Sunday, July 20, 2008
The Earth Queen's Last Refuge
By Don Varick Originally published in Planet Comics Feb. 1940
Fleeing from the Red Fleet of Betelgeux, the Space-Ship of War Defiance, bears the last remnants of the shattered Earth Race.
As magnificent and steady as Venus, in her orbit, the great, gray, battered space-ship of War Defiance III glided in amongst the corrugated peaks of the little-known planetoid of Blix. Cathoid and ray guns had dented and battered the giant space-ship's Z-plate hull, carried away part of her bridge, and riddled her landing fins, but commander Lothain brought her in amongst those towering, knife-edged crags just as easily as if he were bringing her into her own earth spacefield.
The tall war-officer turned his bright blue eyes toward the regal young woman standing in the pilot-turret beside him. He smiled, and suddenly his face was young again.
"They're not likely to find us on this lost, out-of-the-way planetoid. Perhaps here we shall have peace, my Queen."
The young woman turned her lovely, proud face and let her eyes dwell wistfully on the strong countenance of the Space-Ship o' War commander.
"I hope you're right, but I'm afraid," she said. "Those Betelgeuxians mean to leave not a single Earth creature alive in the entire universe."
"I know," said the tall commander as he swung over the lever that released the magnetic anchors, "but they'll have to catch us first."
Two minutes later they were standing looking curiously about this forgotten island in the endless universe, while a company of marines set up camp in the lea of the space-ship. This might be the last refuge for this handful of Earth people.
Suddenly Lais, the Queen, saw the young commander's face grow taut under the clear, thin velox-glass of his helmet.
"What is it?" she said.
He turned on his heel and his short ray pistol was in his hand. One leap brought him to the open port. The lithe queen was right behind him as he swung open the tubed-steel door of the wireless room. They were in time to see a red-faced, red-headed, scowling man swing around from the instrument.
"You, MaGloom! Traitor..."
The spit and hiss of the ray pistols in the hands of the commander and MaGloom filled the tight compartment with horrible static. For a moment Lais thought her eardrums had burst, in spite of her space helmet.
Then she saw the traitor MaGloom bend and wither like a leaf blown into a fire, and she swung fearfully to look at the commander.
He was pale, but he was standing unscathed and there was fire in his blue eyes.
"Are you alright?" she cried.
"I'm alright, but we've got to get out of here. MaGloom was C.Qing the Betelgeuxian fleet. I can always feel when anyone is using the spark. That silver plate they set in me during the early part of the war..."
He put out his strong brown hand and pressed the alarm switch. Three minutes later the Defiance was sweeping through space, reviving every ounce of power in her damaged engines.
In the television cabin aft, Lothain stood beside the tall queen. There was a grim set to his lean jaw.
"They're only forty-odd thousand miles behind us now," he said. "And at the rate they're going they'll overhaul us in no time. It looks as if the whole Betelgeuxian space-fleet is after us."
"What shall we do?" said Lais, and it was easy to see that all her trust was in this tall, lean man.
"I don't know. We'll show them our heels as long as we can. Then we'll fight. We'll go down fighting."
He roared into the engine-tube: "Give her all you've got!"
"Aye, aye, sir" came the reply, and the battered Defiance, living up to her name, gathered speed.
But it was all to no avail. Standing there in the television cabin, the tall, straight commander watched the swift red ships of the pursuers draw steadily nearer. There were no less than a thousand of them. He had been right when he said it looked like the whole Betelgeuxian air navy.
"They'll be trying to range us soon," Lothian said between tight lips. He had taken off his space-helmet. He would probably never need it again.
"Can't we hide from them?" Lais said desperately. "Can't we put in behind some planetoid and throw them off the trail?"
"I'm afraid not." The tall commander was looking at the universe chart spread on a great board before him. "It wouldn't throw them off long. Look," he said "now they're starting to shoot."
Great flashes like lightning seared the surrounding atmosphere. "Twenty thousand miles -- they're too far off yet to have much effect." He turned from his charts to face the young queen, and his face was very sad. "I'm afraid though, it's the end."
Lais' lips quivered but she managed to smile. She touched the young commander's pyro-cloth sleeve. "I'm ready."
He swung around and once more his eyes stabbed desperately at the universe chart. "Wait!"
"One chance," he cried. "One small chance!" He spoke again into the engine tube. "Give her every last bit of power you've got if it blows us to Saturn!"
Lais didn't ask what he meant to do. his desperate face was enough. Her eyes followed his to the opaque glass screen where the war fleet of Betelgeux loomed larger and more terrible.
Suddenly a strange noise filled the turret. A powerful roaring wracked Lais' ears. "What's that?" she cried.
Lothian gave a strange smile. "That," he said, "is life or death." He swung his television eye so it pointed straight upwards over their heads.
"We're in the path of Brorsen's comet," the young commander said calmly. "I remembered it passed through this zone every five and a half years. We may get by, just barely. We may get by, just barely. But it's as good a way to die as any."
They stood still, their breath held so tight it hurt, listening to this roaring, whirling molten mass approach. They could look up and see it with the naked eye. The Defiance shuddered and stood on its keel. The whole atmosphere burnt and burst and broke asunder. Lais and Lothian were thrown to [the] corner of the compartment. He seized her and screened her with his body as the Defiance careened like a chip in a fiery whirlpool. Then, without warning, everything quieted. A trail of fire still flashed by but the terrifying roar was softening.
"Whee...!" said Lothian with a grin. "What I call a close one."
Note on transcription:
Most spelling and grammar are unchanged but in one case "Bettlegurst"was regularized to "Betelgeux." The original scans (Via Golden Age Comics) are below.