Tuesday, 2 April 2013
Marcus the Mysterious!
Marcus the Mysterious!
A greater peril than has ever gone before confronts Captain Justice. With the whole world in total and utter Darkness, he is menaced by a mysterious enemy who has planned to establish himself as Emperor of the Earth!
Complete—by Murray Roberts Honestly it does say 'Complete'!drf
From The Modern Boy, May 26, 1934, No. 329, Vol. 13. Contributed by Keith Hoyt; digitized by Doug Frizzle, Mar. 2013.
Big Trouble Brewing!
“DARKNESS," said Captain Justice, speaking from a gloom as thick and clinging as black treacle, “is a stimulant to the imagination. Actually we can see nothing, but our thoughts paint pictures in our mind like a brush on canvas. At the moment I have a very clear impression of Professor Flaznagel—perched on top of a gigantic tower, peering along the beam of an invisible light-ray and preparing to launch some sort of a craft to come to our assistance!”
“Bedad, I hope yo’re right!” said Dr. O’Mally, Captain Justice’s second-in-command, fervently “ ‘Tis tired I am of squatting here like a mummy in a sealed tomb?”
“Blinkin’ fine mummy you'd make!” he muttered. “Like a stuffed elephant in bandages! You’d need a tomb as big as a swimming-bath, and then they’d have a job tucking your feet in!
“At the moment,” went on the captain’s slow drawl, “I have a very clear impression of a thumping great dish of ham and eggs, with hot coffee, buttered toast, and lots of marmalade. My hat, I’m as hungry as a python! If the professor doesn’t soon breeze along, I'm going down can rustle some grub!”
"Lay off, for the love o' Pete!" implored Len Connor. "I don't say I couldn’t do with a spot of food myself, but there wouldn't be much satisfaction in eating in the dark. Any sign of the professor, captain?”
“Not yet,” answered Justice quickly. “Give the old fellow a chance. He’ll get here as quickly as he can, and we'll know all about it when he arrives. He must be anxious to know if we received his message or not. He can’t be any too certain that we’re still alive, as we haven't been able to answer his signals.”
“Sure enough.” agreed Len Connor moodily. “I only wish he'd switch on that beacon again. This darkness gives me the hump! It’s like being buried alive!”
“Faith. ‘tis better than being dead and buried!” said O’Mally resignedly. “And we’re no worse off than millions of other folks who are wandering about in this pestiferous fog without a glimmer of light of any kind!"
His voice sounded flat and muffled in the terrible blackness that enveloped Justice and his companions. The events of the past three days seemed like a nightmare to the little band of adventurers. They had been cruising in the South Atlantic, aboard Justice's yacht, the Electra, with a crew of four, when the whole world had been suddenly plunged in darkness by a mysterious cloud of dense black gases, millions of miles in extent that had arrived from the outer realms of Space, completely obscuring sun, moon, and stars, and blotting out every vestige of light.
It was a darkness that nothing could disperse. It covered every part of the Earth's surface, and saturated the atmosphere to a height of over a mile, forming an impenetrable barrier to the light and heat of the sun.
It was the most extraordinary and terrifying phenomenon known in the history of mankind. All ordinary forms of illumination were rendered useless. There was no light. The world groped in utter darkness. All transport travel, and industry was at a standstill.
A wave of panic, born of blind helplessness, swept from continent to continent. Nations were plunged in frenzied fear. Civilisation tottered. Only the big radio stations continued working, jamming the ether with ghastly tales of rioting and confusion, and urgent appeals for assistance that none could give. Scientists were baffled. The Black Menace—as the world darkness was called—was something utterly beyond their ken.
One man alone had been prepared for this grim, sinister visitation. Six months previously, Professor Flaznagel, the famous scientist and inventor, had foretold it, and had advised his fellow scientists to devise some means of fighting the plague of blackness. But his warning was ignored.
All attempts to get in touch with the eccentric old fellow since that date had failed. Flaznagel had made one of his periodical disappearances, retiring to some secret workshop, where, undisturbed, he could carry on with his weird and wonderful inventions and experiments.
AND now the black disaster had come. From the bridge of their magnificent, all-electric yacht, Justice and his fellow voyagers—Len Connor, Midge, and Dr. O'Mally—had witnessed the terrifying spectacle of a swooping black cloud that had spread across the heavens, extinguishing the light of the sun and leaving them afloat in a world of darkness.
By locking themselves in the airtight metal turret that housed the yacht's controls, they had, for a time, been able to keep the evil black fog at bay, and prevent it from blotting out their precious lights. Meanwhile, a radio message from the professor gave assurance that they would soon join him at his new headquarters.
But even Professor Flaznagel had not been prepared for a gigantic tidal-wave, caused by the prolonged obscuration of the moon, that had careered devastatingly across the South Atlantic, leaving the yacht beached high and dry on a desolate island, with her back broken, her hull breached and battered, and her powerful motors hopelessly wrecked. And the engineer and two stewards who had been below when the yacht piled up had perished.
The radio failed, the lights went out, and for the first time Justice and his friends, imprisoned in the metal turret with Ham Chow, their Chinese cook, experienced all the horrors of utter darkness.
But their confidence in Professor Flaznagel was not misplaced. Far away in the distance a brilliant orange beam suddenly slashed through the surrounding blackness, circling the horizon till it picked out the tiny island where the yacht lay wrecked.
"Have located you," was the encouraging message that the professor had flashed in morse to his stranded friends. "Am coming to your assistance. Be on your guard. You are probably in danger."
Then the light had vanished, leaving Justice to speculate on the mystery of the professor's whereabouts, the queerness of the orange beam, and the vagueness of his warning of lurking danger. They could only connect the latter caution with a strange, ghostly vessel that had crept up under cover of darkness, betraying her presence by a rattle of cable as she had dropped anchor off the island.
The period of waiting for the promised arrival of the professor was an anxious one. Every moment seemed like an hour to the little party in the black turret. They had had no food for many hours—as Midge constantly reminded them—and the dangers of venturing into the dark bowels of the wrecked yacht in search of a meal were too great to be lightly undertaken, though the red-haired youngster was willing to risk it.
"Bedad, ye'll stay where ye are!" said O'Mally severely. " ‘Tis as dark below as the inside of a black shark. Ye'd only be losing your way of tumbling downstairs and breaking your greedy neck. Sit still, ye spalpeen, and don't argue. Sure, and the professor'll soon be along."
"I'd like to know how the dickens he's going to get here, and where he's coming from!" sniffed Midge, who had already succeeded in locating the sliding-door to an emergency hatch that, in addition to an electric lift, led to the lower regions, where the cook's galley and larder were situated. "According to the captain, that orange light we saw was anything up to twenty miles away.
"Crumbs, I'm hungry enough to eat a boiled bedpost!" he muttered under his breath. "I'll bet I could find my way down to the blinkin' larder, grab an armful of grub, and be back again before anyone knew I'd gone."
Justice's eyes ached from the constant strain of attempting to penetrate the gulf of blackness that yawned before him. He had never left his post at the open observation window in the side of turret, facing in the direction where Len Connor had heard the rattle of a running cable and a sullen splash as some strange vessel had dropped her anchor off the bleak island. Since then no other sound had reached his ears, save the moan of the sea and the grinding of wrenched plates as the wrecked yacht settled lower on the rocks.
A cold breeze slapped his tanned cheeks and lifted the hair on his out-thrust head. The luminous dial of his wrist-watch told him that it was nine o'clock in the morning. The tropical sun should have been glaring brazenly from a clear blue sky. Actually it was shining somewhere overhead, but the sinister fog from outer Space intervened like a black canopy, cutting off all light and heat.
HOW long would the all-pervading gloom endure? wondered Justice uneasily. In time the earth would cool, all vegetation would die, and the wide seas would freeze as the ice spread downwards from the Poles. Man—if man survived—would have to adapt himself to a state of eternal darkness.
All the great cities of the world would gradually crumble in ruins; boats rusting in empty harbours; locomotives standing derelict where they had last stopped; still, silent factories: aeroplanes rotting in their hangars—a dead, dark world, peopled with crawling, blindly groping shadows of men.
Justice bit his lip. But perhaps he was looking too far ahead!
The danger so vaguely hinted at by Professor Flaznagel in his last message, was probably something quite apart from this weird solar phenomenon. Remotely, dimly, yet with persisting conviction, he found himself connecting it with the strange, stealthy ship that was now lying at anchor within a few hundred yards of the mist-shrouded island.
A ghost-ship! These were the words with which Dr. O'Mally had described the unknown vessel on a previous occasion when they had seen her glowing, spectral shape limned against the darkness. But there was nothing ghostlike about the cable and anchor that now held the craft at its moorings. Nor was it to be supposed that Professor Flaznagel was aboard her. He would not have failed to give some indication of his arrival. Yet—
“Confound it, I'm letting my imagination run away with me!" muttered the captain. "It's probably some unfortunate vessel, like the Electra, that got badly battered by the tidal wave and has dropped her anchor to see what damage she has suffered. May have sprung a leak or lost one of her screws."
"I'll bet you're wrong there, captain," whispered Len Connor, who had overheard the softly spoken words, "There's something queer about that ship. How is it that she carries lights enabling her to see her way in this confounded darkness? And why come slinking along here immediately after the professor flashed us that message? I've got a hunch she's here for a purpose, and we shall hear all about it when old Flaznagel arrives on the scene."
"Then the sooner he poles along the better!" growled Justice, as he dropped a hand to the automatic in his pocket. "This business has got me guessing, Connor. The professor always was a mysterious old bird, but I'm hanged if I can get a line on his latest stunt. He knew this black plague was coming six months before it was due. He warned us what to expect just before he disappeared, and that's the last we heard of him till the other day. What's he been doing in the meanwhile?"
Len Connor shrugged his shoulders in the darkness.
"Not wasting his time, I'll wager," he said confidently. "If he hasn't got a thumping big surprise in store for us I'll eat my hat. The man who can build a giant rocket to carry us to another planet and back again, as the professor did, isn't going to allow this black fog to baffle him. Somewhere over there where we saw that orange beam flashing, is the secret hangout where Flaznagel has been hiding himself all these months."
“He couldn't have picked a more desolate spot," mused the captain, "There's not a ship passes within hundreds of miles of here once in a blue moon. That light we saw was mighty high up, Connor—thousands of feet above sea level."
"Almost high enough to be above this belt of darkness," suggested the lad meaningly. "Putting two and two together, it's my opinion the professor's annexed one of these islands and built himself a thundering great tower, where he's perched like a crafty old eagle, sitting pretty till the clouds roll by and the sun shines again."
"The idea of a gigantic tower occurred to me two days ago," said Justice quietly. "Flaznagel actually mentioned the word ‘tower'—‘Titanic Tower,' he said—when he told us he was above the zone of darkness, where the sun still shone and the skies were clear."
Len Connor drew a deep breath as he tried to visualize a huge metal structure, ten times the height of the Eiffel Tower, rearing up from this lonely waste of waters in the heart of the Atlantic Ocean. It was a stupendous undertaking for any man to lay his mind to, but nothing was impossible to Professor Flaznagel.
"As for that strange ship lying out there," said Justice, suddenly changing the subject, "I'm hanged if I know what to think. It's queer to find another craft in these waters, and still queerer that she should have anchored herself off this particular island."
"Well, if there's any trouble brewing, we're safe enough in here." jerked Len Connor grimly. “This turret’s a tough nut. If anyone tries to break in here they're going to need a siege-gun or a couple of tons of dynamite."
"I'm not thinking of ourselves," remarked Justice. "I'm wondering if the fellow aboard that boat is setting a trap for the professor, knowing he's on his way here to lend us a hand. He could have easily read the message we received. It wasn't even in code. Flaznagel has a heap of rivals and enemies greedy to steal his secrets. He may have made some discovery or perfected a new invention during the past few months that will set the whole world by the ears."
Len Connor grunted doubtfully. "There are no flies on the professor. He warned us of danger. If it's anything to do with that ship he’s bound to know all about it himself, so he's not likely to walk into any trap. I only wish the old boy would hurry up and—"
"Bedad, and what's that?" Dr. O'Mally's startled voice rang hollowly in the black turret. "Faith, it sounds like someone knocking at the door!"
Tap, tap, tap!
JUSTICE swung round from the open window, his shoulders hunched, his tensed fingers clamped tightly about the butt of his automatic. The baffling, blinding darkness pressed about him like walls of yielding black rubber, relieved by not the slightest glimmer of light. He sensed his friends' positions, and the general lay-out of the control-room was clear in his memory, like a photograph, but he could see nothing,
Tap—tap—tap! Light, quick, impatient raps, like spirit-knocking at a fake séance.
"By gosh!" breathed Len Connor in an awed whisper. "Where does that noise come from? Not inside the turret, is it?"
"Can't be certain. Where's Midge?" asked Justice suspiciously. "Not up to any of his tricks, is he?"
"Gone down below for a snack, I expect!" grinned Len. "There it is again!"
The tiny beats of sound impinged sharply on the captain's ears. There was something insistent and urgent about the tapping. Someone—or something—stood on the empty deck outside the locked turret, knocking against the metal casing with some metal instrument that might be a key,
"Bedad, mebbe ‘tis the professor!" jerked O'Mally.
"Or someone from that confounded ghost-ship," warned Len Connor. "Watch your step, captain."
"Leave it to me," breathed Justice grimly. "If there's any hanky-panky business going on, I'm ready for it." He slid his palm along the smooth, rounded wall of the turret. Step by step he advanced, feeling his way cautiously till his fingers met and traced the oblong outline of the bolted door that gave on to the main deck.
Tap—tap—tap! He had located the sound. Only a few inches of metal separated him from the unknown unseen knocker. Justice lifted his automatic, using the morse code, and tapped swiftly.
Immediately came the reply—sharp, impatient beats.
"Flaznagel. Open the door!"
The captain hesitated. He was not convinced, and he was taking no chances. He demanded a secret code word, known only to himself and his friends. At once it was given, and a dizzy wave of relief surged through Justice's veins as he pocketed his gun and fumbled with the bolts of the sliding door.
"O.K., chaps. It's the professor right enough," he exclaimed, his voice vibrant with excitement and delight.
"The professor! Great snakes, where on earth has he sprung from?" exclaimed Len Connor, in amazement. "How did he get here? Must have dropped from the clouds."
"Bedad, and are ye sure it is the professor?" asked O'Mally uneasily.
"No doubt of that," declared Justice. "I'm taking no risks. Confound these bolts. They're jammed as tight— Ah, that's done it!"
It was as black as pitch inside the turret, and it became no lighter as he manipulated the last lever and slid open the metal door, A gush of icy cold air fanned his checks. He stepped back a pace, eyes probing the darkness, his automatic held on a level with his waist.
"Kindly put that dangerous weapon away. It's pointing straight at me!" spoke the familiar, irritable voice of Professor Flaznagel. "And your hand is none too steady. Nerves. I suppose. You look dead-beat, captain.''
Justice uttered a gasp of wonder. It was evident that the professor could see him quite clearly in the darkness; yet he himself was utterly invisible. A hand reached out, giving him a friendly slap on the shoulder.
"Well, I've managed to get here at last," grumbled the old scientist. "Mind if I shut the door? There's a dickens of a draught, and I think I've caught a slight chill. I must ask the doctor to mix me a dose of quinine."
HE spoke as calmly as if he had just alighted from a bus in the heart of London, instead of having appeared miraculously on a desert island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean after an absence of six long months.
"Faith, 'tis the old boy, sure enough," boomed O'Mally thankfully. "Begorrah, 'tis pleased I'll be to set eyes on him again, for it's not an inch in front of my nose I can see at the moment. Isn't it a light of any kind ye've brought with ye, professor?"
"A light? I think it inadvisable to show a light at present," answered Flaznagel mysteriously. "Dear mc. I was forgetting that you fellows are unable to see in this darkness," he added, with a dry chuckle. "That can be soon remedied. Just a moment, please."
Justice and the others waited in puzzled silence. It was evident that the blinding black fog did not inconvenience the professor in the slightest degree. It had not deprived him of his powers of vision. They sensed his presence, and could hear his swift, sure movements as he closed the turret door and returned to the middle of the room, sure-footed as a cat in his avoidance of all obstacles.
"You may be certain I did not come unprepared for such an emergency as this," he said calmly. "There you are. Justice—slip those on. They may feel a trifle awkward at first, but you will soon realise their advantages. O'Mally—Connor!"
Something was thrust into Justice's hand. It felt to him like a pair of motor-goggles, with unusually thick eye-pieces, an elastic head-strap, and two vulcanite cylinders, the size of small flashlamp batteries, that rested snugly behind each ear,
"Begob, and what have we here?" muttered O'Mally, in a puzzled voice. "Why will we be needing goggles to protect our eyes when there's not a glimmer of light to be seen?"
"Put them on, and don't talk so much," snapped the professor impatiently. "Where's Midge?"
Justice balanced the strange gadget on the bridge of his nose, and clipped the elastic band over his head. The immediate effect was so astonishing and unexpected that a sharp cry, almost of pain, escaped his lips.
A sudden glare of light stabbed into his brain. He closed his eyes and opened them again, wondering in what magical manner Professor Flaznagel had conjured light from darkness.
But there was no light. Yet he could see, just as if his gaze was directed along the bright path of a sunbeam. The interior of the turret swam clearly before his vision. It was a cold, pale illumination, like the reflection of a concealed light shining through frosted glass. But it had no visible source. The mysterious ray that enabled him to pierce the darkness seemed to spring from his own optic nerve.
Wonderingly, Justice stared round, glimpsing the squatting figure of Dr. O'Mally, and Len Connor in the act of adjusting a similar pair of clumsy-looking, big-lensed goggles.
The Q-Ray, which made the sides of the yacht transparent, was switched off, but through the open observation window he could see a limited expanse of leaden-grey ocean, and a stretch of rock-strewn beach, with a black wall of darkness beyond. Suddenly he realised the truth. The power of vision was contained in the weird contraption that was fastened over his eyes. The thick lenses, and vulcanite tubes attached to the head-strap, radiated an uncanny electrical force that enabled him to see, despite the mysterious black fog that covered earth, sea, and sky.
"By the beard of St. Patrick!" exploded O'Mally, as he managed to get the amazing goggles perched astride his prominent nose. "Faith, 'tis getting lighter. The darkness is lifting! Sure, and this infernal fog is clearing away like the morning mists on the green hills of Connemara. The old sun will soon be shining again. Hooroosh!"
A snort of annoyance sounded close to Justice's right ear. It was the first time he had caught sight of Professor Flaznagel for many months. The old scientist presented a grotesque figure. He was wearing a padded-leather flying jacket, long boots that reached to his thighs, and a queer crash-helmet that gave him the appearance of some strange invader from another planet.
He was wearing similar goggles to those he had issued to his friends. His features were obscured, save for his ears, the tip of his long thin nose, and the ragged grey beard, and his eyes were invisible behind the thick glass optics.
"O'Mally is talking nonsense!" he snapped. "It is getting no lighter, and is not likely to get any lighter. The whole world is in utter darkness. It is the appliance he is wearing that enables him to see, giving the impression that the black fog has lifted."
“By gum, I guessed as much as that," blurted Len Conner, steering wonderingly around "What sort of a gadget's this you've sprung on us now, professor? Mean to say we can actually see in the dark, without light of any kind?"
The professor nodded. "Infra-orange rays," he explained vaguely. "I have no time to go into technical details at the moment, but the secret is contained in the miniature storage batteries and the type of lens through which the rays are diffused. They project a non-luminous gleam that—to use a simple word—dissolves the darkness, giving the human eyes visibility up to a range of several miles."
Len Connor uttered a low whistle of astonishment. He was beginning to realise the kind of experiments Professor Flaznagel had been engaged with during the past six months. He had not intended that the coming of the Black Menace should catch him unprepared and unequipped with weapons with which to fight the wave of darkness that had submerged the world.
"Infra-orange rays. An improvement on infra-red rays?" suggested Justice shrewdly. "They have been used to take photographs in the darkness, and to enable ships to navigate safely in the thickest fog. You have adapted the idea to the human eye!”
“I have gone a great deal further than that.” assured the professor proudly. "This darkness has no terrors for me, Justice. It may last for a long time—months, or even years—but it will not interfere with my work. I have achieved much since I saw you last, Justice. And there is still a great deal to be done. Total darkness is not the only horror of this mysterious black cloud. There are other dangers infinitely greater. But this is not the time or place to discuss them!"
The Whole World's Enemy!
THE old scientist straightened his stooped shoulders, and made a characteristic gesture to adjust the clumsy-looking goggles on his prominent nose.
"These glasses are extremely useful, but confoundedly uncomfortable," he said irritably. "We shall be able to dispense with them when we get back to my headquarters. There we shall find plenty of light, and the sun rising as usual every morning."
"Well, by the kink in the tail of the Widdy Flanagan's blind pig!" exclaimed Dr. O'Mally. "Bedad, 'tis incredible! And how did ye get here?" he added.
"Never mind that for the moment," replied Flaznagel. "Where's Midge?"
He craned his long neck, staring searchingly around the turret and twirling an odd pair of his magic, darkness-destroying goggles that dangled from one lean finger.
"It is strange that I have not yet seen or heard anything of our young friend with the red hair, the shrill voice, and the voracious appetite.” he remarked.
"Where the dickens has young Midge got to?" said Len Connor. "He was here a few moments ago, grousing like one o'clock because he'd had nothing to eat for a couple of hours."
"Faith, and here's the pestiferous spalpeen sound asleep!" chuckled O'Mally, indicating the figure squatting in a corner. "Wake up, ye snub-nosed son of a two-legged talking tadpole! Sure, the professor's here as large as life, with a grand pair of X-ray spectacles for ye to see your way in the dark!"
"Goodness gracious, what is the matter with the boy?" exclaimed Flaznagel, blinking his short-sighted eyes in amazement and concern. "He seems to be suffering with a violent attack of yellow jaundice. And why has he shaved his head?"
"Shaved his head? Sure, and ye must be—Great jumping jellyfish!"
O'Mally's heavy jaw sagged. He uttered a strangled yelp of consternation as he suddenly realised that it was not the diminutive Midge squatting in the gloom. Peering up at him was the wrinkled, yellow countenance of Ham Chow, the Chinese cook, a blank, bewildered expression in his beady black eyes.
"Bedad, and how did ye get there, ye pigtailed atrocity?" spluttered the doctor indignantly. "Faith, I thought it was young Midge! Where is the boy? What mischief is the red-haired gosson up to now?''
Ham Chow gabbled unintelligibly. He had not the vaguest idea what all the confusion was about.
A frown of uneasiness deepened on Captain Justice's face as he made a quick circuit of the room, peering behind machines and motors and under the compact chart-table. There was no sign of the missing Midge. The truth suddenly dawned on him as he glimpsed the half-open hatch leading to the interior of the stranded yacht.
"By James, the scamp's gone below!" he jerked. "He must have sneaked off on his own before the professor turned up."
“The greedy omadhaun!" growled O'Mally. " ‘Tis down to the kitchen he’s gone to stuff himself so full of food he won't be able to stir an inch, bedad!”
Professor Flaznagel made an impatient gesture.
"We have no time to waste. The sooner we get away from here the better," he said grimly. "I shan't feel safe until we have reached headquarters. We shall be beyond harm there. But here—everywhere else—there is danger!"
"Danger?" echoed Justice. "Anything to do with the strange ship that is anchored off this island?"
"A strange ship? Anchored off here?" The professor started violently. His lean frame tautened like a steel spring. "I saw no ship. What kind of vessel?"
Justice described the mysterious craft as best he could.
"A trifle bigger than the Electra—high bows—no funnels. And she was showing lights when we first saw her—lights that were visible in this black fog; like your orange beacon.”
The professor tugged nervously at his shaggy beard.
"I caught a glimpse of a man on the bridge," added Justice. "Big fellow with fierce eyes and a square, black beard. He jammed our television and radio when you were sending us a message, just after the darkness fell."
Flaznagel nodded, his fists clenching.
"That would be Marcus."
"Marcus?" echoed the captain. "Who the dickens is Marcus?"
"I don't know," was the blunt reply. "I can only tell you that Marcus is the name of a mysterious, dangerous, and powerful enemy—an enemy not only to myself, but to the whole world. He has planned to take advantage of this plague of blackness, and to establish himself as a kind of Emperor of the Earth while helpless humanity is plunged in terror and darkness, and unable to protect itself!"
Justice and the others stared incredulously at the old scientist.
"Emperor of the Earth! The fellow must be crackers!" exclaimed Len Connor.
"Sounds like the dream of a madman; but it is not so preposterous when you consider all the circumstances," said the professor meaningly. "When I first broadcast my prophecy of impending world darkness, this fellow Marcus was the first to foresee the possibilities of such a situation, with all its attendant horrors and handicaps.
"He realised that one man possessing the power to see in the darkness and the means of travelling from continent to continent and city to city would have all the treasures of the world at his mercy."
"By James, and so he would!" said Justice, in a graver tone than Len Connor had ever heard him use. "I am beginning to get the hang of things, professor. Danger exists in the fact that this fellow Marcus is trying to steal the secret of your infra-orange rays, as contained in these glasses?"
It was a shrewd guess. But he was only partly correct.
"Marcus already possesses the secret of the infra-orange rays," said Flaznagel bitterly. "He obtained it by treachery—by bribing one of my most trusted assistants. But he is not satisfied. He is after other appliances and inventions that I have perfected within the last six months.
"He wants to share Titanic Tower—my headquarters here in the middle of the Atlantic—as a base for his future operations against the world. Continually I am receiving wireless messages from the scoundrel. I refused to have any dealings with him, tried bribery, offering me a half-share in the wealth and power he hoped to obtain. Finally he came down to threats.
"And that is the present state of affairs. Marcus has declared war on me. He has sworn to seize by force all that I possess. He is cruising somewhere in these waters, listening in to my wireless, intercepting my television, and trying to locate my headquarters. And now you suggest that his ship is lying off this island, less than thirty mixes from Titanic Tower. If that is the case, we are in graver danger than you can possibly imagine!"
Captain Justice drew a deep breath. The word "danger" set his nerves tingling and the blood singing through his veins. If there was one man he would have liked to meet face to face at that moment, it was the mysterious Marcus—the bombastic, self-styled Emperor of Earth and Napoleon of Darkness.
"Yes, there's danger, professor," he agreed, almost eagerly. "Ten to one that is Marcus' yacht we spotted. And possibly he knows you are here. He must have read the message you flashed to us with your orange beacon, and knew you were coming to pick us up. Perhaps you have walked into a trap? Why else would his ship be anchored off this island?"
Flaznagel shrugged his shoulders.
"I have seen no ship. Where is it?”
Justice walked to the observation window, and stared out across the bleak grey ocean now plainly visible through the magic glasses he was wearing.
There was no sign of any ship. He switched on the Q-Ray, and swept the circle of the horizon with keen, searching eyes. The sea in the vicinity of the rugged island where the Electra lay high and dry was as empty as the palm of his hand.
The mysterious craft had vanished. She had disappeared as suddenly and as stealthily as she had crept in out of the world of darkness!
Vanished Without Trace!
“FAITH, 'tis a ghost-ship she surely was,” declared Dr. O'Mally impressively. "Bedad, and she's vanished entirely, like a banshee at the full of the moon."
"Then there is no possibility of a trap!" jerked Len Connor. "If that was Marcus' yacht, and it has gone, he couldn't know that the professor is here!"
Flaznagel turned quickly, his lean, gaunt figure vibrant with energy and alarm.
"More likely Marcus has gone because he knows that I am here, and not at my headquarters!" he exclaimed, grabbing Justice by the arm. "Possibly he is on his way to Titanic Tower! There is not a second to be lost, captain. We must get away from here at once!"
"Glory be, we can't go without young Midge," declared O'Mally, suddenly remembering that the red-haired youngster was no longer with them.
“Send for the boy immediately!" snapped the professor, handing over the spare pair of infra-orange ray glasses. "Tell him if he's not here in one minute, he'll be left behind."
O'Mally thrust his bald head in the open hatch.
"Mi-i-i-idge! Midge, ahoy!" he yelled.
If Midge was anywhere within half a mile he could not have failed to hear O'Mally's strident hail.
But there was no response. Again and again O'Mally shouted. Len Connor added his voice to the clamour, but the result was the same. There was no reply from the missing youngster.
O'Mally bit his lip. It was pitch-dark in the interior of the ship, and Midge was unable to see an inch in front of him.
"Bedad, belike the boy's met with an accident." he muttered huskily. "Fallen downstairs and cracked head, or got himself trapped by a jammed door."
In silence he and Len Conner adjusted their big, clumsy-looking goggles, and disappeared into the dark depths of the open hatch, leaving Justice and the professor to guard the turret.
White-faced and shaken, Len Connor and O'Mally returned to make their report. There was no sign of the red-haired youngster. He had utterly vanished. They had searched every inch of space in the yacht from stem to stern, from deck to bilge-keels.
"But it is utterly impossible for the boy to have vanished without trace!" declared the professor. "He must be somewhere in the ship!"
Justice was of the same opinion, until, in company with Len Connor and Ham Chow, who was wearing Midge's glasses, he made a thorough and systematic inspection of every possible corner and cranny into which the missing youngster might have slipped.
All they discovered was that the yacht's motors were beyond repair, her keel snapped like a carrot, and there was a hole in her side that would have admitted a brewer's dray. But the mystery of Midge's disappearance was more insoluble than ever. The baffled searchers returned despondently to the control-room on the main deck.
"And don't forget he can't see," reminded Len Connor gloomily. "He isn't rigged out with a pair of these infra-orange goggles, the same as we are. He was as blind as a mole when he went down below!"
Justice shrugged his shoulders. His tanned face was haggard with fatigue and anxiety as he stared out across the cold grey sea.
He had had no proper sleep for many nights. The experiences of the past few days would have sapped the endurance of any man. But he knew that his companions were depending on him to find some solution to the problem of Midge's disappearance.
Professor Flaznagel was displaying signs of impatience and uneasiness. He was anxious to get back to his headquarters—the colossal Titanic Tower that reared up thousands of feet above sea-level, infinitely higher than any other man-made structure that had ever been built.
JUSTICE'S tired eyes swept the expanse of empty water surrounding the bleak, rugged island where the yacht was stranded like a dead whale. The little patch of rock and sand, projecting from the bed of the ocean, had an area of no more than a square mile. There was no sign of life; not so much as a solitary gull or a single cormorant.
The ingenious glasses that he was wearing had an extreme range of seven or eight miles. Beyond that limit, visibility merged into towering walls of darkness that curved up and over the sky like the interior of an inverted black bowl.
But for the confining darkness, the professor’s gigantic tower would have been clearly visible, even from thirty miles away.
"We're getting all the tough breaks, captain," said Len Connor, rubbing his eyes and running his fingers through his tousled hair. "The professor is anxious to get back, but I reckon we've got to stay here till—till—"
"Till Midge is found. Exactly!” snapped Justice. "There is one thing we haven't done yet, and that is to search the island itself. There isn't much cover, but Midge may have wandered away in the darkness, slipped down a crack in the rocks, and broken a limb, or knocked himself senseless."
"Search the island, by all means," encouraged Flaznagel. “It shouldn't take you long, and the sooner this mystery is cleared up the sooner we shall get away from this place. I am going to try to get a message through to headquarters. The radio is wrecked, but I may be able to rig up a makeshift set with the aid of a few storage batteries and some spare parts."
"Bedad, ye've only to give the old boy a packet of pins, a bundle of firewood, a foot of wire, and an old safety-razor blade, and he'd be telephoning to Kamchatka in five minutes," declared O'Mally.
Ham Chow had vanished. Proud of his magic glasses that enabled him to see in the dark, he had slipped down to the kitchen to prepare some sandwiches and hot coffee for the castaways. He had an idea at the back of his pigtailed cranium that the aroma of food might lure Midge from wherever he happened to be.
Justice opened the sliding door in the side of the turret and stepped outside, with O'Mally and Len Connor close behind him. The yacht was wedged firmly on the rocks, canted to one side, with her deck sloping at an angle of thirty degrees.
The tidal wave had slung her high and dry. She was fully a hundred yards from the nearest point where the sea lapped the sandy beach, with her bows flattened like a crumpled tomato-tin, and her twin screws showing beneath the lifted stern.
"Poor old Electra—she's made her last trip!" said Len Connor, a lump in his throat as he picked his way across the cluttered deck.
The rails were twisted and snapped; the lifeboats smashed to matchwood; and the yacht's single central telescope column had gone over her side like a felled tree. It was this piece of metal bridging the gulf between ship and land that enabled the three friends to descend to terra firma.
The island was even smaller than Justice had supposed. It was roughly triangular in shape, with a base no more than four hundred yards in length. It was as bleak and bare as a desert, bisected with a ridge of rock like a spine, on which the fury of the tidal wave had crashed the doomed Electra.
There was no vegetation, and no sign of life save numerous hideous, hairy-legged land-crabs that scuttled, clicking and rattling, to their holes as the searchers opened out in expended order, and worked their way gradually up from the base of the triangular island, steadily converging as they neared the peak.
The comrades searched diligently for signs of the missing youngster, but found nothing. Every moment each of them expected to hear a shout telling of success from one of the others. But no shout came. Of Midge there was not the slightest sign.
Uneasily, Captain Justice was thinking of their ambitious and unscrupulous enemy—Marcus the Mysterious!
Peril and Mystery pile still higher and higher for Captain Justice and his comrades—and the missing Midge!—and Next Week's splendid story by Murray Roberts is going to GRIP you as only MODERN BOY stories can!
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.