Sunday, May 17, 2009

"Microcosmic Buccaneers" by Harl Vincent, part 7

This is the seventh installment of "Microcosmic Buccaneers", an early story by pioneering science fiction writer Harl Vincent which appeared in the November 1929 issue of Amazing Stories magazine. The first six installments can be found here, here, 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 and been captured by subatomic alien pirates called the Prags. Grayson has been condemned to slave in the Prags' mines, and Minott fears his captors have discovered a way to follow their trail back to Earth . . .

Among the Elsians

For several days Grayson labored with pick and shovel in an underground passage that was so narrow and stifling that he was too exhausted each night to even think of the fate that had befallen him. The material he was wresting from narrow veins in the damp wall of rock was radioactive -- no light was needed in these workings -- and he knew that his life would be short indeed if he were forced to continue in this place. He had been put into the most dangerous of all the mines. But the physical presence of the Prags was escaped during the long hours of labor, and this was a relief of a sort, though the force of distant wills kept him doggedly at his task. The Prags never entered the diggings where the mineral that supplied them with their main source of energy was obtained.

Then came a day when the Elsian who worked next to him spoke to him in his own tongue. A message had come from above -- a message from Minott! It was wonderful!

The scientist was well, it seemed, and wished to inform his friend that powerful forces were at work which would eventually bring about their release from Pra and their return to Els. He was bidden to keep courage.

"But," asked Grayson, "how has this message been relayed to you?"

"By word of mouth entirely. It has passed on from an Elsian servant of your friend and has undoubtedly been repeated a score of times on its way to this remote working. We have perfected among the captives a secret system of communication that serves the purpose admirably, though it is somewhat slow."

"The message gives word of help to come," said Grayson. "What does this mean?"

"It means this," replied Oril, for that was the cognomen of his new friend. "The prisoners on this accursed island have formed plans that will eventually result in the destruction of the Prags and in the liberation of themselves. They will result in the halting of the age-long piracy to which our worlds have been subjected, and in the salvation of the civilizations that have for so long a time been under the lash."

"By what means is this to be done?"

"I cannot divulge the secret until you have been admitted to our council. But this will be soon, and I can tell you that the vulnerability of the Prags has been discovered, and that Els and the two satellites of Pra, as well as the outlying provinces of Pra itself, are banded together to end the dominance of these creatures for once and all."

"You spoke of an island," said Grayson. "Do you mean that the Prags inhabit no part of this planet except a single island?"

"That is correct. The island is known to us as Capis and it comprises less than one tenth of the total habitable surface of Pra. The outlying provinces are populated sparsely and by a miserable race of downtrodden creatures, who were subject to the banditry of the Prags for ages, before they discovered the means of traversing space and transferred their major activities to the other inhabited bodies of our system. The provinces have been bled dry and the peoples are hopelessly retarded in their civilization. They resemble us in appearance, though their skin is of much darker hue, and in some sections they have almost reverted to savagery. But all of that is to be changed also."

"This council of which you spoke. When and where does it meet?"

"At present there is a meeting every night in one of the deepest levels of the mines. But each night these present are a different group and word of the proceedings is carried over to the next night by a sinble member who thus attends two meetings in succession. This is necessary in order that the Prags shall not suspect us of such activities as they surely would, if any considerable number of us were absent from our quarters on a single evening. Of course we are aided in this by the fact that they feel absolutely secure in their diabolic tyranny over us, and so do not anticipate a rebellion of serious nature. They underestimate the courage and mentality of the long-suffering outlanders, and are thus thrown more or less off guard by their own colossal conceit."

The conversation was interrupted by the shrill siren that called the workers to the evening meal -- the siren that told them of the completion of the long day of labor. The two were soon in the great bucket that carried them to the surface, along with some fifty more of their fellow prisoners.

* * *

Grayson pondered over the things he had heard all through the nightly inspection and during the meal that was presided over so strictly by a number of lower class Prags. These were not of the type that possessed the intense power of will over the prisoners, but enforced their dicta by free use of the lash and in aggravated cases of insubordination, by the use of the ray pistols they carried at their belts. Grayson had once seen one of these weapons used and he carried horrified remembrance of its action in his mind. The unfortunate victim of the crackling blue flare that greeted a minor insolence, had crumpled before his eyes into a heap of putrefaction that rapidly shrank to complete and terrible dissolution. He shuddered anew at the thought and was unable to finish his food.

But the words of Oril had cheered him, though he was doubtful of the ability of the Elsians and other outlanders to conquer these monstrosities, who were possessed of such marvelous mental powers and had evidently been lords of the tiny universe for ages of time.

Later in the evening, when the three suns had set and the prisoners were herded into their underground quarters, he received word from Oril that he was expected to attend the meeting of the council to be held late that night. He was elated over the news and could scarcely remain quietly in his bunk until the time set for his adventuring forth from the huge bunk room into the dark passages where h was to be led to the meeting place of the conspirators. Oril had given him explicit directions and he knew that he would have no trouble in joining the guide who was to await him. His neighbors were asleep on the low cots that were provided by the Prags in all the bunk rooms, and the lone guard was nodding in the dim-lit corner of the long hall. The faint whimpers of a sick prisoner, a few cots from his own, had ceased and Grayson hoped that the poor devil had found relief from his suffereings in the mercy of death.

Then there was the padding of soft footsteps and in the dim light he saw that two of the upper class Prags had entered and were conferring with the guard, who had started guiltily from his nap at their approach. The newcomers were led through the long aisle and Grayson's heart missed a beat as they neared him where he lay. He feigned sleep and when the brilliant beams of a hand torch were turned on him he opened blinking eyes to their glare. He was discovered as a conspirator, and would never know the plans of the brave band which was setting out to free the worlds they knew from the iron hand of the oppressor!

There was the single command to follow, so he arose from his hard couch and obeyed the order in silence. There was nothing else he could do.

He was conducted to the surface and taken to a small, brightly lighted landing stage where one of the tiny, bird-like air vehichles of Capis awaited. In a moment they had winged their way aloft and were headed for the lights of the city of the Great Ones. What was to be his fate Grayson did not know, nor did he much care -- now. He had scented adventure and it was to be denied him. He had hoped to engage in the battle for freedom that Oril had hinted was coming. But he was quite evidently doomed to disappointment and worse.

The drone of the motor and the swish of the flapping wings of the vessel that carried them swiftly toward the city were the only sounds to disturb his train of gloomy thought. The Prags, mute always, did not explain by mental message the reason for his move from the mines back to the city. But he suspected that his and Oril's conversation was known to the Great Ones and that he was to answer to them for his part in it.

Beneath them circled the lights of the great city as the ship swung around to effect a landing. The motor had stopped and they swooped with a rush toward a black square that was outlined by a fringe of orange light. It rushed upward to meet them and it seemed they would surely crash. Then there was a single powerful beat of the broad wings and the little craft alighted without a jar. Below them was the transparent roof of the headquarters of the Great Ones.

(continue to part 8)

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