Planet of Peril
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by Otis Adelbert Kline
Category: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Description: Planet of Peril is a science-fiction adventure on a world of semi-barbaric nations, ferocious beasts, gigantic reptiles, and maidens in distress!
eBook Publisher: Wildside Press, 1929 USA
eBookwise Release Date: March 2009
6 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [244 KB]
Reading time: 146-205 min.
Robert Ellsmore Grandon stifled a yawn with difficulty as the curtain went down on the first act of Don Giovanni and wondered what was the matter. It wasn't that opera bored him, or that tonight's performance was inferior; in fact, what he had been able to give his attention to struck him as being among the best performances he had seen. But something was distracting him, something he could not put his finger on; and the effort to keep his attention on the music and the performers was tiring him. Perhaps it was just one of those days, he thought.
He was tired of life at twenty-four, he decided--tired and disillusioned and somehow trapped. After his spell of military service, he'd broken away from family obligations and expectations to join revolutionaries in Cuba. The struggle there had seemed important, worth risking his neck for; but he'd seen, much earlier than some others, that the new regime was just a change of masters. He'd gotten out while getting out was easy and returned to take up the career in insurance administration that his uncle wanted him to take--the uncle who had paid his college expenses. Now, Robert and Vincent Grandon would prepare for the position that Uncle Arthur would be leaving in a few years. It would be a good career for both young men; for while only one could step into Arthur Grandon's shoes, the second spot would be no less desirable.
Very likely, with full effort, he could make the top--but his cousin had the extra measure of devotion to the business that Robert Grandon simply couldn't bring. Robert Ellsmore Grandon yearned for action, adventure, romance--something that seemed to be gone in the world of the Twentieth Century.
He made his way to the bar thinking that he'd chuck it all in a moment for a chance to think and act for himself, for a chance to accomplish something worthwhile according to his own lights. Yes--insurance was worthwhile, he thought as he sat at the bar and beckoned to Louis, but not worth his while.
Louis looked his way, nodded, and started to mix a gibson for him. The bartender had a curious grin on his face as he set the glass down. "Did you get the message, Mr. Grandon?"
Robert Grandon blinked. "What message?"
"Didn't you see the papers today?"
Grandon shook his head. "Just glanced at them. What's up?"
Louis went back and bent down, to return with the Times, folded to a certain page, and placed it on the bar before him. To Grandon's astonishment, he saw a sketch of himself staring him in the face.
"Had you planned in advance to come tonight, Mr. Grandon?"
Grandon looked up with a puzzled expression on his face. "No--now that you mentioned it, I hadn't. I was going to ask a friend to come with me next Friday night. Came down this morning to see about tickets, and decided that I'd come tonight alone, when I found that there was a good seat available ... Don't know why, now that I think of it."
Louis' face wore a strange smile. "Read that ad, Mr. Grandon. Maybe you are the one."
Grandon picked up the paper. The heading read, "I Want You!" There was no caption under the sketch; beneath it, the text said: "I do not know your name, or anything about you, except that you are in the city. I want to perform an experiment, and you may be the man I need. If you are, you will know by these tokens.
"You will feel an urge to go to a certain place tonight which you may or may not have been planning to go to, and you will want to get there around 8 P.M. Starting at 8:30 P.M., every half hour, I will send you a message. You may not hear it the first or second time, but you may feel distracted. If you are the man I want, it will seem as if a voice is speaking to you. It will be a voice in your mind; it will say 'Doctor Morgan' and direct you to go to a particular spot. There a man will be waiting for you; he will ask you a question which I shall also tell you of when I communicate with you. Please give him a hearing before you decide."
"Looks as if you've gotten the first part of it, Mr. Grandon. You hadn't expected to come tonight, but here you are."
Grandon put the newspaper down. It had been just about half an hour after the performance started that he'd begun to feel distracted and a little irritated.
Louis said, "It's two minutes to nine, Mr. Grandon. Maybe you'll get the message this time."
Grandon sipped the gibson, with his eyes on the clock. He tried to relax, to let himself open to whatever thoughts might come into his head. He'd heard of experiments in telepathy, and while he didn't find parapsychology too convincing, he had no strong bias against it. In fact, he'd thought that it might be fascinating if this sort of thing could be so. Here would be a new frontier if...
It wasn't exactly a whisper, but there was a softness about a voice he now seemed to hear yet not to hear. It said, "Doctor Morgan." Grandon sat up straight. Again it came: "Doctor Morgan." A third time; then the voice said, "Go to the telephone booths in the lobby. A man wearing a tuxedo with a green lapel pin will offer you a cigarette."
The voice ceased. Grandon waited a moment or two, but there was nothing more.
"Did you get it, Mr. Grandon?" asked Louis eagerly.
Grandon finished his gibson and put a bill down on the bar. "Could be," he said. "I have a pretty good imagination, you know. Think I'll wait another half hour and see."
He left the bar. Either this was or it wasn't. If it was, then he might as well follow up now as wait another half-hour. If it wasn't, it didn't make any difference; he couldn't possibly pay any attention to the opera now, no matter who was singing.
He made his way to the phone booths in the lobby and looked around, oblivious to the feminine eyes that turned to glance at his broad shoulders and curly black hair. No one fitting the description he'd received was in sight. He waited a moment and began to feel foolish.
Just imagination, he decided a little sadly. Well, there was time for a cigarette before he had to get back to his seat. He was reaching for his case when a pleasant voice at his right said, "Try one of mine, won't you?"
Grandon turned and looked into the smiling eyes of a man about his own age. A man wearing a tuxedo with a green lapel pin. He accepted with thanks.
"Excellent performance, don't you think?" volunteered the smiling one, lighting a cigarette himself which he had, unnoticed by Grandon in his confusion, taken from the side of the case opposite the one which he had extended a moment before.
"I suppose so--ah--why, yes, of course..."
Grandon was beginning to feel unaccountably drowsy.
Suddenly he slumped forward, and would have fallen on his face, but for the quick assistance of the friendly young man. A moment later he lost consciousness.
An attendant came running up. "What's the matter with your friend?" he asked.
"Fainted dead away. It's his heart; he's had spells like this quite often lately. Help me get him outdoors."
The two of them carried Grandon outside, followed by the more curious bystanders. When he reached the sidewalk, the young man waved to the driver of a car parked on the other side of the street. It immediately swung across and drew up to the curb.
"Let's put him in the car," said the young man. "I'm used to this--a spin on Michigan Boulevard will revive him. Just needs fresh air. His doctor has told me how to handle him."
They lifted Grandon into the car and the driver put the top down. The young man handed a crisp bill to the attendant and got into the car, which drove away.
* * * *
When Grandon regained consciousness he was lying on a cot in a dimly lighted room. He looked about him in bewilderment as he saw four bare concrete walls, a heavy oak door studded with many large bolts, and a small window fitted with powerful iron bars more than an inch in diameter.
There was a chair and a small table with a lamp on it next to the cot. On the table, Grandon saw a sheet of paper. He rolled over and picked it up, switching on the lamp.
"Dear Mr. Grandon," he read, "I must admit and apologize for technically kidnapping you; but I hope to be able to persuade you shortly that this was both necessary and to your advantage. Now I must ask you to be patient for a little while; I shall see you soon. The drug you were given should be wearing off by evening--you were kidnapped last night--and I can assure you that it will have no harmful after-effects, physical or mental." The paper was signed, "Dr. Morgan."
Grandon arose and tottered unsteadily toward the door. It was evidently locked from the outside, for he could not rattle it. He went to the window and peered out. Night had fallen, and a myriad of twinkling stars looked down at him from a clear sky. Not a tree, house, or earthly object of any kind was visible. There was only the starry sky above and the black void below.
He heard the sound of talking, and wheeled about as a bolt slid back and the door opened. Two men entered. The foremost was tall and of large structure; his forehead was high and bulged outward, so that his shaggy eyebrows, which grew together above the bridge of his aquiline nose, half-concealed his eyes. He wore a pointed, closely-cropped beard, in which a few gray hairs proclaimed him as middle-aged. Behind him was the young man who had given him the drugged cigarette in the lobby of the opera house.
The young man advanced and extended his hand. "How are you feeling now, Mr. Grandon?" he asked. "Ah, you seem surprised that we know your name. That will be explained to you. I should have introduced myself sooner. My name is Harry Thorne. Allow me to present Doctor Morgan."
The big man held out his hand and said in a booming bass voice, "This is a pleasure I have long anticipated, Mr. Grandon."
It was nothing like the voice he had heard in his mind, and yet it was the same voice. Grandon realized that at once; and his curiosity, added to the feeling of confidence in these men's intentions toward him that the note had imparted, washed away any resentment he might feel at their methods. He clasped the doctor's muscular hand and muttered an acknowledgement.
"And now," said Morgan, "if you will accompany us to dinner, we shall start the explanation due you. Afterwards, I shall ask you to read two interesting manuscripts before we talk further; they will tell you far more, and prepare you far better, for the experiment I have in mind than a lecture from me."
In Dr. Morgan's drawing room, where night had given way to day while Robert Ellsmore Grandon read two novel-length manuscripts, Dr. Morgan--who had entered just as Grandon was finishing the last chapter of the second box of neatly-typed pages--smiled at his guest quizzically. "What do you think of them?" he asked.
Grandon shook his head. "If I hadn't had the experience of the past day or so, I'd think they were just good stories and nothing more. Even so, they sound fantastic."
"They are," Morgan agreed. "But nonetheless true. To summarize briefly, I started experimenting with telepathy ten years ago, and finally succeeded in building a device which would pick up and amplify thought waves."
"And thought waves, you found," said Grandon, "are not limited to space or time. So you picked up the waves projected by another man who had built a similar device to project them--only this man was on Mars."
"But not the present-day Mars--the Mars of some millions of years ago, when a high human civilization did exist there." [See The Swordsman of Mars by Otis Adelbert Kline.
"And you and this Martian scientist, Lal Vak, found that persons who are nearly doubles in physical appearance may have similar brain-patterns--enough alike so that consciousness may be exchanged between them. Your first experiment involved such an exchange between an Earthman named Harry Thorne and a Martian named Borgen Takkor. The man you call Harry Thorne was born on Mars as Borgen Takkor, while the true Harry Thorne is 'now' living on Mars--and leading a most adventurous and satisfying career from the account I have read."
Dr. Morgan nodded. "He and his princess have had many adventures together beyond those related in the first manuscript. To us, of course, both have been dead millions of years. But it is possible for me to tune in on their lives at any point where Harry was transmitting to me. He has never regretted his choice."
"Then," went on Grandon, "you got in touch with a Venusian named Vorn Vangal, who is a contemporary of Lal Vak and Borgen Takkor. With his help you constructed a space-time vehicle through which your nephew, Jerry Morgan, was able to go to Mars in the flesh. And he, too, made out pretty well."
Morgan nodded. "Yes. I sent Jerry to Mars that way, and hoped that I'd be able to send someone to Venus the same way. But my telekinetic control failed in some way on the return trip, and I never recovered the ship I built for Jerry. Vorn Vangal said he would build one on Venus and send it to Earth for me, so that I could visit him, but I do not know when this will be possible. It may be soon; it may not be for some years." Morgan smiled. "And I'm not too patient a man. I know that it is possible for me to get an account of Venus as seen by Earthmen's eyes--the Venus that was, in relation to the Mars that was--just as I learned about Mars in those two manuscripts you've read. So I asked Vorn Vangal if he could send me the brain waves of two Venusians, to see if I could find their counterparts here on Earth. Then Harry urged me to try to see if there was a Venusian with whom he could change personalities--so I sent his picture and brainwave pattern to Vorn Vangal."
"I see. And Vorn Vangal sent you the picture and brainwave pattern of a Venusian who was--me."
"Yes. You'll recall that Lal Vak had shown me how to construct a mind-compass, which would indicate whether there were any living persons here on Earth whose brainwaves corresponded with those of the Martians whose pictures he sent me. This would not only aid in my finding such people here on Earth, it would also protect me from disappointment on coming across someone who looked right, but whose brain-pattern did not match closely enough for an exchange of personalities, after all."
"Has that happened?" Grandon asked.
"Only once. But now it's all arranged for Harry; and I hope you'll be interested in going to Venus, too."
Grandon smiled. "After reading those two accounts of conditions on Mars, I certainly am. Of course, I suppose it's nothing like Venus."
"There are differences, of course, but the civilizations are on a somewhat similar level. The planet is known as Zarovia, and your physical counterpart is a gentleman who has been enslaved by an Amazon ruler--a princess with no thought save of her own pleasure. He finds it impossible to escape from bondage, and is therefore willing to make the exchange. Mr. Thorne's bodily duplicate is a prince of a realm on the opposite side of the planet from that occupied by the slave. The prince has been petted and pampered and shielded from all danger, and longs for adventure; he is willing to exchange bodies for a time with Mr. Thorne ... Well, what do you say? Are you willing to make the trip?"
Grandon smiled. "You know, Doctor, I'm a little surprised. You investigated the Earth-born Harry Thorne very carefully, because you'd made a bad choice and sent a criminal to Mars ahead of him. You knew your nephew thoroughly because you were in telepathic communication with him for years, though he didn't know it then. But what do you think about me?"
"Touché!" chuckled Morgan. "I forgot to tell you. I've gone a good ways beyond telepathic projection in the last few years. When I contacted your mind, I also got a very full picture of your character and personality--no intimate details, but sufficient to assure me that you were the sort of man I wanted. And that you were very likely to go along with me if the way could be cleared for you ... But suppose you tell me of any inhibiting factors; I think they can be cleared up."
Robert Ellsmore Grandon recounted his personal situation briefly, and Morgan nodded. "Yes," he said. "This checks with the information I've gathered on Mr. Arthur Grandon since you arrived here. He's sincerely devoted to you, you know. I don't believe he'll stand in the way if he knows you want to go on some caper of your own and by your own choice ... Suppose you phone him long distance now. Here's what I suggest you tell him..."
"You were right, Doctor," Grandon said after bidding his uncle farewell. "Uncle Arthur agrees that Vincent is better suited to handle the firm than I. He just wanted me to try for awhile and see--says he half expected something like this when I disappeared and was concerned lest I forget to let him know."
"Then we need waste no more time, Mr. Grandon."
"But--my body will remain here while my personality goes to Venus. What happens to it?"
"You need have no fear about that. The man who comes to inhabit it--forgotten about him, haven't you?--will naturally be careful of it; for if he loses it there will be no return for him, either to this world or his own."
"What do we have to do in order to exchange bodies? And how will you keep in touch with me?"
"I will, at regular intervals, establish telepathic rapport with you and Thorne while you are asleep. You will know nothing of these telepathic communications--which will be as detailed as those you read last night--unless I see fit to convey a message to you which will probably come in the form of a dream, so vivid that you will remember every detail. If you wish to communicate with me for any reason whatever, I will learn of it when I establish rapport with you."
Grandon smiled. "I'm ready. Want me to lie down and look into a mirror the way Harry Thorne did when you sent him to Mars?"
"Right. And the present Harry Thorne will follow you in a few hours--you may meet on Venus, though it isn't too likely." He set up the mirror, painted with alternate circles of red and black, as Grandon reposed on the sofa. "Now think of Venus, far off in time and space--millions of miles, millions of years away..."