Page:Weird Tales volume 30 number 01.djvu/57

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Century men used morphine and—what was it?—cocaine—to allay pain and excite pleasurable sensations. But they were drugs, and harmful. One drop of elysia will give a man days of almost unendurable ecstasy—and the feeling will last for years, wearing off only very gradually. And a larger dose will kill." He slapped the belt, chuckling. "It's lucky I'd collected from most of the farms before you intervened, Kenworth."

Arn said, "We're near the Twilight Zone now. The——" He broke off, snarled a lurid Martian oath. "Th'gadda! A ship—two miles off! Coming this way!"

Kenworth sat up hastily. The Martian moved closer, his ray-tube ready. The octan tried to climb up Vakko's leg, but he kicked it away impatiently.

The Raider went to the controls. He touched a button, and the televisor screen lit up, showing the outline of a ship, torpedo-shaped, bearing the insignia of the Interplanetary Patrol—three circles, intertwined.

"Interference!" the Raider said quietly. "Blanket their signals."

Arn growled assent. On the edges of the screen a flickering nimbus of pale light grew, darting and writhing inward, oddly reminiscent of the sun's corona. Kenworth knew that the Patrol ship could not now send a message for aid. He prayed that such a message had already been sent.

Thona touched his arm. He turned to her.

"I thought—hostages——" she whispered, her mouth close to his ear.

"Maybe later," he murmured in response. "Right now he wants to make his getaway. We're being kept only as a last resort. He must be pretty sure of himself."

The Raider's ears were preternaturally quick. Without turning, he said in his flat voice, "I am. Quite sure. Watch the screen, and learn how spacemen fight!"

3. Battle—and Escape

The conflict began. Strange air battle of the Twenty-third Century! Soundless struggle of deadly rays guided by trained, quick-thinking minds! As Kenworth watched the swift, deft movements of the Raider and his lieutenant, he began to understand the reasons for the space-pirate's reputation. For the Raider was playing with the Patrol ship, playing with it so deftly that the attacker did not realize its own impotence. And Kenworth knew that the ships of the Interplanetary Patrol were not manned by fools—no! To command a Patrol ship was a high honor—and one not easily gained. Yet the diabolical cunning of the Raider had the Patrol ship at his mercy.

The flickering rays still nimbused the screen, dimming and flashing out again as the clashing rays of the two ships flared—invisible rays of paralysis and death! The heavy armor that plated the ships could resist a certain amount of raying, but if a ship remained in the path of a beam for more than a few seconds, the ray would penetrate the armor and reduce the crew to a state of helpless paralysis. Kenworth saw that the Patrol ship was not using the death-rays, no doubt because the Patrol Commander knew or suspected the existence of the Raider's hostages. And the Raider, too, was using his rays at half-strength only. Kenworth, an expert at space piloting, cursed under his breath as he watched the Raider send his craft through a breath-taking series of whirls and dives. He realized that when the Raider decided to strike, he could almost instantly ray the Patrol ship out of existence.

But why was he delaying? What was