The Coming Of The Soldiers
: The Raid On The Termites
For a moment Jim was handicapped in fleetness and agility by the fact
that his arms were hampered. But the two hideous guards, though each was
a dozen times more powerful than any man its size, were handicapped in a
chase, too--by the very weight of their enormous mandibles. In their
thundering chase after Jim, they resembled nothing so much as two
powerful but clumsy battleships chasing a relatively puny but much more
Behind the great bulk of a paralyzed June bug, Jim halted for a fraction
while he tore his arms at last free of the clinging brown stuff. The
guards rushed around the June bug at him.
He leaped for the row of hanging cisterns; and there, while he dodged
from one to another of the loathsome vats, he thought over a plan that
had come to his racing mind. It wasn't much of a plan, and it seemed
utterly futile in the face of the odds against him. But he had boasted,
before starting this mad adventure, that Man's wits were superior to any
bug's. It was time now to see if his boast had been an empty one.
He feinted toward the far end of the laboratory. The guards, acting
always as if they had a dozen eyes instead of none, rushed to prevent
this, cutting across his path and closing the exit with clashing jaws.
Jim raced toward the spot where Denny lay. This was within twenty yards
of the spot where, behind his ring of guards, the big-brained ruler now
cowered. But, while one of the syringe-monsters sent a brown stream
blindly toward the leaping, shifting man, no other attacking move was
made. The soldiers remained chained to their posts. Jim retrieved his
spear--and the first part of his almost hopeless plan had succeeded!
It was good, the feel of that smooth steel. He balanced the ponderous
weapon lightly. An ineffective thing against the plates of living armor
covering the scissor-mandibles. But it was not against them--at least
not directly--that he was planning to use it now!
* * * * *
Once more he darted toward the living cisterns. The soldiers followed
Under the bulging abdomen of the termite containing the reddish acid,
Jim halted as though to make a defiant last stand against the guards.
They stopped, too, then began to advance on him from either side, more
slowly, like two great cats stalking a mouse.
Muscles bunched for a lightning-quick move, eyes narrowed to mere slits
as he calculated distances and fractions of a second. Jim stood there
beneath the great acid vat. The mandibles were almost within slicing
The guards opened wide their tremendous jaws, forming two halves of a
deadly horn circle that moved swiftly to encompass him. They leaped....
With barely a foot left him, Jim darted back, then poised his spear and
shot it straight toward the bulging, live sack that held the acid above
The acid spurted from the spear hole. Jim clenched his fists and
unconsciously held his breath till his chest ached, as the scarlet
liquid spread over the great hulks that twisted and fought in ponderous
frenzy to untangle legs and antennae and mandibles from the snarl their
collision had made of them.
The acid bit through steel and human flesh. On the other hand, it had
not harmed the horny flipper of the termite worker that had flicked it
onto the garden slug. Did that mean that the flipper was immunized to
the stuff, like the lining of the stomach, which is unharmed by acids
powerful enough to decompose other organic master? Or did it mean that
all horn was untouched by it?
He groaned aloud. The two great insects had drawn apart by now, and had
sprung from under the shattered acid vat. Again they were on the trail.
The maneuver had been fruitless! The chase was on again, which
meant--since he could not hope to elude the blind but ably directed
creatures forever--that all hope was lost....
* * * * *
Then he shouted with triumph. A massive foreleg dropped from one of the
guards, to crash to the floor. Whether or not the acid was able to set
on the horny exterior of the termites, it was as deadly to their soft
interiors as to any other sort of flesh! The acid had found the joint of
that foreleg and had eaten through it as hot iron sinks through butter!
Still the injured creature came on, with Jim ever retreating, twisting
and dodging from one side of the huge room to the other, leaping over
the smaller paralyzed insects and darting behind the larger carcasses.
But now the thing's movements were very slow--as were the movements of
Another leg fell hollowly to the floor, like an abandoned piece of
armor; and then two at once from the second termite.
Both stopped, shuddering convulsively. The agony of those two enormous,
dumb and blind things must have been inconceivable. The acid was by now
spending its awful force in their vitals, having seeped down through
every joint and crevice in their living armor. They were hardly more
than huge shells of horn, kept alive only by their unbelievable
One more feeble lunge both made in concert, toward the puny adversary
that had outwitted them. Then both, as though at a spoken command,
stopped dead still. Next instant they crashed to the floor, shaking it
in their fall.
* * * * *
For a second Jim could only stand there and gaze at their monstrous
bodies. His plan had succeeded beyond all belief; and realization of
this success left him dazed for an instant. But it was only for an
Recovering himself, he raced to the acid vat to recover the spear he'd
punctured it with--only three feet of it was left: the rest had been
eaten away by the powerful stuff--and then wheeled to help Denny.
By now the crackling brown stuff had fallen from Denny, too--enough, at
least for him to struggle to his feet and hasten its cracking by tearing
at it with partially loosened hands. As Jim reached him, he freed
himself entirely save for the last few bits that stuck to him as bits of
shell cling to a newborn chick.
They turned together toward the corner where the termite-ruler was
cowering behind the guards that surrounded it. Intellect to a degree
phenomenal for an insect, this thing might have; but of the blind fierce
courage possessed by its subjects, it assuredly had none! In proof of
this was the fact that when the half dozen specialized soldiers ringing
it round might have leaped to the aid of the two clumsy door guards and
probably have ended the uneven fight in a few minutes, the craven
monarch had ordered them to stay at their guard-posts rather than take
the risk of remaining unguarded and defenseless for a single moment!
Increasing intelligence apparently had resulted (as only too often it
does in the world of men) in decreasing bravery!
An attack on the thing, closely guarded as it was, seemed hopeless.
Those enormous, flat-topped heads held ready to present their steely
surfaces as shields! Those armored terrors with the syringe-heads--one
of which still held a full cargo of the terrible brown fluid that at a
touch could bind the limbs of the men once more in the straitjacket
embrace! What could the two do against that barrier?
* * * * *
Nevertheless, without a word being spoken, and without a second's
hesitation, Jim and Denny advanced on the bristling ring--and the heart
of termite power it enclosed. Not only was the slimmest of hopes of
escape rendered impossible while the super-termite lived to direct its
subjects against them--but also they had a reckoning to collect from the
thing if they could....
Denny glanced down at his hand, from which slow red drops still oozed.
At their approach, the guarding ring shifted so that the soldier whose
head was still bulging with the brown liquid, faced them. The two men
stopped, warily. They must draw the sting from that monster before they
dared try to come closer.
Jim feinted, leaping in and to one side. The guard turned with him,
moved forward a bit as though to discharge a brown stream at him--but
held its fire. Jim moved still closer, then leaped crabwise to one side
as the brain behind the guards telepathed in a panic for its blind
minion to release some of its ammunition. The flood missed Jim only by
Denny took his turn at gambling with death. He shouted ringingly, and
ran a dozen steps straight at the monster that was the principal menace.
At the last moment he flung himself aside as Jim had done--but this time
the stream was not to be drawn.
Still most of the deadly liquid was left; the thing's head bulged with
it. And no real move could be made till that head was somehow emptied.
"Your spear!" panted Denny, who was armed only with the three-foot club
which was all that was left of the spear that had entered the acid bag.
Jim nodded. As he had done under the acid vat, he drew it back for a
throw--and shot it forward with all the power of his magnificent
The glittering length of steel slashed into the flabby, living syringe.
A fountain of molasseslike liquid gushed out.
* * * * *
The move had not been elaborately reasoned out; it had been a natural;
almost instinctive one, simply a blow struck for the purpose of draining
the dread reservoir of its sticky contents. But the results--as logical
and inevitable as they were astounding and unforeseen--were such that
the move could not have been wiser had all the gods of war conspired to
help the two men with shrewd advice.
The searching spear-point had evidently found the brain behind the
syringe of the thing; for it reared in an agony that could only have
been that of approaching death, and ran amuck.
No longer did the ruling brain that crouched behind it have the power to
guide its movements, it seemed. The telepathic communications had been
snapped with that crashing spear-point. It charged blindly, undirected,
in havoc-wreaking circles. And in an instant the whole aspect of the
battle had been changed.
The ring of living armor presented by the other soldiers was broken as
the enormous, dying termite charged among them. Furthermore, the
fountain of thick brown liquid exuding from its head, smeared the limbs
of the soldiers the blind, crazed thing touched, as well as its own.
In thirty seconds or less the wounded giant was down, still alive, but
wriggling feebly in a binding sheath of its own poison. And with it, so
smeared as to be utterly out of the struggle, were three of the others.
Quick to seize the advantage, Jim leaped to wrench his spear from the
conquered giant's head. And side by side he and Denny started again the
charge against the ruler's guards, which, while still mighty in defense,
were by their very nature unable to attack.
* * * * *
Three of these guards were left. Two of them were the freaks with the
great, armored, bung-heads--and the soft and vulnerable bodies. The
third was of the syringe type, with invulnerable horn breastplate and
body armor--but with a head that, now its fatal liquid was exhausted,
was useless in battle.
"Take 'em one by one," grunted Jim, setting the example by swinging his
spear at the body of the nearest guard. "We'll get at that damn thing
with the overgrown brains yet!"
His spear clanged on iron-hard horn as the termite swung its unwieldy
head to protect its unarmored body. The force of the contact tore the
spear from his hand; but almost before it could drop, he had recovered
it. And in that flashing instant Denny had darted in at the side of the
thing and half disembowelled it with a thrust of the acid-blunted point
of his three-foot bar, and a lightninglike wrench up and to the side.
"Only two left!" cried Jim, stabbing at the flabby head of the
syringe-monster that loomed a foot above his own head. "We'll do it yet,
But at that moment a clashing and rattling at the doorway suddenly burst
in on the din of the eery fight. Both men stared at each other with
surrender in their eyes.
"Now we are all through!" yelled Jim, almost calm in his complete
resignation. "But we'll try to reach that devilish thing before we're
* * * * *
In the heat of the swift, deadly fray, the two men had forgotten for the
moment, that these few soldiers ranged against them were not all the
fighters in the mound city. But the quaking intellect they were striving
to reach had not forgotten! At some time early in the one-sided struggle
it had sent out a soundless call to arms. And now, in the doorway,
struggling to force through in numbers too great for the entrance's
narrow limits, were the first of the soldier hordes the ruler had
commanded to report here for fight duty. And behind them, as far as the
eye could see, the tunnel was blocked by yet others marching to kill
the creatures that menaced their leader. The abortive effort at escape,
it seemed, was doomed.
The strength of desperation augmented Jim's naturally massive muscular
power. He whirled his spear high over his head, clubwise. Disdaining now
to try for a thrust behind and to one side of the great conical head
that faced him, he brought the bar down with sledge-hammer force on the
As though it had been a willow wand, the big bar whistled through the
air in its descent. With a crack that could be heard even above the
crashing mandibles of the soldiers pouring across the hundred-yard floor
toward the scene of battle, the bar landed on the living buckler of a
The head could not have been actually harmed. But the brain behind it
was patently jarred and numbed for an instant. The great creature stood
still, its head weaving slowly back and forth. Jim swung his improvised
club in another terrific arc....
* * * * *
Denny darted around behind the ponderously wheeling bulk of the last
remaining guard to the team of worker termites. He, too, swung his arms
high--over the bloated brain-bag that cowered down between the backs
that bore it--leaping here and there to avoid the blunt mandibles of the
burden bearers. He, too, brought down his three-foot length of bar with
all the force he could muster, the sight of that swollen, hideous head
atop the withered remnants of termite body lending power to his muscles.
And now, just as the nearest of the soldiers reached out for them, the
termite-ruler lay helpless on the backs of its living crutches, with its
attenuated body quivering convulsively, and its balloonlike, fragile
head cleft almost in two halves. It was possible that even that terrific
injury might not be fatal to a thing so great and flexible of brain, and
so divorced from the ills as well as the powers of the flesh. But for
the moment at least it was helpless, an inert mass on the patient backs
of the termite team.
"To the acid vat," snapped Jim. "We'll make our last stand there."
Dodging the nearest snapping mandibles, Denny ran beside his companion
to where the termite, dead now, with its distended abdomen deflated and
the last of the acid trickling from the hole caused by Jim's spear,
still hung head down from the ceiling.
The powerful ruler of this vast underground city was crushed--for the
moment at least. But the fate of the two humans seemed no less certain
than it had before. For now the huge chamber was swarming with the giant
soldiers. In numbers so great that they crashed and rattled against each
other as they advanced, they marched toward the place where the broken
monarch still quivered in weak convulsions--and behind which, near the
acid vat, the two men crouched.