"the love of frank nineteen," David C. Knight, Fantastic Universe Science Fiction Magazine, December 1957 Note: The copyright for this magazine short fiction has expired in the United States and was not renewed, thus, The Skylark of Space now resides in the public domain.

I didn't worry much about the robot's leg at the time. In those days I didn't worry much about anything except the receipts of the spotel Min and I were operating out in the spacelanes.

Actually, the spotel business isn't much different from running a plain, ordinary motel back on Highway 101 in California. Competition gets stiffer every year and you got to make your improvements. Take the Io for instance, that's our place. We can handle any type rocket up to and including the new Marvin 990s. Every cabin in the wheel's got TV and hot-and-cold running water plus guaranteed Terran g. One look at our refuel prices would give even a Martian a sense of humor. And meals? Listen, when a man's been spacing it for a few days on those synthetic foods he really laces into Min's Earth cooking.

Min and I were just getting settled in the spotel game when the leg turned up. That was back in the days when the Orbit Commission would hand out a license to anybody crazy enough to sink his savings into construction and pay the tows and assembly fees out into space.

A good orbit can make you or break you in the spotel business. That's where we were lucky. The one we applied for was a nice low-eccentric ellipse with the perihelion and aphelion figured just right to intersect the Mars-Venus-Earth spacelanes, most of the holiday traffic to the Jovian Moons, and once in a while we'd get some of the Saturnian trade.

But I was telling you about the leg.

It was during the non-tourist season and Min—that's the little woman—was doing the spring cleaning. When she found the leg she brought it right to me in the Renting Office. Naturally I thought it belonged to one of the servos.

"Look at that leg, Bill," she said. "It was in one of those lockers in 22A."

That was the cabin our robot guests used. The majority of them were servo-pilots working for the Minor Planets Co.

"Honey," I said, hardly looking at the leg, "you know how mechs are. Blow their whole paychecks on parts sometimes. They figure the more spares they have the longer they'll stay activated."

"Maybe so," said Min. "But since when does a male robot buy himself a female leg?"

I looked again. The leg was long and graceful and it had an ankle as good as Miss Universe's. Not only that, the white Mylar plasti-skin was a lot smoother than the servos' heavy neoprene.

"Beats me," I said. "Maybe they're building practical-joke circuits into robots these days. Let's give 22A a good going-over, Min. If those robes are up to something I want to know about it."

We did—and found the rest of the girl mech. All of her, that is, except the head. The working parts were lightly oiled and wrapped in cotton waste while the other members and sections of the trunk were neatly packed in cardboard boxes with labels like Solenoids FB978 or Transistors Lot X45—the kind of boxes robots bought their parts in. We even found a blue dress in one of them.

"Check her class and series numbers," Min suggested.

I could have saved myself the trouble. They'd been filed off.

"Something's funny here," I said. "We'd better keep an eye on every servo guest until we find out what's going on. If one of them is bringing this stuff out here he's sure to show up with the head next."

"You know how strict Minor Planets is with its robot personnel," Min reminded me. "We can't risk losing that stopover contract on account of some mech joke."

Minor Planets was the one solid account we had and naturally we wanted to hold on to it. The company was a blue-chip mining operation working the beryllium-rich asteroid belt out of San Francisco. It was one of the first outfits to use servo-pilots on its freight runs and we'd been awarded the refuel rights for two years because of our orbital position. The servos themselves were beautiful pieces of machinery and just about as close as science had come so far to producing the pure android. Every one of them was plastic hand-molded and of course they were equipped with rationaloid circuits. They had to be to ferry those big cargoes back and forth from the rock belt to Frisco. As rationaloids, Minor Planets had to pay them wages under California law, but I'll bet it wasn't half what the company would have to pay human pilots for doing the same thing.

In a couple of weeks' time maybe five servos made stopovers. We kept a close watch on them from the minute they signed the register to the time they took off again, but they all behaved themselves. Operating on a round-robot basis the way they did, it would take us a while to check all of them because Minor Planets employed about forty all told.

Well, about a month before the Jovian Moons rush started we got some action. I'd slipped into a spacesuit and was doing some work on the CO2 pipes outside the Io when I spotted a ship reversing rockets against the sun. I could tell it was a Minor Planets job by the stubby fins.

She jockeyed up to the boom, secured, and then her hatch opened and a husky servo hopped out into the gangplank tube. I caught the gleam of his Minor Planets shoulder patch as he reached back into the ship for something. When he headed for the airlock I spotted the square package clamped tight under his plastic arm.

"Did you see that?" I asked Min when I got back to the Renting Office. "I'll bet it's the girl mech's head. How'd he sign the register?"

"Calls himself Frank Nineteen," said Min, pointing to the smooth Palmer Method signature. "He looks like a fairly late model but he was complaining about a bad power build-up coming through the ionosphere. He's repairing himself right now in 22A."

"I'll bet," I snorted. "Let's have a look."

Like all spotel operators, we get a lot of No Privacy complaints from guests about the SHA return-air vents. Spatial Housing Authority requires them every 12 feet but sometimes they come in handy, especially with certain guests. They're about waist-high and we had to kneel down to see what the mech was up to inside 22A.

The big servo was too intent on what he was doing for us to register on his photons. He wasn't repairing himself, either. He was bending over the parts of the girl mech and working fast, like he was pressed for time. The set of tools were kept handy for the servos to adjust themselves during stopovers was spread all over the floor along with lots of colored wire, cams, pawls, relays and all the other paraphernalia robots have inside them. We watched him work hard for another fifteen minutes, tapping and splicing wire connections and tightening screws. Then he opened the square box. Sure enough, it was a female mech's head and it had a big mop of blonde hair on top. The servo attached it carefully to the neck, made a few quick connections and then said a few words in his flat vibrahum voice:

"It won't take much longer, darling. You wouldn't like it if I didn't dress you first." He fished into one of the boxes, pulled out the blue dress and zipped the girl mech into it. Then he leaned over her gently and touched something at the back of her neck.

She began to move, slowly at first like a human who's been asleep a long time. After a minute or two she sat up straight, stretched, fluttered her Mylar eyelids and then her small photons began to glow like weak flashlights.

She stared at Frank Nineteen and the big servo stared at her and we heard a kind of trembling whirr from both of them.

"Frank! Frank, darling! Is it really you?"

"Yes, Elizabeth! Are you all right, darling? Did I forget anything? I had to work quickly, we have so little time."

"I'm fine, darling. My DX voltage is lovely—except—oh, Frank—my memory tape—the last it records is—"

"Deactivation. Yes, Elizabeth. You've been deactivated nearly a year. I had to bring you out here piece by piece, don't you remember? They'll never think to look for you in space, we can be together every trip while the ship refuels. Just think, darling, no prying human eyes, no commands, no rules—only us for an hour or two. I know it isn't very long—" He stared at the floor a minute. "There's only one trouble. Elizabeth, you'll have to stay dismantled when I'm not here, it'll mean weeks of deactivation—"

The girl mech put a small plastic hand on the servo's shoulder.

"I won't mind, darling, really. I'll be the lucky one. I'd only worry about you having a power failure or something. This way I'd never know. Oh, Frank, if we can't be together I'd—I'd prefer the junk pile."

"Elizabeth! Don't say that, it's horrible."

"But I would. Oh, Frank, why can't Congress pass Robot Civil Rights? It's so unfair of human beings. Every year they manufacture us more like themselves and yet we're treated like slaves. Don't they realize we rationaloids have emotions? Why, I've even known sub-robots who've fallen in love like us."

"I know, darling, we'll just have to be patient until RCR goes through. Try to remember how difficult it is for the human mind to comprehend our love, even with the aid of mathematics. As rationaloids we fully understand the basic attraction which they call magnetic theory. All humans know is that if the robot sexes are mixed a loss of efficiency results. It's only normal—and temporary like human love—but how can we explain it to them? Robots are expected to be efficient at all times. That's the reason for robot non-fraternization, no mailing privileges and all those other laws."

"I know, darling, I try to be patient. Oh, Frank, the main thing is we're together again!"

The big servo checked the chronometer that was sunk into his left wrist and a couple of wrinkles creased across his neoprene forehead.

"Elizabeth," he said, "I'm due on Hidalgo in 36 hours. If I'm late the mining engineer might suspect. In twenty minutes I'll have to start dis—"

"Don't say it, darling. We'll have a beautiful twenty minutes."

After a while the girl mech turned away for a second and Frank Nineteen reached over softly and cut her power. While he was dismantling her, Min and I tiptoed back to the Renting Office. Half an hour later the big servo came in, picked up his refuel receipt, said good-bye politely and left through the inner airlock.

"Now I've seen everything," I said to Min as we watched the Minor Planets rocket cut loose. "A couple of plastic lovebirds."

But the little woman was looking at it strictly from the business angle.

"Bill," she said, with that look on her face, "we're running a respectable place out here in space. You know the rules. Spatial Housing could revoke our orbit license for something like this."

"But, Min," I said, "they're only a couple of robots."

"I don't care. The rules still say that only married guests can occupy the same cabin and 'guests' can be human or otherwise, can't they? Think of our reputation! And don't forget that non-fraternization law we heard them talking about."

I was beginning to get the point.

"Couldn't we just toss the girl's parts into space?"

"We could," Min admitted. "But if this Frank Nineteen finds out and tells some human we'd be guilty under the Ramm Act—robotslaughter."

Two days later we still couldn't decide what to do. When I said why didn't we just report the incident to Minor Planets, Min was afraid they might cancel the stopover agreement for not keeping better watch over their servos. And when Min suggested we turn the girl over to the Missing Robots Bureau, I reminded her the mech's identification had been filed off and it might take years to trace her.

"Maybe we could put her together," I said, "and make her tell us where she belongs."

"Bill, you know they don't build compulsory truth monitors into robots any more, and besides we don't know a thing about atomic electronics."

I guess neither of us wanted to admit it but we felt mean about turning the mechs in. Back on Earth you never give robots a second thought but it's different living out in space. You get a kind of perspective I think they call it.

The Skylark of Space, E. E. "Doc" Smith, Amazing Stories August, September and October 1928. Note: The copyright for this magazine short fiction has expired in the United States and was not renewed, thus, The Skylark of Space now resides in the public domain.

As the Skylark approached the shore, its occupants heard a rapid succession of heavy detonations, apparently coming from the direction in which they were traveling.

"Wonder what that racket is?" asked Seaton.

"It sounds like big guns," said Crane, and DuQuesne nodded agreement.

"Big guns is right. They're shooting high explosive shells, too, or I never heard any. Even allowing for the density of the air, that kind of noise isn't made by pop-guns."

"Let's go see what's doing," and Seaton started to walk toward one of the windows with his free, swinging stride. Instantly he was a-sprawl, the effort necessary to carry his weight upon the Earth's surface lifting him into the air in a succession of ludicrous hops, but he soon recovered himself and walked normally.

"I forgot this two-fifths gravity stuff," he laughed. "Walk as though we had only a notch of power on and it goes all right. It sure is funny to feel so light when we're so close to the ground."

He closed the doors to keep out a part of the noise and advanced the speed lever a little, so that the vessel tilted sharply under the pull of the almost horizontal bar.

"Go easy," cautioned Crane. "We do not want to get in the way of one of their shells. They may be of a different kind than those we are familiar with."

"Right—easy it is. We'll stay forty miles above them, if necessary."

As the great speed of the ship rapidly lessened the distance, the sound grew heavier and clearer—like one continuous explosion. So closely did one deafening concussion follow another that the ear could not distinguish the separate reports.

"I see them," simultaneously announced Crane, who was seated at one of the forward windows searching the country with his binoculars, and Seaton, who, from the pilot's seat, could see in any direction.

The others hurried to the windows with their glasses and saw an astonishing sight.

"Aerial battleships, eight of 'em!" exclaimed Seaton, "as big as the Idaho. Four of 'em are about the same shape as our battleships. No wings—they act like helicopters."

"Four of them are battleships, right enough, but what about the other four?" asked DuQuesne. "They are not ships or planes or anything else that I ever heard of."

"They are animals," asserted Crane. "Machines never were and never will be built like that."

As the Skylark cautiously approached, it was evident to the watchers that four of the contestants were undoubtedly animals. Here indeed was a new kind of animal, an animal able to fight on even terms with a first-class battleship! Frightful aerial monsters they were. Each had an enormous, torpedo-shaped body, with scores of prodigiously long tentacles like those of a devil-fish and a dozen or more great, soaring wings. Even at that distance they could see the row of protruding eyes along the side of each monstrous body and the terrible, prow-like beaks tearing through the metal of the warships opposing them. They could see, by the reflection of the light from the many suns, that each monster was apparently covered by scales and joints of some transparent armor. That it was real and highly effective armor there could be no doubt, for each battleship bristled with guns of heavy caliber and each gun was vomiting forth a continuous stream of fire. Shells bursting against each of the creatures made one continuous blaze, and the uproar was indescribable—an uninterrupted cataclysm of sound appalling in its intensity.

The battle was brief. Soon all four of the battleships had crumpled to the ground, their crews absorbed by the terrible sucking arms or devoured by the frightful beaks. They did not die in vain—three of the monsters had been blown to atoms by shells which had apparently penetrated their armor. The fourth was pursuing something, which Seaton now saw was a fleet of small airships, which had flown away from the scene of conflict. Swift as they were, the monster covered three feet to their one.

"We can't stand for anything like that," cried Seaton, as he threw on the power and the Skylark leaped ahead. "Get ready to bump him off, Mart, when I jerk him away. He acts hard-boiled, so give him a real one—fifty milligrams!"

Sweeping on with awful speed the monster seized the largest and most gaily decorated plane in his hundred-foot tentacles just as the Skylark came within sighting distance. In four practically simultaneous movements Seaton sighted the attractor at the ugly beak, released all its power, pointed the main bar of the Skylark directly upward, and advanced his speed lever. There was a crash of rending metal as the thing was torn loose from the plane and jerked a hundred miles into the air, struggling so savagely in that invisible and incomprehensible grip that the three-thousand-ton mass of the Skylark tossed and pitched like a child's plaything. Those inside her heard the sharp, spiteful crack of the machine-gun, and an instant later they heard a report that paralyzed their senses, even inside the vessel and in the thin air of their enormous elevation, as the largest X-plosive bullet prepared by the inventors struck full upon the side of the hideous body. There was no smoke, no gas or vapor of any kind—only a huge volume of intolerable flame as the energy stored within the atoms of copper, instantaneously liberated, heated to incandescence and beyond all the atmosphere within a radius of hundreds of feet. The monster disappeared utterly, and Seaton, with unerring hand, reversed the bar and darted back down toward the fleet of airships. He reached them in time to focus the attractor upon the wrecked and helpless plane in the middle of its five-thousand-foot fall and lowered it gently to the ground, surrounded by the fleet.

The Skylark landed easily beside the wrecked machine, and the wanderers saw that their vessel was completely surrounded by a crowd of people—men and women identical in form and feature with themselves. They were a superbly molded race, the men fully as large as Seaton and DuQuesne; the women, while smaller than the men, were noticeably taller than the two women in the car. The men wore broad collars of metal, numerous metallic ornaments, and heavily-jeweled leather belts and shoulder-straps which were hung with weapons of peculiar patterns. The women carried no weapons, but were even more highly decorated than were the men—each slender, perfectly-formed body scintillated with the brilliance of hundreds of strange gems, flashing points of fire. Jeweled bands of metal and leather restrained their carefully-groomed hair; jeweled collars encircled their throats; jeweled belts, jeweled bracelets, jeweled anklets, each added its quota of brilliance to the glittering whole. The strangers wore no clothing, and their smooth skins shone a dark, livid, utterly indescribable color in the peculiar, unearthly, yellowish-bluish-green glare of the light. Green their skins undoubtedly were, but not any shade of green visible in the Earthly spectrum. The "whites" of their eyes were a light yellowish-green. The heavy hair of the women and the close-cropped locks of the men were green as well—a green so dark as to be almost black, as were also their eyes.

"Well, what d'you know about that?" pondered Seaton, dazedly. "They're human, right enough, but ye gods, what a color!"

"It is hard to tell how much of that color is real, and how much of it is due to this light," answered Crane. "Wait until you get outside, away from our daylight lamps, and you will probably look like a Chinese puzzle. As to the form, it is logical to suppose that wherever conditions are similar to those upon the Earth, and the age is anywhere nearly the same, development would be along the same lines as with us."

"That's right, too. Dottie, your hair will sure look gorgeous in this light. Let's go out and give the natives a treat!"

"I wouldn't look like that for a million dollars!" retorted Dorothy, "and if I'm going to look like that I won't get out of the ship, so there!"

"Cheer up, Dottie, you won't look like that. Your hair will be black in this light."

"Then what color will mine be?" asked Margaret.

Seaton glanced at her black hair.

"Probably a very dark and beautiful green," he grinned, his gray eyes sparkling, "but we'll have to wait and see. Friends and fellow-countrymen, I've got a hunch that this is going to be SOME visit. How about it, shall we go ahead with it?"

Dorothy went up to him, her face bright with eagerness.

"Oh, what a lark! Let's go!"

Even in DuQuesne's cold presence, Margaret's eyes sought those of her lover, and his sleeve, barely touching her arm, was enough to send a dancing thrill along it.

"Onward, men of Earth!" she cried, and Seaton, stepping up to the window, rapped sharply upon the glass with the butt of his pistol and raised both hands high above his head in the universal sign of peace. In response, a man of Herculean mold, so splendidly decorated that his harness was one blazing mass of jewels, waved his arm and shouted a command. The crowd promptly fell back, leaving a clear space of several hundred yards. The man, evidently one in high command, unbuckled his harness, dropping every weapon, and advanced toward the Skylark, both arms upraised in Seaton's gesture.

Seaton went to the door and started to open it.

"Better talk to him from inside," cautioned Crane.

"I don't think so, Mart. He's peaceable, and I've got my gun in my pocket. Since he doesn't know what clothes are he'll think I'm unarmed, which is as it should be; and if he shows fight, it won't take more than a week for me to get into action."

"All right, go on. DuQuesne and I will come along."

"Absolutely not. He's alone, so I've got to be. I notice that some of his men are covering us, though. You might do the same for them, with a couple of the machine guns."

Seaton stepped out of the car and went to meet the stranger. When they had approached to within a few feet of each other the stranger stopped. He flexed his left arm smartly, so that the finger-tips touched his left ear, and smiled broadly, exposing a row of splendid, shining, green teeth. Then he spoke, a meaningless jumble of sounds. His voice, though light and thin, nevertheless seemed to be of powerful timbre.

Seaton smiled in return and saluted.

"Hello, Chief. I get your idea all right, and we're glad you're peaceable, but your language doesn't mean a thing in my young life."

The Chief tapped himself upon the chest, saying distinctly and impressively:


"Nalboon," repeated Seaton, and added, pointing to himself:


"See Tin," answered the stranger, and again indicating himself, "Domak gok Mardonale."

"That must be his title," thought Seaton rapidly. "Have to give myself one, I guess."

"Boss of the Road," he replied, drawing himself up with pride.

The introduction made, Nalboon pointed to the wrecked plane, inclined his head in thanks, and turned to his people with one arm upraised, shouting an order in which Seaton could distinguish something that sounded like "See Tin, Bass uvvy Rood." Instantly every right arm in the assemblage was aloft, that of each man bearing a weapon, while the left arms snapped into the peculiar salute and a mighty cry arose as all repeated the name and title of the distinguished visitor.

Seaton turned to the Skylark, motioning to Crane to open the door.

"Bring out one of those big four-color signal rockets, Mart!" he called. "They're giving us a royal reception—let's acknowledge it right."

The party appeared, Crane carrying the huge rocket with an air of deference. As they approached, Seaton shrugged one shoulder and his cigarette-case appeared in his hand. Nalboon started, and in spite of his utmost efforts at self-control, he glanced at it in surprise. The case flew open and Seaton, taking a cigarette, extended the case.

"Smoke?" he asked affably. The other took one, but showed plainly that he had no idea of the use to which it was to be put. This astonishment of the stranger at a simple sleight-of-hand feat and his apparent ignorance of tobacco emboldened Seaton. Reaching into his mouth, he pulled out a flaming match, at which Nalboon started violently. While all the natives watched in amazement, Seaton lighted the cigarette, and after half consuming it in two long inhalations, he apparently swallowed the remainder, only to bring it to light again. Having smoked it, he apparently swallowed the butt, with evident relish.

"They don't know anything about matches or smoking," he said, turning to Crane. "This rocket will tie them up in a knot. Step back, everybody."

He bowed deeply to Nalboon, pulling a lighted match for his ear as he did so, and lighted the fuse. There was a roar, a shower of sparks, a blaze of colored fire as the great rocket flew upward; but to Seaton's surprise, Nalboon took it quite as a matter of course, saluting as an acknowledgment of the courtesy.

Seaton motioned to his party to approach, and turned to Crane.

"Better not, Dick. Let him think that you are the king of everything in sight."

"Not on your life. If he is one king, we are two," and he introduced Crane, with great ceremony, to the Domak as the "Boss of the Skylark," at which the salute by his people was repeated.

Nalboon then shouted an order and a company of soldiers led by an officer came toward them, surrounding a small group of people, apparently prisoners. These captives, seven men and seven women, were much lighter in color than the rest of the gathering, having skins of a ghastly, pale shade, practically the same color as the whites of their eyes. In other bodily aspects they were the same as their captors in appearance, save that they were entirely naked except for the jeweled metal collars worn by all and a massive metal belt worn by one man. They walked with a proud and lofty carriage, scorn for their captors in every step.

Nalboon barked an order to the prisoners. They stared in defiance, motionless, until the man wearing the belt who had studied Seaton closely, spoke a few words in a low tone, when they all prostrated themselves. Naloon then waved his hand, giving the whole group to Seaton as slaves. Seaton, with no sign of his surprise, thanked the giver and motioned his slaves to rise. They obeyed and placed themselves behind the party—two men and two women behind Seaton and the same number behind Crane; one man and one woman behind each of the others.

Seaton then tried to make Nalboon understand that they wanted copper, pointing to his anklet, the only copper in sight. The chief instantly removed the trinket and handed it to Seaton; who, knowing by the gasp of surprise of the guard that it was some powerful symbol, returned it with profuse apologies. After trying in vain to make the other understand what he wanted, he led him into the Skylark and showed him the remnant of the power-bar. He showed him its original size and indicated the desired number by counting to sixteen upon his fingers. Nalboon nodded his comprehension and going outside, pointed upward toward the largest of the eleven suns visible, motioning its rising and setting, four times.

He then invited the visitors, in unmistakable sign language, to accompany him as guests of honor, but Seaton refused.

"Lead on, MacDuff, we follow," he replied, explaining his meaning by signs as they turned to enter the vessel. The slaves followed closely until Crane remonstrated.

"We don't want them aboard, do we, Dick? There are too many of them."

"All right," Seaton replied, and waved them away. As they stepped back the guard seized the nearest, a woman, and forced her to her knees; while a man, adorned with a necklace of green human teeth and carrying a shining broadsword, prepared to decapitate her.

"We must take them with us, I see," said Crane, as he brushed the guards aside. Followed by the slaves, the party entered the Skylark, and the dark green people embarked in their airplanes and helicopters.

Nalboon rode in a large and gaily-decorated plane, which led the fleet at its full speed of six hundred miles an hour, the Skylark taking a placing a few hundred yards above the flagship.

"I don't get these folks at all, Mart," said Seaton, after a moment's silence. "They have machines far ahead of anything we have on Earth and big guns that shoot as fast as machine-guns, and yet are scared to death at a little simple sleight-of-hand. They don't seem to understand matches at all, and yet treat fire-works as an every-day occurrence."

"We will have to wait until we know them better," replied Crane, and DuQuesne added:

"From what I have seen, their power seems to be all electrical. Perhaps they aren't up with us in chemistry, even though they are ahead of us in mechanics?"

Flying above a broad, but rapid and turbulent stream, the fleet soon neared a large city, and the visitors from Earth gazed with interest at this metropolis of the unknown world. The buildings were all the same height, flat-roofed, and arranged in squares very much as our cities are arranged. There were no streets, the spaces between the buildings being park-like areas, evidently laid out for recreation, amusement, and sport. There was no need for streets; all traffic was in the air. The air seemed full of flying vehicles, darting in all directions, but it was soon evident that there was exact order in the apparent confusion, each class of vessel and each direction of traffic having its own level. Eagerly the three men studied the craft, which ranged in size from one-man helicopters, little more than single chairs flying about in the air, up to tremendous multiplane freighters, capable of carrying thousands of tons.

Flying high over the city to avoid its congested air-lanes, the fleet descended toward an immense building just outside the city proper, and all landed upon its roof save the flagship, which led the Skylark to a landing-dock nearby—a massive pile of metal and stone, upon which Nalboon and his retinue stood to welcome the guests. After Seaton had anchored the vessel immovably by means of the attractor, the party disembarked, Seaton remarking with a grin:

"Don't be surprised at anything I do, folks. I'm a walking storehouse of junk of all kinds, so that if occasion arises I can put on a real exhibition."

As they turned toward their host, a soldier, in his eagerness to see the strangers, jostled another. Without a word two keen swords flew from their scabbards and a duel to the death ensued. The visitors stared in amazement, but no one else paid any attention to the combat, which was soon over; the victor turning away from the body of his opponent and resuming his place without creating a ripple of interest.

Nalboon led the way into an elevator, which dropped rapidly to the ground-floor level. Massive gates were thrown open, and through ranks of people prostrate upon their faces the party went out into the palace grounds of the Domak, or Emperor, of the great nation of Mardonale.

Never before had Earthly eyes rested upon such scenes of splendor. Every color and gradation of their peculiar spectrum was present, in solid, liquid, and gas. The carefully-tended trees were all colors of the rainbow, as were the grasses and flowers along the walks. The fountains played streams of many and constantly-changing hues, and even the air was tinted and perfumed, swirling through metal arches in billows of ever-varying colors and scents. Colors and combinations of colors impossible to describe were upon every hand, fantastically beautiful in that peculiar, livid light. Diamonds and rubies, their colors so distorted by the green radiance as to be almost unrecognizable; emeralds glowing with an intense green impossible in earthly light, together with strange gems peculiar to this strange world, sparkled and flashed from railings, statues, and pedestals throughout the ground.

"Isn't this gorgeous, Dick?" whispered Dorothy. "But what do I look like? I wish I had a mirror—you look simply awful. Do I look like you do?"

"Not being able to see myself, I can't say, but I imagine you do. You look as you would under a county-fair photographer's mercury-vapor arc lamps, only worse. The colors can't be described. You might as well try to describe cerise to a man born blind as to try to express these colors in English, but as near as I can come to it, your eyes are a dark sort of purplish green, with the whites of your eyes and your teeth a kind of plush green. Your skin is a pale yellowish green, except for the pink of your cheeks, which is a kind of black, with orange and green mixed up in it. Your lips are black, and your hair is a funny kind of color, halfway between black and old rose, with a little green and...."

"Heavens, Dick, stop! That's enough!" choked Dorothy. "We all look like hobgoblins. We're even worse than the natives."

"Sure we are. They were born here and are acclimated to it—we are strangers and aren't. I would like to see what one of these people would look like in Washington."

Nalboon led them into the palace proper and into a great dining hall, where a table was already prepared for the entire party. This room was splendidly decorated with jewels, its many windows being simply masses of gems. The walls were hung with a cloth resembling silk, which fell to the floor in shimmering waves of color.

Woodwork there was none. Doors, panels, tables, and chairs were cunningly wrought of various metals. Seaton and DuQuesne could recognize a few of them, but for the most part they were unknown upon the Earth; and were, like the jewels and vegetation of this strange world, of many and various peculiar colors. A closer inspection of one of the marvelous tapestries showed that it also was of metal, its threads numbering thousands to the inch. Woven of many different metals, of vivid but harmonious colors in a strange and intricate design, it seemed to writhe as its colors changed with every variation in the color of the light; which, pouring from concealed sources, was reflected by the highly-polished metal and inumerable jewels of the lofty, domed ceiling.

"Oh ... isn't this too perfectly gorgeous?" breathed Dorothy. "I'd give anything for a dress made out of that stuff, Dick. Cloth-of-gold is common by comparison!"

"Would you dare wear it, Dottie?" asked Margaret.

"Would I? I'd wear it in a minute if I could only get it. It would take Washington by storm!"

"I'll try to get a piece of it, then," smiled Seaton. "I'll see about it while we are getting the copper."

"We'd better be careful in choosing what we eat here, Seaton," suggested DuQuesne, as the Domak himself led them to the table.

"We sure had. With a copper ocean and green teeth, I shouldn't be surprised if copper, arsenic, and other such trifles formed a regular part of their diet."

"The girls and I will wait for you two chemists to approve every dish before we try it, then," said Crane.

Nalboon placed his guests, the light-skinned slaves standing at attention behind them, and numerous servants, carrying great trays, appeared. The servants were intermediate in color between the light and the dark races, with dull, unintelligent faces, but quick and deft in their movements.

The first course—a thin, light wine, served in metal goblets—was approved by the chemists, and the dinner was brought on. There were mighty joints of various kinds of meat; birds and fish, both raw and cooked in many ways; green, pink, purple, and white vegetables and fruits. The majordomo held each dish up to Seaton for inspection, the latter waving away the fish and the darkest green foods, but approving the others. Heaping plates, or rather metal trays, of food were placed before the diners, and the attendants behind their chairs handed them peculiar implements—knives with razor edges, needle-pointed stilettoes instead of forks, and wide, flexible spatulas, which evidently were to serve the purposes of both forks and spoons.

"I simply can't eat with these things!" exclaimed Dorothy in dismay, "and I don't like to drink soup out of a can, so there!"

"That's where my lumberjack training comes in handy," grinned Seaton. "With this spatula I can eat faster than I could with two forks. What do you want, girls, forks or spoons, or both?"

"Both, please."

Seaton reached out over the table, seizing forks and spoons from the air and passing them to the others, while the natives stared in surprise. The Domak took a bowl filled with brilliant blue crystals from the major-domo, sprinkled his food liberally with the substance, and passed it to Seaton, who looked at the crystals attentively.

"Copper sulphate," he said to Crane. "It's a good thing they add it at the table instead of cooking with it, or we'd be out of luck."

Waving the copper sulphate away, he again reached out, this time producing a pair of small salt-and pepper-shakers, which he passed to the Domak after he had seasoned the dishes before him. Nalboon tasted the pepper cautiously and smiled in delight, half-emptying the shaker upon his plate. He then sprinkled a few grains of salt into his palm, stared at them with an expression of doubting amazement, and after a few rapid sentences poured them into a dish held by an officer who had sprung to his side. The officer studied them closely, then carefully washed his chief's hand. Nalboon turned to Seaton, plainly asking for the salt-cellar.

"Sure, old top. Keep 'em both, there's lots more where those came from," as he produced several more sets in the same mysterious way and handed them to Crane, who in turn passed them to the others.

The meal progressed merrily, with much conversation in the sign-language between the two parties. It was evident that Nalboon, usually stern and reticent, was in an unusually pleasant mood. The viands, though of peculiar flavor, were in the main pleasing to the palates of the Earthly visitors.

"This fruit salad, or whatever it is, is divine," remarked Dorothy, after an experimental bite. "May we eat as much as we like, or had we better just eat a little?"

"Go as far as you like," returned her lover. "I wouldn't recommend it, as a steady diet, as I imagine everything contains copper and other heavy metals in noticeable amounts, and probably considerable arsenic, but for a few days it can't very well hurt us much."

After the meal, Nalboon bade them a ceremonious farewell, and they were escorted to a series of five connecting rooms by the royal usher, escorted by an entire company of soldiers, who mounted guard outside the doors. Gathered in one room, they discussed sleeping arrangements. The girls insisted that they would sleep together, and that the men should occupy the rooms at either side. As the girls turned away, the four slaves followed.

"We don't want these people, and I can't make them go away!" cried Dorothy.

"I don't want them, either," replied Seaton, but if we chase them out they'll get their heads chopped off. You girls take the women and we'll take the men."

Seaton waved all the women into the girls' room, but they paused irresolutely. One of them went up to the man wearing the metal belt, evidently their leader, and spoke to him rapidly as she threw her arms around his neck. He shook his head, motioning toward Seaton several times as he spoke to her reassuringly. With his arm about her tenderly, he led her to the door, the other women following. Crane and DuQuesne having gone to their rooms with their attendants, the man wearing the belt drew the blinds and turned to assist Seaton in taking off his clothes.

"I never had a valet before, but go as far as you like if it pleases you," remarked Seaton, as he began to throw off his clothes. A multitude of small articles fell from their hiding-places in his garments as he removed them. Almost stripped, Seaton stretched vigorously, the muscles writhing and rippling in great ridges under the satin skin of his broad back and mighty arms and shoulders as he filled his capacious lungs and twisted about, working off the stiffness caused by the days of comparative confinement.

The four slaves stared in open-mouthed astonishment at this display of muscular development and conversed among themselves as they gathered up Seaton's discarded clothing. Their leader picked up a salt-shaker, a couple of silver knives and forks, and some other articles, and turned to Seaton, apparently asking permission to do something with them. Seaton nodded assent carelessly and turned to his bed. As he did so, he heard a slight clank of arms in the hall as the guard was changed, and lifting the blind a trifle he saw that guards were stationed outside as well. As he went to bed, he wondered whether the guards were guards of honor or jailers; whether he and his party were honored guests or prisoners.

Three of the slaves, at a word from their chief, threw themselves upon the floor and slept, but he himself did not rest. Opening the apparently solid metal belt, he took out a great number of small tools, many tiny instruments, and several spools of insulated wire. He then took the articles Seaton had given him, taking great pains not to spill a single grain of salt, and set to work. Hour after hour he labored, a strange, exceedingly complex instrument taking form under his clever fingers.

The Skylark of Space, E. E. "Doc" Smith, Amazing Stories August, September and October 1928. Note: The copyright for this magazine short fiction has expired in the United States and was not renewed, thus, The Skylark of Space now resides in the public domain.

They descended rapidly, directly over a large and imposing city in the middle of a vast, level, beautifully-planted plain. While they were watching it, the city vanished and the plain was transformed into a heavily-timbered mountain summit, the valleys falling away upon all sides as far as the eye could reach.

"Well, I'll say that's SOME mirage!" exclaimed Seaton, rubbing his eyes in astonishment. "I've seen mirages before, but never anything like that. Wonder what this air's made of? But we'll land, anyway, if we finally have to swim!"

The ship landed gently upon the summit, the occupants half expecting to see the ground disappear before their eyes. Nothing happened, however, and they disembarked, finding walking somewhat difficult because of the great mass of the planet. Looking around, they could see no sign of life, but they felt a presence near them—a vast, invisible something.

Suddenly, out of the air in front of Seaton, a man materialized: a man identical with him in every feature and detail, even to the smudge of grease under one eye, the small wrinkles in his heavy blue serge suit, and the emblem of the American Chemical Society upon his watch-fob.

"Hello, folks," the stranger began in Seaton's characteristic careless speech. "I see you're surprised at my knowing your language. You're a very inferior race of animals—don't even understand telepathy, don't understand the luminiferous ether, or the relation between time and space. Your greatest things, such as the Skylark and your object-compass, are merely toys."

Changing instantly from Seaton's form to that of Dorothy, likewise a perfect imitation, the stranger continued without a break:

"Atoms and electrons and things, spinning and whirling in their dizzy little orbits...." It broke off abruptly, continuing in the form of DuQuesne:

"Couldn't make myself clear as Miss Vaneman—not a scientific convolution in her foolish little brain. You are a freer type, DuQuesne, unhampered by foolish, soft fancies. But you are very clumsy, although working fairly well with your poor tools—Brookings and his organization, the Perkins CafĂ© and its clumsy wireless telephones. All of you are extremely low in the scale. Such animals have not been known in our universe for ten million years, which is as far back as I can remember. You have millions of years to go before you will amount to anything; before you will even rise above death and its attendant necessity, sex."

The strange being then assumed form after form with bewildering rapidity, while the spectators stared in dumb astonishment. In rapid succession it took on the likeness of each member of the party, of the vessel itself, of the watch in Seaton's pocket—reappearing as Seaton.

"Well, bunch," it said in a matter-of-fact voice, "there's no mental exercise in you and you're such a low form of life that you're of no use on this planet; so I'll dematerialize you."

A peculiar light came into its eyes as they stared intently into Seaton's, and he felt his senses reel under the impact of an awful mental force, but he fought back with all his power and remained standing.

"What's this?" the stranger demanded in surprise, "This is the first time in history that mere matter—which is only a manifestation of mind—has ever refused to obey mind. There's a screw loose somewhere."

"I must reason this out," it continued analytically, changing instantaneously into Crane's likeness. "Ah! I am not a perfect reproduction. This is the first matter I have ever encountered that I could not reproduce perfectly. There is some subtle difference. The external form is the same, the organic structure likewise. The molecules of substance are arranged as they should be, as are also the atoms in the molecule. The electrons in the atom—ah! There is the difficulty. The arrangement and number of electrons, as well as positive charges, are entirely different from what I had supposed. I must derive the formula."

"Let's go, folks!" said Seaton hastily, drawing Dorothy back toward the Skylark. "This dematerialization stunt may be play for him, but I don't want any of it in my family."

"No, you really must stay," remonstrated the stranger. "Much as it is against my principles to employ brute force, you must stay and be properly dematerialized, alive or dead. Science demands it."

As he spoke, he started to draw his automatic pistol. Being in Crane's form, he drew slowly, as Crane did; and Seaton, with the dexterity of much sleight-of-hand work and of years of familiarity with his weapon, drew and fired in one incredibly rapid movement, before the other had withdrawn the pistol from his pocket. The X-plosive shell completely volatilized the stranger and hurled the party backward toward the Skylark, into which they fled hastily. As Crane, the last one to enter the vessel, fired his pistol and closed the massive door, Seaton leaped to the levers. As he did so, he saw a creature materialize in the air of the vessel and fall to the floor with a crash as he threw on the power. It was a frightful thing, like nothing ever before seen upon any world; with great teeth, long, sharp claws, and an automatic pistol clutched firmly in a human hand. Forced flat by the terrific acceleration of the vessel, it was unable to lift either itself or the weapon, and lay helpless.

"We take one trick, anyway!" blazed Seaton, as he threw on the power of the attractor and diffused its force into a screen over the party, so that the enemy could not materialize in the air above them and crush them by mere weight. "As pure mental force, you're entirely out of my class, but when you come down to matter, which I can understand, I'll give you a run for your money until my angles catch fire."

"That is a childish defiance. It speaks well for your courage, but ill for your intelligence," the animal said, and vanished.

A moment later Seaton's hair almost stood on end as he saw an automatic pistol appear upon the board directly in front of him, clamped to it by bands of steel. Paralyzed by this unlooked-for demonstration of the mastery of mind over matter, unable to move a muscle, he lay helpless, staring at the engine of death in front of him. Although the whole proceeding occupied only a fraction of a second, it seemed to Seaton as though he watched the weapon for hours. As the sleeve drew back, cocking the pistol and throwing a cartridge into the chamber, the trigger moved, and the hammer descended to speed on its way the bullet which was to blot out his life. There was a sharp click as the hammer fell—Seaton was surprised to find himself still alive until a voice spoke, apparently from the muzzle of the pistol, with the harsh sound of a metallic diaphragm.

"I was almost certain that it wouldn't explode," the stranger said, chattily. "You see, I haven't derived that formula yet, so I couldn't make a real explosive. I could of course, materialize beside you, under your protective screen, and crush you in a vise. I could materialize as a man of metal, able to stand up under this acceleration, and do you to death. I could even, by a sufficient expenditure of mental energy, materialize a planet around your ship and crush it. However, these crude methods are distasteful in the extreme, especially since you have already given me some slight and unexpected mental exercise. In return, I shall give you one chance for your lives. I cannot dematerialize either you or your vessel until I work out the formula for your peculiar atomic structure. If I can derive the formula before you reach the boundaries of my home-space, beyond which I cannot go, I shall let you go free. Deriving the formula will be a neat little problem. It should be fairly easy, as it involves only a simple integration in ninety-seven dimensions."

Silence ensued, and Seaton advanced his lever to the limit of his ability to retain consciousness. Almost overcome by the horror of their position, in an agony of suspense, expecting every instant to be hurled into nothingness, he battled on, with no thought of yielding, even in the face of those overwhelming mental odds.

"You can't do it, old top," he thought savagely, concentrating all the power of his highly-trained mind against the intellectual monster. "You can't dematerialize us, and you can't integrate above ninety-five dimensions to save your neck. You can't do it—you're slipping—you're all balled up right now!"

For more than an hour the silent battle raged, during which time the Skylark flew millions upon millions of miles toward Earth. Finally the stranger spoke again.

"You three win," it said abruptly. In answer to the unspoken surprise of all three men it went on: "Yes, all three of you got the same idea and Crane even forced his body to retain consciousness to fight me. Your efforts were very feeble, of course, but were enough to interrupt my calculations at a delicate stage, every time. You are a low form of life, undoubtedly, but with more mentality than I supposed at first. I could get that formula, of course, in spite of you, if I had time, but we are rapidly approaching the limits of my territory, outside of which even I could not think my way back. That is one thing in which your mechanical devices are superior to anything my own race developed before we became pure intellectuals. They point the way back to your Earth, which is so far away that even my mentality cannot grasp the meaning of the distance. I can understand the Earth, can visualize it from your minds, but I cannot project myself any nearer to it than we are at present. Before I leave you, I will say that you have conferred a real favor upon me—you have given me something to think about for thousands of cycles to come. Good-bye."

Assured that their visitor had really gone, Seaton reduced the power to that of gravity and Dorothy soon sat up, Margaret reviving more slowly.

"Dick," said Dorothy solemnly, "did that happen or have I been unconscious and just had a nightmare?"

"It happened, all right," returned her lover, wiping his brow in relief. "See that pistol clamped upon the top of the board? That's a token in remembrance of him."

Dorothy, though she had been only half conscious, had heard the words of the stranger. As she looked at the faces of the men, white and drawn with the mental struggle, she realized what they had gone through, and she drew Seaton down into one of the seats, stroking his hair tenderly.

Margaret went to her room immediately, and as she did not return, Dorothy followed. She came back presently with a look of concern upon her face.

"This life is a little hard on Peggy. I didn't realize how much harder for her it would be than it is for me until I went in there and found her crying. It is much harder for her, of course, since I am with you, Dick, and with you, Martin, whom I know so well. She must feel terribly alone."

"Why should she?" demanded Seaton. "We think she's some game little guy. Why, she's one of the bunch! She must know that!"

"Well, it isn't the same," insisted Dorothy. "You be extra nice to her, Dick. But don't you dare let her know I told you about the tears, or she'd eat me alive!"

Crane said nothing—a not unusual occurrence—but his face grew thoughtful and his manner, when Margaret appeared at mealtime, was more solicitous than usual and more than brotherly in its tenderness.

"I shall be an interstellar diplomat," Dorothy whispered to Seaton as soon as they were alone. "Wasn't that a beautiful bee I put upon Martin?"

Seaton stared at her a moment, then shook her gently before he took her into his arms.

The information, however, did not prevent him from calling to Crane a few minutes later, even though he was still deep in conversation with Margaret. Dorothy gave him an exasperated glance and walked away.

"I sure pulled a boner that time," Seaton muttered as he plucked at his hair ruefully. "It nearly did us.

"Let's test this stuff out and see if it's X, Mart, while DuQuesne's out of the way. If it is X, it's SOME find!"

Seaton cut off a bit of metal with his knife, hammered it into a small piece of copper, and threw the copper into the power-chamber, out of contact with the plating. As the metal received the current the vessel started slightly.

"It is X! Mart, we've got enough of this stuff to supply three worlds!"

"Better put it away somewhere," suggested Crane, and after the metal had been removed to Seaton's cabin, the two men again sought a landing-place. Almost in their line of flight they saw a close cluster of stars, each emitting a peculiar greenish light which, in the spectroscope, revealed a blaze of copper lines.

"That's our meat, Martin. We ought to be able to grab some copper in that system, where there's so much of it that it colors their sunlight."

"The copper is undoubtedly there, but it might be too dangerous to get so close to so many suns. We may have trouble getting away."

"Well, our copper's getting horribly low. We've got to find some pretty quick, somewhere, or else walk back home, and there's our best chance. We'll feel our way along. If it gets too strong, we'll beat it."

When they had approached so close that the suns were great stars widely spaced in the heavens, Crane relinquished the controls to Seaton.

"If you will take the lever awhile, Dick, Margaret and I will go downstairs and see if we can locate a planet."

After a glance through the telescope, Crane knew that they were still too far from the group of suns to place any planet with certainty, and began taking notes. His mind was not upon his work, however, but was completely filled with thoughts of the girl at his side. The intervals between his comments became longer and longer until they were standing in silence, both staring with unseeing eyes out into the trackless void. But it was in no sense their usual companionable silence. Crane was fighting back the words he longed to say. This lovely girl was not here of her own accord—she had been torn forcibly from her home and from her friends, and he would not, could not, make her already difficult position even more unpleasant by forcing his attentions upon her. Margaret sensed something unusual and significant in his attitude and held herself tense, her heart beating wildly.

At that moment an asteroid came within range of the Skylark's watchful repeller, and at the lurch of the vessel, as it swung around the obstruction, Margaret would have fallen had not Crane instinctively caught her with one arm. Ordinarily this bit of courtesy would have gone unnoticed by both, as it had happened many times before, but in that heavily-charged atmosphere it took on a new significance. Both blushed hotly, and as their eyes met each saw that which held them spellbound. Slowly, almost as if without volition, Crane put his other arm around her. A wave of deeper crimson swept over her face and she bent her handsome head as her slender body yielded to his arms with no effort to free itself. Finally Crane spoke, his usually even voice faltering.

"Margaret, I hope you will not think this unfair of me ... but we have been through so much together that I feel as though we had known each other forever. Until we went through this last experience I had intended to wait—but why should we wait? Life is not lived in years alone, and you know how much I love you, my dearest!" he finished, passionately.

Her arms crept up around his neck, her bowed head lifted, and her eyes looked deep into his as she whispered her answer:

"I think I do ... Oh, Martin!"

Presently they made their way back to the engine-room, keeping the singing joy in their hearts inaudible and the kisses fresh upon their lips invisible. They might have kept their secret for a time, had not Seaton promptly asked:

"Well, what did you find, Mart?"

A panicky look appeared upon Crane's self-possessed countenance and Margaret's fair face glowed like a peony.

"Yes, what did you find?" demanded Dorothy, as she noticed their confusion.

"My future wife," Crane answered steadily.

The two girls rushed into each other's arms and the two men silently gripped hands in a clasp of steel; for each of the four knew that these two unions were not passing fancies, lightly entered into and as lightly cast aside, but were true partnerships which would endure throughout the entire span of life.

A planet was located and the Skylark flew toward it. Discovering that it was apparently situated in the center of the cluster of suns, they hesitated; but finding that there was no dangerous force present, they kept on. As they drew nearer, so that the planet appeared as a very small moon, they saw that the Skylark was in a blaze of green light, and looking out of the windows, Crane counted seventeen great suns, scattered in all directions in the sky! Slowing down abruptly as the planet was approached, Seaton dropped the vessel slowly through the atmosphere, while Crane and DuQuesne tested and analyzed it.

"Pressure, thirty pounds per square inch. Surface gravity as compared to that of the Earth, two-fifths. Air-pressure about double that of the Earth, while a five-pound weight weighs only two pounds. A peculiar combination," reported Crane, and DuQuesne added:

"Analysis about the same as our air except for two and three-tenths per cent of a gas that isn't poisonous and which has a peculiar, fragrant odor. I can't analyze it and think it probably an element unknown upon Earth, or at least very rare."

"It would have to be rare if you don't know what it is," acknowledged Seaton, locking the Skylark in place and going over to smell the strange gas.

Deciding that the air was satisfactory, the pressure inside the vessel was slowly raised to the value of that outside and two doors were opened, to allow the new atmosphere free circulation.

Seaton shut off the power actuating the repeller and let the vessel settle slowly toward the ocean which was directly beneath them—an ocean of a deep, intense, wondrously beautiful blue, which the scientists studied with interest. Arrived at the surface, Seaton moistened a rod in a wave, and tasted it cautiously, then uttered a yell of joy—a yell broken off abruptly as he heard the sound of his own voice. Both girls started as the vibrations set up in the dense air smote upon their eardrums. Seaton moderated his voice and continued:

"I forgot about the air-pressure. But hurrah for this ocean—it's ammoniacal copper sulphate solution! We can sure get all the copper we want, right here, but it would take weeks to evaporate the water and recover the metal. We can probably get it easier ashore. Let's go!"

They started off just above the surface of the ocean toward the nearest continent, which they had observed from the air.

The Skylark of Space, E. E. "Doc" Smith, Amazing Stories August, September and October 1928. Note: The copyright for this magazine short fiction has expired in the United States and was not renewed, thus, The Skylark of Space now resides in the public domain.

Seaton opened his eyes and gazed about him wonderingly. Only half conscious, bruised and sore in every part of his body, he could not at first realize what had happened. Instinctively drawing a deep breath, he coughed and choked as the undiluted oxygen filled his lungs, bringing with it a complete understanding of the situation. Knowing from the lack of any apparent motion that the power had been sufficient to pull the car away from that fatal globe, his first thought was for Dorothy, and he tore off his helmet and turned toward her. The force of even that slight movement, wafted him gently into the air where he hung suspended several minutes before his struggles enabled him to clutch a post and draw himself down to the floor. A quick glance around informed him that Dorothy, as well as the others, was still unconscious. Making his way rapidly to her, he placed her face downward upon the floor and began artificial respiration. Very soon he was rewarded by the coughing he had longed to hear. He tore off her helmet and clasped her to his breast in an agony of relief, while she sobbed convulsively upon his shoulder. The first ecstacy of their greeting over, Dorothy started guiltily.

"Oh, Dick!" she exclaimed. "How about Peggy? You must see how she is!"

"Never mind," answered Crane's voice cheerily. "She is coming to nicely."

Glancing around quickly, they saw that Crane had already revived the stranger, and that DuQuesne was not in sight. Dorothy blushed, the vivid wave of color rising to her glorious hair, and hastily disengaged her arms from around her lover's neck, drawing away from him. Seaton, also blushing, dropped his arms, and Dorothy floated away from him, frantically clutching at a brace just beyond reach.

"Pull me down, Dick!" she called, laughing gaily.

Seaton, seizing her instinctively, neglected his own anchorage and they hung in the air together, while Crane and Margaret, each holding a strap, laughed with unrestrained merriment.

"Tweet, tweet—I'm a canary!" chuckled Seaton. "Throw us a rope!"

"A Dicky-bird, you mean," interposed Dorothy.

"I knew that you were a sleight-of-hand expert, Dick, but I did not know that levitation was one of your specialties," remarked Crane with mock gravity. "That is a peculiar pose you are holding now. What are you doing—sitting on an imaginary pedestal?"

"I'll be sitting on your neck if you don't get a wiggle on with that rope!" retorted Seaton, but before Crane had time to obey the command the floating couple had approached close enough to the ceiling so that Seaton, with a slight pressure of his hand against the leather, sent them floating back to the floor, within reach of one of the handrails.

Seaton made his way to the power-plant, lifted in one of the remaining bars, and applied a little power. The Skylark seemed to jump under them, then it seemed as though they were back on Earth—everything had its normal weight once more, as the amount of power applied was just enough to equal the acceleration of gravity. After this fact had been explained, Dorothy turned to Margaret.

"Now that we are able to act intelligently, the party should be introduced to each other. Peggy, this is Dr. Dick Seaton, and this is Mr. Martin Crane. Boys, this is Miss Margaret Spencer, a dear friend of mine. These are the boys I have told you so much about, Peggy. Dick knows all about atoms and things; he found out how to make the Skylark go. Martin, who is quite a wonderful inventor, made the engines and things for it."

"I may have heard of Mr. Crane," replied Margaret eagerly. "My father was an inventor, and I have heard him speak of a man named Crane who invented a lot of instruments for airplanes. He used to say that the Crane instruments revolutionized flying. I wonder if you are that Mr. Crane?"

"That is rather unjustifiably high praise, Miss Spencer," replied Crane, "but as I have been guilty of one or two things along that line, I may be the man he meant."

"Pardon me if I seem to change the subject," put in Seaton, "but where's DuQuesne?"

"We came to at the same time, and he went into the galley to fix up something to eat."

"Good for him!" exclaimed Dorothy. "I'm simply starved to death. I would have been demanding food long ago, but I have so many aches and pains that I didn't realize how hungry I was until you mentioned it. Come on, Peggy, I know where our room is. Let's go powder our noses while these bewhiskered gentlemen reap their beards. Did you bring along any of my clothes, Dick, or did you forget them in the excitement?"

"I didn't think anything about clothes, but Martin did. You'll find your whole wardrobe in your room. I'm with you, Dot, on that eating proposition—I'm hungry enough to eat the jamb off the door!"

After the girls had gone, Seaton and Crane went to their rooms, where they exercised vigorously to restore the circulation to their numbed bodies, shaved, bathed, and returned to the saloon feeling like new men. They found the girls already there, seated at one of the windows.

"Hail and greeting!" cried Dorothy at sight of them. "I hardly recognized you without your whiskers. Do hurry over here and look out this perfectly wonderful window. Did you ever in your born days see anything like this sight? Now that I'm not scared pea-green, I can enjoy it thoroughly!"

The two men joined the girls and peered out into space through the window, which was completely invisible, so clear was the glass. As the four heads bent, so close together, an awed silence fell upon the little group. For the blackness of the interstellar void was not the dark of an earthly night, but the absolute black of the absence of all light, beside which the black of platinum dust is pale and gray; and laid upon this velvet were the jewel stars. They were not the twinkling, scintillating beauties of the earthly sky, but minute points, so small as to seem dimensionless, yet of dazzling brilliance. Without the interference of the air, their rays met the eye steadily and much of the effect of comparative distance was lost. All seemed nearer and there was no hint of familiarity in their arrangement. Like gems thrown upon darkness they shone in multi-colored beauty upon the daring wanderers, who stood in their car as easily as though they were upon their parent Earth, and gazed upon a sight never before seen by eye of man nor pictured in his imaginings.

Through the daze of their wonder, a thought smote Seaton like a blow from a fist. His eyes leaped to the instrument board and he exclaimed:

"Look there, Mart! We're heading almost directly away from the Earth, and we must be making billions of miles per second. After we lost consciousness, the attraction of that big dud back there would swing us around, of course, but the bar should have stayed pointed somewhere near the Earth, as I left it. Do you suppose it could have shifted the gyroscopes?"

"It not only could have, it did," replied Crane, turning the bar until it again pointed parallel with the object-compass which bore upon the Earth. "Look at the board. The angle has been changed through nearly half a circumference. We couldn't carry gyroscopes heavy enough to counteract that force."

"But they were heavier there—Oh, sure, you're right. It's mass, not weight, that counts. But we sure are in one fine, large jam now. Instead of being half-way back to the Earth we're—where are we, anyway?"

They made a reading on an object-compass focused upon the Earth. Seaton's face lengthened as seconds passed. When it had come to rest, both men calculated the distance.

"What d'you make it, Mart? I'm afraid to tell you my result."

"Forty-six point twenty-seven light-centuries," replied Crane, calmly. "Right?"

"Right, and the time was 11:32 P. M. of Thursday, by the chronometer there. We'll time it again after a while and see how fast we're traveling. It's a good thing you built the ship's chronometers to stand any kind of stress. My watch is a total loss. Yours is, too?"

"All of our watches must be broken. We will have to repair them as soon as we get time."

"Well, let's eat next! No human being can stand my aching void much longer. How about you, Dot?"

"Yes, for Cat's sake, let's get busy!" she mimicked him gaily. "Doctor DuQuesne's had dinner ready for ages, and we're all dying by inches of hunger."

The wanderers, battered, bruised, and sore, seated themselves at a folding table, Seaton keeping a watchful eye upon the bar and upon the course, while enjoying Dorothy's presence to the full. Crane and Margaret talked easily, but at intervals. Save when directly addressed. DuQuesne maintained silence—not the silence of one who knows himself to be an intruder, but the silence of perfect self-sufficiency. The meal over, the girls washed the dishes and busied themselves in the galley. Seaton and Crane made another observation upon the Earth, requesting DuQuesne to stay out of the "engine room" as they called the partially-enclosed space surrounding the main instrument board, where were located the object-compasses and the mechanism controlling the attractor, about which DuQuesne knew nothing. As they rejoined DuQuesne in the main compartment, Seaton said:

"DuQuesne, we're nearly five thousand light-years away from the Earth, and are getting farther at the rate of about one light-year per minute."

"I suppose that it would be poor technique to ask how you know?"

"It would—very poor. Our figures are right. The difficulty is that we have only four bars left—enough to stop us and a little to spare, but not nearly enough to get back with, even if we could take a chance on drifting straight that far without being swung off—which, of course, is impossible."

"That means that we must land somewhere and dig some copper, then."


"The first thing to do is to find a place to land."

Seaton picked out a distant star in their course and observed it through the spectroscope. Since it was found to contain copper in notable amounts, all agreed that its planets probably also contained copper.

"Don't know whether we can stop that soon or not," remarked Seaton as he set the levers, "but we may as well have something to shoot at. We'd better take our regular twelve-hour tricks, hadn't we, Mart? It's a wonder we got as far as this without striking another snag. I'll take the first trick at the board—beat it to bed."

"Not so fast, Dick," argued Crane, as Seaton turned toward the engine-room: "It's my turn."

"Flip a nickel," suggested Seaton. "Heads I get it."

Crane flipped a coin. Heads it was, and the worn-out party went to their rooms, all save Dorothy, who lingered after the others to bid her lover a more intimate good-night.

Seated beside him, his arm around her and her head upon his shoulder, Dorothy exclaimed:

"Oh, Dicky, Dicky, it is wonderful to be with you again! I've lived as many years in the last week as we have covered miles!"

Seaton kissed her with ardor, then turned her fair face up to his and gazed hungrily at every feature.

"It sure was awful until we found you, sweetheart girl. Those two days at Wilson's were the worst and longest I ever put in. I could have wrung Martin's cautious old neck!

"But isn't he a wiz at preparing for trouble? We sure owe him a lot, little dimpled lady."

Dorothy was silent for a moment, then a smile quirked at one corner of her mouth and a dimple appeared. Seaton promptly kissed it, whereupon it deepened audaciously.

"What are you thinking about—mischief?" he asked.

"Only of how Martin is going to be paid what we owe him," she answered teasingly. "Don't let the debt worry you any."

"Spill the news, Reddy," he commanded, as his arm tightened about her.

She stuck out a tiny tip of red tongue at him.

"Don't let Peggy find out he's a millionaire."

"Why not?" he asked wonderingly, then he saw her point and laughed:

"You little matchmaker!"

"I don't care, laugh if you want to. Martin's as nice a man as I know, and Peggy's a real darling. Don't you let slip a word about Martin's money, that's all!"

"She wouldn't think any less of him, would she?"

"Dick, sometimes you are absolutely dumb. It would spoil everything. If she knew he was a millionaire she would be scared to death—not of him, of course, but because she would think that he would think that she was chasing him, and then of course he would think that she was, see? As it is, she acts perfectly natural, and so does he. Didn't you notice that while we were eating they talked together for at least fifteen minutes about her father's invention and the way they stole the plans and one thing and another? I don't believe he has talked that much to any girl except me the last five years—and he wouldn't talk to me until he knew that I couldn't see any man except you. Much as we like Martin, we've got to admit that about him. He's been chased so much that he's wild. If any other girl he knows had talked to him that long, he would have been off to the North Pole or somewhere the next morning, and the best part of it is that he didn't think anything of it."

"You think she is domesticating the wild man?"

"Now, Dick, don't be foolish. You know what I mean. Martin is a perfect dear, but if she knew that he is the M. Reynolds Crane, everything would be ruined. You know yourself how horribly hard it is to get through his shell to the real Martin underneath. He is lonely and miserable inside, I know, and the right kind of girl, one that would treat him right, would make life Heaven for him, and herself too."

"Yes, and the wrong kind would make it...."

"She would," interrupted Dorothy hastily, "but Peggy's the right kind. Wouldn't it be fine to have Martin and Peggy as happy, almost, as you and I are?"

"All right, girlie, I'm with you," he answered, embracing her as though he intended never to let her go, "but you'd better go get some sleep—you're all in."

Considerably later, when Dorothy had finally gone, Seaton settled himself for the long vigil. Promptly at the end of the twelve hours Crane appeared, alert of eye and of bearing.

"You look fresh as a daisy, Mart. Feeling fit?"

"Fit as the proverbial fiddle. I could not have slept any better or longer if I had had a week off. Seven hours and a half is a luxury, you know."

"All wrong, old top. I need eight every night, and I'm going to take about ten this time."

"Go to it, twelve if you like. You have earned it."

Seaton stumbled to his room and slept as though in a trance for ten hours. Rising, he took his regular morning exercises and went into the saloon. All save Martin were there, but he had eyes only for his sweetheart, who was radiantly beautiful in a dress of deep bronze-brown.

"Good morning, Dick," she hailed him joyously. "You woke up just in time—we are all starving again, and were just going to eat without you!"

"Good morning, everybody. I would like to eat with you, Dottie, but I've got to relieve Martin. How'd it be for you to bring breakfast into the engine room and cheer my solitude, and let Crane eat with the others?"

"Fine—that's once you had a good idea, if you never have another!"

After the meal DuQuesne, who abhorred idleness with all his vigorous nature, took the watches of the party and went upstairs to the "shop," which was a completely-equipped mechanical laboratory, to repair them. Seaton stayed at the board, where Dorothy joined him as a matter of course. Crane and Margaret sat down at one of the windows.

She told him her story, frankly and fully, shuddering with horror as she recalled the awful, helpless fall, during which Perkins had met his end.

"Dick and I have a heavy score to settle with that Steel crowd and with DuQuesne," Crane said slowly. "We have no evidence that will hold in law, but some day DuQuesne will over-reach himself. We could convict him of abduction now, but the penalty for that is too mild for what he has done. Perkins' death was not murder, then?"

"Oh, no, it was purely self-defense. Perkins would have killed him if he could. And he really deserved it—Perkins was a perfect fiend. The Doctor, as they call him, is no better, although entirely different. He is so utterly heartless and ruthless, so cold and scientific. Do you know him very well?"

"We know all that about him, and more. And yet Dorothy said he saved her life?"

"He did, from Perkins, but I still think it was because he didn't want Perkins meddling in his affairs. He seems to me to be the very incarnation of a fixed purpose—to advance himself in the world."

"That expresses my thoughts exactly. But he slips occasionally, as in this instance, and he will again. He will have to walk very carefully while he is with us. Nothing would please Dick better than an excuse for killing him, and I must admit that I feel very much the same way."

"Yes, all of us do, and the way he acts proves what a machine he is. He knows just exactly how far to go, and never goes beyond it."

They felt the Skylark lurch slightly.

"Oh, Mart!" called Seaton. "Going to pass that star we were headed for—too fast to stop. I'm giving it a wide berth and picking out another one. There's a big planet a few million miles off in line with the main door, and another one almost dead ahead—that is, straight down. We sure are traveling. Look at that sun flit by!"

They saw the two planets, one like a small moon, the other like a large star, and saw the strange sun increase rapidly in size as the Skylark flew on at such a pace that any earthly distance would have been covered as soon as it was begun. So appalling was their velocity that their ship was bathed in the light of that sun for only a short time, then was again surrounded by the indescribable darkness. Their seventy-two-hour flight without a pilot had seemed a miracle, now it seemed entirely possible that they might fly in a straight line for weeks without encountering any obstacle, so vast was the emptiness in comparison with the points of light that punctuated it. Now and then they passed so close to a star that it apparently moved rapidly, but for the most part the silent sentinels stood, like distant mountain peaks to the travelers in an express train, in the same position for many minutes.

Awed by the immensity of the universe, the two at the window were silent, not with the silence of embarassment, but with that of two friends in the presence of something beyond the reach of words. As they stared out into the infinity each felt as never before the pitiful smallness of even our whole solar system and the utter insignificance of human beings and their works. Silently their minds reached out to each other in mutual understanding.

Unconsciously Margaret half shuddered and moved closer to her companion, the movement attracting his attention but not her own. A tender expression came into Crane's steady blue eyes as he looked down at the beautiful young woman by his side. For beautiful she undoubtedly was. Untroubled rest and plentiful food had erased the marks of her imprisonment; Dorothy's deep, manifestly unassumed faith in the ability of Seaton and Crane to bring them safely back to Earth had quieted her fears; and a complete costume of Dorothy's simple but well-cut clothes, which fitted her perfectly, and in which she looked her best and knew it, had completely restored her self-possession. He quickly glanced away and again gazed at the stars, but now, in addition to the wonders of space, he saw masses of wavy black hair, high-piled upon a queenly head; deep down brown eyes half veiled by long, black lashes; sweet, sensitive lips; a firmly rounded but dimpled chin; and a perfectly-formed young body.

After a time she drew a deep, tremulous breath. As he turned, her eyes met his. In their shadowy depths, still troubled by the mystery of the unknowable, he read her very soul—the soul of a real woman.

"I had hoped," said Margaret slowly, "to take a long flight above the clouds, but anything like this never entered my mind. How unbelievably great it is! So much vaster than any perception we could get upon earth! It seems strange that we were ever awed by the sea or the mountains ... and yet...."

She paused, with her lip caught under two white teeth, then went on hesitatingly:

"Doesn't it seem to you, Mr. Crane, that there is something in man as great as all this? Otherwise, Dorothy and I could not be sailing here in a wonder like the Lark, which you and Dick Seaton have made."

Since from the first, Dorothy had timed her waking hours with those of Seaton—waiting upon him, preparing his meals, and lightening the long hours of his vigils at the board—Margaret took it upon herself to do the same thing for Crane. But often they assembled in the engine-room, and there was much fun and laughter, as well as serious talk, among the four. Margaret was quickly accepted as a friend, and proved a delightful companion. Her wavy, jet-black hair, the only color in the world that could hold its own with Dorothy's auburn glory, framed features self-reliant and strong, yet of womanly softness; and in this genial atmosphere her quick tongue had a delicate wit and a facility of expression that delighted all three. Dorothy, after the manner of Southern women, became the hostess of this odd "party," as she styled it, and unconsciously adopted the attitude of a lady in her own home.

Early in their flight, Crane suggested that they should take notes upon the systems of stars through which were passing.

"I know very little of astronomy," he said to Seaton, "but with our telescope, spectroscope, and other instruments, we should be able to take some data that will be of interest to astronomers. Possibly Miss Spencer would be willing to help us?"

"Sure," Seaton returned readily. "We'd be idiots to let a chance like this slide. Go to it!"

Margaret was delighted at the opportunity to help.

"Taking notes is the best thing I do!" she cried, and called for a pad and pencil.

Stationed at the window, they fell to work in earnest. For several hours Crane took observations, calculated distances, and dictated notes to Margaret.

"The stars are wonderfully different!" she exclaimed to him once. "That planet, I'm sure, has strange and lovely life upon it. See how its color differs from most of the others we have seen so near? It is rosy and soft like a home fire. I'm sure its people are happy."

They fell into a long discussion, laughing a little at their fancies. Were these multitudes of worlds peopled as the Earth? Could it be that only upon Earth had occurred the right combination for the generation of life, so that the rest of the Universe was unpeopled?

"It is unthinkable that they are all uninhabited," mused Crane. "There must be life. The beings may not exist in any form with which we are familiar—they may well be fulfilling some purpose in ways so different from ours that we should be unable to understand them at all."

Margaret's eyes widened in startled apprehension, but in a moment she shook herself and laughed.

"But there's no reason to suppose they would be awful," she remarked, and turned with renewed interest to the window.

Thus days went by and the Skylark passed one solar system after another, with a velocity so great that it was impossible to land upon any planet. Margaret's association with Crane, begun as a duty, soon became an intense pleasure for them both. Taking notes or seated at the board in companionable conversation or sympathetic silence, they compressed into a few days more real companionship than is ordinarily enjoyed in months. Oftener and oftener, as time went on, Crane found the vision of his dream home floating in his mind as he steered the Skylark in her meteoric flight or as he strapped himself into his narrow bed. Now, however, the central figure of the vision, instead of being an indistinct blur, was clear and sharply defined. And for her part, more and more was Margaret drawn to the quiet and unassuming, but utterly dependable and steadfast young inventor, with his wide knowledge and his keen, incisive mind.

Sometimes, when far from any star, the pilot would desert his post and join the others at meals. Upon one such occasion Seaton asked:

"How's the book on astronomy, oh, learned ones?"

"It will be as interesting as Egyptian hieroglyphics," Margaret replied, as she opened her notebook and showed him pages of figures and symbols.

"May I see it, Miss Spencer?" asked DuQuesne from across the small table, extending his hand.

She looked at him, hot hostility in her brown eyes, and he dropped his hand.

"I beg your pardon," he said, with amused irony.

After the meal Seaton and Crane held a short consultation, and the former called to the girls, asking them to join in the "council of war." There was a moment's silence before Crane said diffidently:

"We have been talking about DuQuesne, Miss Spencer, trying to decide a very important problem."

Seaton smiled in spite of himself as the color again deepened in Margaret's face, and Dorothy laughed outright.

"Talk about a red-headed temper! Your hair must be dyed, Peggy!"

"I know I acted like a naughty child," Margaret said ruefully, "but he makes me perfectly furious and scares me at the same time. A few more remarks like that 'I beg your pardon' of his and I wouldn't have a thought left in my head!"

Seaton, who had opened his mouth, shut it again ludicrously, without saying a word, and Margaret gave him a startled glance.

"Now I have said it!" she exclaimed. "I'm not afraid of him, boys, really. What do you want me to do?"

Seaton plunged in.

"What we were trying to get up nerve enough to say is that he'd be a good man on the astronomy job," and Crane added quickly:

"He undoubtedly knows more about it than I do, and it would be a pity to lose the chance of using him. Besides, Dick and I think it rather dangerous to leave him so much time to himself, in which to work up a plan against us."

"He's cooking one right now, I'll bet a hat," Seaton put in, and Crane added:

"If you are sure that you have no objections, Miss Spencer, we might go below, where we can have it dark, and all three of us see what we can make of the stargazing. We are really losing an unusual opportunity."

Margaret hid gallantly any reluctance she might have felt.

"I wouldn't deserve to be here if I can't work with the Doctor and hate him at the same time."

"Good for you, Peg, you're a regular fellow!" Seaton exclaimed. "You're a trump!"

Finally, the enormous velocity of the cruiser was sufficiently reduced to effect a landing, a copper-bearing sun was located, and a course was laid toward its nearest planet.

As the vessel approached its goal a deep undercurrent of excitement kept all the passengers feverishly occupied. They watched the distant globe grow larger, glowing through its atmosphere more and more clearly as a great disk of white light, its outline softened by the air about it. Two satellites were close beside it. Its sun, a great, blazing orb, a little nearer than the planet, looked so great and so hot that Margaret became uneasy.

"Isn't it dangerous to get so close, Dick? We might burn up, mightn't we?"

"Not without an atmosphere," he laughed.

"Oh," murmured the girl apologetically, "I might have known that."

Dropping rapidly into the atmosphere of the planet, they measured its density and analyzed it in apparatus installed for that purpose, finding that its composition was very similar to the Earth's air and that its pressure was not enough greater to be uncomfortable. When within one thousand feet of the surface, Seaton weighed a five-pound weight upon a spring-balance, finding that it weighed five and a half pounds, thus ascertaining that the planet was either somewhat larger than the Earth or more dense. The ground was almost hidden by a rank growth of vegetation, but here and there appeared glade-like openings.

Seaton glanced at the faces about him. Tense interest marked them all. Dorothy's cheeks were flushed, her eyes shone. She looked at him with awe and pride.

"A strange world, Dorothy," he said gravely. "You are not afraid?"

"Not with you," she answered. "I am only thrilled with wonder."

"Columbus at San Salvador," said Margaret, her dark eyes paying their tribute of admiration.

A dark flush mounted swiftly into Seaton's brown face and he sought to throw most of the burden upon Crane, but catching upon his face also a look of praise, almost of tenderness, he quickly turned to the controls.

"Man the boats!" he ordered an imaginary crew, and the Skylark descended rapidly.

Landing upon one of the open spaces, they found the ground solid and stepped out. What had appeared to be a glade was in reality a rock, or rather, a ledge of apparently solid metal, with scarcely a loose fragment to be seen. At one end of the ledge rose a giant tree wonderfully symmetrical, but of a peculiar form. Its branches were longer at the top than at the bottom, and it possessed broad, dark-green leaves, long thorns, and odd, flexible, shoot-like tendrils. It stood as an outpost of the dense vegetation beyond. Totally unlike the forests of Earth were those fern-like trees, towering two hundred feet into the air. They were of an intensely vivid green and stood motionless in the still, hot air of noonday. Not a sign of animal life was to be seen; the whole landscape seemed asleep.

The five strangers stood near their vessel, conversing in low tones and enjoying the sensation of solid ground beneath their feet. After a few minutes DuQuesne remarked:

"This is undoubtedly a newer planet than ours. I should say that it was in the Carboniferous age. Aren't those trees like those in the coal-measures, Seaton?"

"True as time, Blackie—there probably won't be a human race here for ages, unless we bring out some colonists."

Seaton kicked at one of the loose lumps of metal questioningly with his heavy shoe, finding that it was as immovable as though it were part of the ledge. Bending over, he found that it required all his great strength to lift it and he stared at it with an expression of surprise, which turned to amazement as he peered closer.

"DuQuesne! Look at this!"

DuQuesne studied the metal, and was shaken out of his habitual taciturnity.

"Platinum, by all the little gods!"

"We'll grab some of this while the grabbing's good," announced Seaton, and the few visible lumps were rolled into the car. "If we had a pickaxe we could chop some more off one of those sharp ledges down there."

"There's an axe in the shop," replied DuQuesne. "I'll go get it. Go ahead, I'll soon be with you."

"Keep close together," warned Crane as the four moved slowly down the slope. "This is none too safe, Dick."

"No, it isn't, Mart. But we've got to see whether we can't find some copper, and I would like to get some more of this stuff, too. I don't think it's platinum, I believe that it's X."

As they reached the broken projections, Margaret glanced back over her shoulder and screamed. The others saw that her face was white and her eyes wide with horror, and Seaton instinctively drew his pistol as he whirled about, only to check his finger on the trigger and lower his hand.

"Nothing but X-plosive bullets," he growled in disgust, and in helpless silence the four watched an unspeakably hideous monster slowly appear from behind the Skylark. Its four huge, squat legs supported a body at least a hundred feet long, pursy and ungainly; at the extremity of a long and sinuous neck a comparatively small head seemed composed entirely of a cavernous mouth armed with row upon row of carnivorous teeth. Dorothy gasped with terror and both girls shrank closer to the two men, who maintained a baffled silence as the huge beast passed his revolting head along the hull of the vessel.

"I dare not shoot, Martin," Seaton whispered, "it would wreck the bus. Have you got any solid bullets?"

"No. We must hide behind these small ledges until it goes away," answered Crane, his eyes upon Margaret's colorless face. "You two hide behind that one, we will take this one."

"Oh, well, it's nothing to worry about, anyway. We can kill him as soon as he gets far enough away from the boat," said Seaton as, with Dorothy clinging to him, he dropped behind one of the ledges. Margaret, her staring eyes fixed upon the monster, remained standing until Crane touched her gently and drew her down beside him.

"He will go away soon," his even voice assured her. "We are in no danger."

In spite of their predicament, a feeling of happiness flowed through Crane's whole being as he crouched beside the wall of metal with one arm protectingly around Margaret, and he longed to protect her through life as he was protecting her then. Accustomed as he was to dangerous situations, he felt no fear. He felt only a great tenderness for the girl by his side, who had ceased trembling but was still staring wide-eyed at the monster through a crevice.

"Scared, Peggy?" he whispered.

"Not now, Martin, but if you weren't here I would die of fright."

At this reply his arm tightened involuntarily, but he forced it to relax.

"It will not be long," he promised himself silently, "until she is back at home among her friends, and then...."

There came the crack of a rifle from the Skylark. There was an awful roar from the dinosaur, which was quickly silenced by a stream of machine-gun bullets.

"Blackie's on the job—let's go!" cried Seaton, and they raced up the slope. Making a detour to avoid the writhing and mutilated mass they plunged through the opening door. DuQuesne shut it behind them and in overwhelming relief, the adventurers huddled together as from the wilderness without there arose an appalling tumult.

The scene, so quiet a few moments before, was instantly changed. The trees, the swamp, and the air seemed filled with monsters so hideous as to stagger the imagination. Winged lizards of prodigious size hurtled through the air, plunging to death against the armored hull. Indescribable flying monsters, with feathers like birds, but with the fangs of tigers, attacked viciously. Dorothy screamed and started back as a scorpion-like thing with a body ten feet in length leaped at the window in front of her, its terrible sting spraying the glass with venom. As it fell to the ground, a huge spider—if an eight-legged creature with spines instead of hair, many-faceted eyes, and a bloated, globular body weighing hundreds of pounds, may be called a spider—leaped upon it and, mighty mandibles against poisonous sting, the furious battle raged. Several twelve-foot cockroaches climbed nimbly across the fallen timber of the morass and began feeding voraciously upon the body of the dead dinosaur, only to be driven away by another animal, which all three men recognized instantly as that king of all prehistoric creatures, the saber-toothed tiger. This newcomer, a tawny beast towering fifteen feet high at the shoulder, had a mouth disproportionate even to his great size—a mouth armed with four great tiger-teeth more than three feet in length. He had barely begun his meal, however, when he was challenged by another nightmare, a something apparently half-way between a dinosaur and a crocodile. At the first note the tiger charged. Clawing, striking, rending each other with their terrible teeth, a veritable avalanche of bloodthirsty rage, the combatants stormed up and down the little island. But the fighters were rudely interrupted, and the earthly visitors discovered that in this primitive world it was not only animal life that was dangerous.

The great tree attacks.
The great tree standing on the farther edge of the island suddenly bent over, lashing out like a snake and grasping both. It transfixed them with the terrible thorns, which were now seen to be armed with needlepoints and to possess barbs like fish-hooks.

The great tree standing on the farther edge of the island suddenly bent over, lashing out like a snake and grasping both. It transfixed them with the terrible thorns, which were now seen to be armed with needlepoints and to possess barbs like fish-hooks. It ripped at them with the long branches, which were veritable spears. The broad leaves, armed with revolting sucking disks, closed about the two animals, while the long, slender twigs, each of which was now seen to have an eye at its extremity, waved about, watching each movement of the captives from a safe distance.

If the struggle between the two animals had been awful, this was Titanic. The air was torn by the roars of the reptile, the screams of the great cat, and the shrieks of the tree. The very ground rocked with the ferocity of the conflict. There could be but one result—soon the tree, having absorbed the two gladiators, resumed its upright position in all its beauty.

The members of the little group stared at each other, sick at heart.

"This is NO place to start a copper-mine. I think we'd better beat it," remarked Seaton presently, wiping drops of perspiration from his forehead.

"I think so," acquiesced Crane. "We found air and Earth-like conditions here; we probably will elsewhere."

"Are you all right, Dottie?" asked Seaton.

"All right, Dicky," she replied, the color flowing back into her cheeks. "It scared me stiff, and I think I have a lot of white hairs right now, but I wouldn't have missed it for anything."

She paused an instant, and continued:

"Dick, there must be a queer streak of brutality in me, but would you mind blowing up that frightful tree? I wouldn't mind its nature if it were ugly—but look at it! It's so deceptively beautiful! You wouldn't think it had the disposition of a fiend, would you?"

A general laugh relieved the nervous tension, and Seaton stepped impulsively toward DuQuesne with his hand outstretched.

"You've squared your account, Blackie. Say the word and the war's all off."

DuQuesne ignored the hand and glanced coldly at the group of eager, friendly faces.

"Don't be sentimental," he remarked evenly as he turned away to his room. "Emotional scenes pain me. I gave my word to act as one of the party."

"Well, may I be kicked to death by little red spiders!" exclaimed Seaton, dumbfounded, as the other disappeared. "He ain't a man, he's a fish!"

"He's a machine. I always thought so, and now I know it," stated Margaret, and the others nodded agreement.

"Well, we'll sure pull his cork as soon as we get back!" snapped Seaton. "He asked for it, and we'll give him both barrels!"

"I know I acted the fool out there," Margaret apologized, flushing hotly and looking at Crane. "I don't know what made me act so stupid. I used to have a little nerve."

"You were a regular little brick, Peg," Seaton returned instantly. "Both you girls are all to the good—the right kind to have along in ticklish places."

Crane held out his steady hand and took Margaret's in a warm clasp.

"For a girl in your weakened condition you were wonderful. You have no reason to reproach yourself."

Tears filled the dark eyes, but were held back bravely as she held her head erect and returned the pressure of his hand.

"Just so you don't leave me behind next time," she returned lightly, and the last word concerning the incident had been said.

Seaton applied the power and soon they were approaching another planet, which was surrounded by a dense fog. Descending slowly, they found it to be a mass of boiling-hot steam and rank vapors, under enormous pressure.

The next planet they found to have a clear atmosphere, but the ground had a peculiar, barren look; and analysis of the gaseous envelope proved it to be composed almost entirely of chlorin. No life of an earthly type could be possible upon such a world, and a search for copper, even with the suits and helmets, would probably be fruitless if not impossible.

"Well," remarked Seaton as they were again in space, "we've got enough copper to visit several more worlds—several more solar systems, if necessary. But there's a nice, hopeful-looking planet right in front of us. It may be the one we're looking for."

Arrived in the belt of atmosphere, they tested it as before, and found it satisfactory.