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Title: Under Arctic Ice
Author: Bates, Harry, 1900-1981
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Under Arctic Ice" ***

                         Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from Astounding Stories January 1933.
    Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the
    U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.

    The Table of Contents is not part of the original magazine.

                 A Sequel to "Seed of the Arctic Ice"

                           Under Arctic Ice

                        _A Complete Novelette_

                            By H.G. Winter

       *       *       *       *       *


    I    An Empty Room
   II    The Crash
  III    The Fate of the Peary
   IV    "No Chance Left"
    V    Last Assault
   VI    In a Biscuit Can
  VII    The Awakening
 VIII    The Duel

       *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: Ken Torrance races Poleward to the aid of the submarine
_Peary_, trapped in an icy limbo of avenging sealmen.]


_An Empty Room_

The house where the long trail started was one of gray walls, gray
rooms and gray corridors, with carpets that muffled the feet which at
intervals passed along them. It was a house of silence, brooding
within the high fence that shut it and the grounds from a landscape
torpid under the hot sun of summer, and across which occasionally
drifted the lonely, mournful whistle of a train on a nearby railroad.
Inside the house there was always a hush, a heavy quiet--restful to
the brain.

But now a voice was raised, young, angry, impatient, in one of the
gray-walled rooms.

"Yes, I rang for you. I want my bags packed. I'm leaving this

The face of the man who had entered showed surprise.

"Leaving, Mr. Torrance? Why?"

"Read this!"

[Illustration: _She was fastened in the mud of the gloomy sea-floor._]

As if, knowing and therefore dreading what he would see, the attendant
took the newspaper held outstretched to him and followed the pointing
finger to a featured column. He scanned it:

                 Deadline Passed for Missing Submarine

     Point Barrow, Aug. 17 (AP): Planes sent out to search for
     the missing polar submarine _Peary_ have returned without
     clue to the mystery of is disappearance. The close search
     that has been conducted through the last two weeks,
     involving great risks to the pilots, has been fruitless, and
     authorities now hold out small hope for Captain Sallorsen,
     his crew and the several scientists who accompanied the
     daring expedition.

     If the _Peary_, as is generally thought, is trapped beneath
     the ice floes or embedded in the deep silt of the polar
     sea-floor, her margin of safety has passed the deadline, it
     was pointed out to-day by her designers. Through special
     rectifiers aboard, her store of air can be kept capable of
     sustaining life for a theoretical period of thirty-one days.
     And exactly thirty-one days have now elapsed since last the
     _Peary's_ radio was heard from a position 72° 47' N, 162°
     22' W, some twelve hundred miles from the North Pole itself.

     In official circles, hope was practically abandoned for the
     missing submarine, though attempts will continue to be made
     to locate her....

"I'm sorry, Mr. Torrance," said the attendant nervously. "This paper

"Should never have reached me, eh? Through some slip of the people who
censor my reading matter here, I read what I wasn't supposed
to--that's what you mean?"

"It was thought better, Mr. Torrance, by the doctors, and--"

"Good God! Thought better! Through their sagacity, these doctors have
probably condemned the men on this submarine to death! I haven't heard
a word about the expedition; didn't even know the _Peary_ was up
there, much less missing!"

"Well, Mr. Torrance," the attendant stammered, more and more
unsettled, "the doctors thought that--that any news about it
would--well, upset you."

The young man laughed bitterly;

"Bring on my old 'trouble,' I suppose. The doctors have been
considerate, but I won't concern them any more. I'm through. I'm
leaving for the north--right now. There's a bare chance I might still
be in time."

"I'm sorry, Mr. Torrance, but you can't."


The attendant had retreated to the door. His eyes were nervous, his
face pale.

"It's orders, Mr. Torrance. You've been under observation treatment,
and the doctors left strict orders that you must stay."

The young man throbbed with dangerous anger. His hands clenched and
unclenched. He burst out, in a last attempt at reason:

"But don't you see, I've _got_ to get to the _Peary_! It's the last
hope for those men! The position she was last heard from is right
where I--"

"You can't leave, Mr. Torrance! I'm sorry, but I'll have to call a

For a minute their eyes held. With an effort, the young man said more

"I see. I see. I'm a prisoner. All right, leave me."

The attendant was more than willing. The young man heard the door's
lock click. And then he lowered his head and pressed his hands hard
into his face.

But a second later he was looking up again, at the single wide window
which gave out on the lonely landscape over which sometimes came
drifting the distant cry of a train's whistle.

       *       *       *       *       *

Two months before, Kenneth Torrance had returned to the whaling
submarine _Narwhal_, of which he was first torpooner, with a confused
story of men who were half-seals that lived in mounds under the Arctic
ice,[1] who had captured him and--he found--had also captured the
second torpooner, Chanley Beddoes. In breaking free from their
mound-prison, Beddoes had killed one of the sealmen and had been
himself slain minutes later by a killer whale, one of the fierce
scavengers of the sea which the sealmen trapped for food even as the
_Narwhal_ sought them for oil. Ken Torrance alone came back.

[Footnote 1: See the February, 1932, issue of Astounding Stories.]

Over their doubts, he had stuck to his story. Later, he had repeated
it to officials of the Alaska Whaling Company, who worked the
submarine and several surface ships. They in return had sent him to a
private sanitarium in the State of Washington for a rest which they
hoped would "iron out the kink" in his brain.

Here Ken had been for six weeks, while the exploring submarine _Peary_
nosed her way northward toward the Pole. Here he had been, all
unknowing, while the world hummed with reports of the _Peary's_
disappearance in that far-off ever-shrouded sea of mystery.

She might, Ken knew, have struck a shaft of underwater ice, sending
her to the bottom; some of her machinery might have cracked up,
paralyzing her; the ice-fields under which she cruised might have
shifted suddenly, crushing her ribs--of these perils the world knew as
well as he. But the submarine's crew was prepared for them; the
_Peary_ was equipped with a circular saw for cutting up through the
ice from beneath, and she carried sea-suits which would allow her men,
if she were wrecked on the bottom, to leave her and get up on the ice
and wait for the first searching plane.

Why, then, had not the planes which scoured the region found the

That was the mystery--but not to Ken Torrance. There was another
peril, of which he alone knew. Not far from where the _Peary's_ last
radio report had come, a group of hollowed-out mounds lay on the
sea-floor, swarming with brown-skinned, quick-swimming creatures.
Sealmen, they were--men who, like the seals, had gone back to the sea.
Months ago, Second Torpooner Chanley Beddoes had killed one of them.
They were intelligent; they could remember; they were capable of hate
and fear; they would be desirous of leveling the debt!

There, Ken felt sure, lay the reason for the _Peary's_ baffling
silence, for the non-appearance of her men.

There might still be time. No one of course would listen to him and
believe, so he would have to go in search of the _Peary_ and her crew

Standing by the window, Kenneth Torrance quickly planned the several
steps which would take him to the Arctic and its silent ice-coated

And when, some two hours later, after a short warning rap on the door,
the individual who served as Mr. Torrance's attendant entered his
room, he was confronted, not by the gentleman whose dinner he carried,
but by an empty room, a stripped bed, an open window, and a rope of
sheets dangling from it toward the ground two stories beneath.

That was at seven o'clock in the evening.


_The Crash_

At a few minutes before eight o'clock, Air Mail Pilot Steve Chapman
was enjoying a quiet cigarette while waiting for the mechanics to warm
up the five hundred horses of his mail plane satisfactorily. Halfway
through, he heard, from behind, a quick patter of feet, and, turning,
he observed a figure clad in flannel trousers and sweater. The
cigarette dropped right out of his mouth as he cried:

"Ken! Ken Torrance!"

"Thank God you're here!" said Kenneth Torrance. "I gambled on it.
Steve, I've got to borrow your own personal plane."

"What?" gasped Steve Chapman. "What--what--?"

"Listen, Steve. I haven't been with the whaling company lately; been
resting, down here--secluded. Didn't know that submarine, the _Peary_,
was missing. I just learned. And I know damned well what's happened to
it. I've got to get to it, quick is I can, and I've got to have a

Steve Chapman said rather faintly:

"But--where was the _Peary_ when they last heard from her?"

"Some twelve hundred miles from the Pole."

"And you want to get there in a plane? From here?"


"Boy, you stand about one chance in twenty!"

"Have to take it. Time's precious, Steve. I've got to stop in at the
Alaska Whaling Company's outpost at Point Christensen, then right on
up. I can't even begin unless I have a plane. You've got to help me on
my one chance of bringing the _Peary's_ men out alive! You'll probably
never see the plane again, Steve, but--"

"To hell with the plane, if you come through with yourself and those
men," said the pilot. "All right, kid, I don't get it all, but I'm
playing with you. You're taking my own ship."

He led Ken to a hangar wherein stood a trim five-passenger amphibian;
and very soon that amphibian was roaring out her deep-throated song of
power on the line, itching for the air, and Steve Chapman was shouting
a few last words up to the muffled figure in the enclosed control

"Fuel'll last around forty hours," he finished. "You'll find two
hundred per, easy, and twenty-five hours should take you clear to
Point Christensen. I put gun and maps in the right pocket; food in
that flap behind you. Go to it, Ken!"

Ken Torrance gripped the hand outstretched to his and held it tight.
He could say nothing, could only nod--this was a real friend. He gave
the ship the gun.

Her mighty Diesel bellowed, lashed the air down and under; the
amphibian spun her retractable wheels over the straight hard ground
until they lifted lightly and tilted upward in a slow climb for
altitude. With fiery streams from the exhaust lashing her flanks, she
faded into the darkness to the north.

"Well," murmured Steve Chapman, "I've got her instalments left,
anyway!" And he grinned and turned to the mail.

       *       *       *       *       *

That night passed slowly by; and the next day; and all through night
and day the steady roar of beating cylinders hung in Kenneth
Torrance's ears. At last came Point Christensen and a descent; sleep
and then quick, decisive action; and again the amphibian rose, heavily
loaded now, and droned on toward the ice and the cold bleak skies of
the far north. On, ever on, until Point Barrow, Alaska's northernmost
spur, was left behind to the east, and the world was one of drifting
ice on gray water. Muscles cramped, mind dulled by the everlasting
roar, head aching and weary, Ken held the amphibian to her steady
course, until a sudden wind shook her momentarily from it.

A rising wind. The skies were ugly. And then he remembered that the
men at Point Christensen had warned him of a storm that was brewing.
They'd told him that he was heading into disaster; and their
surprised, rather fearful faces appeared before him again, as he had
seen them just before taking off, after he had told them where he was

Of course they'd thought him crazy. He had brought the amphibian down
in the little harbor off the whaling company's base, gone ashore and
greeted his old friends. There was only a handful of men stationed
there; the _Narwhal_ was being overhauled in a shipyard at San
Francisco, and it wasn't the season for surface whalers. They knew
that he, Ken, had been put in a sanitarium; all of them had heard his
wild story about sealmen. But he concocted a plausible yarn to account
for his arrival, and they had fed him and given him a berth in the
bunkhouse for the night.

For the night! Ken Torrance grinned as he recalled the scene. In the
middle of the night he had risen, quickly awakened four of the
sleeping men, and with his gun forced them to take a torpoon from the
outpost's storehouse and put it inside the amphibian's passenger

It was robbery, and of course they'd thought him insane, but they
didn't dare cross him. He had told them cheerfully he was going after
the _Peary_, and that if they wanted the torpoon back they were to
direct the searching planes to keep their eyes on the place where the
submarine was last heard from....

       *       *       *       *       *

Ken came back to the present abruptly as the plane lurched. The wind
was getting nasty. At least he did not have much farther to go; an
hour's flying time would take him to his goal, where he must descend
into the water to continue his search. His search! Had it been, he
wondered, a useless one from the start? Had the submarine's crew been
killed before he'd even read of her disappearance? If the sealmen got
them, would they destroy them immediately?

"I doubt it," Ken muttered to himself. "They'd be kept prisoners in
one of those mounds, like I was. That is, if they haven't killed any
of the creatures. It hangs on that!"

An hour's time, he had reckoned; but it was more than an hour. For
soon the world was blotted out by a howling dervish of wind and driven
snow that time and time again snatched the amphibian from Ken's
control and hurled it high, or threw it down like a toy toward the
inferno of sea and ice he knew lay beneath. He fought for altitude,
for direction, pitched from side to side, tumbled forward and back,
gaining a few hundred feet only to feel them plucked breathtakingly
out from under him as the screaming wind played with him.

Now and again he snatched a glance at the torpoon behind. The
gleaming, twelve-foot, cigar-shaped craft, with its directional
rudders, propeller, vision-plate and nitro-shell gun lay safely
secured in the passenger compartment, a familiar and reassuring sight
to Ken, who, as first torpooner of the _Narwhal_, had worked one for
years in the chase for killer whales. Soon, it seemed, he would have
to depend on it for his life.

For all the Diesel's power, it was not enough to cope with the dead
weight of ice which was forming over the plane's wings and fuselage.
He could not keep the altimeter up. However he fought, Ken saw that
finger drop down, down--up a trifle, quivering as the racked plane
quivered--and then down and down some more.

He saw that the plane was doomed. He would have to abandon it--in the
torpoon--if he could.

He was some thirty miles from his objective. The sea beneath would be
half hidden under ragged, drifting floes. In fair weather he could
have chosen a landing space of clear water, but now he could not
choose. The altitude dial said that the water was three hundred feet
beneath, and rapidly rising nearer.

A margin of seconds in which to prepare! Ken locked the controls and
scrambled back into the passenger compartment. Steadying himself on
the bucking floor, he opened the torpoon's entrance port and slid in;
quickly he locked the port and strapped the inner body harness around
him; and then he waited.

Now it was all chance. If the plane crashed into clear water, he was
safe; but if she hit ice.... He put that thought from him.

The locked controls held the amphibian for perhaps thirty seconds.
Then with a scream the storm-giant took her. A mad up-current of wind
hurled her high, whirled her dizzily, toyed with her--and then she
spun and dove. Down, down, down; down with a speed so wild Ken grew
faint; down through the core of a maelstrom of snow till she crashed.

Kenneth Torrance knew a sudden shaking impact; for an instant there
was uncertainty; and then came all-pervading quiet....


_The Fate of the Peary_

Quiet, and utter, liquid darkness.

Liquid! Around him, Ken heard a gurgling, at first loud and close,
then subsiding to a low whispering of currents. The amphibian had hit

Gone in an instant was the shriek and fury of the storm and in its
place the calm, slow-heaving silence of underwater. The plane was
shattered in a dozen places, but the torpoon had easily stood it.

Ken turned to action. He switched on the torpoon's dashboard lights
and twin bow-beams, and saw that the shell was wedged in the fuselage.
The plane was apparently entirely under the surface, and her interior
filled with water.

Holding the propeller in neutral, he revved up the powerful electric
motor. Then he bit the propeller in, slowly. The torpoon nudged back
for inches. Then, throwing the gear into forward, Ken gave her full
speed. The torpoon leaped ahead, crunched through the weakened corner
ahead and was free.

It was a world of drab tones that she came into. Down below was
impenetrable blackness, shading softly overhead into blue-gray which
was mottled by lighter areas from breaks in the floes above. All was
calm. There was no sign of life save for an occasional vague shadow
that, melting swiftly away, might have been a fish or seaweed. Placid
always, would be this shrouded sea of mystery, no matter what furious
tempest raged above over the flat leagues of ice and water.

But the seeming peacefulness was but a mask for danger. Kenneth
Torrance's face was set in sober lines as he sped the slim torpoon
northward, her bow lights shafting long white fingers before her. For
now there was only one path--and that lay ahead. He could not turn
back. Storm and water had destroyed the plane that could take him back
to land. He could not possibly reach any outpost of civilization in
the torpoon, for her cruising radius was only twenty hours. He had
planned to land the amphibian on the ice above the spot where the
_Peary_ had disappeared, then find a break in the ice and slide down
below in the torpoon on his quest--to return to the plane if it proved
fruitless. But now there was no retreat. It was succeed, or die.

And with that realization a more dreadful thought flashed into his
mind. All those men, of the whaling company and the sanitarium,
thought him a little crazy. And, since lunatics are always convinced
of the reality of their visions, what if the sealmen--his adventure
amidst them--had been but a dream, a nightmare, an hallucination? What
if he were in truth crazy? The fear grew rapidly. What if he were?
God! He, hunting for the _Peary_, when all those planes and men had
failed! He, expecting to achieve what those searchers, with far
greater resources, had not been able to! Did not that give evidence
that his mind was twisted? Creatures, half-seal, half-men, living
under the ice--it certainly seemed a lunatic's obsession.

Then something within him rose and fought back.

"No!" he cried aloud. "I'll go bugs if I think like that! Those
sealmen were real--and I know where they are. I'm going on!"

And, an hour later, the dashboard's shaded dials told him he was on
the exact spot where the _Peary_ had last reported....

       *       *       *       *       *

Here was the real Arctic, the real polar sea. No sun, no breath of the
world above could reach it through its eternal mask of solid ice. As
one of the few unfamiliar aspects of the earth, it was as far removed
from the imagination of man as if it were part of a far planet hung
spinning millions of miles out in space. Men could reach it in shells
of metal, but it was not meant for him, and was always hostile. A
dozen times a daring one could cross safely its cold lonely reaches,
but the thirteenth time it would snare and destroy him for the
unwanted trespasser he was.

It was here that the _Peary_ had stepped off into mystery. At this
point her hull had throbbed with air, movement, life; at this point
all had been well. And then, minutes or hours later, close to here,
the sea devil had sprung.

What had happened? What had trapped her? What, even more baffling, had
kept her men with their manifold safety devices from even reaching and
climbing up on the ice above to signal the searching planes?

Ken Torrance, oppressively alone in the hovering torpoon, gazed
through its vision-plate of fused quartz around him. Gray sea,
filtering to black beneath; distant eerie shadows, probably meaning
nothing, but possibly all important; ceiling of thick ice above, rough
and in places broken by a sharp down-thrusting spur--these were his
surroundings. These were what he must hunt through, until he came upon
the crumpled remnant of a submarine, or the murky, rounded hillocks
which gave habitation to the creatures he suspected of capturing that
submarine's crew.

       *       *       *       *       *

He began the search systematically. He angled the torpoon down to a
position halfway between sea-floor and ice-ceiling, then swung her in
an ever-widening circle. Soon his orbit had a diameter of a half-mile;
then a mile; then two.

The torpoon slipped through the water at full speed, her light-beams
like restless antennae, now stabbing to the right to dissolve a
formless shadow, now to the left to throw into blinding white relief a
school of half-transparent fish which scurried with frantic wrigglings
of tails from the glare, now slanting up to bathe the cold glassy face
of an inverted ice-hill, now down to dig two white holes in the deeper

Ken continued this routine for hours. Steadily and low the electric
motor droned in the ears of the watchful pilot, and the stubby
propeller's blades flashed round in a blur of speed between the
slightly slanted rudders. Somewhere, miles away, a splintered
amphibian plane was slipping down to her last landing, and above,
perhaps, the white hell of storm which had brought her low still
bowled over the trackless wastes; but here were only shadows and
shifting gloom, straining the alert eyes to soreness and tensing the
watcher's brain with alarms that, one after another, were only false.

Until at last he found her.

Immediately he shut off all his lights. He no longer needed them. Far
in the distance, and below, wavered a faint yellow glow. It was no
fish; it could mean only one thing--the lights of a submarine.

And lights meant life! There would be none burning in a deserted
submarine. His heart beat fast and his tight, sober lips widened in a
quick grin. He had found the _Peary_! And found her with some life
still aboard her! He was in time!

So Ken rejoiced while he slid the torpoon down to a level just a few
feet above the silty sea bottom, reducing her to quarter-speed. There
was an urge inside him to switch on his bow-beams, reach them out
toward the submarine's hull to tell all within that help was at last
at hand; he wanted to send the torpoon ahead at full speed. But
caution restrained him to a more deliberate course. He was in the
realm of the sealmen, and he did not wish to attract the attention of
any. So he advanced like a furtive shadow slinking along the dark
sea-bottom, deep in the covering gloom.

Nearer and nearer, while the distant blur of yellow light grew. Nearer
and nearer to the long-trapped men, while the consciousness that he
had succeeded intoxicated him. He alone had found them! Sealmen or no
sealmen, he had found the _Peary_! And found her with lights lit and
life inside! Nearer and nearer....

And then suddenly Ken halted the torpoon and stared with wide, alarmed
eyes. For the submarine was now plainly visible in detail--and he saw
her real plight and with it knew the answer to the mystery of her long
silence and the non-appearance of her men on the ice field above.

       *       *       *       *       *

The _Peary_ was a spectacle of fantastic beauty. It was as if a huge,
rounded piece of amber, mellow, golden, lay in the murk of the
sea-floor. Not steel, hard and grim, but of transparent, shimmering
stuff she was built, all coated a soft yellow by her lights, clearly
visible inside. Ken had known something of her radical construction;
knew that a substance called quarsteel, similar to glass and yet fully
as tough as steel, had been used for her hull, making her a perfect
vehicle for undersea exploration. Her bow was capped with steel, and
her stern, propellers, diving rudders; her port-locks, for the
releasing of torpoons, were also of steel, as were the struts that
braced her throughout--but the rest was quarsteel, glowing and golden
as the heart of amber.

Beautiful with a wild yet scientific beauty was the _Peary_, but she
was not free. She was trapped. She was fastened to the mud of the
gloomy sea-floor.

Ropes held her down; and Ken Torrance knew those ropes of old. They
were tough and strong, woven of many strands of seaweed, and twenty or
thirty of them striped the _Peary's_ two hundred feet of hull.
Unevenly spaced, stretched clear over the ship from one side to the
other, they were caught around her up-jutting conning tower, fastened
through her rudders, and holding tight in a score of places. They held
the submarine down despite all the buoyancy of her emptied tanks and
the power of her twin propellers.

And the sealmen swam around her.

       *       *       *       *       *

Restless dark shadows against the golden hull, they wavered and darted
and poised, totally unafraid. Another in Kenneth Torrance's place
would have put them down as some strange school of large seals,
inordinately curious but nothing more; but the torpooner knew them as
men--men remodeled into the shape of seals; men who, ages ago, had
forsaken the land for the old home of all life, the sea; who, through
the years, had gradually changed in appearance as their flesh had
become coated with layers of cold-resisting blubber; whose movements
had become adapted to the water; whose legs and arms had evolved into
flippers; but whose heads still harbored the now faint spark of
intelligence that marked them definitely as men.

Emotions similar to man's they had, though dulled; friendliness,
curiosity, anger, hate, and--Ken knew and feared--even a capacity for
vengeance. Vengeance! An eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth--the old
law peculiar to man! Chanley Beddoes had slain one of them; if only
the _Peary's_ crew had not killed more! If only that, there might be

First he must get inside the submarine. Warily, like a stalking cat,
Ken Torrance inched the torpoon toward the great shining ship. At
least he was in time. Within her he could see figures, most of them
stretched out on the decks of her different compartments, but one of
whom occasionally moved--slowly. He understood that. For weeks now the
_Peary_ had lain captive, and her air had passed beyond the aid of
rectifiers. Tortured, those survivors inside were, constantly
struggling for life, with vitality ever sinking lower. Some might
already be dead. But at least he could try to save the rest.

He approached her from one side of the rear, for in the rear
compartment were her two torpoon port-locks. The one on his side was
empty, its outer door open. The torpoon it had held had been sent out,
probably for help, and had not returned. It provided a means of
entrance for him.

At perhaps a hundred feet from the port-lock, Ken halted again. His
slim craft was almost indistinguishable in the murk: he felt
reasonably safe from discovery. For minutes he watched the swimming
sealmen, waiting for the best chance to dart in.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was then, while studying the full length of the submarine more
closely, that he saw that one compartment of her four was filled with
water. Her steel-caped bow had been stove in. That, he conjectured,
had been the original accident which had brought her down. It was not
a fatal accident in itself, for there were three other compartments,
all separated by watertight bulkheads, and the flooded one could be
repaired by men in sea-suits--but then the sealmen had come and roped
her down where she lay. Some of the creatures, he saw, were actually
at that time inside the bow compartment, swimming around curiously
amidst the clustered pipes, wheels and levers. It was a weird sight,
and one that held his eyes fascinated.

But suddenly, through his absorption, danger prickled the short hairs
of his neck. A lithe, sinuous shadow close ahead was wavering, and
large, placid brown eyes were staring at him. A sealman! He was
discovered! And instinctively, immediately, Ken Torrence brought the
torpoon's accelerator down flat.

The shell jumped ahead with whirling propeller. The creature that had
seen him doubled around and sped in retreat. In brief snatches, as the
torpoon streaked across the hundred-foot gap to the empty port-lock,
Ken glimpsed his discoverer gathering a group of its fellows, and saw
brown-skinned bodies swarm after him with nooses of seaweed-rope--and
then the great transparent side wall of the _Peary_ was before him,
and the port-locks dark opening. Ken threw his motor into reverse,
slid the torpoon slightly to one side, and there was a jerk, a jar,
and a sensation of something moving behind.

He turned to see the port-lock's outer door closing, activated by
controls inside the submarine--and just in time to shut out the first
of his pursuers. Then the port-lock's pumps were draining the water
from the chamber, and the inner door clicked and opened.

Kenneth Torrance climbed stiffly from the torpoon to enter the
interior of the long-lost and besieged exploring submarine _Peary._


"_No Chance Left_"

His entrance was an unpleasant experience. He had forgotten the
condition of the air inside the submarine, and what its effect on him,
coming straight from comparatively good and fresh air, would be, until
he was seized by a sudden choking grip around his throat. He reeled
and gasped, and was for a minute nauseated. Lights flashed around him,
and teetering backward he leaned weakly, against some metal object
until gradually his head cleared; but his lungs remained tortured, and
his breathing a thing of quick, agonised gulps.

Then came sounds. Figures appeared before him.

"From where--" "Who are you?"

"What--what--what--" "How did you?"

The half-coherent questions were couched in whispers. The men around
him were blear-eyed and haggard-faced, their skins dry and bluish, and
not a one was clad in more than undershirt and trousers. Alive and
breathing, they were--but breathing grotesquely, horribly. They made
awful noises at it; they panted, in quick, shallow sucks. Some lay on
the deck at his feet, outstretched without energy enough to attempt to

Beautiful and slumber-like the submarine had appeared from outside,
but inside that effect was lost. There were the usual appurtenances: a
maze of pipes, wheels, machinery, all silent now, and cold; here were
the two port-locks for torpoons; the emergency steering controls; the
small staterooms of the _Peary's_ officers. Looking forward, still
striving for complete clear-headedness and normality, Ken could see
the two intact forward compartments, silent and apparently lifeless,
with dim lamps burning. They ended with the watertight bulkhead which
stood between them and the flooded bow compartment.

Ken at last found words, but even his short query cost a sickening

"Where's--the commander?" he asked.

       *       *       *       *       *

A man turned from where he had been leaning against a nearby wheel
control. He was stripped to the waist. His tall body was stooped, and
the skin of his ruggedly cut face drawn and parchment-like. His face
had once been dignified and authoritative, but now it was that of a
man who nears death after a long, bitter fight for life. The smile
which he gave to Ken was painful--a mockery.

"I am," he said faintly. "Sallorsen. Just wait, please. A minute. I
worked port-lock. Breath's gone...."

He sucked shallowly for air and let his smile go. And standing there,
beside him, gazing at the worn frame, Ken felt strength come back. He
had just entered; this man and the others had been here for weeks!

"I'm Sallorsen," the captain went on at last. All his words were
clipped off, to cost minimum effort. "Glad you got through. Afraid
you're come to prison, though."

"No!" Ken said emphatically. He spoke to the captain, but what he said
was also for all the others grouped around him. "No, Captain! I'm
Kenneth Torrance. Once torpooner with Alaska Whaling Company. They
thought me crazy--crazy--'cause I told about sealmen. Put me in
sanitarium. I knew they had you--when--heard you were missing." He
pointed at the brown-skinned creatures that clustered close around the
submarine outside her transparent walls. "I got free and came. Just in

"In time? For what?"

Another voice gasped out the question. Ken turned to a
broad-shouldered man with a ragged growth of beard that had been a
trim Van Dyke; and before the torpooner could answer, Sallorsen said:

"Dr. Lawson. One of our scientists. In time for what?"

"To get you and the submarine free," said Ken.


       *       *       *       *       *

Ken paused before replying. He gazed around--out the side walls of
glistening quarsteel into the sea gloom, into the thick of the smooth,
lithe, brown-skinned shapes that now and again poised pressing against
the submarine, peering in with their liquid seal's eyes. Dimly he
could see the taut seaweed ropes stretching down from the top of the
_Peary_ to the sea-bottom. It looked hopeless, and to these men inside
it was hopeless. He knew he must speak in confident, assured tones to
drive away the uncaring lethargy holding them all, and he framed
definite, concise words with which to do it.

"These creatures have caught you," he began, "and you think they want
to kill you. But look at them. They seem to be seals. They're not.
They're men! Not men like us--half-men--sealmen, rather--changed into
present form by ages of living in the water. I know. I was captured by
them once. They're not senseless brutes; they have a streak of man's
intelligence. We must communicate with that intelligence. Must reason
with them. I did once. I can do it again.

"They're not really hostile. They're naturally peaceful; friendly. But
my friend--dead now--killed one of them. Naturally they now think all
creatures like us enemies. That's why they trapped your sub.

"They think you're enemies; think you want to kill them. But I'll tell
them--through pictures, as I did once before--that you mean them no
harm. I'll tell them you're dying and must have air--just as they
must. I'll tell them to release submarine and we'll go away and not
disturb them again. Above all I must get across that you wish them no
harm. They'll listen to what my pictures will say--and let us
go--'cause at heart they're friendly!"

       *       *       *       *       *

He paused--and with a ghastly, twisted smile, Captain Sallorsen

"The hell you say!"

His sardonic comment brought a sudden chill to Kenneth Torrance. He
feared one thing that would render his whole value useless. He asked

"What have you done?"

"Those seals," Sallorsen's labored voice continued "--they've killed
eight of us. Now they're killing all."

"But have you killed any of them?" Breathless, Ken waited for the
answer be feared.

"Yes. Two."

The men were all staring at Ken, so he had to hide the awful dejection
which clamped his heart. He only said:

"That's what I feared. It changes everything. No use trying to reason
with them now." He fell silent. "Well," he said at last, trying to
appear more cheerful, "tell me what happened. Maybe there's something
you've overlooked."

"Yes," Sallorsen whispered. He started to come forward to the
torpooner, but stumbled and would have fallen had not Ken caught him
in time. He put one of the captain's arms around his shoulder, and one
of his own around the man's waist.

"Thanks," Sallorsen said wryly. "Walk forward. Show you what

       *       *       *       *       *

There were men in the second compartment, and they still fought to
live. From the narrow seamen's berths that lined the walls came the
sound of breathing even more torturous than that of the men in the
rear. In the single bulb's dim light Ken could see their shapes
stretched motionlessly out, panting and panting. Occasionally hands
reached up to claw at straining necks, as if to try and rid throats of
strangling grasps. Two figures had won free from the long struggle.
They lay silent and still, the outline of their dead bodies showing
through the sheets pulled over them.

Slowly Sallorsen led Ken through this compartment and into the next,
which was bare of men. Here were the ship's main controls--her helm,
her central multitude of dials, levers and wheels, her televisiscreen
and old-fashioned emergency periscope. A metal labyrinth it was, all
long silent and inactive. Again the weird contrast struck Ken, for
outside he could still see the scene of vigorous, curious life that
the sealmen constituted. Close they came to the submarine's sheer
walls of quarsteel, peering in stolidly, then flashing away with an
effortless thrust of flippers, sometimes for air from some break in
the surface ice.

Like men, the sealmen needed air to live, and got it fresh and clean
from the world above. Inside, real men were gasping, fighting,
hopelessly, yielding slowly to the invisible death that lay in the
poisonous stuff they had to breathe....

Ken felt Sallorsen nudge him. They had come to the forward end of the
control compartment, and could go no farther. Before them was the
watertight door, in which was set a large pane of quarsteel. The
captain wanted him to look through.

Ken did so, knowing what to expect; but even so he was surprised by
the strangeness of the scene. In among the manifold devices of the
front compartment, its wheels and pipes and levers, glided slowly the
sleek, blubbery shapes of half a dozen sealmen. Back and forth they
swam, inspecting everything curiously, unhurried and unafraid; and as
Ken stared one of them came right up to the other side of the closed
watertight door, pressed close to the pane and regarded him with large
placid eyes.

Other sealmen entered through a jagged rip in the plates on the
starboard side of the bow. At this Sallorsen began to speak again in
the short, clipped sentences, punctuated by quick gasps for air.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Crashed, bow-on," he said. "Underwater ice. Outer and inner plates
crumpled like paper. Lost trim and hit bottom. Got this door closed,
but lost four men in bow compartment. Drowned. No chance. Sparks among
'em, at his radio. That's why we couldn't radio for help." He paused,
gasping shallowly.

"Could've got away if we'd left immediately. One flooded compartment
not enough to hold this ship down. But I didn't know. I sent two men
out in sea-suits--inspect damage. Those devils got them.

"The seal-things came in a swarm. God! Fast! We didn't realize. They
had ropes, and in seconds they'd lashed us down to the sea-floor.
Lashed us fast!" Again he paused and sucked for the poisoned air, and
Ken Torrance did not try to hurry him, but stood silent, looking
forward to the squashed bow, and out the sides to where he could see
the taut black lines of the seaweed-ropes.

"The two men put up fight. Had crowbars. Useless--but they killed one
of the devils. That did it. They were torn apart in front of us.
Ripped. Mangled. By spears the things carry. Dead like that."

"Yes," murmured Ken, "that would do it...."

"I quick tried to get away," gasped Sallorsen. "Full-speed--back and
forth. No good. Ropes held. Couldn't break. All our power couldn't! So
then--then I acted foolishly. Damn foolish. But we were all a little
crazy. A nightmare, you know. Couldn't believe our eyes--those seals
outside, mocking us. So I called for volunteers. Four men. Put 'em in
sea-suits, gave 'em shears and grappling prongs. They went out.

"They went out laughing--saying they'd soon have us free! Oh, God!" It
seemed he could not go on, but he forced the words out deliberately.
"Killed without a chance! Ripped apart like the others! No chance!

Ken felt the agony in the man, and was silent for a while before
quietly asking:

"Did they kill any more of the sealmen?"

"One. Just one. That made two of them--six of us. What the hell are
the rest of them waiting for?" Sallorsen cried. "They killed eight in
all! To our two! That's enough for them, isn't it?"

"I'm afraid not," said Ken Torrance. "Well, what then?"

"Sat down and thought. Carefully. Hit on a plan. Took one of our two
torpoons. Lashed on it steel plates, ground to sharp cutting edges.
Spent days at it. Thought torpoon could go out and cut the ropes.
Haines volunteered and we shot him and torpoon out."

"They got the torpoon?" Ken asked.

Sallorsen's arm raised in a pointing gesture. "Look."

       *       *       *       *       *

Some fifty feet away from the _Peary_, on the side opposite to the one
Ken Torrance had approached, a dimly discernible object lay in the
mud. In miniature, it resembled the submarine: a cigar-shaped steel
shell, held down to the sea-bottom by ropes bound over it. Cutting
edges of steel had been fastened along its length.

"I see," said Ken slowly. "And its pilot?"

"Stayed in the torpoon thirty-six hours. Then went crazy. Put on
sea-suit and tried to get back here. Whisk--they got him. Killed and
mangled while we watched!"

"But didn't his torpoon have a nitro-shell gun? Couldn't he have
fought them off for a time?"

"Exploring submarine, this! No guns in torpoons like whalers. Gun
wouldn't help, anyway. These devils too fast. No use. No hope
anywhere...." Sallorsen sank back against the bulkhead, his lips
moving but no sound coming forth. Dully he stared ahead, through the
submarine, for a moment before uttering a cackling mockery of a laugh
and going on.

"Even after that, still hoped! Blew every tank on ship; blew out most of
her oil. Threw out everything not vital. Lightened her as much as could.
Machinery--detachable metal--fixtures--baggage--instruments--knives,
plates, cups--everything! She rose a couple of feet--no more! Put motors
at full speed--back and forth--again, again, again. Buoyancy--power--no
good. No damn good!

"And then we tried the last chance. Explosives. Had quite a store,
Nitromite, packed in cases; time-fuses to set it off. Had it for
blasting ice. I sent up a charge and blew hole in the ice overhead,
for our other torpoon.

"Nothing else left. Knew planes must be nearby, searching. Last
torpoon was to shoot up to the hole--pilot to climb on ice and stay
there to signal a plane."

"Did he get there?"

"Hell no!" Sallorsen cackled again. "It was roped like the other.
Pilot tried to get back, but they got him like first. There's the
torpoon--out ahead."

Ken could just make it out. It lay ahead, slightly to port, lashed
down like its fellow by seaweed-ropes. His eyes were held by it, even
when Sallorsen continued, in an almost hysterical voice:

"Since then--since then--you know. Week after week. Air getting worse.
Rectifiers running down. No night, no day. Just the lights, and those
damned devils outside. Wore sea-suits for a while; used twenty-nine of
their thirty hours air-units. Old Professor Halloway died, and another
man. Couldn't do anything for 'em. Just sit and watch. Head aching,
throat choking--God!...

"Some of the men went mad. Tried to break out. Had to show gun. Quick
death outside. Here, slow death, but always the chance that--Chance,
hell! There's no chance left! Just this poison that used to be air,
and those things outside, watching, watching, waiting--waiting for us
to leave--waiting to get us all! Waiting...."

"Something's up!" said Ken Torrance suddenly. "They've got tired of


_The Last Assault_

Sallorsen turned his head and followed the torpooner's intent, amazed

Ken said:

"There's proof of their intelligence! I've been watching--didn't
realize at first. Look, here it comes!"

Several sealmen, while Sallorsen had been talking, had come dropping
down from the main mass of the horde, and had grouped around the
abandoned torpoon which lay some feet ahead of the submarine's bow.
Expertly they had loosened the seaweed-ropes which bound it to the
sea-floor, then slid back, watching alertly, as if expecting the
torpoon to speed away of its own accord. Its batteries, of course, had
worn out weeks before, so the steel shell did net budge. The sealmen
came down close to it again, and lifted it.

They lifted it easily with their prehensile flipper-arms, and with
maneuvering of delicate sureness guided it through the gash in the
_Peary's_ bow. Inside, they hesitated with it, midway between deck and
ceiling of the flooded compartment. They poised for perhaps a full
minute, judging the distance, while the two men stared; and then
quickly their powerful tail flippers lashed out and the torpoon jumped
ahead. It sped straight through the water, to crash its tough nose of
steel squarely into the quarsteel pane of the watertight door, then
rebounded, and fell to the deck.

"My God!" gasped Sallorsen. But Ken wasted no words then. He pressed
closer to the quarsteel and examined it minutely. The substance showed
no visible effect, but the action of the sealmen destroyed whatever
hope he had felt.

The sealmen had swerved aside at the last minute; and now, picking up
the torpoon again and guiding it back to the other end of the
compartment, they hurled it once more with a resounding crash into the
quarsteel pane.

"How long will it last under that?" Ken asked tersely.

Obviously, Sallorsen's wits were muddled at this turn. He remained
gaping at the creatures and at the torpoon, now turned against its
mother submarine. Ken repeated the question.

"How long? Who knows? It's as strong as steel, but--there's the
pressure--and those blows hit one spot. Not--long."

       *       *       *       *       *

Capping his words, there re-echoed again the loud crash of the
torpoon's on the quarsteel. The sealmen were working in quick routine
now; back and quickly forward, and then the crash and the
reverberation; and again and again....

The ominous crash and ringing echoes regularly repeated, seemed to
disorganise Ken's mind as he looked vainly for something with which to
brace the door. Nothing unattached was left--nothing! He ran and
examined the quarsteel pane again, and this time his brain heated in
alarm. A thin line had shot through the quarsteel--the beginning of a

"Back!" Ken shouted to the still staring Sallorsen. "Back to the third
compartment. This door's going!"

"Yes," Sallorsen mumbled. "It'll go. So will the others. They'll smash
them all. And when this is flooded--no hope of running the submarine
again. Controls in here."

"That's too damned bad!" Ken said roughly. "Are there any sea-suits,
food, supplies in here?"

"Only food. In those lockers."

"I'll take it. Get into that third compartment--hear me?" ordered
Kenneth Torrance. "And have its door ready to close!"

He shoved Sallorsen away, opened the indicated lockers and piled his
arms with the tins revealed. He had time for no more than one load. He
jumped back into the third compartment of the _Peary_ just as a
splintering crash sounded from behind. The door between was swung
closed and locked just as the one being battered crashed inward.

Turning, Ken saw that the torpoon had cracked through the weakened
quarsteel and tumbled in a mad cascade of water to the deck of the
abandoned second compartment. In dread silence, he, with Sallorsen and
those of the men who had strength and curiosity enough to come
forward, watched the compartment rapidly fill--watched until they saw
the water pressed high against the door. And then horror swept over
Ken Torrance.

       *       *       *       *       *

Water! There was a trickle of water down the quarsteel he was leaning
against! A fault along the hinge of the door--either its construction,
or because it had not been closed properly.

Ken pointed it out to the captain.

"Look!" he said. "A leak already--just from the pressure! This door
won't last more than a couple of minutes when they start on it--"

Sallorsen stared stupidly. As for the rest; Ken might not have spoken.
They were as if in a trance, watching dumbly, with lungs automatically
gasping for air.

One of the seal-creatures eeled through the shattered quarsteel of the
first door and swam slowly around the newly flooded compartment. At
once it was joined by five other lithe, sleek shapes which, with
placid, liquid eyes, inspected the compartment minutely. They came in
a group right up to the next door that barred their way and, with no
visible emotion, stared through the quarsteel pane at the humans who
stared at them. And then they gracefully turned and slid to the
battered torpoon.

"Back!" Ken shouted, "You men!" He shook them, shoved them roughly
back toward the fourth, and last, compartment. Weakly, like automatons
they shuffled into it. The torpooner said bruskly to Sallorsen:

"Carry those tins of food back. Hurry! Is there anything stored in
here we'll need? Sallorsen! Captain! Is there anything--"

The captain looked at him dully; then, understanding, a cackle came
from his throat. "Don't need anything. This is the end. Last
compartment. Finish!"

"Snap out of it!" Ken cried. "Come on, Sallorsen--there's a chance
yet. Is there anything we'll need in here?"

"Sea-suits--in those lockers."

Ken Torrance swung around and rapidly opened the lockers. Pulling out
the bulky suits, he cried:

"You carry that food back. Then come and help me."

       *       *       *       *       *

But of the corner of his eye, as he worked, he could see the ominous
preparations beyond in the flooded compartment--the sealmen raising
the torpoon, guiding it back to the far end; leveling it out. Ken was
sure the door could not stand more than two or three blows at the
most. Two or three minutes, that meant--but all the sea-suits had to
go back into the fourth compartment!

He was in torment as he worked. For him, the conditions were just as
bad as for the men who had lived below in the submarine for a month;
the poisonous, foul air racked him just as much; what breath he got he
fought for just as painfully. But in his body was a greater store of
strength, and fresher muscles; and he taxed his body to its very

Panting, his head seeming on the point of splitting, Ken Torrance
stumbled through into the last compartment laden with a pile of
sea-suits. He dropped them clattering in a pile around his feet and
forced himself back again. Another trip; and another....

It would never have been done had not Sallorsen and Lawson, the
scientist, come to his aid. The help they offered was meager, and
slow, but it sufficed. Laden for the fifth time, Ken heard what he had
been anticipating for every second of the all too short, agonizing
minutes: a sharp, grinding crack, and the following reverberation. He
snatched a glance around to see the torpoon falling to the deck of the
second compartment--the sealmen lifting it swiftly again--and a thin
but definite sliver in the quarsteel of the door.

But the last suit was gotten into the fourth compartment, and the
connecting door closed and carefully locked and bolted. The removal of
the suits, had been achieved--but what now?

Panting, completely exhausted, Ken forced his brain to the question.
From every side he attacked the problem, but nowhere could he find the
loophole he sought. Everything, it seemed, had been tried, and had
failed, during the _Peary's_ long captivity. There was nothing left.
True, he had his torpoon, and its nitro-shell gun with a clip of
nineteen shells; but what use were shells? Even if each one accounted
for one of the sealmen, there would still remain a swarm.

And the sea-suits. He had struggled for them and had saved them, but
what use could he put them to? Go out leading a desperate final sally
for the hole in the ice above? Death in minutes!

No hope. Nothing. Not even a fighting chance. These seal-creatures,
strange seed of the Arctic ice, had trapped the _Peary_ all too well.
On the roll of mysteriously missing ships would her name go down; and
he, Ken Torrance, would be considered a lunatic who had sought
suicide, and found it....

       *       *       *       *       *

Of the twenty-one survivors of the _Peary's_ officers and crew, only a
dozen had the will to watch the inexorable advance of the sealmen. The
rest lay in various attitudes on the deck of the rear compartment,
showing no sign of life save torturous, shallow pantings for air and,
occasionally, spasmodic clutchings at their throats and chests, as
they tried to fight off the deadly, invisible foe that was slowly
strangling them.

Ken Torrance, Sallorsen, the scientist, Lawson, and a few others were
pressed together at the last watertight door, peering through the
quarsteel at the sea-creatures' systematic assault on the door leading
into the third compartment. A straight, hard smash at it; another
final splintering smash--and again the torpoon pushed through in the
van of a cascade of icy, greenish water, which quickly claimed the
control compartment for the attackers behind. The creatures were
growing bolder. More and more of them had entered the submarine, and
soon each open compartment was filled from deck to ceiling with the
slowly turning, graceful brown bodies, inspecting minutely the
countless wheels and levers and gauges, and inspecting also, in
turns, the pale, worn faces that stared with dull eyes at them
through the sole remaining door.

There was no further retreat, now. Behind was only water and the swarm
that passed to and fro through it. Water and sealmen--ahead, above, to
the sides, behind--everywhere. Cooped in their transparent cell, the
crew of the submarine _Peary_ waited the end.

       *       *       *       *       *

Once more, as well as he could with his throbbing head and heavy,
choking body, Kenneth Torrance tracked over the old road that had
brought him nowhere, but was the only road open. Carefully he took
stock of everything he had that he might possibly fight with.

There were sea-suits for the men, and in each suit an hour's supply of
artificial but invigorating air. Two port-locks, one on each side of
the stern compartment. A torpoon, with a gun and nineteen shells.
Nothing else? There seemed to be, in his mind, a vague memory of
something else ... something that might possibly be of use ...
something.... But he could not remember. Again and again the agony of
slow strangulation he was going through drove everything but the
consciousness of pain from his shirking mind. But there was something
else--and perhaps it was the key. Perhaps if he could only remember
it--whatever it was--whether a tangible thing or merely a passing idea
of hours ago--the way out would be suddenly revealed.

But he could not remember. He had the sea-suits, the port-locks and
the torpoon: what possible pattern could he weave them into to bring

No, there was nothing. Not even a girder that could be unfastened in
time to brace the last door. No way of prolonging this last stand!

Beside Ken, the strained, panting voice of Lawson whispered:

"Getting ready. Over soon now. All over."

All save five of the sealmen had left the third compartment, to join
the swarm constantly swimming around and over the submarine outside.
The five remaining were the crew for the battering ram. With measured
and deliberate movements they ranged their lithe bodies beside the
torpoon, lifted it and bore it smoothly back to the far end of the
compartment. There they poised for a minute, while from the men
watching sounded a pathetic sigh of anticipation.

As one, the five seal-creatures lunged forward with their burden.

_Crash!_ And the following dull reverberation.

The last assault had begun.


_In a Biscuit Can_

Ken Torrance glanced with dull, hopeless eyes over the compartment he
stood in. Figures stretched out all over the deck, gasping, panting,
strangling--men waiting in agony for death. His head sank down, and he
wiped wet hands across his aching forehead. Nothing to do but
wait--wait for the end--wait as the patient horde outside had been
waiting in the sea-gloom for their moment of triumph, when the soft
bodies inside the _Peary_ would be theirs to rip and mangle....

A dragging sound brought Ken's eyes wearily up and to the side. One of
the crew who had been lying on the deck was dragging his body
painfully toward a row of lockers at one side of the compartment. The
man's eyes were feverishly intent on the lockers.

Ken watched his progress dully, without thinking, as inch by inch he
forced himself through the other bodies sprawled in his way. He saw
him reach the lockers, and for a minute, gasping, lie there. He saw a
clawing arm stretch almost up to the catch on one locker, while the
man whimpered like a child at his lack of quick success.

_Crash!_ The grinding blow of the torpoon hitting the quarsteel
clanged out from behind. But Ken's mind was all on the reaching man's
strange actions. He saw the fingers at last succeed in touching the
catch. The door of the locker opened outward, and eagerly the man
reached inside and pulled. With a thump, a row of heavy objects strung
together rolled out onto the deck--and Ken Torrance sprang suddenly to
the man's side:

"What are you doing?" he cried.

The man looked up sullenly. He mumbled:

"Damn fish--won't get me. I'll blow us all to hell, first!"

At that the connection struck Ken.

"Then that's nitromite!" he shouted. "That's the idea--the nitromite!"

And stooping down, he wrenched the rope of small black boxes which
contained the explosive from the man who had worked so painfully to
get them.

"I'll do the blowing, boy!" he said. "Don't worry; I'll do it

       *       *       *       *       *

Ken, holding the rope of explosives, crossed the deck and pulled
Sallorsen and Lawson around. Their worn faces, with lifeless,
bloodshot eyes, met his own strong features, and he said forcefully:

"Now listen! I need your help. I've found our one last chance for
life. We three are the strongest, and we've got to work like hell.

His enthusiasm and the vigor of his words roused them.

"Yes," said Lawson. "What--we do?"

"You say there's an hour's air left in the sea-suits?" Torrance asked
the captain.

"Yes. An hour."

"Then get the men into the suits," the torpooner ordered. "Help the
weaker ones; slap them till they obey you!" There came the ugly,
deafening crash of the hurled torpoon into the compartment door. Ken
finished grimly: "And for God's sake, hurry! I'll explain later."

Sallorsen and Lawson unquestioningly obeyed. Ken had reached the
spirit in them, the strength not physical, that had all but been
driven out by the long, hopeless weeks and the poisonous stuff that
passed for air, and it had risen and was responding. Sallorsen's
voice, for the first time in days, had his old stern tone of command
in it as, calling on everything within him, he shouted:

"Men, there's still a chance! Everyone into sea-suits! Quick!"

A few of the blue-skinned figures lying panting on the deck looked up.
Fewer moved. They did not at once understand. Only four or five
dragged themselves with pathetic eagerness towards the pile of
sea-suits and the little store of fresh air that remained in them.
Sallorsen repeated his command.

"Hurry! Men--you, Hartley and Robson and Carroll--your suits on!
There's air in them! _Put 'em on!_"

       *       *       *       *       *

And then Lawson was among them, shaking the hopeless, dying forms,
rousing them to the chance for life. Several more crawled to obey. By
the time the next crash of the torpoon came, eleven out of the
twenty-one survivors were working with clumsy, eager fingers at their
sea-suits, pushing feet and legs in, drawing the tough fabric up over
their bodies, sliding their arms in, and struggling with quick panting
breaths to raise the heavy helmets and fasten them into place.

Again the ear-shattering crash. The scientist and the captain drove at
the rest of the crew. They stumbled, those two fighting men, and twice
Lawson went down in a heap as his legs gave under him; but he got up
again, and they began dragging the suits to the men who had not even
the strength to rise, shoving inert limbs into place, switching on the
air-units inside the helmets and, gasping themselves, fastening the
helmets down. Theirs was a conflict as cruel, as hard and brutal as
men smashing at each other with fists, and they then proved their
right to the shining roll of honor, wherever and whatever that roll
may be. They fought on past pain, past sickness, past poisoning, that
man of action and men of the laboratory.

And outside that foul transparent pit the tempo quickened also. The
sledging blows at the last door came quicker. All around the captive
_Peary_ the sleek brown bodies stirred uneasily. For weeks there had
been but little activity inside the submarine; now, all at once, three
of the figures that were men whipped the others into action, rousing
those lying dying on the deck--working, working. Observing this, the
lithe seal bodies moved with new nervous, restless strokes, to and
fro, never pausing--passing up and down in a milling stream the length
of the craft, clustering closest outside the walls of the fourth
compartment, where they pressed as close as they could, their wide
brown eyes already on the haggard forms that worked inside, their
smooth bodies patterned by the constantly shifting shadows of their
fellows above and behind.

So they watched and waited, while in the third compartment the
battered torpoon was slung at the last door, and drawn back, and slung
again--waited for the final moment, the crisis of their month-long
siege beneath the floes of the silent Arctic sea!

       *       *       *       *       *

Kenneth Torrance worked by himself.

He saw that Sallorsen and Lawson had answered his call; man after man
was clad in his suit and sucking in the incomparably fresher, though
artificial, air of the units. As he had hoped, that air was
revitalizing the worn-out bodies rapidly, giving them new strength and
clearing their brains. His plan required that--strength for the men to
move and act for themselves--sane heads!

The plan was basically simple. Bringing his best concentration to the
all-important details, Ken started to build the road to the world

First he opened the inner door of the starboard port-lock, wherein lay
his torpoon. Opening the entrance panel of the steel shell, he quickly
transferred within the cans of compressed food retrieved from the
second compartment. When he had finished, there was left barely room
for the pilot's body.

And then the nitromite.

The explosive was carried by the _Peary_ for the blasting of such ice
floes as might trap her. It was contained for chemical stability in a
half dozen six-inch-square, water-proof boxes, strung one after
another on an interconnecting wired rope. Ken would need them all; he
wished he had five times as many. It would not matter if the whole of
the _Peary_ were shattered to slivers.

Ken tied the rope of boxes into a strong unit, as small as it could be
made. Firing and timing mechanisms were contained in each unit: he
would only have to set one of them. He wrapped the whole charge,
except for one small corner, in several pieces of the men's discarded
clothing--monkey jackets, thick sweaters, a dirty towel--and stuffed
it in an empty tin container for sea-biscuits.

       *       *       *       *       *

All this had taken only minutes. But in those minutes the quarsteel of
the watertight door had been subjected to half a dozen smashing blows,
and already a flaw had appeared in the pane. Another grinding crunch,
and there would be the visible beginning of a crack. Three more,
perhaps, and the door would be down.

But the plan was laid, the counter move ready; and, as Sallorsen and
Lawson, last of them all, got into suits, Ken Torrance, in short,
gasping sentences, explained it.

"All the nitromite's in this," Ken said. "I hope it's enough. In a
moment I'll set the timing to explode it in one minute--then eject it
from the empty torpoon port-lock. It's a gamble, but I think the
explosion should kill every damned seal around the sub. Water carries
such shocks for miles, so it should stun, if not kill, all the others
within a long radius. See? We're inside sub, largely protected. When
the stuff explodes, you and men make for the hole you blew in the ice

Another crash sent echoes resounding through the remaining
compartment. All around the three were suit-clad figures, grotesque
clumsy giants, all feeling new strength as they gulped with leathern
throats and lungs at the artificial air which was giving them a
respite, however brief, from the death they had been sinking into. In
the third compartment of the _Peary_, five seal-like creatures with
swift and beautiful movements picked up their torpoon battering ram
again; while all around the outside of the _Peary_ their hundreds of
watching fellows pressed in closely.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Yes!" cried Lawson, the scientist. "But the explosion--it might
shatter the ship!"

"No matter; I expect it to!" answered Ken. "Then you can leave through
a crack instead of a port-lock."

"Yes--but you!" objected the captain. "Get on a suit!"

"No; I'm jumping into my torpoon in the other port-lock. I've got the
food in it. Now, Sallorsen, this is your job. I'll be in my torpoon,
but I won't be able to let myself out the port. You open it, right
after the explosion. Understand?"

"Yes," replied Sallorsen, and Lawson nodded.

"All right," gasped Ken Torrance. "Empty the chamber." As the captain
did so, Ken opened the lid of the biscuit can and adjusted the timing
device on the exposed unit in the clothing-wrapped bundle. Then he
replaced it, ticking, in the can and thrust the can bodily into the
emptied chamber of the port-lock. He closed the inner door of the
chamber, and said to the men by him:

"Close your face-plates!"

And Ken pushed the release button: and then he was running to the
other port-lock and to his torpoon, and harnessing himself in.

His brain teemed with the possibilities of the situation as he lay
stretched out in the torpoon, waiting. How much would the submarine be
smashed? Would the charge of nitromite, besides killing the sealmen,
kill everyone inside the _Peary_? For that matter, would it affect the
sealmen at all? How much could the creatures stand? And would the
firing mechanism work? And then would he himself be able to get out;
or would the lock in which the torpoon lay be damaged by the explosion
and trap him there?

Seconds, only seconds, to wait, small fractions of time--but they were
more important than the days and the weeks that the _Peary_ had lain,
a lashed-down captive, under the Arctic ice; for in these seconds was
to be given fate's final answer to the prayer and courage of them all.

Time for Ken expanded. Surely the charge should have gone off long
before this! The pulse beat so loudly in his brain that he could hear
nothing else. He counted: "... nine, ten, eleven--" Had the fuse
failed? Surely by now--"... twelve, thirteen, fourteen--"

On that the submarine _Peary_ leaped. Ken Torrance, himself inside the
torpoon, felt a sharp roll of thunder made tangible, and then complete
darkness took him....


_The Awakening_

He had no idea of how long he had been unconscious when, his full
senses returning, he eagerly peered ahead through the torpoon's
vision-plate. For some seconds he could see nothing; but he knew, at
least, that the torpoon had survived the shock, for he was dry and
snug in his harness. And then his eyes became accustomed to the
darkness, and he saw that he was outside the submarine. Sallorsen had
followed his orders; had opened the port-lock! The undersea reaches
lay ahead of him, and the way was clear.

Ken stared into a gray, silent sea, no longer shadowed with moving
brown-skinned bodies. He tried his motors. Their friendly, rhythmic
hum answered him, and carefully he slipped into gear and crept up off
the sea-floor. He did not dare use his lights.

The _Peary_ was a great, blurred shadow, a dead thing without glow or
movement, with no figures of sealmen around her. As Ken's eyes gained
greater vision, he was able to make out a wide, long rent running
clear across the top of the fourth compartment of the submarine. The
explosion had done that to her, but what had it done to her crew? What
had it done to the sealmen?

He saw the sealmen first. Some were quite close, but in the murk he
had missed them. Silent specters, they were apparently lifeless,
strewn all around at different levels, and most of them floating
slowly up toward the dim ice ceiling.

But up under the ice was movement! Living figures were there! And at
the sight Kenneth Torrance's lips spread in their first real grin for
days. The plan had worked! The sealmen had been destroyed, and already
some of the _Peary's_ men were up there and fumbling clumsily across
the hundred feet which separated them from the hole in the ice that
was the last step to the world above.

       *       *       *       *       *

A ghostly gray haze of light filtered downward through the water from
the hole. Ken counted twelve figures making their way to it. As he
wondered about the rest of the crew, he saw three bulging, swaying
shapes suddenly emerge from the split in the top of the _Peary_, and
begin an easy rise toward the ice ceiling ninety feet above. There was
no apparent danger, and they went up quite slowly, with occasional
brief pauses to avoid the risk of the bends. Clasped together, the
group of three were, and when they were halfway to the glassy ceiling
of the ice, three more left the rent in the submarine and followed
likewise. Twelve men were at the top; six others were swimming up;
three more were yet to leave the submarine--and after they had
abandoned her, he, Ken, would follow with the torpoon and the food it

So he thought, watching from where he lay, down below, and there was
in him a great weariness after the triumph so bitterly fought for had
been achieved. He rested through minutes of quiet and relaxation,
watching what he had brought about; but only minutes--for suddenly
without warning all security was gone.

From out the murky shadows to the left a sleek shape came flashing
with great speed, to jerk Ken Torrance's eyes around and to widen them
with quick alarm.

A sealman! A sealman alive, and moving--and vengeful! A sealman which
the explosion of nitromite had not reached!

Doubtless the lone creature was surprised upon seeing all its fellows
motionless, drifting like corpses upward, and the men of the _Peary_
escaping. With graceful, beautiful speed, a liquid streak, it flashed
into the scene, eeling up and around and down, trying to understand
what extraordinary thing had happened. But finally it slowed down and
hovered some thirty feet directly above the dark hull of the _Peary_.

The men rising toward the ice had seen the sealman at the same time
Ken Torrance had, and at once increased their efforts, fearing
immediate attack. Quickly the two groups shot to the top where the
other twelve were, and began a desperate fumbling progress over toward
the hole that alone gave exit. But the sealman paid no attention to
them. It was looking at something below.

Ken saw what it was.

The last three men were leaving the _Peary_. Awkward, swaying objects,
they rose up directly in front of the hovering creature.

       *       *       *       *       *

With an enraged thrust of flippers, it drove at them. The three
humans--Sallorsen, Lawson and one other, Ken knew they must be--were
clasped together, and the long, lithe, muscular body smote them
squarely, sent them whirling and helpless in different directions in
the sea-gloom. One of them was driven down by the force of the blow,
and that one the sealman chose to finish first. It lashed at him, its
strong teeth bared to rip the sea-suit, concentrating on him all the
rage and all the thirst for vengeance it had.

But by then, down below, the torpoon's motors were throbbing at full
power; the thin directional rudders were slanting; the torpoon was
turning and pointing its nose upward; and Ken Torrance, his face bleak
as the Arctic ice, was grasping the trigger of the nitro-shell gun.

He might perhaps have saved the doomed man had he swept straight up
then and fired, but a quick mounting of the odds distracted him for a
fatal second. Out of the deeper gloom at the left came a swiftly
growing shadow, and Ken, with a sinking in his stomach, knew it for a
second sealman.

Then another similar shadow brought his eyes to the right.

Two more sealmen! Three now--and how many more might come?

At once Ken knew what he must do before ever he fired a shell at one
of the brown-skinned shapes. The man just attacked had to be
sacrificed in the interests of the rest. The torpoon swerved, thrust
up toward the ice ceiling under the full force of her motors; and when
halfway to it, and her gun-containing bow was pointed at a spot in the
ice only twenty feet in front of the foremost of the men stroking
desperately towards the distant exit-hole, Ken pressed the trigger;
and again, and again and again....

Twelve shells, quick, on the same path, bit into the ice. Almost
immediately came the first explosion. It was swelled by the others.
The ice shivered and crumbled in jagged splinters--and then there was
a new column of light reaching down from the world of air and life
into the darkness of the undersea. A roughly circular hole gaped in
the ice sixty or seventy feet nearer the swimming men than the old

"That'll give 'em a chance," muttered Kenneth Torrance. He plunged the
torpoon around and down. "And now for a fight!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Without pause, now, there was, straight ahead, a hard, desperate duel,
a fitting last fight for any torpoon or any man riding one. Each of
the seven shells left in the nitro-gun's magazine had to count; and
the first of them gave a good example.

Ken turned down in time to see the death of the man first attacked.
His suit was ripped clean across, his air of life went up in bubbles,
and the water came in. The seal-creature lunged at its falling victim
a last time, and as it did so its smooth brown body crossed Ken's
sights. The torpooner fired, and saw his shell strike home, for the
body shuddered, convulsed, and the sealman, internally torn, went
sinking in a dark cloud after the human it had slain.

That sight gave pause to the other two creatures that had arrived, and
gave Ken Torrance a good second chance. Motor throbbing, the torpoon
turned like a thing alive. Its snout and gun-sights swerving straight
toward the next target. But, when just on the point of pressing the
trigger, Ken's torpoon was struck a terrific blow and tumbled over and
over. The whole external scene blurred to him, and only after a moment
was he able to bring the torpoon back to an even keel.

He saw what had happened. While he had been sighting on the second
seal-creature, the third had attacked the torpoon from the rear by
striking it with all the strength of its heavy, muscular body. But it
did not follow up its attack. For it had crashed in to the whirling
propeller, and now it was hanging well back, its head horribly gashed
by the steel blades.

For a moment the three combatants hung still, both sealmen staring at
the torpoon as if in wonder that it could strike both with its bow and
stern, and Ken Torrance rapidly glancing over the situation. The
remaining two of the last group of three men, he saw, had reached the
top, and the foremost of the _Peary's_ crew were within several feet
of the new hole in the ice. In a very short time all would be out and
safe. Until then he had to hold off the two sealmen.

Two? There were no longer only two, but five--ten--a dozen--and more.
The dead were coming to life!

Here and there in the various levels of drifting, motionless brown
bodies that he thought the explosion had killed, one was stirring,
awakening! The explosion had but stunned many or most of them, _and
now they were returning to consciousness_!


_The Duel_

Upon seeing this, all hope for life left Ken. He had only six shells
left, and at best he could kill only six sealmen. Already, there were
more than twenty about him, completely encircling the torpoon. They
seemed afraid of it, and yet desirous of finishing it--they hung back,
watching warily the thing that could strike and hurt from either end;
but Ken knew, of course, that he could not count on their inaction
long. One concerted charge would mean his quick end, and the death of
most of the men above.

Well, there was only one thing to do--try to hold them off until those
men above had climbed out, every one.

With this plan in mind, he maneuvered for a commanding position.
Quietly he slid his motor into gear, and slowly the torpoon rose. At
this first movement, the wall of hesitating brown bodies broke back a
little. It quickly pressed in again, however, as the torpoon came to a
halt where Ken wanted it--a position thirty feet beneath, and slightly
to one side, of the escaping men above, with an angle of fire
commanding the area the sealmen would have to cross to attack them.

Almost at once came action. One of the surrounding creatures swerved
suddenly up toward the men. Instinctively angling the torp, Ken sent a
nitro-shell at it; and the chance aim was good. The projectile caught
the sealman squarely, and, after the convulsion, it began to drift
downward, its body torn apart.

"That'll teach you, damn you!" Ken muttered savagely, and, to heighten
the effect he had created, he brought his sights to bear on another
sealman in the circle around him--and fired and killed.

This sight of sudden death told on the others. They grew obviously
more fearful and gave back, though still forming a solid circle around
the torpoon. The circle was ever thickening and deepening downward as
more of those that the explosion had rendered unconscious returned to

And then, above, the first man reached the hole, clawed at its rough
edges and levered himself through.

That was a signal. From somewhere beneath, two brown bodies flashed
upward in attack. Fearing a general rush at any second, Ken fired
twice swiftly. One shell missed, but the other slid to its mark.
Almost alongside its fellow, one of the creatures was shattered and
torn, and that evidently altered the other's intentions, for it
abandoned the attack and sought safety in the mass of its fellows on
the farther side.

Another respite. Another man through the hole. And but two
nitro-shells left!

       *       *       *       *       *

The deadly circle, like wolves around a lone trapper who crouches
close to his dying fire, pressed in a little; and by their ominous
quietness, by the sight of their eyes all turned in on him, their
concerted inching closer, Ken sensed the nearness of the charge that
would finish him. All this in deep silence, there in the gloomy
quarter-light. He could not yell and brandish his fists at them as the
trapper by the fire might have done to win a few extra minutes. The
only cards he had to play were two shells--and one was needed now!

He fired it with deliberate, sure aim, and grunted as he saw its
victim convulse and die, with dark blood streaming. Again the swarm

Ken risked a glance above. Only three men left, he saw; and one was
pulled through the hole as he watched. Below, in one place, several
seal-creatures surged upward.

"Get back, damn you!" he cursed harshly. "All right--take it! That's
the last!"

And the last shell hissed out from the gun even as the last man,
above, was pulled through up into the air and safety.

Ken felt that he had given half his life with that final shell.
Completely surrounded by a hundred or more of the sealmen, he could
not possibly hope to maneuver the torpoon up to the hole in the ice
and leave it, without being overwhelmed. He had held off the swarm
long enough for the others to escape, but for himself it was the end.

So he thought, and wondered just when that end would come. Soon, he
knew. It would not take them long to overcome their fear when they saw
that he no longer reached out and struck them down in sudden bloody
death. Now it was their turn.

"Anyway," the torpooner murmured, "I got 'em out. I saved them."

But had he? Suddenly his mind turned up a dreadful thought. He had
saved them from the sealmen, but they were up on the ice without food.
There had been no time to apportion rations in the submarine; all the
supplies were stacked around him in the torpoon!

Searching planes would eventually appear overhead, but if he could not
get the food up to the men it meant their death as surely as if they
had stayed locked in the _Peary_!

But how could he do it without shells, and with that living wall
edging inch by inch upon him, visibly on the brink of rushing him.
Some carried ropes with which they would lash the torpoon down as they
had the others. Must all he and those men had gone through, be in
vain? Must he die--and the others? For certainly without food, those
men above on the lonely ice fields, all of them weakened by the long
siege in the submarine, would perish quickly....

And then a faintly possible plan came to him. It involved an attempt
to bluff the seal-creatures.

       *       *       *       *       *

Thirty feet above the lone man in the torpoon was the hole he had
blasted in the ice. He knew that from the cone of light which filtered
down; he did not dare to take his eyes for a second from the creatures
around him, for all now depended on his judging to a fraction just
when the lithe, living wall would leap to overwhelm him.

Now the torpoon was enclosed by what was more a sphere of brown bodies
than a circle. But it was not a solid sphere. It stretched thinly to
within a few feet of the ice ceiling where, in one place, was the hole
Ken had blown in the ice.

He began to play the game. He edged the gears into reverse, gently
angled the diving-planes, and slowly the torpoon tilted in response
and began to sink back to the dark sea-floor.

Motion appeared in the curved facade of sleek brown heads and bodies
in front and to the sides. The creatures behind and below, Ken could
not see; he could only trust to the fear inspired by the damage his
propeller had wreaked on one of them, to hold them back. However, he
could judge the movements of those behind and below by the
synchronized movements of those in front; for the sealmen, in this
tense siege, seemed to move as one--just as they would move as one
when a leader got the courage to charge across the gap to the torpoon.

In reverse, slowly, the torpoon backed downward. Every minute seemed a
separate eternity of time, for Ken dared not move fast at this
juncture, and he needed to retreat not less than fifty feet.

Fifty feet! Would they hold off long enough for him to make it?

Foot by foot the torpoon edged down at her forty-five-degree angle,
and with every foot the watching bodies became visibly bolder. There
was no light inside the torpoon--inner light would decrease the
visibility outside--but Ken knew her controls as does the musician his
instrument. Slowly the propeller whirled over, the torpoon dropped,
slowly the diffused light from the hole above diminished--and slowly
the eager wall of sealmen followed and crept in.

Twenty-five feet down; and then, after a long time, thirty-five feet,
and forty. Seventy feet up, in all, to the hole in the ice....

Ken wanted seventy-five feet, but he could not have it. For the wall
of sleek bodies broke. One or two of the creatures surged forward;
other followed; they were coming!

The slim torpoon leaped under the unleashed power of her

       *       *       *       *       *

For one awful moment Ken thought he was finished. The vision of the
hole was obscured by a twisting, whirling maelstrom of bodies, and the
torpoon quivered and shook like a living thing in agony under glancing

But then came a patch of light, a pathway of light, leading straight
up at a forty-five-degree angle to the hole in the ice above.

Sealmen and torpoon had leaped forward at the same moment. Doubtless
the creatures had not expected the shell to move so suddenly and
decisively ahead, so that when it did, those in the van swerved to
escape head-on contact.

The torpoon gained speed all too slowly for her pilot. It naturally
took time to gain full forward speed from a standing start. But she
moved, and she moved fast, and after her poured the full tide of
sealmen, now that they saw their prey running in retreat.

From somewhere ahead appeared a rope, noosed to catch the fleeing
prey. It slipped off the side. Another touched the bow, but it too was
thrown off. The torpoon's forward momentum was now great; she was
sweeping up at the full speed Ken had gone back to be able to attain.
He needed full speed! The plan would fail at the last moment without

Another rope; but it was the seal-creature's last gesture. Through the
side plates of quarsteel the light grew fast; the ice was only ten
feet away; a slight directional correction brought the hole dead
ahead--and at full speed, twenty-four miles an hour, the torpoon
passed through and into the thin air of the world of light and life.

Right out of the hole, a desperate fugitive from below, she leaped,
her propeller suddenly screaming, and arched high through the air
before she dove with a rending, splintering crash onto the upper side
of the sheet ice.

And the sun of a cloudless, perfect Arctic day beat down on her; and
men were all around, eagerly reaching to open her entrance port. It
was done.

       *       *       *       *       *

Kenneth Torrance, dazed, battered, hurting in every joint but
conscious, found the torpoon's port open, and felt hands reach in and
clasp him. Wearily he helped them lift him out into the thin sunlight.
Sitting down, slitting his eyes against the sudden glare, he peered

Captain Sallorsen was beside him, supporting him with one hand and
pounding him on the back with the other; and there in front was the
bearded scientist, Lawson, and the rest of the men.

Ken took a great gulp of the clean, cold air.

"Gosh!" was all he could say. "Gosh, that tastes good!"

"Man, you did it!" shouted Sallorsen. "How, in God's name, I don't
know--but you did it!"

"He did!" said Lawson. "And he did it all himself. Even to the food,
which should keep us till a plane comes by. If they haven't stopped
searching for us."

His words reminded Ken of something.

"Oh, there'll be a plane over," he said. "Forgot to tell you, but I
stole this torpoon--see?--and told the fellows they could come and get
it somewhere right around here."

Kenneth Torrance grinned, and glanced down at the battered steel shell
which had borne him out of the water below.

"And here it is," he finished. "A little damaged--but then I didn't
promise it would be as good as new!"

       *       *       *       *       *

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Under Arctic Ice" ***

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