Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"Once in a Blue Moon" by Harl Vincent, part 5

This is the fifth and final installment of "Once in a Blue Moon", a Gernsback Era science fiction story by pioneering writer Harl Vincent. The story was first published in the Winter 1932 issue of Amazing Stories Quarterly and reprinted in the 2001 anthology Rainbow Fantasia.

The story so far:
On June 6, 2019, the lunar mining ship Moon Rocket IV is half a mile south of Tycho Crater, mining the mineral lunium that makes interplanetary travel economical. The captain sees another ship, the Rocket VII, go down near Theophilus Crater, and orders auxiliary pilot Clark Peters to go to their rescue. The only men available to accompany Peters are Morton Saunders, an electrician in his fifties, and "Slim" Downey, a young stowaway.

Taking the Rocket IV's tender, the Hornet, the three men are north of Tycho Crater when Peters mentions to Downey that they are searching for the Rocket VII. Downey becomes frantic and tries to sieze control of the Hornet, and the tender dives into a deep chasm, then loses power. The Hornet comes to rest on the floor of a vast cavern ten miles below the lunar surface, near where the Rocket VII has landed. Downey admits that he was placed on board the Rocket IV by billionaire Aleck Carter, who has discovered an underground lunar civilization. While investigating, the three men are captured by a featureless green sphere.

Peters and Saunders learn via telepathy that the moon is hollow, and inhabited by three vast blue spheres known as the Great Ones, rulers of an ancient lunar civilization. In addition, there are the Lesser Ones, much smaller spheres that serve the Great Ones; the Dark Ones, enemies of the Great Ones; and the pigmies, stunted humanoids in the care of the Lesser Ones. Carter has promised the pigmies that he will move the moon onto the Earth's surface and allow them to plunder its wealth. The Lesser One in communication with them implores Peters and Saunders to put a stop to Carter's plan.

Making their way to Carter's base, Peters and Saunders realize that Carter's real plan is to destroy the Great Ones and sieze control of the moon. The two men encounter one of the Dark Ones, and are captured and led to Carter . . .

* * *

Next they knew they were lying bound before a small rostrum near which Carter’s machine had been set up. From it they could see that tier upon tier of balconies surrounded the arena, mounting into the high arches of the amphitheatre as far as the eye could follow. And these balconies groaned under the weight of the pigmy folk that crowded them.

It was a place of ceremonial; a temple. And Aleck Carter was in his element as he faced the multitude from the rostrum, one of the Dark Ones hovering at his side. The eyes of a world were upon him.

Pete knew that his strength was returning. His muscles answered to his bidding once more, but the bonds of the pigmies held fast.

“Huh,” he heard Mort Saunders whisper. “Old Carter’s putting on quite a show.”

Pete grinned. Saunders was all right, and so was he. If only they could free themselves. Carter had paid them scant attention; he was too deeply engrossed in the matter at hand, and confident that his bodyguard could handle these interfering snoopers if the pigmies and the Dark Ones could not. He was secure in his newly established position of power.

Silence fell in the huge gathering place when a mental message of the ugly swaying mass, that seemed to be the leader of the Dark Ones, swept out over the assemblage.

“The power of the Great Ones is at an end,” it conveyed. “The gods of Terra have kept their word and have brought their chief god with his machine to carry the ancient world of Luna to the land of happiness and plenty –“

“It’s a lie!” a voice screamed from near the machine.

“Thornhill!” Pete gasped. “He’s rebelling.”

The scientist, purple of face, was struggling with one of Carter’s huskies, trying to make his way to the platform. They saw his arms raised high, and his clenched fists threatening the man whose dominance of so much of Earth’s enterprise, was now reaching out here into the depths of the blue moon.

Aleck Carter’s flabby jowls quivered with rage; his basilisk eyes flashed fire. “Away with him!” he roared. “We’ll have no traitors alive here.”

They saw the gray-haired scientist go down. There was a flash and a report, the gunmen drawing back as the disintegrating charge of an atomic projector found its mark. The body of Earth’s most renowned physicist, who had made the mistake of bowing to the will of Aleck Carter, was a squirming, bloated thing on the crystal floor. Then, in a puff of incandescent vapor, it had vanished.

But Carter was shaken; his ponderous frame sagged as the gulping yells of the pigmies rolled out over the arena a vast screaming roar of amazed protest. The god-beings of Terra were not invulnerable.

“Thus perish those who oppose the chief god of our benefactors,” the Dark One’s voiceless message came instantly. “Keep to your places, pigmy folk, and observe the overthrow of the Great Ones.”

Carter brightened and raised his arm in a signal to his men as the Babel of pigmy voices was stilled in superstitious awe. And a shrill note of vibrant energy rose up from the throbbing machine.

Looking down into the blue cosmos, Pete saw the streaking light-pencils that stabbed out from the beam transmitters. Hundreds of miles beneath them a vast halo of white brilliance closed in on the Great Ones and caused them to draw together in a swift huddle. The crystal floor vibrated madly under the energy reaction and Luna’s outer shell was set quivering.

Succeeding events came with confusing swiftness.

* * *

The Great Ones, each a sphere of about seventy-five miles diameter, sent out long streamers of indigo flame and backed away from the man-made energy that attacked them.

Carter was shouting like a gleeful fiend; dancing like a lunatic there on the rostrum. And the telepathic voices of the Dark Ones were ghoulishly exultant. The Great Ones were retreating before the blasts of the Earth-gods’ machine.

A whining chant came up from the pigmy folk, a mad cadence of superstitious, religious fervor. The sound was awe-inspiring in its immensity, ghastly in its triumphant emotion.

And then, as the Great Ones battled ineffectually against Aleck Carter’s forces, the blue abyss beneath the crystal floor became alive with swirling forms that gleamed blue-white in the darkening realm. The Lesser Ones, legion in number, darting hither and yon in a panic of uncertainty.

A slender figure detached itself from the group at the machine and came running swiftly to the captives.

“Slim!” exclaimed Pete. “Slim Downey.”

“Yes,” the lad sobbed. “I couldn’t stand it. Know what this means? Carter’s figuring on throwing the whole damn moon out into space where Earth’s rockets can’t reach it. He’s energizing the Great Ones themselves – they’re mostly lunium – and the major deposits of the raw metal, to force the moon out from Earth’s attraction.”

“What!” Pete yelled. Slim was working at his bonds with a knife and one arm was free. “Out, you say?”

“Yes, out. Not in toward Earth, as he told the Dark Ones and the pigmies -- he’s too smart for that. Out. He’ll control all the lunium then, and be able to deal with the other planets without competition. Don’t you see? He was going to kill all of you on Rocket IV; I was his spy there. And the pigmies, he’ll kill. Pete, I’m afraid; I don’t want to be shot into space -- God knows where. He’s crazy.”

“I’ll say he is.” Pete stretched and worked his arms and legs to limber them up. “Here, give me that knife.”

He took it from the trembling lad and sawed rapidly at Mort’s bonds. “Get that, Mort?” he whispered.

“Sure did; the kid’s coming clean.” Mort was free in a moment.

“W-what are you going to do?” Slim was blubbering.

“You do it!” Pete demanded. His eyes bored into Slim’s.

White-faced and trembling, the boy stared. Then, quick as a flash, he streaked away toward the machine and flung himself into the main control switch -- bodily. Pete and Mort ran after him, yelling.

There was a bellow of rage from Carter. Agonized cries from the pigmy folk. And despairing mental outbursts from the Dark Ones. Pete was fighting Carter’s gang now, back to back with Mort. Desperately slugging, unmindful of the consequences. And the high reaches overhead were suddenly filled with gleaming forms of the Lesser Ones, doing battle with flashing energies as the Dark Ones sought to get away.

Pandemonium broke loose in the balconies. Luna lurched sidewise and threw the combatants in milling, struggling heaps.

The rest was confusion. Pete saw Otto Zimmerman scramble to the rostrum and jump astride Aleck Carter’s shoulders, throttling him with his hairy paws grimly and efficiently. The German scientist was one more rebel -- a game one.

He saw Mort, dragged away from him, fighting like a demon -- saw him pick up one of Carter’s huskies bodily and fling him into the mob. Slim Downey’s body was smouldering over there in the flaming switch of the frequency converter. But the great machine still sang its song of vast energies unleashed; on a different note now -- Slim’s sacrifice had changed the characteristic of the emanations.

All was chaos in the blue abyss. The Great Ones were swinging around in a wide arc that was carrying them ever nearer. Overhead, the Lesser Ones were victorious. One by one the Dark ones vanished in blue vapor puffs until all were destroyed. In the balconies, the pigmy folk were kneeling; a new chant had arisen, and in its wailing note was supplication, and dread of the wrath of the Great Ones. Their ages-old faith had returned.

Otto Zimmerman had joined Pete now. Together they beat off a half dozen of Carter’s maddened brutes. Mort flung himself into the tangle, cursing vividly. Blindly, desperately, the three fought.

And then there was a new lurching of Earth’s satellite, a general swaying and crunching and grinding of the space about them. Only half conscious of what transpired, Peters knew there were many of the Lesser Ones about them. They were rushed out of dark passages and through rose-lit vistas of blue columns, hustled from the melee by the spheres.

Now they were again in the pit bottom where Rocket VII and the Hornet lay waiting. There was much activity of the Lesser Ones, and a flow of liquid blue metal came in to close off the opening which led to the inner realm. Dozens of the blue-white globes converged on the great rocket ship, invisible energies crackling in their midst, and she melted down swiftly to join the blue torrent which already was congealing to seal off the ancient world within.

Urged on and assisted by the friendly Lesser Ones, they boarded the Hornet and soon were rising speedily out of the pit. And all was darkness and mystery beneath them.

But a majestic voice came out of the depths, a voice that was strong in the consciousness though it sounded not in the ears. It told them all was well in the blue realm; told them the conspirators were no more; told them Luna’s surface was free to those of Earth who might come in search of its treasures. They, the Great Ones, the Lesser Ones, and the pigmy folk, would remain inside until the end of time. The adventure was ended.

Clark Peters sucked in his breath sharply when the Hornet shot up out of the pit and over the crater’s rim. The blazing sun greeted them. It was a wonderful thing to see.

“Himmel!” Otto Zimmerman exclaimed, “Earth iss gone; der sun iss here. Id vos Downey’s act. Hiss body shorted der energy, made it negatiff. Ven der Great Vuns mofed der shall followed, und der moon turned completely ofer, nicht wahr? Now ve always see der odder side from Earth -- alvays.”

Mort Saunders wrinkled his brow and tugged at his fiery lip ornament. Figuring it out, Mort was. Pete laughed, then sobered on the instant.

“We’ll not speak of the Great Ones,” he breathed. “Or of any of it -- about the blue realm, I mean.”

The others agreed vociferously. No one would believe them, not in a million years. And besides, there was something -- perhaps that majestic voice; perhaps Slim’s deed -- which bid them keep silence. And so the story has been a secret these many years, coming to light only with the unearthing of Clark Peters’ diary.

Peters will be remembered as the hero of the Hyperionic disaster a year ago. He it was who saved eighteen passengers of the ill-fated space liner from certain death in the lava pools of Mercury ere he succumbed to his own burns and injuries. Of him no more need be said.

Otto Zimmerman is an old, old man who smiles and nods agreement when asked to confirm the tale of the diary.

But Mort Saunders, older still, and his once fiery hirsute adornments now white as driven snow, is more specific. Certain of the personal details about Pete that the diarist omitted, he will be perfectly willing to tell.

“Huh!” he has said. “Pete didn’t record the half. In my humble opinion, it was he who saved the Great Ones. True? Of course it’s true; go ahead and print it if you want to. Nobody will take any stock in it but Captain Wallace James.

“And he won’t believe it either.”


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