[originally posted here at Castalia House]
Raiders of the Second Moon by Basil Wells (as Gene Ellerman) appeared in the Summer 1945 issue of Planet Stories.
Of all the short stories I’ve read over the last year, Raiders of the Second Moon is by far one of my favorites. I would go so far as to say it’s a perfect sword and planet pulp piece. In its meagre ten pages, Raiders gives us an alien jungle world, a square-jawed American spaceman turned jungle barbarian, talking ape men, a devastatingly hot jungle huntress, a giant skull temple, blood for the blood god, and a Nazi mad scientist. Even better, like Fritz Leiber’s Jewels in the Forest, Raiders of the Second Moon could easily be run as a tabletop adventure with just a couple of stat blocks.*
Captain Stephen Dietrich has crash-landed on Sekk, a secret jungle moon hidden in orbit on the far side of the moon we know, in pursuit of the evil Dr. Karl Von Mark. The crash left Dietrich with amnesia, however. He became friend to both the human-like Zurans and the ape-like Vasads, to whom he is known as Noork, a corruption of his first words after the crash: New York.
Tholan Sarna, the smokin’ sister of Noork’s friend Gurn, renegade human chief of the ape men, has been kidnapped by the “Misty Ones”. The Misty Ones serve the blood-hungry Lion god Uzdon and seize beautiful women to sacrifice in his name. Though they are thought by locals and ape men to be invisible demons, Misty Ones are actually men in cloaks of invisibility, which Noork discovers when he ambushes one with rotten fruit. Noork relays the important information that Misty Ones can be killed to Gurn through one of the ape-men. He then uses the cloak himself to pursue the trail to the Temple of the Skull where the priests of Uzdon are keeping women for sacrifice.
Noork makes his way through the temple, fighting invisi-cloak wearing guards and evil priests until he can reach Tholan Sarna and rescue her. As they make their escape, they’re caught by none other than Dr. Karl Von Mark who hopes to use the invisibility cloaks to restore glory to the Fatherland! Just in time, Gurn shows up with an army of ape-men, who fill the Nazi, his men and the pursuing cultists full of arrows. With his memories restored and his mission accomplished, Captain Dietrich can now move forward with his new life on Sekk with his new friends and family.
I’m thrilled to find that Basil Wells was not only incredibly prolific, he’s still in print! The Basil Wells Omnibus which was released in 2011 combines two of his collections (Planets of Adventure and Doorways to Space) featuring over 30 of his stories from 1942-1951. Unfortunately, neither Raiders of the Second Moon nor much of his fiction from 1950-on are collected here or anywhere else.
I strongly urge anyone and everyone to check out Basil Wells; if this one story is at all representative of the rest of his work, I can say “This is the sort of sci-fi I want to see brought back, this is the sci-fi I’m looking for, and this is the sort of sci-fi I’m buying!”
*: Misty Ones – AC 2(6), HD 2*, Move: 90’ (30’), Attacks: 1, Damage: 1-6, No. Appearing 1-8, Save As: CL1, Morale 9(7)
Priest of Uzdon – AC 0(4), HD3**, Move: 90’ (30’), Attacks: 1, Damage: 1-6, No. Appearing 1-4, Save As: CL3, Morale 11(9)
Mist Cloak (item) – Worn by Misty Ones and Priests of Uzdon. Renders the wearer nearly invisible when moving and almost totally invisible when standing still (5% chance of detection). Bonus of -4 to AC and +2 to Morale unless compromised.
Window of Uzdon (item)- Mask worn by Priests of Uzdon. Allows wearer to see invisible objects/individuals. Negates bonuses granted by invisibility. Does not negate bonuses for displacement.
Perfect to run as a hook for Holmes Basic’s sample mega-dungeon.