Two hours later their eyes were taking
in a fantastic, mad scene, one that in some ways might
have occurred in the days when buccaneers roamed the
Spanish Main of Earth.
A little over a hundred yards away,
straight before them, was the corral of the phantis:
far behind it encroached the shadowy fringe of the
jungle: to their right, closer to the corral than
to the space ships, was the ranch house, lonely now
and silent. But these objects were only the background
for what had grown in front of the corral wire.
It was the roaring mass of the monster
fire that had been lit, a splash of fierce, leaping
flames in the velvety cool of the night. Black
shapes were clustered around it; bottles were raised
and drained; and a frieze of shadows, staggered and
jumped and danced around the ruddy pile of fire.
The carousal was in full swing; a chorus of wild song
rose noisily into the night; more cases were smashed
open and more alkite drawn out. The carcases of
three animals taken from the ranch’s storehouse
sizzled on the barbecue pits, to be ripped apart and
the rich, dripping meat torn at, tooth and claw.
Ever higher pierced the shrieks and oaths, till the
calm night was distorted and crazy.
Other heavier sounds accompanied the
bedlam of human noise: deep snortings and roarings
and the scraping of scores of horn-shod feet.
Behind their wired electric fence was clustered the
herd of phantis, staring with their evil, red-shot
little eyes at the flames and the shapes of the hated
men. The big bulls were bellowing, bucking their
heads angrily, churning up the soft soil with their
strong, dagger-spurred feet: the welter of noise
and the sight of so many men had wrought them up into
a vicious and dangerous state.
Judd the Kite, a bottle in one hand
and in the other a huge joint of meat which he was
tearing at with his teeth, suddenly paused with mouth
crammed full and stared over through the flickering
light at the phanti corral. A cruel light gleamed
in his eyes: he gulped down the meat and then
turned to the shapes staggering around him. He
“Hey, there let’s
get out the nigger! A little entertainment, fellows!
Bring him out; but don’t touch Carse: he’s
Ku Sui’s. Douse him with water if he’s
They yelled in drunken delight at
his words, and half of them reeled off towards the
Star Devil. Judd, lips up-curved in a smile,
drew his ray-gun and set the lever over for the low-power,
continuous ray-stream. These guns, unlike our
present weapons, could shoot in two ways: they
could spit about twenty high-power discharges, a fraction
of a second each in duration and easily sufficient
to burn a man’s head through; or they could
deliver a long-lasting low-power stream, just strong
enough to sear and crisp a human skin. For the
entertainment Judd had in mind he needed low power.
The men sent to the Star Devil
shoved past the guards on watch near the port-lock
and over to the prisoners. They found them lying,
very close together near the after wall.
“Gonna have some fun with the
black, Judd’s orders,” they explained to
the guards. “Still unconscious?”
Certainly Friday looked unconscious,
his eyes closed, his full lips slightly parted, showing
the powerful white teeth.
“I’ll give him a shot
of the ray,” another brigand cut in. “That’ll
bring him to. Be ready to grab him.”
They got an unpleasant shock when
the low-power stream flicked the negro’s leg.
With a gigantic bellow that rang throughout the ship,
It was like seeing a dead man come
to life, and it startled them. Bound as he was,
Friday made things unhealthy for his would-be captors;
he shunted his legs up and down and squirmed mightily,
and once his gleaming teeth snapped into an arm, bringing
a howl of pain and several minutes of cursing.
The unexpected resistance, once the surprise was over,
infuriated the rum-sodden men. One of them yelled:
“Sock him; Shorty!” A ray-gun’s butt
was slapped down on Friday’s head; the negro
rolled over, stunned. Then he was picked up without
resistance and borne out into the night, where fantastic
figures cavorted around the towering fire.
“The black devil was faking
all the time!” one of the guards said amazedly.
“He wasn’t unconscious. What in hell
did he do that for?”
“Dunno,” snarled the other,
rubbing a bruised leg. “Must have suspected
what he’s gonna get. Wish we was over there.”
“Well, we can watch from here,”
grumbled his companion, and returned to the seats
by the port-lock.
They both sat down, their backs half
turned to the figure still lying on the deck.
Carse had said nothing, made no protest,
had not even moved when Friday struggled in fierce
resistance. He could have done much more, but
it would have been useless. Long before, he had
seen the negro’s opening eyes and signaled him
to feign unconsciousness thus deflecting attention
and making him appear harmless. He had also broached
his plan for escape to Friday. He had not, however,
reckoned on Judd’s desire to torture: he
would, he now saw, have to act with his greatest speed
to save his mate from as much pain as possible.
And he began to act.
The control cabin was streaked with
patches of shadow and light, made vague by pools of
darkness thrown by the banks of instruments. Only
one lighting tube was dimly burning. In this indefinite
half-light the Hawk set about stalking his prey.
With eyes narrowed and steady on the
two guards who were completely absorbed in the happenings
outside, he drew his hands from beneath him.
They were no longer bound. The rope knotted around
them had been gnawed through strand by strand sliced
by the strong white teeth of a negro....
Cautiously, without a whisper of sound,
Carse reached towards the bonds on his legs.
The lean fingers worked rapidly. Quickly the knots,
yielded and the rope was unwound. The legs were
free. For a moment Hawk Carse, ever with careful
calculation of time, stretched his cramped muscles,
limbering them for action.
A mutter came from the port-lock.
He froze. But it was only:
“Look at ‘im! This
is goin’ to be good! Judd gets some damn
They were utterly wrapped up in the
scene outside, and unconscious of the low blot that
moved with steely purpose behind them.
The Hawk got to hands and knees; moved
forward, the ghost of a shadow. The two men who
were his quarry were sitting close together, hunched
a little forward in their eagerness not to miss a
single detail. Their heads were not a foot apart.
Each wore a ray-gun and had another lying on the deck
at his side.
Carse came near to their backs.
He paused, imperceptibly tensed, judged the distance
carefully. Then in a sudden, snake-like movement,
A forearm of steel clamped around
the back of each guard’s head and jerked it
sharply into the other’s. There was a quick
crack; then, dazed, only half-conscious, the two men
toppled off their seats and fell to the deck.
“Quiet!” warned an icy
whisper. They stared, gaping, then staggered up
to their feet.
A ray-gun that just before had been
lying on the deck was leveled steadily at them, held
in the hand of a gray-eyed man whose fine features
were as if graven from stone and on whose wrists were
deep blue lines that showed where ropes had pressed.
The guards’ faces whitened as realization came.
One of them choked:
“Yes,” whispered the Hawk
dryly. He took a few steps backward, eyes not
moving. “Go to that locker,” he said
to the shorter of the men, indicating with a curt
nod the place where space suits were stowed.
“First draw your gun and lay it on that table.
The man hastily complied. Anything
else was unthinkable; meant quick and lonely and useless
death. Shouts and laughter and drunken shrieks
were echoing from outside. No one would have ears
When he had stepped into the locker,
Carse closed and sealed the door.
“What you goin’ to do
with me?” croaked the remaining guard. He
was big and burly and he towered inches over the figure
facing him, but his lips were trembling and his eyes
wild with fear.
“You,” whispered the Hawk
frigidly, “kicked me when I was bound.”
He sheathed his ray-gun in his holster, then spoke
again. “Go for your gun.”
The pirate trembled all over.
His mouth fell open, and his eyes stuck on Carse’s
shabby holster. He seemed half hypnotized.
The other’s swarthy brow beaded
with sudden-starting sweat. His hands hung limp,
twitching at the finger-tips. He watched death
stare him in the face.
“Damn you, Carse!” he
burst out and suddenly went for his ray.
Carse deliberately let him get the
gun out. Not until then did his left hand move.
But even with such a head-start, so bewildering was
the adventurer’s speed that only one streak of
orange light made a flash in the cabin, and that streak
was the Hawk’s. The brigand quivered, his
face still contorted with his last desperate emotion;
then he fell slowly forward and thudded into the deck.
His body twitched a little, and in a spasm rolled
over. Square between the eyes was a crisp, smooth-burned
Hawk Carse gave the body not a glance,
but sheathed his ray-gun, picked up the three others,
stuck them in his belt, and glided to the port-lock.
There, he peered outside.
His face hardened.
Blobs of flame that flared from wood
torches were clustered about the nearest side of the
phanti corral. A dark blur of figures were ringed
in a half-circle, and from it came yells of delight
and almost hysterical laughter. The Hawk’s
eyes were chilling to look at when he saw, through
gaps in the circle of black shapes, the figure of a
huge negro, standing with his back almost touching
the wire fence of the corral. The actions of
Friday gave the clue to what was happening.
He was caught in a broad ray of orange
light, and in it he shuddered and hopped grotesquely
from one leg to the other in an agony of pain, his
lips drawn back taut over the gleaming teeth, his face
flexed and the whites of his eyes showing as the eyeballs
rolled. The glow that in part hung around him
streamed from a ray-gun that was held in the right
hand of Judd the Kite. Heat! Friday was being
slowly crisped alive; seared on his feet in a furnace
of heat: and the men who ringed him were yelling
advice at him between their laughter. Carse strained
his ears. In a jumble, he caught:
“Jump over” “Nah,
he’d have to climb” “Climb!
The juice’s cut!” “Into
the corral!” “Climb over, you
black buzzard” “Hoowee!”
About a foot behind Friday was the
wire fence, behind which the phantis, their snouts
converged towards the pirates, their red-shot eyes
glaring, their powerful hind feet clawing at the ground,
were bellowing in wild and ferocious excitement.
Sudden, awful death waited on the other side of the
fence; slow death by burning on this side. Yet
Friday still hoped, still had faith in his master,
for he did not put a quick end to his living death
by rushing the devilish circle or clambering over
into the thick of the sharp stabbing spurs.
Carse’s brain moved with the
swiftness of light. He could not rush the group:
the odds were too great, and besides, Judd’s
gun was already out. Nor could he dive at them
with the Star Devil itself, or ray them from
above: that would mean Friday’s death too.
It would have to be something else and
in a moment he had it. Carefully he examined
all variations and checked the scheme back: it
promised to be the final move, engendering the final
meeting, and there must be no slip.
First, the Hawk slipped shadow-like
to the entrance port of the other space ship, lying
a few hundred feet away, shrouded in darkness.
He had to know if anyone were aboard.
Gruffly he called inside:
“Judd! Hey, Judd! You there?”
There was no answer. Again he
called, but the gloomy interior’s silence was
not broken. Satisfied that it was empty, he doubled
back with noiseless speed, skirted round the Star
Devil and arrived like a wind-carried wraith at
the rear wall of the ranch house.
A short leap and his hands closed
on the copper drain. The muscles of his wiry
arms flexed, and the lean figure raised himself foot
by foot to the eaves, where a pull and press up brought
him over the edge. Stooping, he padded to the
side which faced on the clearing and the corral.
And then the ray-gun was drawn from its holster.
For seconds the cold gray eyes reckoned
the shooting distance and the angle. The weapon
came up and rested at arm’s length. The
first finger of the deadly left hand began to squeeze
A pencil-thin streak of orange light speared the air!