The Project Gutenberg eBook of Space Blackout, by Sam Carson
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Title: Space Blackout
Author: Sam Carson
Release Date: March 20, 2021 [eBook #64874]
Language: English
Character set encoding: UTF-8
Produced by: Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at



[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Comet May 41.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

I've seen a world die, and with it men who chose to remain and face the end because of love.

Love of their homes and the soil beneath them and the life they had achieved. It's a story I believe Earthmen could ponder, and benefit from. For we are the youngest of terrestrial civilizations within the space orbit the Martians have shown us.

I'm Jerry Kos, master navigator, twenty-seven and entitled to three stripes on my jacket to prove I've completed that many six months voyages with the Cosmic Survey. I'm a specialist, holder of the solo record from Moon to Earth made in 2437, and enjoy spending all my leave in the government preserves, camping in the raw, hiking, fishing, anything I can do by hand, so to speak. Otherwise I'm one of some fifty thousand young officers of the Commonwealth whose job is cut out for him. And I like it.

It was Jim Drake, skipper of the Pelios, Cosmic Survey ship, who persuaded me to take my leave on Mars, as a guest of Shadrak. Shadrak is one of our advisers, guardian of the Great Waterway, and a big shot among the hundred thousand odd Martians who rule their planet by robot control. The Martians watched us develop thousands of years, and let us go because they're peaceful, and like our energy, till Gregor, the Tartar dictator came along and messed up the world. Then Shadrak, and a half dozen others roused themselves, crossed the void to Earth and liquidated a wad of would be exponents of force. That put the United States on top with its ideals of democracy, and the Martians reorganized our form of living, gave us advanced tools, knowledge and created a technocracy. The Martians sit back, live well and give us ideas. We do the same for them and everybody's happy. They know how to contact all forms of life in the solar system, from Mercury to Neptune, and now, as you know, Earth is a beehive of industry.

Jim Drake's a thoughtful chap, quiet but a whip. Since he was a kid Shadrak has liked him. After a few days of fishing, boating, and general recreation, Shadrak called us in to his domed estate.

First he showed us his planetarium, and a dark nebula in beyond Orion, he calls the Noir, speaking with the throat disk because Martians can't manage our tongue otherwise. That dark, he had just explained, was a thousand light years beyond the nearer Orion cluster.

"Behind it," he added, "is a solar system, a sun with six planets. The third planet is Spor, of the same albedo as Earth, and identical atmosphere. I know, for my grandfather visited it, and he chose it as a suitable refuge for ten thousand of your Earthmen."

I had to break in on that. Jim nudged me, but Shadrak smiled. "Small wonder you're surprised," he commented. "On Earth you have a legend, of the lost Atlantis. There was a general submerging of continents. Millions perished. And we were so moved on Mars that we sent our space ships. It was one of our few real invasions. Till we visited Gregor, we hadn't returned. But that time we removed ten thousand, products of an advanced civilization.

"We moved those ten thousand to Spor." Jim whistled. "Even that long ago you traveled ahead of light. I mean, with greater speed."

Shadrak nodded. "You two are Earthmen we trust. We keep many secrets because it is best. But in this case—" he paused, "I want you, Jerry Kos and Jim Drake, to journey to Spor."

"But it would take years," I put in. "Maybe longer."

"Twenty two days and six hours, with the new ship just delivered," Shadrak corrected. "It has a capacity of one thousand. If you return with a full load, we shall send more ships to Spor."

Jim looked bewildered. "Maybe it's too much," he said, "but such a speed is incredible."

"There is no limit to speed," Shadrak told us. "The problem is of acceleration, and deceleration. You have that problem in handling the Pelios, which rides energy beams at the speed of light. Frequencies, whether of sound or light, as instances, are constant. Therefore we employ this fact in accelerating. We superimpose frequencies against frequencies, repelling power, one from the other. The result is a constant, increasing ratio. In effect, Jim—and you, Jerry—will grasp it much easier in this manner. If you had a machine throwing a jet of water, and it touched an opposing jet of water, your propulsion would build up till the limits of the energy from the opposing jets were reached. Suppose those jets continued to reach out. As light frequencies, till you built up your maximum. In a vacuum your speed would continue at that maximum velocity till you chose to decelerate. Now deceleration is effected by the same principle. We do it by hitching to our sun and reaching the maximum in building up speed. In like manner, another sun can be used to decelerate, by reversing the process.

"But enough of that," Shadrak resumed. "Your ship will be robot controlled. Our own master navigator will get telescreened charts of your course. Your job will begin when you land, I fear. The planet of Spor enters the Noir within eighteen months, and a sudden reaction in that hundred thousand light year wide mass could reduce the engulfing to eighteen weeks."

"What does this Noir mean, swallowing up Spor?" I fired that shot. And it was Jim who answered.

"Noir's the light absorbing element nobody has lived to analyze. We know it absorbs all organic life as it does light, electricity, even sound. It's the black scourge of space."

"And we're going to play around it, eh? To bring back the descendants of the lost Atlantis. And where do they go, providing we take 'em off?"

Shadrak waved a hand vaguely over the horizon. "Here, till we find a planet suitable. You see, we're responsible. We moved them to Spor. Now it's our duty to remove them again."

Jim spoke. "We're ready, whenever you are sir."

Now a lot happened before we curved around the sinister prong of the Noir, the Milky Way lost behind, even Orion and his companions. We had ceased marveling at the repellor motors, operated within compact cases by the efficient robot machines. And I must put in a word for the way they lifted our big ship from Mars. You don't use rockets any more. They catapult you, shooting you ten thousand miles outward with rocket tubes sunk into the ground. You use inverted, concave affairs to catch the power. And too, we had our first acquaintance with the auxiliary repellors used inside the ship to offset inertia. This gave us the same gravity as Earth. And Shadrak called at regular periods on the relief screen, the new device that gives solidity to an image. He told us a lot about the transplanted sons and daughters of ancient Atlantis, and we had the mentameters to make immediate contact with their language and knowledge. Shadrak had thought of everything.

The solar system which Shadrak called Maj, crawled around the crescent of Noir, and we sighted the third planet, giving a ruddy glow. That gave us a kick, but I felt a shiver as I watched that ebon horn blotting out the sky, reaching hungrily toward Maj. Jim said the movement of Noir had been constant at 110 kilometers a second, but that the speed was building up. He called for a robot check on the tip of Noir and Spor. After careful study, Jim flashed the telescreen for Shadrak. "Noir tip at 60 plus 382," he reported.

Shadrak looked grave. "That gives you no more than four months," he said. "If the movement accelerates, it will be quite earlier. After you land, arrange for periodical checks."

It was time now to begin deceleration. We fixed on the sun of Maj. At first we couldn't feel a change. It was ten hours before the planets slowed down, and we curved to meet the pull of Maj. Two days elapsed by our chronometers before we entered the gravity pull of Spor and began our spiral descent, much as we would had it been the smaller Pelios. Our electroscopes found a city, towers and walls gilded by a rising sun. I worked out the course for Jim and we picked a plain nearby. We settled on a regular nest of repellor beams, to find an army gathered without, an army of men and women and children, not at all frightened and apparently not hostile.

"Look," Jim cried. "They look like the museum pictures of 2000. The same kind of cars, and streets."

It was true. We checked on the atmosphere readings, found the temperature 76 fahrenheit, a mild spring day. We opened the locks and stepped out on the soil of Spor, Jim lugging the portable mentameter. I heard a buzzing sound. An airplane, of ancient vintage, judging by the museum films, circled overhead. Men in field gray, wearing leather leggings and caps, rode up on noisy, two wheeled machines.

"The Twentieth Century comes to life," Jim muttered. "It's like a dream."

A man with slightly gray hair stepped from one of the cars, approached us, flanked by the guards. He spoke, but the words were unintelligible. Jim smiled, pointed skyward and to the ship. The greeter nodded as if he understood. Then Jim put down the mentameter pack, adjusted earphones and the clamp about his temples. He gestured for the other to do likewise.

Someone protested, and there was an argument, while we waited. Then the gray haired man spoke with curtness, and the guards fell back. Smiling, the Spor dweller put on the mentameter receiver. Jim began speaking slowly. "I am Jim Drake, of Earth, from which your ancestors were removed from Atlantis by Martians. We were sent here by other Martians."

The Spor governor, for that was what we learned he was, shouted to the throng. He spoke excitedly and people began to cheer, to gather more closely. Then he spoke to Jim. By then I had on the spare receiver.

"You are fulfilling a legend," the governor said. "From our early days the writings of our forefathers foretold the day when Earthmen would come from beyond the dark spaces. I, Tarquin of Spor and governor of the city of Osmand, welcome you. And if you will pardon my curiosity, what manner of machine is this, to interpret our thoughts?"

"Brother," I cut in, "it's as mysterious to me as it must be to you. The Martians perfected it and hold the secret."

"You think and talk like one of us," the governor chuckled. "Our astronomers sighted you yesterday and they predicted a landing at Osmand. So we are not exactly surprised."

We wound up with posting a guard about the ship and riding into the city with Tarquin. A radio in the car reported our progress, the announcer manifestly excited. We found thousands on streets and sidewalks and crowding office windows. Above all, we had the feeling we were among Earthmen, and yet it wasn't our technocratic manner of life either. There was nothing orderly. And I felt that I liked this way of living. I was in the same state of mind a week later, when Jim and I had already learned enough about the language of Spor to talk, and we'd been cramming on their history from the time the Martians left off so many centuries before. At Shadrak's suggestion, we'd kept quiet on our real mission. We found ourselves popular in Osmand as the days grew on, and we were guests of Governor Tarquin, on a swell estate bordering a small river. And then, as thousands lined the river for a water carnival, Tarquin told us all was not well on Spor. We were on a terrace and it reminded me somehow of Shadrak's place, without the dome, or eternal robots. "Take this city," he exclaimed. "We are a democracy, at peace with the world. But across the sea, in Plevia, there is a colony gathering strength, headed by Garok, a troublemaker we exiled ten years ago from Osmand."

"Why not take your planes, fly over and clean him out before he's strong enough to fight you?" I asked.

Tarquin gazed at me, and he looked bewildered. "Osmand makes no war. We have our civil officers, but our army is small. We of Osmand, and of the other city states on this continent have lived in accord two thousand years without fighting. Garok will not invade us. But he does harbor criminals, and thereby makes trouble."

And that was that. War was simply out of mind. And why not. If ever there was a placid countryside, which we toured in the next two weeks, it was the continent upon which Osmand was built. There were farms, small factories, everywhere homes with large grounds, and men, women and children employed. Everybody greeted you with a smile, it seemed, and there was much singing. It got Jim like it did me, and I remember what a jerk Shadrak pulled us up with, when checking with him from the ship after a tour of the continent to the other cities—Nostran, Tula and Polis. Shadrak told us the invading horn of Noir had indeed accelerated its spread toward the system of Maj and would engulf it within no less than eight weeks.

Tarquin accepted our report from Shadrak, for in the legend that Earthmen would come, was a prophecy of destruction to Spor. "Yes," he said slowly, pacing his terrace, his family engaged in sports below, "we have been watching the dark cloud you call Noir. Our astronomers are uncertain of the result."

"We're not," Jim said. "Noir will blast every vestige of life from Spor. The Martians know. They offer refuge on their planet, till you find another Spor. We can remove the first thousand. The Martians will send other ships, if you agree."

"If we agree." Tarquin stood beside the terrace parapet, with the skyline of Osmand gilded in a low sun. A shaft of light struck a passenger plane bound for a landing field. Cries of children, picnicking across the river in a park, drifted to us. Tarquin twisted a bit of paper into a wad, tossed it to the lawn. Then he turned to Jim. "I'll radio the other governors," he said. "We must place this information before them all, and let the people vote."

"Elections," Jim cried. "That will take weeks. We've got to act now. Shadrak says the dark nebula has tripled its speed toward Maj in the last seven days."

"Yes," Tarquin agreed simply. "That has been noted too, from our observatory. Last night two stars were blotted out. I'm sorry, my friends, if we delay. But that is the way to act. Now, if you'll pardon me, I'll invite the governors for a conference."

To our surprise Tarquin summoned Garok with the others. He was unlike the others, a spare, square jawed man no older than Jim Drake, eyes tending to the shifty side and with the gift of an orator. He could hardly wait till Tarquin delivered his talk of our mission. I could see the other governors refused to be stirred as Tarquin. One, Dalin, a fat, amiable chap, laughed. "Nonsense," he exclaimed. "I'll grant you these young men may have come from Earth as they come, but they could be putting over a giant hoax," he added shrewdly.

"But the astronomers sighted them five thousand miles away," Tarquin interrupted impatiently. "These men have instruments beyond our knowledge."

"Probably stolen," Garok spoke for the first time. His manner was swaggering, contemptuous. "For all we know they're adventurers from another planet. And if not, why must we meet to be told fairy tales. What of a dark cloud? Going to destroy Spor! Bah. A story to frighten children with. Is this what you brought us here to discuss?" This to Tarquin.

The governor of Osmand flushed. I saw Jim's fists clench, but he remained silent. "We're not here to give opinions, when we don't know what we're talking about," he snapped. "All our astronomers agree the dark nebula is sweeping in like a tidal wave. These men journeyed into our solar system to warn us. I believe them. The question is, do the people of Spor want to believe, and act. That is the question. I propose a referendum, the subject explained over our radio nets, to be held one week from today."

"That date may be too late," Jim warned. "I suggest—"

"Bah," Garok cut in. "You want a panic, so that you can loot us."

That was when Jim sprang to his feet and struck Garok. The leader of Plevia went down. But he was up and charging like a mad bull a moment later.

Tarquin cried out and guards rushed in, separating the men. And now the governor of Osmand frowned at Jim. "You struck first," he said gravely. "You struck a guest of mine."

"I'm sorry," Jim told him. "But it was in desperation, because I realize the danger to you. Governor, we must act more quickly. We must."

Tarquin nodded. "So be it. As senior governor of the continental cities, I set aside the third day from now, and each governor shall join our radio net, so that the people may hear, and vote as they choose."

"You fools," Garok snarled. His right eye was discolored and he glared at Jim. "I demand this man, to be punished for striking Garok."

"He is in my custody," Tarquin replied calmly. "For striking a guest of mine, he must be punished."

Garok swept the room. I noticed the fat governor, Dalin, cringed. "I choose to do my own punishing," he snapped and walked from the room. Dalin glanced about at the silent group. "Your guest will cause us untold trouble," he said. "I saw it in Garok's eyes. He is seeking a cause to do damage to us, and you've permitted that cause tonight."

"If I did, I take the responsibility, Dalin. Do you other gentlemen agree to put the question before your people and permit the referendum?"

In the end they agreed, although it was plain they were more concerned over Garok than the threat of Noir's black flood. And I had a hunch Garok had placed doubt in their minds about us. We persuaded Tarquin to attend our conference with Shadrak. And to our surprise, Shadrak, from the relief screen, spoke to Tarquin in the latter's tongue. Tarquin left our ship a man who looked years older. "I must act, at once," he told us with a sigh. "Why didn't I have our meeting aboard your ship where they too could have heard, and seen the Martian? It was my mistake."

"You're starting at once?" Jim asked.

Tarquin nodded. "But I'm afraid—afraid there are few who would leave Osmand, or any of the other continental states.

"Look about you," he continued. "Here is contentment, peace, a form of collective security for all. Outside of Garok there is no discontent. We love Osmand, as the others do their cities."

"Shadrak called this a Utopia," Jim observed thoughtfully. "I understand. But we must get the message over, Governor. And quickly."

I remember how we stood by while Tarquin started at daylight, over the radio net, explaining it all, and the news agencies were waking up. Crowds gathered on streets. People stared at us, some without enthusiasm, and we weren't surprised when Tarquin assigned us guards. We were getting blamed for the scare, it appeared. By night we were directed to return to Tarquin's home. Garok, it seemed, was taking to the radio, making charges, promising to capture and punish us for trying to create a panic on Spor. Overnight crowds formed outside the grounds of the governor's home. A large detachment had to guard our ship, and we made arrangements to return to it. And during these three days the grim, dark threat of Noir came on, invincible, inevitable, overspreading one third of the firmament, blotting out star after star. Shadrak offered no advice, strangely enough. But he kept us apprised of reports from Martian astronomers. And then, as citizens of the city states poured out to vote on the question Tarquin had put before them, Garok struck.

He came with wave after wave of planes, and he dropped bomb after bomb of outlawed explosives, not for destruction, but to send the city into a panic. Too late Jim and I realized we had been a blessing to Garok. In upsetting the placid lives of the city states, we had furnished motive and opportunity to strike. It wasn't an invasion such as they used to have on Earth. But it was onesided, Tarquin's police force pitifully inadequate. And so as the planes landed, disgorging squads of men, armed with peculiar flame throwers, Osmand was taken and the referendum forgotten.

In our refuge, with no arms save our ray guns, Jim and I looked helplessly on. So far we had been unmolested. I thought of the little single seater planes used as Earth patrols, and the blasting charge in the nose, reserved for emergencies. Jim was pacing the control room like a caged tiger. Shadrak was away from his post and we had transcribed our report of Garok's coming, for his screen. Now he signaled us, somewhat excitedly. Evidently he hadn't seen the transcription, for he spoke rapidly. "You have ten hours left," he cried, "before the Noir invades Maj. Ten more hours and you cannot leave Spor. Act at once." Jim reported in crisp accents of events. Shadrak swore in fluent Martian. Then he told us to open an emergency locker. At once robot trucks wheeled out a dandy two seater patrol car, with 20 millimeter ray guns for armament. "Destroy Garok's force where necessary," Shadrak ordered. "That completed, proceed at once with loading. Remove Tarquin's family first. He must be saved at all cost."

We broke out the rear exit as a two motored plane dived at our space ship. Jim nosed our patrol car upward. I was at the ray gun controls. We blew the plane out of the sky. Then we went upstairs. Garok had a fleet of planes he surely must have taken over from transport lines. There were different markings on them. Anyway, we knocked down planes, plenty of them. But scores had landed, with soldiers scattering, to take over objectives. We went down, blasted groups right and left. On the landing field we could see police rallying. I worked the ray guns on ground and sky alike during the next twenty minutes, and Garok's invaders surviving turned tail, abandoning their comrades already landed.

We went down blasting ... right and left....

Tarquin was in command as his guards rounded up sullen, but defeated groups of Garok's men. Sirens were wailing, and we counted a dozen big fires raging. "Thanks," he acknowledged, nodding at our patrol car. "Garok is attacking the other cities. They've all asked for help."

"We'll take his planes," Jim promised. "But you've got to hurry, Governor. Shadrak says it's a matter of hours."

Tarquin seemed not to hear Jim. He stared toward the great fires. "Destruction," he muttered. "The hell of war turned loose after all these centuries."

Mobs had poured onto the field. Guards battled with them. The foremost tried to reach the captured invaders, yelling curses at them. Others continued toward us. I saw Tarquin stiffen. He ordered a ring of guards about us. "But why?" Jim demanded.

"They blame you," Tarquin said bitterly. "For stirring up trouble. In fact, they're demanding your lives as forfeit."

"But can't they understand?" Jim cried. "Hasn't it been made plain enough? You talked with them, explained our coming—"

Tarquin waved a hand toward the angry men and women. Some had stones, bricks and these they were hurling our way. "You can see for yourselves," he told us. "Dalin went on the air and blamed you, opposing our referendum. Said it was idiotic, that departure from Spor was unthinkable. He argued that his scientists promised the dark gas would not enter our atmosphere and would be dissipated, permitting sunlight to enter. My own people of Osmand were in doubt, even before Garok came. Now—well, they think only of this destruction, and the factors they blame, including you two."

"We're going to tackle Garok's other fleets," Jim said briefly. "Meanwhile, we're expecting you to report our act, and to plead with the people of Osmand to come with us, as many as we can take. We'll be back, in a few hours."

We collided with Garok's air fleet above Dalin's city, while it was at the height of its raid. It took us exactly eighteen minutes to clean the air, leaving destroyed planes blazing on all sides. Then we went on. But we were to get a stiff shock. Garok's sky fleet had vanished elsewhere.

"Okay," Jim decided, after we had cruised the coast line, "we'd better get back to Osmand. If Garok's fled, our mission is completed."

We withheld reporting through to Shadrak. The sky was unusually black tonight. Overhead, there were no stars. We raised the flames in Osmand some fifty miles out. Jim let out an angry yell. "Garok's attacking again," he cried. "Those are new fires."

Rockets wide open we raced down toward Osmand. There were new fires. Jim circled toward the plain where our ship was located. We saw a cone of flame leap out of the thick night. Garok was bombing the space ship.

We tore at the invaders like mad swordfish. We knocked them apart, then went in for a landing. One bomb had landed within twenty feet of the ship. We got out of the patrol car, sprinted for the big ship. Jim used a torch, assured himself the craft was undamaged. And when we went inside, Garok himself was the bird who climbed into our patrol car.

Pistol bullets cut by our ears as both of us tried to rectify that damage. Garok didn't know beans about a rocket car. But a dumb, conceited punk like him could wreck it, so we ignored the soldiers who'd climbed out of Garok's plane after that noiseless glide of his and raced for the patrol car.

Garok yelled something at us and accidentally touched off the ray guns. His own plane literally went into gas, and his men went down, or turned into more gas. Then the patrol car streaked skyward, bowling us over. Twin tongues of angry flame marked his course, higher—higher, blast wide open. "The fool," Jim cried. "He'll burn the car up, if he gains any more altitude. The thin atmosphere will fix him—"

"Maybe he didn't start it on purpose, and can't do anything about it," I suggested. Jim's face was visible in the glow of the fires. "Maybe you're right," he agreed. And as if in confirmation, there was a dull red blob high above. The blob widened, sent out a shower of sparks and vanished. "And that," Jim commented, "is the last of Garok."

Evidently Garok's wild scheme to take patrol car and then perhaps our space ship, was with his last survivors, for we heard no more planes. A police car arrived. Tarquin had sent them. "The governor advises you to leave Osmand at once," was the officer's message. "Anger is growing against you two."

"Okay by me," I said. "We clean up a mess for you and get the rap. You don't believe us, so what? We'd better save our own skins."

"I'm going to make one last appeal to Tarquin," Jim announced. "It's our duty. You stay here with the ship."

"Listen you," I sounded off, "if you go back into Osmand, I go with you. But how?"

"In the police car." To the surprised officer Jim said: "If Governor Tarquin guarantees no hope to remove anyone, we'll leave. But first, I bear him a final message. Will you take us?"

"I'll take you," the officer said. "But it is foolish. We've got to take the chance, here on Spor. It's our world, the one we love. Because you destroyed Garok's men, we'll give you safe conduct."

They bore us through darkened side streets. By radio we heard the damage, and of thousands massed in downtown parks, listening to speakers who demanded our punishment along with the captured invaders. Tarquin was in his office and had just completed orders to give our ship full protection. His eyes were sunken. Jim went to the point at once. "Governor Tarquin, the Martian Shadrak asked us to remove you and your family, by all means. We must clear Spor by day-break. Or before noon. Couldn't you persuade others—people of Osmand you want to save, to go to the ship. If it's a mistake and Noir doesn't wipe everything out, we can return. You know that. It's not taking a chance. Please, we're offering life—to all Spor—through you and a thousand others of Osmand."

Tarquin led us to a wide window. There was light below, and we saw a triangular space packed with thousands. Loud speakers were blasting and we could see a tiny figure on a platform.

"I tell you the forces of evil envy our world of Spor and seek to destroy us," the speaker shouted. "What influenced Garok to erupt from Plevia and attempt to enslave us? I'll answer that question. The men who came out of the sky with the wild story the end of our universe is at hand. Bah. Nature sends a dark cloud of gas nearer, and we're expected to fly into a panic. Our own governor lost his sanity for that unlikely yarn.

"I tell you, citizens of Osmand, we have made a civilization of such prosperity and contentment that word has reached other planets of this solar system. They sent messengers in disguise, to throw us into panic. In the future let us arm, and repel any such future invasion as Garok gave us. Let us punish by death any who come among us and seek to undermine us by fantastic stories. Men and women of Osmand, we shall never be frightened out of Osmand, and most certainly not to desert Spor...."

"You see," Tarquin spoke presently, with sadness in his voice. "My family is down there. They consider me mad, to entertain any belief in what you say."

"But it is true," Jim cried. "It is true. They must be convinced. Spor is doomed, in hours. I tell you I am speaking the truth. And surely you will go with us. You believe us, don't you?"

"I believe you, Jim Drake. I know Shadrak, and his fellow Martians feel their responsibility. They saved us once, when they believed Earth was doomed entirely. It wasn't. And the Martians could be wrong again," he added hopefully.

An hour later we were taken by police back to our guarded ship. So many were on duty that the crowds had drifted back to Osmand. Fires were out now, and only the street lights were visible. Osmand, to all outward appearances, was peacefully going to bed. Shadrak, summoned at our call, came to the telescreen. "I was afraid," he said after Jim reported. "You have done your best. You have my permission to depart Spor immediately. The Noir is within twelve hours of Maj."

"Let's go," I cried. Maybe Tarquin and the others had some hope, but I was ready to go. Jim's next words sent cold chills down my spine. "May we stay, till sunrise sir. We should have at least four hours after the sun of Maj is blotted out, before Spor is reached. Maybe, after they see the sun eclipsed, some will come to us."

"There is a chance," Shadrak conceded. "But do not delay. If none come, be prepared to take the course already transcribed on the robot screen."

It was midnight. I noted the absence of all stars ahead of Jim. "It's spreading," I told him. All at once I felt chilled. It was like a thick, cloudy night on Earth, only more eerie. Like being in a cave. The darkness seemed to bear down on the lights of Osmand and make them dimmer. Neither of us slept. We couldn't. We worked on our course plot, inspected the entire hull and paced every deck till the hour for daylight.

Only, there was no daylight. The chronometers aboard the ship checked Martian time, which we still kept. And yet Osmand's lights glowed, and the rest of Spor was in the darkness of a grotto. Then the city's lights went out.

We went outside, staring, conscious of abrupt coldness. Suddenly there were sirens screaming, then bells. All at once the lights flashed back on again. "The sun—the sun of Maj," Jim exclaimed, "it's blotted out. Forever, maybe."

Panic gripped me. "Let's scram," I told him. Jim shook his head. He ran into the ship, switched on all lights. The landing lights put the entire plain in a warm glow. Jim said the people could see us. So we waited.

Lights of a fast moving car sped along the highway from Osmand. It came on, to a quick stop. We saw Tarquin, and a group of men his age. "They're coming," I told Jim. "They've changed their minds."

"Tell the others to hurry," Jim shouted, as he ran forward to meet them. "We haven't more than an hour. The Noir is racing toward Spor from the sun."

Tarquin looked like a man already at the door of the beyond. He walked to us, slowly, head lifted. Then he stopped, and we saw he wore the robes of his office. So did the others. Slowly Tarquin spoke. "We are not going with you, Jim Drake."

"Not going! But man, you know the end. It's death, in less than two hours. We're risking our own lives and we thought—"

"None of my family wishes to leave Osmand," the governor said quietly. "Therefore, I have no desire to survive, without them."

"But all of you can live, if you come with us."

"You forget our neighbors, and our kinsmen." Tarquin pointed out gravely. "I think you do not understand.

"Life, anywhere else has no attraction for the citizens of Spor. I know that now, plainly. The referendum would not have registered a thousand votes of those choosing to abandon the planet, had I sufficient time to explain, and Garok had not run amuck." Tarquin sighed. "There still is hope, that this black fog will be dissipated, as our scientists contend. If not—then it is farewell, men of our parent Earth."

"What about going to Earth," Jim cried, suddenly inspired. "That would be different. We'll take you there."

Tarquin turned and walked to the long, official car. The others followed, silent, like men sentenced and yet hopeful of reprieve. As he stood beside the door, Tarquin lifted a hand. But he spoke no more. The motor roared. Twin lights flashed on the turf....

We stood there for minutes. I heard a dry sob. Maybe it was from Jim Drake's throat. Or again, maybe it was from my own. I don't know. We stood there, till the car's rear light merged with the glow of Osmand's illumination.

Jim said, "we've got to start." As he spoke I saw a pup, a dirty, black and white pooch, tail working, trotting up. I scooped it up. Something from Spor was going to survive. Then I went to the ship.

Shadrak's voice was imperative as he called us. "Leaving," Jim shouted into the transmitter.

"Waste no time, not even seconds," Shadrak cried. "Hurry."

The pup whimpered, snuggling against my shins as we lifted the empty ship.

Because the robots had the course, I ran to the visual screen and looked down on Osmand. There were lights everywhere. A searchlight leaped after us.

Somebody tapped my shoulder. Jim Drake had joined me. "Living now," he muttered. "See the pinpoints of light out there—the other cities. In a few minutes—"

The words choked off. You see, we had no sun of Maj to fix our beams upon. We had a distance to go before we could let up on the reserve engines Shadrak had installed. We had to flee from Noir's engulfing crescent, and find another star to build up our incredible speed. Till then, we could only approximate the speed of light. "Look. Building after building is lighting up. They're going to their shops and their factories and offices. Just as if the sun were shining."

We were gazing intently now. There was a clicking sound that told of Shadrak on the relief screen. He was taking our relay and the scene was visible to the Martian as well. Only he didn't speak. I think, in those last moments, we almost held our breaths, Jim and I a few thousand miles away already—or maybe a few hundred thousand—time had no bearing. It seemed an awfully long time. Then a dark finger rubbed out Osmand.

One moment and we could see the moving lines of traffic, the glowing windows even. Then there just wasn't anything at all on the screen. Jim scanned for the other cities. But there was just darkness, impenetrable darkness. We did see a searchlight break through, a moving finger, raking through for a split second. Then it, too, vanished.

From the relief Shadrak spoke. His voice was strangely gentle. "Look no more, Jim Drake and Jerry Kos. Turn back to your charts. Spor is gone. You did your best. We know that. It was not your fault. Look forward. Within thirty minutes you will find the first star to give you speed."

It wasn't real, that flight from Maj, with Noir flowing beyond the sixth planet, its crescent outrider seeking new stars to black out, and leave dry, lifeless masses in a black universe. On schedule we picked up our star, and at sight of it we felt the first return of sanity. We sped back by Orion's family, and into a familiar bit of space, with Shadrak coming to the screen at intervals, and at other times sending us transcribed news events from Earth. And thus we crossed the sky, thrilled by the sight of Neptune, Saturn and his rings, and at last the disks of Mars and Earth, beneath our own sun, so free of the black menace. We made a routine landing, settling a short distance from Shadrak's place. He was there to welcome us, with other Martians. And Jim walked up to him slowly, holding the tiny, wriggling pup we had brought along. "The last survivor of Spor," he said. Martians dislike dogs, although they admire any member of the cat family. But Shadrak reached out, studied the tiny specimen from Spor. The pup licked his hand and Shadrak smiled. "Take him back to Earth," he said. "They will appreciate the animal, better than we." Shadrak tapped each of us in the Martian way of showing deep affection. "Never reproach yourselves, because you took a ship to Spor large enough to return a thousand persons, and returned with this poor animal.

"I think," he added with a sigh, "we forget too often we are instruments of a divine power none of us, Earthmen or Martians, or any other world, can ever understand. It was granted us the privilege of rescuing men and women of Atlantis and removing them to Spor. It was denied us, the chance to save them a second time."

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