AUTHOR OF: ‘THE GIRL FROM VENUS’ AND ‘THE RETURN TO VENUS’
High above the bulbous masses of the gas-plants of the Death Jungle floated the sagging bulk of an enormous balloon, its low slung basket swinging slowly along of the rotund masses of the gas-plants lurking below in deadly, swaying silence. The balloon was descending slowly, its rubber-like fabric sagging in myriad wrinkles like the surface of a punctured gas-plant. Inside the basket, a small, perfectly round sphere of purplish hue clung anxiously to the edge, protruding eye stems wavering alternately over the menacing jungle below and the faltering bag above. Long, sinuous tubes, rubber-like, and three in number, originated at the base of the purplish sphere, ending in clumsy appearing, but magnificently effective suction discs. They were fastened, now, securely to the floor of the basket, which was floored with a glistening, smooth substance that reminded one of the unhealthy skins of the terrible gas-plants below in its iridescent flow of lurid and unhealthy color. Obviously its nature was similar. From the top of the sphere, below the stemmed eyes, three smaller tubes swayed, each ending in seven tiny cup-like discs, also capable of strong suction.
Steepa, for that was the name the Neptunian carried, reached down to the floor of the basket and ripped the heavy covering from the intertwining reeds of the basket and flung it down at the jungle. The balloon spurted up for a moment and then again began its steady descent. A thick, vicious breeze was rolling sluggishly along, carrying the balloon further toward the center of the Death Jungle. It sagged with the weight of the only other object in the basket now, other than Steepa himself. A huge metal bar ending in a menacing trident of sharpness. It was tremendously heavy; Steepa could hardly lift it with all the force of his powerful suction tubes. But he flung not a glance at its shining bulk. Why did he not dispose of it and assure the passage of the jungle? Why did he thus risk his life for a piece of senseless metal?
But whatever Steepa’s reason, it was becoming evident that the risk was fast approaching its culmination in actual danger. The basket now nearly grazed the top of a huge gas-plant. Steepa’s eyes flung again toward the gas bag above. It would only last a few minutes longer. A shudder swept through the basket for a moment as it slid jerkily along the top of a gas-plant’s globular mass. Like rubber its friction was. Steepa’s body contracted in alarm, and then expanded as the basket swung free.
Suddenly Steepa flung himself upwards until only one of his nether suction tubes clung to the edge of the basket. The balloon rose a few inches and then sagged again. But Steepa had seen! Just beyond the looming bulk of the adjacent gas-plants was the walled clearing he sought, with its gas-proof glassite covering.
Quickly securing himself to the bag of the balloon itself, and grasping a firm hold on the metal trident, he severed the thongs that held the basket. It plunged on down between two gas-plants and the balloon rose to clear the remaining jungle until it hovered over the glassite of the clearing. Down through its clearness Steepa could see the openings in the ground that led to his rendezvous below, and at intervals in the clearing itself floated many purplish spheres like himself. And he was seen!
But now a new danger presented itself. The sagging bag lowered until the dangerously jutting tines of the trident swept toward the glassite roof. Steepa jerk it upward to the limit of his ability, his body expanding with the effort he put forth. Below, the purple spheres shot about in excitement, and soon many more swarmed from the ground openings.
Suddenly the glassite below his slid aside, leaving an opening large enough for the balloon to pass through. Purple spheres inside sprang upward, and long tubes fastened their suction discs to the balloon, drawing it down. It sank below the roof, and the opening closed. As the balloon touched the ground, dozens of the spheres grasped the trident tenderly and bore it to a place of safety, where a crowd soon collected about it.
Steepa himself advanced toward a brilliant red sphere, who floated near the most ornate of the ground openings, his skin coloring exultantly.
“I have it!” The triumphant message glowed from Seepa’s skin in a wave of dispersing orange. “Tranda, all magnificent, I have it!”
Tranda, he of the red coloring, swayed approval. “You are a true son of the trident!” he colored. “For this day’s act, I make you second only to myself. You shall henceforth be called Bar Seepa, the Prince!”
Seepa expanded in amazed joyfulness and then contracted in modesty. “I do not deserve such honor, all magnificent,” he hued flutteringly. “But since you so honor me, I pray that I shall not fail to do proper honor to the title. My very life is yours to command!”
Tranda colored his approval. “I shall remember that in an hour of need! But tell me, how did you secure the trident?”
Steepa plunged colorfully into an account of his daring mission.
“When I left here, all magnificent, I sent my balloon high into the gas of the upper strata, planning thus to be hidden from Deebul and his minions as I flew over the city of Tridentia. But I had reckoned without the watchfulness of that arch traitor, and before I had reached the center of the city, to make my descent in the darkness, I was surrounded by a bevy of balloons which flung upward swiftly in a great circle, and made me captive. When they had taken me to the ground—“
Tranda halted him with a touch of color. “You were taken captive? Is that all? Do you not forget some of the details?”
Steepa glossed it over with dull colors. “It was a mere nothing, all magnificent. A few of the attackers were incapacitated in the struggle, but they overwhelmed me. It was—“
“How many?” insisted Tranda.
Steepa squirmed uneasily. “Perhaps ten—“
Tranda contracted with a grimace. “I gather that you mean about thirty,” he colored. “I know your propensities for disparagement. But go on. You did magnificently.”
Steepa hastened on. “They took me then to the palace before Deebul. They threatened me, and impressed me in the dungeon. I escaped—“
Tranda halted him impatiently again. “Let me tell it,” he glowed. “You were taken before Deebul and tortured – yes, I see the burns on your tubes – do not deny it. And you would not reveal any hiding place, so they placed you in the dungeons till they should devise a torture that would make you talk. And I can imagine what you did to escape. Steepa, you are a herculean subject, but also a herculean liar. Please tell me exactly what happened. I command it.”
Steepa went on in chastened colors. “After disposing of my guards and loosing my chains, I secured a spark-gun upon the roof of the palace, one of the large ones, which was carelessly left unguarded, or almost so, and I blasted the roof openings shut to keep the guard in the building while I departed for the Temple of the Trident in a gas-plane which was also anchored to the roof. I was forced to shoot down several planes enroute but landed on the Temple, although in a slightly wrecked condition, the plane I mean. I suffered several minor bruises in the fall.”
“I see them!” colored Tranda.
“I entered the Temple and penetrated to the Chamber of the Trident. There the Trident lay, desecrated, and being misused! They were using its power to fashion glassite ships, new ships which Deebul has invented. They surely will prove a great menace to us, those that were already completed and removed from the Temple. However, those not yet finished will never be removed from the temple. I first shorted the cable of the Trident, and the power died. I was discovered then, and attacked, but I commanded the situation. I knew the secret you had told me, of the lesser trident, and I had at my command on that little balcony, a terrific weapon when I had connected it to the cable. And I devastated the workmen of Deebul and cleansed the temple as it has never been cleansed before, with the fire of the Trident! I dissolved the very glassite of the unfinished ships. And then, I brought forth the secret balloon after sealing all entrances. Loading the Trident into it, I swept up, unsuspected in the darkness with the protective coloring of the balloon, which your keen foresight provided, concealing my flight in the darkness of the city, for remember, the Trident no longer functioned!
“And so, I came back over the Death Jungle, unseen. The Trident is ours, and the regaining of your throne is but a matter of hours, and a little good fighting.”
“I should think you had enough of fighting,” Tranda’s body emanated an aura of commendatory colors. “But you are right, we have won, and to you we owe the thanks for our victory. All this is necessary to complete it is the Trident and a little more brave fighting. But come, we will make ready.”
“Wait!” colored Steepa in alarm. “What is that, coming in the sky?”
“Ships!” Tranda leaped into crimson action.
“The glassite ships of Deebul,” swore Steepa. “They have trapped us.”
“No!” blazed Tranda, “They have not. The Trident will yet flare.”
In an instant, the entire clearing was a flame of purple spheres rushing about. A great hole in the earth appeared like magic as the camouflaged surface fell inward, revealing a giant balloon, ready for ascent. Its basket was glassite, and much queer apparatus loaded it. And great spark guns protruded from it. In a moment it sprang into the air, and through the opening in the glassite roof, up to meet the oncoming ships of Deebul.
“It will be destroyed!” flamed Steepa. “It is no match for the new ships of Deebul!”
“I know it,” returned Tranda. “I but sent it out in a desperate attempted to hold them back until we can erect the Trident. Come, we have no time to lose.”
Up above, the great balloon met the ships of Deebul, and they fought madly, those brave purple spheres. Their spark guns caused great explosions in the air, and Deebul’s ships rocked. Several plunged downward to destruction and where they fell, far away, immense clouds of black gas shot skyward as the gas-plants exploded. But the rest came on and in a moment the upper gas strata with a grim, ruddy flare of fire, of explosions, of thunderous roars.
Suddenly the mark was hit. Tranda’s great fighting balloon exploded with an awesome roar and a great mushroom of smoke, carrying two of Deebul’s ships to destruction with it. And Deebul came to the attack!
But as his ships, now only twelve of them remaining, swooped down with a swiftness that put the clumsy old balloon to shame, the Trident was ready. Tranda himself laid his hand on the lever, and when he pulled it, a great sheet of lightning sprang from the points of the trident, upwards to the glassite demons of Deebul. And death played about in the sky. Suddenly Tranda was flung from his feet by a terrific explosion. One of the ships had fallen and exploded inside the clearing. Steepa was also engulfed in the wave of destruction, and he emerged, glad that he yet lived. But his skin shrank as he beheld the havoc the ship had caused. A bare dozen of his companions remained alive, and Tranda was down, wounded.
“You are hurt, all magnificent!” blazed Steepa, bending over his ruler.
“No,” Tranda’s colors were weak. “The Trident – man it – and destroy the two ships yet remaining.” He pointed upwards. “They come.”
Steepa sprang to the trident, and flung the lever. But the lightnings failed! The power line had been severed.
“It is useless,” Steepa hued. “We must flee!”
“Take the Trident,” commanded Tranda, “and leave me.”
Steepa wrenched the Trident from its position, and commanded the remaining spheres to carry it. He himself picked up his stricken ruler in his gentle suction pads, and followed immediately behind the staggering Trident carriers.
“Into the jungle!” he colored.
Above them, the two remaining ships fired down, but too late. Their victims had passed through the wall into the jungle.
Several miles further, they halted, lowered the Trident reverently to the ground, and rested.
Steepa made his ruler comfortable, and colored reassuringly.
“We are safe now. They cannot find us.”
“Yes,” returned Tranda weakly. “Thanks to your quick action. But now we must reach the final destination. I have not told you of it before, but I have, at another secret place in the Death Jungle, prepared a new kind of ship. A ship that will go higher than any before. A ship that can leave Neptune altogether. I had planned to use it only in an emergency, and we must have the Trident to power it. If we can but reach it, we will be safe. And victory will yet be ours.”
A lurid green sphere swept suddenly into view around a bulging gas-plant. Behind it came many more.
“Deebul!” flashed Seepa in alarm.
“Victory, did you say?” came the offensive color of Deebul. “Victory? Yes, but not for you. I have you in my power now.”
Steepa crouched, and he would have sprung, but Tranda’s color came strongly. “Don’t! We will not court death uselessly. They have us secure for the time. Surrender to them!”
“No!” blazed Steepa. “I will not!”
Before he could be halted, he swept forward and grasped the trident. Almost with the same motion he was beside the great bulging breast of the gas-plant, and stood poised, ready for the thrust.
“If die we must,” he colored, “we all die! I have but to release the Black Gas, and we perish. Now what say you, Deebul, of victory?”
Deebul and his minions fell back, pale and shrinking. Slowly they retreated until they were clear of the great bulk of the gas-plant. Then they halted. The situation was a deadlock. Deebul could not fire with his spark guns lest he explode the gas-plant, not could Steepa do anything but bring death to them all. One single leak would stifle the jungle for miles in strangling horror. And at that moment fate intervened.
High above, in the upper reaches of Neptune’s gaseous envelope, a thin screaming became apparent. It developed into a shriek, and then, with a flaming wake, a blazing object plunged with lightning speed from the skies, and a thunderous explosion shook the gas-plants. Where Deebul and his men had stood remained nothing but an upflung rim of soil. Miraculously the heavenly visitant had missed the gas-plants, and annihilated the menace to the Trident.
After a short moment, while the vapors cleared, Steepa lowered the Trident, and Tranda hued in awe.
“The Trident has spoken,” he declared. “And Deebul is dead!”
In the city of the Tridentia, in the highest tower of the palace, a delicately mauve colored sphere clung desolately to the barred rim of the tower window. Teena, princess of Tridentia, languishing in captivity, mourning the fall of her brother, Tranda, but at this moment her thoughts were not so much of her brother as they were of Steepa, who loved her. She thrilled as she remembered his gallant fight and escape with the Trident during the night. She wept as she remembered the horrible scene of the torture in the Chamber of Deebul, caressing mentally the burns that must still cause unutterable anguish, if he still lived. And he did live – she was sure of that, even though her captives had told her gloatingly of his fall in the Death Jungle. She had detected the deceptiveness in their color as they informed her of the fall. The liars! But she would never yield. Not a princess of the Trident. No usurper, be he the beastly Deebul, or otherwise, would have her for his wife. Teena knew that it would never be so. Rather would she puncture her skin and allow the gas to escape than mate with Deebul.
All morning she had been fearfully awaiting the return of Deebul. Teena did not want to die – not while she still knew that Steepa lived. He would come for her, and if he did not, it would only be because he was dead. And while Deebul remained away, Teena was perfectly satisfied to remain in melancholy contemplation at the window of the tower.
But now, she heard a faint, indefinable noise. A noise such as she had never before even imagined. What strange thing was happening? What was that faint vibration in the atmosphere? It was growing closer.
In curiosity, Teena pressed her mauve body against the bars and craned her lovely pink eyes heavenward. There, against the gas-strata, was outlined an awesome shape. What manner of monster was that? Long, and thin it was, shaped like no shape of Neptune she had ever seen before. And it glistened in the light that filtered through the gas-strata. It was glassite! Then, it must be no monster at all, but a creation of Deebul.
Teena gasped as the giant ship drew nearer to the city, an awesome roaring coming from the lightnings that flamed from its rear, propelling it at a terrific speed. Those lightnings could come from but one source – the Trident! Teena drooped suddenly down, her lovely eyes welling sombre waves of blue and violet. If the Trident returned, in a ship of Deebul, then Steepa no longer lived. Steepa would never give up the Trident while life remained in his regal body. Teena collapsed to the floor, emitting tiny waves of sorrowful color. Why cling to life now? She crossed the floor and opened a secret niche in the wall. Here she kept the sharp glassite weapon with which she had intended to keep Deebul at bay. For a moment she gazed at the sharp point, then raised it aloft, coloring in anguished prayer, “May the gods forgive me!”
Suddenly a terrific explosion shattered the air above the city. The resulting blast of air flung Teena against the wall, her glassite blade shattering into fragments. But she was unharmed. And she floated swiftly to the window again, to discover the source of this amazing blast. There in the sky hovered the great glassite ship, and as she watched, it unfurled the colors of Tranda, Emperor of Tridentia!
“My Seepa!” colored Teena, “You have come for me!”
Outside bedlam had descended upon the city. Upon every roof-tower, great spark guns went into action, and firing became a continuous roar. But the great ship was too high, and the spark guns fired futilely. But not so those of the ship. One by one the defending guns were destroyed and, at last, it was evident that the ship in the sky was master. The populace cowering for many days, now rushed forth, and their one instinct was to kill. Alternately they fought, and stopped to cheer the colors of the avenging ship.
From her tower Teena saw it all, and she thrilled in an aura of joyful color. At last silence, except for the roar of the great ship, descended upon the city. Not one follower of Deebul remained alive. Great waves of color burst forth from the ecstatic populace and Teena fairly bounded about her prison in joy. Her Steepa was coming for her!
And he did. For many moments they clung to each other, welling soft colors into each other’s skin, until Tranda became impatient from his post at the door of the tower-room.
“Come, come, you two,” he hued. “We have much to do. Time aplenty for love-making later on. Now we must re-establish the government and then—“ Tranda paused. “—there is the message.”
Days later, the city of Tridentia had regained its former appearance, insofar as happiness and contentment was concerned. But in the council hall of Tranda an important discussion was going on. Tranda was speaking, his colors flowing in a burst of oratory.
“I tell you,” he colored, “it is a message we cannot deny – a message we cannot fail to answer. It is sent from the Trident, and it saved Tridentia to us. It is a message from the gods. And besides this, it is a message from someone in distress. Can we fail to aid the giver of the message which meant our own victory? No! And we shall not. And too, remember the letter of the message – danger! We, too, are in danger, if we believe the message, and we must believe it, or renounce the Trident.”
Tranda sprang up to the limit of his tubes.
“Neptunians,” he flared, “the Trident must go to Luna, that strange place the message locates far above our own gas-strata. And we must send representatives to that universal council which is to be held there. We must learn what it is that menaces us. And we must repay the debt of gratitude we owe to that appealing creature who cries for our help. Be he of our kind or not, we must go!”
“But who will go?” hued a councillor. “It is a mission that will offer uncounted dangers.”
Tranda swerved about and his stalk-eyes fell upon Steepa.
“Bar Steepa,” he commanded, “you gave me your life to do with as I will. I ask you to give it to my service in this task. I delegate you as Neptune’s representative at the Universal Council. You will go to the aid of this Dos-Tev.”
“I shall be honored,” colored Steepa simply.
“Good,” auraed Tranda, “then that is settled. You will go in the ship of the Trident. But I beg of you, to care for the Trident as you would your own life.”
“But,” objected a councillor, “What about Neptune? Will we be deprived of the Trident, perhaps forever?”
“No,” colored Tranda. “And this is my reason.” He motioned to the guard, and several of them disappeared, to reappear bearing the scarred, pitted cylinder that had brought the message from Luna. “Deposit it here,” indicated Tranda, “before the council, and let them examine it.”
The council crowded around it, and hues of awe escaped them. “It is of the same metal as the Trident,” they auraed.
“Yes,” returned Tranda. “We can fashion a new Trident from the metal of the benefactor, Dos-Tev. And now you know why I wish to send the representative to the council. With a great quantity of this metal, of which no trace exists on all Neptune, will make our planet the Utopia we have so long sought. It will be a great reward for the aid that is asked of us.”
The council agreed, and Steepa received their combined delegation to the council.
“You will leave on the morrow,” glowed Tranda.
The next morning dawned with the city of Tridentia decked in a festive manner. As the morning light lit the gas-strata, the populace gathered before the palace, evidently waiting for something. And it had not long to wait, for as the light increased, a touching scene was revealed. Shining in her most joyful colors, Teena, princess of Tridentia appeared to take her place in the gas-car, beside Tranda, the Emperor, for the short ride to the Temple of the Trident. The joyous crowd followed eagerly, and at last they reached the building. And there, in the presence of the cylinder of the message from Luna, Teena, the princess, wed Steepa, the prince.
Parting came all too soon for the two lovers and they sighed as the last hour was reached.
“Cannot I go along with you?” begged Teena, her colors wistful.
“No,” hued Steepa, “it will be much too dangerous work for a woman, and too, we have room only for our supplies and the one companion I will take along.”
“Who is to go along with you?” queried Teena.
“Dubar, the captain of the guards of the Palace.”
“He is a fit man,” colored Teena. “I am glad that he was selected. But embrace me now, and I will leave you. I want to watch the ship as it disappears from view from the window of the tower.”
Steepa watched her gorgeous figure as she floated away from him, and then turned resolutely to bid his adieu to Tranda. In a half hour he was to leave.
“Take care of yourself,” hued Tranda. “Teena and I will await you.”
“I will come,” promised Steepa. “And I will bring back with me as much of the metal of the Trident as possible. But goodby, I go now.”
“Dubar is already on the ship,” Tranda informed him. “You can take off when you wish now. I shall watch from the tower.”
Steepa hurried to the ship now, lest his desire to remain with Teena overcome him. The guard at the entrance assured him that Dubar was on board, and Steepa thanked him.
Once inside he sealed the port shut and took his place at the controls. A last glance he cast at the city of Tridentia, and then he hurled the great ship upwards through the gas-strata, higher than Neptunian had ever gone before.
As the blackness of space burst upon him, sparkling with its myriad of stars, he gasped at its beauty. “How wonderful,” he hued to himself.
“Isn’t it lovely?” came a delicate aura of colors.
Steepa whirled about in amazement. “Teena!” he hued, “you here?”
Teena colored coyly. “You did not think that I would remain where my life and love is not? Where you go, I will follow, my beloved.”
“But my love,” objected Steepa, “you forget that our trip is now impossible. Only Dubar and myself have enough gas and food to subsist.”
Teena colored again. “Dubar has gas and food in plenty,” she hued. “He was a captain of the palace guard, and when a princess commands, a captain obeys. This did Dubar remain, while I took his place.”
Steepa glowed in golden exultance. “My love!,” he shimmered, clasping her in his tubes.
And to-gether they sped toward the distant world of the conference.