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The Sands of Mars

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Sir Richard Burton, agent of Her Imperial Majesty Queen Victoria’s Secret Service, turned in the mouth of the tunnel and fired three shots from his service revolver to keep the enemy at bay as his elfin-faced Martian wife, Ulla, fled past him into the baking desert sun. The Martian sand was as red as blood and hot as fire under her feet.

“Now, I don’t wish to be picky, my dear,” Sir Richard said, “but I seem to recall you telling me that these creatures were a myth.”

“So I was wrong,” Ulla replied. “Do you want a divorce?”

With a great trumpeting cry, a metal crab reared out of the sand; a hideous, tentacled mass of dark flesh, half-muscle and half-brain, crouched behind the armoured hood.

Sir Richard raised his pistol and fired the remaining three shots; the bullets glanced harmlessly off the hood.

Ulla drew a sickle-shaped throwing blade from its sheath and threw it. The knife swept past the machine and looped back towards Ulla, slicing into the brute in the machine from behind. The crab fell with another dreadful cry; the beast at the controls was already dead.

“Ulla, my darling, I think we can safely hold off on the divorce for the time being.”

“Thank you, dearest.” Ulla took his hand and they ran across the burning sands. They had gone no more than a hundred yards when the sand ahead of them erupted in a great fountain and a second machine, more than twenty feet tall rose up on long, jointless legs. With a triumphant cry it reached down two whiplike tentacles and snatched the helpless spies into the air.

Behind the fighting machine another, even greater column of sand exploded into the air as a titanic metal cylinder blasted out into space in a rush of glowing, green gas.