Manly Wade Wellman - Novel 1959, page 1
The Dark Destroyers
Manly Wade Wellman
ONE AGAINST THE STAR THINGS
Slimy ice-cold creatures had taken over the world in one brutal blitzkrieg, and after fifty years of their domination the only humans left were living like animals in the deepest tropical jungles.
Among those tenacious survivors was Mark Darragh, a brash young man who dreamed of the world his fathers had lost, and who decided to make his dream come true.
Travelling by flimsy canoe, armed with hopelessly outdated weapons, Mark started out for the Cold People's stronghold. Somehow they must have an Achilles Heel —all he had to lose was his life, but if he won, he'd win a world!
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Because he had nothing to lose and everything to gain, this young rebel was without fear.
As leader of the surviving humans, Megan could think only of retaliation and never of reconquest.
Playing petty dictator meant more to him than the welfare of his people.
By learning to love a stranger, she saved the lives of everyone around her.
He knew the truth when he heard it, but it was seldom that he got the opportunity to listen.
ACE BOOKS, INC. 23 West 47th Street, New York 36, N.Y.
the dare destroyers
Copyright ©, 1959, by Manly Wade Wellman
An Ace Book, by arrangement with Thomas Bouregy & Co. Part of this novel appeared under the tide Nuisance Value and is copyright, 1938, by Street & Smith Publications, Inc.
. . he who does not recognize what is in the universe is a stranger to the universe . . . Watch how all things continually change, and accustom yourself to realize that Nature's prime delight is in changing things that are . . ."
—Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, To Himself, Book IV
Copyright ©, 1960, by Ace Books, Inc.
Printed in U.S.A.
Everyone has heard countless theories as to where the Cold People came from, but nobody knows for a certainty; so sudden was their arrival on Earth, so swift and complete their victory in battle, that the men and women of Earth had no time for meditation or study or consideration of evidence-only time for flight.
The Cold People were great translucent, helmet-shaped things that moved by hitching and hunching upon rubbery pedestal-organs of locomotion, snail fashion, but with surprising speed and maneuverability. The comblike crest of such a creature stood full five feet high; and at the lowest and thickest point, the body was somewhat greater than that in diameter. At a point just forward of thé serrated comb sprouted a close-set sheaf of from six to eight tendrils, like a weaving, wriggling plume for the helmet. These tendrils were snakily agile, capable of stretching themselves to a length of six feet or more. Each terminated in a disklike sucker, like a palm, that could grasp or hold or cradle. In the midst of the cloudily-gleaming, gray bulk hung and pulsed a heavy-appearing body, the size of a football, that gave off a dim reddish brown light. It is possible that this was the vital organ, or the sensory body, or even both. At times it throbbed violently, and the intensity of its light varied weirdly.
The Cold People took their food—it was synthetic food, various liquids blended of certain chemicals—by ready absorption through the surface of the body. Most studies agree that they were sexless, and that probably they achieved reproduction by budding, like the simpler forms of Terrestrial life. Other natural functions appear to have been exercised in manners fully as primitive. Some human scientists have thought that these strangers on Earth were unicellular, amazingly evolved to intelligence, and others argue that they were an extreme development of an originally complex organism to certain specializations of the rational and manipulative faculties. Here again, there was no time or opportunity for the testing of theories and the settlement of arguments.
They arrived unsuspected and unheralded in midwinter, a rain of black ships that swooped down throughout Europe, North America, and northern Asia. At that time, there was freak weather—a widespread siege of zero weather that tormented Earth's entire north temperate zone.
The first men to see them died almost in the moment of seeing; for each ship, as it approached Earth, gave off great concentric rings and halos of sickly white light that exploded all living things they touched. Cities and harbors and defenses seemed to fluff away into murky vapor. Survivors of states and populations fled miserably from these first landings, to blunder upon other landings and perish in senseless flight.
Heads of governments, those who lived through the first hours, first blamed the sneak attacks of rival powers, then forced themselves to grasp the truth in its unspeakable strangeness. Men and nations tried to defend themselves. Armies and navies mobilized and swarms of fighter and bomber planes sped to strike at the snow-girt camps of the invaders. But bombs and bullets sprang back from force-screens of dark green radiance, while the white lights, now leveled in streams as though they gushed from hoses, felled the planes in squadrons and groups, like a generation of locusts suddenly stricken with a plague. Pilots and navigators and bombardiers melted into bladdery pulps at their controls, and their craft plunged to smash on earth, while the Cold People counterattacked all around the world.
There was no gainsaying them. Guided missiles could not pierce the screens. Artillery bombardments were as futile, with gunners dying around their pieces. The survivors were the swiftly-furtive, the cowards. And more of the black spacecraft arrived hourly.
The strangers set up posts, established communications between them, and combined their parties into deadly armies. Out darted smaller craft to scout, and in one pitched battle fought on land and sea from Alaska to Vladivostok effortlessly obliterated the last of Earth's soldiery, and their weapons, bases and cities with them.
That any human beings escaped was a marvel that came about by a second whim of the weather. Even as the survivors of the globe-spanning disaster fled despairingly, a thaw set in—again general—throughout devastated Russia, shattered England and Germany, scorched and racked southern Canada, the catastrophe-flogged United States. Even as the great freeze had seemed to bring the invasion, that great thaw seemed to perplex it. The conquerors retreated northward before it, drawing back as men might have drawn back from a great fire; they shut themselves up within their ships and shelters. The second day of the thaw—when the sky shimmered blue with an almost summer heat, and the snow ran into brooks and rivers across the continents—found no single helmet-shaped victor abroad to survey the triumphant destruction its coming had wrought upon Earth.
This phenomenon gave scurrying mankind the first clue as to the nature of the enemy. That invasion had been launched from some world far from its warm sun—a world whose denizens throve on temperatures that would freeze Terrestrials, and wilted in weather that on Earth seemed mild. If men would live, they must go south, into lands too hot for the natures of their adversaries.
South men went, where and how they could, deserting their immemorial seats of civilized culture and rule. New York, London, Moscow, Paris, Peiping, St. Louis, San Francisco, Tokyo—all stood empty where they had not been wrecked in the first fearsome attack. Some did not flee soon and fast enough. Preparing for motion and action in the heat, the Cold People ventured forth again.
Plainly, a war of extermination was intended. The new advance was organized against the possibility of hampering warmth; every helmet-shaped individual wore strange sealed armor, and many rode in insulated aircraft. Again slaughter and terror visited the rearguard of r
For long after that, it was a cruel game of hide and seek. No longer did humanity offer even a token resistance to the Cold People. Yet little patrols of darting aircraft—insulated and refrigerated and irresistibly armed—darted here and there above even the equatorial cities to bomb or ray to death the folk whose hands had become too weak to hold their Mother Earth. What few people remained lurking in the temperate and sub-Artie regions were ruthlessly hunted out and exterminated. The resolute survivors of many hunts and assaults plunged deep into hot Equatorial jungles, there to tend their wounds and build their nests and teach their children prodigies of hate and dread.
Those children grew up in the starkly bitter hope of recapturing the world their parents once had ruled . . . but half a century went by before the children tried it.
Five chiefs sat around a council fire near the midreach of the Orinoco River, in a clearing among the lush lofty trees that had repossessed that land since Cold People's raiders had discouraged farming. Six had originally gathered to confer; but the sixth—a blackbearded leader of a fish-spearing clan—had proved both bull-headed and hot-headed. Early in the proceedings he had argued fiercely with the self-appointed chairman; accusations and insults had boiled up, and finally a duel with cutlasslike machetes. The others had seen fan-play with amiable appetite, and now the blackbeard was dead, lying yonder under a strewing of broad green leaves.
The victor in the affair finished wiping his blade by thrusting it repeatedly into the moist, dark earth. Then he polished it bright against his ragged cotton trousers and returned it to the leather loop that was fastened to his belt to do duty for a scabbard.
"And now," he announced, "the meeting will come back to order."
The others nodded agreement, and looked at him with the admiration of fighting men for a fighting man. He wore rings in his ears and a tattered red scarf around his head, like a pirate of the old days; but his lantern jaw and his accent were traditional Yankee. His grandparents had been among nine survivors who made their escape from Lynn, Massachusetts, in the first dreadful days of the Cold People's invasion.
"As I was saying before that rude interruption," he went on dryly, "I calculate the majority of us is agreed on the alliance." His bright eye flicked toward the silent form under the leaves. "I ought to say the thing's unanimous by now."
"Yes," said the others. "That's right." They were savage and hairy and variously armed, with a general air of confidence in violent situations. Like their chairman, they resembled figures in a melodrama about pirates.
"Good-d," said the chairman, grinning with hard lips. "Who's got a word on his crowd? Are you sure your folks will go along with" what we've decided?"
"I can speak for my outfit and those outfits upriver," volunteered a swarthy-jowled fellow named Megan. "Three or four of the chiefs talked to me just before I came to this meeting. They're with us in this, Spence. They're waiting right now for me to come back and report on what the council decided."
"Good-d," said the chairman again. "What about you others?"
Another chief promised support from neighboring clans, and another. Spence grinned again, with happy pride.
"With our bands and those others who say they'll throw in with us, we've got a strong alliance to start with," he said. "Enough of a bunch, with good able chiefs, to bring in more. One after another, those gangs and groups back in the country will fall in line."
Megan glanced at the body away from the fire. "How about his folks? How will they feel about their chief getting—eliminated?"
"I was figuring about that," nodded Spence, and spat in the fire. "They'll be lacking a chief, so maybe they can come in with my bunch. I've got in mind they might be happy to have a sensible head of things instead of just a mouthy, fight-picking one. Any comment on having them join my band?"
"It is so moved," said Megan.
"Seconded," put in his neighbor at the fire.
"Anybody opposed?" inquired Spence. "The ayes have it, his band will be invited to join mine. I'll just appoint all of us as a committee to drop in on them and tell them what happened, and how they can do the smart thing. Won't be much of an argument, I calculate, with five chiefs talking." He spat again. "I'm beginning to think our troubles are just about over."
"Not quite," said a voice from behind him.
Spence spun around and came smoothly to his feet. His hand slid, as if by its own impulse, to the hilt of his machete.
There was a stir of motion in the thicket of broad leaves from which had been plucked the makeshift shroud of the recent arguer. Out into view moved a tall young man.
"Huh," said Spence. "Thought you'd gone."
The young man wore leather sandals and a pair of patched shorts of coarse-woven cotton. His lean body and smooth-shaven face were sunburnt almost to the color of his sandals, making the blue of his well-set, wide-open eyes the more startling. His shock of black hair and the strength of his chin, with the big straight nose and sharp-planed cheekbones, together with his gaunt height, might have suggested what young Abraham Lincoln probably looked like. No weapon rode at his belt—only a pouch of catskin tanned with the fur on.
Spence stuck out his thin jaw and glared disconcertingly. "I brought you to this meeting to make a report on that expedition of yours up north," he growled. "You're not a chief; you don't have any voice in this council. I thought you'd made your report and gone, anyway."
The tall youngster grinned, with no trace of abashment. "I'd started to leave, all right," he said, "but that fight boiled up."
"Just call it a little parliamentary debate," Spence bade him.
"Then that little parliamentary debate boiled up. So I waited yonder in the bushes to watch it. Then I stayed on, and I couldn't help but hear what you said afterward."
"What do you mean, what we said afterward?" challenged Spence.
"That business about your troubles being over." The young man grinned again. "Your troubles are just beginning, if I may say so."
All five chiefs scowled as one.
"You may say so, all right," said the swarthy-faced Megan witheringly, "but it won't get you anywhere."
"And it won't get you anywhere to think your troubles are over," was the good-humored rejoinder.
Spence frowned. "You're not saying what I meant. It isn't that all our troubles are over. It's just that the greatest difficulty—the forming of an alliance . . ." He gestured, somewhat vaguely. "We've made the biggest step toward fighting the Cold People. We can get ready for the next step now."
"Get ready to fight the Cold People?" prompted the young interloper. "Get ready to advance . . . which way—north or south? I've heard somebody say that their main base is somewhere on Antarctica."
"We go north," said Megan grimly. "Well meet them there!"
"And when you meet them, what?" The lean young face had lost its smile and grew dark. "Stop and do some thinking, you chiefs. Each one of you has a band, a whole community, depending on you for sensible judgment."
"And," amplified Spence, hitching up the belt that held his machete, "you think our judgment isn't sensible."
"I think that it's fifty years since the Cold People came to Earth. I think that they whipped the nations of Earth in about fifty hours. And I think you've forgotten what it is to be beaten and smashed."
"Hum," grunted Megan. "Speaking of getting beaten and smashed, young man, how would you like to ..."
"If you and I and the others have forgotten," went on the other, "wouldn't we learn about it all over again, as soon as we got within their reach?"
"Talk about your own fathers and grandfathers being whipped," snarled a bronzed man with a fine hooke
"That's because your people never fought them," flung back the tall youth. "You're on the point of fighting them now, and you'll get your bellyful. Maybe nobody will get back from the fight to say how bad the whipping was."
"All right, sonny," put in another. "You're full of criticisms. What do you have in the way of sensible advice?"
"Stop and think, I say again. If the Cold People beat us once, when they had barely landed and were only catching their breath—if we got knocked off our perch just when we thought we were firm on it—what will they do this time, when they're the entrenched defenders and you're the attackers?"
"You're just a damned defeatist," sniffed Spence. "I'll give him a better name than that," sneered Megan. "A coward."
The tanned face turned toward Megan, the young lips drew back to bare white, even teeth. Two big hands closed into fists. Megan moved a pace away and slid his machete out of its loop.
"He's unarmed," said Capato quickly. "You can't kill an unarmed man, Megan."
"Lend him your stabbing-iron, then," growled Megan.
Capato put his hand to his own weapon, but the young man gestured in refusal. "I'll just pass that insult," he said slowly. "Let it he for the time being. Samebody asked if I had any sensible advice. Why don't we all sit down?"
Suiting the action to the word, he squatted on his sandaled heels beside the fire. Spence stared at him a moment, then dropped into his own place. The others, too, sat and waited.
"Just now," resumed the young scout, "there are a lot of other things to do than fight duels. Duels don't solve anything. That chief who was killed is already a problem. The whole bunch of you are' going to have to go and explain to his people."