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.

The pulsating air and the chattering sounders were giving the same dire warning, the alarm extraordinary of invasion, of imminent and catastrophic danger from the air.

"Don't try to reach the palace. Everyone on the ground will have time enough to hide in the deep, arenak-protected pits beneath the buildings, and you would be killed by the invaders long before you could reach the palace. If we can repel the enemy and keep them from landing, the women will be perfectly safe, even though the whole city is destroyed. If they effect a landing we are lost."

"They'll not land, then," Seaton answered grimly, as he sprang into the Skylark and took his place at the board. As Crane took out his wireless, Seaton cautioned him.

"Send in English, and tell the girls not to answer, as these devils can locate the calls within a foot and will be able to attack the right spot. Just tell them we're safe in the Skylark. Tell them to sit tight while we wipe out this gang that is coming, and that we'll call them, once in a while, when we have time, during the battle."

Before Crane had finished sending the message the crescendo whine of enormous propellers was heard. Simultaneously there was a deafening concussion and one entire wing of the palace disappeared in a cloud of dust, in the midst of which could be discerned a few flying fragments. The air was filled with Mardonalian warships. They were huge vessels, each mounting hundreds of guns, and the rain of high-explosive shells was rapidly reducing the great city to a wide-spread heap of debris.

Seaton's hand was upon the lever which would hurl the Skylark upward into the fray. Crane and DuQuesne, each hard of eye and grim of jaw, were stationed at their machine-guns.

"Something's up!" exclaimed Seaton. "Look at the Kondal!"

Something had happened indeed. Dunark sat at the board, his hand upon the power lever, and each of his crew was in place, grasping his weapon, but every man was writhing in agony, unable to control his movements. As they stared, momentarily spellbound, the entire crew ceased their agonized struggles and hung, apparently lifeless, from their supports.

"They've got to 'em some way—let's go!" yelled Seaton.

As his hand tightened upon the lever, a succession of shells burst upon the dock, wrecking it completely, all three men fancied that the world had come to an end as the stream of high explosive was directed against their vessel. But the four-foot shell of arenak was impregnable, and Seaton shot the Skylark upward into the midst of the enemy fleet. The two gunners fired as fast as they could sight their weapons, and with each shot one of the great warships was blown into fragments. The Mardonalians then concentrated the fire of their entire fleet upon their tiny opponent.

From every point of the compass, from above and below, the enemy gunners directed streams of shells against the dodging vessel. The noise was more than deafening, it was one continuous, shattering explosion, and the Earth-men were surrounded by such a blaze of fire from the exploding shells that they could not see the enemy vessels. Seaton sought to dodge the shells by a long dive toward one side, only to find that dozens of new opponents had been launched against them—the deadly airplane-torpedoes of Osnome. Steered by wireless and carrying no crews, they were simply winged bombs carrying thousands of pounds of terrific electrical explosive—enough to kill the men inside the vessel by the concussion of the explosion, even should the arenak armor be strong enough to withstand the blow. Though much faster than the Osnomian vessels, they were slow beside the Skylark, and Seaton could have dodged a few of them with ease. As he dodged, however, they followed relentlessly, and in spite of those which were blown up by the gunners, their number constantly increased until Seaton thought of the repellers.

"'Nobody Holme' is right!" he exclaimed, as he threw on the power actuating the copper bands which encircled the hull in all directions. Instantly the torpedoes were hurled backward, exploding as the force struck them, and even the shells were ineffective, exploding harmlessly, as they encountered the zone of force. The noise of the awful detonations lessened markedly.

"Why the silence, I wonder?" asked Seaton, while the futile shells of the enemy continued to waste their force some hundreds of feet distant from their goal, and while Crane and DuQuesne were methodically destroying the huge vessels as fast as they could aim and fire. At every report one of the monster warships disappeared—its shattered fragments and the bodies of its crew hurtling to the ground. His voice could not be heard in even the lessened tumult, but he continued:

"It must be that our repellers have set up a partial vacuum by repelling even the air!"

Suddenly the shelling ceased and the Skylark was enveloped by a blinding glare from hundreds of great reflectors; an intense, searching, bluish-violet light that burned the flesh and seared through eyelids and eyeballs into the very brain.

"Ultra-violet!" yelled Seaton at the first glimpse of the light, as he threw on the power. "Shut your eyes! Turn your heads down!"

Out in space, far beyond reach of the deadly rays, the men held a short conference, then donned heavy leather-and-canvas suits, which they smeared liberally with thick red paint, and replaced the plain glasses of their helmets with heavy lenses of deep ruby glass.

"This'll stop any ultra-violet ray ever produced," exulted Seaton, as he again threw the vessel into the Mardonalian fleet. A score of the great vessels met their fate before the Skylark was located, and, although the terrible rays were again focused upon the intruder in all their intensity, the carnage continued.

In a few minutes, however, the men heard, or rather felt, a low, intense vibration, like a silent wave of sound—a vibration which smote upon the eardrums as no possible sound could smite, a vibration which racked the joints and tortured the nerves as though the whole body were disintegrating. So sudden and terrible was the effect that Seaton uttered an involuntary yelp of surprise and pain as he once more fled into the safety of space.

"What the devil was that?" demanded DuQuesne. "Was it infra-sound? I didn't suppose such waves could be produced."

"Infra-sound is right. They produce most anything here," replied Seaton, and Crane added:

"Well, about three fur suits apiece, with cotton in our ears, ought to kill any wave propagated through air."

The fur suits were donned forthwith, Seaton whispering in Crane's ear:

"I've found out something else, too. The repellers repel even the air. I'm going to shoot enough juice through them to set up a perfect vacuum outside. That'll kill those air-waves."

Scarcely were they back within range of the fleet when DuQuesne, reaching for his gun to fire the first shot, leaped backward with a yell.

"Beat it!"

Once more at a safe distance, DuQuesne explained.

"It's lucky I'm so used to handling hot stuff that from force of habit I never make close contact with anything at the first touch. That gun carried thousands of volts, with lots of amperage behind them, and if I had had a good hold on it I couldn't have let go. We'll block that game quick enough, though. Thick, dry gloves covered with rubber are all that is necessary. It's a good thing for all of us that you have those fancy condensite handles on your levers, Seaton."

"That was how they got Dunark, undoubtedly," said Crane, as he sent a brief message to the girls, assuring them that all was well, as he had been doing at every respite. "But why were we not overcome at the same time?"

"They must have had the current tuned to iridium, and had to experiment until they found the right wave for steel," Seaton explained.

"I should think our bar would have exploded, with all that current. They must have hit the copper range, too?"

Seaton frowned in thought before he answered.

"Maybe because it's induced current, and not a steady battery impulse. Anyway, it didn't. Let's go!"

"Just a minute," put in Crane. "What are they going to do next, Dick?"

"Search me. I'm not used to my new Osnomian mind yet. I recognize things all right after they happen, but I can't seem to figure ahead—it's like a dimly-remembered something that flashes up as soon as mentioned. I get too many and too new ideas at once. I know, though, that the Osnomians have defenses against all these things except this last stunt of the charged guns. That must be the new one that Mardonale stole from Kondal. The defenses are, however, purely Osnomian in character and material. As we haven't got the stuff to set them up as the Osnomians do, we'll have to do it our own way. We may be able to dope out the next one, though. Let's see, what have they given us so far?"

"We've got to hand it to them," responded DuQuesne, admiringly. "They're giving us the whole range of wave-lengths, one at a time. They've given us light, both ultra-violet and visible, sound, infra-sound, and electricity—I don't know what's left unless they give us a new kind of X-rays, or Hertzian, or infra-red heat waves, or...."

"That's it, heat!" exclaimed Seaton. They produce heat by means of powerful wave-generators and by setting up heavy induced currents in the armor. They can melt arenak that way."

"Do you suppose we can handle the heat with our refrigerators?" asked Crane.

"Probably. We have a lot of power, and the new arenak cylinders of our compressors will stand anything. The only trouble will be in cooling the condensers. We'll run as long as we have any water in our tanks, then go dive into the ocean to cool off. We'll try it a whirl, anyway."

Soon the Skylark was again dealing out death and destruction in the thick of the enemy vessels, who again turned from the devastation of the helpless city to destroy this troublesome antagonist. But in spite of the utmost efforts of light-waves, sound-waves, and high-tension electricity, the space-car continued to take its terrible toll. As Seaton had foretold, the armor of the Skylark began to grow hot, and he turned on the full power of the refrigerating system. In spite of the cooling apparatus, however, the outer walls finally began to glow redly, and, although the interior was comfortably cool, the ends of the rifle-barrels, which were set flush with the surface of the revolving arenak globes which held them, softened, rendering the guns useless. The copper repellers melted and dripped off in flaming balls of molten metal, so that shells once more began to crash against the armor. DuQuesne, with no thought of quitting apparent in voice or manner, said calmly:

"Well, it looks as though they had us stopped for a few minutes. Let's go back into space and dope out something else."

Seaton, thinking intensely, saw a vast fleet of enemy reinforcements approaching, and at the same time received a wireless call directed to Dunark. It was from the grand fleet of Kondal, hastening from the bordering ocean to the defense of the city. Using Dunark's private code, Seaton told the Karbix, who was in charge of the fleet, that the enemy had a new invention which would wipe them out utterly without a chance to fight, and that he and his vessel were in control of the situation; and ordered him to see that no Kondalian ship came within battle range of a Mardonalian. He then turned to Crane and DuQuesne, his face grim and his fighting jaw set.

"I've got it doped right now. Give the Lark speed enough and she's some bullet herself. We've got four feet of arenak, they've got only an inch, and arenak doesn't even begin to soften until far above a blinding white temperature. Strap yourselves in solid, for it's going to be a rough party from now on."

They buckled their belts firmly, and Seaton, holding the bar toward their nearest antagonist, applied twenty notches of power. The Skylark darted forward and crashed completely through the great airship. Torn wide open by the forty-foot projectile, its engines wrecked and its helicopter-screws and propellers completely disabled, the helpless hulk plunged through two miles of empty air, a mass of wreckage.

The Skylark darted forward and crashed completely through the great airship.... She was an embodied thunderbolt; a huge, irresistible, indestructible projectile, directed by a keen brain inside....

Darting hither and thither, the space-car tore through vessel after vessel of the Mardonalian fleet. She was an embodied thunderbolt; a huge, irresistible, indestructible projectile, directed by a keen brain inside it—the brain of Richard Seaton, roused to his highest fighting pitch and fighting for everything that man holds dear. Tortured by the terrible silent waves, which, now that the protecting vacuum had been destroyed, were only partially stopped by the fur suits; shaken and battered by the terrific impacts and the even greater shocks occurring every second as the direction of the vessel was changed; made sick and dizzy by the nauseating swings and lurches as the Skylark spun about the central chamber; Seaton's wonderful physique and his nerves of steel stood him in good stead in this, the supreme battle of his life, as with teeth tight-locked and eyes gray and hard as the fracture of high-carbon steel, he urged the Skylark on to greater and greater efforts.

Though it was impossible for the eye to follow the flight of the space-car, the mechanical sighting devices of the Mardonalian vessels kept her in as perfect focus as though she were stationary, and the great generators continued to hurl into her the full power of their death-dealing waves. The enemy guns were still spitting forth their streams of high-explosive shells, but unlike the waves, the shells moved so slowly compared to their target that only a few found their mark, and many of the vessels fell to the ground, riddled by the shells of their sister-ships.

With anxious eyes Seaton watched the hull of his animated cannon-ball change in color. From dull red it became cherry, and as the cherry red gave place to bright red heat, Seaton threw even more power into the bar as he muttered through his set teeth:

"Well, Seaton, old top, you've got to cut out this loafing on the job and get busy!"

In spite of his utmost exertions and in spite of the powerful ammonia plant, now exerting its full capacity, but sadly handicapped by the fact that its cooling-water was now boiling, Seaton saw the arenak shell continue to heat. The bright red was succeeded by orange, which slowly changed, first to yellow, then to light yellow, and finally to a dazzling white; through which, with the aid of his heavy red lenses, he could still see the enemy ships. After a time he noted that the color had gone down to yellow and he thrilled with exultation, knowing that he had so reduced the numbers of the enemy fleet that their wave-generators could no longer overcome his refrigerators. After a few minutes more of the awful carnage there remained only a small fraction of the proud fleet which, thousands strong, had invaded Kondal—a remnant that sought safety in flight. But even in flight, they still fought with all their weapons, and the streams of bombs dropped from their keel-batteries upon the country beneath marked the path of their retreat with a wide swath of destruction. Half inclined to let the few remaining vessels escape, Seaton's mind changed instantly as he saw the bombs spreading devastation upon the countryside, and not until the last of the Mardonalian vessels had been destroyed did he drop the Skylark into the area of ruins which had once been the palace grounds, beside the Kondal, which was still lying as it had fallen.

After several attempts to steady their whirling senses, the three men finally were able to walk, and, opening a door, they leaped out through the opening in the still glowing wall. Seaton's first act was to wireless the news to Dorothy, who replied that they were coming as fast as they could. The men then removed their helmets, revealing faces pale and drawn, and turned to the helpless space-car.

"There's no way of getting into this thing from the outside...." Seaton began, when he saw that the Kofedix and his party were beginning to revive. Soon Dunark opened the door and stumbled out.

"I have to thank you for more than my life this time," he said, his voice shaken by uncontrollable emotion as he grasped the hands of all three men. "Though unable to move, I was conscious and saw all that happened—you kept them so busy that they didn't have a chance to give us enough to kill us outright. You have saved the lives of millions of our nation and have saved Kondal itself from annihilation."

"Oh, it's not that bad," answered Seaton, uncomfortably. "Both nations have been invaded before."

"Yes—once when we developed the ultra-violet ray, once when Mardonale perfected the machine for producing the silent sound-wave, and again when we harnessed the heat-wave. But this would have been the most complete disaster in history. The other inventions were not so deadly as was this one, and there were terrible battles, from which the victors emerged so crippled that they could not completely exterminate the vanquished, who were able to re-establish themselves in the course of time. If it had not been for you, this would have been the end, as not a Kondalian soldier could move—any person touching iridium was helpless and would have been killed."

He ceased speaking and saluted as the Karfedix and his party rounded a heap of boulders. Dorothy and Margaret screamed in unison as they saw the haggard faces of their husbands, and saw their suits, dripping with a thick substance which they knew to be red, in spite of its purplish-black color. Seaton dodged nimbly as Dorothy sought to take him in her arms, and tore off his suit.

"Nothing but red paint to stop their light-rays," he reassured her as he lifted her clear from the ground in a soul-satisfying embrace. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the Kondalians staring in open-mouthed amazement at the Skylark. Wheeling swiftly, he laughed as he saw a gigantic ball of frost and snow! Again donning his fur suit, he shut off the refrigerators and returned to his party, where the Karfedix gave him thanks in measured terms. As he fell silent, Dunark added:

"Thanks to you, the Mardonalian forces, instead of wiping us out, are themselves destroyed, while only a handful of our vessels have been lost, since the grand fleet could not arrive until the battle was over, and since the vessels that would have thrown themselves away were saved by your orders, which I heard. Thanks to you, we are not even crippled, though our capital is destroyed and the lives of some unfortunates, who could not reach the pits in time, have probably been lost.

"Thanks to you," he continued in a ringing voice, "and to the salt and the new source of power you have given us, Mardonale shall now be destroyed utterly!"

After sending out ships to relieve the suffering of the few wounded and the many homeless, Dunark summoned a corps of mechanics, who banded on new repellers and repaired the fused barrels of the machine-guns, all that was necessary to restore the Skylark to perfect condition.

Facing the party from Earth, the Karfedix stood in the ruins of his magnificent palace. Back of him were the nobles of Kondal, and still further back, in order of rank, stood a multitude of people.

"Is it permitted, oh noble Karfedo, that I reward your captive for his share in the victory?" he asked.

"It is," acquiesced Seaton and Crane, and Roban stepped up to DuQuesne and placed in his hand a weighty leather bag. He then fastened about his left wrist the Order of Kondal, the highest order of the nation.

He then clasped about Crane's wrist a heavily-jeweled, peculiarly-ornamented disk wrought of a deep ruby-red metal, supported by a heavy bracelet of the same material, the most precious metal of Osnome. At sight of the disk the nobles saluted and Seaton barely concealed a start of surprise, for it bore the royal emblem and delegated to its bearer power second only to that of the Karfedix himself.

"I bestow upon you this symbol, Karfedix Crane, in recognition of what you have this day done for Kondal. Wherever you may be upon Kondalian Osnome, which from this day henceforth shall be all Osnome, you have power as my personal representative, as my eldest son."

He drew forth a second bracelet, similar to the first except that it bore seven disks, each differently designed, which he snapped upon Seaton's wrist as the nobles knelt and the people back of them threw themselves upon their faces.

"No language spoken by man possesses words sufficiently weighty to express our indebtedness to you, Karfedix Seaton, our guest and our savior. The First Cause has willed that you should be the instrument through which Kondal is this day made supreme upon Osnome.

In small and partial recognition of that instrumentality, I bestow upon you these symbols, which proclaim you our overlord, the ultimate authority of Osnome.

While this is not the way in which I had thought to bid you farewell, the obligations which you have heaped upon us render all smaller things insignificant. When you return, as I hope and trust you soon will, the city shall be built anew and we can welcome you as befits your station."

Lifting both arms above his head he continued:

"May the great First Cause smile upon you in all your endeavors until you solve the Mystery: may your descendants soon reach the Ultimate Goal. Goodbye."

Seaton uttered a few heartfelt words in response and the party stepped backward toward the Skylark. As they reached the vessel the standing Karfedix and the ranks of kneeling nobles snapped into the double salute—truly a rare demonstration in Kondal.

"What'll we do now?" whispered Seaton.

"Bow, of course," answered Dorothy.

They bowed, deeply and slowly, and entered their vessel. As the Skylark shot into the air with the greatest acceleration that would permit its passengers to move about, the grand fleet of Kondalian warship fired a deafening salute.

It had been planned before the start that each person was to work sixteen hours out of the twenty-four. Seaton was to drive the vessel during the first two eight-hour periods of each day. Crane was to observe the stars during the second and to drive during the third. DuQuesne was to act as observer during the first and third periods. Margaret had volunteered to assist the observer in taking his notes during her waking hours, and Dorothy appointed herself cook and household manager.

As soon as the Skylark had left Osnome, Crane told DuQuesne that he and his wife would work in the observation room until four o'clock in the afternoon, at which time the prearranged system of relief would begin, and DuQuesne retired to his room.

Crane and Margaret made their way to the darkened room which housed the instruments and seated themselves, watching intently and making no effort to conceal their emotion as first the persons beneath them, then the giant war-vessels, and finally the ruined city itself, were lost to view. Osnome slowly assumed the proportions of a large moon, grew smaller, and as it disappeared Crane began to take notes. For a few hours the seventeen suns of this strange solar system shone upon the flying space-car, after which they assumed the aspect of a widely-separated cluster of enormous stars, slowly growing smaller and smaller and shrinking closer and closer together.

At four o'clock in the afternoon, Washington time, DuQuesne relieved Crane, who made his way to the engine room.

"It is time to change shifts, Dick. You have not had your sixteen hours, but everything will be regular from now on. You two had better get some rest."

"All right," replied Seaton, as he relinquished the controls to Crane, and after bidding the new helmsman goodnight he and Dorothy went below to their cabin.

Standing at a window with their arms around each other they stared down with misty eyes at the very faint green star, which was rapidly decreasing in brilliance as the Skylark increased its already inconceivable velocity. Finally, as it disappeared altogether, Seaton turned to his wife and tenderly, lovingly, took her in his arms.

"Littlest Girl.... Sweetheart...." he whispered, and paused, overcome by the intensity of his feelings.

"I know, husband mine," she answered, while tears dimmed her glorious eyes. "It is too deep. With nothing but words, we can't say a single thing."