They came out of the star-strewn wilderness around Sol, these alien creatures. And their object was the vicious, total destruction of the Federation of Worlds. Earth was one of the last pf the planets to be attacked and here they were opposed by the Earth Council: six men who held the destinies of a hundred billion people in their hands. But in the end, there remained only one man out of the six to fight. Velga Dorne, Earth Councillor and Member of the Triumvirate of Worlds. And he himself was a hunted man. Death and terrible destruction followed him across the wastes of space in the search for the crazy, nightmare planet that had spawned these creatures. Fear and terror were his only companions. Until he reached the nameless planet of a still more insignificant sun and learned that there were others to join him in the struggle against the black, inhuman monsters. These were the Hheroni, scientists whose achievements had progressed along a slightly different path of research to humanity. And Astraea, the girl who went with him on the suicidal mission to where the Aliens originated: on a world that no one in their wildest dreams had thought possible to exist, one which even science said was impossible.
Release date: March 30, 2017
Print pages: 154
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A few yards to his left, the gleaming autoway glittered like a strip of burnished silver beneath the glare of the arc-lights slung overhead. In spite of himself, his nerves were keyed to the highest pitch to catch the slightest sound.
At first, there was nothing but the silence of the vast, green darkness that brooded fitfully all around him. But he knew, instinctively, that his pursuers were not far behind and a moment later, the first one appeared; a shadowy, grotesque figure, loping silently along, just inside the patch of light thrown by the nearest lamp. It disappeared into the distance, to be followed almost instantly by another—and then another. Aliens!
After that, no more came. Three of them, thought Velga bitterly, and smiled grimly to himself. Still it could have been worse. No doubt they were aware by now that he was heading for Central Spaceport. Clearly it was their intention to cut him off. He waited for a few minutes, hardly daring to breathe and then, hearing no further sound, eased his tall frame upright and moved deeper into the forest, away from the autoway. To have gone that way would have increased the element of danger.
Soon, he was running quickly along a tiny path, his breath coming in short gasps as he dodged low, overhanging branches. Long, sinewy roots thrust themselves from the ground beneath his feet and threatened to trip him at every turn; while thorny, clutching fingers tore at his cloak as he ran.
Yellow shafts of moonlight filtered through the leaves above his head. They winked mockingly at him, glinting off the diamond symbol of the Earth Council on his lapel. Some part of his mind, detached but alert, thought back to the day of his election …
Earth had been peaceful then and on the summer afternoon in question, there had been no indication of the terror that was about to enter the lives of everyone in the explored universe.
The Grand Council Chamber was crowded with people of all nations as he and his five companions entered, their purple and gold robes almost lost among the colour and splendour of the thousands lining the aisles.
Sprinkled here and there were creatures not of Earth. Gaudy Martians with their brilliant garments making a vivid splash of scarlet against the more sombre browns and greens of the Venusians and Plutonians.
He had time to notice a handful of the strange double men from Alpha Centauri and the tiny Cephalopodomen from some lonely system in Aquarius, before the procession moved slowly towards the raised dais at the far end of the hall.
Here sat Arto Massaan, Ruler of the Solar System, Leader of the Federation of Worlds. A mane of hair the colour of fire framed a face of almost classic perfection, ascetic and inhuman. His features, lined with the furrows of many years, watched their slow approach and his flashing eyes seemed to bore into their very souls as they halted before him.
The six men knelt as the Leader rose to his feet and moving forward, pinned the diamond star of the Earth Council to their lapels. There was silence in the vast hall, a silence so intense as to be almost tangible. And then the Leader spoke, his voice amplified and translated into a thousand stellar tongues by the hidden microphones. His pale eyes, compelling and only half human, swept over the assemblage and Velga shivered as they rested for a brief instant on him. For the Leader was already half a god.
“On you six men,” he began, “will fall the task of defending this corner of the stellar universe against attacks from any source.” The sound of his words rolled out over the gathering like a tidal wave, gaining power as he went on: “You will have to contend with and solve the troubles of these worlds—and on one of you will fall the unenviable lot of fighting an enemy from without. For one among you is an interloper.”
From that moment on, Velga Dorne had known, almost instinctively, that he was the one.
This knowledge had grown steadily throughout the weeks and months that followed. Months that saw the disappearance of Arto Massaan while on a mission to Procyon; the inexplicable, brutal deaths of his five companions on the Council—and the final appearance in the system of the first Aliens!
What evil world had spawned these creatures, no one knew; nor by what means they had entered this corner of the universe. It seemed incredible that in so short a space of time, Earth and her near neighbours could have been transformed into such a maelstrom of horror.
It was into his office overlooking the tranquil serenity of the Malvern Hills that the first reports came. From the Blue Planet of Van Maanan’s star came news of a suicidal madness that was ravaging the entire population. Similar reports flowed in from elsewhere as, with devilish ferocity, the Aliens tightened their hold on the solar system.
The pilots of incoming spacecraft added to the information already received and although he had done all in his power to keep the news from the mass of the people, it soon spread like wildfire throughout the whole of the solar planets.
Then, with the arrival of the first creature on Earth, events reached an inevitable climax. Other Aliens followed in its wake. It seemed as though they sensed that this planet was the hub around which the entire system of worlds revolved. Having murdered five of the Council, there remained only one important man in their way—Velga Dorne. And already, they were hot on his trail …
His thoughts snapped back to the present as a rustling in the bushes ahead of him caused his heart to leap hammering into his throat. Instantly and noiselessly, he dropped to the ground and listened. The sound was repeated as, with startling suddenness, a frightened animal scurried across a brilliant patch of moonlight. He breathed freely again.
Coming out of the forest into the open was like stepping over the dividing line between night and day. So brilliant was the moonlight. The white and orange lights of Central Spaceport flickered on and off a quarter of mile away, but he knew full well that somewhere in the darkness between the port and himself, were the three Aliens.
Beyond the tall trees, the land climbed steeply up towards the moonlit sky, topped by the town. A dark, sprawling mass, flowing down the hillside. But here there were no lights. It lay crouched in night, black and silent.
Velga frowned uneasily to himself. He allowed his mind to spread out slightly, searching for any mental pressure that would show secret attempts on the part of the Aliens to track his thoughts. But there was nothing like that.
Crawling through a thick hedge, he found himself in a winding, leafy lane; the tall bushes on either side affording him some concealment. Keeping well into the shadows, he trotted rapidly towards the spaceport. Luck seemed to be with him, for a moment later, the moon vanished behind a bank of low cloud and he was able to throw some of his natural caution to the winds.
As he approached the outer boundary, he slowed his pace. The dark road on to which he turned stretched before him like a tunnel of midnight. Long shadows twisted and flicked out as clouds scudded across the face of the moon. Then he stopped.
Stopped quite still because three of them became more than mere shadows. Light flashed on drawn weapons. Instantly, with automatic caution, Velga threw his body backwards into the protecting cover of the small bushes, his knife leaping into his hand. He made no attempt to draw his blaster. That would have increased the risk. He might be able to deal with the three attackers—but there had to be no noise.
The guards came at him in a loose bunch. One glance at their eyes was sufficient for him to realise that they were acting under an alien hypnotic control.
That was a danger he had not been prepared for, though he had heard that the Aliens possessed the power to dominate human minds. But this was the first time he had ever come up against such men.
Then battle closed with a clash and a whine of steel. There was no time to think. It was a crazy blur of a struggle. Just a case of hacking blindly at vacant, staring faces that loomed up out of the night, wavered for an instant, then disappeared out of reach.
A knife snaked out for Velga’s face, then fell tinkling to the ground as he smashed downwards with his free hand. His own blade slid under the mechanical guard of another black-bearded giant, straining for his ribs. Velga felt the weapon sink in and warm blood stained his hand. With a burbling moan, his attacker lurched to his knees, his dying weight knocking the Earth Councillor off his guard.
Quick to seize their advantage, the two others leapt in. For long moments it was two against one; parry and thrust, with little time to feel afraid or heed his bleeding wounds. And these, though slight, were many. Already he was weakening from loss of blood. Dimly, through the roaring in his ears, he felt a blade rake across his cheek. One of his opponents bellowed in savage glee, then coughed horribly and fell backward, clutching at his chest.
Velga sobbed air into his raw, aching lungs and paused to look down at his feet. The guard was writhing on the gravel in his death throes, a knife between his ribs. Velga looked up, startled.
Like a silver flame, a second blade hummed past his head and buried itself in the last attacker’s throat. He tumbled over the second and rolled over, his sightless eyes staring unseeing at the moon.
Velga turned. His rescuer came striding through the darkness and turned each of the dead men over with his foot. Bending, he removed the two knives wiped them clean on the guards tunics and stuffed them into his belt. Then he straightened and glanced across at the Earth Councillor. Recognition showed in his dark eyes.
“Councillor Dorne! You seem to have met a warm welcome. It’s lucky for you I was around.”
Velga nodded, panting wearily. His grey eyes were haunted.
“It was far too warm for my liking. I hadn’t expected anything like this. But—thanks! I guess you saved my life. Another minute and they would have had me.”
The newcomer grinned, his white teeth gleaming in the shadow of his face. He introduced himself. “My name’s Enders. Rick Enders. The reason behind my timely intervention is probably the same as the reason why you’re here. I’ve had enough of this mess. Earth’s no longer the place for a free man.” He shrugged his broad shoulders expressively. “So I intend to grab a plane and head out of the system.”
“And just where do you intend to go?”
“Anywhere. No place could be far enough away for my liking.” At these words, Velga’s lean face became alive. “Then you’re in luck. My ship, the Starcloud, is housed in a small hangar by the side of the runway. If we can make that, we’re safe,” he muttered. Then suddenly, more urgently. “But we’ve got to be careful. There are three Aliens in the spaceport somewhere. They’ve been trailing me for hours now. They must have guessed I was heading this way.”
“Aliens!” The other’s voice was a low murmur of fear. “I’d no idea things were as bad as that.”
Noiselessly, they slipped into the shadows and managed to reach one of the secondary entrances without being seen. For a moment, Velga stood in thought. The high, flat-roofed hangars lay sprawled in long rows on either side, hemming them in.
Swiftly, he peered about him. The building that housed his ship was smaller than the rest and stood a little to one side. And to reach it, they had to pass directly beneath the red warning light set above the door. Silently, he cursed the whim that had prompted him to have this installed.
Then he stiffened. There was a sudden sound, sharp and unmistakable. Heavy footsteps were approaching. With a swift movement, he pulled his companion into a dark recess as the patrolling guard appeared. Under normal circumstances, he would have been allowed free access to the field. But there was no way of knowing whether this man also was under the control of the Aliens. It was virtually impossible to distinguish between friend and involuntary foe.
The guard looked heavily built, grim-faced and efficient. He stood looking up and down the perimeter of the field, his hand on the deadly nucleonic pistol slung at his side. Finally, he seemed satisfied and turned on his heel, vanishing into the darkness of the surrounding buildings.
“We’ll give him a full minute to get well away,” whispered Velga softly. “Then we’ll make a dash for it. Right—now!”
The sliding door soon yielded under the Earth Councillor’s skilled fingers and it was the work of a few moments to disconnect the warning device.
They were inside the building itself within fifteen seconds. The thick steel door closed gently behind them; and in the diffuse light from Velga’s torch, they made out the streamlined shape of the Starcloud.
“You’d better keep watch in case the guard returns,” said Velga; “I’ll check the fuel, though there should be plenty.”
He slid open the outer airlock and clambered inside. He worked swiftly. Atomic fuel. Oxygen tanks. Nitrogen tanks. The essential requirements were ticked off mentally as he examined the multitude of dials on the control panel. Finally, he was satisfied. Silently, he swung his tall body to the floor.
Rick Enders was a dark figure silhouetted against the door. He turned sharply at the slight movement. “There doesn’t seem to be anyone about,” he whispered softly.
“Good.” Velga’s murmur was equally low. “Then open the doors and let’s get out of here. It’s that red button on the wall there.”
Obediently, the other thumbed the stud, then followed Velga into the body of the ship. Dexterously, he muscled his broad frame through the darker shadow of the airlock.
Slowly, painfully slowly, the hangar doors spun back along their grooved metal runners. The flat rectangle of the take-off ground was silent and still. Too still, thought Velga, this was where all the trouble started. But still, nothing moved in the moonlight.
The tiny orange bulbs marking the take-off and landing strips winked on and off with monotonous regularity, like the outstretched spokes of some gigantic, glittering wheel. And on the far side of the field, a few lights burned yellow in the windows of the Control Block. But these, decided Velga, were too far away to worry them unduly.
Cautiously, he eased the drive lever forward and piloted the machine out on to the runway.
“You’re right,” he muttered thoughtfully. “There doesn’t appear to be anyone in sight.” With one hand he strapped himself into the pilot’s chair, clipping the leather thongs together with nimble fingers. Beside him, Rick Enders flung himself into the oth. . .
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