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´╗┐Title: Walls of Acid
Author: Hasse, Henry, 1913-1977
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Walls of Acid" ***

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    _Five millenniums have passed since the loathsome Termans were
    eliminated from the world of Diskra.... But what of the other
    planets?_


WALLS OF ACID

_BY HENRY HASSE_


Braanol stirred, throbbed sluggishly once, then lay quiescent as his
mental self surged up from the deeps of non-entity. And gradually he
came to know that someone had entered the room. His _room_, far beneath
the city.

Now he could feel the vibra-currents through the liquids of the huge
tanks where he had lain somnolent for untold aeons. It was pleasant,
caressing. For a moment he floated there, enjoying to the utmost this
strange sensation as the renewed thought-life-force set his every
convolution to pulsing.

"To be once more aware! O gloriously aware!" the thought came fierce and
vibrant. "Once more they have wakened me--but how long has it been?"
Then curiously: "And what can they want this time?"

The huge brain was alert now, with a supernal sense of keening.
Tentatively he sent out a thought-potential that encompassed the room.

"They are afraid!" he sensed. "Two have entered here, and they are
afraid of me. I shall remedy that!"

Braanol lowered his thought-potential to one-eighth of one magnitude,
and felt his mind contact theirs. "Approach, my children," he said
kindly. "You have nothing to fear from me! I take it you are the
imperial messengers sent by her Supreme Magnificence, the Empress
Alaazar?"

He felt the fright slip from their minds. But they were startled.

"The Empress Uldulla reigns now, fourth in the Royal line," came the
thought. "Empress Alaazar died long ago!"

"I am truly grieved!" Braanol flashed to them. "Alaazar--may she rest in
peace--did not neglect me! How well I remember her interest in the
stories I could tell, stories of the Diskra of old when we sent men out
to glorious adventures on the other planets! Aye! Five millenniums ago
it was that we achieved space travel. In those days--"

Braanol ceased in his reminiscences, aware that these two were trying to
get their thoughts through to him.

"That is why we have come! The Empress Uldulla, too, wishes a story. The
story of the first space-flight from Diskra, and the events that brought
it about. And of how you--"

"Aye! Of how _I_ came to be as you see me now! I shall be delighted, my
children, to tell it again. But first, prepare the trans-telector so
that it may be recorded faithfully."

Braanol directed them to a machine on the far side of the room, and
instructed them as to its operation. Soon the hundreds of tiny coils
were humming, and a maze of tubes fed out of the machine, on which would
be recorded Braanol's every thought. For a moment he paused, gently
swaying, pulsing, a huge independent brain suspended in the pale green
liquid. Then he began his story.

       *       *       *       *       *

Your Supreme Beneficence! When the imperial messengers came to me,
bringing the communication with which you deigned to address my
decrepit solitude, it was like a glorious ray of light come to illumine
the deepening darkness of my declining years!

It is with trepidation that I set about to fulfill your Exalted Command.
Five millenniums, aye, even more, have passed, since those who were part
of that segment of history into which you inquire, have become but
drifting dust. Only within the feeble memory of your humblest servant is
there any record of it.

Five millenniums! Aye! That was truly the golden period of our beloved
Diskra--not that our period under _Your_ Serene Effulgence is not golden
indeed! But in that day all Diskra was under the glorious rule of
Palladin. His city on the scarlet shores of our central sea was the
wonder of us _all_. Aye! We had a sea then, where there is now but
desert.

The intelligent planets were three: our own Diskra, of course, fourth
from the sun. And nearest the sun, Mirla, that fiery globe, where life
apes the quality of our own salamander, existing by necessity near the
flames. And second from the sun Venia, the cloud-capped world, where
life exalts the virtues of the fish. Of the third planet, Terra, we then
knew little.

Our cities faced the sun in those days, towering in polychromatic
splendor. Height was no obstacle then, for we had wings--wings! Think of
it, O Beneficence! No need had we of clumsy, metal vessels. But all that
has changed. Now no whirr of wings disturbs the air, and our
formi-tectural splendors rise _within_. The history of this change is
what Your Supreme Exaltation would know. This, then, is the record.

With the rule of Palladin was born the age of science, not so much due
to the intellects of that day, as through the driving urge of ultimate
necessity. For Palladin had a brother, Thid. He was unfortunately a
mutant. Whereas our features were delicate and quite regular, Thid's
were gross and stamped with power. His royal head was too large and
cumbersome, and instead of our slender waists, he was almost
asymmetrical in shape. In short--no member of our fairer, royal sex
could look upon him with aught but horror. And it was because of this
that he was dietetically conditioned for the realm of science.

It was a mistake. As the years passed, the loneliness of his virtual
exile tended to derange Thid's prodigious mind! Aye, prodigious--and
dangerous in his manic-depressive state. Then one day Palladin called an
emergency meeting of the Inner Council. I, Braanol, was a member of that
Council.

"It has come to my attention," Palladin said, "that Thid has been
carrying on certain dangerous experiments! Experiments of a sort that
could well be inimical to us--to our very existence!"

We well knew to what Palladin referred. But Thid was his brother, one of
the Imperial ones. No one dared speak.

"Why was I not made aware of it sooner?" Palladin demanded sternly.
"You, Braanol! You knew of it?"

"Yes, your majesty." I was frightened. "I beg to explain--I have tried
to dissuade him--"

Palladin's visage became less stern, as though he understood our
reluctance in this matter. "True," he said. "Thid is my brother. He must
be mad! And I tell you now: if he has gone as far in this experiment as
I suspect, I shall not hesitate to apply the only remedy dictated by
efficiency--death! Have him brought to me at once."

But Thid was nowhere to be found. He had learned of Palladin's anger,
and had fled into the Diskran desert where the abhorred _Termans_ dwelt
in myriads despite all our effort to eradicate them. These Termans were
soft-bodied, subterranean creatures with an obstinate life-force, and we
had long realized that they might one day be a menace to us.

So into the desert our Thid fled, spurred by the knowledge that his life
was forfeit. For a time, he was naturally thought dead. Who could
survive unprotected the extremes of heat and cold? And if by a miracle
he triumphed over the elements, how survive the appalling enmity of the
Termans, whose rudimentary brains conceived no mercy?

Nevertheless, startling bits of rumor began to drift in to our city;
rumors that Thid had been seen, _leading hordes of gigantic Termans
across the desert wastes_!

We laughed, of course, for caravaneers are ever the prey of sun mirages,
and legends are dear to their souls. A legend was begun concerning Thid.
Arriving caravans vied with each other in fantastic reports. Some had
seen him with immense hordes of the repulsive Termans. Still others had
discovered subterranean labyrinths being built by the Termans under his
command, and had barely escaped with their lives. And still we laughed,
blessed by the constant climate on the shores of our sea, and the
beneficent rule of our Exalted Palladin.

And then we ceased to laugh. Palladin called together his Council of
Scientists.

"Can it be?" Palladin asked. "Two whole caravans have vanished on the
way to Estka beyond the mountains." And he told us more, reports that
had arrived from other cities. Survivors had arrived, with the light of
madness in their eyes, babbling some nameless fear. Others had died from
ghastly wounds--great burns that refused to heal, but spread a kind of
disease through the tissues. I, Braanol, examined some of these wounds
and reported to Palladin.

"Only a perverted, scientific intellect such as Thid's could have
evolved weapons to inflict such wounds!"

"If he has organized the Termans," suggested another Council Member,
"despite their pigmy size, they will become a menace that cannot be
ignored."

"We have delayed too long!" thundered Palladin. "Find Thid! I command
it!"

       *       *       *       *       *

An army, the greatest ever assembled on Diskra, was sent forth to hunt
out Thid and exterminate the Termans whom he had managed to organize by
heaven only knew what magic. The planet must be cleansed of that leprous
form of life, else there would be no peace.

But we did not know what depths of horror we were to plumb. Even now, O
Illustrious Empress, reason reels and totters at the remembrance. _I_
led one fine division of the Imperial Guards, armored warriors of the
first magnitude. With them I felt able to conquer planets, not to speak
of the trivial-sized Termans.

For many days we trekked, penetrating ever deeper the Red Desert's
heart. But of the abhorred Termans we caught no sight. There was only
the molten downpour of sun by day, and the desiccating numbness of cold
at night. But on the sixth day, as we encamped near an underground pool
located by our experts--we encountered the Termans.

The blue wings of dusk were beating down when suddenly, from every
rampart of sand-dune, every crumbling hillock, out of the very bowels of
the planet itself, they came like an avalanche. They carried slender
metal tubes that spewed polychromatic death at us! Wherever the deadly
discharge touched, would appear horrible burns that ate away the
tissues. But that isn't what paralyzed us. We had known these vermin to
be short of twelve inches tall, but now they reared monstrously _four
feet into the air_! Their black, hairy limbs lashed in an ecstasy of
murder-lust, their beady eyes gleamed with fiendish purpose. And they
had _intelligent leaders_!

The sight of these monsters grown to such awful size struck terror into
the hearts of our legion. Nevertheless, we, who are seven feet tall,
towered above them as we fought with the strength and ferocity of
desperation. Every weapon at our command was brought into play, and they
were blasted and seared by the myriads. Still they came on, blindly,
unswervingly, as if driven by a single prodigious force.

How these life-forms had grown to such bestial proportions was not known
until later. We captured a few and delicately probed them--while still
alive, of course--dissecting their anatomy until we found that some
genius had managed to control their growth through glandular
development. That genius could only have been our Thid!

Soon the desert was covered by a sea of their dead--and ours! The stench
was unbearable, for the Termans exude an odor of their own, particularly
in death, which is sheer nausea ... but lest I offend your refined
sensibilities, O Serene Empress, perhaps it were best that I draw a veil
of darkness over that shambles of horror. At last it seemed as if only
utter annihilation of both sides would be the outcome. Already the
battle had lasted for three obeisances of our Diskra to its parent sun.

And then wisely, our glorious Palladin flashed to us the command to
retreat.

"Already Estka and Kraaj have fallen, with all the populace wiped out,"
said the message. "The Termans are converging upon our capital city!
Return here with all haste!"

So it was that we retreated--those who remained of us--to the capitol,
and prepared to make a formidable stand. The other armies of our empire
had done likewise. Who would have thought that this despised,
destructive form of life could ever become such a menace! We remembered
one of Thid's treatises on the noxious pests, in which he had maintained
that they had rudimentary intelligence and an interesting, if
sub-primitive, form of social life. How we had laughed at the thought of
imputing a social order to these subterranean aphids!

But we weren't laughing now! A race of malignant monsters had sprung up
in the twenty years that Thid had vanished into the desert.

       *       *       *       *       *

Of Thid, nothing more was seen. But we knew he must still exist
somewhere among the Termans. Under that baleful inventive genius their
weapons seemed to multiply, and we were forced to tax our scientists to
the utmost in order to have weapons, of offense--and yes, O
Beneficence--defense!

For now, though we had managed to stem their attack on our capital, they
were steadily encroaching on our territory. Underground lakes and
streams were dammed by these fiends. Vast areas of vegetation were
denuded. Precious mines of rare metals were converted by them, under
Thid's direction, into sources for their ceaseless attacks. Aye! We died
a thousand deaths multiplied a thousand times.

Our ethero-magnum, by which our telepathic vibrations were amplified for
planetary broadcast, became a monotonous recorder of tragedy as city
after city fell to the hordes. For untold years this savage struggle
went on. How well we realized that this was a war for sole dominance of
the planet!

Until at last, only our proud capital by the shores of the scarlet sea,
and its immense valley was left to us.

"We must evolve the principles of inter-spacial travel," Palladin told
us sadly. "The day may come when we shall need it."

Hitherto, our rare flights to Venia and Mirla had been primitive affairs
in which the dangerous rocket principle was employed, with the terrific
effects of acceleration crushing the crews and making landing an even
greater hazard than the flight itself. But now, through inconceivable
efforts of thought--aye, through sheer desperation!--our scientists
evolved a system of atomic integration in which free orbital electrons
were utilized to create atomic quantities beyond our known table,
drawing upon the energy that could be harnessed in the process. It is
difficult to describe otherwise than through pure mathematics--though if
your Serene Effulgence wishes, I will be happy to describe it to you at
a later date; it will take some little effort to recall the exact
formulae.

"We must send an expedition to Terra," Palladin told us. "From what we
have been able to gather astronomically, that planet seems habitable.
Mirla, we know, is out of the question; it is a holocaust of fire. And
to dwell on the semi-aquatic world of Venia, a new environmental
adaptation would be necessary."

Fantastic, wasn't it, O Exalted Empress, that we the rightful Lords of
Diskra should be compelled to abandon our beloved homes by a horde of
vermin? Indeed it was a tragic day when the first scientific expedition
was assembled. And I, Braanol, was honored beyond my humble desserts by
his Supreme Magnificence, Palladin. I was assigned as _Recorder_ on the
expedition.

Strapped and cushioned until not an inch of my body was visible, I was
launched into space together with my fellow scientists, within the
spheroid confines of our atomic projectile. The agony of enduring--even
for seconds--the required acceleration, will forever remain in my mind
as the ultimate in torture. But at last the agony was gone, as we
traveled at unimaginable speed toward the planet which we hoped would be
our future home.

No, not hoped--because meanwhile on Diskra the experiments with acid gas
were going on, in a sort of last-ditch defense which we hoped might stem
the endless hordes!

       *       *       *       *       *

It was on the eleventh day that we really saw Terra in its full
prismatic glory. For days it had loomed larger in our three-dimensional
electro-cone, where we studied its continents and oceans to select the
likeliest spot for a landing. Terra was intensely blue now, rivalling in
color the priceless _zafirines_ of our own Diskra. I hope in the
humblest depths of my mind, O Empress Uldulla, that you shall never know
the unplumbed abyss of loneliness we all felt.

At last we were forced to use the forward atomic beam to brake our
meteoric entrance into the heavy atmosphere. We had, of course, turned
on the neutralizing frigi-rectifiers that formed a network on the outer
shell of our sphere. At last we were through. Dipping lower as we
circled, we discerned majestic oceans; ice-clad peaks crowning the stark
glory of the landscape, and then more inviting lands criss-crossed by
rivers and studded with shining lakes.

It was to us, O Great Beneficence, a paradise indeed! Entranced, we all
but forgot our landing which would require the utmost skill. Brunoj,
our greatest navigator, was at the controls, padded and cushioned beyond
the possibility of injury. The rest of us retired to the special
crash-room.

I remember we carried in our laboratory, in a special container of
_glassaran_, two embalmed specimens of the monstrous Termans. These we
were to show as a warning to whatever race existed here. One glance at
the revolting monsters would have been enough for an intelligent race.

But now that would not be necessary. Terra seemed uninhabited. We had
seen no cities as we circumnavigated the globe. Had intelligent
life-forms failed as yet to materialize on this verdant world? We
assumed that fact, in our joyous eagerness to feel the good earth
beneath us.

"Prepare to land!" came the warning from Brunoj.

       *       *       *       *       *

To this day I cannot say what happened. No one knew. For the brief
instant in which I remained conscious, I felt as if Terra had burst
asunder under the terrific impact.

Nor do I know when I finally struggled upward from oblivion; it may have
been hours later, or days. Many among us were dead. _I_ was a hopelessly
crushed horror who still lived somehow, miraculously. For many days we
remained within our sphere--disposing of the dead, tending to the
injured, conserving our strength. _I_ might have been destroyed, but
with that frantic will to live which rises within us, I flashed a
message to my companions:

"I still live! Place me in the delocalizer! I will still be of use!"

This was done. The delocalizer, reacting on the thalamic region of my
brain, intercepted pain currents and allowed me to exist without
_physical_ feeling. Only my mind, lucid and intensely alive as never
before, continued to record the adventure in this world. It was not
until later that my brain was completely dissevered from my crushed
body....

My companions had tested the atmosphere and found no gasses that might
have been inimical to our organisms. Thus they prepared for the greatest
adventure of all--the emergence. The locks were opened. A draft of
fragrant, if heavy atmosphere swept through our globe. It was pleasantly
invigorating and bright outside--so I was told by their telepathic
messages, for I alone remained within.

Telepathically they kept me informed, as they wandered up the narrow
valley. The soil was firm and amazingly fertile. Vegetation grew thickly
everywhere. They reached the far end of the valley at last, and rocky
ramparts towered over them.

Then it was--how can I begin to describe it to you, Exalted Empress?
From _their minds_, coming back to me, was a sudden flood of excited,
hysterical thought! It seemed filled with intense loathing and fear!
Imagine me there, if you can--helpless--and in a frenzy of despair
wondering what they could have encountered!

Desperately I extended my potential. I managed to intuit a fierce battle
in which they were engaging. And some of my companions were dying!
Hordes of fierce denizens from the rocks above were descending upon
them. They had taken weapons along, true--but I could sense now by their
frantic thought that these war-like creatures of Terra numbered in the
hundreds, with hordes of them swarming from beyond!

For a long while the battle raged, then I sensed that my companions were
retreating. Oh, I was glad! Glad! At least I would not be left alone.
But of the two score who had ventured out, only _six_ returned. As they
operated the lock of the ship, and tumbled in, I could see--or rather
_perceive_--a long part of the terrain behind them.

Then it was that my mind sickened. _For the creatures of this bright new
world were--Termans!_ Slightly different from those we had battled on
Diskra, true. These were even more monstrous, over six feet tall, with
long shaggy manes and a reddish fuzz covering their four limbs ... and O
Beneficence, I swear it--_sickening blue eyes_! They walked upright and
carried crude weapons, shafts of wood fitted with sharp-edged _stone_!

Not until much later did my returning companions tell me what they had
seen through their telescopic lenses. Just beyond this valley were vast
plains where the Termans seemed to number in the thousands, huge nomadic
tribes of them. There were other creatures as well, some massive beyond
all belief, others fierce and blood-lusting with huge saber-like teeth.

"We could colonize Terra indeed," was the consensus of our thoughts, "but
at what a price! To be forever battling these creatures--particularly the
Termans, that abominable _genus Homo_...."

Can you imagine, O Empress Uldulla, how the irony of it bit us? It was
almost more than we could bear to think that on Diskra our own _genus
Formicae_ was in life-or-death struggle with these creatures and we had
found them swarming here as well! All--all of this lush, verdant world
was defiled!

There was nothing we remaining seven could do now. Sadly we set about
repairing the ship, so that we could bear the awful tidings back to
Diskra. And as we sped again toward our beloved planet, a sombre pall
fell upon us. The interchange of thoughts were brief and tinged with a
profound despair.

       *       *       *       *       *

This resolved into amazement, however, as we came ever closer to Diskra.
For now, through our telecto-scope we could see that our planet had been
subtly altered! A few symmetrical lines had appeared on the face of
Diskra, as if a cosmic hand had drawn straight lines across with
mathematical precision!

Not until we had safely landed, did we learn the truth. O joyous news!
The hordes of Termans had been repulsed and were even then being slowly
driven back! Our scientists had created in the laboratories a type of
_formic acid_ somewhat similar to the vesicatory secretion occurring
within our own bodies--but infinitely more deadly! It had been used as a
weapon against the Termans. And more! Huge walls of gaseous formic acid,
held unwavering by electronic force fields, were being erected. It was
these walls that caused the astronomical illusion we had seen from
space.

The rest, O Illustrious Empress, I believe you know well. How the
Termans never again were able to penetrate our walls. How we waged war
on the detestable creatures for a number of years until finally no trace
of them remained on Diskra.

Aye! Five millenniums have passed since the events I have related. Five
millenniums since my crushed body was done away with and I was preserved
in my rectangle of _glassaran_, with the constantly renovated
thought-life-fluid kept exquisitely warm. In this state I have
accompanied many another expedition to the planets, in my capacity of
official Recorder. I am but Yours to command, Exalted Empress, should
you wish to hear of them.

But I have a warning! Slowly I have developed a new sense that needs not
eyes, nor ears, nor sense of touch--no antennae even, such as I once
possessed--but unites and transcends all these! And I beg of you in my
most abject humility, _do not venture to remove even one formic-acid
wall_, either from above or from its depth into the ground. Rather build
more! Perceptively I shudder in the awful remembrance of their occasion,
and the day may come when they will be needed once more.

Thus I warn humbly, and remain Your Supreme Fertility's most
insignificant servant,

                                                              Braanol.



Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from _Fantasy Book_ Vol. 1 Number 1 (1947).
    Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
    copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and
    typographical errors have been corrected without note.





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