Monday, August 10, 2009

"The Barrier" by Harl Vincent, part 6

This is the sixth and final 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 five installments can be found here, here, here, here, and here.

As we join our story, Bert Peyton and Pete Canfield have foiled a plot by a gang of Martian spies to take over a secret military research lab on Long Island run by the reclusive scientist Daniels. However, the leader of the spies, a Martian aristocrat named "Boris", has fled the lab in his space car, holding Canfield's girlfriend Marian Persons as a hostage, and with Canfield himself clinging to the outside. Peyton and Daniels decides to follow "Boris" in an aircab . . .

* * *

Bert would never have thought that Daniels could exhibit such activity as he did in the next few seconds. He grabbed a flash-light and scuttled down the stairs so fast the younger man could hardly keep at his heels. In the yard, he ran for the hanger with the agility of a youngster, lighting the way with his flash. Bert was puffing when they reached the half-demolished building.

Then Daniels was on his knees by a crumpled figure. The girl! Boris had not taken her after all. "Marian!" the scientist moaned, lighting her ghostly features with the flashlamp. "Lord, Peyton, he's killed her!"

Bert examined her hastily. "No," he declared. "It's only a swoon, and no wonder."

Looking over Daniels' aircab, he saw that Boris had slashed the tires of the landing gear and cut the rudder control cable. A fast worker, this Martian. They wouldn't be able to start for half an hour.

So they carried the girl into the house and stretched her on a divan in the drawing room. Daniels brought cold water and a sponge, and it was not long before she sat up and regarded the two men with wide, terrified eyes.

"Peter! Boris!" she exclaimed as soon as she was able to speak. "Where are they?"

Daniels explained gently and his doubt of the outcome could not be disguised. Bert's must have showed in his expression. Two spots of bright color flared in the girl's cheeks and she rose in terror and indignation.

"Why did you let him do this?" she stormed. "Boris already has complete plans of the war-machines; I was trying to get them away from him. Now -- he has started for Mars. Peter will freeze to death in the upper atmosphere -- or suffocate -- or --"

"Listen, my dear --" Daniels commenced soothingly.

"Don't dear me!" the girl snapped, and Bert saw that she was perilously near the breaking point. "If anything happens to him it's your fault -- it's --" She turned on Bert. "You too, Bert Peyton. He's your friend; you might have following him you--"

Then, womanlike, she buried her face in her hands and sank to the divan, sobbing hysterically.

Daniels regarded Bert helplessly.

From somewhere overhead came faintly the roar of a motor; it drew near, then faded away, drew near once more. It was Boris' space car. Bert's heart did a flip-flop. He thought of the barrier, then remembered it was cut off. Pete must have won out.

Recovering in a flash, Marian Persons rushed to the vestibule. By the time Bert and the scientist had joined her, she had the doors open and the porch lights on. Overhead they saw the flickering of landing lights; then a black shape swooped down out of the darkness and rolled to a stop with a screech of landing-gear brakes.

The nose of the space car was not twenty feet from the rickety steps. Its entrance port opened and Pete Canfield climbed out, dragging the helpless Boris with him.

Speechless, the three on the porch watched as he moved painfully toward them with his awkward burden. An unconscious man is not the easiest load to handle, especially when the bearer is wounded and is freshly bruised and battered besides.

Marian waited, white and tense, while he dragged the Martian to where she stood. Pete dropped him in a bloody heap at her feet, then looked up at her with eyes dull and lifeless, jerking out his words in a gasping, tired voice.

"Here he is, Marian. You . . . can have him . . . if . . . you want him."

After which Peter Canfield sagged and fell prostrate across the Martian's inert form.

The girl swept down over him like a mother-bird spreading wings for the protection of its young, stroked his swollen cheeks, whispered anything into his unhearing ear.

Daniels threw up his hands in a gesture of resignation.

* * *

An emergency call to Washinton, put through as soon as Daniels got the radiophone in working order, brought a score of stratosphere patrol ships. They darted about overhead, their lights twinkling like a swarm of fireflies.

Two of them landed, a Federation police ship and a hospital ship. Boris and the Martian who had been locked in the cellar were taken away, a thoroughly beaten and cowed pair. Boris would never look the same; after Pete's handling of him all the plastic surgery of the planets would have availed little toward restoring his altered features. Certainly his lady-killing propensities would be handicapped seriously.

Indeed, it seemed unlikely that he would again have opportunity to indulge those propensities. He was to be returned to Mars by the next space liner, and, in view of his performance after his arrest, it was expected he would have short shrift at the hands of his own kind.

For several hours the ether was hot with coded spaceograms. At first the Canal Cities Union of Mars disclaimed all knowledge of the plot, requesting that Boris be summarily executed. Boris showed his colors then, flying into a rage and revealing the hiding place of his own papers. That brought the Union to terms, since the Federation had proof of Boris' authorization for his nefarious work, in addition to many Martian war-secrets such as that of the paralyzing gas. They likewise had recovered the plans of the Daniels apparatus made by Boris' engineers. The inconceivable horror of interplanetary war was no longer imminent.

Boris had sealed his own fate. The Union's demand that he be returned to Mars a prisoner was readily, in fact cheerfully complied with. It relieved the Federation authorities from further liability.

Pete Canfield refused to be moved to a hospital. This old house just suited him for a convalescence, he averred. Bert, grinning, told the doctors it was the nurse and the privacy he craved. Marian, her beauty heightened by the ensuing flush, shooed Bert from the room where they had Pete propped up on clean white pillows, and slammed the door.

But the doctors came out smiling. Pete's wound was not at all a dangerous one, they agreed, even though the expanding slug from the Martian weapon had done considerable damage. His other injuries were superficial. And certainly, they could prescribe no tonic more effective than this girl.

* * *

Daniels was packing his laboratory equipment with a far-away look in his eyes. After several efforts to draw him into a conversation, Bert gave it up; already the scientist's active brain was at work on his next series of experiments.

All of which was as it should be. The only regret Bert had was that he had not seen the fight in the space car. Pete would never talk about it of course, but it must have been something worth seeing. To crawl along the landing gear struts of a speeding ship, to wrench oen the entrance port, to yank the pilot, a husky Martian, from the controls and beat him to a pulp -- that was a feat. To do it in a plunging, reeling vessel entirely out of control, then to prevent that vessel from crashing -- that was a miracle.

Having visualized it mentally, Bert grunted contentedly, then wandered out into the brambles to see whether his own little aircab might not be patched up and made to fly. The others might do as they pleased; he was going back to civilization; back again to the world of his own people.


(continue to Hitting "The Barrier")

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