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.