Slaves of the Ninth Moon [Hallmeyer, Destroyer of Worlds #2]
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by Ross Rocklynne
Category: Science Fiction/Suspense/Thriller
Description: Nebula Nominee Author's Lost Pulp Saga of Man Ordered to Kill the Woman He Loves to Save Earth! This volume contains the final two stories in Nebula Award nominee writer Ross Rocklynne's lost pulp science fiction series, Hallmeyer--Destroyer of Worlds. As with the first volume of this series, all the stories are reprinted for the first time in more than sixty years. The second Hallmeyer tale in this volume, "The Bubble Dwellers," has the distinction of being both the only novel-length work in the series and the final story, bringing the saga to an unexpectedly satisfying conclusion. In Slaves of the Ninth Moon, undercover Jobs, too dirty and tough for the IPF, had always been Hallmeyer's tasks. But never, in even his wildest dreams, had he thought that to fulfill his mission he would have to murder the woman he loved. Then in his final adventure, The Bubble Dwellers, Hallmeyer finds the perfect woman for the happy ending he needs--if she doesn't kill him first! The hell-planet of Vulcan had spawned a deadly menace that might entrap the civilized worlds. Only Sydney Hallmeyer could halt that force, only he could stop the fiendish Zondat--and he was helpless, a slave laborer of the man he fought, condemned for life to Vulcan's depths!
eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books/PageTurner Editions,
eBookwise Release Date: April 2012
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [156 KB]
Reading time: 97-136 min.
SLAVES OF THE NINTH MOON
Undercover Jobs, too dirty and tough for the IPF, had always been Hallmeyer's tasks. But never, in even his wildest dreams, had he thought that to fulfill his mission he would have to murder the woman he loved.
[original magazine blurb]
* * * *
I FOUND my superior sitting in his swivel chair, palm propping up his fine, greying head. He had a look on his face that I knew only too well, and I winced.
I said, "What is it, this time?"
He frowned uneasily, hardly able to meet my eyes. "I guess it's up to you again, Sid," he answered grimly.
"Yes," I said over-politely. "I'm afraid not. I don't want any. I'm right in the middle of a very tender experiment. I'm not going to--"
He stopped me with a brief wave of one hand. "Ever heard of Strilla MacCloud, Sid?" he asked.
The name exploded in my face like a bombshell. I sank to a chair, stared at him, and knew he knew about me.
Had I ever heard of Strilla MacCloud? That was a stupid question; of course I had. We had met on soggy Venus, where had been located a local Bureau of Transmitted Egos. She had saved my life from several Venusian thugs, and she was such a woman as a man cannot forget. Her eyes were dark and esoteric; her skin a rich gold, and the sun-stones about her throat enhanced its goldenness. She was slim, and virginal -- and deadly!
She had been a slave-runner, one of the most ruthless; and she had tried to get me to handle her Venusian slave ship. Instead, I had turned her over to the Council of Ten, had started the ball rolling that had wiped out the vicious slave traffic. She had hated me then, had sworn revenge, even though a few hours before, she had been soft and yielding in the circle of my arms.
Yes, I knew Strilla MacCloud. I had followed her career for years. She had escaped from prison, had manned a pirate craft with the dregs of the spaceway's pirates and killers, and had fought the IPF throughout the passing years. Newsflashes of her skirmishes with the IPF had made the viziscreens time and again, but always she had avoided capture and fled into the vastness of space.
And then a few years before, with a score of her toughest men, she had disappeared entirely, in a Grimiel-Hammond seven-jet ship-and gradually she had been forgotten by all but the IPF.
So when my superior sprang her name on me in the office that day, all I could do was slump back in the chair, and feel the memories racing quicksilver-like about in my mind.
I grinned in a crazy, cock-eyed fashion, felt the hot blood pounding at my temples.
"Sure," I said. "Sure, I'm the guy that busted the slave-racket wide open, and the same guy who gave Strilla MacCloud the damndest headache she had had for many a year. But," I leaned forward intently, spread my hands, "if I ever meet up with Strilla MacCloud again, she'll bust me wide open. So whatever it is you've got in mind, count me out." I fumbled a cigarette out of my pack and lit it.
We exchanged glances for a minute, and finally he arose, and sat on the edge of his desk, facing me. Little wrinkles were on his brow.
"I can't count you out, Sid," he said gently. "Believe me, if I could I would. But I can't. The Council of Ten has the records of your slave-running episode -- everything. You know Strilla McCloud, they say, and so you're the man for the job. Furthermore, they've been impressed with the way you've handled jobs of this same general type, and I've got a special order-blank which names you as the agent in the case.
"Agent for what? To recover the sunstone necklace Strilla MacCloud stole from the Empress of Mars some twelve years ago." I smoked hard. "That's a job for the IPF!"
He sighed. He picked up from his desk what looked like a compass in a universal joint.
"Know what that is?" he asked.
When I told him it was a compass, he scoffed. "And you an electrical engineer! If it was a compass, the needle wouldn't be pointing east and west, would it? No, Sid, it's a sun-stone detector, and it's got a radius of a million miles."
Abruptly he turned and went behind his desk and sat down while I watched him in baffled, growing anger. . He pointed the compass at me, jerking it in little emphatic movements as he talked.
"It's this way, Sid. It all goes back to the radium mines on the dead sea-bottoms of Mars. As you know, Earth has a ninety-nine year lease on those mines. In another two months, the lease will be up, and Earth won't have a supply source for the radium she needs in such vast quantities."
I flicked ashes onto the rug and scowled at him. "Renew the lease. And besides, what's that got to do with--"
He interrupted, shaking his head emphatically. "We can't renew it. We submitted our formal option to the Empress. She refused it. She's on her high-horse. Twelve years ago, she asked the Council of Ten to restore her sun-stone necklace. The Council ignored the appeal. The Empress then appealed to Earth, since it was a human who had accomplished the piracy, and Earth was more directly responsible. Earth didn't pay any attention, either. And everybody was very relieved when the Empress dropped the whole subject-apparently."
He smiled ruefully. "She's a sly old bird, Sid. Last year she told us flatly that unless we recovered the sun-stone necklace she wouldn't renew our lease. Well, that brought action! We had to find her necklace, or face an absolute poverty of radium. So the Earth representative sent me instructions to manufacture some sort of detector that would react to the characteristic vibrations given off by sunstones. They loaned us the other sunstone necklace for test purposes."
I threw my cigarette away and got up and picked up the detector. "This is it?"
"That's it, Sid."
"And it's pointing at the sun-stone necklace at the Smithsonian?"
He nodded. "Three months ago, we made a dozen of the detectors, and distributed them among the captains of a dozen freight and passenger ships. And last week, a passenger ship of the Outer Planet Corporation reported that the needle pointed toward perp-planet number three. The ship discovered it by accident. There aren't any traffic routes laid down to the perp-planets, you know. This particular captain had to rise a million miles out of the plane of the ecliptic in order to escape a meteor-bog. So the sun-stone necklace is on that planet, and there is every possibility that that is where Strilla MacCloud is too."
I felt faint. I had to sit down again. I said hoarsely, "Do you know what Strilla MacCloud will do to me if she ever gets her hands on me, chief? She'll tear me limb from limb. She'll gouge my eyes out and play marbles with 'em. She'll--" I stopped and got hold of myself. I said dangerously, "Why doesn't the Council put the IPF on this job?"
He said, "Because--" Then he flushed and bit his lip. He said lamely, "You and Will Carrist will have one of the new ships, armed to the hull--" He stopped, and his shoulders fell. He made a weary little motion, because he knew that I knew what he had started to say. Perp-planet number three was another of those insignificant little worlds which the Council of Ten made a habit of kicking around in any way it pleased. I was being given carte blanche to do anything I wanted to recover the sun-stone necklace, during which the Council would conveniently look the other way, something they couldn't do if the IPF were put on the job...
I said glumly, "Let me have the detector," and I strapped it around my wrist.
I stuck out my hand and shook his. He looked pained. I grinned in cockeyed fashion. "You never know," I told him. "Perchance we will not meet again."
And so I went.
* * * *
OUR little ship, armored thickly, and armed with everything from hand weapons to flame-ropes and a whole brace of proton blasts, in addition to a needleprow, thundered along through deep space. Our destination was one of that small group of little-studied, little-known planets which move in orbits perpendicular to the plane of the ecliptic. Hence, perp-planet.
Will Carrist, one of the ace pilots of the solar system, and certainly my best, though unimaginative friend, had his robot controls and meteor detectors set and was shoveling beans into his mouth. I sat across from him at the galley table, with a cup of coffee and a cigarette. I was in a black, scowling mood, and Will didn't help it any.
"But all I'm asking you, he complained miserably, "is where I should put the ship down. What kind of people? What kind of a planet? And what kind of an answer do I get? 'It just happens to be one of those unimportant planets the planetographers have passed by--'"
"Which happens to be the truth." I glared frostily. "I've given you all the information I could pick up from the Planet Atlas. There's a Bureau of Transmitted Egos, according to interplanetary law. They have one-fifth of one Tellurian gravity. Which is the reason why they live about five times as long as human beings, and why they're dying out--"
He dropped his fork and wiped his big hand across his mouth. "What's a shallow gravity got to do with--?" he began.
"Do I have to draw a diagram?" I demanded, being very polite. "Didn't I tell you before? It's a scientific fact that gravity, the pull of gravity, is the greatest single factor that causes death. Gravity pulls on you from the second you're born. It builds up waste products. It poisons tissues. The heavier the gravity, the sooner you die. So if you want to live on one of the minor planets in a spacesuit the rest of your life, you too can be practically immortal."
"I know that, Sid," he protested. "But you said the reason they were dy--"
"The reason the Ellillians are dying out -- Ellill is what they call their planet -- the reason they're dying out is because of another law: long life exacts a price, and the price is a steadily failing birth-rate. The Ellillians are millions of years old, undoubtedly, but that particular law is just catching up with them. Another century and they'll be gone. There are any number of cities, but most of them are in ruins -- just one of them is inhabited. But exactly where that particular city is, I don't know--"
"'Just exactly where that particular city is I don't know."' Carrist mimicked despairingly. He got up from the table and started from the galley in a bad humor. He stuck his head back in again. "And what if you're wrong about the gravity? What if it isn't one-fifth of a gravity after all? What if I crash the ship?" He scowled.
I unloosened my good humor and grinned sourly at him. "Hah!"
He scowled and went clomping down the companionway to the control room. I grinned to myself at the idea of Will Carrist crashing a ship. Absurd.
But not so absurd as that! Two million miles above the plane of the ecliptic, we picked up perp-planet number-three. It swam out of the emptiness like a ghost, drear and white. A million miles from the planet, the detector began to quiver. A hundred thousand miles farther on, the needle was rigid, as the peculiarly characteristic vibrations from the sun-stone necklace struck it. The necklace was there.
And was Strilla MacCloud there, too? Pin-pricks of sweat were on my face.
Carrist sent the ship bowling blithely along through space, while I went up to the telescope turret and glued my eyes to the photo-amplifiers. The planet grew swiftly. In no time, I saw a city in a mountain-enclosed valley, a great clot of monoliths standing in lonely, heart aching grandeur. My detector needle was pointing farther east, however, and I started down to tell Will to shift course a few degrees.
The next thing I knew it seemed as if the ship had gone out of control. I slammed against the wall, and was plastered there, bruised and shaken, for a couple of seconds, and then was flung the other way. I yelled furiously. I yelled for Will. I cursed him. The ship was rolling like mad, just outside the atmosphere. I clawed my way to a port, and saw the planet zipping up toward us and then I was flung away and I hit my head, and I was groggy. One fact stood out with stark certainty. We were going to crash!
We didn't though. Just at that moment when I knew we had to hit in our downward flight, the ship went on an even keel, poised for a heart-stopping moment, and then bumped gently.
I got up very slowly, bleary eyed, and went down to the control room.
Will was sitting there, facing the door as I came in, tapping his blunt fingers monotonously on the arm of the chair.
"So," he said very softly. "One fifth of a Tellurian gravity, you said. Very funny!"
I looked at the instrument board, and blinked. I said huskily, "Cut the comedy. What happened?"
Will said, "One fifth of a Tellurian gravity, you said. One fifth. Of course, you're right and the instruments are wrong. So is the planet." He looked as if he were about to explode. He said, "Two gravities, Sid. Two."
"You're crazy!" I snapped. "It couldn't be. The Planet Atlas said the Ellillians were thin, weak-boned, fragile. Why -- why they couldn't stand up in two gravities, or even a half gravity. It'd kill them!"
He jumped out of his chair. "It's two gravities!" he yelled. "I don't care what, the Planet Atlas said. I came down expecting only a fifth of a gravity, and first thing you know the ship was out of control. I--"
"Shut up!" I yelled back angrily. He subsided, and I saw then that he was shaking. No wonder! There weren't three other pilots in the system who could have averted a crack-up under those conditions. I drew a deep breath and switched in the view plates. Cold barren land stretched away. I focused the plates on the city. It was massive, Gargantuan. Whoever had built it, millions of years ago, had built it to endure against a monstrous gravity.
And perp-planet three was only a thousand miles in diameter!
Will said hoarsely, "It's a neutronium planet, Sid. It's got neutronium at it core. It has to be a neutronium planet, with that much gravity."
I nodded, and I was sweating, because was a tough job my muscles had to keep me even in a sitting position against that gravity. It couldn't be anything but a planet with a neutronium core -- a core maybe only a half-dozen feet in diameter. Neutronium was dense enough to give such a small planet its two gravities. But why had the Planet Atlas, a perfectly reliable publication, flatly stated that there was only one-fifth of a gravity?
"Something," I said grimly, "is screwy. We'll follow the needle though, and no matter what happens, don't take anything for granted."
Will lifted the ship again, and we plowed up through the air over those oppressive ruins and went south. I stayed in the control room. Will's job was no child's play. Terrific, driving, wailing winds grasped at the ship. Will had to fight his controls. We were at that time near the equator, and I guessed that our destination would be somewhere very near the south pole of the planet. What caused the winds, I couldn't begin to imagine. The planet was so far from the Sun that there couldn't be much temperature difference anywhere on its surface.
At one time, we now saw, the Ellillians had been a numerous race. We saw dozens of old, weather-beaten cities, the wind whining through their deserted structures with a devil's-song of sad aloneness.
The needle now began to point at a downward slant in its crystal universal joint. Out of the dark clouds that ringed the horizon, another city came into sight, like an unmanned ship from the night. This was precisely over the south pole. I gave Carrist the signal.
He looked pale, as if he distrusted the planet, but he dropped the ship -- cautiously -- and came to as light a landing as you please, about a mile from the city.