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.

DuQuesne's first act upon gaining the privacy of his own cabin was to open the leather bag presented to him by the Karfedix. He expected to find it filled with rare metals, with perhaps some jewels, instead of which the only metal present was a heavily-insulated tube containing a full pound of metallic radium. The least valuable items in the bag were scores of diamonds, rubies, and emeralds of enormous size and of flawless perfection. Merely ornamental glass upon Osnome, Dunark knew that they were priceless upon Earth, and had acted accordingly. To this great wealth of known gems, he had added a rich and varied assortment of the rare and strange jewels peculiar to his own world, the faidon alone being omitted from the collection. DuQuesne's habitual calmness of mind almost deserted him as he classified the contents of the bag.

The radium alone was worth millions of dollars, and the scientist in him exulted that at last his brother scientists should have ample supplies of that priceless metal with which to work, even while he was rejoicing in the price he would exact for it. He took out the familiar jewels, estimating their value as he counted them—a staggering total. The bag was still half full of the strange gems, some of them glowing like miniature lamps in the dark depths, and he made no effort to appraise them. He knew that once any competent jeweler had compared their cold, hard, scintillating beauty with that of any Earthly gems, he could demand his own price.

"At last," he breathed to himself, "I will be what I have always longed to be—a money power. Now I can cut loose from that gang of crooks and go my own way."

He replaced the gems and the tube of radium in the bag, which he stowed away in one of his capacious pockets, and made his way to the galley.

The return voyage through space was uneventful, the Skylark constantly maintaining the same velocity with which she had started out. Several times, as the days wore on, she came within the zone of attraction of various gigantic suns, but the pilot had learned his lesson. He kept a vigilant eye upon the bar, and at the first sign of a deviation from the perpendicular he steered away, far from the source of the attraction. Not content with these precautions, the man at the board would, from time to time, shut off the power, to make sure that the space-car was not falling toward a body directly in its line of flight.

When half the distance had been covered, the bar was reversed, the travelers holding an impromptu ceremony as the great vessel spun around its center through an angle of one hundred and eighty degrees. A few days later the observers began to recognize some of the fixed stars in familiar constellations and knew that the yellowish-white star directly in their line of flight was the sun of their own solar system. After a time they saw that their course, instead of being directly toward that rapidly-brightening star, was bearing upon a barely visible star a little to one side of it. Pointing their most powerful telescope toward that point of light, Crane made out a planet, half of its disk shining brightly. The girls hastened to peer through the telescope, and they grew excited as they made out the familiar outlines of the continents and oceans upon the lighted portion of the disk.

It was not long until these outlines were plainly visible to the unaided vision. The Earth appeared as a great, softly shining, greenish half-moon, with parts of its surface obscured by fleecy wisps of cloud, and with its two gleaming ice-caps making of its poles two brilliant areas of white. The returning wanderers stared at their own world with their hearts in their throats as Crane, who was at the board, increased the retarding force sufficiently to assure himself that they would not be traveling too fast to land upon the Earth.

After Dorothy and Margaret had gone to prepare a meal, DuQuesne turned to Seaton.

"Have you gentlemen decided what you intend to do with me?"

"No. We haven't discussed it yet. I can't make up my own mind what I want to do to you, except that I sure would like to get you inside a square ring with four-ounce gloves on. You have been of too much real assistance on this trip for us to see you hanged, as you deserve. On the other hand, you are altogether too much of a thorough-going scoundrel for us to let you go free. You see the fix we are in. What would you suggest?"

"Nothing," replied DuQuesne calmly. "As I am in no danger whatever of hanging, nothing you can say on that score affects me in the least. As for freeing me, you may do as you please—it makes no difference to me, one way or the other, as no jail can hold me for a day. I can say, however, that while I have made a fortune on this trip, so that I do not have to associate further with Steel unless it is to my interest to do so, I may nevertheless find it desirable at some future time to establish a monopoly of X. That would, of course, necessitate the death of yourself and Crane. In that event, or in case any other difference should arise between us, this whole affair will be as though it had never existed. It will have no weight either way, whether or not you try to hang me."

"Go as far as you like," Seaton answered cheerfully. "If we're not a match for you and your gang, on foot or in the air, in body or in mind, we'll deserve whatever we get. We can outrun you, outjump you, throw you down, or lick you; we can run faster, hit harder, dive deeper, and come up dryer, than you can. We'll play any game you want to deal, whenever you want to deal it; for fun, money, chalk, or marbles."

His brow darkened in anger as a thought struck him, and the steady gray eyes bored into the unflinching black ones as he continued, with no trace of his former levity in his voice:

"But listen to this. Anything goes as far as Martin and I personally are concerned. But I want you to know that I could be arrested for what I think of you as a man; and if any of your little schemes touch Dottie or Peggy in any way, shape or form, I'll kill you as I would a snake—or rather, I'll take you apart as I would any other piece of scientific apparatus. This isn't a threat, it's a promise. Get me?"

"Perfectly. Good-night."

For many hours the Earth had been obscured by clouds, so that the pilot had only a general idea of what part of the world was beneath them, but as they dropped rapidly downward into the twilight zone, the clouds parted and they saw that they were directly over the Panama Canal. Seaton allowed the Skylark to fall to within ten miles of the ground, when he stopped so that Martin could get his bearings and calculate the course to Washington, which would be in total darkness before their arrival.

DuQuesne had retired, cold and reticent as usual. Glancing quickly about his cabin to make sure that he had overlooked nothing he could take with him, he opened a locker, exposing to view four suits which he had made in his spare time, each adapted to a particular method of escape from the Skylark. The one he selected was of heavy canvas, braced with steel netting, equipped with helmet and air-tanks, and attached to a strong, heavy parachute. He put it on, tested all its parts, and made his way unobserved to one of the doors in the lower part of the vessel. Thus, when the chance for escape came, he was ready for it. As the Skylark paused over the Isthmus, his lips parted in a sardonic smile. He opened the door and stepped out into the air, closing the door behind him as he fell. The neutral color of the parachute was lost in the gathering twilight a few seconds after he left the vessel.

The course laid, Seaton turned almost due north and the Skylark tore through the air. After a short time, when half the ground had been covered, Seaton spoke suddenly.

"Forgot about DuQuesne, Mart. We'd better iron him, hadn't we? Then we'll decide whether we want to keep him or turn him loose."

"I will go fetch him," replied Crane, and turned to the stairs.

He returned shortly, with the news of the flight of the captive.

"Hm ... he must have made himself a parachute. I didn't think even he would tackle a sixty-thousand-foot drop. I'll tell the world that he sure has established a record. I can't say I'm sorry that he got away, though. We can get him again any time we want him, anyway, as that little object-compass in my drawer is still looking right at him," said Seaton.

"I think he earned his liberty," declared Dorothy, stoutly, and Margaret added:

"He deserves to be shot, but I'm glad he's gone. He gives me the shivers."

At the end of the calculated time they saw the lights of a large city beneath them, and Crane's fingers clenched upon Seaton's arm as he pointed downward. There were the landing-lights of Crane Field, seven peculiarly-arranged searchlights throwing their mighty beams upward into the night.

"Nine weeks, Dick," he said, unsteadily, "and Shiro would have kept them burning nine years if necessary."

The Skylark dropped easily to the ground in front of the testing shed and the wanderers leaped out, to be greeted by the half-hysterical Jap. Shiro's ready vocabulary of peculiar but sonorous words failed him completely, and he bent himself double in a bow, his yellow face wreathed in the widest possible smile. Crane, one arm around his wife, seized Shiro's hand and wrung it in silence. Seaton swept Dorothy off her feet, pressing her slender form against his powerful body. Her arms tightened about his neck as they kissed each other fervently and he whispered in her ear:

"Sweetheart wife, isn't it great to be back on our good old Earth again?"