Saturday, August 8, 2009

"The Barrier" by Harl Vincent, part 5

This is the fifth installment of "The Barrier", a story by pioneering science fiction writer Harl Vincent. The story first appeared in the September 1934 issue of Amazing Stories magazine, and has since passed into the public domain. This is the first time "The Barrier" has seen the light of day since its original magazine publication 75 years ago this month. The first four installments can be found here, here, here, and here.

As we join our story, Bert Peyton and Pete Canfield have regained control of the secret research lab in Long Island from the Martian spies. However, the head Martian, "Boris", has escaped, and now both he and Canfield's girlfriend Marian Persons are missing . . .

* * *

Daniels was pacing the floor like a caged animal; the shooting had unnerved him. But he looked much stronger. He laughed his relief when he saw them. For some reason Pete went berserk again when he faced the inventor.

"Want to know something?" he bellowed. "That fool assistant of yours has gone off with Boris. Neither of 'em in the house, and I've killed off the rest of Boris' gang with your cute little force gun. But the boss got away and she's with him; what do you think of that?"

"The -- the barrier?" Daniels stammered. "I hear the generator."

"Yes, it's operating again. But the grounds are large -- having failed in his schemne otherwise, Boris might kill her. Your fault, too. Dammit, man, how am I going to find her? It's dark as a pocket out there; not a star in the sky."

Daniels cringed and paled, then straightened suddenly.

"I've other tricks in my laboratory, Peter," he retorted. "You go out looking for them and leave your friend with me. We'll be able to help you from inside."

"Your tricks better be good." Pete took the pistol from Bert's hand and was gone on the last word.

Daniels scolded and muttered as they mounted to the third floor. Bert grinned despite the seriousness of the situation; Pete's rough talk had roused the older man to action.

Under his direction, Bert made short work of the manacles, using a tiny electric tool that cut through the steel like a knife through butter. The scientist lost no time getting to his apparatus. He made some adjustments of knobs and dials on a control board, and immediately the generator pitch altered, rising in frequency until it was barely audible.

"Guess he can see now," Daniels grunted.

Through the window Bert saw suddenly there was broad daylight. The scientist chuckled over his amazed exclamations.

"Merely a new heterodyning frequency on the wave producing the barrier," he explained quite unintelligibly. "The notes are at precisely the wave lengths of sunlight and there you have it -- within the barrier itself. And still the barrier is effective; it can not be penetrated from without, and only from inside by metallic objects that travel with considerable momentum."

"Hadn't I better join Pete and help him?" Bert asked.

Daniels' eyes twinkled. "Think he needs help?"

Bert gathered that these two understood each other rather well.

The spiteful spang of atomite sent Bert and Daniels to the window. Down there was Pete, limping to shelter behind a large tree, and Boris backing away about a hundred feet off with the girl held before him for protection. She was limp in his left arm and evidently had fainted.

Boris fired again and his slug tore a huge splinter from the tree trunk. Pete nursed his right leg as he crouched there in comparative safety. But he was wounded and he dared not return fire for fear of injuring the girl. For the same reason the watchers in the laboratory dared not use the force gun.

Pete pulled himself erect and Bert was relieved to see him able to stand. Evidently his wound was not serious. But Boris continued to back away, still using the girl as a shield. He was close by the ancient hanger now, and made a sudden dash for the door, dragging her limp body after him.

Daniels groaned: "His space car; I'd forgotten that."

"The barrier won't stop it?" asked Bert.

"No, and it's fast and it's heavy; it'll break through from inside. What can we do?"

* * *

Pete stumbled out from behind his tree and made for the hanger, exposing himself to the fire of the desperate Martian. Bert tried to shout a warning but his voice would not come.

Then with a roar of its gravity motors and the splintering of the rotted hanger wall, a slim tapered craft burst forth and taxied across the field out there. Only Boris' head showed at the pilot's port; he must have the girl in one of the sleeping cubbies.

Pete fired and they saw the slug from the atomite pistol spatter against the bullet-proof crystal of the port. The space car was almost upon him, its landing wheels just clear of the ground. Pete sidestepped swiftly as it lurched past, fell in behind and dived to the atmospheric rudder stays where he clung doggedly.

The space car gathered momentum and leaped for the brilliantly illuminated wall of the barrier. There was a ripping sound out there when it struck and the generator in the laboratory groaned as if suddenly overloaded. Bert saw the darkness of night in a great, black patch against the brightness, where they had torn through. For an instant only it showed; then the barrier was whole once more and uniformly brilliant, and as ever impenetrable from outside.

"Your aircab!" Bert babbled. "Is it in the hanger? We must go after them."

"Yes," said Daniels. "It's there, but it's too light to break through. I'll cut off the barrier."

He pulled the switch and the generator died. Darkness came down like a blanket outside, the natural darkness of a cloudy night.

(continue to part 6)

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