Wanted-7 Fearless Engineers! - Cover

Wanted-7 Fearless Engineers!

Public Domain

Chapter VIII: Battle with a Monster

Minutes passed, while the earthmen hardly dared breathe. Their ebbing heartbeat seemed to almost echo in their breasts. Then the object appeared at the opening, hesitated, and was thrust in!

The hammer was a head!!! It swayed back and forth, like the head of a huge caterpillar, and every gun fired in unison. Shot after shot pumped into the head with rapid and unerring accuracy.

The giant head moved from one side to the other, while two gigantic eyes peered around. It didn’t know enough to draw back from the danger zone, but muscular reaction finally moved it out of sight.

Dick crept forward, motioning for the others to wait until he investigated. There was no need for all of them to enter the danger zone.

He turned the flashlight on, that had been strapped to his waist, and played it around the jagged opening, then climbed to the next level and searched again.

When he crawled to the outer surface, the creature was writhing a few feet away. He motioned, and the other men soon joined him, where they could watch the creature.

They were standing almost on the direct center of the dome, where it was almost flat. The flashlights penetrated the mists enough to mark out the shape of the attacker, when they were all centered.

Suddenly they felt sick to their stomachs.

It was a caterpillar! As loathsome a creature as they could have imagined with its curled body, and the farthest possible thing from a human being. A form of life that existed in the poison gases, where men would die within minutes. The muscles of the creature had to be terrifically strong, to move against the gravity of the huge globe.

Even at the center of the dome, they felt less effect of the neutralized gravity of the interior. It required effort to stand on their feet. Some effect of the neutralizers in the giant pillars, which eliminated most of the weight of the dome, enabled them to handle their bodies.

The creature before them was accustomed to normal gravity of the heavy planet, and even the metal of the dome was not beyond the pounding of its hammer. What they had mistaken for a battering ram, was the brown tip of the mammoth insect. From end to end it measured over sixty feet. The men finally turned away in disgust, as it writhed in muscular reaction.

John McCarthy was climbing into the opening behind the other men, when he happened to glance back. His flashlight dimly lighted the spot where the monster had been, and it was gone!

He hesitated with one foot in the air, then realized what had happened. The movement of the body had moved it farther and farther from the center of the dome. It had reached a place where the curve was sufficient to let it slide on the smooth metal. A moment later, a slight jar was felt through the entire structure--it had slid from the man-made mound, to crash on the ground below. Memory of that sight made a sober return to the interior.

Before they dared rest, metal sheets were carried to the opening and blocked in place. Then dome men welded them to the solid metal. They didn’t want to see any of those creatures in the cities!

Twelve hours had passed by the time the opening was sealed, and the earthmen dragged their tired forms through the maze of supports for the last time.

They were almost asleep before they could reach their own apartments, and tumble onto comfortable beds. They had conquered the first problem.

Dick was awakened by an excited man, talking faster than he could understand the new language. When he grasped what the other was saying, he leaped from bed wide awake.

Every dome had been attacked!!! The caterpillars were pounding many spots on each one. They seemed to be trying to get at the creatures that had destroyed one of their number.

In that moment Dick felt like an old man. He thought of the space ship; the only way of attacking from the outside, and gave that up. There wasn’t enough fuel to handle it, and the blasts might injure the metal domes. His mind searched frantically for some way of fighting all of the creatures--and knew it couldn’t be done.

He was racing across the open ground, while thousands of people gazed at the banging overhead. Suddenly he stopped, then turned back toward his apartment, running just as hard. There was a system of communication between the domes--that sometimes worked! It was not efficient, but if he could get in touch with the others immediately, there was one chance!

He tried frantically to get a connection, but it wasn’t until one of the natives helped with the intricate system of signals, that he heard the voice of Andrew Smith. A few moments later Philip Jones answered, then Jerold Brown and Peter Yarbro. Each man was given quick, yet explicit, instruction.

When Dick turned away from the phone, John McCarthy entered the room, followed by George Martin. The noise in the city had finally aroused them from their slumber.

John started to smile, but the expression on Barrow’s face drove all thought of greeting away.

“What is it? I thought the people were doing a day’s work--but you----!!!” His face turned ashen as he ran to the balcony, George Martin only a step behind. After gazing up for a moment, McCarthy turned slowly to face Dick.

“The worms? It sounds like hundreds of them! We better work fast, or they’ll have the whole roof down around our ears.”

“No, John. We can’t fight them with guns. They have attacked every dome on the planet!”

When full realization came to the big Irishman, he sank slowly into a chair. “Then what? Have you got any plan--or are we helpless?”

“We’ve got work to do and plenty of it. There’s a slight chance of saving the cities. I’ve already instructed the others.”

As the three men raced toward the power plant, Dick explained. John and George were to do the work, while he traveled from dome to dome to make sure the people were prepared, and see that the power plants were used as he intended.

By the time they reached the entrance of the building, John nodded, and Barrow turned back as the other men entered the door. The first dome people that Dick saw were told to remove everyone from the buildings, and gather them in the open spaces of the parks. Leaving no one within any structure!

The expression on his face scared them even more than the pounding of the worms, and they hurried to obey.

Dick jumped into the nearest ground car. He couldn’t be bothered traveling on the railroads. This happened to belong to the assistant head of the dome, whom he dispossessed. It jerked crazily across streets and parks, while he learned to handle the controls.

An hour later Dick was back at the powerhouse in the big dome. Every city was ready. In several places the hammering heads had broken through the outer layers, and were banging at the translucent inner ceiling. The creatures had learned how to break through.

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