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read sci-fi short stories from the pulp era

Seed of the Arctic Ice

1st November 2017
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He smoothed over the last word Ken had marked and in its place, in the same fashion, began:

“No. Draw lots. Only fair.”

Yes, it was fair, and Ken knew it. He wrote:

“How?”

The second torpooner scrabbled around with his fingers. Presently he unearthed something, and apparently satisfied showed them to Ken. They were two pebbles, of different sizes. Beddoes pointed to the larger. He wrote:

“Large makes attempt.”

Again Ken nodded. He marked:

“Other try keep killer’s attention.”

From time to time a long sleek body slid down to them and edged back and forth, striving its best to dislodge them with its blunt shout. After each failure it would return to a position just over the outer entrance. At the proper moment Chanley Beddoes jumbled the pebbles in his cupped hands and laid two fists down on the pad.

Unhesitatingly, Ken placed a finger on the left one.

Beddoes turned and opened it. It was the smaller pebble.

Close as was his face-shield to Beddoes’, Ken could not see what his reaction was. Ken stretched forth his hand and clumsily touched his companion’s shoulder.

“Good hunting!” he said; but Chan never heard that….

The marked man peered out into the trap. The killer was circling slowly. In the escape hole, the faces of three or four blubber-men were dimly visible. They seemed to be watching with interest.

There came a good moment when the killer paused at the three bars of its cell, its head turned in exactly the opposite direction from the two torpooners. Beddoes seized the opportunity at once. Almost before Ken knew it, he had rolled out of the niche.

Quickly he worked to his feet and started pushing for his goal. The whale had not seen him. Arms and legs straining, he floundered slowly ahead. He nearly made it.

But the killer, restlessly turning, saw him—and Kenneth Torrance winced and cried out.

The black monster struck. With horrible, beautiful grace it curved down. Its snout caught Chanley Beddoes square in the side and butted him up and around, and both disappeared in a swirl of water into the inky shadows of the trap’s ceiling.

Ken closed his eyes. He knew what was happening. He could not move. But it came to him, as he lay there sick with horror, that he would never have a better chance than now, while the killer was occupied.

Recklessly he forced himself out of the niche. Up above there was commotion, a whirlpool of churning water. The current helped him: he got caught in it and was swept sprawling right over to the torpoon’s side.

He clutched at the port, expecting each instant the tear of monster fangs; but he made the interior and clicked shut the port. No matter the water that had come into the main compartment with his entrance. He pulled the starter over, and heard the familiar drone of electric engines, safe inside their water-tight division. He felt no relief at this. There was only the same sick horror.

He raised the torpoon a little. There was one thing to do. Perhaps it was mad to try to destroy that killer whale in so narrow a space, but he was going to attempt it. It would not be so bad to join Chan, if he failed….

A terrific blow struck the stern of the torpoon and spun it around dizzily. Ken made out the killer lifting its flukes for a second blow. Quickly he sped the torp ahead, and turned as best he could. Flashing on his powerful bow-beam, he found the killer to his left, slightly above. Carefully he maneuvered into firing position: then coldly, with deadly accuracy, he centered the sights of his nitro-shell gun on the vital spot behind the eyes. He pressed the trigger: again, and yet again. The projectiles hurtled out.

The monster started; its beady eyes settled on the torpoon; with a lunge it darted forward, jaws gaping wide. And as it came another shell sped true into the tooth-rimmed mouth.

It halted then, and doubled in the water. Shock after shock shook the torpoon as the shells exploded in the whale. For a little while the sea-beast flurried, and once or twice the torp shivered from chance fluke-blows. But then at last came peace. The body rolled over, showing its white belly, and drifted towards the trap’s ceiling….

The brown-skinned heads had disappeared from the inner entrance. Kenneth Torrance glanced in that direction for a last time, then looked sadly around.

“So long, Chan,” he murmured. “So long.”

The torpoon squeezed through the bars of the outer entrance and sped forth into the open sea.

So it was that, perhaps an hour later, the light-beams of the whaling submarine Narwhal, doggedly scouring the region where last her first torpooner had been heard from, fell across a slim shape of steel that was beating its way at full speed through the foggy murk of the Arctic sea.

Right up to the Narwhal she came, swerving at the last moment and hovering outside the starboard torpoon catapult; while, aboard the submarine, an officer whose voice quivered with excitement roused Captain Henry Streight from his bunk, and the men off duty gathered around the inner catapult entrance-port.

Quickly the outer port swung open. And the lone torpoon slid in—slid home.

 

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Bad Fran

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