"I think we have it! At least it's worth trying. If there is any tubing around...." He stopped as he realized he was talking in English, and resumed stiltedly in Aga's own language.
"Hast thou, in the palace, any lengths of pipe like to that which the Quabos drag behind them?"
"No ..." Aga began, her eyes round and wondering. Then she interrupted herself. "Ah, yes! There is! In a vault near that of Kilor's there is a great spool of it. He had it fashioned to carry air for one of his experiments--"
"Come along!" cried Stanley. "I'll explain what I have in mind while we dig up this coil of hose."
A score of Zyobite workmen were gathered at once. The length of hose--made of some linen-like fabric of tough, shredded sea-weed and covered with a flexible metal sheath--was cut into three pieces each about fifty yards long. These were connected to three of the largest gas vents of the palace.
Stanley, the Professor and I each took an end. And we prepared to fight, with fire, the creatures of water.
"It ought to work," Stanley, repeated several times as though trying to reassure himself as well as us. "It's simple enough: the water in those helmets is ice cold: if fire is suddenly squirted against them they'll crack with the uneven expansion."
"Unless," retorted the Professor, "their glass has some special heat and cold resisting quality."
"It may well have some such properties. How such creatures can make glass at all is beyond me!"
Dragging our hose to the big front entrance of the palace, and warning the crowded people to keep their feet clear of it, we prepared to test out the efficiency of this, our last resource against the enemy.
For an instant we paused just inside the doorway, looking out at the ugly, glassed-in Things that were massing to attack us again.
The ranks of Quabos had closed in now, till they extended down the street for several hundred yards in close formation--a forest of great pulpy heads with huge eyes that glared unblinkingly at the glittering, pink building that was their objective.
"Light up!" ordered Stanley, setting an example by touching his hose nozzle to the nearest wall jet. A spurt of fire belched from his hose, streaming out for four or five feet in a solid red cone. The Professor and I touched off our torches; and we moved slowly out the door toward the ranks of Quabos.
"Don't try to save yourselves from their tentacles," advised Stanley. "Walk right up to them, direct the fire against their helmets, and damn the consequences. If they grip too hard you can always play the torch on their tentacles till they think better of it."
The Quabos' front line humped grimly toward us, unblinking eyes glaring, tentacles writhing warily, little spurts of used water trickling from their helmets.
"Keep together," warned Stanley, "so that if any one of us loses his light he can get it from the hose of one of the other two. And--Here they come!"
There was no more time for commands. The Quabos in front, supplied with slack in their hoses by those behind, leaped at us with incredible agility. We fell back a step so that none should get at our backs.
The last stand was begun.
It was not a battle so much as a series of fierce duels. The Quabos realized their new danger instantly, and devoted all their efforts to extinguishing our torches. We parried and thrust with the flaming hoses in an equally desperate effort to prevent it.
One of them scuttled toward me like a great crab. A tentacle darted toward my right arm. Another was pressed against the nozzle. There was a sickening smell--and the tentacle was jerked spasmodically away.
I caught the hose in my left hand and turned the fiery jet against the water-filled helmet.
A shout of savage exultation broke from my lips. Hardly, had the flame touched the glass before it cracked! There was a report like a pistol shot--and a miniature Niagara of water and splintered glass poured at my feet!
The tentacle around my arm tightened, then relaxed. The monster shuddered in a convulsive heap on the ground.
I went toward the next one, swinging the flaring hose in a slow arc as I advanced. The creature lunged at me and threshed at the burning jet with all four of its feelers. But it had been exposed to the air for a long time now. The ghastly tentacles were dry; withered and soft. A touch of the fire seared them unmercifully.
Nevertheless with a swift move it slapped a tentacle squarely down over the hose nozzle. The flame was extinguished as the flame of a candle is pinched out between thumb and forefinger. I retreated.
"Catch!" came a voice behind me.
The Professor swung his four-foot jet my way. I held my hose to it, and the flame burst out again. A touch at my grisly antagonist's helmet--a sharp crack--the welcome rush of water over the cream-colored grass--and another monster was writhing in the death throes!
Keeping close together, the three of us faced the massed Quabos in the palace grounds. Again and again the fiery weapon of one or the other of us was dashed out--to be re-lighted from the nearest hose. Again and again loud detonations heralded the collapse of more of the invaders.
But it seemed as though their flailing tentacles were as myriad as the stars they had never seen. It seemed as though their numbers would never appreciably diminish. We thrust and parried till our arms grew numb. And still there appeared to be hundreds of the Quabos left.
By order of the Queen three stout Zyobites stepped up to us and relieved us of our exhausting labor. Gladly we handed the hoses to them and went to the palace for a much needed rest.
Two more shifts of fighters took the flaming jets before the monsters began the retreat slowly back toward their tunnel. And here the Professor took command again.
"We mustn't let them get away to try some new scheme!" he snapped. "Martin, take fifty men and beat them back to the break in the wall. Go around a side street. They move so slowly that you can easily cut off their retreat."
"There isn't any more hose--" began Stanley.
"There's plenty of it. The Quabos brought it with them." The Professor turned to me again. "Take metal-saws with you. Cut sections of the Quabos water-hose and connect them to the nearest wall jets. Run!"
I ran, with fifty of the men of Zyobor close behind me. We dodged out the side of the palace grounds least guarded by the Quabos, ducking between their ranks like infantry men threading through an opposition of powerful but slow-moving tanks. Four of our number were caught, but the rest got through unscathed.
Down a side street we raced, and along a parallel avenue toward the tunnel. As we went I prayed that all the Quabos had centered their attention on the palace and left their vulnerable water-hoses unguarded.
They had! When we stole up the last block toward the break we found the nearest Quabo was a hundred yards down the street--and working further away with every move.
At once we set to work on the scores of hoses that quivered over the floor with each move of the distant monsters.
A Zyobite with the muscles of a Hercules swung his ax mightily down on a hose. The metal was soft enough to be sheered through by the stroke. The cut ends were smashed so that they could not be crammed down over the tapering jets; but we could use our metal-saws for cleaner severances at the other ends.
The giant with the ax stepped from hose to hose. Lengths were completed with the saws. A man was placed at each jet to hold the connections in position. Before the Quabos had reached us we had rigged six fire-hoses and had cut through forty or fifty more water-lines.
The end was certain and not long in coming.
We sprayed the monsters with fire as workmen spray fruit trees with insect poison. Stanley, the Professor and a Zyobite came up in the rear with their three hoses.
Caught between the two forces, the beaten fish milled in hopeless confusion and indecision.
In half an hour they were all reduced to huddles of slimy wet flesh that dotted the pavement from the break back to the palace grounds. The invaders were completely annihilated--and the city of Zyobor was saved!
"Now," said the Professor triumphantly, "we have only to knock out the bottom half of the tunnel wall, empty the tunnel and make sure there are no more Quabos lurking there. After that we can fill it in with solid cement. The Queen can order her fish-servants to guard the outer cave and see that no food gets in to the starving monsters there. The war is over, gentlemen. The Quabos are as good as exterminated at this moment. And I can get back to my zoological work...."
Stanley and I looked at each other. We knew each others thoughts well enough.
He could resume his companionship with the beautiful Mayis. And I--I had Aga....
With the menace of the Quabos banished forever, the city of Zyobor resumed its normal way.
The citizens lowered their dead into the great well we had cut, with appropriate rites performed by the Queen. The daily tasks and pleasures were picked up where they had been dropped. The haunting fear died from the eyes of the people.
Shortly afterward, with great ceremony and celebration, I was made King of Zyobor, to rule by Aga's side. Stanley took Mayis for his wife. He is second to me in power. The Professor is the official wise man of the city.
Life flows smoothly for us in this pink lighted community. We are more than content with our lot here. Our only concern has been the grief that must have been occasioned our relatives and friends when the Rosa sailed home without us.
Now we have thought of a way in which, with luck, we may communicate with the upper world. By relays of my Queen's fish-servants we believe we can send up the Professor's invaluable notes[A] and this informal account of what has happened since we left San Francisco that....
(Editor's note: There was no trace of any "notes." The yacht, Rosa, was reported lost with all hands in a hurricane off New Zealand. Aboard her were a Professor George Berry and the owner, Stanley Browne. There is no record, however, of any passenger by the name of Martin Grey. To date no one has taken this document seriously enough to consider financing an expedition of investigation to Penguin Deep.)
THE GIFT BEARER.
By CHARLES L. FONTENAY
This could well have been Montcalm's greatest opportunity; a chance to bring mankind priceless gifts from worlds beyond. But Montcalm was a solid family man--and what about that nude statue in the park?
It was one of those rare strokes of poetic something-or-other that the whole business occurred the morning after the stormy meeting of the Traskmore censorship board.
Like the good general he was, Richard J. Montcalm had foreseen trouble at this meeting, for it was the boldest invasion yet into the territory of evil and laxity. His forces were marshaled. Several of the town's ministers who had been with him on other issues had balked on this one, but he had three of them present, as well as heads of several women's clubs.
As he had anticipated, the irresponsible liberals were present to do battle, headed by red-haired Patrick Levitt.
"This board," said Levitt in his strong, sarcastic voice, "has gone too far. It was all right to get rid of the actual filth ... and everyone will agree there was some. But when you banned the sale of some magazines and books because they had racy covers or because the contents were a little too sophisticated to suit the taste of members of this board ... well, you can carry protection of our youth to the point of insulting the intelligence of adults who have a right to read what they want to."
"You're talking about something that's already in the past, Mr. Levitt," said Montcalm mildly. "Let's keep to the issue at hand. You won't deny that children see this indecent statue every day?"
"No, I won't deny it!" snapped Levitt. "Why shouldn't they see it? They can see the plate of the original in the encyclopaedia. It's a fine copy of a work of art."
Montcalm waited for some rebuttal from his supporters, but none was forthcoming. On this matter, they apparently were unwilling to go farther than the moral backing of their presence.
"I do not consider the statue of a naked woman art, even if it is called 'Dawn,'" he said bitingly. He looked at his two colleagues and received their nods of acquiescence. He ruled: "The statue must be removed from the park and from public view."
Levitt had one parting shot.
"Would it solve the board's problem if we put a brassiere and panties on the statue?" he demanded.
"Mr. Levitt's levity is not amusing. The board has ruled," said Montcalm coldly, arising to signify the end of the meeting.
That night Montcalm slept the satisfied sleep of the just.
He awoke shortly after dawn to find a strange, utterly beautiful naked woman in his bedroom. For a bemused instant Montcalm thought the statue of Dawn in the park had come to haunt him. His mouth fell open but he was unable to speak.
"Take me to your President," said the naked woman musically, with an accent that could have been Martian.
Mrs. Montcalm awoke.
"What's that? What is it, Richard?" she asked sleepily.
"Don't look, Millie!" exclaimed Montcalm, clapping a hand over her eyes.
"Nonsense!" she snapped, pushing his hand aside and sitting up. She gasped and her eyes went wide, and in an instinctive, unreasonable reaction she clutched the covers up around her own nightgowned bosom.
"Who are you, young woman?" demanded Montcalm indignantly. "How did you get in here?"
"I am a visitor from what you would call an alien planet," she said. "Of course," she added thoughtfully, "it isn't alien to me."
"The woman's mad," said Montcalm to his wife. A warning noise sounded in the adjoining bedroom. Alarmed, he instructed: "Go and keep the children out of here until I can get her to put on some clothes. They mustn't see her like this."
Mrs. Montcalm got out of bed, but she gave her husband a searching glance.
"Are you sure I can trust you in here with her?" she asked.
"Millie!" exclaimed Montcalm sternly, shocked. She dropped her eyes and left the room. When the door closed behind her, he turned to the strange woman and said: "Now, look, young lady, I'll get you one of Millie's dresses. You'll have to get some clothes on and leave."
"Aren't you going to ask me my name?" asked the woman. "Of course, it's unpronounceable to you, but I thought that was the first thing all Earth people asked of visitors from other planets."
"All right," he said in exasperation. "What's your name?"