The Project Gutenberg eBook of Sidewinders From Sirius

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Title: Sidewinders From Sirius

Author: Fox B. Holden

Release date: February 25, 2021 [eBook #64625]

Language: English

Credits: Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at


Sidewinders from SIRIUS

by Fox B. Holden

The treacherous aliens from Outer Space gave Earth
six months to surrender or be destroyed ... but
Vice-colonel Gaylord Kram, fearless ace of Terrestrial
Intelligence, had a daring plan: Why not surrender now?

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Planet Stories November 1950.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

Gaylord Kram, Vice-colonel of Intelligence, Terrestrial Federal government, sat pondering one of the worst poker hands he had ever witnessed, and he had witnessed a goodly number in his 38 years, when he should have been sweating blood over his tottering government's most perplexing problem: what to do about the colonists from Sirius and their G-ray.

But what could even a Kram do with two deuces, the joker, a five and an eight-spot, all of different suits?

The other three Intelligence officers who were taking a little badly-needed recreation the "old fashioned" way weren't too surprised when Kram raised a thousand credits. There was no sense in trying to analyze Kram's poker, any more than there was any sense in trying to analyze Kram. He usually won. Always a different technique, but he usually won anyway.

Major Ignacius Luverduk, Kram's somewhat useful assistant, knew this and folded his lowly hand which consisted of nothing more than dogs-over.

While he was waiting for the colonel across from him to up-ship or get off the runway, Kram fell to thinking.

Xenthl had pulled a dirty one. Forty years ago, the people of Iaaro, system of Sirius, under the too-able leadership of Xenthl, had finally made their presence known on Earth. For three centuries, they had examined Earth from afar to assure themselves that it would make a suitable landing spot. For awhile, during the mid-twentieth century, they had scared the pants off some people and incurred the ridicule of some others less imaginative with their disc-shaped space and aircraft, but that couldn't have been helped. One had to trace a culture, a civilization, for a long time before one could analyze its true character-traits, abilities, potentialities. Especially when one's forces were few in number, and there were nearly two billion of the other fellow.

But the people of Iaaro had finally landed, back in 2010, satisfied that Earth with its faults was better than more light-years of space with its uncertainties and hardships. And Xenthl had been very nice about the whole thing.

The colonel decided to up-ship. He was new. He pushed a mountain of white chips forward. "I'll stay," he said, with a tremulous sort of confidence. The lieutenant to his right folded, and being the dealer, gave Kram the two cards he asked for. The joker, Kram had decided, ought to be kept this once for a kicker.

"I'll play these," the colonel said in what he intended to be a convincing tone.

"Check blind to the pat," Kram heard himself saying.

"Umm. Five thousand should be enough."

Kram edged his hand open, and now it was his turn to up-ship or not. The two twos and the joker had been somewhat disgustingly joined by a six and a seven.

Yes, Xenthl had been very nice about it all, but then, in his position with only a few thousand followers, how else could he have been? Conquest and occupation, even with superior weapons, would at any time have been unthinkable; force of numbers alone would have told as long as Earthmen had cannon and aircraft. And mass-murder of Earth's people prior to the planet's methodical examination would have left an immense, empty planet with only a few thousand of the newcomers to work it.

Xenthl had wanted not only a planet, but slaves to work it as well.

So he couldn't kill 'em off, reasoned Kram in the back of his mind for the millionth time. The thing was to use strategy, not arms, and Xenthl could have his cake and eat it.

Which, in six months' time, unless somebody, probably himself, figured out a way to stop him, he would have.

"Hmm," grunted Kram, knitting his sleek brows in final appraisal of his hand. "Your five and my-y-y—seven-fifty." Smoothly he pushed a pile of whites into the center of the polished Marswood table—not too quickly, and not too hesitantly. Timed just right. Just the way Xenthl had timed things.

A firm toe-hold on Earth. That was first ... the promise that, if allowed to colonize all the deserts of the planet, his people would within a few years' time make garden spots of them through their vastly developed science of hydroponics. They had come, they explained, seeking refuge from their own drying planet of Iaaro—they were all that were left. All they wanted was a home, and they would, in turn, give to the men of Earth the advantages of their advanced learning. And see? No weapons!

And that was true. They had dismantled every defensive weapon they had carried in the disc-shaped spacecraft; had turned the parts and blueprints over to earth scientists for study.

And they had turned the deserts of the planet into garden spots, save for a few patches left barren for laboratory construction.

And they had improved the lot of Earthmen in countless ways—philosophically, governmentally, politically, educationally, religiously, scientifically, technically, and so on.

Nice kids. Until they had sprung the G-ray and shown their true colors, and by that time it was a little too late, even for the men of Earth to cuss themselves out for having been the most gullible jays in the Universe, fourth dimension included. While telecrooners were dripping songs about the delirious gal from Sirius and housewives were listening to the adventures of the young widow from Iaaro, Xenthl was quietly setting about to take over the planet.

And, he was doing that, too.

"You," said the colonel as he got off the airstrip, "win."

Kram raked in his loot. There was some deliberation concerning the continuation of the game. Idly, Kram counted the credits he had bluffed the colonel out of. Or, which he more than suspected, he had counter-bluffed the colonel out of.

The G-ray, Xenthl had explained to the men of Earth when he announced to them that they would be given one year in which to reorganize their governments in conformation with his dictates and in subservience to his rule and under the sovereignty of himself and his people, operated on the practical principles of a theory once promulgated, but never put to work before his death, by an Earth scientist of the 20th century. The Earthman had called it a "general theory of gravitation." The Sirians had their own name for it, and when applied in weapon form, the result was the G-ray—a weapon capable of completely nullifying the forces of gravitational cohesion within any and all molecular structures. Result? Complete and instantaneous disintegration of any material object, solid, gaseous or liquid, at which it was aimed. Within its scope, the forces of what Xenthl termed "molecular gravity" fell completely to zero. Nothing exploded. It just stopped being, all at once.

There had been demonstrations. Three demonstrations, and the world was more than convinced.

Xenthl had demonstrated his weapon on three of his own no-longer-needed laboratories. Situated in their sterile patches of blistering desert, they had each covered areas about the size of three large earth cities. With the complete operation telecast to all the world, and with earth scientists watching at respectful distances in observation posts in one of which Xenthl himself had been present, the Sirian dictator had given the commands for his G-batteries to fire. They fired at ranges twice those of Earth's best atomic cannon.

The lab-cities, each hit with a single blast, vanished one, two, three.

The places where the labs had been were minutely examined by Earth's men of science for weeks afterward.

Not a trace. Of anything. Just sand. The sand, Xenthl explained, was kept as much below the ray-field as possible—digging holes for miles into the planet wasn't, after all, necessary, and it would've wasted power....

Where there may have been signs of disbelief, Xenthl had only to infer that, really, did the credulous ones of Earth suppose that the Lords of Iaaro had disclosed all their great secrets of science when they had landed? Would they have divulged the very secret of their proposed conquest?

The brave man with the club facing an enemy with an atomic rifle knows he is licked. At such a point, Kram reflected, heroism would be a little silly; hysterical anger would be useless.

"Xenthl and his crowd," mused Vice-colonel Gaylord Kram to himself as he stretched the zipper on his bulging hip-pocket, "are a bunch of sidewinders!"

"The game, in which you have been the only victor, is over," said Luverduk at his elbow, "and in your last statement, you are as usual, correct. But wait until the Old Man learns how much time we killed diddling instead of using the electro-relaxers!"

"Jupiter damn the 'laxers—You do not seem to have perceived, Luverduk, that I have a theory!"

The other's globular countenance reflected no particular surprise at this quiet thunder, for to Luverduk, theories by Kram were things to be taken regularly for granted; monstrous theories which, oddly enough, were without exception correct in every detail when put into actual practice, as Kram himself, of course, would never fail to make perfectly clear in the first place. That Kram was an Intelligence expert with a brilliant background in weapon design was the fact, however, in which the Terrestrial government was at present narrow-mindedly interested.

And it was the fact that had led to the dumping of the Sirian G-ray problem right in his lap.

Unearthing the G-ray secret was Kram's assigned mission; that made it Ignacius Luverduk's, as well. "You have a theory. Should I take that Siriusly? Ha!"

Kram only quickened the strides of his long, gaunt legs as they headed for his office. There was not even the quiver of one long black eyebrow to denote his having heard Luverduk's effort.

"For a ballistics and weapon-design expert," the wheezing Major observed, "you, Kram, are at least a devilish poker player. You were bluffing on that last hand. Lying in your teeth! Psychologically speaking, you were guilty of the worst sort of misrepresentation."

"Foof. He was bluffing every bit as bad as I was. Worse. Probably didn't even have a pair."

"You could tell?" Luverduk's round blue eyes became excited, for his own brand of poker left something to be desired in the way of winning money.

"When the time comes," Kram said, "that I fail to perceive a bluff, and fail then to call it, I will start a mink ranch on Pluto."

No reply. Luverduk had heard that Pluto was a sterile planet, and was a little puzzled. The two strode into Kram's office, which was empty of staffers. It was 'laxer time. Kram started doing the talking:

"You, Ignacius, will deliver a message for me to Sectors-General Hoskins, in person." Kram was writing things on a memo pad, the blanks of which were stamped CONFIDENTIAL at their tops in big red letters. "It says, Iggy, that President Thurston is to be informed that I have unequivocally failed to glean any information concerning the Sirian secret weapon, and in trying further to do so, would seriously imperil whatever chances Earth may have left to escape total destruction. I, Kram, have somehow failed! The message points out in addition that I've lost seventy-three percent of my secret operatives already, and it explains that with each additional one captured, Xenthl's temper is shortening to the breaking point. Being slightly paranoiac, he hates to be crossed. He's one of those egotistical bastards, you know...."

"Oh, but you can't—"

"Shuddup. It also advises that the Terrestrial government open truce negotiations for the consideration of terms."

"You mean you're telling Hoskins and Thurston that we should wave the white flag?" Luverduk paled to the color of old paste.

"You deliver it. And—" Kram kept writing, "there's a P.S. It says that I personally—that we personally—plan to request audience with Xenthl, to open aforementioned truce negotiations. Today!"

"You," quavered the Major scarcely above a whisper, "have cracked up!"

"We will take off for Xenthl's Moonside headquarters at precisely 1600 hours, radiating a truce signal. And you will now deliver this message." He thrust the memo into Luverduk's wringing hands. "And you will return here in exactly 30 minutes. That's an order!"

"Oh, Gaylord!" breathed Luverduk asthmatically. "Oh, oh, oh...." The length of the corridor down which he waddled swallowed up the gibberish that whispered in his wake.

Thirty minutes to the second later, just as Kram was putting the finishing touches on the thing which he had estimated would take him precisely 30 minutes to rig, Luverduk returned.


"I have something to show you, Major Luverduk. Come here." Kram gestured toward the outside door of the large office which led through a space-cruiser hangar and out to the experimental detonation range where new weapons received their first tests in the half-scale stage.

"Show me! Good Lord, Gaylord! Hoskins read it right there in front of me! He said for you to get to his headquarters as fast as you can double-time it! Sore! It was more or less nice knowing you, Lance-corporal Kram!"

"I knew he'd be a little silly about it at first."

"He said if you're not in his office in 15 minutes, he's coming to yours with his whole damned guard!"

"Might, come to think of it. Come here, Luverduk."


"See this?" Kram held a shiny new needle-ray pistol in his hand. It was strictly an anti-personnel weapon, and good only for close-in combat. A hand weapon of limited powers, and nothing more.

"I see it. But as one skeleton in the museum told the other, if we had any guts we'd get out of here...."

"Follow me."

Since it sounded like an order, Luverduk obeyed it. Kram was not a lance-corporal yet. Luverduk followed his superior to one of the firing ranges for atomic cannon. Kram pointed to a dismantled space-cruiser hull, used regularly by cannoneer cadets for target practice. Its molybdenum hide was scarred with many accurately-directed blasts. It was nearly a quarter-mile from where Kram stood.

"Watch," he said. Luverduk sensed an order in that word also.

Kram pointed the pistol, potent up to 50 yards. Slowly, his long right arm came up. The streamlined weapon glinted in the afternoon sunlight. Carefully, Kram aimed—aimed impossibly—at the distant cruiser hull! Then his finger constricted on the trigger. Hiss it went.

And the hull was blasted to atoms!

"You—" That was all Luverduk could utter. He gaped, pudgy mouth hanging open, first at the pistol, then at the rising column of white smoke where the scarred hull had been. He knew at the same time that had it not been for the shock-wave absorbers covering the range with their radiations, he would at present be flat on his face, or its reasonable facsimile.

"I," Kram said, "am a weapons expert as well as an Intelligence officer. You know that. Correct?"


"Confronted with the facts, Luverduk, which you yourself have just witnessed, what would you say?"

"That pistol is better than the—the G-ray! You—"

"I have. Xenthl's skin, I expect, should crawl. Agreed?"

Luverduk nodded slowly.

"Good. Because we are now going to see him. A ship is parked in the hangar."

"Not about that truce business—" Luverduk's voice rose in horror.


"Hoskins?" Luverduk's voice was a challenge to all soprano mice.

"Umm," Kram said. Luverduk followed him.

From Karz, Commander, Sector Patrol III: For Kuul, Patrol Coordinator. Urgent. Subject: enemy flight. At 16:12, western hemisphere Earth time, single ship seen to be directed Moonside, no armament, but beyond restrictive boundary. Following, three smaller craft, likewise unarmed, towing six apparently unmanned cruisers of obsolete design. Single craft continues Moonside. Towing craft leave unmanned cruisers adrift after deceleration approximately 1,500 miles outside boundary. Speed of abandoned ships, less than 300 miles per hour. Adrift in loose line formation. Single ship, now radiating truce signal, continues course. Am holding fire pending your advisory.

From Kuul, Patrol Coordinator, Sirian Expeditionary Forces: For Karz, Commander, Sector Patrol III. Subject: communication 18Z. Continue holding fire pending my command.

From Karz, Commander, Sector Patrol III: For Kuul, P. C. Subject: armed enemy cruisers. Enemy fleet of military destroyer-units hovering in formation at edge of restrictive boundary. Armed, but have not fired into restrictive zone. Appear to be in command of General Flagship. No communications intercepted, no actual violation as yet of restrictive boundary. Twenty-one craft counted. Requesting further advice, to avert any possible breach of strategic diplomacy.

From Kuul, P. C., SEF: For Karz, Cmmdr., Sector Patrol III. Subject: communication 18Z1. Stand by. Deliberate disregard of ultimatum stipulations on our part would tend to lessen prestige and introduce possibility of unsatisfactory psychological reactions. It is to be remembered that Terrestrials are highly unpredictable when abruptly angered. Alert your command this headquarters.

"What did they say?" Kram asked. The Moon leered at him through the thick quartz conning-port like a pitted, rotted rubber ball that had once been painted with a diluted silver gilt.

Luverduk still shook, but not as much. "About those skeletons—"

"You'll be one if you don't cut your jets. What was their reply?"

"Xenthl will give us an audience upon our landing, but we have been emphatically warned that the slightest move we make which may be interpreted as a breach of truce will be our last. And they added that any move made by anybody else in the neighborhood which may be so interpreted will be their last, too...."

"Told you things would work out."

"Work out? We're only flying a white flag with no authorization from anybody. We've only gone AWOL. And Hoskins is gunning right behind. We often leave without saying good-bye—"

"Parts of that statement are inaccurate. Hoskins is waiting at the boundary, not daring to fire into the Sirian zone—not gunning right behind. And he knows that one ship-length of an armed cruiser over the boundary will mean the G-ray for the whole shooting-match. He also knows we'll come back, so is just standing by until we do. However, to something of far more importance. Did you bring the blast-rifle?"

"I did. I assume it is like the pistol, only more so."

"It certainly is supposed to be."

"Your answer is only more or less perfect. I say again, is the rifle like a super G-ray?"


"Like a super atomic cannon, then."

"No. The rifle, as well as the pistol I showed you, are, to put it vulgarly, fakes. They wouldn't squirt water."

"I asked you a straight question, you should therefore give me at least the semblance of a straight answer. Come again."

"You heard me. Fakes."

"You mean they will not work? It will not work?"


"Good Lord, you mean we're actually going to see Xenthl with truce in our white little hearts and not blow his headquarters to pieces? This is a real, honest-to-God truce mission?"

"In a manner of speaking, sort of."

"Then the explosion of the space-cruiser hull...?"

"Was faked."

"You tricked me!"

"I did. But you believed me until I told you."

Luverduk was starting to hop up and down, although his feet never quite left the deck. "I will admit that, but only because it's true!"

"It's true, all right. In addition to being an Intelligence and weapons expert, I am likewise rather clever in the field of psychology. Your foreknowledge of my expertness with weapon design had you half-convinced I could do something fantastic before you even saw me apparently do it. And when you saw it in what looked like actuality, it was all you needed."

"But we are surrendering anyhow! You are a mad fellow—"

"Let us not, Luverduk, confuse the term 'truce' with 'surrender.' What I told Hoskins and what I am actually doing are horses, one might say, of variable hues...."

"You see a way out of this, Kram?"

"Prepare to man the decelerators at 3.8G on my signal."

As the roar of the forward jets cut in and Kram's vision grew momentarily blurred, the suspicion grew in his mind that Luverduk was mumbling something about northbound horses....

The military headquarters of Xenthl, Commander-In-Chief of the Sirian Expeditionary Forces and Grand Protector of the Universe were, as Kram would have put it, somewhat stupendous. Simplicity was the keynote of its otherworldly architecture; the huge hemisphere of eerily glimmering alloy was first viewed by Luverduk with anything but a narrow-eyed, analytical gaze. And its interior, although not resplendent in the sense of the courts of ancient kings, was a breath-stopping spectacle of geometry as could only have been conceived by minds of Other Space. The involutions of its eye-defying curves were as gracefully simple as they were dimensionally complex; the very straightness of the corridor down which the procession of heavily armed guards and the men from earth proceeded was a masterpiece of structural design in itself.

Xenthl's sanctum sanctorum was an even greater achievement in the architecturally impossible. Kram made a mental note to make a requisition for a replastering job in his own office immediately upon his return to Earth.

Luverduk was impressed, but more with Xenthl's bearded, rotund, pink-skinned majesty than with his surroundings.

"Without the beaver, he'd look just like me, Kram!"

"So he would, Major!"

The seated Xenthl signalled his guards to halt, and the envoys of truce to step forward. His oversized cranium, typical of his race, seemed to nod gently from its own weight.

"You come," he mouthed the Terrestrian language awkwardly, "as couriers of surrender?"

"You are crazier than Luverduk, here, if you think so!" Kram casually folded his arms. "As a personal representative of his Most Excellent Sovereign Worthiness, the Guardian of all Universes in Space and Time, the President of Terra, and also the Bronx, I appear before you to recognize and return the civility displayed by your forces in not attacking an Earth ship radiating a signal of truce. In short, I am here to offer you your life, and the lives of your people, with the alternative of instantaneous annihilation."

"I am amused," purred Xenthl. "But at your expense. For this impertinence, your government shall be given but one month more, instead of six months more, to prepare itself for my rule. And in addition, from this moment forward, it will be under the direct surveillance of my own armed forces. I have, it would seem, grossly overestimated the intelligence of you Earthmen. It had been my thought that, as you say, you knew what was good for you. I have erred."

"That," said Kram, allowing the flicker of a self-indulgent grin to play at the corners of his long mouth, "is something of an understatement, Mr. Xenthl. And to prove what I say—and a man of your intellect would require proof of any statement—I ask that the only armament aboard the ship in which I came, a blast-rifle, be brought here, to be fired as I direct by one of your own marksmen. By directing his aim telescopically, he should have no trouble in sighting on the abandoned cruiser hulls which I have had towed into position for target purposes...."

Xenthl's mouth worked. "This is a trick of some sort," he said icily. "At the very least, a gross misuse of the purposes of truce."

"I offer you your lives," Kram said almost nonchalantly.

"As a man of my intellect—" Xenthl declared after a breath-take of hesitation, "I require whatever attempt at proof you may have for your childish statements. Guard!"

Within moments, the rifle was in the hands of one of Xenthl's marksmen, and, sighting with a headquarters electrono-telescope, the soldier from Sirius drew a bead on the drifting cruiser hulls, and pressed the curved trigger at Xenthl's order.

In a visiplate, Xenthl himself witnessed an incredible white flash as first one of the space-cruiser hulls was blown to atoms, and then in rapid succession, the second, third, fourth, and fifth.

The first space-cruiser hull was blown to atoms....

"You will observe," Kram said, "that only one hull was hit. But all were destroyed. A little chain-reaction gadget I developed last week—" A gasp at Kram's elbow; but Kram had not finished—"You have observed also," he continued matter-of-factly, "that with one blast of only a rifle, to say nothing of the cannon I have also developed, a myriad of targets may at once be destroyed. Your G-ray," Kram adopted a tone dripping with respect, "is capable, after all, of destroying but one target at a time."

Xenthl's features had lost their healthy pink tinge. "You have mastered," he said, "a practical application of the chain-reaction principle. It is impossible, but I have seen you do it with my own eyes."

"That was the object in my having come," Kram said in his most courteous tone. "And it is the proof which I knew your excellency would demand. In addition to which, I might inform you that I am Gaylord Kram!"

Silence. Then:

"This is indeed a matter for some consideration," Xenthl said.

And even the mask-like face of the arrogant Sirian was not able to disguise the look of utter incredulity which was shadowed beneath its still-white-tinged surface.

"Kram, you'll hang for this!"

Gaylord Kram stood at rigid attention before Sectors-General Hoskins on the flight-deck of the General Flagship. He had drawn his own craft alongside and boarded with Major Luverduk at the General's command, and under the ugly snouts of the General's artillery.

"I trust," he said, "that you will accept my apology for having issued you a false communication. But I theorized that only in anger would I be followed so promptly and with such a show of strength. Only the thought of surrender could make you angry, sir!"

"You impudent puppy! You—" Hoskins was livid. He did not shake. He vibrated.

"It was necessary, sir. I was bluffing, but I needed at least the appearance of armed might to give credence to my strategy. I readily admit having rescued our planet by means of what may unappreciatively be termed trickery. As I tricked Luverduk, here, by simply using a mined target on the detonation range, so I also attempted to trick Xenthl with five unmanned space-cruisers, loaded to the seams with atomic detonators timed to produce the effect of chain-reaction and set off by remote control. There was a miniature radar transmitter of my own design within the blast-rifle which I had Xenthl's marksman use. Quite simple, really."

"Simple is hardly the word!" Hoskins thundered. "With the Sirian G-ray staring us in the face, you try your hand at strategy! I hope there is time to hang you before Earth is blown to Kingdom Come!"

"Never fear, sir! Xenthl had merely used an innovation of the Q-type light-bender to produce a mirage at the desert location of his supposed 'abandoned laboratories.' First the buildings were 'seen,' then, at the instant his weapon was supposedly 'fired,' they were not. A mirage had been turned on and off at will. That was all! Putting it simply, sir—I theorized that the G-ray was, in the first place, no more than a colossal bluff itself!"

"Theorized, the man says!" The General's complexion blended nicely with his lavender tunic. "To him, politics is five-card stud! To him—"

The tirade was interrupted by a wide-eyed orderly who bore a signal-technician's insignia on his sleeve. "Sir! Sirian ships are leaving the Moon, driving hard past Pluto! By the minute, sir, larger and larger flights are going up-ship for Deep Space! And at full drive! Sir!"

"Of course," murmured Kram. "I gave them twenty-four hours to clear out!"

Deftly mounting a portable G-gun which he had confiscated from Xenthl's personal arsenal, Kram pointed it directly at his own ship, drifting under robot control a few miles to the Flagship's starboard.

"They cleared out," he declared quietly, "because Gaylord Kram had called their bluff, gentlemen!" and triumphantly punched a firing-button.

A soft hiss, and Kram's cruiser was blown to smithereens!