be unreachable."

Grayson and Minott felt themselves seized by forces of great power and of unknown source and nature. They struggled to no avail. There was a quick jerk that threw them to the hard floor, and they knew the ship was in motion. The light and the penetrating eyes were gone and they felt about in the darkness until they found each other.

"Well, this is a fine welcome!" exclaimed Grayson.

"Yes, and the worst of it is that these beings are not even the inhabitants of the world we came to visit. What they are doing here I do not know, but they are not the people we saw through the super-microscope and it seems they are unfriendly to them as they are to us. What the object of the enmity is, is another thing."

There was a sudden swift descent of the vessel, a crash, and it came to rest. Windows opened on two sides of the room they occupied and through the thick glass, or whatever transparent medium it was, they saw that the ship had descended in the city of gleaming metal. They became aware of great activity within and of much clamor without. A cloud of dense vapor obscured their vision for a time, during which period the activity within increased and they could hear heavy footsteps and the moving about of bulky objects. The mist cleared and they saw a mass of red-gowned humans -- humans like themselves, with perfectly formed features. But this mass of beings lay in pitiful heaps in the center of a great square where there was no other living thing save three of the earless, mouthless, large-eyed creatures who poked about among the bodies. They were removing the valuables from the persons of those unfortunate victims of the deadly gas.

The blinding light from within assailed them suddenly and, blinking dazedly in its glare, they saw five of the red-gowned humans thrust into their own cell and thrown to the floor. The artificial light vanished as suddenly as it had come -- then the daylight as well, for slides of some sort were drawn across the transparent windows.

"Wonder if we can make ourselves understood to these other prisoners," said Grayson.

There was a reply, another wordless communication, a mental impression transmitted from the mind of one of these beings.

"We understand," it conveyed. "You have but to speak for a few minutes and we shall be able to converse with you in your own tongue. Proceed."

Minott spoke slowly and distinctly. "Grayson," he said, "this is a remarkable demonstration of telepathy. Those of the great eyes possess the same power, but something tells me these Elsians, as I presume our fellow prisoners are called, have the keener intelligence though they are apparently at the mercy of the great-eyes. The ship is moving once more and I suppose we are being conveyed as captives of war along with these five who have just been incarcerated with us."

He spoke for perhaps five minutes along the same lines. Then he was interrupted by a gentle voice, a voice of singing quality that pronounced his own uncooth English in accents that made of it a language of smooth beauty.

"You have spoken truly," came the voice from out of the stygian darkness, "and sufficiently to enable us to converse with you. We have learned mental communication of the Prags, the great-eyes as you humorously termed them. But such communication is forbidden in all Els. We prefer the spoken word as we do not wish to evolve as have the Prags -- the pirates who prey on the entire universe and who have become hideous in appearance. From where do you come -- one of the satellites of Pra?"

"No," Minott responded. "We come from another solar system -- from a planet called Earth."

"From the system of Oc?" asked the gentle voice.

"No, from still further."

"Further than Oc?" The voice was frankly astonished now, but not incredulous.

"Yes, much further than Oc. As we measure distance in our land, it is but a fraction of an inch to our own home, but in your terms, which we know not, it is an unthinkable distance."

There was puzzlement in the reply and Grayson nudged his friend into silence. At that moment the blue glare of the lights dazzled them once more, and one of the Prags entered the narrow chamber. Then there was a gradual softening of the brilliancy until the earth visitors were able to make out clearly the ugly form of the Prag.

The short body, surmounted by the immense bulbous head that seemed to be all eyes, was clothed in a single baggy garment of leather through which the emaciated arms and legs projected. At the waist, the garment was drawn together by a broad sash, from which depended a wickedly curved knife and a glittering mechanism that appeared to be a hand weapon of some sort. The lidless eyes with their strange blue rims and bloodshot intensity peered through and through the prisoners from earth.

"You are to appear before the Kama," they were commanded by the thoughts of this creature.

Minott and Grayson, without volition and propelled by a power from without their consciousness, rose meekly and followed the Prag from the room, leaving behind them the softly muttering Elsians.

(continue to part 5)

No comments: