Planets of Adventure #3: Black Priestess of Varda & Captives of the Weir-Wind
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by Erik Fennel, Ross Rocklynne
Category: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Description: Space Opera at Its Finest! That's how readers in the know described the late, lamented pulp science fiction magazine Planet Stories. Famed for its vigorous, colorful covers and even more vigorous, colorful lead novels, the magazine of "strange adventures on other worlds and the universe of future centuries" (as the masthead read), has become a rare and highly-prized item among collectors. But now you can read two of its enthralling "book-length novels" in one ebook. If you love Star Trek, Star Wars, and other television and motion picture space operas, you will thrill to Nebula Nominee Ross Rocklynne's exciting blend of pulse pounding adventure and hard science, "Captives of the Weir-Wind." Ruthless space pirate, Julian Darnay, finds himself in the power of Julie Gunndardsen, being swept on a terror-flight through the void by a woman who knows how to hold her trumps. Their objective--if they live to reach it--is was a world beyond all worlds ... the planet of a binary where strange physics create the howling weir-winds that can sweep a man clean of sins or rip him to shreds in an instant, with only a lake of radium to mark his grave. And Darnay shudders, wondering which the weir-wind will make him, if he lives, sniveling saint or glowing corpse? Then travel through the dimensions with crippled Eldon Carmichael who is catapulted to a world of magical science and scientific magic, where he is the legendary El-ve-don fated to face Sin, raven-tressed witch of evil, in Erik Fennel's classic "Black Priestess of Varda." Sin is well-named--foul sorceress and raving beauty--and beloved of Sasso, the Dark Power from another dimension who seeks to conquer, with her help, the lovely, innocent world of Varda. Outlawed, sentenced to the Vat, only a few of Varda's people still defy foul Sasso's lovely witch. And Sasso's only fear is a whispered legend--El-ve-don, the Savior ... But surely a God can have nothing to fear and Varda nothing to hope for from the crippled idiot who has blundered through a shower of sparks into their time and space. Surely he can not be El-ve-don, the Savior!
eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books/PageTurner, 2004
eBookwise Release Date: February 2005
5 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [220 KB]
Reading time: 139-195 min.
CAPTIVES OF THE WEIR-WIND
A Novel of the Void
* * * *
The girl held all the trumps, and Julian Darnay, the ruthless space pirate, found himself in her power, being swept on a terror-flight through the void. Their objective--if they lived to reach it--was a world beyond all worlds ... a planet where howling weir-winds could sweep a man clean of sins or rip him to shreds in an instant, with only a lake of radium to mark his grave. Darnay shuddered, for if he lived, which would the weir-wind make him--sniveling saint or glowing corpse?
* * * *
Julian Darnay came edging into the control room of his pirate ship, broad shoulders brushing against the hatch entrance, his dark, discontented eyes roved around the maze of space navigation instruments, came to rest on Mercury Bill, his pilot and partner.
"Where are we?"
"Ten million miles east of here and there," signed Mercury Bill, so named because he was a slow-motion man.
"That," said Julian coldly, "is no answer."
"Good enough for a ship without a destination."
"Who said we haven't got a destination? Our destination is a ship--any merchant ship we pick upon our detectors."
Mercury Bill swung around in the bucket-shaped control chair, almond-shaped, opaque eyes very, very patient. He lighted a mumbo weed, blew out greenish smoke. He said:
"Let's don't fool ourselves, Julian. What do you say we look back a few weeks and see what's been happening. Every merchanter we've sighted lately has been so heavily convoyed by the Old Guard we couldn't get within a thousand miles of it. Just because you and your father--God rest him--invented the fastest, trickiest, fanciest spaceship that ever rode the ether is no sign it can run the gauntlet the Old Guard is laying down these sad days. In fact, I guess the Old Guard would rather swing us and the Acheron into a trap than capture all the nasty pirates and pirate ships between here and Saturn." His brows, a thick light fuzz which alone betrayed the decade difference in age between him and the younger man, arched. "Eh."
Julian made a growling sound in his throat, strong face scowling darkly. Inaction. It had laid its weighted hand on him. What to do? Cruise out here, port astern of Saturn, waiting for some foolhardy lone spacer? Not much he wouldn't--not if he had to dispense with caution and attack a full convoy. Of course, that would be the end of him, of his crew and his ship, the Acheron--but boredom would be the end of him, too.
The intership communication phone buzzed. Julian scooped it up before Mercury could reach it.
It was the telescope observer. "Julian, an hour ago I sighted the Spacehound!"
Julian felt a tingle, "The Spacehound! Gunnardsen's boat?"
"That's it! Radiant point Hercules, thousand a second Earthward. I didn't say anything because you and Gunnardsen have been on the outs ever since you blasted off his hand in the mix-up down Titan-way. They gave us a buzz just now though. Zeeman Lascar, a fellow who says he's Captain Gunnardsen's second in command. Should I give you a hook-up?"
Julian's eyes were sparkling. "Put him on."
The buzz deepened an octave, and Julian snapped, "Darnay talking."
"Darnay, this is Zeeman Lascar." The voice was soft, slyly insolent. "Captain Gunnardsen asked me to get in touch with you. Important matter. Can you come across?"
"Why doesn't Gunnardsen contact me personally?"
"Can't. That is, the Captain is--ah--indisposed. Or maybe too much of your voice in the Captain's ear would be more than the Captain could stand in one day."
"Well," said Julian coldly, "he's still an old fool, and you've got an uncivil tongue. But I'll accept the invitation. And to play safe, I'll bring a few of my men."
"Your whole crew, if you want to," Lascar said uncaringly. "We'll expect you then. I'll have my navigator get in touch with yours, to take care of the business of synchronizing our courses."
Julian hung up, a gleam in his eye, but his fighting smile changed to a scowl when he saw the way Mercury Bill was looking at him. Mercury Bill said, "Sometimes you're a fool."
"And sometimes you're a woman."
"A woman might do you some good," said Mercury grimly.
"You'd have us stagnate out here in space when there's the promise of deviltry in Lascar's voice?" said Julian, taking a stance over the smaller man. He sneered. "Never mind. There's safety enough, all you'll want. Gunnardsen may hate me, but he's not the man to stoop to treachery. Now get Dirkie up there to take over. You're going across with me."
Mercury Bill relapsed into a grim silence, lighted another mumbo-weed, and jerked up the speaking tube.
* * * *
An hour later, the two pirate ships, Julian's Acheron and Gunnardsen's Spacehound, flanked each other in space. Julian was first to leave the airlock, rocket flames shooting from the shoulder-jets of his spacesuit, first to enter the open airlock of the other ship. After him came seven of his men. Once the airlock of the Spacehound had closed behind them, the men took off their suits and dropped them, then held their hands warily to their flame pistols.
"You have faith in numbers," said a voice, and the man Julian knew as Zeeman Lascar--twice before he had had occasion to see him from a distance--sauntered into the corridor.
Julian nodded curtly. "Faith in numbers, yes--but only when I lack faith in my environment."
Lascar's one-sided smile turned into laughter. His smoky dark eyes held mockery as he shrugged, made a motion and led them down the corridor. He dropped into step beside Julian. He was fully as tall as Julian, but whereas Julian's stride was blunt, forthright, Lascar moved sinuously pad-footed. Lascar said, watching Julian closely:
"The Captain has very strange idea, Darnay. Peculiar person. You knew Gunnardsen well?"
"We were good friends," said Julian shortly.
"Well, you won't find this Captain Gunnardsen the same as the one you knew. Very different. Don't say I didn't tell you."
Julian swung his head toward him, sharply. But Lascar's expression was bland.
They went past the fetid breath of the engine room and shortly stopped before a door which Lascar opened. He waved them in. Julian's eyes narrowed in thought as he entered the room. Tapestries, deep rugs, flowers, potted plants, flowered lamps--and incense.
Mercury Bill moved quickly up next to Julian, nervously biting the end off a mumbo-weed. "Something's haywire, Julian!" he said out of the side of his mouth. "Let's get going. Gunnardsen wouldn't have a room like this aboard any boat of his."
"He's changed," said Julian dryly.
"Not this much," snarled Mercury Bill sotto voce.
Julian cast him an iron glance as Lascar came up, offered them seats. But Julian's nerves were tingling. "We'll stand," he growled. "Where's Captain Gunnardsen?"
Lascar shrugged and broke into an open, malevolent grin. He stepped aside, and Julian was allowed to see across the length of the room, where the curtains along the wall broke open. A girl came into the room, and her eyes, blue as the devil-plants blooming on the shores of the Venusian sea, icily swept the men, riveted on Julian and held there. She drew herself up.
"I'm Captain Gunnardsen. Captain Julie Gunnardsen. Will you gentlemen have a seat?"
Julian stood with feet forked, his dark broad features expressionless, rock-hard as he crossed glances with her. It was not dismay, nor surprise, nor anger at Lascar's equivocation that he felt now. Rather, it was sorrow.
"So Gunnardsen's dead." He made the statement simply. The lovable, bull-headed old pirate who had been Julian's father's friend and then Julian's in the course of time, came to mind with a pang.
She shrugged. "The Old Guard got him last week. I'm his daughter. I let you think it was my father you were coming to see. Only way I could have got you over here."
She took her eyes off him for the first time, extracted a cigarette from a gem-studded case, moved thoughtfully across the room and sank on a divan. She lighted the cigarette, and one by one let her glance rest on the men who had come with Julian. The command was unmistakable. The men shifted sheepishly on their feet, lost their open stares, turned their backs and sought seats. Mercury Bill alone was rebellious.
"We'll be leaving soon, miss," he growled, but it was evident that he was speaking to Julian, in urgent warning. He sat down then, on the edge of a chair, his eyes continuously, lazily, sweeping the confines of the room while he exuded the greenish smoke of the mumbo-weed, as if in protest against the incense that flooded the quarters.
Julie Gunnardsen said expressionlessly, "Sit here, Julian."
Julian sat next to her. Out of the corner of his eye he was keeping track of Lascar, who leaned against the door, sensuous mouth smiling with some devilish, withheld mirth.
Julian said, "I never expected to see a pirate in skirts."
"And you'll never see one."
"You're Gunnardsen's daughter, Julie; so what could you be except what he was?"
She said contemptuously, "Not a pirate--a sensible human, being maybe. Don't call me Julie, please."
He grinned maliciously. "Why not? It happens to be my own name. Your father named you after the son of his best friend."
"And I'm sorrier about that than I can say. More, I'm sorry I have to call on you to help me--you of all people. I haven't forgotten what you did to my father."
"'Well, what did I do to your father?"
Her capable, shapely jaw dropped as if in astounded incredulity at the effrontery of that remark. She flared; "Betrayed him! Deliberately learned of his plans to raid the Moon cache and then beat him to it, not even trying to divide the tons of platinum booty with him. Do you deny it?"
"No, Julie, I don't."
"And then," she added, almost writhing in a torment of hate, "when he came to you for an explanation, you repaid him by blasting his gun-hand off. You won't deny that either. Everybody in space knows the facts."
She halted, breathing hard, but he said nothing more, a small faint smile on his dark face. She snapped: "Maybe it wouldn't have been so bad if my father hadn't been an older man at the time; you young and quick. And if you hadn't been 'friends.' Anyway, that's the way I feel." She scowled, shifted her slight golden-brown body back against the cushions of the divan, crossed one bare leg over the other, and with jerking gestures smoothed down the short skirt caught around her hips with a Sam Browne belt.
"I'm a fool for setting you against me, like this, first off, when I need your cooperation. But--well, Julian, tell me what you think of the new trend the Old Guard is taking?"
His brows came down.
She said patiently: "You're not fooling anybody--except yourself. You know what I mean. The Old Guard is growing into a real organization. Within five years there won't be a pirate left in the System. Especially you--and the Acheron."
He was amused, mobile lips writhing in a smile. "The Old Guard'll come back to normal one of these days, believe me."
Her look withered him. "Dream on, Julian!"
And he laughed. "You're trying to reform me?"
"I'm pointing out," she said, "that there're going to be slim pickings for a pirate from now on. My father saw the trend, but he never let on. He thought someday I'd be a pirate's wife. He was so inured to piracy he thought it was an honest profession. I'm telling you it might pay to look for honest treasure."
He leaned back in the corner of the divan, studying her. Beautiful. Enough to make any man's blood run faster. And with that incense curling off the table next to her, wisping through and around the finely spun, golden hair which just touched her slim shoulders. Alluring. He felt an unaccustomed pang. She did hate him, probably with some violence, and, superficially at least, with good reason. But it didn't matter. He was hard, strong, ruthless. Into that pattern, no lily-livered woman fitted.
He said quietly: "What do you want of me, Julie?"
"You can help me ease my conscience a little."
This time, his thick black brows arched upward.
She said simply: "I loved my father, Julian. But in the thirty years of his career he brought too much misery, too much death to other people. It was his life, but he was wrong. Years ago, I decided that when he died I was going to make restitution in full ... Oh, don't laugh!" she cried, half-rising. She made a snapping gesture with her hand. "Radium! A pound or a ton of radium would be priceless to Earth and give me a fortune besides. That would make up for it. Then I'd go to Earth and live as a human being should."
"I see." He nodded. "A home on a hill-top, flowers, church, children, taxes, a husband with glasses and stooped shoulders--that's the ambition of Julie Gunnardsen, who was born in the skies, free as the stars, master of herself and unmastered-Julie Gunnardsen, daughter of the Vikings. Is that what you want?"
"That's what I want--and while I'm planting flowers, you'll be pushing them up; if you're lucky enough to get buried. Well, Julian--"
Lascar came padding across the room.
"Your pardon, Julie," he said in obvious impatience. "If you won't get to the point, Darnay, we want to borrow the Acheron."
Julian's eyes showed his startlement. "Why?"
"Because you've got the only boat in the System that can get to the binary in less than five years."
The binary. Julian was beginning to comprehend. The binary was a twin planet system billions of miles beyond Pluto. The planets had just been discovered. Lascar went on: "Other spaceships use enormous quantities of hydroxor, Darnay, while you continue forever on a ton of lead, by means of a propulsion process you and your father invented. You've heard of the binary? Well, as she says, our Julie is ashamed of her father's misdeeds--"
Julie's star-blue eyes snapped toward him. "Shut up, Zeeman. I'll handle this."
Lascar held her glance insolently, sniffed, went back to stand by the door again. Her glance lingered on him for a moment with a quiet deadliness. Then she turned back to Julian.
"The binary has radium, by spectroscopic analysis, Julian. Loads of it, apparently."
His expression was quizzical. "Well, what of that?"
"Wouldn't it mean riches the rest of your life?" Suddenly her lips, subtly tinted with a scarlet rouge, were parted, and she was leaning forward tensely. "Doesn't it mean anything to you to know that you can bring radium to a radium-starved Earth--you and only you--in anything less than five years?"
"Well," he said reasonably, "at least they'll have it in five years." He laughed, suddenly in a vicious mood to bait her. "And riches don't interest me--except those I fight for."
Her tensed muscles were abruptly relaxed, the hope that had shown in her eyes was abruptly, consciously erased. Her expression became indifferent.
"I expected the answer. From such as you, what else? Well, it makes no difference." For a moment, her eyes stone-hard, she focused her glance on nothing. Her lips contracted thinly. She turned her head abruptly, reached over to the incense burner, selected a triangular piece of the stuff, held it out for Lascar to light, put it down into the burner. She closed the lid, then leaned back against the pillows, her eves broodingly half-closed. She moved her glance to rest on him.
"You may wonder about the incense, Julian. The smell of the engine room is always coming in here. There's nothing worse than the smell of hydroxor--for me anyway. You'll have to bear it, if it offends you."
"There are advantages," he murmured, a gleam in his eyes. His glance deliberately started at her bare, trim ankles.
Her eyes were steady. "I'm sorry I couldn't convince you, Julian. But I see your point. It weakens your own defense of piracy for someone to make retribution for the sins of your kind. That's it, eh?"
Strangely, her voice toward the last was blurred, as if infused with static. And a dancing cloud rippled her face. The extremities of Julian's body abruptly lost sensation, and a strange sound, like the screaming of an alarm siren, ballooned in his brain. For one second of loathsome horror, he reviewed his sensation, and then sent surging along his motor nerves the command to rise, to fight--to fight!
And he was on his feet, by only a miracle. There he stood, but he looked around on a dark cloud which almost hid his men. Through it he could see his men--one, two, three--seven--he counted them. Heads on chests, lolling--in sleep or death? Even Mercury Bill.
Near the door, Lascar--inert on the floor. And on the divan, Julie. Comfortably seated there, head lying back, perfect face composed, eyes closed in sleep. As if she knew she would sleep.
The incense. And he couldn't have known. This languorous room, the incense itself--all a trap. He fell to his knees, his lips grimacing, the abnormal silence pressing with frightening impact on his ears. So that was it. And his last moments of consciousness, he could appreciate the clever treachery of Captain Julie Gunnardsen. She and Lascar had dulled his suspicions up to the last helpless moment, by breathing in the anesthetic themselves...