The Winged Men of Orcon
Chapter 6: Through the Darkness of Orcon
Gongs clanged, blue lights flashed on and off with the lurid glare of sulphur pits burning in hell, and screaming, winged Orconites, all mixed up together, pelted toward us as thickly as the snowflakes of a blizzard. I don’t suppose the destruction of one little mesh of wires had ever created such a disturbance before.
Leider’s cruiser rested in the hangar two caverns away.
“Play hide-and-seek with them!” I shouted against the turmoil.
The initial wave of the attack struck us as we tore from the laboratory corridor into the first power room. Captain Crane went down under the onslaught of what must have been a hundred Orconites, and it took all the tearing strength of Koto’s, LeConte’s, and my hands combined to burrow through the piles of creatures who covered her, and get her out. By the time she was on her feet again, a new legion was at us.
I had not, however, suggested hide-and-seek meaninglessly.
While the others fought, and wildest confusion reigned, I pulled off my coat, flung it aside, and crammed myself into a loose, one-piece costume of Orcon which I tore off a corpse. Then I fought while my three companions repeated the operation. We succeeded in confusing the mob to such an extent that we were able to work our way through the fringes of the melee and move clear across the first room, before we were recognized.
The alarm of our escape, though, spread into the next room almost as soon as we reached it, and a foolish attempt we made to keep bunched together and get through with a dash, betrayed us before we got well started.
Now it was a case of being drowned again by a sheer deluge of men. While the Orconites pawed me, tripped me, and otherwise discommoded me, I broke necks, dug out eyes, tore quivering antennae from foreheads until I felt as if I had been doing nothing else for hours. And those beside me were doing the same. Yet always more bladder faces rose in front of us, and more wings beat down from above. Not even our supreme strength was great enough to stand it.
Out across the bleeding, crumpled bodies and the teeming swarms beyond, I saw as through a red mist the glittering, whirling maze of Leider’s wondrous generators, and began to curse to myself.
For the steady pressure was forcing us slowly back toward the machines and toward the rugged, high wall of the cavern beyond, and I knew that once we reached the wall we could retreat no farther and must stand there to fight until we were completely exhausted. I drew closer to Virginia Crane and did what I could to help her with her main group of assailants while still battling my own.
Oddly enough, I was remembering how, when she had been caught up by the magnetic current that had brought us here, she had cried out to me, calling me by my given name ... The recollection filled me with a queer emotion, partly rebellion and partly--something else. In the crisis we were facing now, I somehow lacked my wonted power to shun femininity.
Side by side we struggled against our enemies, tearing at them with our whole strength, yet always we were driven closer to the wall which would finally stop us.
“Oh,” she finally gasped, “I--didn’t want--to die!”
“No,” I answered through set teeth as I hurled down an Orconite only to be confronted by two more; “but I’m afraid--we must. Well, we’ve done away with Leider, anyway.”
“Yes,” she choked. “That’s--something.”
Koto and LeConte were as hard pressed as we. Then, as we fell steadily back into a passage between two of the vast generators, back toward the solid wall of the cavern, a queer thing happened.
Despite the fact that LeConte was embroiled with a dozen winged men, his face became crinkled with a broad grin!
“Watch!” he yelled suddenly, and I did watch.
We were within a few feet of the driving gear of one of the generators. Quick as a bolt of lightning, LeConte caught a deadly firm hold on one of the ugly, squawking orange-skinned creatures, raised him into the air, and there held him poised while he swung around to face the generator.
There was a shriek, then a thousand shrieks. Impelled by the Frenchman’s tremendous heave, the winged man shot forward and struck full, with a splashing sound, against the terrifically revolving armature. A thunderbolt seemed to explode in our faces. All in that room, we as well as the Orconites, reeled dazedly back. A stench of seared flesh and short circuited wires smote our nostrils. Darkness--smothering, thick, absolute darkness--settled over us.
“Come on!” LeConte shouted amidst the blessed inkiness of it, and I felt him tug at my hand. Captain Crane’s hand slipped into my other, Koto caught hold of her, and we started forward.
Genius indeed, this stroke of LeConte’s.
Clinging stoutly to each other, we pushed through the meager, floundering opposition which was all that was offered in the intense darkness, and began to forge swiftly ahead. Ten yards ... a hundred. A slight decrease of the sounds of crying and panting and of confused flopping wings told us we had passed through the arch which separated the wrecked power room from the hangar.
“Captain,” I whispered as we battered against some confused and helpless Orconites and flung them aside, “could you make anything of the control system on the cruiser before Leider got us?”
Virginia Crane said vigorously that she had.
“The light switches are all on a board to the right of the entrance door. The other controls are as readily accessible.”
“Leaves us in something of a position!” I whispered.
The hand which she had placed in my own tightened its grip. I heard LeConte grunt with satisfaction as he pressed forward. I began to figure on ways and means of getting to our wrecked ship alone after the others were aboard the cruiser.
We crossed another fifty or sixty yards of the darkness, and found fewer of the badly shaken Orconites in our path. Now, in that thick obscurity, I sensed that we were nearing the magnificent, tapering hull with its fish-scale sides.
“Come on!” I urged unnecessarily. I kicked into several of the yielding bodies left from our first fight, before Leider had taken us, and in a little while the feel of cool, smooth metal under my hand told me we had reached the gangway.
“Up you go, Captain!” I snapped, and as she clutched the slender rail of the gangway and plunged upwards, “LeConte, you next. Koto--”
But Koto laid a firm hand on my arm.
“No, I do not go.”
We stopped where we were. The noises of pursuit were still around us, and I could have slugged him for making a delay.
“You fool, get aboard!” I roared.
But it did no good.
“Get the motors started!” I called to Captain Crane. “LeConte, you help her.” Then I turned to Koto and in the dark waved a fist under his nose. “You idiot--”
“No, my friend,” he laughed at me. “You killed Leider. LeConte put out the lights. Captain Crane will pilot the ship. Now it’s my turn. You will pardon my insubordination, but you will also please to hurry up the gangway before I knock you unconscious and throw you up. Damn it, it’s my explosive, anyway, isn’t it? Who has the best right to fire it?”