The Project Gutenberg eBook of Derelicts of Uranus, by J. Harvey Haggard
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Title: Derelicts of Uranus
Author: J. Harvey Haggard
Release Date: March 20, 2021 [eBook #64875]
Language: English
Character set encoding: UTF-8
Produced by: Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at



Here is Adventure and Danger.
Mud-fishers, and a girl,—and a
quasi-human looking for trouble.

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Comet May 41.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

Lonny Higgens, once of the earthly planet, stretched out in the conning-tower of his mud-submarine, an aquatic monstrosity of globular reinforced steel that was at home either above or below the surface of the squirming mud seas of Uranus, and sighed lazily.

"Blast it!" he moaned sleepily and almost regretfully. "There's something about this planet that makes you have spring fever the year round, and it gets worse and worse! Lonny Higgens, you're a lazy, nogood fool!—and you'll never get around to the things you used to dream about."

The circular hatch was open over his head, showing a patch of black swirling mists through which dark midges maneuvered in tiny swarms. Just as he was dozing comfortably, forgetful of the humming insects on the outside and the occasional flopping sounds made by things that squirmed in the muddy ocean, something dropped from the mist, falling plunk on his forehead. He jerked sidewise, just as another pellet of balled mud struck him on the end of his nose. He glimpsed a tiny visage, half insect and quasi-human, peering over the hatch rim for an instant.

"Baron Munchy!" exclaimed Lonny irritably, recognizing this curious specimen of Uranusian life. "Cut that out, or I'll wring your little neck. I haven't got time for any of your monkey-shines."

A winged thing soared down from the mists, landing on the chair beside his couch, and "Baron Munchy", like a dragon-fly come to mysterious humanlike life, folded his transparent wings back like a cloak and paced back and forth.

"Me mad! Me plent' mad," rasped Baron Munchy, who produced his tones by a vibration of his wings.

"Ah, beat it," snorted Lonny, turning his head away. The small being had brought with him the dank, stagnant aroma of the outer swamps, and that reminded him of untended netlines hanging in the mud. He was bored with Baron Munchy and his endless lying and conniving. When he had first come to Uranus, two years before, the little rascal had showed up on the landing deck, more dead than alive from a terrific beating at the hands of several of his fellows. Baron Munchy was a born fighter. He survived under the ministrations of the lonely terrestrial and had become attached to the mud-submarine. But he dearly loved to stir up trouble, and nothing pleased the little demon more than to shout insults at mud-monkeys until they fought among themselves. "Go way. I'm tired of listening to your silly chatter."

"Me mad as heck!" cried Baron Munchy, sitting down on the edge of the chair like a tiny mannikin and doubling his tiny fists beneath his chitinous chin. "That man say the Boss no good. He say the Boss one big blonde devil. He say—"

"Shut up," protested Lonny. "Raeburn's all right. He's just a mud-fisher like me, and has got to get along. It's natural that he doesn't like a rival, and I'm not a bit riled by your chatter."

He was presently snoring and Baron Munchy looked across the space through squinting, calculating eyes. For a moment the mischievous glitter in his faceted eyes became dulled, and then he soared across the bed and sat astride Lonny's neck, using the adam's apple for a saddle. Lonny roused with a start and gulped. The small insectlike visage was thrust grimly down to the end of his nose, and a tiny finger was raised emphatically.

"He say he knock the holy feather from you, Boss," he chirped grimly. "He say you fish for pearls in mud that belong him. He say that girl make him one fine cook, and—"

"Huh!" demanded Lonny Higgens. "What girl! Oh, he probably means Lana. Blast it, Munchy, can't you let a guy sleep? If she wants to fall for a flat tire like Raeburn, it's no business of mine."

Grunting reluctantly, Lonny got up and stretched, cursing in a fervent undertone, at which Baron Munchy looked hopeful.

"Good Lord, Munchy," he growled. "Why I ever put up with you and your stirring up trouble is more than I know." Yet he knew that the little creature's chatter had helped to break the deadly monotony of the long winter hours in which he had managed to teach pidgin English to the Uranusian.

He climbed up the ladder, through the hatch, just as a rocking movement was apparent in the hull of the mud-submarine. Down past the oblong landing he saw great circular movements in the mud, where his nets had been a few moments before. Tiny midges were falling into the mud and being drawn into the gyrating vortices.

Now thoroughly awake, he leaped down and across the landing. In a few seconds he stood cursing at the broken strands of the anchor-lines where his nets had been ripped away.

"Damn you Whirl-Rays," he cursed, shaking his fist in the direction of the whirlpools that surged in and out like living things, which of course they were, under their coating of slimy mud. The Whirl-Rays had a way of forcing a stream of mud in a downward spout and creating a resultant whirlpool which sucked everything into its voracious clutches. "That's my tenth set of nets you've got that way."

Baron Munchy fluttered out from below and landed on the railing, preening his wings. There was an I-told-you-so expression on his insectivorian countenance ... when he saw the angry expression on the terrestrial's face and heard the flow of vitriolic words, he hopped up and down with impish ecstacy.

"My goodness, Boss," he chirruped. "You heap mad! Maybe somethin' goin' happen now, huh? Maybe you whip tar out of Raeburn, huh?"

Lonny swatted at Baron Munchy with his open palm, but the blow never landed. Out of the mists, coming soddenly from somewhere across the squirming quagmire, came the sounds of a human being crying in desperation.

"Help! Help!" sounded the voice, and the thing that so startled Lonny Higgens was that the words were unmistakably feminine.

"Good Lord!" he exploded. "Do you suppose Raeburn really has got Lana in his mud-submarine! Damn it, Baron Munchy, why didn't you say so before you spoke?"


Contrary to the general belief earlier than 2070, when the explorer Ramundsen first dipped down through the screening vapors of Uranus, the temperature never approached the freezing point, and lurked instead nearer to the boiling mark of water. The boiling point on Uranus varied greatly, however, due to unbelievable fluctuations of the atmospheric pressure.

Lonny made poor time, slogging along on the mud-shoes fashioned with tough vines over a framework of metal. There was a limit to the speed you could make on such contraptions. Baron Munchy, bordering on a nervous frenzy at the promise of activity, had darted ahead, his filmy wings dissolving quickly in the swirling mist.

He had a good general idea as to the whereabouts of Raeburn's mud-submarine. Likewise, he had a fairly good estimate of the mud-fisher's capabilities and did not think that Lana Hilton would suffer much if Raeburn had not gone completely wacky.

At times the going was pretty good, where the mud was entwined with thick layers of lightning-kelp—so called because tiny sparkles of static electricity darted from it at each step of his clogged mud-shoes.

Mud, mud, mud! All Uranus was one vast ball of squirming mud! Thirty-two thousand miles through of squashy mud. Stuff that would run through his fingers, and through the webs of his shoes, and which would suck greedily at his body if he so much as lost his footing. Mud that would never solidify due to the varying turmoil of barometric pressure. Mud that could never dry completely due to the quasi-soluble consistency of Uranusian silt.

Two years he'd been here now, fishing for the precious mollusks whose pearls might win him the security and prosperity he had never been able to wrest from the over-populated earth. Two years it had been—or nine days as time was reckoned on Uranus. Nine times he had gone around the muddy world, keeping up with daylight—such as it was—and now—blast it—the world was getting him—absorbing him mentally as well as physically—or so it seemed.

Only four days before (Uranusian, a bit less than a year) the feminine aridity of the planet had been shattered by the coming of that headstrong, unreasoning female, Lana Hilton. Prior to that, there had been company of a sort on Uranus—Link Raeburn's mud-submarine had often drifted near enough for an occasional chat.

But Lana's coming had made a crowd on Uranus, if three can be called a crowd, and Lonny was beginning to wish for the unbroken isolation of other planets with no form of life whatsoever. There was only one method of obtaining Uranusian pearls.

That method was relatively simple. You had to invest every cent of your savings or heritage, as he had done two years before, and you had to pay towing charges to some space schooner that was coming near Uranus. Sea food came cheaply on Uranus but clothing was a different problem, and you had to have a goodly stock of that.

Then, when you did find enough pearls to warrant the voyage home, you had to send out an S. O. S. to a nearby space vessel, and the captain, fearing the loss of his command if he disobeyed interplanetary law, would have to come several million miles extra to pick you up, sans submarine, of course, which by that time would be a rusted chunk of worthless metal anyway.

He was wet to the skin when he heard voices through the mist. To his nose came the suffocating down draft of the fishing vessel, mingled with the faint aroma of ammonia.

"Sock 'im! Smack 'im down!" he heard Baron Munchy shouting at the top of his tiny voice. "Plaster 'er another! Lead with right, dadblamee!"

Fearing the worst, Lonny tried to hurry, with the result that he became tangled in his mud-shoes and had to flounder the rest of the way. On the landing he shook off as much of the mud as was possible, kicked off his mud-shoes and staggered toward the shaft of light boring up from the hatchway.

In the center of the control room Baron Munchy was stalking back and forth, yelling like a referee. Link Raeburn's angular body was sprawled back disgustedly on a low bench, while Lana Hilton was flopped down in a chair at a table, her dejected face propped up by both hands.

"Whyn't you wallop in kisser?" demanded Baron Munchy, hopping up to the table beside her and trying to lift an arm. "Smash him over place, Lana!"

"Damn that mosquito!" snapped Link Raeburn wearily. "Can't you swat him? Why doesn't that fool Lonny keep him home where he belongs?"

"What's the big idea?" demanded Lonny, looking from one to the other and clawing miserably at his mud coating. He gazed accusingly at the girl in tattered metalline slacks and faded blouse of vitrisheen.

"So you finally got here," she commented casually. "I thought that would bring you. He's chivalrous, isn't he, Link?"

"Look here, Raeburn," snorted Lonny, doubling a grimy fist and turning to the flint-featured man. "Are you trying to play some sort of a game?"

"Ask Lana," said Raeburn, puffing at a smoking stem of mud-kelp. "She was the one that screamed."

"Maybe it's me that's nuts!" exploded Lonny indignantly.

"Right!" chorused the twain boredly.

"Sock 'em Boss!" wailed Baron Munchy, shadow-boxing on the border of the table. "Don't lettim get away with that! Splatter 'em."

"Aw, sit down," growled Link Raeburn, plucking thoughtfully at the delicate outline of a tiny mustache. "Lana yelled all right. That was her way of calling the meeting to order. The three of us constitute the majority on Uranus. And in case you're getting ideas, her virtue's safe. She's got quite a problem on her hands. Tell him, Lana."

"You seem to be doing all right," said the girl, crossing her legs nonchalantly.

"Well, to put it shortly, her mud-submarine, which was a second hand job, finally caved in from oxidation. So she came around here and demanded that I put her up with room and board for half of her take."

"Look here," demanded Lana Hilton, taking a chamois bag from her bosom, which when opened, displayed a goodly fortune of pink Uranusian pearls. "My shack begins to crumble. Any minute it'll be heading down to the muddy locker, and that dirty robber wants them all for my keep. Everything I got, I tell you."

"Nuts! The gal's buggy," said Link Raeburn coldly. "She's safe enough, I tell you, and if she weren't there's not a blasted thing you could do about it. This planet has got her brain whirling. I told her she'd better sound out an S. O. S. and take a powder for earth."

"What do you expect from me?" exploded Lonny. "I told you I would have nothing to do with that nova-skirt from the first, when she tried to play us one against the other."

"I give up!" cried Lana Hilton, spreading empty hands in a gesture of defeat. "Once I had the lead role in a chorus, and I gave all that up for this. I thought I could handle men with kid gloves, but when it comes to you, Lonny, I'll say you've cast-iron defense."

"Raeburn can have you!" snorted Lonny. "For all I care!"

Spat! Her open hand had snapped out and landed on his cheek.

"Swat 'er, Boss!" pleaded Baron Munchy delightedly. "Whee! Does that dame have a punch!"

"Maybe I exaggerated, a trifle," stammered Lonny, taken aback by the startling reaction.

"That's better," returned Lana Hilton, beginning to pace the control room worriedly. Lonny Higgens wiped a gob of mud thoughtfully from his chin and grinned when he saw that her hand was grimy.

"Oh, hell!" he said grudgingly. "I'll have to get back before this mud cakes up on me."

"So long," said Link Raeburn, without looking around.

"C'mon, Munchy," called Lonny. "No fireworks."

"No fireworks?" repeated Baron Munchy dolefully.

"None at all. Lana, I'm still a white man, though it's much against my will. If worse comes to the worst you can have an extra room in my mud-swimming hovel. And you can keep your handful of marbles."

The girl whirled around, wide-eyed with surprise. A sunburst of hope and relief spread slowly over her features.

"So you are human, after all!" she gasped. "I'll just take you up on that before you change your mind, but in order not to have a misunderstanding I'll let it be known that I'm going to pay half my pearls, whether you like it or not. Don't stand there grinning like an ape! You act as though I ought to throw in a kiss for good measure."

"Go ahead," snorted Link Raeburn smirkingly. "Right on that muddy kisser."

Climbing back into the upper mists, Lonny almost regretted his decision. She had donned a slicker suit and a pair of mud-shoes and was ready to go. The mist swirlers were tumbling about as though alive, and Lonny had never felt so uncomfortable in his whole life.


He had to admit that Lana Hilton was adept on her mud-shoes, but she was short of wind and soon began to lag. I would get stuck with a woman—he thought bitterly, not realizing that he spoke out loud.

She didn't know what she was talking about—he decided, but for the sake of not starting an argument he kept that to himself. In the meanwhile he slowed his pace to match her own and said nothing. Tiny sparks of miniature lightning shot up from matted mud-kelp and rippled along the supple curvature of her body. She was just goodlooking enough to be a constant cause for trouble among the more populated centers of interplanetary civilization—a regular jinx for a fellow who wanted to get along with the least effort possible.

He led the way along the thicker clumps of vegetation, choosing the firmer directions for her faltering steps, and for long moments he heard nothing but their own heavy breathings and the sounds of their feet slogging.

A whirl-ray came out of the mire, sending its tiny maelstrom careening away at a tangent, and leaving a phosphorescent wake. He saw the girl shudder and avert her eyes. Lonny's own hand had slipped quickly inside his slicker to clutch the holster of a Z-type ray gun.

"Back at home," she said thoughtfully, "the suckers all thought Uranus was something of a paradise, something like the south seas. And I fell for that stuff."

"Yeh," agreed Lonny grimly. "And after you got here you were too thick-headed to give up the thing as a bad job, too afraid to face your friends with failure. So you punish yourself with your own temper."

"I suppose that's advice from one who knows," she retorted sarcastically, pausing to rub the cramped muscles of her leg, then going on as he looked back. "Don't—think—I'm crazy—if—"

"Now what's the matter?" demanded Lonny irritably, pausing to see that she was stopped, and was clutching desperately at her throat, pulling at her collar.

"Air—I can't get air," she gasped. "How—about—you?" Almost instantly, breathing was becoming difficult for Lonny. He peered around with dismay and saw that the mist was rising dangerously and that visibility was much stronger. Out of the distance came a faint eerie whisper, as of distant winds dying.

"Lana, it looks like we're in for it," he said grimly. "That's high pressure you feel. Pretty soon your ears will begin to ring. And if we don't hurry we may never get back to boast about things here to our sappy friends at home."

When the heavy pressure areas came over Uranus, mists rose high in the air and dispersed slowly. Swift expansion of atmospheric gases caused a tremendous surface pressure that would last for some time. It meant a quick crushing death under air compression if they didn't reach the mud-submarine.

Lana Hilton was white with fright and trying hard not to show it. A strange metamorphosis was taking place in the heavens. Lancing colors of orange and red shot up like gigantic swords to flash across the sky. His ears began to throb dully. As the mist rose Lonny saw that they had come too far to the left and that the mud-ship was a hundred yards directly to their right. He saw something else, too.

A man was running across the muddy surface—if his fast wobbling progress on mud-shoes could have been described as a run. It could be only one person—Link Raeburn.

A terrible fear seized him. If Raeburn reached the mud-ship and shut them out, they would die horribly. He began to hurry forward—slipped and fell awkwardly. Lana made a wry face and helped him to his feet.

"The rat," she gasped. "He heard you refer to my bag of pearls as a mere 'handful'. It wouldn't do you any harm to think once in a while before speaking, big boy." Handful—of course her small collection was a handful compared to his own rich pickings. So that was why she had come with him!

The world was going around in a whirl now, but Lonny kept staggering onward. Link Raeburn had disappeared. The mud-submarine kept dancing tauntingly before his eyes and then disappearing. If it sank before he reached it the work of long endless months would slip from his grasp. And with it would go his life. Back on earth, they would never know and Raeburn would live a life of affluence and ease.

"We've got to make it, Lana," he gritted, though every breath was a torment that sent hot flames of pain shooting through every cell. She turned a game, tortured face to his and nodded vehemently.

A whole school of whirl-rays came rippling toward them, crisscrossing the mud with gleaming trails, and Lonny found his Z-ray weapon—sent the purplish beams of annihilation down into the centers of quivering, living whirlpools. Once he went around and around in narrowing circles toward the opened maw of a whirl-ray, only to see the lower shape dematerialize before the deadly emanation.

They were at the very edge of the submarine, were clambering across the muddy landing, using their last reserve of strength. Link Raeburn was working at the catches of the hatch cover, and had just succeeded in undoing the fastenings. Now he gave a tremendous heave and the thing fell like a trapdoor.

Hurled on by his wrath, Lonny made a dive for the traitorous visage, but as he dove his foot slipped and he skidded sidewise. His head came down upon a railing brace with a sickening impact and the gun went spinning. Through the darkening chaos of his mind he felt the submarine starting to submerge.

The mud was creeping up toward his body, was sucking at Lana's ankles, crawling in a tiny avalanche toward the dome of the hatch cover—now closed. They were beaten—whipped—done for. Now Raeburn could go back to earth—concocting some wild tale as to their death. He would be laughing at them and enjoying every luxury.

Lana was either dead game or so angry at Link's betrayal that she refused to give up. Though her face was distorted terribly from heavy pressure and agony, she pressed onward—was crumbling at last to her knees—and pointing wildly.

Lonny saw what she meant. He could have shouted for joy but breath would not come from his compressed lungs. The gun had fallen upon the lip of the hatch cowling and now the cover was jammed. Through a narrow slit he saw Raeburn's eyes—narrowed and beastial—and his hands, working like mad to free the mechanism.

If he went down that way—it meant death for him too. Under heavy pressure the mud would send terrible pseudopods grasping through the slit. Lonny could have laughed. But there was no time for gloating. He saw the hatch door come up again, and then his foot had settled over the gun and he was helping Lana down the stairway.

"Tough luck, Link," he whispered huskily, as weakness overcame him and he tumbled down the stairs. Dimly he became aware that the hatch lid was down securely now, and that the submarine was sinking rapidly.

Lana Hilton clung to the upper ladderway for a moment, then released her hold from paralyzed fingers and fell like a rag doll, bouncing down the steps to come to rest across his own body. A trickle of blood came from her mouth, but she was grinning.

That was all Lonny knew, for the darkness came up to swallow everything.


"Who hit'm boss? Boss hit'm heap hard!" Baron Munchy, hardly able to lift the damp towel, was dragging it across his mouth, smothering him. Link Raeburn watched the operation interestedly, but not cautiously, from his position before the instrument panel. Lana Hilton was sitting up dazedly, rearranging her hair.

"I knew it was too much to expect," she commented. "Couldn't leave us alone, could you, Link? I was just beginning to like the idea of getting away from you for good. Ooooh, my head!"

"I hope our friend had the foresight to stock his larder well," said Link Raeburn with a shrug. "We may be cooped up here for some time."

Lonny sat up, shaking his head dazedly.

"I ought to whale the tar out of you," he cried angrily. "But I've got more sense than to do it at a time like this. Maybe I'll do it when the sub-boat comes up to the surface again. I never did have too much faith in you, Raeburn."

Link Raeburn laughed. "You won't do it then, or ever, Lonny. There isn't an ounce of fight left in you. The planet's got you. I've always believed that you had enough pearls stacked away to make a fortune on earth, but you kept putting the time for departure off into the future."

His taunts acted as harsh irritants to Lonny Higgens, who doubled his fists and took a couple of steps forward.

"Slap 'im down, Boss," urged Baron Munchy, and Lonny stopped, his shoulders falling.

"That's right," he said, grinning at the little elf. "Fight to the death, like all these insensate creatures of Uranus. No, I'll not do it. I'm saving myself, against the day I'll get back to earth."

"You're a fool," said Link Raeburn. "Next time I'll get you for keeps."

"At least you can save it until we get up from here," returned Lonny, brushing past the other and examining the instruments. "Depth indication—now four thousand feet. And sinking slowly."

With luck, they would be on the surface again in a few hours. Then he would either knock the tar out of Link Raeburn or kick him out in the mud. He felt a deepseated, lethargic contempt for the mud-fisher. The dapper man was a despicable murderer at heart, and now he felt only a distant sort of loathing for him.

Lana was different. In a way she might have been a good sort. He had a hunch that Uranus was affecting her much as it had him, bringing forth his irritable nature, sapping his energy, dulling his sensations in a sluggish, remote way. He had an idea that she would cut an amazingly attractive figure in one of the late translucent evening gowns, back in one of the live spots of the populated planets. At the moment, she was highly intolerable and self-centered. He would do well to be rid of both of them.

Baron Munchy was soaring up and down the room, catching midges, when Lonny descended to the lower decks. The atomic motors, he found, were in good condition for an emergency. The trouble with them was that they provided merely a horizontal propulsion. The natural buoyancy of the vessel, coupled with the lessening of surface pressure, would have to raise it from the murky depths.

The lower deck was almost hemispherical in shape, and fully occupied with power apparatus.

"They steal'm, Boss!" warned Baron Munchy vindictively. "Now you fight, huh?"

"Fighting wouldn't do any good," Lonny explained wearily. "People don't fight on Uranus. They're always fagged out, enervated."

"Fagged—" began the impish creature helplessly.

"I mean that life is too boring to be taken seriously," went on Lonny. "Otherwise, I'd have knocked the slats out of that smirking back-biter long ago. I may have to do it yet."

"You oughta fight'm," declared Baron Munchy angrily. "They steal house. Steal everything! Why no earthmen fight, Boss?"

"Because earthmen have to get mad to fight," returned Lonny, "and you can't get mad here somehow. Oh, shut up! I don't know how to explain it. Earthmen just don't feel violent emotions here on Uranus. They don't get mad at anything! They don't fall in love! They're just sapped dry of everything."

His head was aching. It was a good thing his body had recovered from its exposure to the heavy pressure area. He climbed the rampway for the upper deck, and stood motionless, breaking upon a surprising scene.

All of the compartments had been searched, and he saw his cache of Uranusian pearls open to view. The wall safe hung ajar—apparently the deft fingers of Link Raeburn had encountered no great difficulty in finding the combination. His eyes were glittering with fascination, and the girl, too, seemed unable to wrench her eyes from the inviting spectacle.

"That's enough," gasped Link Raeburn, "to set a fellow up for life."

"Yeh, and here we are," returned the girl hollowly, "stuck deep in the mud of Uranus."

"Maybe you forget who they belong to," snorted Lonny, stalking into their midst and slamming his treasure back into its hiding place. "The indicator says we're at six thousand five hundred and forty-one feet."

"Then we've stopped," said Raeburn. "It read the same five minutes ago."

Lonny stood watching the gauges and found that the other was right. The mud-submarine had indeed come to a halt. It meant that some sort of an equilibrium was being established in the barometric storm center that raged above.

"I'll start the motors and try jarring the ship around a little," he said, seating himself before the mechanisms. At a touch of his finger, dial bulbs lighted up, and from the lower depths came the whine of machinery. Almost instantly they felt a sidewise lurch, and then a slow climbing motion.

"It looks good, anyway," said Link Raeburn. "We're going up again."

"Thank Heaven for small favors," breathed Lana thankfully, and watched attentively as Lonny began juggling the controls alarmedly. Link's eyes watched the indicator, and began to show new amazement.

"We're not ascending now," said Lonny grimly. "I don't know what's the matter. The motor-drive is okay, but we're making a crazy circle, over and over, and not getting any higher."

"You're nuts!" burst out Raeburn, stalking forward, waving his arms. Yet the yellow pallor of his face showed that he too had noticed the mud-ship's erratic behavior. "It's just not possible! Uranus is all mud—just plain fluid mud!"

"Or that's what we've thought, up to now," said Lonny significantly.

"What do you mean?" demanded Lana. "You can't mean that we're trapped here with a fortune just in our grasp."

The whine of the lower motors mounted, and as a result the mud-submarine began spinning around like a top. Yet the depth pointer had not moved.

"It means that there's some sort of a skeletal core to Uranus after all," said Lonny with a vanquished sigh, snapping off the motors and pushing back from the controls. "Add what's more, it means that we've bumped into it."

"But how?" demanded Raeburn. "Even if there is a solid core, nothing would prevent our ship from floating up again."

"Unless our vessel happened to get caught under a ledge," returned Lonny pointedly. "We sank while the pressure was heavy, and then when it lessened, began to ascend. We climbed a short way and stopped. Then our horizontal screws sends the ship around in a short circle, indicating that we are in a shelving pocket. We can't descend unless the pressure storm gets violent again! And we can't climb through a shelving ledge of solid core. So our chances of getting out of here are rather slim."

Raeburn's furtive eyes were glowing, like those of a beast at bay. He whirled around, struck out wildly at the controls, started the engines and sent the mud-submarine spinning around again, but to no avail. Lana Hilton watched his every move, and she too was like a tigress at bay.

Like animals they glared around at the berylumin hulls, thinking of the millions of pounds per square inch waiting beyond—trying to press in upon them. An instant's exposure to that and a human body would be but a pulpy mass.

They felt helpless and insignificant. To the two who glared unbelievingly at the controls, the apparent unconcern of Lonny Higgens amounted to madness. He appeared not to be able to fully appreciate the true reasons for their violent perturbation. He was humming a tune through his teeth, and searching among tiny wall niches, from which he presently withdrew a tiny skillet.

"No use getting excited," he told them. "The chances are that the pressure storms won't come around soon enough to do us any good. At any rate, there's nothing to stop us from eating while we're hungry—that is, while the food supply holds out."


"You're not human," said Link Raeburn accusingly, and he shook a quivering finger at Lonny. "Here we are in the face of death, and all you think of is your stomach."

"There's not much choice," said Lonny Higgens, "when a fellow's empty. And the menu never changes here. Besides, eating might help you to think."

"You shouldn't think while you're eating," reprimanded Lana. "It'll give you indigestion."

"Great Space!" broke out Raeburn. "You too! Who gives a hang about indigestion? Listen, you pair of fools, we're snagged down here on the bottom of a sea of mud. Pearls won't mean a thing to us in this fix! We'll be lucky if we ever get out of this with a whole skin." He began pacing up and down the room, swinging his hands, while Lonny inspected the storage compartment.

"Looks like a fish dinner," he sighed. "Of course there are clams, of the mud-kelp variety, and Uranusian lobsters—they're really delicious at this time of the year. Then we've got a very good variety of that piscatorial wonder known here as a whirl-ray, whose steaks are rather tasty. But in the last analysis, just fish."

"I'll take the same," groaned Lana Hilton, rolling her eyes toward the ceiling with an attitude of unwilling acquiescence. "Between going nuts and getting the d. t.'s I'll take the nuts. Maybe I can forget a few trifles of life by just being in your company. At least it'll keep me from thinking over what a swell opportunity I had for being a good little girl. By the way, Lonny, do you think there's a Hereafter, here on Uranus?"

"Why not?" asked Lonny with a grimace as he laid thick white slices of whirl-ray in the skillet and turned on an electric grid. "I suppose they'd picture there as some sort of a glorified place where mud just couldn't exist."

"Yeh, probably with green fields, waterfalls, and mountains," returned Lana, leaning on her fist with a reminiscent sigh, "Gosh, sometimes I wonder why I ever left those good things, and then again—what's the diff?"

The fried steaks sent a not unpleasant aroma drifting through the control room. Lonny sat a tiny side plate on the table, and pulled up a high slender chair like a baby's high-chair, to which Baron Munchy soared. He tucked a napkin under his chin and sat waiting, with tiny knife and fork raised high. The sight was so amusing that somehow Lana found time to laugh.

"You really coddle the little rascal, don't you?" she asked, "and for some reason I never really considered these manlike dragon-flies with having any intelligence whatever."

"Oh, they're smart in a way," agreed Lonny between bites. "You know I've always had a theory that his race of beings came from one of the moons of Uranus. There are four of them, you know. I suspect he came from Umbriel."

"Well, little man," said Lana. "Maybe you're an Umbriellian. But where is your umbrella?"

"Or an Arielite," suggested Lonny. "Without a lantern."

"Or a Titanian, or an Oberonian," said Lana.

"Slap 'em down," sighed Baron Munchy in a flattered manner. "Give both barrels."

"Say, let up with that kind of chatter, won't you?" groaned Link Raeburn, after trying again and again to get the mud-ship from beneath the deep ledge. "I'm going batty, I tell you. Completely batty!"

"Probably it's the pressure," commented Lonny. "High blood pressure."

With the table cleared, Lana's good spirits had taken another slump. She went gloomily with Raeburn to check the air, food, and water supplies of the strange craft. When they returned Lonny Higgens was curled up on a couch, snoring lustily.

"I don't get it," said Raeburn, throwing up his hands in despair. "He isn't like a man any more. He isn't like anything living. It's his ship, and he ought to know more about it than anyone. Oh well, if everybody else is going to give up the ghost, why should I worry?"

"Sure," said Lana. "Why should we worry. Maybe his surmise wasn't true. Maybe it's something else holding us down. Maybe it's our imagination."

She sat down, her mind in a daze. How long she sat there in a trance-like state she didn't know, but a movement from Lonny Higgens aroused her. Link Raeburn was stretched out on the floor, his mouth wide open, eyes closed with complete exhaustion and utter relaxation.

"I think I've got an idea," said Lonny, stretching his arms and staggering to his feet. He looked at the controls and found that they were at the same depth. 6,541 feet. Their position had not altered a trifle. "We've been here over eight hours. No barometric storm ever lasted that long on Uranus. The pressure must have been released on the upper surface by now. And we've got to have a heavy pressure area again somewhere. It just occurred to me that we might create that heavy pressure on the roof of this ledge that we're under, which would suffice just as well."

"But how?" demanded Lana, and followed as he went to the berylumin hull at one end of the control room and pulled down a shutter. He had exposed a transparent plate of glassite, now black as ink with the outer mud, in whose center a pair of binoculars had been frozen into the vitreous substance.

"We'll use the field glass as a terminal," he explained, making disconnections at the control board and bringing two current wires in the direction of the wall. He affixed one wire to the binoculars and clamped the other against a rim of the porte. "This glassite will act as an insulator and we can force an electric current through the outer mud. There's a possibility that the current will react on the watery content to release hydrogen and oxygen through electrolysis. I really don't think it will work, but it's a good way to occupy our minds."

She watched as he made the terminals secure, then stepped up the amperage on the desk instruments. Very faintly, blue lightning flashes of electricity could be seen streaking through the outer mud against the glassite. For long moments they watched as nothing happened.

Then he sighed disappointedly.

"No use, I guess," he said reluctantly. "Too much outer pressure for gases to form."

"You mean—it's the end?" she asked in a tiny voice. Her hands reached out and caught him by the shoulders abruptly. For a moment the outer mask of her face had slipped and her frightened soul stared through. When Lonny started to draw back, she held on.

"Gosh, Lonny," she said hurriedly. "Maybe I'm a little fool to break down like this. I think—I think I may even be going to cry. But I've seen what you're really like these last few hours—under the stress of everything, I mean. You're really pretty decent and brave. You needn't deny that you've got courage, and a lot of other admirable qualities. Your only trouble has been in letting the awful lethargy of Uranus get hold of you. That's all that's wrong, and what you need is something to jar you loose from this planet. Then you'd be a great guy. I really mean it, Lonny."

Her eyes were shining like stars. She was on the verge of a complete breakdown. Yet Lonny Higgens was held as though in a spell, for her words had done something that had not happened in a long time, had broken through his apathy.

Now, moving swiftly, she pressed her lips against his own, and they stood in a long silent embrace. Lonny's head was whirling, and he stumbled back, his hand crashing against a rheostat. A thunderous surge of high voltage crackled suddenly, kniving along the glassite, and the motors from the lower decks sang a mounting, thunderous song.

At the same time, everything shifted. Something had dealt the mud-submarine a tremendous blow from above. They were sent careening against the hull and then to the floor, which began to tilt. Link Raeburn had been thrown to his hands and knees. Now his eyes goggled up at the instrument panel. Lonny Higgens sat sprawled out with the girl a tumbled heap in his arms.

"Good going, Lonny!" cried Raeburn incredulously. "We're sinking again. How did you manage to do it?"

Lonny blinked through a cascade of tumbling russet curls and looked up wonderingly.

"I suppose the electrolysis worked after all," he answered weakly. "Under the pressure, the high voltage must have produced liquid oxygen, and then ignited it. And if the propellers are working we ought to be able to wriggle out into the clear some way."

"That puts a different light on the entire matter," said Raeburn, getting to his feet and drawing a ray pistol from his pocket. "I told you I would do you in for good the next time I made a try. Get up, Lonny, and start saying your prayers."

"My goodness," gasped Baron Munchy, crawling up over the edge of the control chair and looking on with glittering, faceted eyes.


Lonny Higgens got up slowly, then glanced lazily toward the control instruments, where the depth indicator had dipped down noticeably.

"That's all very well in due time," he said, "but we're still under the ledge, and not out of danger by any means. If we don't shove from under it we'll land back in the same shape."

"Get over to those controls then," ordered Raeburn.

Lonny grinned and went to the familiar seat. The craft was making larger circles as it descended, indicating that his guess must have been correct, that they were in a pocket, and that the pocket was broadening. Somewhere at the bottom of that pocket was a tunnel opening upon the outer ocean and it was up to him to find that opening—blindfold. If they could only keep descending until the vessel entered the channel their main problem would be solved. But if the pressure generated from the explosion was dissipated too suddenly, his mud-ship would ascend into the trap and stay forever there on the muddy ocean floor.

He felt a lurch. The ship had paused and was sinking no longer. This then, was the limit. It would not go low enough. He saw the horror in Raeburn's eyes.

They would die from starvation here. The gun in Raeburn's hands would be merciful, if it relieved them from the more hideous death that was certain to come.

The hull shuddered, slipped against a rocky outer substance that seemed to give way suddenly. He felt the relaxation of the outer barrier through the controls, knew that the propellers were driving it out and into the true bed of the Uranusian ocean. The needle indicator paused uncertainly, started to rise. By the expression on Raeburn's face he knew that the other had not guessed that their trap was behind them.

It was his chance. Lonny's hands moved swiftly on the controls. A surge of power sent the rear-drive mud-propellers spinning. Too much power. The ship tilted swiftly and Raeburn lost his balance. The man at the controls left them in a flash.

Lonny seized the wrist that held the gun, wrenched it away. It went skidding across the floor. Then he stuck out fiercely at the sardonic features so close to him. Raeburn rocked backward, flailing out with both hands, as Lonny came in again, both fists landing solidly. His antagonist spun backward, then fell helplessly to the decking. Baron Munchy was jumping up and down in ecstacy.

"Hit'm, Boss! Sock 'im again!" he piped, but Lonny picked up the gun, slipped it into his pocket, and shook his head in the negative.

"Hit'm, Boss. Sock 'im again!" Baron Munchy piped, jumping up and down in ecstacy. "Him all bad. Say Boss no good."

"There's to be no more fighting, Raeburn," he said. "I'll pick you off with the gun if you start anything. When we break the surface you can get your mud-shoes and go."

Four thousand feet. Three thousand. The mud-submarine was rising rapidly now, had passed the two thousand mark.

"You've really hurt the little fellow's feelings," said Lana Hilton, evading his eyes and gesturing toward Baron Munchy, who was beating his fists against the wall in sheer frustration. "He must have been praying for blood and thunder."

"I'll plaster 'im!" Munchy was squeaking. "I'll do him in!"

One thousand.

"He's a misfit here," said Lonny slowly. "He comes from Umbriel, or one of the other moons. On his own world he was used to great activity. Uranus hasn't affected him—acting upon his nerves—as it has the rest of us. But he's a misfit here. He expects the normal activity of his own satellite upon Uranus. That just isn't possible. I think he'd like it on earth."

"You mean—" began Lana, just as the mud-submarine broke the surface and began bobbing to a rest. Lonny followed Raeburn up the hatchway, watched him open it. The upper mists broke in damply, sending heavy white furlers about their faces. Link Raeburn looked glum and defeated as he donned the heavy mud-shoes and slogged away into the mist.

Lonny Higgens closed the hatchway and yawned. He was beginning to feel dog-tired again—a normal sensation on Uranus—but a grim decision had taken shape in his mind.

"Sure," he said, in answer to the question in her gleaming eyes. "I'm going to get out of here. I'm going to send an S. O. S. If that doesn't work I'll get a straight call through to earth, charter a space yacht, and have it sent to pick us up."

"Lonny, you mean, that—" began Lana, moving toward him with her lips invitingly close.

But Lonny Higgens evaded her. He turned his back and sat down in a chair, then yawned again. Uranus had him! Old rocking chair had him! Something had him, as long as he was on this blasted planet.

Lovely as Lana was, it would take more energy than he could assimilate to make love to her on this muddy world.

"I guess you'll have to save it," he sighed regretfully. "But you'd not be safe to try those tactics again—once we get back on earth."

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