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.

"These jewels rather puzzle me, Dick. What are they?" asked Martin, as the four assembled, waiting for the first meal. As he spoke he held up his third finger, upon which gleamed the royal jewel of Osnome in its splendid Belcher mounting of arenak as transparent as the jewel itself and having the same intense blue color. "I know the name, 'faidon,' but that's all I seem to know."

"That's about all that anybody knows about them. It is a naturally-occurring, hundred-faceted crystal, just as you see it there—deep blue, perfectly transparent, intensely refractive, and constantly emitting that strong, blue light. It is so hard that it cannot be worked, cut, or ground. No amount of the hardest known abrasive will even roughen its surface. No blow, however great, will break it—it merely forces its way into the material of the hammer, however hard the hammer may be. No extremity of either heat or cold affects it in any degree, it is the same when in the most powerful electric arc as it is when immersed in liquid helium."

"How about acids?"

"That is what I am asking myself. Osnomians aren't much force at chemistry. I'm going to try to get hold of another one, and see if I can't analyze it, just for fun. I can't seem to convince myself that a real atomic structure could be that large."

"No, it is rather large for an atom," and turning to the two girls, "How do you like your solitaires?"

"They're perfectly beautiful, and the Tiffany mounting is exquisite," replied Dorothy, enthusiastically, "but they're so awfully big! They're as big as ten-carat diamonds, I do believe."

"Just about," replied Seaton, "but at that, they're the smallest Dunark could find. They have been kicking around for years, he says—so small that nobody wanted them. They wear big ones on their bracelets, you know. You sure will make a hit in Washington, Dottie. People will think you're wearing a bottle-stopper until they see it shining in the dark, then they'll think it's an automobile headlight. But after a few jewelers have seen these stones, one of them will be offering us five million dollars apiece for them, trying to buy them for some dizzy old dame who wants to put out the eyes of some of her social rivals. Yes? No?"

"That's about right, Dick," replied Crane, and his face wore a thoughtful look. "We can't keep it secret that we have a new jewel, since all four of us will be wearing them continuously, and anyone who knows jewels at all will recognize these as infinitely superior to any known Earthly jewel. In fact, they may get some of us into trouble, as fabulously valuable jewels usually do."

"That's true, too. So we'll let it out casually that they're as common as mud up here—that we're just wearing them for sentiment, which is true, and that we're thinking of bringing back a shipload to sell for parking lights."

"That would probably keep anyone from trying to murder our wives for their rings, at least."

"Have you read your marriage certificate, Dick?" asked Margaret.

"Not yet. Let's look at it, Dottie."

She produced the massive, heavily-jeweled document, and the auburn head and the brown one were very close to each other as they read together the English side of the certificate. Their vows were there, word for word, with their own signatures beneath them, all deeply engraved into the metal. Seaton smiled as he saw the legal form engraved below their signatures, and read aloud:

"I, the Head of the Church and the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of Kondal, upon the planet Osnome, certify that I have this day, in the city of Kondalek, of said nation and planet, joined in indissoluble bonds of matrimony, Richard Ballinger Seaton, Doctor of Philosophy, and Dorothy Lee Vaneman; Doctor of Music; both of the city of Washington, District of Columbia, United States of America, upon the planet Earth, in strict compliance with the marriage laws, both of Kondal and of the United States of America.


Roban, Emperor of Kondal.
Tural, Empress of Kondal.
Dunark, Crown Prince of Kondal.
Sitar, Crown Princess of Kondal.
Marc C. DuQuesne, Ph. D., Washington, D. C.

"That is SOME document," remarked Seaton. "Probably a lawyer could find fault with his phraseology, but I'll bet that this thing would hold in any court in the world. Think you'll get married again when we get back, Mart?"

Both girls protested, and Crane answered:

"No, I think not. Our ceremony would be rather an anticlimax after this one, and this one will undoubtedly prove legal. I intend to register this just as it is, and get a ruling from the courts. But it is time for breakfast. Pardon me—I should have said 'darprat,' for it certainly is not breakfast-time by Washington clocks. My watch says that it is eleven-thirty P. M."

"This system of time is funny," remarked Dorothy. "I just can't get used to having no night, and...."

"And it's such a long time between eats, as the famous governor said about the drinks," broke in Seaton.

"How did you know what I was going to say, Dick?"

"Husbandly intuition," he grinned, "aided and abetted by a normal appetite that rebels at seventeen hours between supper and breakfast, and nine hours between the other meals. Well, it's time to eat—let's go!"

After eating, the men hurried to the Skylark. During the sleeping-period the vessel had been banded with the copper repellers: the machine guns and instruments, including the wonderful Osnomian wireless system, had been installed; and, except for the power-bars, she was ready for a voyage. The Kondalian vessel was complete, even to the cushions, but was without instruments.

After a brief conversation with the officer in charge, Dunark turned to Seaton.

"Didn't you find that your springs couldn't stand up under the acceleration?"

"Yes, they flattened out dead."

"The Kolanix Felan, in charge of the work, thought so, and substituted our compound-compensated type, made of real spring metal, for them. They'll hold you through any acceleration you can live through."

"Thanks, that's fine. What's next, instruments?"

"Yes. I have sent a crew of men to gather up what copper they can find—you know that we use practically no metallic copper, as platinum, gold, and silver are so much better for ordinary purposes—and another to erect a copper-smelter near one of the mines which supply the city with the copper sulphate used upon our tables. While they are at work I think I will work on the instruments, if you two will be kind enough to help me."

Seaton and Crane offered to supply him with instruments from their reserve stock, but the Kofedix refused to accept them, saying that he would rather have their help in making them, so that he would thoroughly understand their functions. The electric furnaces were rapidly made ready and they set to work; Crane taking great delight in working that hitherto rare and very refractory metal, iridium, of which all the Kondalian instruments were to be made.

"They have a lot of our rare metals here, Dick."

"They sure have. I'd like to set up a laboratory and live here a few years—I'd learn something about my specialty or burst. They use gold and silver where we use copper, and platinum and its alloys where we use iron and soft steel. All their weapons are made of iridium, and all their most highly-tempered tools, such as their knives, razors, and so on, are made of opaque arenak. I suppose you've noticed the edge on your razor?"

"How could I help it? It is hard to realize that a metal can be so hard that it requires forty years on a diamond-dust abrasive machine to hone a razor—or that once honed, it shaves generation after generation of men without losing in any degree its keenness."

"I can't understand it, either—I only know that it's so. They have all our heavy metals in great abundance, and a lot more that we don't know anything about on Earth, but they apparently haven't any light metals at all. It must be that Osnome was thrown off the parent sun late, so that the light metals were all gone?"

"Something like that, possibly."

The extraordinary skill of the Kofedix made the manufacture of the instruments a short task, and after Crane had replaced the few broken instruments of the Skylark from their reserve stock, they turned their attention to the supply of copper that had been gathered. They found it enough for only two bars.

"Is this all we have?" asked Dunark, sharply.

"It is, your Highness," replied the Kolanix. "That is every scrap of metallic copper in the city."

"Oh, well, that'll be enough to last until we can smelt the rest," said Seaton. "With one bar apiece we're ready for anything Mardonale can start. Let 'em come!"

The bars were placed in the containers and both vessels were tried out, each making a perfect performance. Upon the following kokam, immediately after the first meal, the full party from the Earth boarded the Skylark and accompanied the Kofedix to the copper smelter. Dunark himself directed the work of preparing the charges and the molds, though he was continually being interrupted by wireless messages in code and by messengers bearing tidings too important to trust into the air.

"I hope you will excuse all of these delays," said Dunark, after the twentieth interruption, "but...."

"That's all right, Dunark. We know that you're a busy man."

"I can tell you about it, but I wouldn't want to tell many people. With the salt you gave us, I am preparing a power-plant that will enable us to blow Mardonale into...."

He broke off as a wireless call for help sounded. All listened intently, learning that a freight-plane was being pursued by a karlon a few hundred miles away.

"Now's the time for you to study one, Dunark!" Seaton exclaimed. "Get your gang of scientists out here while we go get him and drag him in!"

As Dunark sent the message, the Skylark's people hurried aboard, and Seaton drove the vessel toward the calls for help. With its great speed it reached the monster before the plane was overtaken. Focusing the attractor upon the enormous metallic beak of the karlon, Seaton threw on the power and the beast halted in midair as it was jerked backward and upward. As it saw the puny size of the attacking Skylark, it opened its cavernous mouth in a horrible roar and rushed at full speed. Seaton, unwilling to have the repellers stripped from the vessel, turned on the current actuating them. The karlon was hurled backward to the point of equilibrium of the two forces, where it struggled demoniacally.

Seaton carried his captive back to the smelter, where finally, by judicious pushing and pulling, he succeeded in turning the monster flat upon its back and pinning it to the ground in spite of its struggles to escape.

Soon the scientists arrived and studied the animal thoroughly, at as close a range as its flailing arms permitted.

"I wish we could kill him without blowing him to bits," wirelessed Dunark. "Do you know any way of doing it?"

"We could if we had a few barrels of ether, or some of our own poison gases, but they are all unknown here and it would take a long time to build the apparatus to make them. I'll see if I can't tire him out and get him that way as soon as you've studied him enough. We may be able to find out where he lives, too."

The scientists having finished their observations, Seaton jerked the animal a few miles into the air and shut off the forces acting upon it. There was a sudden crash, and the karlon, knowing that this apparently insignificant vessel was its master, turned in headlong flight.

"Have you any idea what caused the noise just then, Dick?" asked Crane; who, with characteristic imperturbability, had taken out his notebook and was making exact notes of all that transpired.

"I imagine we cracked a few of his plates," replied Seaton with a laugh, as he held the Skylark in place a few hundred feet above the fleeing animal.

Pitted for the first time in its life against an antagonist, who could both outfly and outfight it, the karlon redoubled its efforts and fled in a panic of fear. It flew back over the city of Kondalek, over the outlying country, and out over the ocean, still followed easily by the Skylark. As they neared the Mardonalian border, a fleet of warships rose to contest the entry of the monster. Seaton, not wishing to let the foe see the rejuvenated Skylark, jerked his captive high into the thin air. As soon as it was released, it headed for the ocean in an almost perpendicular dive, while Seaton focused an object-compass upon it.

"Go to it, old top," he addressed the plunging monster. "We'll follow you clear to the bottom of the ocean if you go that far!"

There was a mighty double splash as the karlon struck the water, closely followed by the Skylark. The girls gasped as the vessel plunged below the surface at such terrific speed, and seemed surprised that it had suffered no injury and that they had felt no jar. Seaton turned on the powerful searchlights and kept close enough so that he could see the monster through the transparent walls. Deeper and deeper the quarry dove, until it was plainly evident to the pursuers that it was just as much at home in the water as it was in the air. The beams of the lights revealed strange forms of life, among which were huge, staring-eyed fishes, which floundered about blindly in the unaccustomed glare. As the karlon bored still deeper, the living things became scarcer, but still occasional fleeting glimpses were obtained of the living nightmares which inhabited the oppressive depths of these strange seas. Continuing downward, the karlon plumbed the nethermost pit of the ocean and came to rest upon the bottom, stirring up a murk of ooze.

"How deep are we, Mart?"

"About four miles. I have read the pressure, but will have to calculate later exactly what depth it represents, from the gravity and density readings."

As the animal showed no sign of leaving its retreat, Seaton pulled it out with the attractor and it broke for the surface. Rising through the water at full speed, it burst into the air and soared upward to such an incredible height that Seaton was amazed.

"I wouldn't have believed that anything could fly in air this thin!" he exclaimed.

"It is thin up here," assented Crane. "Less than three pounds to the square inch. I wonder how he does it?"

"It doesn't look as though we are ever going to find out—he's sure a bear-cat!" replied Seaton, as the karlon, unable to ascend further, dropped in a slanting dive toward the lowlands of Kondal—the terrible, swampy region covered with poisonous vegetation and inhabited by frightful animals and even more frightful savages. The monster neared the ground with ever-increasing speed. Seaton, keeping close behind it, remarked to Crane:

"He'll have to flatten out pretty quick, or he'll burst something, sure."

But it did not flatten out. It struck the soft ground head foremost and disappeared, its tentacles apparently boring a way ahead of it.

Astonished at such an unlooked-for development, Seaton brought the Skylark to a stop and stabbed into the ground with the attractor. The first attempt brought up nothing but a pillar of muck, the second brought to light a couple of wings and one writhing arm, the third brought the whole animal, still struggling as strongly as it had in the first contest. Seaton again lifted the animal high into the air.

"If he does that again, we'll follow him."

"Will the ship stand it?" asked DuQuesne, with interest.

"Yes. The old bus wouldn't have, but this one can stand anything. We can go anywhere that thing can, that's a cinch. If we have enough power on, we probably won't even feel a jolt when we strike ground."

Seaton reduced the force acting upon the animal until just enough was left to keep the attractor upon it, and it again dived into the swamp. The Skylark followed, feeling its way in the total darkness, until the animal stopped, refusing to move in any direction, at a depth estimated by Crane to be about three-quarters of a mile. After waiting some time Seaton increased the power of the attractor and tore the karlon back to the surface and into the air, where it turned on the Skylark with redoubled fury.

"We've dug him out of his last refuge and he's fighting like a cornered rat," said Seaton as he repelled the monster to a safe distance. "He's apparently as fresh as when he started, in spite of all this playing. Talk about a game fish! He doesn't intend to run any more, though, so I guess we'll have to put him away. It's a shame to bump him off, but it's got to be done."

Crane aimed one of the heavy X-plosive bullets at the savagely-struggling monster, and the earth rocked with the concussion as the shell struck its mark. They hurried back to the smelter, where Dunark asked eagerly:

"What did you find out about it?"

"Nothing much," replied Seaton, and in a few words described the actions of the karlon. "What did your savants think of it?"

"Very little that any of us can understand in terms of any other known organism. It seems to combine all the characteristics of bird, beast, and fish, and to have within itself the possibilities of both bisexual and asexual reproduction."

"I wouldn't doubt it—it's a queer one, all right."

The copper bars were cool enough to handle, and the Skylark was loaded with five times its original supply of copper, the other vessel taking on a much smaller amount. After the Kofedix had directed the officer in charge to place the remaining bars in easily-accessible places throughout the nation, the two vessels were piloted back to the palace, arriving just in time for the last meal of the kokam.

"Well, Dunark," said Seaton after the meal was over, "I'm afraid that we must go back as soon as we can. Dorothy's parents and Martin's bankers will think they are dead by this time. We should start right now, but...."

"Oh, no, you must not do that. That would rob our people of the chance of bidding you goodbye."

"There's another reason, too. I have a mighty big favor to ask of you."

"It is granted. If man can do it, consider it done."

"Well, you know platinum is a very scarce and highly useful metal with us. I wonder if you could let us have a few tons of it? And I would like to have another faidon, too—I want to see if I can't analyze it."

"You have given us a thousand times the value of all the platinum and all the jewels your vessel can carry. As soon as the foundries are open tomorrow we will go and load up your store-rooms—or, if you wish, we will do it now."

"That isn't necessary. We may as well enjoy your hospitality for one more sleeping-period, get the platinum during the first work-period, and bid you goodbye just before the second meal. How would that be?"

"Perfectly satisfactory."

The following kokam, Dunark piloted the Skylark, with Seaton, Crane, and DuQuesne as crew, to one of the great platinum foundries. The girls remained behind to get ready for their departure, and for the great ceremony which was to precede it. The trip to the foundry was a short one, and the three scientists of Earth stared at what they saw—thousands of tons of platinum, cast into bars and piled up like pig-iron, waiting to be made into numerous articles of every-day use throughout the nation. Dunark wrote out an order, which his chief attendant handed to the officer in charge of the foundry, saying:

"Please have it loaded at once."

Seaton indicated the storage compartment into which the metal was to be carried, and a procession of slaves, two men staggering under one ingot, was soon formed between the pile and the storage room.

"How much are you loading on, Dunark?" asked Seaton, when the large compartment was more than half full.

"My order called for about twenty tons, in your weight, but I changed it later—we may as well fill that room full, so that the metal will not rattle around in flight. It doesn't make any difference to us, we have so much of it. It is like your gift of the salt, only vastly smaller."

"What are you going to do with it all, Dick?" asked Crane. "That is enough to break the platinum market completely."

"That's exactly what I'm going to do," returned Seaton, with a gleam in his gray eyes. "I'm going to burst this unjustifiable fad for platinum jewelry so wide open that it'll never recover, and make platinum again available for its proper uses, in laboratories and in the industries.

"You know yourself," he rushed on hotly, "that the only reason platinum is used at all for jewelry is that it is expensive. It isn't nearly so handsome as either gold or silver, and if it wasn't the most costly common metal we have, the jewelry-wearing crowd wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole. Useless as an ornament, it is the one absolutely indispensable laboratory metal, and literally hundreds of laboratories that need it can't have it because over half the world's supply is tied up in jeweler's windows and in useless baubles. Then, too, it is the best thing known for contact points in electrical machinery. When the Government and all the scientific societies were abjectly begging the jewelers to let loose a little of it they refused—they were selling it to profiteering spendthrifts at a hundred and fifty dollars an ounce. The condition isn't much better right now; it's a vicious circle. As long as the price stays high it will be used for jewelry, and as long as it is used for jewelry the price will stay high, and scientists will have to fight the jewelers for what little they get."

"While somewhat exaggerated, that is about the way matters stand. I will admit that I, too, am rather bitter on the subject," said Crane.

"Bitter? Of course you're bitter. Everybody is who knows anything about science and who has a brain in his head. Anybody who claims to be a scientist and yet stands for any of his folks buying platinum jewelry ought to be shot. But they'll get theirs as soon as we get back. They wouldn't let go of it before, they had too good a thing, but they'll let go now, and get their fingers burned besides. I'm going to dump this whole shipment at fifty cents a pound, and we'll take mighty good care that jewelers don't corner the supply."

"I'm with you, Dick, as usual."

Soon the storage room was filled to the ceiling with closely-stacked ingots of the precious metal, and the Skylark was driven back to the landing dock. She alighted beside Dunark's vessel, the Kondal, whose gorgeously-decorated crew of high officers sprang to attention as the four men stepped out. All were dressed for the ceremonial leave-taking, the three Americans wearing their spotless white, the Kondalians wearing their most resplendent trappings.

"This formal stuff sure does pull my cork!" exclaimed Seaton to Dunark. "I want to get this straight. The arrangement was that we were to be here at this time, all dressed up, and wait for the ladies, who are coming under the escort of your people?"

"Yes. Our family is to escort the ladies from the palace here. As they leave the elevator the surrounding war-vessels will salute, and after a brief ceremony you two will escort your wives into the Skylark, Doctor DuQuesne standing a little apart and following you in. The war-vessels will escort you as high as they can go, and the Kondal will accompany you as far as our most distant sun before turning back."

For a few moments Seaton nervously paced a short beat in front of the door of the space-car.

"I'm getting more fussed every second," he said abruptly, taking out his wireless instrument. "I'm going to see if they aren't about ready."

"What seems to be the trouble, Dick? Have you another hunch, or are you just rattled?" asked Crane.

"Rattled, I guess, but I sure do want to get going," he replied, as he worked the lever rapidly.

"Dottie," he sent out, and, the call being answered, "How long will you be? We're all ready and waiting, chewing our finger-nails with impatience."

"We'll soon be ready. The Karfedix is coming for us now."

Scarcely had the tiny sounder become silent when the air was shaken by an urgently-vibrated message, and every wireless sounder gave warning.