There was the familiar tension in the air as the space field built up and they were hurled suddenly forward; the star-like dot of the planet suddenly expanded as they rushed forward at a speed far greater than that of light. In a moment, it had grown to a disc; Arcot stopped the space control. Again they were moving forward on molecular drive.
Very shortly, Arcot began to decelerate. Within ten minutes, they were beginning to feel the outermost wisps of the cloud-laden atmosphere. The heat of the blazing sun was intense; the surface of the planet was, no doubt, a far warmer place than Earthmen would find comfortable. They would have been far better suited to remain on the other planet, but they very evidently were not wanted!
They dropped down through the atmosphere, sinking for miles as the ship slowed to the retarding influence of the air and the molecular power. Down they went, through mile after mile of heavy cloud layer, unable to see the ground beneath them.
Then, suddenly, the thick, all-enveloping mists that held them were gone. They were flying smoothly along under leaden skies—perpetual, dim, dark clouds. Despite the brightness of the sun above them, the clouds made the light dim and gray. They reflected such an enormous percentage of the light that struck them that the climate was not as hot as they had feared.
The ground was dark under its somber mantle of clouds; the hills, the rivers that crawled across wide plains, and the oddly stunted forests all looked as though they had been modeled in a great mass of greenish-gray putty. It was a discouraging world.
"I'm glad we didn't wait for our swim here," remarked Wade. "It sure looks like rain."
Arcot stopped the ship and held it motionless at ten miles while Wade made his chemical analysis of the air. The report looked favorable; plenty of oxygen and a trace of carbon dioxide mixed with nitrogen.
"But the water vapor!" Wade said. "The air is saturated with it! It won't be the heat, but the humidity that'll bother us—to coin a phrase."
Arcot dropped the ship still farther, at the same time moving forward toward a sea he had seen in the distance. Swiftly, the ground sped beneath them. The low plain sloped toward the sea, a vast, level surface of gray, leaden water.
"Oh, brother, what a pleasant world," said Fuller sarcastically.
It was certainly not an inspiring scene. The leaden skies, the heavy clouds, the dark land, and the gray-green of the sea, always shaded in perpetual half-light, lest the burning sun heat them beyond endurance. It was a gloomy world.
They turned and followed the coast. Still no sign of inhabitants was visible. Mile after mile passed beneath them as the shining ship followed up the ragged shore. Small indentations and baylets ran into a shallow, level sea. This world had no moon, so it was tideless, except for the slight solar tides.
Finally, far ahead of them, and well back from the coast, Arcot spotted a great mountain range.
"I'm going to head for that," he told the others. "If these people are at war with our very inimical friends of the other planet, chances are they'll put their cities in the mountains, too."
They had such cities. The Ancient Mariner had penetrated less than a hundred miles along the twisted ranges of the mountains before they saw, far ahead, a great, cone-shaped city. The city was taller, larger than those of the other planet, and the cone ran up farther from the actual city buildings, leaving the aircraft more room.
Arcot stopped and watched the city a long time through the telescope. It seemed similar to the others in all respects. The same type of needle-like ships floated in the air above it, and the same type of cone ray projectors nestled in the base of the city's invisible protection.
"We may as well take a chance," said Arcot. He shot the ship forward until they were within a mile of the city, in plain sight of the inhabitants.
Suddenly, without any warning signal, apparently, all the air traffic went wild—then it was gone. Every ship seemed to have ducked into some unseen place of refuge.
Within a few minutes, a fleet of battleships was winging its way toward the invisible barrier. Then it was out, and, in a great semi-cylinder a quarter of a mile high, and a quarter of a mile in radius, they advanced toward the Ancient Mariner.
Arcot kept the ship motionless. He knew that their only weapon was the magnetic ray; otherwise they would have won the war long ago. And he knew he could cope with magnetism.
Slowly the ships advanced. At last, they halted a quarter of a mile from the Earth ship. A single ship detached itself from the mass and advanced to within a few hundred feet of the Ancient Mariner.
Quickly, Arcot jumped to his feet. "Morey, take the controls. Evidently they want to parley, not fight. I'm going over there."
He ran the length of the corridor to his room and put on his power suit. A moment later, he left the airlock and launched himself into space, flying swiftly toward the ship. He had come alone, but armed as he was, he was probably more than a match for anything they could bring to bear on him.
He went directly toward the broad expanse of glass that marked the control room of the alien ship and looked in curiously.
The pilot was a man much like Arcot; quite tall, and of tremendous girth, with a huge chest and great powerful arms. His hands, like those of the Venerians, had two thumbs.
With equal curiosity, the man stared at Arcot, floating in the air without apparent means of support.
Arcot hung there a moment, then motioned that he wished to enter. The giant alien motioned him around to the side of the ship. Halfway down the length of the ship, Arcot saw a port suddenly open. He flew swiftly forward and entered.
The man who stood there was a giant as tall as Wade and even more magnificently muscled, with tremendous shoulders and giant chest. His thighs, rounded under a close-fitting gray uniform, were bulging with smooth muscle.
He was considerably larger than the man in the pilot room, and whereas the other had been a pale yellow in color, this man was burned to a more healthy shade of tan. His features were regular and pleasing; his hair was black and straight; his high forehead denoted a high degree of intelligence, and his clear black eyes, under heavy black eyebrows, seemed curious, but friendly.
His nose was rather thin, but not sharp, and his mouth was curved in a smile of welcome. His chin was firm and sharp, distinct from his face and neck.
They looked each other over, and Arcot smiled as their eyes met.
"Torlos," said the alien, pointing to his great chest.
"Arcot," replied the Earthman, pointing to himself. Then he pointed to the stranger. "Torlos." He knew he hadn't pronounced it exactly as the alien had, but it would suffice.
The stranger smiled in approval. "Ahcut," he said, pointing to the Earthman.
Then he pointed to the comparatively thin arms of the Earthman, and to his own. Then he pointed to Arcot's head and to the mechanism he wore on his back, then to his own head, and went through the motions of walking with great effort.
Again he pointed at Arcot's head, nodding his own in approval.
Arcot understood immediately what was meant. The alien had indicated that the Earthman was comparatively weak, but that he had no need of muscle, for he made his head and his machines work for him. And he had decided that the head was better!
Arcot looked at the man's eyes and concentrated on the idea of friendship, projecting it with all his mental power. The black eyes suddenly widened in surprise, which quickly turned to pleasure as he tried to concentrate on one thought.
It was difficult for Arcot to interpret the thoughts of the alien; all his concepts were in a different form. At last, he caught the idea of location—but it was location in the interrogative! How was he to interpret that?
Then it hit him. Torlos was asking: "Where are you from?"
Arcot pulled a pad of paper and a pencil from his pocket and began to sketch rapidly. First, he drew the local galaxy, with dots for stars, and swept his hand around him. He made one of the dots a little heavier and pointed at the bright blur in the cloudy sky above them. Then he drew a circle around that dot and put another dot on it, at the same time indicating the planet beneath them.
Torlos showed that he understood.
Arcot continued. At the other end of the paper, he drew another galaxy, and indicated Earth. Then he drew a dotted line from Earth to the planet they were now on.
Torlos looked at him in incredulous wonder. Again he indicated his respect for Arcot's brain.
Arcot smiled and indicated the city. "Can we go there?" he projected into the other's mind.
Torlos turned and glanced toward the end of the corridor. There was no one in sight, so he shouted an order in a deep, pleasant voice. Instantly, another giant man came striding down the corridor with a lithe softness that indicated tremendous muscular power, excellently controlled. He saluted by placing his left hand over the right side of his chest. Arcot noted that for future reference.
Torlos spoke to the other alien for a moment. The other left and returned a minute later and said something to Torlos. Torlos turned to Arcot indicating that he should return to his ship and follow them.
Arcot suddenly turned his eyes and looked directly into the black eyes of the alien. "Torlos," he projected, "will you come with us on our ship?"
"I am commander of this ship. I can not go without the permission of my chief. I will ask my chief."
Again he turned and left Arcot. He was back in a few minutes carrying a small handbag. "I can go. This keeps me in communication with my ship."
Arcot adjusted his weight to zero and floated lightly out the doorway. He rose about six feet above the landing, then indicated to Torlos that he was to grasp Arcot's feet, one in each hand. Torlos closed a grip of steel about each ankle and stepped off the platform.
At once, they dropped, for the power suit had not been adjusted to the load. Arcot yelped in pain as Torlos, in his surprise at not floating, involuntarily gripped tighter. Quickly, Arcot turned on more power and gasped as he felt the weight mount swiftly. He had estimated Torlos' weight at two hundred seventy or so—and it was more like three hundred and fifty! Soon, however, he had the weight adjusted, and they floated easily up toward the Ancient Mariner.
They floated in through the door of the ship, and, once inside, Torlos released his hold. Arcot was immediately slammed to the roof with a weight of three hundred and fifty pounds!
A moment later, he was again back on the floor, rubbing his back. He shook his head and frowned, then smiled and pretended to limp.
"Don't let go so suddenly," he admonished telepathically.
"I did not know. I am sorry," Torlos thought contritely.
"Who's your friend?" asked Wade as he entered the corridor. "He certainly looks husky."
"He is," Arcot affirmed. "And he must be weighted with lead! I thought he'd pull my legs off. Look at those arms!"
"I don't want to get him mad at me," Wade grinned. "He looks like he'd make a mean opponent. What's his name?"
"Torlos," replied Arcot, just as Fuller stepped in.
Torlos was looking curiously at a crowbar that had been lying in a rack on the wall. He picked it up and flexed it a bit, as a man might flex a rapier to test its material. Then he held it far out in front of him and proceeded to tie a knot in the inch-thick metal bar! Then, still frowning in puzzlement, he untied it, straightened it as best he could, and put it back in the rack.
The Earthmen were staring in utter astonishment to see the terrific strength the man displayed.
He smiled as he turned to them again.
"If he could do that at arm's length," Wade said thoughtfully, "what could he do if he really tried?"
"Why don't you try and see?" Fuller asked sweetly.
"I can think of easier—but probably no quicker—ways of committing suicide," Wade replied.
Arcot laughed and, looking at Torlos, projected the general meaning of the last remarks. Torlos joined them in the laugh.
"All my people are strong," he thought. "I can not understand why you are not. That was a tool? We could not use it so; it is too weak."
Wade and the others picked up the thought, and Wade laughed. "I suppose they use old I-beams to tie up their Christmas presents."
Arcot held a moment of silent consultation with Torlos, then turned to the others. "We are supposed to follow these men to their city to have some kind of an audience with their ruler, according to Torlos. Let's get started; the rest of the fleet is waiting."
Arcot led Torlos through the main engine room, and was going into the main coil room when Torlos stopped him.
"Is this all your drive apparatus?" he thought.
"Yes, it is," Arcot projected.
"It is smaller than the power equipment of a small private machine!" His thoughts radiated surprise. "How could you make so great a distance?"
"Power," said Arcot. "Look!" He drew his molecular ray pistol. "This alone is powerful enough to destroy all your battle fleet without any danger on our part. And, despite your strength, you are helpless against me!"
Arcot touched a switch on his belt and vanished.
In amazement, Torlos reached out a hand to the spot where Arcot had stood. There was nothing there. Suddenly, he turned, touching the back of his head. Something had tugged at his hair!
He looked all around him and moved his arms around—to no avail. There was nothing there.
Then, in the blink of an eye, Arcot was floating in the air before him. "What avails strength against air, Torlos?" he asked, smiling.
"For safety's sake," Torlos thought, "I want to be your friend!" He grinned widely.
Arcot led the way on into the control room, where Morey had already started to follow the great fleet toward the city.
"What are we going to do at the city?" Arcot asked Torlos telepathically.
"This is the capital of the world, Sator, and here is the commander-of-all-military-and-civil-forces. It is he you will see. He has been summoned," Torlos replied carefully.
"We visited the third world of this system first," Arcot told the alien, "and they repulsed us. We tried to be friendly, but they attacked us at once. In order to keep from being damaged, we had to destroy one of their city-protecting ray buildings." This last thought was hard to transmit; Arcot had pictured mentally a scene in which the ray building was ripped out of the ground and hurled into the air.
In sudden anxiety and concern, Torlos stared into Arcot's eyes. And in that look, Arcot read what even telepathy had hidden heretofore.
"Did you destroy the city?" asked Torlos anxiously. But it was not the question of a man hoping for the destruction of his enemies' cities; Arcot got the mental picture of the city, but with it, he picked up the idea of "home"! Of course, the ideas of "city" and "home" might be synonymous with these people; they never seemed to leave their cities. But why this feeling of worry?
"No, we didn't want to hurt them," Arcot thought. "We destroyed the ray building only in self defense."
"I understand." Despite obvious mental efforts, Torlos positively radiated a feeling of relief!
"Are you at war with that world?" Arcot asked coolly.
"The two worlds have been at war for many generations," Torlos said, then quickly changed the subject. "You will soon meet the leader of all the forces of Sator. He is all-powerful here. His word must be absolutely obeyed. It would be wise if you did not unnecessarily offend him. I see from what your mind tells me that you have great power, but there are many ships on Sator, more than Nansal can boast.
"Our commander, Horlan, is a military commander, but since every man is necessarily a soldier, he is a true ruler."
"I understand," Arcot thought. He turned to Morey and spoke in English, which Torlos could not understand. "Morey, we're going to see the top man here. He rules the army, which runs everything. You and I will go, and leave Wade and Fuller behind as a rear guard. It may not be dangerous, but after being chased off one world, we ought to be as careful as possible.
"We'll go fully armed, and we'll stay in radio contact at all times. Watch yourselves; we don't want them even to touch this ship until we know what kind of people they are."
They had followed the Satorian ships toward the city. The giant magnetic ray barrier opened for them, and the Ancient Mariner followed. They were inside the alien city.