Thursday, July 2, 2009

"Too Many Boards" by Harl Vincent, part 4

This is the fourth installment of "Too Many Boards", a story by pioneering science fiction writer Harl Vincent. The story first appeared in the April 1931 issue of Amazing Stories magazine, and has since passed into the public domain. This is the first time "Too Many Boards" has seen the light of day since its original magazine publication 78 years ago. The first three installments can be found here, here, and here.

As we join our story, Larry Conover, the President of United Synthetic Food, has eloped to Mercury with his one true love, Una Sinclair. Travel there is forbidden, but Conover and Sinclair have reached Mercury with the help of their friend Chick Davis, captain of the interplanetary cruise liner Rocket III. Now they must face the Mercurians . . .

* * *

"Careful now, you two," Chick Davis warned, as Una and Larry edged gingerly along the gangplank, "it'll take you a little time to get used to the lesser gravity and rare air. Though you weigh less than a third of what you do on earth, the slightest effort will exhaust you here. So, just take it easy."

Una laughed nervously. "I feel as though I could leap across the plaza," she said.

"You could -- nearly," agreed the captain, "but, until your lungs are accustomed to the change and your heart to the extra load imposed by the scarcity of oxygen, you'd better not try anything of the kind."

"Say Chick," exclaimed Larry, "that's a terrestrial government ship over there. Wonder what's up?"

"Probably they've been searching for us since our octophone went out of commission. Guess I'll be in for an argument after a bit. But they can't prove anything. That reminds me too -- better find the trouble now and report our whereabouts." Captain Davis winked and grinned as Larry turned a scared face toward him.

"They'll discipline you, Chick."

"Let 'em. I wouldn't have missed this for anything. I've had a circus on this trip. And I guess I can square myself."

Una drew back suddenly in alarm, grasping Larry and pointing a trembling finger. "Look!" she gasped. "There's John Mills!"

It was incredible, but true. On the platform facing the plaza there stood a group of Mercurian officials and with them were four terrestrials. One of these, a pudgy human with ruddy countenance, was undoubtedly John X. Mills.

Larry groaned, then stiffened in anger. "Miserable swine!" he snarled. "Been spying on me and learned my plans! I'll show him!"

So quickly did he ove in the direction of the triumphantly leering financier that his leap carried him a distance of thirty or more feet. He lost his balance and sprawled ignominiously at the edge of the platform. John X. Mills laughed.

Chick Davis was at Larry's side in an instant, and, as he helped him to his feet he hissed, "Keep your shirt on, you idiot! We're in a jam. Got to be diplomatic."

Una hurried to join them, her breath coming in painful gasps. She wanted to cry. Larry grumbled sheepishly as she made nervously ineffectual attempts to dust his clothes with her handkerchief.

Captain Davis strode to the center of the platform and faced the Dairo, president of the Mercurian high council, speaking rapidly in Termarven, the universal language which had been developed when interplanetarian communication was first accomplished in 1988.

"Your excellency," said Chick, "I am captain of the Rocket III. A disarrangement of our electrical system partially crippled the vessel and it was necessary for us to land here to make repairs. Meanwhile I learned that these two young people of our world were endeavoring to escape persecution in their own land. They wish to marry but cannot on account of one of our rigid laws -- the Eugenics Act, with which you are undoubtedly familiar. I beg of you that they be permitted to make their home here and to wed in accordance with your laws. They freely renounce allegiance to the terrestrial government."

"I remember you, Captain Davis," replied the Dairo. "You have visited us before, though you have never honored us by landing your vessel. But I cannot accept your request."

"Can not? There is no treaty. Mercury is independent of the Tri-planetarian Alliance."

"True. But a minor agreement has just been signed with representatives of your government. We have agreed that all terrestrials who might visit our globe are returnable at the demand of your government and are subject to your laws for so long a time as they remain with us. However, if your ambassador agrees, we will welcome this man and woman."

Larry understood Termarven but imperfectly and he stared from one to the other of the speakers in uncertainty. Una clung desperately to him.

The Dairo indicated one of the four terrestrials, a pompous individual who bowed ceremoniously at the acknowledgement.

"Hjalmar Nordstrom, Captain," he said in English, "at your service."

"You heard?"

"I heard, Captain."

"He lies!" croaked Mills. But Nordstrom frowned him into silence.

"Captain," said the ambassador, "it is impossible to grant your request. As you know, we have been trying for years to come to an understanding with the Mercurians and this mission of mine is the latest attempt. It has succeeded thus far, and the preliminary treaty is an entering wedge that we cannot afford to nullify by an immediate violation of one of its provisions. I must further remind you, Captain, that you are subject to disciplining for landing your vessel here."

"I'll take care of that, Mr. Ambassador. But, may I ask you who was the instigator of this special mission -- who wrote this clause?"

"Why -- why --" The ambassador flushed and John X. Mills coughed warningly.

"Ha! I thought so!" Chick Davis glared at Mills belligerently, then disdainfully at Nordstrom. "No wonder the Mercurians have always refused to treat with us, when our government sends such as you to deal with them. Don't see why they listened this time."

"Sir! I'll have you broken for this! I -- I --" The ambassador was sputtering with rage. Mills grasped his arm and whispered in his ear.

Larry was doing his best to comfort Una, who had buried her head on his shoulder. The Mercurians watched silently, the Dairo stretched to his full seven feet of dignified stature, arms folded across his broad chest.

"I demand their arrest!" shouted Mills. "The girl and Laurence Conover. They are fugitives from justice. Attempting to evade both the Compulsory Marriage Act and the Eugenics Act. I'll appear against them before the Boards."

The ambassador nodded agreement and the remaining two terrestrials advanced toward Una and Larry, flashing badges of the Secret Service. Larry's muscle tensed in his fury and Una gripped him more tightly.

"Don't dear," she whispered. "Please -- for my sake. It'll only be worse for you."

Chick Davis paused uncertainly, then turned on his heels and rapidly made for his vessel, covering the intervening distance with a peculiar shuffling lope that was admirably adapted to the gravity conditions.

"Chick! Chick!" called Larry.

But his friend continued on his way. Bitterly Larry watched him go. He'd deserted him, and in the time of greatest need. But, after all, what could he do?

Larry's muscle relaxed and Una sighed her relief. The officers were upon them and she had been horrified at the thought of the result of resistance on his part.

(continue to part 5)

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