Once more the shock stung them, as a reminder not to keep their captors waiting. With their shoulders bunched for abrupt action, and their guns in hand, the two men walked to the trap-door of the ship. They threw the heavy bolts, drew a deep breath--and flung open the door to charge unexpectedly toward the thickest mass of creatures that surrounded the ship!
In a measure their charge was successful. Its very suddenness caught some of the tall monstrosities off guard. Half a dozen of them stopped the fragile glass bullets to writhe in horrible death on the red metal paving of the square. But that didn't last long.
In less than a minute, thin, clammy arms were winding around the Earthmen's wrists, and their guns were wrenched from them. And then started a hand-to-hand encounter that was all the more hideous for being so unlike any fighting that might have occurred on Earth.
With a furious growl Dex charged the nearest creature, whose huge round head swayed on its stalk of a body fully six feet above his own head. He gathered the long thin legs in a football grip, and sent the thing crashing full length on its back. The great head thumped resoundingly against the metal paving, and the creature lay motionless.
For an instant Dex could only stare at the thing. It had been so easy, like overcoming a child. But even as that thought crossed his mind, two of the tall thin figures closed in behind him. Four pairs of arms wound around him, feebly but tenaciously, like wet seaweed.
They began to constrict and wind tighter around him. He tore at them, dislodged all but two. His sturdy Earth leg went back to sweep the stalk-like legs of his attackers from under them. One of the things went down, to twist weakly in a laborious attempt to rise again. But the other, by sheer force of height and reach, began to bear Dex down.
Savagely he laced out with his fists, battering the pulpy face that was pressing down close to his. The big eyes blinked shut, but the four hose-like arms did not relax their clasp. Dex's hands sought fiercely for the thing's throat. But it had no throat: the head, set directly on the thin shoulders, defied all throttling attempts.
Then, just as Dex was feeling that the end had come, he felt the creature wrench from him, and saw it slide in a tangle of arms and legs over the smooth metal pavement. He got shakily to his feet, to see Brand standing over him and flailing out with his fists at an ever tightening circle of towering figures.
"Thanks," panted Dex. And he began again, tripping the twelve-foot things in order to get them down within reach, battering at the great pulpy heads, fighting blindly in that expressed craving to take as many of the creatures into hell with him as he could manage. Beside him fought Brand, steadily, coolly, grim of jaw and unblinking of eye.
Already the struggle had gone on far longer than they had dreamed it might. For some reason the grotesque creatures delayed killing them. That they could do so any time they pleased, was certain: if the monsters could reach them with their shock-tubes through the double insulated hull of the space ship, they could certainly kill them out in the open.
Yet they made no move to do so. The deadly tubes were not used. The screeching gargoyles, instead, devoted all their efforts to merely hurling their attenuated bodies on the two men as though they wished to capture them alive.
Finally, however, the nature of the battle changed. The tallest of the attackers opened his tiny mouth and piped a signal. The ring of weaving tall bodies surrounding the two opened and became a U. The creatures in the curve of the U raised their shock-tubes and, with none of their own kind behind the victims to share in its discharge, released whatever power it was that lurked in them.
The shock was terrific. Without the glass and metal of the ship to protect them, out in the open and defenceless, Brand and Dex got some indication of its real power.
Writhing and twitching, feeling as though pierced by millions of red hot needles, they went down. A swarm of pipe-like bodies smothered them, and the fight was over.
The Coming of Greca The numbing shock from the tubes left the Earthmen's bodies almost paralyzed for a time; but their brains were unfogged enough for them to observe only too clearly all that went on from the point of their capture.
They were bound hand and foot. At a piping cry from the leader, several of the gangling figures picked them up in reedy arms and began to walk across the square, away from the ship. Brand noticed that his bearers' arms trembled with his weight: and sensed the flabbiness of the substance that took the place in them of good solid muscle. Physically these things were soft and ineffectual indeed. They had only the ominous tubes with which to fight.
The eery procession, with the bound Earthmen carried in the lead, wound toward a great building fringing the square. In through the high arched entrance of this building they went, and up a sloping incline to its tower-top. Here, in a huge bare room, the two were unceremoniously dumped to the floor.
While three of the things stood guard with the mysterious tubes, another unbound them. A whole shower of high pitched, piping syllables was hurled at them, speech which sounded threatening and contemptuous but was otherwise, of course, entirely unintelligible, and then the creatures withdrew. The heavy metal door was slammed shut, and they were alone.
Brand drew a long breath, and began to feel himself all over for broken bones. He found none; he was still nerve-wracked from that last terrific shock, but otherwise whole and well.
"Are you hurt, Dex?" he asked solicitously.
"I guess not," replied Dex, getting uncertainly to his feet. "And I'm wondering why. It seems to me the brutes were uncommonly considerate of us--and I'm betting the reason is one we won't like!"
Brand shrugged. "I guess we'll find out their intentions soon enough. Let's see what our surroundings look like."
They walked to the nearest window-aperture, and gazed out on a startling and marvelous scene.
Beneath their high tower window, extending as far as the eye could reach, lay the city, lit by the reddish glare of the peculiar metal with which its streets were paved. For the most part the metropolis consisted of perfectly square buildings pierced by many windows to indicate that each housed a large number of inmates. But here and there grotesque turrets lanced the sky, and symbolic domes arched above the surrounding flat metal roofs.
One building in particular they noticed. This was an enormous structure in the shape of a half-globe that reared its spherical height less than an eighth of a mile from the building they were in. It was situated off to their right at the foot of a vast, high-walled enclosure whose near end seemed to be formed by the right wall of their prison. They could only see it by leaning far out of the window; and it would not have come to their attention at all had they not heard it first--or, rather, heard the sound of something within it: for from it came a curious whining hum that never varied in intensity, something like the hum of a gigantic dynamo, only greater and of a more penetrating pitch.
"Sounds as though it might be some sort of central power station," said Brand. "But what could it supply power for?"
"Give it up," said Dex. "For their damned shock-tubes, perhaps, among other things--"
He broke off abruptly as a sound of sliding bolts came from the doorway. The two men whirled around to face the door, their fists doubling instinctively against whatever new danger might threaten them.
The door was opened and two of their ugly, towering enemies came in, their tubes held conspicuously before them. Behind came another figure; and at sight of this one, so plainly not of the race of Jupiter, the Earthmen gasped with wonder.
They saw a girl who might have come from Earth, save that she was taller than most Earth women--of a regal height that reached only an inch or two below Brand's own six foot one. She was beautifully formed, and had wavy dark hair and clear light blue eyes. A sort of sandal covered each small bare foot; and a gauzy tunic, reaching from above the knee to the shoulder, only half shielded her lovely figure.
She was bearing a metal container in which was a mess of stuff evidently intended as food. The guards halted and stepped aside to let her pass into the room. Then they backed out, constantly keeping Dex and Brand covered with the tubes, and closed and barred the door.
The girl smiled graciously at the admiration in the eyes of both the men--a message needing no inter-planetary interpretation. She advanced, and held the metal container toward them.
"Eat," she said softly. "It is good food, and life giving."
For an instant Brand was dumbfounded. For here was language he could understand--which was incredible on this far-flung globe. Then he suddenly comprehended why her sentences were so intelligible.
She was versed in mental telepathy. And versed to a high degree! He'd had some experience with telepathy on Venus; but theirs was a crude thought-speech compared to the fluency possessed by the beautiful girl before him.
"Who are you?" he asked wonderingly.
"I am Greca"--it was very hard to grasp names or abstract terms--"of the fourth satellite."
"Then you are not of these monsters of Jupiter?"
"Oh, no! I am their captive, as are all my people. We are but slaves of the tall ones."
Brand glanced at Dex. "Here's a chance to get some information, perhaps," he murmured.
Dex nodded; but meanwhile the girl had caught his thought. She smiled--a tragic, wistful smile.
"I shall be happy to tell you anything in my power to tell," she informed him. "But you must be quick. I can only remain with you a little while."
She sat down on the floor with them--the few bench-like things obviously used by the tall creatures as chairs were too high for them--and with the informality of adversity the three captives began to talk. Swiftly Brand got a little knowledge of Greca's position on Jupiter, and of the racial history that led up to it.
Four of the nine satellites of Jupiter were now the home of living beings. But two only, at the dawn of history as Greca knew it, had been originally inhabited. These were the fourth and the second.
On the fourth there dwelt a race, "like me," as Greca put it--a kindly, gentle people content to live and let live.
On the second had been a race of immensely tall, but attenuated and physically feeble things with great heads and huge dull eyes and characters distinguished mainly for cold-blooded savagery.
The inhabitants of the fourth satellite had remained in ignorance of the monsters on the second till one day "many, many ages ago," a fleet of clumsy ships appeared on the fourth satellite. From the ships had poured thousands of pipe-like creatures, armed with horrible rods of metal that killed instantly and without a sound. The things, it seemed, had crowded over the limits of their own globe, and had been forced to find more territory.
They had made captive the entire population of the satellite. Then--for like all dangerous vermin they multiplied rapidly--they had overflowed to the first and fifth satellites--the others were uninhabitable--and finally to the dangerous surface of Jupiter itself. Everywhere they had gone, they had taken droves of Greca's people to be their slaves, "and the source of their food," added Greca, with a shudder; a statement that was at the moment unintelligible to the two men.
Brand stared sympathetically at her. "They treat them very badly?" he asked gently.
"Terribly! Terribly!" said Greca, shuddering again.
"But you seem quite privileged," he could not help saying.
She shook her dainty head pathetically. "I am of high rank among my people. I am a priestess of our religion, which is the religion of The Great White One who rules all the sky everywhere. The Rogans" (it was the best translation Brand could make of her mental term for the slimy tall things that held them captive) "--the Rogans hold my fate over the heads of my race. Should they rebel, I would be thrown to the monster in the pen. Of course the Rogans could crush any revolt with their terrible tubes, but they do not want to kill their slaves if they can help it. They find it more effective to hold their priestesses in hostage."
Brand turned from personal history to more vital subjects.
"Why," he asked Greca, "are the shining red squares of metal laid everywhere over this empire of the Rogans?"
"To make things light," was the reply. "When the Rogans first came to this mighty sphere, they could hardly move. Things are so heavy here, somehow. So their first thought was to drive my enslaved people to the casting and laying of the metal squares and the metal beams that connect them, in order to make things weigh less."
"But how do the plates function?"
Greca did not know this, save vaguely. She tried to express her little knowledge of the scientific achievements of the savage Rogans. After some moments Brand turned to Dex and said: "As near as I can get it, the Rogans, by this peculiar red metal alloy, manage to trap and divert the permanent lines of force, the magnetic field, of Jupiter itself. So the whole red spot is highly magnetized, which somehow upsets natural gravitational attraction. I suppose it is responsible for the discoloration of the ground, too."
He turned to question the girl further about this, but she had got nervously to her feet already.
"I'll be taken away soon," she said. "I was brought in here only to urge you to eat the food. I must be interpreter, since the Rogans speak not with the mind, and I know their hateful tongue."
"Why are they so anxious for us to eat?" demanded Dex with an uneasy frown.
"So you will be strong, and endure for a long time the--the ordeal they have in store for you," faltered the girl at last. "They intend to force from you the secret of the power that drove your ship here, so they too may have command of space."
"But I don't understand," frowned Brand. "They must already have a means of space navigation. They came here to Jupiter from the satellites."
"Their vessels are crude, clumsy things. The journey from the nearest satellite is the limit of their flying range. They have nothing like your wonderful little ships, and they want to know how to build and power them."
She gazed sorrowfully at them and went on: "You see, yours is the fourth space ship to visit their kingdom; and that makes them fearful because it shows they are vulnerable to invasion. They want to stop that by invading your planet first. Besides their fear, there is their greed. Their looking-tubes reveal that yours is a fruitful and lovely sphere, and they are insatiable in their lust for new territories. Thus they plan to go to your planet as soon as they are able, and kill or enslave all the people there as they have killed and enslaved my race."
"They'll have a job on their hands trying to do that!" declared Dex stoutly.
But Brand paled. "They can do it!" he snapped. "Look at those death-tubes of theirs. We have no arms to compete with that." He turned to Greca. "So the Rogans plan to force the secret of our motors from us by torture?"
She nodded, and caught his hand in hers.
"Yes. They will do with you as they did with the six who came before you--and who died before surrendering the secret."
"So! We know now what happened to Journeyman and the others!" burst out Dex. "I'll see 'em in hell before I'll talk!"
"And me," nodded Brand. "But that doesn't cure the situation. As long as ships disappear in this red inferno, so long will the Old Man keep sending others to find out what's wrong. The Rogans will capture them as easily as they captured us. And eventually someone will happen along who'll weaken under torture. Then--"
He stopped. A dread vision filled his mind of Earth depopulated by the feebly ferocious Rogans, of rank on rank of Earth's vast armies falling in stricken rows at the shock of the Rogans' tubes.
Greca caught the vision. She nodded. "Yes, that is what would happen if they found ways of reaching your globe."
"But, God, Brand, we can't allow that!" cried Dex. "We've got to find a way to spike the guns of these walking gas-pipes, somehow!"
Brand sighed heavily. "We are two against hundreds of thousands. We are bare-handed, and the Rogans have those damned tubes. Anyway, we are on the verge of death at this very moment. What under heaven can we do to spike their guns?"
He was silent a moment: and in the silence the steady hum from the domed building outside came to his ears.
"What's in that big, round topped building, Greca?" he asked quietly.
"I do not know, exactly," replied the girl. "There is some sort of machinery in it, and to it go connecting beams from all the square metal plates everywhere. That is all I know."
Brand started to question her further, but her time was up. The two guards poked their loathsome pumpkin heads in the doorway and contemptuously beckoned her out. She answered resignedly, in the piping Rogan tongue, and went with them. But she turned to wave shyly, commiseratingly at the two men; and the expression in her clear blue eyes as they rested on Brand made his heart contract and then leap on with a mighty bound.
"We have in ally in her," murmured Brand. "Though God only knows if that will mean anything to us...."
In the Tower "What I can't figure out," said Dex, striding up and down the big bare room, "is why we're needed to tell them about the atomic motor. They've got our ship, and three others besides. I should think they could learn about the motor just by taking it apart and studying it."
Brand grinned mirthlessly, recalling the three years of intensive study it had taken him to learn the refinements of atomic motive power. "If you'd ever qualified as a space navigator, Dex, you'd know better. The Rogans are an advanced race; their control of polar magnetism and the marvelously high-powered telescopes Greca mentions prove that; but I doubt if they could ever analyze that atomic motor with no hint as to how it works."
Silence descended on them again, in which each was lost in his own thoughts.