Cosmos (serial novel)/Chapter 15

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Chapter 15 – The Horde of Elo Hava by L. A. Eshbach
2232307Cosmos — Chapter 15 – The Horde of Elo HavaL. A. Eshbach

Motionless, Fo-Peta floated above the screenophotoscope, his middle feeler fixed tensely on its blank white surface. His single eye stared unwinkingly and the jell of the Etranian revolutionist was black with gloom.

“By Elo Hava,” he muttered, “I like this not at all.”

Curiously Kama-Loo looked up from the controls of the space ship. “What is troubling you, Fo-Peta? We are on our way to the battle front, following the course outlined by Dos-Tev – and thus far I have seen nothing alarming.”

Fo-Peta’s feelers twitched impatiently. “True. But something is amiss on Narlone – must be! Zeera has been communicating with me at a certain time every day since we left. An hour ago was the set time – yet I heard no word – and I know nothing save violent interference could prevent her calling me.” His jell showed the red of anguish. “Why didn’t I bring her with me!”

“Your fears are baseless, I feel sure,” said Kama-Loo reassuringly. “What could have happened? With the weapons you found in the Hadean dimensional car, and those you learned about from Mea-Quin, you wrested the satellites of Ern from the Tyrants of Hade; you exiled the Pross Lords to the Ethor regions; you place the toilers in control of every city, even on Ern itself. Peace had come to our worlds, and I know of nothing that could disturb that peace.”

“Yet something is wrong,” Fo-Peta insisted stubbornly, “or Zeera would have called.”

With a vicious motion of his teeba, the Efranian propelled himself thru the metallic vapors of the control room to the magna slate whose dull surface could reproduce photographic pictures of objects in nearby space. Carefully adjusting the lenses, Fo-Peta caught the image of Ern, a tiny sphere of light encircled by what appeared to be a flattened teeba band of polished lirium. Ern, and Narlone – and Zeera – lay far behind them; and a great distance ahead in the blackness of space was the gathering place of the war fleets of the System.

Turning the lenses fretfully, he picked up the wedge of his five sister ships trailing his own vessel, the Zeera. Spheres, they were, each bearing a skilled crew from one of the satellites, virs chosen for their intelligence, dependability, and bravery.

Idly Fo-Peta thought of the other races of the System, those queer forms of life he had seen in the crater on Awn. How were they faring? The grotesque monstrosities from Darth – had they succeeded in subjugating their intelligent machines? Had they—

“Fo-Peta! Oh – Fo-Peta!” Zeera’s voice!

The Efranian spun toward the screenophotoscope with a convulsive twist of his teeba – and suddenly blue fire of dread flared in his jell. His beloved Zeera was framed in the reflector, her feelers quivering with excitement, and her jell tinged the hue of fear.

“Fo-Peta, the Pross Lords – they have rebelled, and are sweeping every thing before them. Pross Mere-Mer is their leader. He escaped—“ Her words died in a gasp; and Fo-Peta saw the bulky form of Pross Mere-Mer himself flashing toward her, into the focus of the screen. A glimpse of the Pross Lord’s pulsing feelers greedily encircling Zeera – and the image vanished. Something had broken contact.

Madly Fo-Peta flung himself upon the communicator controls, wildly spun them from cycle to cycle. His jell changed color constantly as frantic emotions swayed him. He – he must know what was happening to Zeera! But the white rectangle remained an unresponsive blank.

Furiously he whirled on Kama-Loo. “Back – back to Narlone! The Pross Lords think to strike while I am away – but they’ll find this fleet and its weapons ample protection for the workers! And Zeera—“ The words choked in his speaking vent.

Kama-Loo’s jell colored affirmatively, and he turned toward the ship’s controls. “I’ll tell the other pilots.” Tho at one time Kama-Loo had been Pross Mere-Mer’s chief technical advisor, his interests were now entirely with Fo-Peta. Deftly his feelers made the necessary connections; and with a few hasty words he told what they had seen, what the virgo had said.

Rapidly then the Narlonian scientist computed the course back to Ern and her satellites, and flashed it thru the ether to the other ships. At a signal from Kama-Loo every craft would cut power – check – turn – and roar back over the way they had come.

Impatiently Fo-Peta watched the scientist, his jell tinted with savage helplessness. His middle feeler twisted and squirmed aimlessly, and his teeba sent him here and there with nervous little motions. Abruptly, while Kama-Loo awaited word of readiness from the other pilots, he flung himself to the screenophotoscope again and spun the communicator controls.

Blank whiteness answered him – and then something nebulous appeared – and he fell back, spouting through his gills with amazement.

A point of insupportable brilliance blazed in the heart of the screen – slowly it grew like a devouring flame, till the rectangle pulsed with blinding light. A momentary pause, and in the midst of the radiant square flashed a being stranger far than any the Efranian had ever seen on the satellites of Ern.

An enormous central jell of arrogant green, radiating wisdom and the consciousness of wisdom, power and the consciousness of power in an awesome degree. Out from that jell projected literally thousands of slender tendrils, somewhat resembling the feelers of a Narlonian, but far less bulky and thrice as long. Many of the tendrils bore eyes in their tips; others, organs of hearing; still others, sense organs whose use could be guessed. But strangest of all was the absence of a teeba. The creature was suspended in the midst of the metallic vapours, yet without apparent means of support.

Now a speaking vent opened and the monstrosity spoke – a voice filled with haughty disdain.

“Turn back, Efranian! It is not my will that the satellites of Ern send a fleet to this insane flight in space. Let the other worlds do what they will – you return! Elo Hava has spoken!”

Slowly the image faded, the unnatural brilliance of the screen lingering a moment – then it was gone.

Dazedly the Efranian stared at Kama-Loo. The scientist’s eye was fixed in wonder on his leader, his jell hueing mute incredulity.

“Elo Hava!” the Efranian gasped finally. “Can it be?” Vague memories of early religious teachings were struggling thru barriers of skepticism. Elo Hava! Could it be the god?

Kama-Loo answered slowly. “Legend tells us that Elo Hava is a being strangely formed, of marvelous wisdom and power – and – without a teeba!” His feelers gestured uncertainly. “Who knows – perhaps it is the god. We had better return.”

“Return?” The Etranian’s jell tinted with sudden rebellion. “Why should we obey the commands of this creature, even tho he be—“ He stopped short. Sight of the strange being had driven thought of Zeera from his mind. He must go back to free her from the clutches of Pross Mere-Mer – yet he knew instinctively that he should not obey the commands of this self-styled Elo Hava. He hesitated in indecision.

The astronomer’s feelers gestured sympathetically, the uncertainty vanishing from his manner. He too knew somehow the stranger’s command should not be obeyed. “The other crafts are awaiting our signal. And we have just received a command. You must decide which to assist – Zeera and the workers of the satellites, or the countless myriads of the System. I would not try to influence your decision – but a true Narlonian considers the interests of the largest number.”

Fo-Peta masked his jell with a wall of gray, striving vainly to conceal the agony the decision cost him. “I am an Efranian – but I do not need the precepts of Narlone to guide me. We go on!”

Kama-Loo’s feelers colored with solemn approval as he floated to the controls. Long before, he had received word from the other pilots. They were ready. Quickly the scientist issued new orders – orders that were obeyed without question – full speed ahead! Deftly he set his own controls, and waited.

And nothing happened!

Incredulously Kama-Loo checked over his instruments. They were in perfect order; the Zeera should be speeding on thru space at full acceleration. But instead, they were traveling only at the rate of their momentum. Interference of Elo Hava!

Then abruptly, as tho a giant tentacle had leaped out of space to wrap itself about the craft, the space ship stopped short. With vicious, stunning force the two were flung thru the metallic vapors to crash against the metal wall of the control room. Down they slumped, their feelers limp, and their jells shrouded with the dull brown of unconsciousness.

Reason returned slowly to the Efranian. His feelers began to stir feebly, and he spouted gaspingly through the gills. Far distant, in the dim vistas of imagination he seemed to hear a voice. Zeera’s voice, calling him. Weakly his middle feeler circled about, his eye searching for the voice’s source. Now he heard it again – and he knew it was no chimera. Zeera!

With spasmodic impulses of his teeba he floated erect, his gaze turning mechanically toward the screenophotoscope. There she was, her jell colored with apprehension and uncertainty, her speaking vent quivering, and her words coming in a strained rush.

“Fo-Peta! At last you are awake! Quick – give me your position in space. I – I must have it – or – or—“ She left the sentence unfinished. “Never mind; just give me your position. I’ll explain later.”

Their position in space – he couldn’t give it accurately – not without considerable time to check his figures. Frantically he gazed at Kama-Loo. The astronomer could have the information in a moment… And he was coming to his senses even now!

In a flash Fo-Peta hovered above him, shaking him roughly with the tentacle projecting from his middle jell. Groggily Kama-Loo thrust himself erect, staring in wonder at the Efranian.

“Quick, Kama-Loo – Zeera wants our position in space! She’s free – and must have it at once.”

Uncertainly, the astronomer floated toward the space charts. “Our position in space,” he muttered. “Our position in space.” Then as the full import of Fo-Peta’s words dissipated the lingering fog-wisps of unconsciousness, he sprang into quick motion. A glance at the charts – hurried calculations – and instant to check them – and he darted to the transmitter. Crisply he gave the necessary figures, Zeera repeating them – then the screenophotoscope blanked.

Impatiently the two waited, conjecturing wildly about what would happen. The Efranian’s mind was awhirl with wonder. Zeera, a captive of Pross Mere-Mer – now free – and requiring their position in space! Could she somehow have gained possession of a dimensional car? Or was there some connection between her freedom and the strange being who called himself Elo Hava? Perhaps he’s know soon – he hoped so.

Now calls were coming from the virs in the lower quarters of the craft. Just recovering consciousness, they looked to their leaders for an explanation of the jarring halt in midspace. At a gesture from Fo-Peta, Kama-Loo told briefly what he knew, commanding them to remain at their posts and await orders for speedy action should an emergency arise.

Slow, monotonous minutes of waiting followed – steadily the tension increased, till the very metallic vapors within the Zeera seemed to be alive with nervous energy.

Then suddenly came another sound from the screenophotoscope. With middle feeler extended rigidly, Fo-Peta watched and listened. A repetition of the sound, vague, meaningless – then it crystallized into orderly speech; and simultaneously there appeared the image of a strange creature with a thick middle body and four awkward jointed appendages – a native of Darth! Hoarse, guttural words issued from his speaking vent. To Fo-Peta they were meaningless, but Kama-Loo, who had studied the language of every race he had met on Awn, understood readily. Rapidly he translated.

“Alan Martin, Commander, Space Fleet of Earth, calling fleet of Saturn. Check flight at once. The course you are following is a death trap, laid by the Wrongness of Space. He is in control on Luna and is impersonating Dos-Tev. Await correct course.” A pause, and the message was repeated.

Fo-Peta’s middle feeler twisted in a grimace of mockery. “He tells us to check our flight – but that has already been attended to quite efficiently. The Wrongness of Space is in control on Awn, eh? Well, another Wrongness has taken charge here.” His jell tinged gloomily. “I sometimes wish I were back in the Ethor regions – dying of attrition. It would be better than this confusion.”

Kama-Loo’s feelers twitched in negation. “Don’t be foolish, Fo-Peta. All this must end some time – and you and Zeera can spend the rest of your lives in a Narlonian paradise, absorbing cana and tara.” His tones belied the confidence his words expressed. Musingly he added: “I wonder what Zeera plans—“ He stopped short with a sudden gasp thru the gills. “Look!”

The Efranian spun around, his eye pointing in the direction the scientist indicated; and abruptly his jell and feelers combined in expressing incredulous amazement. For there on the screenophotoscope where but a moment before had been the image of the creature from Darth, was now the interior of a strange space ship, a craft so large that the lone figure floating above an immense control board seemed almost microscopic by contrast. Now that figure spoke, and the listeners heard the voice of Zeera, jubilant, alive with hope.

“Fo-Peta, I’ve done it! I’ve brought this monstrous ship thru space to you! Come out – your entire fleet is within my little vessel.”

Startled, Kama-Loo switched on the magna plate and turned its lenses in a giant circle about the Zeera. On every side were the gently curving walls of a space ship, so vast that it stunned the imagination. The virgo spoke truth.

At Fo-Peta’s orders, Kama-Loo set the controls to descend. The strange force still held them powerless. His jell tinting with annoyance, the Efranian ordered his crew, and the commanders and crews of the other vessels to stay at their posts while he and Kama-Loo descended to the floor of the giant craft. Opening a vision plate, they drifted out.

Down, down they floated thru somewhat rarefied metallic vapors, down to the side of Zeera. An instant’s hesitation; then Fo-Peta’s feelers twined about those of the virgo in a fiercely affectionate embrace. Old Kama-Loo turned his eye toward the huge bank of controls.

He had looked away thru politeness, but his interest became genuine in an instant. Back and forth he drifted above the apparatus, studying the device in the main like that in the dimension cars of Hade, but indicative of far higher intelligence and of far greater skill in things mechanical.

Zeera began talking, eagerly, and disjointedly, virgo-like, glad for an audience.

“We are not safe here, Fo-Peta! Elo Hava – if it is the god – will follow. The Pross Lords are back on Narlone, but Elo Hava and his horde – that is another matter.”

Gently Fo-Peta remonstrated. “Zeera, you forget that we know nothing of what has happened. Tell us all about it, starting with the revolt of the Pross Lords.”

Rapidly the, the virgo sketched the events which had led up to her arrival in space in the gigantic dimensional car.

The rebellion of the Pross Lords had taken the leaders of the Toilers completely by surprise. Confident in the security of their newfound freedom, the guards had grown careless. And in the noisome depths of the Ethor regions, where vigilance seemed unnecessary, Pross Mere-Mer and a few of his former associates had planned and executed the revolution.

Somehow – Zeera did not know the method employed – they had stored concentrated Ethor in the tara containers, and with it, had spread attrition – the hideous nager – over vast areas of Narlone. The condensed virus, volatilizing on contact with the metallic vapors, had been impossible to combat. Only in flight lay safety. With ease the Pross Lords had seized their former power.

In the Imperial Palace of Narlone, Zeera, guarded by a select company of soldiers, had viewed the onslaught of the rebels with growing alarm. Knowing that Fo-Peta and his space ships were too far away to be of assistance, she had not called him until the tide of battle had definitely gone against the defenders; and at that moment Pross Mere-Mer had forced his way past her guards to capture her.

Leaving his acolytes in control of the palace, Pross Mere-Mer had borne her triumphantly to Fo-Peta’s dimensional car, telling her of his plans. Virs were already loading the craft with casks of concentrated Ethor, and an astronomer sat within the control room, rapidly computing the position of Ern and her other satellites. The vessel was almost ready for its flight to these worlds to urge them to follow Narlone’s lead.

Then abruptly out of nowhere had appeared an incredible spherical ship, a monstrous thing like a miniature world of polished metal. And from it had come the giant figure of the being who called himself Elo Hava, followed by a horde of monstrosities like creations of some demented demon. At thought of them, Zeera’s jell tinged with utter revulsion.

Short, thin feelers, bloated and blotched with the hideous nagar – to the virgo that was what they seemed to be. But feelers that were detached from the parent body, that floated and writhed thru the air of their own volition, feelers ringed with repulsive swellings, that tapered to blunt points at both ends. Twisting and squirming about Elo Hava, the hideous host had sped toward the dimensional car with ferocious speed.

What followed was a blur of confusion to Zeera. At sight of this new menace, Pross Mere-Mer had broken a spell of momentary paralysis and had fled, dragging Zeera in the grasp of a crushing feeler. A backward glance of the virgo had revealed the monsters completely covering the dimensional car, a strange blue luminescence emanating from them.

And the craft with its occupants had melted beneath them, shrinking rapidly to vanish into nothingness!

That was all that Zeera had seen, for at that instant Elo Hava had reached them. In a thought he had seized them and had flashed with them into his giant craft. Dropping them with stunning force, he had darted back to lead his horde. Zeera had seen him speed away as blackness closed over her senses.

When consciousness returned to the virgo, she had seen the Pross Lord lying collapsed at her side. After gaining full possession of her faculties, and examining portions of the craft, she had realized that in many ways it was similar in construction to the dimensional cars of Ern. Conceiving the idea of fleeing to Fo-Peta in space, she had called the Efranian on the modified screenophotoscope in the vessel. After gaining their position from Kama-Loo, she had constructed a chart and had made the journey.

At the conclusion of Zeera’s narrative, Fo-Peta, more the lover now than the logical thinker, began commenting solicitously upon her danger. It remained for Kama-Loo to see the salient fact her story revealed.

“Why – then Pross Mere-Mer is right here with us!”

An instant of startled silence, while their eyes searched everywhere for the Pross Lord – then from a deep niche in the huge apparatus beneath them came the words:

“Yes, he’s here and he has a Hadean disk pointed right at you! Do not move!” Out of a maze of giant instruments floated Pross Mere-Mer, his jell colored vindictively, his slimy purple eye aglow with satisfaction. “Again Pross Mere-Mer is in control!”

Fo-Peta seemed stunned. The virgo stared at the tall Narlonian fearfully. Only Kama-Loo was unperturbed.

“You may be in control – but I know you won’t harm me, because you can’t get along without my knowledge. Then too, you forget Elo Hava.” The keen eye of the astronomer had seen something that had escaped the others; and now he pointed coolly toward a wide, transparent plate above them. Framed beyond the opening were ten of the dimensional cars Fo-Peta had constructed after he had seized control of Narlone. And from nine of them were pouring the horde of Elo Hava.

Vomiting forth in the vacuum of space, where there were no metallic vapors – unharmed!

The tenth hovered motionless for a moment, apart from the rest – then it vanished – and reappeared instantly within the giant space sphere!

And from it floated Elo Hava!

Pross Mere-Mer collapsed as though his jell were oozing from a hole in his skin. His feelers turned gray with fear. The others were more than uneasy; but the Pross Lord was a pitiable sight. It was as tho he had a premonition of what was to come.

Down flashed the giant creature, myriad feelers outstretched, down toward the four watchers. Pross Mere-Mer spouted loudly thru the gills; and feverishly he flung up the feeler bearing the weapon with which he had threatened the others. A wide beam of light leaped from the disk, wavering uncertainly – and Elo Hava drew back in surprise, a number of feelers falling to the floor, where they lay, writhing feebly.

An instant – and the giant hurled himself ferociously at the Pross Lord, ignoring the searing beam, countless coils wrapping themselves about his quivering jell. With the fury of utter despair, Pross Mere-Mer fought as he had never fought before, bringing every ounce of his great strength into play. Around and around they reeled in an uneven struggle that could have but one conclusion.

The instant the fight began, Fo-Peta shook off his numbing lethargy and leaped into action. A twist of his teeba shot him over to the screenophotoscope. It required no adjusting; it was still set on the cycle of the Zeera. In the space ship the men caught the message, relayed it to the others.

“If you get a chance, kill this monster. Use everything we have. And if those things outside get in, stop them! They’re mighty dangerous. If they surround a ship they can dissolve it – destroy it completely. Zeera’s coming up – take her in.” The Efranian broke contact and whirled toward the virgo. “Up to the ship – quick! You’ll be safer there.” His jell colored impatiently as she gestured denial. “You must! Here you will just interfere with us.”

Reluctantly Zeera darted upward, her eye on the space ships. And at that instant Elo Hava released a thing of ruptured feelers and punctured, lacerated jell – Pross Mere-Mer – dead.

Resolutely Fo-Peta faced the giant. He could not hope to defeat him – but he must try. In a fleeting instant his mind noted many things – Kama-Loo darting toward what appeared to be a bank of weapons controls… Zeera almost half way to the ships and rising rapidly… The monster horde gathering about the craft’s hull, to the left of the vision plate above them… But dominating all else was the approaching figure of Elo Hava.

Now he had reached him – and had passed, ignoring him utterly! Above a strange device he stopped – deftly depressed a lever – and high above, directly opposite the assembled horde, a wide, circular portal slid open. In swarmed the monsters. And at the same instant Kama-Loo did something with the unfamiliar instruments.

A sharp, penetrating click – and a tracery of finest wires sprang into relief over every square inch of the sphere’s walls. Radiance that sent a tingling shock thru all of them – and that gripped them in a paralyzing clutch that could not be broken! Kama-Loo could not move the feeler that had done the damage; Elo Hava, turning away after closing the portal into space, grew suddenly rigid; and Fo-Peta, watching the horde above him, could only stare fixedly upward. All were helpless.

The Efranian’s staring eye saw Zeera spurt suddenly toward the space fleet, fleeing from the onrushing horde; saw her reach it and vanish among the vessels – and he knew that she was comparatively safe. Then he saw the writhing things swarm over every craft, cloaking them with pulsing curtains of azure fire – the radiance which had destroyed the dimensional car.

Now a faint hum came from the space ships – a crackling whir. Out thru minute vents in the walls of the vessels stabbed pointed needle rays of disintegrating force, beams that disrupted matter at a touch. But the monsters, as tho guided by some unknown sense, instantly coiled around the openings, only a few casualties in their ranks. And the brilliance of their glowing doubled.

Fo-Peta knew instinctively that the fleet of the satellites must do something at once or it would be too late. And – Zeera was in one of the vessels.

Suddenly the ships began to turn, accelerating with every revolution, whirling madly while roaring jets of rocket flame spun about them. They had broken the imprisoning clutch of Elo Hava’s powers, had loosed the full strength of all their rocket jets at the same instant to blast their tormentors with searing flame. And the monster horde fell hastily away from the space ships, some drifting about as lifeless, fire-charred hulks.

At a distance they paused, seeming to contemplate the fleet with unseen eyes. Evidently they had expected no real resistance. Moments of inactivity – then with their swollen lengths arched in rough half-circles, they poured torrents of crackling energy into the ships – elusive targets now – and were met by plunging spherical battering rams, as the vessels darted wildly about, crashing into them with devastating effect.

Beside him Fo-Peta heard a snarling grunt. Elo Hava! As tho it were a signal, his horde abruptly changed their tactics, concentrating their forces on a single ship. Uncertainly it checked its flight – its rocket charges dying – and in a breath it was lost in a colossal deluge of coruscating light. Moment of this – and as one, the monsters flung themselves upon the crippled craft, completely enveloping it with their bodies. And it glowed – and shrank – and vanished – as had the dimensional car! All in a period incredibly brief.

To the three below came the acrid smell of consumed matter, floating sluggishly thru the metallic vapors.

And now Fo-Peta saw the Zeera stagger weakly, saw her rocket flames die down! The attackers, untangling themselves from the knot within which their victim had vanished, sensed it too, and leaped upon her eagerly. Fo-Peta spouted violently thru the gills, his teeba striving futilely to force him upward. Zeera – Zeera – was she in that vessel? He had lost sight of her among the other ships – but he thought she had entered the craft named for her. And now it was beset by the destroying horde!

Their method of attack was the same. The deluge of blasting energy – then the furious onslaught of their glowing bodies – but there the similarity ended.

At close range the four remaining space ships suddenly released the full power of their arsenal upon the shrinking ball of monsters – blasted it with the weapons of Hade and the mighty powers given them by Mea-Quin – blasted it with cascades of destruction that filled the giant ship with deafening thunder, with eye-searing radiance, with nauseating odors – energies that ripped and flayed and burned that repulsive mass into a lifeless, shrunken cinder, glowing with a faint blue light as it spun in the fiery embrace.

Stunningly, Fo-Peta realized the significance of the tragedy. The brave virs of the Zeera had sacrificed themselves in order that the monsters might be destroyed. If – if only his virgo were safe within another ship! A selfish thought, but he could not thrust it from him.

Stray beams had been crackling against the walls of the huge sphere, some coming dangerously close to the paralyzed trio below. Most of them had been deflected by the energy-wall of that wire network, but some had penetrated, to rake and etch the surface of the ship’s inner armor. Just as the space ships shut off their barrage, a slashing ray pierced the heart of the giant weapon control board – and the paralysis vanished!

At a furious roar from Elo Hava, Fo-Peta whirled, his feelers tensed for combat. The giant hovered uncertainly, his myriad tentacles glaring everywhere. His jell was black with helpless hatred. Above him the four space ships charged downward, alert for violence. To one side Kama-Loo still gripped the weapon controls. On the other, Fo-Peta. One long moment, alive with waking fury – and Elo Hava, his figure suddenly expressing vicious resignation – vanished!

Gone – nothing to mark his going!

“Gone,” Kama-Loo muttered, breaking the tension, “back to the foul dimension that spawned him.”

Fo-Peta’s jell colored with sudden satisfaction – then dulled abruptly. Zeera!

The surviving ships were close now, still radiating the heat of battle. A portal opened in the nearest, and the commander darted thru the scorching aura.

“Zeera?” Fo-Peta’s jell was apprehensively questioning as he sped toward the vir. “Zeera!”

The feelers of the other gestured regret. “I’m sorry, most Potent Fo-Peta, but her commander insisted that we sacrifice her. He—“

“Not the ship,” interrupted the Efranian impatiently. “My virgo!”

“Oh – she rests safely in my vessel. She—“ He paused, his eye following the revolutionist wonderingly as he flashed toward the open space ship as fast as his teeba could propel him. More slowly he moved after him.

Left alone with the marvelous devices of Elo Hava, Kama-Loo lost himself immediately in apparatus more wonderful and intricate than any he had ever seen. But, at length recalling the gathering of the System’s fleets and remembering the warning of the Darth leader, and his request that they await the correct course, he turned to the screenophotoscope. Adjusting the controls, he ranged thru cycle after cycle. Back and forth – until faintly from the great amplifiers came a muffled, sibilant voice – a voice bearing no remote resemblance to the coarse bellow of the Darthan.

Kama-Loo listened wonderingly. The voice spoke again – and now the scientist realized that they came from a Neptunian, a strange gaseous creature who communicated by changing the tints of his gases. This marvelous machine of Elo Hava must be translating that light into sound, as had the apparatus of Mea-Quin on Awn. Uncertainly Kama-Loo translated the message, uncertainly, for his knowledge of the language was extremely limited.

“Calling – space ships of Darth. Course seems confused, reply with correct course,” A pause, then “they do not answer – tired of game of war.”

Anxiously Kama-Loo awaited another message, but none came. Dimly in the background he heard a faint humming – then it too died, leaving silence. But it left him with the knowledge that the Neptunians were in distress, and that it was more than likely that no one else had heard their plea.

If only he knew where they were! His eyes roved over the device before him. Then he could – the thought ended in wonder, for there above the screen was the Neptunian’s position, changing every instant as they tore thru space; this mad machine somehow following their course.

His jell colored with uncertainty, Kama-Loo spun toward the ship into which Fo-Peta had vanished. Then he wheeled again, decision replacing doubt. Fo-Peta would not relish an interruption; and the astronomer’s duty was clear. Rapidly his deft feelers charted a metal map pointing to the position where the Neptunian vessel would be in two minutes – inserted it in the control table. A carefully timed pause – moments of anxious experimenting – a flood of golden light emanating from an abruptly visible spiral that completely encircled the great sphere – further manipulation of intricate devices – then blackness indescribable. A whirling vertigo that swept thru all the giant craft and those within it – dizzying disintegration – and their flight thru the fifth dimension was ended.

Mighty gravity laid clutching feelers on the astronomer, gravity exceeding even that of Ern. With laboring teeba he resisted, managing to remain afloat.

Senses clearing, ignoring his increased weight, Kama-Loo inspected the surrounding space with a powerful magna plate. Star-pointed blackness… lonely infinity… then burning crimson madness flashed before his vision. A sea of swirling clouds, lacerated by lances of red flame that lashed up from the hidden surface of a vast world like snapping whips of an angry god. Beyond its curving edge speeding gas strata rushed on tempestuously. The Red Spot of Jupiter, Kama-Loo realized in a flash.

And silhouetted against its glare, a lone space ship was hurtling in a long slanting plunge toward that awful inferno, helpless in its remorseless grip.

The astronomer watched in fascination for an instant, conscious of a feeling of awe at the tremendous spectacle he beheld; conscious too that something was sending prickling points of torment through his jell. Tearing his gaze away at length, he adjusted the range of the magna plate till the other vessel completely filled its surface, till he could see thru a port hole three motionless figures lying within the ship.

Hopefully he stared at a chart above the magna plate. The position of the vessel, changing every instant, was there. He watched for many interminable minutes, carefully calculating their speed, the rate of change. Figuring with infinite care despite the burning sensation which seemed to grow momentarily more intense, despite the burden of the increased weight which strained his teeba almost to the limit.

Now he had it! A minute to cast another map – the dimensional spiral again – vertigo of interdimensional travel – and the giant sphere of Hava materialized about the tiny space craft of Neptune! Materialized and sped with it on its downward course, drawn by the mighty gravity of Jupiter – and the greater pull of the Red Spot.

As the enormous, flaming inferno leaped up toward them, Kama-Loo, fully aware of their danger, worked with rapid, unfaltering precision. Zeera, Fo-Peta, and the other virs were struggling excitedly out of the ships now, but the astronomer ignored them. From memory he charted another map – fitted it in place – and in a dervish gyration of golden radiance the ship of Elo Hava sped instantaneously a million miles away, where the giant planet, Jupiter, was only another light in the void – where they were safe.

Kama-Loo, ever the scientist, was eagerly trying to explain to Zeera and Fo-Peta exactly what had happened. Several hours had elapsed since he had rescued the Neptunian ship; and during the interim some of the bewilderment which had followed the appearance of the strange vessel had been dispelled. Now the space fleet of Ern and the Neptunian survivor were anchored side by side along an empty section of the wall. The crews of the vessels of Ern were busy removing the effects of the battle with the monsters.

Within the smaller glassite craft two of the beings from Tridentia were striving somewhat weakly to revive the third, who now showed signs of returning consciousness.

“This Elo Hava, I believe,” the scientist was saying, “is a being from another dimension, mortal as you and I. The similarity of his dimensional car, screenophotoscope, and the like, to ours, leads me to believe that his race has discovered a means of looking from their dimension into ours. And now they have crossed the barrier between the worlds. No doubt another of their kind accomplished the same feat ages ago, and by their miraculous appearance from nowhere, started the legend of the god, Elo Hava. And this being, knowing of the legend, decided to take advantage of our superstition to make his conquest of our worlds easier.” He paused, his jell tinted with smug self-satisfaction.

“As for our friends from Neptune – there’s nothing very mysterious about what happened to them. The Neptunian fleet must not have received the warning from the Darthans – probably because of interference from the Red Spot – and naturally they were caught in the trap laid by the Wrongness of Space. I believe that Red Spot is the remains of some space-wanderer composed chiefly of some exceedingly heavy element beyond uranium – an element extraordinarily radioactive. What we see as the spot is largely light caused by the impact of the element’s radiation on Jupiter’s cloud-sheath.

“it’s easy to understand how the radiation must have affected the Neptunians. Ionizing their gases, it disrupted their entire mental and physical structure. Away from the radiations now, their vital organs are slowly reorganizing and reasserting themselves.

“We with our sensible, solid bodies, were little affected. Beyond an unpleasant burning sensation and our apparent increase in weight, we weren’t even uncomfortable. I suppose continual exposure to the short destructive radiations would result disastrously but that we need not consider.

“As for the future—“ Kama-Loo stopped short, his eye fixed rigidly on his audience. Slowly a tinge of indignation colored his jell. Fo-Peta and Zeera floated to one side, their feelers twined about each other, totally oblivious to anything but their reunion and their love. They had not heard a single word of his lucid explanation, he thought in disgust.

Mechanically he gazed at the occupants of the Neptunian ship. The older figure, Tranda, had risen and was moving feebly about on trembling tubes. And close to the glassite wall stood Steepa and Teena, their pads stroking each other caressingly, their auras united, their tubes intertwined amorously!

Sudden amusement lighted Kama-Loo’s jell. It was natural, inevitable – the love-making of these young creatures. He knew – from experience! With a gesture of resignation he turned and floated toward the screen of the screenophotoscope. It was time that they renewed their flight for the gathering place of the fleets. They could get there instantly in the dimensional sphere and could get out and fight in their own space ships – since it would be impossible to guide the dimensional craft.

Throwing on power and turning various dials, he sent his voice thru the void, calling the fleets of Darth, calling Mea-Quin and Dos-Tev, calling long on every frequency band. But tho he waited interminably, calling again and again – there was no response.

They were cut off – alone – isolated in the emptiness of space, powerless to aid in the battle against Ay-Artz, the invader from Lemnis.