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Title: Astounding Stories of Super-Science July 1930
Author: Various
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 "Astounding Stories of Super-Science July 1930" ***

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  20¢

  ASTOUNDING
  STORIES
  OF SUPER-SCIENCE

  _On Sale the First Thursday of Each Month_

  W. M. CLAYTON, Publisher

  HARRY BATES, Editor

  DR. DOUGLAS M. DOLD, Consulting Editor

       *       *       *       *       *

  [Illustration]

  The Clayton Standard on a Magazine Guarantees

  _That_ the stories therein are clean, interesting, vivid, by leading
  writers of the day and purchased under conditions approved by the
  Authors' League of America;

  _That_ such magazines are manufactured in Union shops by American
  workmen;

  _That_ each newsdealer and agent is insured a fair profit;

  _That_ an intelligent censorship guards their advertising pages.

  _The other Clayton magazines are_:

    ACE-HIGH MAGAZINE, RANCH ROMANCES, COWBOY STORIES, CLUES, FIVE-NOVELS
    MONTHLY, ALL STAR DETECTIVE STORIES, RANGELAND LOVE STORY
    MAGAZINE, WESTERN ADVENTURES, and FOREST AND STREAM.

  _More than Two Million Copies Required to Supply the Monthly Demand for
  Clayton Magazines._

       *       *       *       *       *

  VOL. III, No. 1       CONTENTS       JULY, 1930


  COVER DESIGN

    _Painted in Water-colors from a Scene in "Earth, the Marauder."_


  BEYOND THE HEAVISIDE LAYER      CAPT. S. P. MEEK                     5

    _For Eighty Vertical Miles Carpenter and Bond Blasted Their
    Way--Only to Be Trapped by the Extraordinary Monsters of the
    Heaviside Layer._


  EARTH, THE MARAUDER      ARTHUR J. BURKS                            18

    _Out of Her Orbit Sped the Teeming Earth--A Marauding Planet Bent on
    Starry Conquest._ (Beginning a Three-part Novel.)


  FROM AN AMBER BLOCK      TOM CURRY                                  50

    _A Giant Amber Block at Last Gives Up Its Living, Ravenous Prey._


  THE TERROR OF AIR-LEVEL SIX      HARL VINCENT                       62

    _From Some Far Reach of Leagueless Space Came a Great Pillar of
    Flame to Lay Waste and Terrorize the Earth._ (A Novelet.)


  THE FORGOTTEN PLANET      SEWELL PEASLEE WRIGHT                     88

    _The Authentic Account of Why Cosmic Man Damned an Outlaw World to
    Be, Forever, a Leper of Space._


  THE POWER AND THE GLORY      CHARLES W. DIFFIN                     104

    _Sadly, Sternly, the Old Professor Reveals to His Brilliant Pupil
    the Greater Path to Glory._


  MURDER MADNESS      MURRAY LEINSTER                                109

    _More and More South Americans Are Stricken with the Horrible
    "Murder Madness" That Lies in the Master's Fearful Poison. And Bell
    Is Their One Last Hope as He Fights to Stem the Swiftly Rising Tide
    of a Continent's Utter Enslavement._ (Part Three of a Four-part
    Novel.)


  THE READERS' CORNER      ALL OF US                                 134

    _A Meeting Place for Readers of Astounding Stories._

       *       *       *       *       *

  Single Copies, 20 Cents (In Canada, 25 Cents)

  Yearly Subscription, $2.00

    Issued monthly by Publishers' Fiscal Corporation, 80 Lafayette St.,
    New York, N. Y. W. M. Clayton, President: Nathan Goldmann,
    Secretary. Entered as second-class matter December 7, 1929, at the
    Post Office at New York, N. Y., under Act of March 3, 1879. Title
    registered as a Trade Mark in the U. S. Patent Office. Member
    Newsstand Group--Men's List. For advertising rates address E. R.
    Crowe & Co., Inc., 25 Vanderbilt Ave., New York; or 225 North
    Michigan Ave., Chicago.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: _They were moving sluggishly along the red light, seeming
to flow rather than crawl._]



Beyond the Heaviside Layer

_By Capt S. P. Meek_


McQuarrie, the City Editor, looked up as I entered his office.

"Bond," he asked, "do you know Jim Carpenter?"

[Sidenote: For eighty vertical miles Carpenter and
Bond blasted their way--only to be
trapped by the extraordinary monsters
of the heaviside layer.]

"I know him slightly," I replied cautiously. "I have met him several
times and I interviewed him some years ago when he improved the Hadley
rocket motor. I can't claim a very extensive acquaintance with him."

"I thought you knew him well. It is a surprise to me to find that there
is any prominent man who is not an especial friend of yours. At any rate
you know him as well as anyone of the staff, so I'll give you the
assignment."

"What's he up to now?" I asked.

"He's going to try to punch a hole in the heaviside layer."

"But that's impossible," I cried. "How can anyone...."

My voice died away in silence. True enough, the idea of trying to make a
permanent hole in a field of magnetic force was absurd, but even as I
spoke I remembered that Jim Carpenter had never agreed to the opinion
almost unanimously held by our scientists as to the true nature of the
heaviside layer.

"It may be impossible," replied McQuarrie dryly, "but you are not hired
by this paper as a scientific consultant. For some reason, God alone
knows why, the owner thinks that you are a reporter. Get down there and
try to prove he is right by digging up a few facts about Carpenter's
attempt. Wire your stuff in and Peavey will write it up. On this one
occasion, please try to conceal your erudition and send in your story in
simple words of one syllable which uneducated men like Peavey and me can
comprehend. That's all."

       *       *       *       *       *

He turned again to his desk and I left the room. At one time I would
have come from such an interview with my face burning, but McQuarrie's
vitriol slid off me like water off a duck's back. He didn't really mean
half of what he said, and he knew as well as I did that his crack about
my holding my job with the Clarion as a matter of pull was grossly
unjust. It is true that I knew Trimble, the owner of the Clarion, fairly
well, but I got my job without any aid from him. McQuarrie himself hired
me and I held my job because he hadn't fired me, despite the caustic
remarks which he addressed to me. I had made the mistake when I first
got on the paper of letting McQuarrie know that I was a graduate
electrical engineer from Leland University, and he had held it against
me from that day on. I don't know whether he really held it seriously
against me or not, but what I have written above is a fair sample of his
usual manner toward me.

In point of fact I had greatly minimized the extent of my acquaintance
with Jim Carpenter. I had been in Leland at the same time that he was
and had known him quite well. When I graduated, which was two years
after he did, I worked for about a year in his laboratory, and my
knowledge of the improvement which had made the Hadley rocket motor a
practicability came from first hand knowledge and not from an interview.
That was several years before but I knew that he never forgot an
acquaintance, let alone a friend, and while I had left him to take up
other work our parting had been pleasant, and I looked forward with real
pleasure to seeing him again.

       *       *       *       *       *

Jim Carpenter, the stormy petrel of modern science! The eternal
iconoclast: the perpetual opponent! He was probably as deeply versed in
the theory of electricity and physical chemistry as any man alive, but
it pleased him to pose as a "practical" man who knew next to nothing of
theory and who despised the little he did know. His great delight was to
experimentally smash the most beautifully constructed theories which
were advanced and taught in the colleges and universities of the world,
and when he couldn't smash them by experimental evidence, to attack them
from the standpoint of philosophical reasoning and to twist around the
data on which they were built and make it prove, or seem to prove, the
exact opposite of what was generally accepted.

No one questioned his ability. When the ill-fated Hadley had first
constructed the rocket motor which bears his name it was Jim Carpenter
who made it practical. Hadley had tried to disintegrate lead in order to
get his back thrust from the atomic energy which it contained and proved
by apparently unimpeachable mathematics that lead was the only substance
which could be used. Jim Carpenter had snorted through the pages of the
electrical journals and had turned out a modification of Hadley's
invention which disintegrated aluminum. The main difference in
performance was that, while Hadley's original motor would not develop
enough power to lift itself from the ground, Carpenter's modification
produced twenty times the horsepower per pound of weight of any
previously known generator of power and changed the rocket ship from a
wild dream to an everyday commonplace.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Hadley later constructed his space flyer and proposed to visit the
moon, it was Jim Carpenter who ridiculed the idea of the attempt being
successful. He proposed the novel and weird idea that the path to space
was not open, but that the earth and the atmosphere were enclosed in a
hollow sphere of impenetrable substance through which Hadley's space
flyer could not pass. How accurate were his prognostications was soon
known to everyone. Hadley built and equipped his flyer and started off
on what he hoped would be an epoch making flight. It was one, but not in
the way which he had hoped. His ship took off readily enough, being
powered with four rocket motors working on Carpenter's principle, and
rose to a height of about fifty miles, gaining velocity rapidly. At that
point his velocity suddenly began to drop.

He was in constant radio communication with the earth and he reported
his difficulty. Carpenter advised him to turn back while he could, but
Hadley kept on. Slower and slower became his progress, and after he had
penetrated ten miles into the substance which hindered him, his ship
stuck fast. Instead of using his bow motors and trying to back out, he
had moved them to the rear, and with the combined force of his four
motors he had penetrated for another two miles. There he insanely tried
to force his motors to drive him on until his fuel was exhausted.

He had lived for over a year in his space flyer, but all of his efforts
did not serve to materially change his position. He had tried, of
course, to go out through his air locks and explore space, but his
strength, even although aided by powerful levers, could not open the
outer doors of the locks against the force which was holding them shut.
Careful observations were continuously made of the position of his
flyer and it was found that it was gradually returning toward the earth.
Its motion was very slight, not enough to give any hope for the
occupant. Starting from a motion so slow that it could hardly be
detected, the velocity of return gradually accelerated; and three years
after Hadley's death, the flyer was suddenly released from the force
which held it, and it plunged to the earth, to be reduced by the force
of its fall to a twisted, pitiful mass of unrecognizable junk.

       *       *       *       *       *

The remains were examined, and the iron steel parts were found to be
highly magnetized. This fact was seized upon by the scientists of the
world and a theory was built up of a magnetic field of force surrounding
the earth through which nothing of a magnetic nature could pass. This
theory received almost universal acceptance, Jim Carpenter alone of the
more prominent men of learning refusing to admit the validity of it. He
gravely stated it as his belief that no magnetic field existed, but that
the heaviside layer was composed of some liquid of high viscosity whose
density and consequent resistance to the passage of a body through it
increased in the ratio of the square of the distance to which one
penetrated into it.

There was a moment of stunned surprise when he announced his radical
idea, and then a burst of Jovian laughter shook the scientific press.
Carpenter was in his glory. For months he waged a bitter controversy in
the scientific journals and when he failed to win converts by this
method, he announced that he would prove it by blasting a way into space
through the heaviside layer, a thing which would be patently impossible
were it a field of force. He had lapsed into silence for two years and
his curt note to the Associated Press to the effect that he was now
ready to demonstrate his experiment was the first intimation the world
had received of his progress.

       *       *       *       *       *

I drew expense money from the cashier and boarded the Lark for Los
Angeles. When I arrived I went to a hotel and at once called Carpenter
on the telephone.

"Jim Carpenter speaking," came his voice presently.

"Good evening, Mr. Carpenter," I replied, "this is Bond of the San
Francisco Clarion."

I would be ashamed to repeat the language which came over that
telephone. I was informed that all reporters were pests and that I was a
doubly obnoxious specimen and that were I within reach I would be
promptly assaulted and that reporters would be received at nine the next
morning and no earlier or later.

"Just a minute, Mr. Carpenter," I cried as he neared the end of his
peroration and was, I fancied, about to slam up the receiver. "Don't you
remember me? I was at Leland with you and used to work in your
laboratory in the atomic disintegration section."

"What's your name?" he demanded.

"Bond, Mr. Carpenter."

"Oh, First Mortgage! Certainly I remember you. Mighty glad to hear your
voice. How are you?"

"Fine, thank you, Mr. Carpenter. I would not have ventured to call you
had I not known you. I didn't mean to impose and I'll be glad to see you
in the morning at nine."

"Not by a long shot," he cried. "You'll come up right away. Where are
you staying?"

"At the El Rey."

"Well, check out and come right up here. There's lots of room for you
here at the plant and I'll be glad to have you. I want at least one
intelligent report of this experiment and you should be able to write
it. I'll look for you in an hour."

"I don't want to impose--" I began; but he interrupted.

"Nonsense, glad to have you. I needed someone like you badly and you
have come just in the nick of time. I'll expect you in an hour."

       *       *       *       *       *

The receiver clicked and I hastened to follow his instructions. A
ringside seat was just what I was looking for. It took my taxi a little
over an hour to get to the Carpenter laboratory and I chuckled when I
thought of how McQuarrie's face would look when he saw my expense
account. Presently we reached the edge of the grounds which surrounded
the Carpenter laboratory and were stopped at the high gate I remembered
so well.

"Are you sure you'll get in, buddy?" asked my driver.

"Certainly," I replied. "What made you ask?"

"I've brought three chaps out here to-day and none of them got in," he
answered with a grin. "I'm glad you're so sure, but I'll just wait
around until you are inside before I drive away."

I laughed and advanced to the gate. Tim, the old guard, was still there,
and he remembered and welcomed me.

"Me ordhers wuz t' let yez roight in, sor," he said as he greeted me.
"Jist lave ye'er bag here and Oi'll have ut sint roight up."

I dropped my bag and trudged up the well remembered path to the
laboratory. It had been enlarged somewhat since I saw it last and, late
though the hour was, there was a bustle in the air and I could see a
number of men working in the building. From an area in the rear, which
was lighted by huge flood lights, came the staccato tattoo of a riveter.
I walked up to the front of the laboratory and entered. I knew the way
to Carpenter's office and I went directly there and knocked.

"Hello, First Mortgage!" cried Jim Carpenter as I entered in response to
his call. "I'm glad to see you. Excuse the bruskness of my first
greeting to you over the telephone, but the press have been deviling me
all day, every man jack of them trying to steal a march on the rest. I
am going to open the whole shebang at nine to-morrow and give them all
an equal chance to look things over before I turn the current on at
noon. As soon as we have a little chat, I'll show you over the works."

       *       *       *       *       *

After half an hour's chat he rose. "Come along, First Mortgage," he
said, "we'll go out and look the place over and I'll explain everything.
If my ideas work out, you'll have no chance to go over it to-morrow, so
I want you to see it now."

I had no chance to ask him what he meant by this remark, for he walked
rapidly from the laboratory and I perforce followed him. He led the way
to the patch of lighted ground behind the building where the riveting
machine was still beating out its monotonous cacaphony and paused by the
first of a series of huge reflectors, which were arranged in a circle.

"Here is the start of the thing," he said. "There are two hundred and
fifty of these reflectors arranged in a circle four hundred yards in
diameter. Each of them is an opened parabola of such spread that their
beams will cover an area ten yards in diameter at fifty miles above the
earth. If my calculations are correct they should penetrate through the
layer at an average speed of fifteen miles per hour per unit, and by two
o'clock to-morrow afternoon, the road to space should be open."

"What is your power?" I asked.

"Nothing but a concentration of infra-red rays. The heaviside layer, as
you doubtless know, is a liquid and, I think, an organic liquid. If I am
right in that thought, the infra-red will cut through it like a knife
through cheese."

"If it is a liquid, how will you prevent it from flowing back into the
hole you have opened?" I asked.

"When the current is first turned on, each reflector will bear on the
same point. Notice that they are moveable. They are arranged so that
they move together. As soon as the first hole is bored through, they
will move by clockwork, extending the opening until each points
vertically upward and the hole is four hundred yards in diameter. I am
positive that there will be no rapid flow even after the current is
turned off, for I believe that the liquid is about as mobile as
petroleum jelley. Should it close, however, it would take only a couple
of hours to open it again to allow the space flyer to return."

"What space flyer?" I demanded quickly.

"The one we are going to be on, First Mortgage," he replied with a
slight chuckle.

       *       *       *       *       *

"We?" I cried, aghast.

"Certainly. We. You and I. You didn't think I was going to send you
alone, did you?"

"I didn't know that anyone was going."

"Of course. Someone has to go; otherwise, how could I prove my point? I
might cut through a hundred holes and yet these stiff-necked old
fossils, seeing nothing, would not believe. No, First Mortgage, when
those arcs start working to-morrow, you and I will be in a Hadley space
ship up at the bottom of the layer, and as soon as the road has been
opened, two of the lamps will cut off to allow us through. Then the
battery will hold the road open while we pass out into space and
return."

"Suppose we meet with Hadley's fate?" I demanded.

"We won't. Even if I am wrong--which is very unlikely--we won't meet
with any such fate. We have two stern motors and four bow motors. As
soon as we meet with the slightest resistance to our forward progress we
will stop and have twice the power plus gravity to send us earthwards.
There is no danger connected with the trip."

"All the same--" I began.

"All the same, you're going," he replied. "Man alive, think of the
chance to make a world scoop for your paper! No other press man has the
slightest inkling of my plan and even if they had, there isn't another
space flyer in the world that I know of. If you don't want to go, I'll
give some one else the chance, but I prefer you, for you know something
of my work."

       *       *       *       *       *

I thought rapidly for a moment. The chance was a unique one and one that
half the press men in San Francisco would have given their shirts to
get. I had had my doubts of the accuracy of Jim Carpenter's reasoning
while I was away from him, but there was no resisting the dynamic
personality of the man when in his presence.

"You win," I said with a laugh. "Your threat of offering some of my
hated rivals a chance settled it."

"Good boy!" he exclaimed, pounding me on the back. "I knew you'd come. I
had intended to take one of my assistants with me, but as soon as I knew
you were here I decided that you were the man. There really ought to be
a press representative along. Come with me and I'll show you our flyer."

The flyer proved to be of the same general type as had been used by
Hadley. It was equipped with six rocket motors, four discharging to the
bow and two to the stern. Any one of them, Carpenter said, was ample for
motive power. Equilibrium was maintained by means of a heavy gyroscope
which would prevent any turning of the axis of its rotation. The entire
flyer shell could be revolved about the axis so that oblique motion with
our bow and stern motors was readily possible. Direct lateral movement
was provided for by valves which would divert a portion of the discharge
of either a bow or stern motor out through side vents in any direction.
The motive power, of course, was furnished by the atomic disintegration
of powdered aluminum. The whole interior, except for the portion of the
walls, roof and floor, which was taken up by vitriolene windows, was
heavily padded.

       *       *       *       *       *

At nine the next morning the gates to the enclosure were thrown open and
the representatives of the press admitted. Jim Carpenter mounted a
platform and explained briefly what he proposed to do and then broke the
crowd up into small groups and sent them over the works with guides.
When all had been taken around they were reassembled and Carpenter
announced to them his intention of going up in a space flyer and prove,
by going through the heaviside layer, that he had actually destroyed a
portion of it. There was an immediate clamor of applications to go with
him. He laughingly announced that one reporter was all that he could
stand on the ship and that he was taking one of his former associates
with him. I could tell by the envious looks with which I was favored
that any popularity I had ever had among my associates was gone forever.
There was little time to think of such things, however, for the hour for
our departure was approaching, and the photographers were clamoring for
pictures of us and the flyer.

We satisfied them at last, and I entered the flyer after Carpenter. We
sealed the car up, started the air conditioner, and were ready for
departure.

"Scared, Pete?" asked Carpenter, his hand on the starting lever.

I gulped a little as I looked at him. He was perfectly calm to a casual
inspection, but I knew him well enough to interpret the small spots of
red which appeared on his high cheekbones and the glitter in his eye. He
may not have been as frightened as I was but he was laboring under an
enormous nervous strain. The mere fact that he called me "Pete" instead
of his usual "First Mortgage" showed that he was feeling pretty serious.

"Not exactly scared," I replied, "but rather uneasy, so to speak."

       *       *       *       *       *

He laughed nervously.

"Cheer up, old man! If anything goes wrong, we won't know it. Sit down
and get comfortable; this thing will start with a jerk."

He pulled the starting lever forward suddenly and I felt as though an
intolerable weight were pressed against me, glueing me to my seat. The
feeling lasted only for a moment, for he quickly eased up on the motor,
and in a few moments I felt quite normal.

"How fast are we going?" I asked.

"Only two hundred miles an hour," he replied. "We will reach the layer
in plenty of time at this rate and I don't want to jam into it. You can
get up now."

I rose, moved over to the observation glass in the floor, and looked
down. We were already five or ten miles above the earth and were
ascending rapidly. I could still detect the great circle of reflectors
with which our way was to be opened.

"How can you tell where these heat beams are when they are turned on?" I
asked. "Infra-red rays are not visible, and we will soon be out of sight
of the reflectors."

"I forgot to mention that I am having a small portion of visible red
rays mixed with the infra-red so that we can spot them. I have a radio
telephone here, working on my private wavelength, so that I can direct
operations from here as well as from the ground--in fact, better. If
you're cold, turn on the heater."

       *       *       *       *       *

The friction of the flyer against the air had so far made up for the
decreasing temperature of the air surrounding us, but a glance at the
outside thermometer warned me that his suggestion was a wise one. I
turned a valve which diverted a small portion of our exhaust through a
heating coil in the flyer. It was hard to realize that I was actually in
a rocket space ship, the second one to be flown and that, with the
exception of the ill-fated Hadley, farther from the earth than any man
had been before. There was no sensation of movement in that hermetically
sealed flyer, and, after the first few moments, the steady drone of the
rocket motor failed to register on my senses. I was surprised to see
that there was no trail of detritus behind us.

"You can see our trail at night," replied Carpenter when I asked him
about it, "but in daylight, there is nothing to see. The slight
luminosity of the gasses is hidden by the sun's rays. We may be able to
see it when we get out in space beyond the layer, but I don't know. We
have arrived at the bottom of the layer now, I believe. At any rate, we
are losing velocity."

       *       *       *       *       *

I moved over to the instrument board and looked. Our speed had dropped
to one hundred and ten miles an hour and was steadily falling off.
Carpenter pulled the control lever and reduced our power. Gradually the
flyer came to a stop and hung poised in space. He shut off the power an
instant and at once our indicator showed that we were falling, although
very slowly. He promptly reapplied the power, and by careful adjustment
brought us again to a dead stop.

"Ready to go," he remarked looking at his watch, "and just on time, too.
Take a glass and watch the ground. I am going to have the heat turned
on."

I took the binoculars he indicated and turned them toward the ground
while he gave a few crisp orders into his telephone. Presently from the
ground beneath us burst out a circle of red dots from which long beams
stabbed up into the heavens. The beams converged as they mounted until
at a point slightly below us, and a half-mile away they became one solid
beam of red. One peculiarity I noticed was that, while they were plainly
visible near the ground, they faded out, and it was not until they were
a few miles below us that they again became apparent. I followed their
path upward into the heavens.

"Look here, Jim!" I cried as I did so. "Something's happening!"

He sprang to my side and glanced at the beam.

"Hurrah!" he shouted, pounding me on the back. "I was right! Look! And
the fools called it a magnetic field!"

Upward the beam was boring its way, but it was almost concealed by a
rain of fine particles of black which were falling around it.

"It's even more spectacular than I had hoped," he chortled. "I had
expected to reduce the layer to such fluidity that we could penetrate
it or even to vaporize it, but we are actually destroying it! That stuff
is soot and is proof, if proof be needed, that the layer is an organic
liquid."

       *       *       *       *       *

He turned to his telephone and communicated the momentous news to the
earth and then rejoined me at the window. For ten minutes we watched and
a slight diminution of the black cloud became apparent.

"They're through the layer," exclaimed Carpenter. "Now watch, and you'll
see something. I'm going to start spreading the beam."

He turned again to his telephone, and presently the beam began to widen
and spread out. As it did so the dark cloud became more dense than it
had been before. The earth below us was hidden and we could see the red
only as a dim murky glow through the falling soot. Carpenter inquired of
the laboratory and found that we were completely invisible to the
ground, half the heavens being hidden by the black pall. For an hour the
beam worked its way toward us.

"The hole is about four hundred yards in diameter right now," said
Carpenter as he turned from the telephone. "I have told them to stop the
movement of the reflectors, and as soon as the air clears a little,
we'll start through."

It took another hour for the soot to clear enough that we could plainly
detect the ring of red light before us. Carpenter gave some orders to
the ground, and a gap thirty yards wide opened in the wall before us.
Toward this gap the flyer moved slowly under the side thrust of the
diverted motor discharge. The temperature rose rapidly as we neared the
wall of red light before us. Nearer we drew until the light was on both
sides of us. Another few feet and the flyer shot forward with a jerk
that threw me sprawling on the floor. Carpenter fell too, but he
maintained his hold on the controls and tore at them desperately to
check us.

       *       *       *       *       *

I scrambled to my feet and watched. The red wall was alarmingly close.
Nearer we drove and then came another jerk which threw me sprawling
again. The wall retreated. In another moment we were standing still,
with the red all around us at a distance of about two hundred yards.

"We had a narrow escape from being cremated," said Carpenter with a
shaky laugh. "I knew that our speed would increase as soon as we got
clear of the layer but it caught me by surprise just the same. I had no
idea how great the holding effect of the stuff was. Well, First
Mortgage, the road to space is open for us. May I invite you to be my
guest on a little week-end jaunt to the Moon?"

"No thanks, Jim," I said with a wry smile. "I think a little trip to the
edge of the layer will quite satisfy me."

"Quitter," he laughed. "Well, say good-by to familiar things. Here we
go!"

He turned to the controls of the flyer, and presently we were moving
again, this time directly away from the earth. There was no jerk at
starting this time, merely a feeling as though the floor were pressing
against my feet, a great deal like the feeling a person gets when they
rise rapidly in an express elevator. The indicator showed that we were
traveling only sixty miles an hour. For half an hour we continued
monotonously on our way with nothing to divert us. Carpenter yawned.

"Now that it's all over, I feel let down and sleepy," he announced. "We
are well beyond the point to which Hadley penetrated and so far we have
met with no resistance. We are probably nearly at the outer edge of the
layer. I think I'll shoot up a few miles more and then call it a day and
go home. We are about eighty miles from the earth now."

       *       *       *       *       *

I looked down, but could see nothing below us but the dense cloud of
black soot resulting from the destruction of the heaviside layer. Like
Carpenter, I felt sleepy, and I suppressed a yawn as I turned again to
the window.

"Look here, Jim!" I cried suddenly. "What's that?"

He moved in a leisurely manner to my side and looked out. As he did so I
felt his hand tighten on my shoulder with a desperate grip. Down the
wall of red which surrounded us was coming an object of some kind. The
thing was fully seventy-five yards long and half as wide at its main
portion, while long irregular streams extended for a hundred yards on
each side of it. There seemed to be dozens of them.

"What is it, Jim?" I asked in a voice which sounded high and unnatural
to me.

"I don't know," he muttered, half to me and half to himself. "Good Lord,
there's another of them!"

He pointed. Not far from the first of the things came another, even
larger than the first. They were moving sluggishly along the red light,
seeming to flow rather than to crawl. I had a horrible feeling that they
were alive and malignant. Carpenter stepped back to the controls of the
flyer and stopped our movement; we hung in space, watching them. The
things were almost level with us, but their sluggish movement was
downward toward the earth. In color, they were a brilliant crimson,
deepening into purple near the center. Just as the first of them came
opposite us it paused, and slowly a portion of the mass extended itself
from the main bulk; and then, like doors opening, four huge eyes, each
of them twenty feet in diameter, opened and stared at us.

"It's alive, Jim," I quavered. I hardly knew my own voice as I spoke.

       *       *       *       *       *

Jim stepped back to the controls with a white face, and slowly we moved
closer to the mass. As we approached I thought that I could detect a
fleeting passage of expression in those huge eyes. Then they disappeared
and only a huge crimson and purple blob lay before us. Jim moved the
controls again and the flyer came to a stop.

Two long streamers moved out from the mass. Suddenly there was a jerk to
the ship which threw us both to the floor. It started upward at express
train speed. Jim staggered to his feet, grasped the controls and started
all four bow motors at full capacity, but even this enormous force had
not the slightest effect in diminishing our speed.

"Well, the thing's got us, whatever it is," said Jim as he pulled his
controls to neutral, shutting off all power. Now that the danger had
assumed a tangible form, he appeared as cool and collected as ever, to
my surprise, I found that I had recovered control of my muscle and of my
voice. I became aware that the shoulder which Jim had gripped was aching
badly, and I rubbed it absently.

"What is it, Jim?" I asked for the third time.

"I don't know," he replied. "It is some horrible inhabitant of space,
something unknown to us on earth. From its appearance and actions, I
think it must be a huge single-celled animal of the type of the earthly
amoeba. If an amoeba is that large here, what must an elephant look
like? However, I expect that we'll learn more about the matter later
because it's taking us with it, wherever it's going."

       *       *       *       *       *

Suddenly the flyer became dark inside. I looked at the nearest window,
but I could not even detect its outline. I reached for the light switch,
but a sudden change in direction threw me against the wall. There was an
instant of intense heat in the flyer.

"We have passed the heaviside layer," said Jim. "The brute has changed
direction, and we felt that heat when he took us through the infra-red
wall."

I reached again for the light switch, but before I could find it our
motion ceased and an instant later the flyer was filled with glaring
sunlight. We both turned to the window.

We lay on a glistening plain of bluish hue which stretched without a
break as far as we could see. Not a thing broke the monotony of our
vision. We turned to the opposite window. How can I describe the sight
which met our horrified gaze? On the plain before us lay a huge purple
monstrosity of gargantuan dimensions. The thing was a shapeless mass,
only the four huge eyes standing out regarding us balefully. The mass
was continually changing its outline and, as we watched, a long streamer
extended itself from the body toward us. Over and around the flyer the
feeler went, while green and red colors played over first one and then
another of the huge eyes before us. The feeler wrapped itself around the
flyer and we were lifted into the air toward those horrible eyes. We had
almost reached them when the thing dropped us. We fell to the plain with
a crash. We staggered to our feet again and looked out. Our captor was
battling for its life.

       *       *       *       *       *

Its attacker was a smaller thing of a brilliant green hue, striped and
mottled with blue and yellow. While our captor was almost formless, the
newcomer had a very definite shape. It resembled a cross between a bird
and a lizard, its shape resembling a bird, as did tiny rudimentary wings
and a long beak, while the scaly covering and the fact that it had four
legs instead of two bore out the idea that it might be a lizard. Its
huge birdlike beak was armed with three rows of long sharp teeth with
which it was tearing at our captor. The purple amoeba was holding its
assailant with a dozen of its thrown out feelers which were wrapped
about the body and legs of the green horror. The whole battle was
conducted in absolute silence.

"Now's our chance, Jim!" I cried. "Get away from here while that dragon
has the amoeba busy!"

He jumped to the control levers of the flyer and pulled the starting
switch well forward. The shock of the sudden start hurled me to the
floor, but from where I fell I was able to watch the battle on the
plain below us. It raged with uninterrupted fury and I felt certain of
our escape when, with a shock which hurled both Jim and me to the
ceiling, the flyer stopped. We fell back to the floor and I reflected
that it was well for us that the interior of the flyer was so well
padded. Had it not been, our bones would have been broken a dozen times
by the shocks to which we had been subjected.

"What now?" I asked as I painfully struggled to my feet.

"Another of those purple amoebas," replied Jim from the vantage point of
a window. "He's looking us over as if he were trying to decide whether
we are edible or not."

       *       *       *       *       *

I joined him at the window. The thing which had us was a replica of the
monster we had left below us engaged in battle with the green dragon
which had attacked it. The same indefinite and ever changing outline was
evident, as well as the four huge eyes. The thing regarded us for a
moment and slowly moved us up against its bulk until we touched it.
Deeper and deeper into the mass of the body we penetrated until we were
in a deep cavern with the light coming to us only from the entrance. I
watched the entrance and horror possessed my soul.

"The hole's closing. Jim!" I gasped. "The thing is swallowing us!"

"I expected that," he replied grimly. "The amoeba has no mouth, you
know. Nourishment is passed into the body through the skin, which closes
behind it. We are a modern version of Jonah and the whale, First
Mortgage."

"Well, Jonah got out," I ventured.

"We'll try to," he replied. "When that critter swallowed us, he got
something that will prove pretty indigestible. Let's try to give him a
stomach ache. I don't suppose that a machine-gun will affect him, but
we'll try it."

"I didn't know that you had any guns on board."

"Oh yes, I've got two machine-guns. We'll turn one of them loose, but I
don't expect much effect from it."

       *       *       *       *       *

He moved over to one of the guns and threw off the cover which had
hidden it from my gaze. He fed in a belt of ammunition and pulled his
trigger. For half a minute he held it down, and two hundred and fifty
caliber thirty bullets tore their way into space. There was no evidence
of movement on the part of our host.

"Just as I thought," remarked Jim as he threw aside the empty belt and
covered the gun again. "The thing has no nervous organization to speak
of and probably never felt that. We'll have to rig up a disintegrating
ray for him."

"What?" I gasped.

"A disintegrating ray," he replied. "Oh yes, I know how to make the
fabulous 'death ray' that you journalists are always raving about. I
have never announced my discovery, for war is horrible enough without
it, but I have generated it and used it in my work a number of times.
Did it never occur to you that the rocket motor is built on a
disintegrating ray principle?"

"Of course it is, Jim. I never thought of it in that light before, but
it must be. How can you use it? The discharge from the motors is a
harmless stream of energy particles."

"Instead of turning the ray into powdered aluminum and breaking it down,
what is to prevent me from turning it against the body of our captor and
blasting my way out?"

"I don't know."

"Well, nothing is. I'll have to modify one of the motors a little, but
it's not a hard job. Get some wrenches from the tool box and we'll
start."

       *       *       *       *       *

An hour of hard work enabled us to disconnect one of the reserve bow
motors and, after the modifications Jim had mentioned, turn the ray out
through the port through which the products of disintegration were meant
to go. When we had bolted it in place with an improvised coupling, Jim
opened the vitriolene screen which held in our air and turned to his
control board.

"Here goes," he said.

He pulled the lever to full power and with a roar which almost deafened
us in the small flyer, the ray leaped out to do its deadly work. I
watched through a port beside the motor. There was a flash of intense
light for an instant and then the motor died away in silence. A path to
freedom lay open before us. Jim started one of the stern motors and
slowly we forced our way through the hole torn in the living mass. When
we were almost at the surface, he threw in full power and we shot free
from the amoeba and into the open. Again we were stopped in midair and
drawn back toward the huge bulk. The eyes looked at us and we were
turned around. As the ray swung into a position to point directly toward
one of the eyes, Jim pulled the controlling lever. With the flash of
light which ensued, the eye and a portion of the surrounding tissue
disappeared. The amoeba writhed and changed shape rapidly, while flashes
of brilliant crimson played over the remaining eyes. Again the ray was
brought into play and another of the eyes disappeared. This was
evidently enough for our captor, for it suddenly released us and
instantly we started to fall. Jim caught the control levers and turned
on our power in time to halt us only a few feet above the plain toward
which we were falling. We were close to the point whence we had started
up and we could see that the battle below us was still raging.

       *       *       *       *       *

The green dragon was partially engulfed by the amoeba, but it still
relentlessly tore off huge chunks and devoured them. The amoeba was
greatly reduced in bulk but it still fought gamely. Even as we
approached the dragon was evidently satiated, for it slowly withdrew
from the purple bulk and back away. Long feelers shot out from the
amoeba's bulk toward the dragon but they were bitten off before they
could grasp their prey.

"Let's get away from here, Jim," I cried, but I spoke too late. Even as
the words left my mouth the green dragon saw us and raised itself in the
air, and with gaping jaws launched itself at us. It took Jim only a
moment to shoot the flyer up into space, and the charge passed
harmlessly beneath us. The dragon checked its headway and turned again
toward us.

"Use the machine-gun, Pete!" cried Jim. "I've got to run the ship."

I threw the cover off the gun and fed in a fresh belt of ammunition. As
the green monster dashed toward us I hastily aligned the gun and pulled
the trigger. My aim was good and at least fifty of the bullets plowed
through the approaching bulk before Jim dropped the ship and allowed it
to pass above us. Again the dragon turned and charged, and again I met
it with a hail of bullets. They had no apparent effect and Jim dropped
the ship again and let the huge bulk shoot by above us. Twice more the
dragon rushed but the last rush was less violent than had been the first
three.

"The bullets are affecting him, Pete!" cried Jim as he shot the flyer
upward. "Give him another dose!"

I hastily fed in another belt, but it was not needed. The dragon rushed
the fifth time, but before it reached us its velocity fell off and it
passed harmlessly below us and fell on a long curve to the plain below.
It fell near the purple amoeba which it had battled and a long feeler
shot out and grasped it. Straight into the purple mass it was drawn, and
vanished into the huge bulk.

Jim started one of the stern motors. In a few seconds we were far from
the scene.

"Have you any idea of which direction to go?" he asked. I shook my head.

"Have you a radio beacon?" I asked.

He withered me with a glance.

"We're beyond the heaviside layer," he reminded me.

       *       *       *       *       *

For a moment I was stunned.

"We can't be very far from the hole," he said consolingly as he fumbled
with the controls. "But before we try to find it, we had better
disconnect one of the stern motors and rig it as a disintegrating ray so
that we will have one bearing in each direction. We may meet more
denizens of space who like our looks, and we haven't much ammunition
left."

We landed on the plain and in an hour had a second disintegrating ray
ready for action. Thus armed, we rose from the blue plain and started at
random on our way. For ten minutes we went forward. Then Jim stopped the
flyer and turned back. We had gone only a short distance when I called
to him to stop.

"What is it?" he demanded as he brought the flyer to a standstill.

"There's another creature ahead of us," I replied. "A red one."

"Red?" he asked excitedly as he joined me. About a mile ahead of us a
huge mass hung in the air. It resembled the amoeba which had attacked
us, except that the newcomer was red. As we watched, it moved toward us.
As it did so its color changed to purple.

"Hurrah!" cried Jim. "Don't you remember, Pete, that the one which
captured us and took us out of the hole was red while in the hole and
then turned purple? That thing just came out of the hole!"

"Then why can't we see the red beam?" I demanded.

"Because there's no air or anything to reflect it," he replied. "We
can't see it until we are right in it."

I devoutly hoped that he was right as he headed the ship toward the
waiting monster. As we approached the amoeba came rapidly to meet us and
a long feeler shot out. As it did so there was a flash of intense light
ahead of us as Jim turned loose the ray, and the feeler disappeared.
Another and another met the same fate. Then Jim rotated the ship
slightly and let out the full force of the ray toward the monster. A
huge hole was torn in it, and as we approached with our ray blazing, the
amoeba slowly retreated and our path was open before us. Again there was
an instant of intense heat as we passed through the red wall, and we
were again in the hole which Jim's lamps had blasted through the layer.
Below us still lay the fog which had obscured the earth when we had
started on our upward trip.

       *       *       *       *       *

Down toward the distant earth we dropped. We had gone about thirty miles
before we saw on the side of the hole one of the huge amoeba which were
so thick above.

"We might stop and pick that fellow off," said Jim, "but, on the whole,
I think we'll experiment with him."

He drove the ship nearer and turned it on its axis, holding it in
position by one of the auxiliary discharges. A flash came from our
forward ray and a portion of the amoeba disappeared. A long arm moved
out toward us, but it moved slowly and sluggishly instead of with the
lightninglike swiftness which had characterized the movements of the
others. Jimmy easily eluded it and dropped the ship a few yards. The
creature pursued it, but it moved slowly. For a mile we kept our
distance ahead of it, but we had to constantly decrease our speed to
keep from leaving it behind. Soon we were almost at a standstill, and
Jim reversed our direction and drew nearer. A feeler came slowly and
feebly out a few feet toward us and then stopped. We dropped the ship a
few feet but the amoeba did not follow. Jim glanced at the altimeter.

"Just as I thought," he exclaimed. "We are about forty-five miles above
the earth and already the air is so dense that the thing cannot move
lower. They are fashioned for existence in the regions of space and in
even the most rarified air they are helpless. There is no chance of one
ever reaching the surface of the earth without years of gradual
acclimation, and even if it did, it would be practically immobile. In a
few years the layer will flow enough to plug the hole I have made, but
even so, I'll build a couple of space flyers equipped with
disintegrating rays as soon as we get down and station them alongside
the hole to wipe out any of that space vermin which tries to come
through. Let's go home. We've put in a good day's work."

Hundreds of the purple amoeba have been destroyed by the guarding ships
during the past five years. The hole is filling in as Jim predicted, and
in another ten years the earth will be as securely walled in as it ever
was. But in the mean time, no one knows what unrevealed horrors space
holds, and the world will never rest entirely easy until the slow
process of time again heals the broken protective layer.

       *       *       *       *       *

Everyone Is Invited

_To_ "_Come Over in_

'THE READERS' CORNER'"!

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: _The men of Cleric were surrounding Jaska._]



Earth, the Marauder

BEGINNING A THREE-PART NOVEL

_By Arthur J. Burks_


FOREWORD


_Despite the fact that for centuries the Secret of Life had been the
possession of children of men, the Earth was dying. She was dying
because the warmth of the sun was fading; because, with the obliteration
of the oceans in order to find new land upon which men might live, her
seasons had become stormy, unbearably cold and dreary: and the very fact
of her knowledge of the Secret of Life, in which men numbered their ages
by centuries instead of by years, was her undoing._

[Sidenote: Out of her orbit sped
the teeming Earth--a
marauding planet bent on starry
conquest.]

[Illustration]

_For when men did not die, they multiplied beyond all counting, beyond
all possibility of securing permanent abiding places. One man, in the
days when the earth was young, and man lived at best to the age of three
score years and ten, could have, given time and opportunity, populated a
nation. Now, when men lived for centuries, eternally youthful, their
living descendants ran into incalculable numbers._

_The earth--strange paradox--was dying because it had learned the Secret
of Life. Twenty centuries before, the last war of aggression had been
fought, in order that an over-populated nation might find room in which
to live. Now all the earth was one nation, speaking one tongue--and
there were no more lands to conquer._



CHAPTER I

_Sarka_


In his laboratory atop the highest peak in the venerable Himalayas,
lived Sarka, conceded by the world to be its greatest scientist, despite
his youth. His grandfather, who had watched the passing of eighteen
centuries, had discovered the Secret of Life and thoughtlessly, in the
light of later developments, broadcast his discovery to the world. The
genius of this man, who was also called Sarka, had been passed on to his
son, Sarka the Second, and by him in even greater degree to Sarka the
Third ... called merely Sarka for the purposes of this history.

Had Sarka lived in the days before the discovery of the Secret of Life,
people of that day would have judged him a young man of twenty. His real
age was four centuries.

Behind him as he sat moodily staring at the gigantic Revolving Beryl
stood a woman of most striking appearance. Her name was Jaska, and
according to ideas of the Days Before the Discovery, she seemed a trifle
younger than Sarka. Her hand, unadorned by jewelry of any kind, rested
on Sarka's shoulder as he studied the Revolving Beryl, while her eyes,
whose lashes, matching her raven hair, were like the wings of tiny
blackbirds, noted afresh the wonder of this man.

"What is to be done?" she asked him at last, and her voice was like
music there in the room where science performed its miracles for Sarka.

       *       *       *       *       *

Wearily Sarka turned to face her, and she was struck anew, as she had
been down the years since she had known this man, every time their
glances met, at the mighty curve of his brow, which rendered
insignificant his mouth, his delicate nose of the twitching nostrils,
the well-deep eyes of him.

"Something must be done," he said gloomily, "and that soon! For, unless
the children of men are provided with some manner of territorial
expansion, they will destroy one another, only the strongest will
survive, and we shall return to the days when the waters covered the
earth, and monstrous creatures bellowed from the primeval slime!"

"You are working on something?" she asked softly.

For a moment he did not answer. While she waited, Jaska peered into the
depths of the Revolving Beryl, which represented the earth. It was fifty
feet in diameter, and in its curved surface and entrancing depths was
mirrored, in this latest development of teleview, all the earth and the
doings of its people. But Jaska scarcely saw the fleeting images, the
men locked in conflict for the right to live, the screaming,
terror-stricken women. This was now a century-old story, and the
civilization of Earth had almost reached the breaking point.

No, she scarcely saw the things in the Beryl, for she had read the hint
of a vast, awesome secret in the eyes of Sarka--and wondered if he dared
even tell her.

       *       *       *       *       *

"If the people knew," he whispered, "they would do one of two things!
They would tear me limb from limb, and hurl the parts of me outward into
space forever--or they would demand that I move before I am ready--and
cause a catastrophe which could never be rectified; and this grand old
Earth of ours would be dead, indeed!"

"And this secret of yours?" Jaska now spoke in the sign language which
only these two knew, for there were billions of other Revolving Beryls
in the world, and words could be heard by universal radio by any who
cared to listen. And always, they knew, the legions of enemies of Sarka
kept their ears open for words of Sarka which could be twisted around to
his undoing.

"I should not tell even you," he answered, his fingers working swiftly
in their secret, silent language, which all the world could see, but
which only these two understood. "For if my enemies knew that you
possessed the information, there is nothing they would stop at to make
you tell."

"But I would not tell, Sarka," she said softly. "You know that!"

He patted her hands, and the ghost of a smile touched his lips.

"No," he said, "you would not tell. Some day soon--and it must be soon
if the children of men are not to destroy themselves, I will tell you!
It is a secret that lies heavily on my heart. If I should make a
mistake.... Chaos! Catastrophe! Eternal, perpetual dark, the children
of men reduced to nothingness!"

       *       *       *       *       *

A little gasp from Jaska, for it was plain that this thing Sarka hinted
at was far and away beyond anything he had hitherto done--and Sarka had
already performed miracles beyond any that had ever been done by his
predecessors.

"When my grandfather," went on Sarka moodily, "perfected, in this
self-same laboratory, the machinery by which the waters of the oceans
could be disintegrated, our enemies called him mad, and fought their way
up these mountain slopes to destroy him! With the pack at his doors, he
did as he had told them he would do. Though they hurried swiftly into
the great valleys to colonize them--where oceans had been--they were
like ravening beasts, and gave my grandfather no thanks. Our people have
always fought against progress, have always been disparaging of its
advocates! When the first Sarka discovered the Secret they would have
destroyed him, though he made them immortal...."

"If only the Secret," interrupted Jaska, "could be returned to him who
discovered it! That would solve our problem, for men then would die and
be buried, leaving their places for others."

Again that weary smile on the face of Sarka.

"Take back the Secret which is known to-day to every son and daughter of
woman? Impossible! More nearly impossible than the attainment of my most
ambitious dream!"

"And that dream?" spoke Jaska with speeding fingers.

"I have wondered about you," said Sarka softly, while those eyes of his
bored deeply into hers. "We have been the best of friends, the best of
comrades; but there are times when it comes to me that I do not know you
entirely! And I have many enemies!"

"You mean," gasped the woman, for the moment forgetting the secret sign
manual, "you think it possible that I--I--might be one of your enemies,
in secret?"

"Jaska, I do not know; but in this matter in my mind I trust no one. I
am afraid even that people will read my very thoughts, though I have
learned to so concentrate upon them that not the slightest hint of them
shall go forth telepathically to my enemies! I do not mind death for
myself; but our people must be saved! It is hideous to think that we
have been given the Secret of Life, only to perish in the end because of
it! I am sorry, Jaska, but I can tell no one!"

But Jaska, one of the most beautiful and intelligent of Earth's
beautiful and intelligent women, seemed not to be listening to Sarka at
all, and when he had finished, she shrugged her shoulders slightly and
prepared to leave.

       *       *       *       *       *

He followed her to the nearest Exit Dome, built solidly into the side of
his laboratory, and watched her as she slipped swiftly into the white,
skin-tight clothing--marked on breast and back with the Red Lily of the
House of Cleric. His eyes still were deeply moody.

He helped her don the gleaming metal helmet in whose skull-pan was set
the Anti-Gravitational Ovoid--invented by Sarka the Second, used now of
necessity by every human creature--and strode with her to the Outer
Exit, a door of ponderous metal sufficiently strong to prevent the inner
warmth of the laboratory getting out, or the biting cold of the heights
to enter, and studied her still as she buckled about her hips her own
personal Sarka-Belt, which automatically encased her, through contact
with her tight clothing, with the warmth and balanced pressure of the
laboratory, which would remain constant as long as she wore it.

With a nod and a brief smile, she stepped to the metal door and vanished
through it. Sarka turned gloomily back to his laboratory. Looking into
the depths of the Revolving Beryl and adjusting the enlarging device
which brought back, life size, the infinitesmal individuals mirrored in
the Beryl, he watched her go--a trim white figure which flashed across
the void, from mountain-top to her valley home, like a very white
projectile from another world. Very white, and very precious, but....

When she was home, and had waved to him that she had arrived safely, he
forgot her for a time, and allowed his eyes to study the inner workings
of this vast, crowded world whose on-rushing fate was so filling his
brain with doubt, with fear--and something of horror!



CHAPTER II

_The People of the Hives_


Moodily Sarka stared into the depths of the Beryl, which represented the
Earth, and in which he could see everything that earthlings did, after
visually enlarging them, through use of a microscope that could be
adjusted, with relation to the Beryl, to bring out in detail any section
of the world he wished to study. His face was utterly sad. The people at
last truly possessed the Earth--all of it that was, even with the aid of
every miracle known to science, habitable.

The surface of the Earth was one vast building, like a hive, and to each
human being was allotted by law a certain abiding place. But men no
longer died, unless they desired to do so, and then only when the
Spokesmen of the Gens saw fit to grant permission; and there soon would
be no place for the newborn to live. Even now that point had practically
been reached throughout the world, and in the greater portion it _had_
been reached, and passed, and men knew that while men did not die, they
could be killed!

The vast building, towering above what had once been the surface of the
earth, to heights undreamed of before the discovery, was irregular on
its top, to fit the contour of the earth, and its roof, constructed of
materials raped from the earth's core, was so designed as to catch and
concentrate the yearly more feeble rays of the sun, so that its
life-giving warmth might continue to be the boon of living people.

       *       *       *       *       *

It had been found as Earth cooled that life was possible to a depth of
eight miles below the one-time surface, so that the one huge building
extended below the surface to this great depth, and was divided and
re-divided to make homes for men, their wives, and their progeny. But
even so, space was limited. Neighboring families outgrew their
surroundings, overflowed into the habitations of their neighbors--and
every family was at constant war against its neighbors.

Men did not die, but they could be slain, and there was scarcely a home,
above or below, in all the vast building, which had not planned and
executed murder, times and times--or which had not left its own blood in
the dwelling places of neighbors.

No law could cope with this intolerable situation, for men, down the
ages, had changed in their essential characteristics but little--and
recognized one law only in their extremity, that of self-preservation.

So there was murder rampant, and mothers who wept for children,
husbands, fathers or mothers, who would never return to their homes.

"My grandfather," whispered Sarka, his eyes peering deeply into a
certain area beyond that assigned by law to the House of Cleric, where
men of two neighboring families were locked in mortal, silent conflict,
"should not have frustrated the mad scheme of Dalis! It was slaughter,
wholesale and terrible, but it would have cleansed the souls of the
survivors!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Mentally Sarka was looking back now to that red day when Dalis, the
closest scientific rival of Sarka the First, had come to Sarka the
First with his proposal which at the time had seemed so hideous. Sarka
remembered that interval in all its details, for he had heard it many
times.

"Sarka," Dalis had said in his high-pitched voice, staring at Sarka the
First out of red-rimmed, fiery eyes, "unless something is done the world
will rush on to self-destruction! Men will slay one another! Fathers
will kill their sons, and sons their fathers, if something is not done!
For always there is marrying and giving in marriage, and each family is
reaching out in all directions, seeking merely space in which to live.
Formerly there were wars which automatically took thought of the
overplus of men; but to-day the world is at peace, as men regard the
term--and every man's hand is against his neighbor! There will be no
more wars, when there should be! There is but one alternative!"

"And that?" Sarka the First had queried suspiciously.

"The segregation of the fittest! The destruction, swiftly, painlessly,
of all the others! And when the survivors have again re-populated the
earth to overflowing--a repetition of the same corrective! Men will die,
yes, by millions; but those who are left will be a stronger, sturdier
race, and by this process of elimination, century by century, men will
evolve and become super-men!"

"And this plan of yours?"

       *       *       *       *       *

For a moment Dalis had paused, breathing heavily, as though almost
afraid to continue. Then, while Sarka the First had listened in frozen
terror, Dalis had explained his ghastly scheme.

"If it were not for the mountains and the valleys," said Dalis, "and the
world were perfectly round and smooth of surface, that surface would be
covered by water to the depth of one mile! Is that not correct! The
Earth, rotating on its axis, travels about the sun at the rate of
something like nineteen miles per second, so perfectly balanced that
the oceans remain almost quiescent in their beds! But, Sarka, mark me
well! If we could, together, devise a way to halt this rotation for as
much as a few seconds, what would happen?"

"What would happen?" repeated Sarka the First, dropping his own voice to
a husky, frightened whisper. "Why, the oceans would be hurled out of
their beds, and a wall of water a mile high or more--it is all
guesswork!--would rush eastward around the world, bearing everything
before it! It would uproot and destroy buildings, sweep the rocky
covering of the earth free of soil; and humanity, caught on the earth
below the highest level of the world's greatest tidal wave, would be
engulfed!"

"Exactly!" Dalis had said with a grin. "Exactly! Only--the people we
wish to survive could be warned, and these could either be aloft when
the tidal wave swept the face of the earth, or could be safely out of
reach of the waters on the sides of the highest mountains!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Sarka the First, wanly smiling, catching his breath at last, now that he
realized the utter impossibility of this mad scheme, had been minded to
humor the fancies of a man whom he had believed not quite sane.

"Why not," he began, "take away from men the Secret of Life, so that
they will die, as formerly, when the world was young?"

"When all the world knows the Secret, when even children learn it before
they are capable of walking?" demanded Dalis sarcastically. "You could
only remove knowledge of the Secret from the brains of men by removing
those brains themselves! Your thought is more terrible even than mine,
because it leads to this inescapable conclusion!"

"But supposing for a moment your mad scheme were possible, who should
say whom, of all the earth's people, should be saved, whom sacrificed?"

"What better test could be given than that which I am proposing?" Dalis
had snarled. "Those worthy of being saved would save themselves! Those
who would perish would not be worth saving! As natural, as inescapable
as the law of the survival of the fittest, which has been an axiom of
life since men first crawled out of the slime and asked each other
questions as they caught their first glimpses of the stars and pondered
the reasons for them!"

"But where, then, was there any point in my giving to people the Secret
of Life?"

"Had you paused to think," snapped Dalis, "you would never have done so!
Your lust for power, and for fame, destroyed your foresight!"

       *       *       *       *       *

"And is it not, Dalis," replied Sarka the First, softly, "for this,
really, that you have come to me? To berate me? To throw at my head mad
schemes impossible of accomplishment? I have always known you for an
enemy, Dalis, because you are envious of what I have accomplished, what
you sense that I will accomplish as time passes!"

"I do not love you, Sarka!" retorted Dalis frankly. "I despise you! Hate
you! But I need the aid of that keen brain of yours! You see, hate you
though I may, I do you honor still. I have something up here," tapping
the dome of his brow, only less lofty than that of Sarka, "which you
lack. You have something I have not, never can attain! But together we
are complements, each of the other, and to the two of us this scheme is
possible!"

"I am very busy, Dalis," Sarka the First had replied coldly. "I must ask
you to leave me! What you propose is impossible, unthinkable!"

"So," retorted Dalis, "you think me mad? You think me incapable of
perfecting this plan about whose details you have not even yet been
informed! You would show me the door as though you were a king and I a
slave--when kings and slaves vanished from the earth millenniums ago!
Then listen to me, Sarka! I know how to do this thing about which I have
told you. I can halt, for a brief moment only, the whirl of the earth
about its axis. And by so doing I can flood the earth with the waters of
the oceans! If you will not listen to me, I shall do it myself! You
shall have two days in which to give me an answer, for I admit that I
need you, who would balance me, make sure I made no fatal mistakes! But
if you do not, I will act ... along the lines I have hinted!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Apparently as unconcerned as though he had not just listened to a scheme
for almost total depopulation of the world, the destruction of millions
upon millions of lives, Sarka the First had dismissed Dalis--who had
straightway used all his offices to arouse the world of science against
the first Sarka.

But, when the two days of grace given by Dalis had passed, there were no
oceans--for Sarka the First had been planning for a century against the
time when the earth must of necessity be over-populated, and had worked
and slaved in his laboratory against the contingency which had
developed.

He had smiled, though there was a trace of fear on his face after Dalis
had left, for _his_ scheme had been worked out--not to destroy, but to
save!

And from this same laboratory in which Sarka now sat and pondered on the
next step in man's expansion, Sarka the First had, in fear and trembling
at first, but with his confidence growing by leaps and bounds, worked
his own miracle. Untold millions and billions of rays, whose any portion
of which, coming in contact with water, immediately separated its
hydrogen and oxygen, thus disintegrating its molecules, were hurled
forth from their store-houses beneath the laboratory, across the faces
of the mighty oceans of Earth....

And when men saw the miracle, they rushed into the mighty valleys where
the oceans had been, and began to build new homes!

       *       *       *       *       *

That had been centuries ago--scores of centuries.

Now all the earth, all the livable part of the earth, above its
surface--and below it to the depths of miles--was filled with people,
like bees in a monster hive, like ants of antiquity in their warrened
hills. And there was no place now that they could go.

So they fought among themselves for the right to live.

"But my grandfather was right!" Sarka almost screamed it, speaking aloud
in the silence of his laboratory. "My grandfather was right! Dalis was
wrong! Science should be the science of Life, not of Death! Yet whither
shall we go! Where now shall we find places for our people who are daily
being born in myriads, to live, and love and flourish?"

But there was no answer. Only the humming of the perpetually revolving
Beryl, which showed to the sad eyes of Sarka that the people of his
beloved earth were rushing onward to Chaos, unless....

"If only I could be sure about Jaska!" he moaned. "If only my courage
were as great as that of which I stand in need! For if I fail, even
Dalis, had he succeeded with that scheme of his in grandfather's time,
would be less a monster, less a criminal!"


CHAPTER III

_The Spokesmen of the Gens_

For a long moment Sarka looked broodingly out across the world beyond
the metalized glass which formed the curving dome of his laboratory
roof. There was little that could be seen, for always the mighty, cold
winds, ruffed with flurries of snow and particles of ice, swept over
this artificial roof of the world. Here and there huge portions of the
area within the range of his normal vision were swept clear and clean of
snow and ice--and looked bluely, bitterly cold and hostile.

Without the Sarka-Belts, people who ventured forth from their hives
would instantly freeze to the consistency of marble in those winds and
storms. For the people of Earth had built their monster habitation
toward the stars until they reached up into the altitude of perpetual
cold.

Only under that gleaming roof was there warmth. Many of the men, and
women, and children who had lost in the now century-old fight for
survival had merely been tossed out of the hives. A painless, swift
death--but each death, in a world so highly specialized that each grown
person fitted into his niche naturally and easily, was a distinct loss,
not much, perhaps, but enough for the loss to be felt.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sarka, closing his eyes for a moment as though to shut out a horror
which in his mind he could visualize, turned back to the Revolving
Beryl, in which he kept in constant touch with all parts of the world at
will.

"It _must_ be done!" he muttered. "I must take action. It means the loss
of thousands, perhaps millions of lives, in such a war as the mind of
man has not hitherto conceived; but for a Cause greater than any which
has ever hitherto been an excuse for armed conflict. But I must discuss
it with the Spokesmen of the Gens!"

On the table before Sarka was a row of vari-colored lights, whose source
was beneath the floor of the laboratory, out of the heart of the
master-mountain, part of the intricate machinery of this laboratory
which had been almost twenty centuries in the perfecting. In the
dwelling place of each of the Spokesmen was a single light, colored like
one of the lights on Sarka's table. To speak with any one of the
Spokesmen Sarka had but to dim the properly colored light by covering it
with the palm of his hand. The light in the home of the thus signalled
Spokesman was dimmed, and the Spokesman would know that Sarka desired
to converse with him.

Sarka noted the blue light, and shuddered. For if he covered it with his
palm it would summon Dalis, a great scientist, but an erratic one, as
Sarka the First had so clearly shown.

Sarka turned again to the Beryl. The area of which Dalis was Spokesman
was, roughly speaking, that part of what had once been the Pacific
Ocean, north of a line drawn east and west through the southernmost of
the Hawaiian Islands, northward to the Pole. The home of Dalis was in
the heart of what had once been an island historians claimed had been
called Oahu, now a mountain peak still retaining a hint of the
pre-Discovery name: Ohi.

       *       *       *       *       *

The total number of the Spokesmen, the oldest of earth's inhabitants,
was twelve, and the remainder of the Earth not under the tutelary rule
of Dalis was divided up among the other eleven Spokesmen. Cleric, for
example, father of Jaska, was Spokesman of that area which men had once
called Asia, the vast valleys of the once Indian Ocean and the
Mediterranean; while the youngest of the Spokesmen, in a manner serving
his apprenticeship, was tutelary head of the vast plateau once called
Africa. The name of this man was Gerd.

"He, at least," thought Sarka, thinking of each Spokesman in turn and
cataloguing each in his mind, "will be with me. I wonder about the
others, and especially Dalis. He has always hated us!"

Then, with the air of a man who has made up his mind and crosses his
particular Rubicon in a single step, Sarka rose to his feet and passed
along the row of vari-colored lights, covering each one with his hand in
rapid succession.

Then he sat down again, almost holding his breath, and waited. As he
stared at the row of lights his eyes lingered longest on two which were
almost golden in color--and his face was very gentle, almost reverent.
For those two lights were signals to Sarka the First and Sarka the
Second, his grandfather and his father!

       *       *       *       *       *

It was Dalis, the irascible, the fiery tempered, the erratic, who first
made answer.

"Yes! What is it now?"

Sarka smiled a trifle grimly as he spoke a single word.

"Wait!"

The voice of Dalis, which Sarka had good cause to remember, had sounded
as loudly in the laboratory as though Dalis had been present there in
person, for men had learned to communicate by voice almost without the
aid of radio and its appurtenances though the principle upon which the
first crude beginnings of radio were fashioned still applied. Each man's
dwelling place was both a "sender" and a "receiver," and men could talk
and be talked to no matter where they lived--individuals telepathically
summoned at desire of anyone wishing verbal contact.

"Gerd is here!" came the voice of that Spokesman.

To him also Sarka spoke one word.

"Wait!"

"I am here, Sarka!" came a musical voice. "And Jaska is with me,
listening!"

That would be Cleric, loyal friend, master scientist, but always shy of
contact with people, though swift to anger and self-forgetfulness when
he knew himself right and was opposed. Sarka darted a look back at the
Revolving Beryl, adjusted swiftly the Beryl-microscope, and smiled into
the faces of Jaska and Cleric, who looked enough alike that they might
have been brother and sister, though Cleric had been born ten centuries
before his daughter Jaska. They smiled back at him.

       *       *       *       *       *

He shifted the Beryl-microscope and stared for a second at Dalis, there
in the Beryl, and marked the antagonism Dalis was at no pains to hide.

One by one the Spokesmen reported.

Klaser, from the Americas; Durce from the valleys of the vanished
Atlantic; Boler from that part of the Artic Circle not included in the
wedge which the Gens of Dalis thrust northward to the Pole: Vardee;
Prull; Yuta; Aal; Vance and Hime. Each from his appointed area, each
from the official headquarters of his Gens, the name given to those
people who acknowledged the tutelage of a Spokesman. Each Spokesman,
therefore, was the mouthpiece of millions of men, women and children.
And over the Spokesmen, and not themselves Spokesmen, were three
scientists: The Sarkas, First, Second and Third.

When all twelve of the Spokesmen had reported and been bidden by Sarka
to wait, a smile touched the face of Sarka for an instant as two other
voices, so nearly alike they might have been the voice of a single
person, reported themselves.

"I am here, son! What is it?"

Oddly enough, Sarka's father and grandfather reported with exactly the
same words. Sarka smiled at a whimsical thought of his own. It had been
some time since the three scientist Sarkas had been together, and
despite the vast differences in their ages they might have been
triplets!

       *       *       *       *       *

The reports were in and the Spokesmen were waiting; but for almost a
minute Sarka waited still. Then he spoke swiftly those words for which
there could be no recall:

"Gentlemen, the time is come when we must go to war!"

For a long moment after he had spoken there was no answer. Then it came,
in the jeering laughter of the antagonistic Dalis.

"War? Against whom? The Sarkas are always dreaming!"

"And Dalis," continued Sarka, "shall be one of the leaders of Earthlings
in this war which I am about to propose! You doubtless recall a proposal
you once made to Sarka the First? Your proposal to halt for a few
moments the headlong whirl of the earth about its axis, thus to
flood--"

"Stop!" interrupted Dalis. "Stop! Immediately!"

And Sarka stopped. He had forgotten, in the excitement of his urge to
explain his plans, that the millions of people who gave official
allegiance to Dalis had never been informed of the hideous proposal he
had made, back there centuries ago, as a corrective for a world rapidly
approaching over-population. Had his people known, never again would the
voice of Dalis be heard in life. The Spokesmen knew, and the Sarkas; but
no others. Sarka understood the protest of Dalis; honored it.

"Dalis," he went on, more softly, "after I have explained what I wish to
do, you will come to me here, prepared to explain to me exactly how you
planned doing what you proposed to my grandfather--for your knowledge
will be necessary to me...."

"Isn't it enough that your grandfather stole from me, and amplified, an
idea that would have made me forever famous, without his grandson also
stealing the fruit of my brains?"

"Your brains," said Sarka sharply, "belong to your people. What I plan
is for their betterment. But it means war, war which may last a century,
two centuries, in which lives of countless thousands may be lost."

       *       *       *       *       *

Sarka's last words were almost drowned out by the humming sound that
came out of the Revolving Beryl, that perfected device which was the
ultimate in the evolution of television and vibration-transference.
Sarka's heart sank, for he knew the meaning of that sound. So did the
Spokesmen.

"You see?" came the rasping voice of Dalis. "You hear? Look into your
Beryl! See the clenched fists of the earth's myriads being shaken at
you! Listen to the protests of the millions who hear your every word!
See what Earthlings think of the prospect of war!"

For a moment Sarka spoke directly to the people.

"Be silent and listen! It will be war, yes; but not such a skulking,
hideous war as ye wage among yourselves for a place to live! You,
fathers, are guilty of slaying your sons! You, sons, of slaying your
fathers! Merely by thrusting them forth from the hives, into the Outer
Cold! This war I propose shall be a war that shall match your manhood,
if ye indeed be men! Listen to me, and I will find for you new lands to
conquer, new homes for your holding, if ye can take them!"

"But where," interrupted the sarcastic voice of Dalis, "are these new
lands of which you speak? Inside the Earth? Already our hives reach into
the Earth a distance of eight miles. Where else, then?"

"For shame, Dalis!" snapped Sarka, "and you a scientist! Every bit of
habitable land on this globe is some man's dwelling place! Spokesmen of
the Gens of Earth, look out your windows! Look out and upward--and read
Dalis' answer in the stars!"

       *       *       *       *       *

For a full minute there was silence throughout the earth, and Sarka saw
that the Spokesmen were doing his bidding. He himself looked out, out
through the swirling storm which tore at the crest of the Himalayas, a
dark and forbidding Outside, in the starred dome of which rode the pale
orbed moon!

"It is obvious, son," came the voice of Sarka the First, "what you mean.
But how accomplish it?"

"Fifteen centuries ago, my father's father," cried Sarka, "Dalis told
you that he possessed the power to halt for a moment the headlong whirl
of the world on its axis about the sun! He could do it then--and no man,
whatever he may think of Dalis as a man, has ever known him to lie! If,
fifteen centuries ago, he could bring the whirling world to pause, why
can we not, now...."

And, even though he had thought of this for years upon end, had spoken
over and over to himself the words he was now using, rehearsing his
proposed argument to the Spokesmen of the Gens, Sarka found himself for
a moment almost afraid to continue and speak them.

"I understand, Sarka!" came the excited voice of Gerd, youngest of the
Spokesmen. "And I follow wherever you think it best to lead! You mean
... you mean...."

"Exactly!" Sarka managed at last. "If the Earth can be stayed on its
axis, it can be diverted from its orbit entirely! I know, for I have
found the manner of its doing, though I need the genius of Dalis to
check my work and my calculations! We have no new land on this Earth to
conquer; but the Universe is filled with countless other worlds! What
say ye, Spokesmen of the Gens? What say ye, Gens of Earth?"

But for the time of a thousand heartbeats neither the Spokesmen or the
Gens made answer to Sarka, and all the world fell utterly silent,
absorbing this unbelievable thing of which Sarka had hinted.

       *       *       *       *       *

Over the metalized roof of the world the snows and storms, the winds and
the wraiths of the long dead moaned and screamed as with an icy voice of
abysmal warning.

And for the time of those thousand heartbeats, the world was pausing to
listen.

When realization came, the answer would come from the Spokesmen and from
the Gens; and here in the Sarka laboratory, his Rubicon crossed at last,
sat Sarka, staring through the Beryl-microscope into the depths of the
Revolving Beryl. His face was dead white, his eyes narrowed.

The first voice which came startled him.

"It is mad, Sarka! Mad! Mad! But I am with you, always!"

It was the voice of Jaska, daughter of Cleric!


CHAPTER IV

_The Earthlings Make Ready_

"I too, am with you!" came the voice of Gerd.

"Spoken like a child!" snapped Dalis. "For you are as much a child as
this third of the dreaming Sarkas! The scheme is mad, madder even than
Jaska intimates! The scheme I once proposed, in which I was cheated by
the grandfather of this madman, was times and times more feasible and
practicable!"

"Suppose," came the soft voice of Sarka the First, interrupting Dalis,
"that you put the matter up to your Gens, O wise and noble Dalis, and
see which scheme they would endorse if given the choice in the
matter--and were your scheme still possible!"

This quickly silenced the vituperation of Dalis, but in no wise
prevented his continuance as a rather loud antagonist of the plan.

"How," he demanded, "can you return the Earth to its orbit, even
granting you are able to take this initial step? How keep life on the
Earth during its flight on this rainbow-chasing voyage you propose?"

"All these things have been taken into consideration, O Dalis!" retorted
Sarka. "All of my scheme is practicable, as I think you will agree when
I have told you its details. What think you of the plan, Klaser? And
you, Durce? Boler? Vardee? Prull? Yuta? Aal? Vance? Hime?"

When the Spokesmen had answered, some of them hesitantly, for the people
all this time had remained silent--and none of the Spokesmen could be
sure how his own Gens would feel in the matter--it developed that seven
of the Spokesmen were for the scheme, if it should prove to be possible.

"If this is the voice of the majority of the Gens," snapped Dalis,
"given thus by their Spokesmen, then I vote with the majority! I shall
call upon you immediately, Sarka, for a conference!"

       *       *       *       *       *

"I am glad," said Sarka softly, "that the majority of the Spokesmen are
with me. Especially am I glad that Dalis and Cleric vote with me. For
the others I have only this to say: I have thought this matter over for
almost a century, and I know that the time has come when we must act, to
save ourselves from self-destruction. Had you not decided with me, I
should have acted alone!"

"Yes?" snapped Dalis. "How?"

"I have, here in my laboratory," replied Sarka, "the power whereby to
accomplish the scheme of which I have told you! Had all the Gens defied
me, I would have nevertheless sent the Earth outward on its voyage,
bringing it within reach of the denizens, first of the Moon, second of
Mars--and you people of little courage would have been compelled to
fight to save yourselves!"

"You would have forced us into war?" came the quavering voice of Prull,
the first Spokesman aside from Dalis to take active part in the
discussion. "Then why, if you had the means in the beginning to enforce
your will upon us, confer with us at all?"

Sarka thrilled with satisfaction, for this question gave him the excuse
he sought. He had been wondering and scheming how to compel the
Spokesmen of the Gens to obey his will.

"I wanted your opinions," he said shortly. "But I also wish you to know
that I have the power to go on, whether you wish it or not--_and you
must obey me!_"

       *       *       *       *       *

How would the twelve Gens take this ultimatum of Sarka? For breathless
moments after he had spoken he waited, and the Spokesmen with him. Then
came the voice of Cleric, addressing his people, yet leaving the
contacts open so that Sarka and the other Spokesmen might hear.

"What say you, O Gens of Cleric?" he cried, his voice an exultant,
clarioning paean of rejoicing. "Do we follow this man who promises us
life again? Do we follow this man who promises us that once again we
shall dwell in plenty, without the blood of relatives and neighbors on
our hands? Answer this man, O Gens--for I say unto you that wheresoever
he leads I would follow him!"

Silence for a heartbeat. Then a murmuring like the sound of the waves of
the long-vanished seas sounded in the laboratory, wherein all things
were seen, all sounds were heard. A monster voice, loud and savage, from
the Gens of Cleric.

"We follow Cleric wherever he leads!" Finally the words became
intelligible. "It matters not to us whom Cleric follows, so long as we
may follow Cleric!"

"Well spoken, O Gens of Cleric!" snapped Sarka when the murmuring died
down to a whisper, then faded out entirely. "Deck yourselves in the
white garments of Cleric! Emblazon upon your backs and breast the Red
Lily of his House! Prepare for war! These are your orders; the details I
leave to Cleric!"

There came the voice Dalis.

"Give your orders to my Gens direct, O Sarka!" rasped Dalis. "For I
leave this very moment to come to you!"

"Thank you," said Sarka, a great wave of exaltation sweeping over him.
He had expected Dalis to be the last and most difficult to manage. Then
to the Gens of Dalis, as the blue light on the table in the laboratory
showed Sarka that Dalis was already winging toward him: "Deck yourselves
in the green garments of Dalis! Wear as your insignia the yellow star of
his House, and prepare for war! Make new and modern Ray Directors!
Refurbish your rotting machines of destruction! Make ready, and make
haste! For the Gens of Dalis will be the first of all the Gens to move
in attack against the Dwellers Outside! When the time comes I shall tell
you where you shall dwell--if you win the land I shall show you!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The humming of myriad voices inside the laboratory was now almost
continuous, but ever the words of Sarka went out to the Spokesmen and to
the Gens, though, save in the case of Cleric and of Dalis, he did not
speak to the Gens direct, because he did not wish in one iota to usurp
the authority of the Spokesmen themselves.

But when less than an hour had passed, he realized that the first step
had been successfully taken, and that from now on the success or failure
of the scheme rested in his own hands. Perspiration bedewed his
forehead, and for a second he prayed.

"God of our fathers! Grant that we be not mistaken! Grant that we be
right in what we plan! Grant that success attend our arms! Grant that
this scheme of mine lead us not to catastrophe--for if this should
develop, only I am guilty, and only I should be punished!"

"Amen!"

As one voice, the Spokesmen of the Gens spoke the word, and Sarka heard
it. He had forgotten for the moment that the Spokesmen still could hear
him.

"That is all," he said huskily. "Prepare your Gens, each of you, for
such battle as even our histories never have recorded! For we go against
foemen whose strength we do not know, whose manner of life we do not
know, and we must not fail! Make haste with your preparations! Your time
is short! And Spokesmen, counsel your Gens that they put aside at once
all personal differences, all family quarrels, all quarrels with their
neighbors! That each adult individual, each unmarried woman, and such
married woman as have all their children grown, and who no longer need
them, prepare to go forth to battle! From this laboratory, within a
brief space, Dalis and the Sarkas will give you further word!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Then he dimmed the lights, and severed contact with the Spokesmen of the
Gens. Only two lights he did not dim, at the moment, and to two men he
spoke softly.

"My father and my father's father! Come to me at once! For there shall
be need of the combined genius of the Sarkas if my scheme is to
succeed!"

From both Sarkas, as though they had rehearsed the words against this
need of them, came answer:

"Aye, son, we come!"

From that moment on until Dalis and the Sarkas were ready to take the
most momentous step ever taken in the history of the world, the humming
within the laboratory did not cease. For the people, the millions and
billions of people of the hives, were busy, eagerly and feverishly busy,
preparing new armament, new engines of destruction, against the time
when there should be need of them. And for perhaps the first time in
centuries, the people were happy.

For not even the passage of a thousand centuries, or a thousand thousand
centuries, could flush from the warm hearts of men the love of conflict!

Sarka smiled wanly, his face very pale. He had spoken, his people were
busy with preparations, and now there could be no turning back. The
world, when he spoke the word, would rush outward to glorious
conflict--or to destruction!

A buzzer sounded near the Exit Dome. Sarka raced to give the "Enter"
Signal--and Dalis, he of the hawk-eyes, the sharp nose and sharper
tongue, entered the presence of the man who, in a twinkling, had made
himself master of the world.

"Well," he said harshly, "I am here! What do you wish of me?"

"We Sarkas," said Sarka easily, "wish to assure ourselves that you will
do nothing to obstruct our plans! Dalis, of the Gens of Dalis, you are
prisoner of the Sarkas until you have passed your word!"

"That I will never do!" said Dalis calmly. "I have passed my word to go
forward with you; but I meant, and you knew I meant, to go forward only
as far as to me seemed right and reasonable!"


CHAPTER V

_The Betrayal of Dalis_

And until the arrival of the other two Sarkas, Dalis said nothing. His
face flushed an angry red as Sarka the First received the "Enter" Signal
and stepped into the laboratory which had once been his--which he had
delivered into the capable hands of Sarka the Second, in order to find
new channels for his genius, as a worker for the betterment of the
world's people. This he had found in organization, so that the people
worked and labored, despite their personal quarrels, in closer harmony
than they ever had before. But now Sarka the Third had called, and the
two Sarkas responded. Dalis snarled at his ancient enemy, who looked to
be the image of Sarka the Third and not one whit older, though one had
preceded the other into the world by many centuries.

"Still the pleasant, congenial Dalis, I see!" smiled Sarka the First.

       *       *       *       *       *

For the moment it seemed that Dalis would die there of his seething
anger; but he answered no word for all of a minute. Then:

"This mad grandson of yours has made me a prisoner, until such time as I
concur in all his plans!"

"If he says you are a prisoner, that you are!" snapped the elder Sarka
angrily. "Son, what is this thing you plan?"

"For almost a century," replied Sarka, "I have been planning this. I
knew, when father told me that Dalis had sworn he was able to halt for a
moment the headlong flight of the Earth in its orbit, that Dalis did not
lie or bluff! In your day, even, that was possible, and I continued with
the knotty problem until I deduced the manner of its doing. I, too, can
halt the Earth's rotation, or throw it out of its orbit! I took your
idea, Dalis, _independently_ of you, knowing you would never reveal
your secret to a Sarka, and amplified it until I can not only halt the
Earth in its orbit, but throw it out of its orbit entirely!"

For a moment Sarka studied the angry face of Dalis, and his own was very
thoughtful.

"Dalis," he said at last, "I wish you were not our enemy! For you are a
genius, and the world has need of all the knowledge of such genius as it
possesses. Why do you oppose us?"

"Because," snarled Dalis, "I guessed something of your plan that I do
not like! I do not like the Sarkas, never have; but neither have the
Sarkas any love for me! When you spoke to us all, I knew that somehow
you had discovered the secret! You spoke, when you delivered your
ultimatum, of attacking the Moon, and after it Mars! You also granted to
my Gens what would have seemed a great honor--to anyone who did not
fathom the tricky scheming of the Sarkas!--that of being the first into
the fray! If we are to be first, and the Moon is to be the first
attacked, then you plan to relieve the world forever of me, your
arch-enemy, by exiling me and all my Gens upon the Moon! A dead world,
covered with ashes, whose people dwell in dank caverns, like gnomes of
the underworld...."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Stay!" snapped Sarka. "But I granted you a greater honor even than
that, Dalis! I planned on your Gens, led by you, making a successful
conquest of the Moon--because only such a genius as Dalis could force
from this dead world a living for his Gens! Because you are the wisest
of the Spokesmen, I planned for you the greatest task! Because I need
you ... I do not slay you!"

"I thank you," bowing low, with the deepest sarcasm, "but you honor me
too much! And tell me, pray, if it is not true that you plan for the
Sarkas their choice of the best and newest worlds of the Universe?"

Sarka did not answer for a second, while his sensitive nostrils quivered
with fury. The Sarkas had not noticed, but Jaska, daughter of Cleric,
had admitted herself through the Exit Dome, in a way known only to Sarka
and to herself, as she had entered many times before so as not to
disturb Sarka at his labors. She now stood silently there, divesting
herself of her Belt and outer clothing, beneath which was the golden
toga worn by all the women of the earth. Dalis, however, had seen her,
and his eyes narrowed craftily as he awaited the answer of Sarka.

"Dalis," said Sarka softly, "it is not for you to question me, but to
obey me! I have not undertaken this step without mastering all its
details, and I refuse to allow you to swerve me in a single one of them
from my plan."

       *       *       *       *       *

Dalis straightened, standing stiffly at savage attention, and met the
angry eyes of Sarka without flinching. There was no fear in Dalis, as
all the world knew. But he was a schemer, and selfish.

"After all," he said, "I have known Sarkas to make promises they could
not keep! How do I know, how does the world know, that you can do what
you say you can do?"

"If," said Sarka, "I close all contact of this laboratory with the world
outside, so that none may hear what I say save we four, and I then
whisper here the secret you never told, Dalis, when my father's father
refused to help you--will you then believe?"

The face of Dalis went suddenly white, but he nodded, his eyes burning
redly. Jaska moved closer to the men, who stood near the table of the
vari-colored lights.

"You needed my father's father," said Sarka softly, "because the secret
of your scheme rested here in this laboratory, which is the highest
point in the world! You pretended to need him in your scheme; but you
did not need my father's father, though you _did_ need his laboratory,
and some of the facts of science that _he_ discovered. So you came to
him with your scheme, discovered that he believed, though he denied it,
your scheme was possible--because he refused to aid you in it! Then, as
an excuse to re-enter this laboratory, you told him you would return
within two days! Now, shall I tell you your secret?"

       *       *       *       *       *

The lips of Dalis were moving soundlessly. His right hand started to
rise, as though he would make it signal the negative he was unable for a
moment to speak. But even as he stood there, swaying slightly on his
feet, Sarka dashed to the lights on the table, disconnecting them one by
one; to the Revolving Beryl, which then ceased to revolve for the first
time in centuries--whirled when he had finished, and stepped to the very
center of the room.

"Now," he whispered, "your secret, Dalis!"

Still the hand upraised, still Dalis tried to speak, and could not.

Sarka spoke, in a hoarse, almost terrified whisper, four words:

"The Beryl! The Ovoids!"

Gasps of surprise from the other two Sarkas, whose eyes for a second
flashed to the huge Beryl, which now was still, silent--and blind.
Dawning comprehension was evident in their faces.

"The success of the Revolving Beryl," whispered Sarka, "which sees all
that transpires in this world, depends on one fact: that its revolving
is proportionately timed to infinite exactness with the revolution of
the Earth about its axis! This Beryl is the Master Beryl of the Earth,
which was why Dalis needed this Beryl, and could use no other!"

       *       *       *       *       *

"Suppose that for a period of two days, uniformly progressive, this
Beryl were forced to revolve in sharp jerks at an increasing rate of
speed! With all connections in place, and all the world's Beryls attuned
to the speed of this one--what would happen? What would happen if a
single Gens were marshalled in warlike array atop the area of the Gens,
and kept up a steady, rhythmic march for a period of hours?"

"In a few hours," whispered Sarka the First, "the roof of the Gens area
would begin to vibrate, to vibrate throughout all the area, and even
into all surrounding Gens areas--and in time the roof would collapse!"

"Exactly!" said Sarka, breathing heavily. "This Beryl, when attuned to
all other Beryls in the world, would have this vibratory effect, not
only on a certain area of the world--but upon the entire world!--Force
the speed of the Beryls to the uttermost limit, and you sway the world
to your will! As a marching horde would sway the roof of a vast section
of the world if the horde's commander willed!

"But that is not enough! The world would tremble, but nothing more! The
Earth's store of Ovidum, which is Anti-Gravitational, and used in minute
quantities in our Anti-Gravitational Ovoids, is evenly distributed
throughout the world. By vibration of the Beryls I can control it,
scatter it or gather it all together wherever I will! By shifting
through vibration this Anti-Gravitational material, I can disrupt, make
uneven, or nullify the pull of gravity on the Earth!"

"That would do it," said Dalis, finding his voice at last; "but how
would you control the course the Earth would take, thus thrown out of
its orbit?"

"That, my dear Dalis, is for the moment my secret!"

"But is it?" Dalis suddenly shouted.

       *       *       *       *       *

Before the three Sarkas could recover from their surprise at the man's
sudden vehemence, he made a swift, terrifying move. He leaped away from
them to stand beside Jaska, daughter of Cleric.

"Sarka," he shrieked, "I know you love this woman! Note this little tube
I hold against her side. With it I can cause her to vanish for all time,
merely by a slight pressure of the fingers! And that will I do, unless
you immediately open all contacts with the world and remain silent while
I tell the people of Earth how you would betray them!"

The three Sarkas were petrified with amazement and horror, for they
recognized the slender tube in the hand of Dalis as a Ray Director, the
world's greatest engine of destruction, and knew that it would do
exactly as Dalis had said it would.

Automatically, because they were brave men, they had stepped a trifle
closer to Jaska and Dalis. Perspiration poured from their cheeks as they
stared at this rebel. But their fears were for Jaska, who now spoke for
the first time.

"Let him do as he wills," she said smilingly, "since for the good of the
world I do not fear to die! Refuse him, Sarka, and know that I go into
Death's Darkness loving you always, and knowing that you will succeed in
the end, in spite of the opposition of men like Dalis!"

       *       *       *       *       *

A man of unexpected actions, this Dalis, for while the attentions of the
Sarkas were on the little tableau he had staged, his eyes had darted to
the Beryl, to the control which Sarka had touched to still its
revolving. Now he sprang away from Jaska, was free of her and the Sarkas
before any could move to intercept him.

He dashed to the Beryl. Instantly it swept into motion, while Dalis
whirled to face the Sarkas, and from his lips came a burst of triumphant
laughter. One hand was on the Beryl Control, the other still held the
Ray Director.

"Fools!" he cried. "Fools! Duped like children! And now it is Dalis who
is master of the world! Move closer to me, and I will turn my Ray
Director upon this Beryl, which you have so kindly informed me is master
of all the Beryls and of all Ovidum deposits! Be glad that I do not turn
it upon you; but for you I have a kinder, more honorable fate! I now am
master, and will direct the destiny of the world! But I will never
leave it, because I suspect that it is the most pleasant of all the
worlds! I will, however, choose for the Sarkas a world that shall be the
dreariest in all the Universe!"

The Sarkas whirled as soft laughter came from Jaska, daughter of Cleric.
Strange, lilting laughter. They turned in time to see her vanish through
the Exit Dome; but for a long moment her jeering laughter seemed to
sound in the laboratory she had left-and, to judge by her laughter, had
betrayed! For Dalis, arch-traitor, echoed her laughter!


CHAPTER VI

_The Beryls in Tune_

"Remember," said Dalis, as the Beryl began to revolve and its humming
mounted moment by moment to normal, "that you must concur in whatever I
say to the people of the Earth--for if you do not, I swear that I will
destroy this Master Beryl! Then what happens to your scheme, Sarka the
Third? You see, there is no change in the plans, save one: I am the
master, not you!"

Dalis was not a madman, for the world conceded him place in its list of
geniuses next below the three Sarkas, which was high honor indeed; but
Dalis possessed in abundance that most universal of all human
emotions--jealousy. For centuries he had been nursing it, watching the
Sarkas always in the niches just above him, yet never being able to
attain to their eminence. Now....

He had outwitted them. It might be for a moment only, but while his
mastery lasted he would drink deeply of personal satisfaction. Now,
however, there was no gloating in his face, for he realized, as Sarka
had realized, the infinite gravity of the whole situation. If a mistake
were made, the world would plunge to destruction--or go cooling forever
in a headlong race through space.

"I keep the Ray Director hidden," he whispered, while the murmuring of
the Master Beryl mounted as it gained speed again, "but know you,
Sarkas, that its muzzle points at the Master Beryl, always!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Now the forms of Earth were appearing on the Beryl. Men in countless
hordes were maneuvering in myriads, legions and armies, across the face
of the globe. There was no marching, but an effortless, swift as light
almost, aerial maneuvering. For each human being possessed the
tight-fitting metalized cloth, with the gleaming helmet in whose
skull-pan was the Anti-Gravitational Ovoid, which was the "outside"
garment of earthlings. With the Ovoid sitting exactly against the skull,
man had but to will himself in any direction, at any livable height, and
the action took place. In the same way, one man, to whom others in an
organization gave allegiance by appointment, could will all his
underlings into whatever formation he desired.

As beautiful and effortless at the flight of those birds which had
vanished from the earth centuries before.

"Remember, Dalis," said Sarka, "that while the speed of the Earth in its
orbit is between eighteen and nineteen miles per second, once thrown out
of its orbit, and forced to follow a straight or nearly straight line,
the speed may be many times that-or much less!"

"The simplest facts of science," snarled Dalis, "were known to me a
thousand years before you were born! Now I shall tell the Spokesmen of
the Gens, and be sure that you second what I say!"

He paused. Then, raising his voice impressively, he spoke.

"O Spokesmen of the Gens, O Gens of Earth, hark ye to the words of Dalis
and of Sarka! The time has come to try the experiment of which Sarka
told you, and which I, Dalis, of the Gens of Dalis, have found good, and
hereby certify! See that all your Beryls are mathematically tuned to
catch every sound, every vibration, every picture, from this Beryl of
Sarka, henceforth to be known as the Master Beryl!

       *       *       *       *       *

"No matter what happens, no matter what changes take place in the
temperature of your homes, no matter what storms may come, touch not
your Beryls until instructed from this laboratory! Tune your Beryls,
then leave them, and hasten faster with your preparations for war! Each
Spokesman of a Gens will at once instruct the members of his Gens that
all partitions between families shall immediately be removed, outward
from a common center in each case, until one hundred families occupy a
single dwelling place. Materials from destroyed partitions shall be
carefully hoarded, and the newer and bigger areas shall become
maneuvering places for the hundred families which will occupy each given
area!

"Facing a crisis as we are, no thought can be given to privacy, and
neighborly quarrels must be forgotten! This move is necessary because no
single dwelling place is large enough to be used as a place of
maneuver--and from now on until the command is given, maneuvers must not
be held Outside! For hark ye, O Spokesmen, O Gens of Earth, we are about
to start upon our voyage into outer space! Spokesmen, call in your
maneuvering myriads! You have five minutes!"

In five minutes not a flying man could be seen in all the cold, stormy
outside. Dalis spoke again.

"Tune your Beryls and remove partitions, taking care that in reducing
partitions you so estimate your stresses and strains that the roof of
the world be not endangered by weight that is unsupported, or improperly
supported!

"Food Conservers, redouble your production and rush your transportation
of Food Capsules!

"Mothers of men, take over the labors of your sons and your husbands!
Sisters and sweethearts of men, join the myriads in maneuvers, for you,
too, may require knowledge of fighting!"

       *       *       *       *       *

In spite of himself, an ejaculation of admiration escaped the lips of
Sarka. Hearing it, Dalis turned to him, and a flush of pleasure tinged
his cheeks as Sarka shaped one word with his lips:

"Excellent!"

Then, after a pause, Sarka spoke directly to the Gens of Earth.

"Take heed of the words of Dalis, for they are also the words of the
Sarkas!"

Then an expression of surprise flashed across the face of Sarka as
Dalis' fingers began to move in a swift sort of pantomime--for the sign
manual he used was the secret manual of Jaska and Sarka! His heart cold
within him at this new proof of her betrayal, Sarka nevertheless noted
the words which dropped silently off the fingers of this enemy of the
Sarkas.

"You are wise to resist no further! Together we can do much, and if you
give your word not to oppose me, we can work together; but I will be the
master!"

"But, if we grant you the mastery, will you heed our advice if it is
good?"

"I will, but I alone will be the judge of its worth!"

"Then we work together henceforth. Let us begin! In the time required to
move from here to the Moon, our people will have ample opportunity to
perfect themselves in maneuvers! Are you ready, O my father, and
father's father?"

"Ready!" they said together.

       *       *       *       *       *

But for a moment Dalis hesitated. "Your word!" he snapped, looking at
each Sarka in turn, and each in his turn nodded. They had given their
word, but not their love, to Dalis. Dalis bowed low to Sarka the
Youngest, who darted to the onyx base in which revolved the Master
Beryl, and pressed a small lever of metalized jade, set in a slot on the
southern side of the base of onyx. The humming sound within the Beryl
became perceptibly louder, and as the minutes passed, and Sarka stood,
arms folded, watching the Revolving Beryl, it continued to increase.

Here was the crisis, and as they watched its sure, certain approach,
they forgot their enmities, Dalis and the Sarkas, and watched the
whirling Beryl. Minute by minute its humming increased. The figures
still were plain to be seen within the Beryl, but were becoming blurred
of outline. Partitions had been removed all over the earth, increasing
the size of rooms a hundredfold, reducing their number a hundredfold.
The Gens of Earth, by hundred-families, were maneuvering under the Heads
of Hundreds. The depths of the Master Beryl, therefore, was a maze of
flying men, with their extremities slightly blurred, and becoming more
so as the Master Beryl increased its speed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Here now was shown the value of the organization fostered by Sarka the
First--for in all the world there was no single Beryl out of tune with
the Master Beryl; and as the Master Beryl increased the speed of its
revolving, so increased at the same time the speed of all the other
Beryls. Minute by minute the humming of the Master, and with it the
others, increased in volume.

"Father!" spoke Sarka. "To the Observatory, behind the Beryl, please, to
watch the stars, and from them to note the direction we take when the
combined vibrations of the Beryls have affected the quiescence of
Earth's deposits of Ovidum and, through its shifting, disturbed the
flight of the Earth in its orbit!"

With a brief nod Sarka's father hurried around the Master Beryl to the
tiny Observatory beyond, from which, through the Micro-Telescopes, those
who knew could read the secrets of the planets, the stars--the Universe.
Sarka watched him go, wondering if Dalis might not forbid him. But Dalis
merely watched him go and said nothing.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now that the time of Change was upon the world, Dalis realized his
responsibility. It was little wonder that he began to be for the first
time a little bit afraid.

"Note, Dalis!" snapped Sarka, and Dalis started nervously as his name
was spoken. "Feel the trembling of the laboratory, just as the same
trembling affects all the other buildings in the world in which Beryls
are located. As the minutes pass the trembling will go deeper and
deeper, and by to-morrow the first tremors will be reaching into the
Earth to several miles below the last habitable Inner Level! And
then....

"Then," repeated Sarka tersely, "my father will know by his study of the
stars in which new direction we are traveling! For within twenty-four
hours the Earth will have started on its voyage of conquest!"

"Is there no way, Sarka," queried Dalis, "by which we can control the
direction of our flight!"

"There _is_ a way, O wise and gallant Dalis! But since you do not know
it, who now is master?"

Dalis' face became as pale as chalk, and Sarka smiled a little as he
watched him. Then, wondering what new resolve stirred the depths of this
master egotist of the earth, he watched emotions flash to and fro across
the face of Dalis, watched the color return to his cheeks. The cold of
death gripped at his heart when Dalis spoke.

"I do not fear death, O wise and gallant Sarka!" he mocked. "For I have
lived fully and well, and for many, many centuries! You know that I do
not fear to slay people of the Earth, for did I not propose to your
father's father that a flood would be beneficial to unfit earthlings?
Hear, then! Keep your secret, and I shall allow the Earth to go outward
into space, out of control, in whatever direction it will. If any other
worlds happen to lie in our pathway...."

       *       *       *       *       *

Dalis shrugged indifferently, turning his back on Sarka, to peer again
into the depths of the Master Beryl, whose voice had risen to a vaster
murmur, whose pictures were becoming moment by moment more blurred as
time fled irrevocably into eternity.

Sarka the First took advantage of his opportunity, and leaped at the
back of Dalis, hands extended to fasten them in the throat of his
ancient enemy. Dalis whirled, with a burst of laughter, and the muzzle
of his Ray Director covered the person of the First Sarka. In a flash
the spot where Sarka the First had been was vacant, and there was no
single sign to show that he had ever stood there!

Silence then in the laboratory, save for the mounting murmur of the
Master Beryl!


CHAPTER VII

_Outer Space_

"He only proved a belief I have entertained for centuries!" snarled
Dalis. "That all the male Sarkas are fools--and the females for bearing
them!"

Sarka said nothing, but within his breast a deep hatred was forming for
Dalis. He had disliked him before, and had been amused by him; but in
the busy life of Sarka there had been no time for hatred of anyone. Busy
people had no time for hatreds.

"You should be torn to pieces for that, Dalis!" was all he said. "We
needed my father's father in our efforts! But the loss to the world of
one super-genius cannot be balanced by slaying another--so you are safe!

"What he could do, I can do!" snapped Dalis.

Sarka turned away from him, seating himself beside the table of the
vari-colored lights, and his heart was heavy as lead in his breast. He
blamed Jaska for much of this, and his heart was burdened, despite her
treachery, by the fact that he loved her, always would love her. Love
was the one possession which made centuries of life desirable to men of
the Earth. For men could spend centuries in seeking a true mate, knowing
that there were other centuries still in which to enjoy her. Woman was
man's greatest boon, his excuse for living, as was man excuse for woman.
Through the centuries, when humankind remained forever young, the joy in
each other of those truly mated grew as their knowledge grew....

       *       *       *       *       *

And now Jaska had failed Sarka, when for half a century they had loved
each other! Why had she done it? He had given her no reason to do so.
Had there been some other reason? Why had she laughed, and left them,
after the betrayal of the Master Beryl into the hands of Dalis?

"Before God," whispered Sarka, "I believe that you, Jaska, were playing
a game to dupe Dalis, as he played a game to dupe us!"

Down in his heart he was not sure. But somehow, just to whisper to
himself his faith in Jaska, gave it back to him in some measure, and by
so much lightened the weight upon his heart. For now his
responsibilities were greater than they had ever been before, and he had
need of all his faculties.

"She'll come back, or somehow communicate with me, and explain
everything," he told himself. But he refused to ponder on how Dalis the
betrayer had gained possession of the secret sign manual he had believed
known only to Jaska and himself. That, too, might be explained
satisfactorily, for Dalis was cunning.

From the side of the laboratory opposite the Revolving Beryl came a soft
tinkling sound, like the striking of a musical bell. Sarka rose wearily,
strode to the wall, where a narrow aperture opened, in which rested Food
Capsules sufficient for one meal for three men. He smiled wryly. They
knew then, the Food Conservers deep in the earth as they were, that
Sarka the First was no more--and sent food for three men! All the world
knew, perhaps, yet no single person had raised voice in protest--or if
any had, the mounting murmur of the Beryls had drowned it out.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Sarka!" spoke Dalis suddenly. "At what time do you estimate that the
flight of the Earth in its orbit will be materially affected?"

"It is being affected this moment, Dalis, shifting the Ovidum store!"
said Sarka shortly. "Within twelve hours we will be in readiness to
start our journey!"

Remaining absolutely motionless within the domed laboratory, it was now
possible to feel the ever so slight motion, not only of the laboratory,
but of the mountain crest upon which it rested. Not so much a to-and-fro
motion as a round-about motion.

Just as the slightest sound flies outward through space endlessly, and
the slightest vibration moves outward until the end of time and of
space, Sarka knew that the vibration set up by the Beryl, slight though
it was, was already being felt at the Poles of the Earth. Not enough to
be noticed there, but existant, just the same.

"In twelve hours the world will be fighting against this combined
vibration and Anti-Gravitational Force we are starting, and second by
second accelerating," Sarka explained to Dalis: "fighting to remain on
its pathway about the Sun! But we will win against it, and with each new
vibration, each succeeding one being more strongly felt, we will force
the Earth that much more against the _pull_ which holds it in its
orbit!"

The laboratory was trembling. The mountain beneath it was trembling.
Both in accordance with scientific design. There was no element of
chance in it, for the mountain moved, and the laboratory on its crest
moved, as science willed. It was now difficult for Sarka to remain still
where he sat, for the trembling was exciting his heart action, and
causing the blood to rush to his cheeks, making him feverish. He rose
to his feet and began pacing the floor.

He strode to the jade lever, moved it ahead a fraction of a fraction of
an inch, and perceptibly the murmuring of the Beryl increased, as did
the trembling of the laboratory and of the mountain.

       *       *       *       *       *

Twelve hours later exactly, Sarka shouted a single word to Dalis.

"Now!"

The laboratory was swinging about in a sort of circle in a way that made
one dizzy if one remained still for the merest second. Sarka, glancing
out into the Outside, across which blew the storms of the heights, and
noting that no cracks appeared in the surface of the world's vast roof,
knew that this swaying motion had been transmitted evenly to all the
Earth, and that, so far at least, his calculations had been correct.

But Dalis was in a cold sweat of fear, and deathly sick. The motion of
the laboratory, like the inside of a whirling top, made him ill, though
Sarka could tell that he fought against it with all his great will.

Sarka strode to him, looked him in the eyes for a moment. Dalis looked
back, glaring defiance.

"Are you afraid, Dalis?" he shouted, to be heard above the screaming of
the Master Beryl.

"I am not afraid," croaked Dalis. "Has the time arrived?"

Sarka paused, as though for dramatic effect, and raised his right hand
high, while his left hand dropped to the metalized jade lever. There
still was room in the slot in the onyx base for the lever to move
forward ever so little.

       *       *       *       *       *

"We have reached the exact place," cried Sarka, "where the Earth can, by
pressure upon this lever, be continued on in its orbit--or forced out of
it--out into space! Which shall it be, Dalis? If I move the lever
forward we start our voyage, and may not be able to return!"

For a moment the nostrils of Dalis quivered as though with fear. His
face was white with his illness; but out of his eyes peered the fanatic
self-confidence of the man.

"Push it forward, O Sarka!" he managed.

Sarka, smiling slightly, pushed the lever to its uttermost limit, still
with his right arm upraised. For full five minutes he stood thus, and
then....

"Now!" he shouted, bringing down his arm. "We have begun our journey
into space! Come, let us look Outside, and await the first reports from
my father!"

The two men, forgetting again for a moment the fact of their enmity,
strode to the southern wall of the laboratory and looked out across the
roof of the world.

"You will note, Dalis," said Sarka conversationally, "that in a matter
of hours, the roaring of the Etheric winds will possess everything! We
will have passed into the infinite reaches of Outer Space, where, if I
may make so bold as to say so, it were better if Dalis, self-named
master of the world, knew whither he was going!"


CHAPTER VIII

_Moon Minions Prepare_

"It is time," said Sarka softly, "that we who have urged the world to
forget its quarrels should forget our own. What difference who is
master, so long as success attend our efforts?"

"Then tell me your secret of control of our flight!" snapped Dalis.

Before Sarka could answer, however, Sarka the Second entered the
laboratory area before the Master Beryl. He looked a question at his
son, and Sarka knew that his father was asking what had become of Sarka
the First. He shrugged his shoulders, and nodded his head toward Dalis.
Sarka the Second gave no more sign of perturbation than had his son, but
deep within his eyes were signal fires of fury which centuries of
penance on the part of Dalis would not erase. But now, with Sarka the
First gone, Dalis must live.

"We are headed," said Sarka's father softly, "in the general direction
of the Moon! If we could travel toward it in a straight line, we would
reach it, if we kept our pace of about eighteen miles per second, in
approximately four hours! But since we are out of control, I fear we
will pass it too far away for our fighters to fly across the intervening
space! Or we may be drawn against it, in planetary collision, which of
course means annihilation. We are traveling noticeably faster than while
in the earth's orbit. I am able to see something of the preparation of
Moon-men to receive us!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Dalis turned to Sarka, and the perspiration bedewed his forehead. In
order to make this mad mission successful, he must know Sarka's secret
of control. Had he been in Sarka's place, _he_ would have kept his
secret, no matter what happened, and he believed in his heart that Sarka
would do the same. It never occurred to him that Sarka, no matter who
the master, would divulge his secret in order to save humanity from
destruction.

"We have approximately four hours, Dalis!" Sarka prompted the betrayer.
"I need at least an hour for my experiments! Do you, knowing as you do
that I have planned all this out, know exactly what course our voyage
should take, still insist on holding the reins yourself?"

"I agree, for this time, to listen to your advice, as I promised you!"

"Then let me suggest that you do some of the work which I had planned
should be done by my father's father! It is time that the world's
Induction Conduits be placed in operation, in order that our people be
supplied with equable temperature from the Earth's Core, as our
temperature changes due to our position with relation to the sun! Stand
back and give me the controls!"

       *       *       *       *       *

For a moment Dalis stared at the two Sarkas. Would they seize power the
moment he moved away from the Beryl Control? In their places he knew he
would have done it. In their places he knew he would never have
submerged self in the good of the people. But, somewhat diffidently, he
moved away. Sarka the Second returned to the Observatory, behind the
Beryl, while Sarka stopped before the table where the lights were.

After a moment of thought-conversation with Sarka the Second in the
Observatory, he dimmed the light which connected his laboratory with the
headquarters of Klaser, in the Americas.

"Klaser," he barked, "for the period of one second cut the speed of
every Beryl within your Gens to half its present speed!"

"I obey, O Sarka!" came the voice of Klaser.

"Have we changed direction?" Sarka mentally questioned his father.

"Slightly, but we are curving away, instead of toward the Moon! Try
again!"

Sarka dimmed the light of Cleric, who instantly made answer.

"I am here, Sarka!"

"Stop the Beryls of your Gens for two seconds, but be prepared to speed
them up immediately afterward, if ordered, to the speed at which they
are now revolving! Klaser, hold the speed of your Beryls as they are!"

"I obey, O Sarka!" came the musical tones of Cleric.

"I hear, O Sarka!" replied Klaser.

"Now, my father," queried Sarka again, telepathically, "what direction
do we travel?"

"We are heading in a direction which will cause us to pass the Moon at a
distance of approximately fifty thousand miles!"

"From which point our fighters can reach the Moon in exactly two hours,
after they have passed through our atmosphere!" cried Sarka exultantly,
aloud.

"True, son!" replied Sarka the Second, mentally. "I suggest you hold
our course steady as it is!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The motion of the earth now was as that of a steadily falling body, and
the shifting of the Ovidum store caused by vibrations set up by the
Beryls had set the Earth on its course toward the Moon. Sarka now gave
instructions to Klaser and to Cleric to return the speed of the Beryls
to that which they had attained at the moment the journey of the Earth
had begun--thus bringing them once more into harmony with the Master
Beryl, and rendering the Ovidum static.

Dalis re-entered the laboratory from the Wall Tube, near the Dome Exit,
by which he had passed down to the lowest Inner Level, and stared
suspiciously at the two Sarkas. He found them half-smiling their
satisfaction.

"We pass the Moon within fifty thousand miles!" exulted Sarka. "A flight
of two hours for the Gens which attacks the Moon! Do you refuse, O
Dalis, to send your Gens against the Moon?"

"Why not send the Gens of Gerd!" demanded Dalis. "He is the youngest of
the Spokesmen, and what better test is there for him than this?"

"It is because he is so young that we do not wish to send him," replied
Sarka coldly. "The colonization of the Moon by Earthlings requires the
guiding genius of a Spokesman who has the experience of a Dalis--or a
Sarka, else you would now be dead!"

"Then let it be a Sarka!" barked Dalis.

"Who, then, will control the further flight of the Earth?"

"You! Let your father lead my Gens against the Moon!"

"What will your Gens say, O Dalis? That their revered Spokesman feared
to lead them in person?"

"Enough of this squabbling," snapped Sarka the Second. "Do you not
realize that within a matter of hours, some Gens must be sent into
battle? Come with me to the Observatory, where you will be given
something beside squabbling with which to occupy your minds!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Leaving the earth on its lonely flight through space, the three men
hurried to the Observatory, where they seated themselves before the
eye-pieces of the Micro-Telescopes, whose outer circles had been aimed
at the Moon.

For a moment the three stared breathlessly at the surface of this dead
sister of the Earth. They noted her valleys, her craters which seemed
bottomless, and saw that even as they watched, valleys and craters
became sharper of outline, proving that they were approaching the Moon
at a tremendous speed. It seemed, too, as though they were heading
toward sure collision, though Sarka the Second had said that they would
pass the Moon at a distance of fifty thousand miles.

"You will note activity at the very rims of the craters!" said the Elder
Sarka easily. "The craters are man-made, not volcanic, as some
scientists believe, and are shaped to converge the rays of the sun, as
our roof is created for the same purpose. But note the activity at the
rims of the craters!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Closer the men peered, studying the rims as instructed by Sarka the
Second. All about them--and as they watched, activity became apparent on
the inner slopes of the craters--winged creatures seemed to be flying.
They looked like tiny oblate spheroids, and they were in swift action,
darting to and fro like bees which have been disturbed in their hives.

"Those spheres are of metal," said Sarka the Second, "and they are the
fighting Aircars of the Moon-men!"

Neither Dalis nor Sarka denied this statement, for they knew it to be
fact. It became apparent that the movement of the Aircars was not a
movement of chance, but as skillfully ordered as any maneuvers which
had, during the last few hours, been executed by any of the Gens of
Earth. That they were of metal became apparent when, through the
Micro-Telescopes, the watchers caught the glint of the sun on the
surfaces of the cars.

Sarka did a swift mental calculation, and announced the result.

"Those Aircars average something like four hundred feet in length, and
are doubtless filled with fighting Moon-men!"

"That's right," said Dalis, who also had been calculating this very
thing, "but our Ray Directors will disintegrate the Aircars as easily as
my Ray Director disintegrated Sarka the First!"

       *       *       *       *       *

"The remaining Sarkas received this statement in silence, for Dalis'
choice of a comparison had been an unhappy one, to say the least.

"I am wondering," said Sarka, "if you, my father, and you Dalis, have
noted the peculiar appendages of the Aircars?"

"I saw them some minutes ago," said his father moodily, "and I am almost
afraid to guess their use! If they are what I fear they are, then the
Moon-men have been expecting this attack of ours for years and years,
and have been preparing for it! If they have known, and have been
preparing, then we are facing a race of super-Beings indeed--for we have
known but little of their activities!"

"What, then," said Dalis, "do you think is the purpose of those
appendages?"

"Those appendages, cilia, flagella, call them whatever you wish, are
man-made tentacles, created for the purpose of seizing, crushing and
destroying--then discarding...."

For a full two minutes the three men sat there, and horrible doubts
flooded their brains. For the conclusion was obvious. The Gens of Earth
would go into action flying, not as organizations, inside an Aircar, but
as individuals, in swarms, myriads, legions and hordes. In order to do
the utmost damage with their Ray Directors and Atom Disintegrators,
they must approach within a reasonable distance--and the picture of
those mighty tentacles, hurled like leashed lightning bolts into the
midst of the attackers, folding in individuals by scores and hundreds,
crushing them and dropping them contemptuously, was horrible in the
extreme to contemplate!

       *       *       *       *       *

It was difficult to estimate the possible speed of the Aircars of the
Moon-men, at least at this distance. Besides, perhaps not a single one
of them was traveling at top speed, because of the fact of their crowded
traffic.

This thought passed through the minds of the three men.

"But we'll know," said Sarka dully, "when they get into action. For if I
am not mistaken, those Aircars are being mustered on the rims of those
craters to await orders, not to resist our attack, but to launch their
own attack before we are ready! Dalis, are you going to allow your Gens
to go into action against these Outsiders, without the inspiration of
your personal leadership?"

The nostrils of Dalis were quivering with the intensity of his emotion.
His vast egotism told him that he, Dalis, could successfully combat
these Aircars of the Moon-men, and he wished with all his heart to issue
the orders to his Gens. But, vain as he was, he did not even wish to
have the appearance of acceding to the original plan of Sarka! Sarka had
planned for Dalis to attack the dwellers of the Moon, and Dalis had
refused. Now, when this challenge of the Aircars was a direct challenge
to his genius as a potential warlord of earth and he wished to accept
the challenge, he was torn two ways.

Should he go ahead under the common leadership of the Sarkas? Or should
he still refuse battle--and perhaps see some lesser Spokesman go forth
to win glory and imperishable renown to himself?

       *       *       *       *       *

A thought message, a command almost, impinged on the brains of the
three.

"I wish to speak with you aloud!" The message was from Jaska!

The three men rose and darted into the room of the Master Beryl. They
had no sooner entered than the clear voice of Jaska sounded in the
laboratory.

"Sarka, I am no traitor! I am Jaska, who loves you! I am in the
headquarters of Dalis at Ohi, and the Gens of Dalis has indicated its
allegiance to me, having been informed by me that it is the wish of
Dalis, whose presence is needed at the place of the Master Beryl!
Command us, O Sarka, for we are ready to attack!"

There the voice ended, while the two Sarkas turned again to face Dalis.

Sarka now was glad that Dalis knew the secret sign manual, and his
fingers worked swiftly as he spoke to the rebel.

"Will you, then, Dalis, allow your Gens to be led to glory by a woman? A
woman, moreover, who has duped you?"

"The woman is a fool!" said Dalis. "She will lead the Gens to
destruction!"

"Who, then, will be blamed if she does? Your Gens believe she is their
new Spokesman at your wish! If they are told otherwise, they will think
that Dalis himself is afraid to lead them!"

"We shall see," said Dalis, "if I could win honor by leading my Gens in
a successful attack against the Moon-men, how much greater will be my
glory if Jaska attacks, is repulsed--and I go in to turn defeat into
victory!"

Thus spake the colossal selfishness of Dalis, who took no thought of the
possible, nay, certain, loss of countless lives because of his
obstinancy.

"I suggest," he said, "that you instruct your beloved Jaska to make
ready; for if I am not mistaken, when we return to the Observatory we
will discover that the Aircars of the Moon-men have left their craters
and are racing outward from the Moon to meet us! Or perhaps you would
lead my Gens, to safeguard Jaska!"


CHAPTER IX

_The Attack of the Yellow Stars_

"Why should I safeguard Jaska?" asked Sarka quietly. "She is a true
daughter of Cleric! If Cleric does not fear for her to be Spokesman of a
Gens, why should I? He is her father. If she wins, the more glory will
be hers! If she loses, she will at least have tried!"

"Meaning," snarled Dalis, "that I have refused even to try!"

Sarka shrugged expressively, and the three stepped once more into the
Observatory, took their places before the Micro-Telescopes. For a moment
they could not see the outline of the Moon, for during their brief
sojourn in the laboratory the Moon seemed to have disintegrated, flying
into countless spheroidal pieces.

"You see?" said Dalis. "The Moon-men do not wait for us! They attack!"

It was all too true that the Aircars which had been mustered at the rims
of the Moon's craters had been hurled outward into space, outward toward
the on-rushing Earth, and the myriad numbers of them for a time shut out
all view of the surface of the Moon.

"God!" spoke Sarka, and it was like a prayer. His cheeks were pale as
death, for in a moment he would speak the word which would send the Gens
of Dalis, under the leadership of Jaska, out against these formidable
Aircars of the Moon-men, and the appearance of the on-rushing cars was
terrifying. That their flying radius, outward, was a great one, was
manifest by the fact that the Earth would not for another hour reach its
closest estimated point with the Moon.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sarka, exchanging glances with his father, rose and stepped again into
the laboratory. Even as he entered the room of the Master Beryl,
Jaska's broken signal came through.

"I am ready, Sarka!" came her soft voice, vibrant with confidence. "The
Gens is ready, and the Gens believes in me!"

For a moment Sarka hesitated before taking the plunge. Then he spoke the
fatal words.

"Go, Jaska, and my love goes with you!"

As the Earth approached closer to the Moon, the revolving of the Beryls
had been decreased, so that the motion of the Master Beryl was almost
normal--normal being that speed with which it revolved when it was
necessary to use it for visual contact with the people of the Earth.

Out of the area of the Gens of Dalis darted the green specks which were
the flying people of Dalis! Sarka, staring in among them, focussing the
Beryl-microscope, sought for some way of identifying Jaska, who led
them. A thrill coursed through him when he made her out,
unmistakably--dressed still in the tight white clothing of her own Gens,
with the Red Lily of the house of Cleric on her breast and on her back!
The daughter of Cleric was leading the Gens of Dalis into combat under
her own colors and her father's insignia!

       *       *       *       *       *

Sarka raced back to the Observatory, seated himself again to watch the
attack, which must of necessity be joined within a matter almost of
minutes. Those myriads of Aircars flying outward from the Moon, had
seemed invincible; but up until now he had never seen an entire Gens
mustered at one time. His whole being thrilled with the awesome grandeur
of the spectacle; it seemed that not an able-bodied individual of the
Gens of Dalis had failed to answer the muster of the Gens.

Millions upon millions of people, taking off the icy roof of that part
of the Earth lying between Ohi and the North Pole, from the heart of
what had once been part of the Pacific Ocean.

So many of them were there that when they were free of the Earth,
flashing outward at two thousand miles an hour, it was impossible to see
the Moon or those formidable Aircars--and still, out of the heart of the
area of the Gens of Dalis, came other myriads, each flight waiting only
for the preceding flight to clear!

The green, tight fitting clothing of the Gens of Dalis, each individual
wearing the yellow star of the Spokesman of the Gens! A marvelous,
awe-inspiring sight!

And this was but a single area, and the earth was divided into twelve
such areas, some smaller, none larger, which showed Sarka for the first
time a hint of the mighty man-power, and fighting woman-power which he
controlled. However, once free of the Earth, conduct of the fight would
be in the hands of the Spokesman--Jaska, acting for Dalis.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sarka turned to Dalis, his eyes flashing.

"Does it not thrill you, O Dalis?" he demanded. "Do you not wish now
that you had gone out with your people as their leader?"

"They follow Jaska like sheep," he stated with a snort. "But wait! My
Gens seem invincible, because it bulks between us and the Aircars of the
Moon-Dwellers! Wait, see how the battle goes! The Gens may yet have need
of Dalis!"

Sarka studied those outgoing hosts, which were dwindling away to mere
specks with vast speed, for through the cordons and cordons of them he
could now see the Aircars more plainly. It was still possible, when one
looked through the Micro-Telescopes, to see the slim figure of Jaska
leading the attack. She was in the vanguard of the Gens of Dalis leading
her people onward as though she had been born to command--utterly
fearless.

"And I was small enough," whispered Sarka, "to doubt you! I even told
you that I doubted you! Forgive me, Jaska! Forgive me!"

And still, as Level after Level gave up its myriads, the Gens of Dalis
shot forth from the Gens area, and winged away, following the lead of
Jaska. Millions of people, armed with Ray Directors and Atom
Disintegrators. How tiny the individuals seemed, against the mighty bulk
of those Aircars of the Moon!

But Sarka did not fear, save for the safety of Jaska, as he was
realizing anew that he had scarcely skimmed the surface of the man-might
of the Earth.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now, seen through the myriads of the Dalis Gens, he could see again the
on-rushing Aircars, and his heart misgave him for a moment as he could
tell, by estimation, that at least a hundred families were outlined
against each individual car, which moment by moment grew larger.

Those tentacles were now much in evidence, rising and falling under and
around the racing Aircars like serpents, or dragging ropes; but seeming
like living things in the sentient manner of their moving--eager to come
in contact with the first of the earthlings, and to wrap those tentacles
about them, crush them, hurl them into space.

Sarka went back into the laboratory only long enough to attune the
Beryls of the Earth to a point where the Earth would remain almost
stationary, comparatively speaking, taking a curving course about the
surface of the Moon, as it had for countless millions of years coursed
about the Sun.

Then, back to the Observatory, to see how went the battle. Through the
Micro-Telescopes the first meeting was plain to be seen. The Gens of
Dalis rushed headlong to meet the Aircars and many of them rushed
headlong to their destruction.

Sarka noted a group of perhaps a hundred people break forth from the
vanguard of the attackers, and mount to a safe height above the Aircars
against which the Gens were hurling themselves. A sigh of relief escaped
him, and he wished there were some way in which he could learn the
individual identities of the ninety and nine who had taken Jaska
forcibly out of danger! For her white clothing, and her Red Lily of
Cleric were plainly visible and recognizable! The men of the Gens of
Dalis might permit the leadership of a woman, but they would not permit
her to be needlessly endangered.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sarka turned to Dalis, and noted that the face of the master egotist was
pale and drawn, his nostrils quivering with emotion, as he watched his
Gens go into battle, and a feeling of satisfaction coursed through Sarka
like a little white flame. Dalis was proud of his Gens, and now was
wishing that he, and not Jaska, were leading them onward.

"I would wager something," whispered Sarka to himself, "that Dalis will
not be able to stand it! That before battle has been joined for ten
minutes, he will have gone out to take over the leadership of the Gens!
Jaska must have guessed that, too! Wise, clever Jaska!"

With a fearless massing of forces, the people of the yellow stars joined
battle with the Aircars! The manner of men who flew the Aircars was
still unknown to the people of Earth.

But in a trice they would know.

In a matter of minutes Earth would realize the horror of what faced the
Gens of Dalis, whom Jaska led!

For with the sending out of their Aircars the Moon-men had given but the
merest hint of their ponderous, devastating might!


CHAPTER X

_Tentacles of Terror_

Dalis had always been a stormy petrel, but as he sat before his
Micro-Telescope, watching his Gens go into battle against the Moon-men,
not even Sarka the Second guessed the depth of infamy of which Dalis
was capable.

Dalis had given a hint, but Sarka had, in his sudden realization of the
fact that Jaska really loved him, and was no traitor, forgotten that
hint. How had Dalis learned the secret sign-manual of Jaska and Sarka?
Therein lay the hint.

Dalis, in common with all other Earth's scientists, possessed the
ability to think deeply, yet to so mask his thoughts that no one else
could grasp them telepathically--and it was well for the peace of mind
of the Sarkas that they could not read the black thought of the man, or
look into the future, even so far as a dozen years.

The Gens of the yellow stars moved into contact with the Aircars of the
Moon. Earth and Moon were gripped in the horror of war, the war between
worlds, where no quarter might be asked or given, because fought between
alien peoples who did not so much as comprehend each other's languages,
or even their signals.

The people of the Gens swarmed about the Aircars like myriad swarms of
angry bees, but it was only to Dalis that this simile came, for only
Dalis, of these three, had ever seen a swarm of bees.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sweeping in closely, the Gens brought forth from their resting places in
their Sarka-Belts their Ray Directors and their Atom-Disintegrators, and
turned the blighting rays of them against the gleaming, ice-colored
sides of the aerial monsters.

But even as the Gens brought their instruments of destruction into play,
the mighty tentacles of the first hundred Aircars had got into action.
Down they whirled to catch at the flying bodies of the pigmylike
individuals of the Gens, and hundreds of Earthlings were caught in those
tentacles in the first moment of conflict.

Sarka studied the reaction of the people, thus captured. He could see
the expressions of unutterable agony on their faces, could see their
cheeks turn black with--what? There was no way of knowing; but all sorts
of guesses were possible. Those tentacles, from their action upon the
human beings which they encompassed, might be charged with electricity.
For the people they captured turned black, then shriveled slowly--and
were released by the tentacles....

They fell sluggishly away, through the great space which yet separated
the Earth and the Moon. But the people who fell, fell aimlessly, going
neither toward the Earth or the Moon, like black feathers in a vagrant
breeze.

"Great God, do you see father?" cried Sarka. "The--whatever it is--that
turns our people into cinders and drops them, has no effect on the
Anti-Gravitational Ovoids in the skull-pans of the helmets, and without
mental direction, the Ovoids neither rise nor fall but wander aimlessly!

"See? As the fight continues, those who still live, as they dart here
and there through the battle area, will be confronted continually by the
blackened faces and shriveled figures of their departed friends,
relatives and neighbors, and will see at first hand what will happen to
themselves if they are caught by the tentacles!"

       *       *       *       *       *

From the lips of Dalis came one single burst of laughter, filled with
bitterness. No other word came from his lips, no other sign. He merely
sat and stared, and masked his hell-black thoughts so that neither of
the Sarkas might read them. But in the fertile mind of Dalis a plan was
being born--a plan that, he knew, had always been growing back in his
mental depths, somewhere, down the centuries, since first he had become
an enemy of the Sarkas. The Sarkas ruled the Earth, and....

But he would spring his surprise when he believed the time right, for
Dalis possessed a faculty which neither of the Sarkas possessed--an
example of it being his incomprehensible knowledge of the secret code
of moving fingers used by Sarka and Jaska.

The Gens of Dalis drew back in consternation at this wholesale taking
off of the first line of attack. Out of that first line, comprising
perhaps a thousand families, scarcely a hundred had escaped the groping
of those mighty tentacles of the Aircars--and the black, shriveled
things which had been men floated all about the Aircars which had
destroyed them, warnings to those who followed them into the fray. Those
who had somehow escaped the wrath of the tentacles in the first
engagement fled back into the heart of the next line of sky-skirmishers,
fear and horror in their faces.

Here, answering to the will of Jaska, a mile or so above the heart of
the conflict, they reformed with their people, and prepared again to
attack. But how to attack these formidable Aircars successfully?

       *       *       *       *       *

That was the question. Ray Directors had been turned against them, but
something was decidedly wrong. The first car to feel the blast of even
one of those Ray Directors should have vanished, become as nothing, as
had the body of Sarka the First before the Ray Director of Dalis.

But apparently nothing had happened. Why?

Grimly Dalis and the two remaining Sarkas pondered the problem,
wondering at the same time what Jaska would now do, how reform her Gens,
how send it again to an attack that seemed hopeless.

"There they go again!" whispered Sarka.

The first two myriads of the Gens of Dalis had now crowded together
until they formed a veritable cloud which masked, for a moment, the
Aircars of the Moon. Then, as one person, answering to the will of
Jaska, they swept in to the attack again.

But as they approached the Aircars, they divided four ways--up, down,
to right and to left, and smashed into the Aircars from four directions
at once. Jaska, knowing that countless lives must be lost to destroy
these monsters of the Moon, was trying to down them by mass attack,
hoping that, while the inner groups gave their lives, those who followed
after them would get in close enough to use their Ray Directors and Atom
Disintegrators.

"She is wasting lives to no avail!" cried Dalis. "There is a way to beat
these people!"

"It is really your responsibility, O Dalis!" snapped Sarka. "Why do you
not go out and lead your Gens? If you know, why remain here and watch
the destruction of all the people of your Gens?"

"You know why our Ray Directors and Atom Disintegrators do not work, or
work but poorly? Because our fighters are within the gravitational pull
of the Moon, instead of the Earth, and machines which work perfectly on
Earth are thrown out of balance when under the influence of the Moon!"

"Then," cried Sarka, "we must sweep in close enough to our people...."

       *       *       *       *       *

Without waiting to say another word, for thousands of men were dying
each breath-space, Sarka raced into the laboratory and gave the signal
to race up the speed of the Beryls, to attune them with the increasing
speed of the Master Beryl, whose jade lever now was set at the halfway
mark in the onyx slot.

When he returned to the Observatory, Dalis was gone, and Sarka the
Second sat alone.

"I knew he would go," said Sarka, "for he cannot endure to see someone
else take credit for winning this first victory--if it is even possible
to win it! I knew that, vain though he is, Dalis is yet a man!"

"I am not so sure of that, son!" replied the Elder Sarka. "For I have
known him longer than you have! There's something else in that brain of
his which takes no thought of the death of people of his Gens--or for
the betterment of the other people of the Earth! I wonder...."

But even as he spoke, Dalis was away, flying free and fast toward the
scene of battle. In a few minutes his will would be felt by his Gens,
and Jaska could return again. Sarka sought for her. She was still safe,
high above the battle. Thousands and thousands of those shriveled things
now floated in the space about the cars, above them, below them,
everywhere. But the Gens of Dalis had at last caused some trouble to the
Aircars of the Moon.

A hundred of them, like stricken birds, were falling downward toward the
Moon, great holes torn in their sides. But as they fell, their
tentacles, which whipped here and there like snakes in their
death-throes, carried with them their full capacity in people of the
Gens of Dalis!

       *       *       *       *       *

With the partial destruction of the Aircars which were falling, the
force that actuated the death-dealing of those tentacles seemed to have
gone out of them. For the people now held in the grip of the mighty
tentacles were still alive! Their squirmings could be plainly seen, and
their cries could have been heard, had it not been that the noise of
battle drowned out all other sounds.

A hundred Aircars falling, and the men and fighting women of the Gens of
Dalis, with new courage in them now they realized that the Aircars were
not entirely invincible, renewed the attack with savage vigor.

Taking no thought of the death which must surely come to them, they
circled and pressed the Aircars; and when the tentacles caught at some
of them, others climbed to the very body of the Aircars, over the
shriveling bodies of the dying, and turned their Ray Directors and Atom
Disintegrators against the gray sides of the monsters.

Even before Dalis had reached the vanguard of his Gens another hundred
Aircars were falling, each with its tentacles wrapped tightly about such
of the earthlings as they could grasp. Falling ... falling ... still
living, plunging down.

Now Dalis had reached the scene of the fray, and was assuming command.

As he did so a single white-robed figure, life-size when seen through
the Micro-Telescopes, darted out of the fray and headed at top speed for
the dwelling place of Sarka. Jaska, relieved, was returning home!

But though Jaska flew at top speed, she did not seem to grow larger, or
draw nearer to the Earth!

       *       *       *       *       *

Out of the ruck of the defenders of the Moon, a single Aircar, whose
gleaming gray side was marked with queer crimson splashes, broke free to
pursue Jaska!

She fled at top speed, yet the Aircar was gaining, proof that the Moon
had developed speed greater than Earth had attained.

"But why," queried Sarka, "does she draw no nearer?"

"Great God!" ejaculated Sarka the Second, after a brief examination of
certain chartographs beside his Micro-Telescope. "We are moving away
from the Moon! Something is forcing us away! The people of the Moon have
something whose nature we do not know, capable of forcing them away from
us--while they pull our people toward them! You see? If they pulled us
toward them, we could overthrow them, for we outnumber them perhaps
thousands to one; but if they force themselves away faster than the Gens
of Dalis, if defeated, can follow us, they can destroy, or capture, the
Gens at their leisure!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Suddenly, out of the Earth, past the all-seeing eyes of the
Micro-Telescopes, swept a new myriad. Men in white, wearing the Red Lily
of the House of Cleric! Cleric was sending out men to rescue Jaska from
the Aircar which pursued her! But would Jaska or these who went forth
to fetch her ever be able again to attain landing place upon the Earth!

It looked doubtful.

Even as Sarka asked himself this question fresh Aircars shot from the
rims of Moon craters, rushing outward to add their weight in the battle
against the Gens of Dalis. The Gens of Dalis was doomed!

In the mind of Sarka the Second there still loomed a hellish doubt that
would not down.

The men of Cleric were surrounding Jaska now, protecting her with their
lives against the tentacles of that lone Aircar splashed with
crimson--and all were flying a losing race with the Earth, which was
still being forced outward from the Moon!

       *       *       *       *       *

  _IN THE NEXT ISSUE_


  ON THE PLANET OF DREAD

  _An Exciting Interplanetary Story_

  By R. F. Starzl


  EARTH, THE MARAUDER

  _Part Two of the Thrilling Novel_

  By Arthur J. Burks


  THE FLYING CITY

  _A Novelet Concerning an
  Amazing Aerial Metropolis_

  By H. Thompson Rich


  MURDER MADNESS

  _The Conclusion of the
  Gripping Continued Novel_

  By Murray Leinster

  ----And Others!

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: Marable, in a desperate frenzy, hacked at the reptile's
awful head.]



From An Amber Block

_By Tom Curry_


"These should prove especially valuable and interesting without a doubt,
Marable," said the tall, slightly stooped man. He waved a long hand
toward the masses of yellow brown which filled the floor of the spacious
workrooms, towering almost to the skylights, high above their heads.

[Sidenote: A giant amber block at last gives up its living, ravenous
prey.]

"Is that coal in the biggest one with the dark center?" asked an
attractive young woman who stood beside the elder of the men.

"I am inclined to believe it will prove to be some sort of black
liquid," said Marable, a big man of thirty-five.

There were other people about the immense rooms, the laboratories of the
famous Museum of Natural History. Light streamed in from the skylights
and windows; fossils of all kinds, some immense in size, were
distributed about. Skilled specialists were chipping away at matrices
other artists were reconstructing, doing a thousand things necessary to
the work.

A hum of low talking, accompanied by the irregular tapping of chisels
on stone, came to their ears, though they took no heed of this, since
they worked here day after day, and it was but the usual sound of the
paleontologists' laboratory.

Marable threw back his blond head. He glanced again toward the dark
haired, blue eyed young woman, but when he caught her eye, he looked
away and spoke to her father, Professor Young.

"I think that big one will turn out to be the largest single piece of
amber ever mined," he said. "There were many difficulties in getting it
out, for the workmen seemed afraid of it, did not want to handle it for
some silly reason or other."

       *       *       *       *       *

Professor Young, curator, was an expert in his line, but young Marable
had charge of these particular fossil blocks, the amber being pure
because it was mixed with lignite. The particular block which held the
interest of the three was a huge yellow brown mass of irregular shape.
Vaguely, through the outer shell of impure amber, could be seen the
heart of ink. The chunk weighed many tons, and its crate had just been
removed by some workmen and was being taken away, piece by piece.

The three gazed at the immense mass, which filled the greater part of
one end of the laboratory and towered almost to the skylights. It was a
small mountain, compared to the size of the room, and in this case the
mountain had come to man.

"Miss Betty, I think we had better begin by drawing a rough sketch of
the block," said Marable.

Betty Young, daughter of the curator, nodded. She was working as
assistant and secretary to Marable.

"Well--what do you think of them?"

The voice behind them caused them to turn, and they looked into the face
of Andrew Leffler, the millionaire paleontologist, whose wealth and
interest in the museum had made it possible for the institution to
acquire the amber.

       *       *       *       *       *

Leffler, a keen, quick moving little man, whose chin was decorated with
a white Van Dyke beard, was very proud of the new acquisition.

"Everybody is talking about the big one," he continued, putting his hand
on Marable's shoulder. "Orling is coming to see, and many others. As I
told you, the workmen who handled it feared the big one. There were
rumors about some unknown devil which lay hidden in the inklike
substance, caught there like the proverbial fly in the amber. Well, let
us hope there is something good in there, something that will make worth
while all our effort."

Leffler wandered away, to speak to others who inspected the amber
blocks.

"Superstition is curious, isn't it?" said Marable. "How can anyone think
that a fossil creature, penned in such a cell for thousands and
thousands of years, could do any harm?"

Professor Young shrugged. "It is just as you say. Superstition is not
reasonable. These amber blocks were mined in the Manchurian lignite
deposits by Chinese coolies under Japanese masters. They believe
anything, the coolies. I remember working once with a crew of them that
thought--"

The professor stopped suddenly, for his daughter had uttered a little
cry of alarm. He felt her hand upon his arm, and turned toward her.

"What is it, dear?" he asked.

She was pointing toward the biggest amber block, and her eyes were wide
open and showed she had seen something, or imagined that she had seen
something, that frightened her.

       *       *       *       *       *

Professor Young followed the direction of her finger. He saw that she
was staring at the black heart of the amber block; but when he looked he
could see nothing but the vague, irregular outline of the inky
substance.

"What is it, dear?" asked Young again.

"I--I thought I saw it looking out, eyes that stared at us--"

The girl broke off, laughed shortly, and added, "I suppose it was Mr.
Leffler's talking. There's nothing there now."

"Probably the Manchurian devil shows itself only to you," said her
father jokingly. "Well, be careful, dear. If it takes a notion to jump
out at you, call me and I'll exorcise it for you."

Betty blushed and laughed again. She looked at Marable, expecting to see
a smile of derision on the young man's face, but his expression was
grave.

The light from above was diminishing; outside sounded the roar of
home-going traffic.

"Well, we must go home," said Professor Young. "There's a hard and
interesting day ahead of us to-morrow, and I want to read Orling's new
work on matrices before we begin chipping at the amber."

Young turned on his heel and strode toward the locker at the end of the
room where he kept his coat and hat. Betty, about to follow him, was
aware of a hand on her arm, and she turned to find Marable staring at
her.

"I saw them, too," he whispered. "Could it have been just imagination?
Was it some refraction of the light?"

       *       *       *       *       *

The girl paled. "I--I don't know," she replied, in a low voice. "I
thought I saw two terrible eyes glaring at me from the inky heart. But
when father laughed at me, I was ashamed of myself and thought it was
just my fancy."

"The center is liquid, I'm sure," said Marable. "We will find that out
soon enough, when we get started."

"Anyway, you must be careful, and so must father," declared the girl.

She looked at the block again, as it towered there above them, as though
she expected it to open and the monster of the coolies' imagination leap
out.

"Come along, Betty," called her father.

She realized then that Marable was holding her hand. She pulled away and
went to join her father.

It was slow work, chipping away the matrix. Only a bit at a time could
be cut into, for they came upon many insects imbedded in the amber.
These small creatures proved intensely interesting to the
paleontologists, for some were new to science and had to be carefully
preserved for study later on.

Marable and her father labored all day. Betty, aiding them, was
obviously nervous. She kept begging her father to take care, and
finally, when he stopped work and asked her what ailed her, she could
not tell him.

"Be careful," she said, again and again.

       *       *       *       *       *

Her father realized that she was afraid of the amber block, and he poked
fun at her ceaselessly. Marable said nothing.

"It's getting much softer, now the outside shell is pierced," said
Young, late in the day.

"Yes," said Marable, pausing in his work of chipping away a portion of
matrix. "Soon we will strike the heart, and then we will find out
whether we are right about it being liquid. We must make some
preparations for catching it, if it proves to be so."

The light was fading. Outside, it was cold, but the laboratories were
well heated by steam. Close by where they worked was a radiator, so that
they had been kept warm all day.

Most of the workers in the room were making ready to leave. Young and
Marable, loath to leave such interesting material, put down their
chisels last of all. Throughout the day various scientific visitors had
interrupted them to inspect the immense amber block, and hear the
history of it.

All day, Betty Young had stared fascinatedly at the inky center.

"I think it must have been imagination," she whispered to Marable, when
Young had gone to don his coat and hat. "I saw nothing to-day."

"Nor did I," confessed Marable. "But I thought I heard dull scrapings
inside the block. My brain tells me I'm an imaginative fool, that
nothing could be alive inside there, but just the same, I keep thinking
about those eyes we thought we saw. It shows how far the imagination
will take one."

"It's getting dark, Betty," said her father. "Better not stay here in
the shadows or the devil will get you. I wonder if it will be Chinese or
up-to-date American!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The girl laughed, said good night to Marable, and followed her father
from the laboratory. As they crossed the threshold a stout, red-faced
man in a gray uniform, a watchman's clock hanging at his side, raised
his hat and smiled at the young woman and her father.

"Hello, Rooney," cried Betty.

"How d'ye do, Miss Young! Stayin' late this evenin'?"

"No, we're leaving now, Rooney. Good night."

"G' night, Miss Young. Sleep happy."

"Thanks, Rooney."

The old night watchman was a jolly fellow, and everybody liked him. He
was very fond of Betty, and the young woman always passed a pleasant
word with him.

Rooney entered the room where the amber blocks were. The girl walked
with her father down the long corridor. She heard Marable's step behind
them.

"Wait for me a moment, father," she said.

She went back, smiling at Marable as she passed him, and entered the
door, but remained in the portal and called to Rooney, who was down the
laboratory.

He came hurrying to her side at her nervous hail.

"What is it, ma'am?" asked Rooney.

"You'll be careful, won't you, Rooney?" she asked in a low voice.

"Oh, yes, ma'am. I'm always careful. Nobody can get in to harm anything
while Rooney's about."

"I don't mean that. I want you to be careful yourself, when you're in
this room to-night."

"Why, miss, what is there to be wary of? Nothin' but some funny lookin'
stones, far as I can see."

       *       *       *       *       *

The young woman was embarrassed by her own impalpable fears, and she
took leave of Rooney and rejoined her father, determined to overcome
them and dismiss them from her mind.

All the way home and during their evening meal and afterwards, Professor
Young poked fun at Betty. She took it good-naturedly, and laughed to see
her father in such fine humor. Professor Young was a widower, and Betty
was housekeeper in their flat; though a maid did the cooking for them
and cleaned the rooms, the young woman planned the meals and saw to it
that everything was homelike for them.

After a pleasant evening together, reading, and discussing the new
additions to the collection, they went to bed.

Betty Young slept fitfully. She was harassed by dreams, dreams of huge
eyes that came closer and closer to her, that at last seemed to engulf
her.

She awakened finally from a nap, and started up in her bed. The sun was
up, but the clock on the bureau said it was only seven o'clock, too
early to arise for the day's work. But then the sound of the telephone
bell ringing in the hall caused her to get up and don her slippers and
dressing gown and hurry out into the living room.

       *       *       *       *       *

Before she reached the phone, however, she heard her father's voice
answering.

"Hello.... Yes, speaking. Good morning, Smythe."

Smythe was the janitor of the museum. Betty, standing behind her father,
wondered what he could want that he should phone so early in the
morning. Her father's next words sent a thrill of fright through her
heart.

"My God! I--I can't believe it!" cried Young. "Is he dead?"

There was a pause; Betty caught the sound of the excited Smythe's tones
through the receiver.

"Who--who is it?" she whispered, clasping her parent's arm.

"I'll be right down, yes."

Young hung up, turned to his daughter. His face was sad, heavily lined
with shadows of sorrow.

"Dear, there's been a tragedy at the museum during the night. Poor
Rooney has been murdered--at least so they believe--and Smythe, who
found him, wants me to come down and see if anything has been stolen. I
must go at once. The body is in our laboratory."

"Rooney? Ah, poor fellow."

The girl wept a little, but braced herself to assist her father.

"I'm going with you," she said.

"No, no. You'd better remain here: you can come along later," said
Young. "I don't like to have you see such sights, dear. It wouldn't be
good for you."

"I'll be all right. I promise you I will."

She insisted and he was forced to let her accompany him to the museum.
They hailed a cab and were soon at the door. The elevator took them to
the top floor, and swiftly they passed along the corridors and came to
the portal which led into the rooms where the amber blocks were.

       *       *       *       *       *

Smythe greeted them, a worried look on his seamed face. "I've sent for
an ambulance, Professor," he said.

Young nodded, brushed past him, and entered the laboratory. In the
morning light the amber blocks had taken on a reddish tinge. Now, they
seemed to oppress the young woman, who had bravely remained at her
father's side as he walked quickly to the base of the biggest block.

A vague shape lay in the shadows between the wall and the largest amber
mass. Professor Young bent over the body of Rooney, and felt the pulse.

"He's been dead some time," he said.

She nodded, stricken to the heart by this terrible end of her old friend
Rooney.

"There's nothing we can do for him, now," went on her father soberly.
"It looks as though he had been set upon and stabbed time after time by
his assailant or assailants, whoever they were."

"How--how pale he is," said Betty. "Poor Rooney was so jolly and
red-faced, but his skin is like chalk."

"And he's shrunken, too. It seems there's no blood left in his veins,"
said her father.

       *       *       *       *       *

Marable, who had been called also, came in then and aided in the
examination. He said good morning to Betty and her father, and then went
to bend over Rooney's body.

"See the look of abject terror on his face," Betty heard Marable say to
her father as the two examined the corpse. "He must have been very much
afraid of whoever killed him."

"They beat him up frightfully," said Young. "There must have been
several of the assassins; it would take more than one man to do such
damage."

"Yes. His ribs are crushed in--see, this gash, Professor, would be
enough to cause death without any of the other wounds."

Betty Young could not take her eyes from the ghastly sight. She steeled
herself to bear it, and prayed for strength that she should not faint
and cause her father trouble. She could see the two men examining a
large blistered area under the corpse's armpit, in the center of which
was a sharp vertical slit which had without doubt punctured the artery
near the surface of the axilla. Perhaps it had pierced even to the
heart.

"Bloodless," exclaimed Marable, noticing the same thing as her father
had spoken of. "It is as if the blood had been pumped out of his body!"

"Yes, I think it has drained out."

"There is not much of a pool here where he lies, though," said Marable,
in a low voice. "See, there are only splotches about, from various cuts
he received."

"Maybe he was dragged here from another room," said Young. "When the
others come, we will soon know if anything is missing. It seems that men
desperate enough to commit such a murder would not leave without trying
to get what they came after. Unless, of course, the killing of Rooney
frightened them away before they could get their booty."

       *       *       *       *       *

Smythe approached the group, with a physician in tow. The latter
confirmed the facts which Marable and Young had found: that Rooney had
been killed by the deep gash near the heart and that most of the blood
was drained from the body.

"They seem like the slashes from an extremely sharp and large razor,"
said the medical man.

Others were coming in to look at Rooney, and the museum was buzzing with
activity as various curators, alarmed about the safety of their valuable
collections, feverishly examined their charges.

"He punched his clock in here at two A.M.," said Smythe. "I seen that.
It's the last time he'll ever do his duty, poor feller."

"Curious odor," said the doctor, sniffing. "It smells like musk, but is
fetid. I suppose it's some chemical you use."

"I noticed that, too," said Professor Young. "I don't recognize it,
myself."

Marable, who had been looking at the floor between the great block of
amber and the body, uttered an exclamation which caused the two men to
look up.

"There are wavy lines leading around back of the block," said Marable,
in answer to their questions.

The young man disappeared behind the block, and then he called to them
excitedly to join him. Betty Young pressed closer, and finally slipped
past the corpse and stood by her father.

       *       *       *       *       *

Before her, she saw a large pool of black liquid. It had been hidden by
the corner of the block, so that they had not noticed it, so busy were
they looking at Rooney.

And there was a great cavity in the heart of the amber block. Pieces of
the yellow brown mass lay about, as though they had fallen off and
allowed the inky substance to escape.

"It's hardened or dried out in the air," said Young.

"It looks like black lacquer," said Betty.

The musky smell was stronger here. The great amber block seemed to
stifle them with its size.

"Our chipping and hammering and the heat of the radiator causing it to
expand must have forced out the sepia, or whatever it is," said Young.
There was a disappointed note in his voice "I had hoped that inside the
liquid we would discover a fossil of value," he went on.

Marable looked at Betty Young. They stared at one another for some
seconds, and both knew that the same thought had occurred to the other.
The frightful eyes--had they then been but figments of the imagination?

Marable began looking around carefully, here and there. Betty realized
what he was doing, and she was frightened. She went to his side. "Oh, be
careful," she whispered.

"The giant block has been moved a little," he replied, looking into her
pretty face. "Have you noticed that?"

Now that she was told to look, she could see the extremely heavy amber
block was no longer in the position it had been in. Marks on the floor
showed where it had been dragged or shifted from its original resting
place.

       *       *       *       *       *

Betty Young gasped. What force could be so powerful that it could even
budge so many tons? A derrick had been used, and rollers placed under
the block when men had moved it.

Reason tried to assert itself. "It--it must have exploded. That would
cause it to shift," she said faintly.

Marable shrugged. His examination was interrupted by the arrival of the
museum's chemist, sent for by Young. The chemist took a sample of the
black liquid for analysis. Reports were coming in from all over the
museum, different departments declaring, one after another, that nothing
had been disturbed or stolen from their sections.

Betty Young went again to Marable's side. She followed the direction of
his eyes, and saw long, clawlike marks on the floor, radiating from the
sepia.

"Doctor Marable," she said, "please don't--don't look any longer. Leave
this terrible place for the day, anyway, until we see what happens in
the next twenty-four hours."

He smiled and shook his head. "I must make a search," he replied. "My
brain calls me a fool, but just the same, I'm worried."

"Do you really think ...?"

He nodded, divining her thought. The girl shivered. She felt terror
mounting to her heart, and the matter-of-fact attitudes of the others in
the great laboratory did not allay her fears.

Rooney's body was removed. The place was cleaned up by workmen, and
Marable's search--if that was what his constant roving about the
laboratory could be called--ceased for a time. The chemist's report came
in. The black liquid was some sort of animal secretion, melonotic
probably.

       *       *       *       *       *

In spite of the fact that they had learned so many facts about the
murder, they as yet had not solved the mystery. Who had murdered Rooney,
and why? And where had his blood gone to? In no other rooms could be
found any traces of a struggle.

"If you won't do anything else, please carry a gun," begged Betty of
Marable. "I'm going to try to take father home, right after lunch, if
he'll go. He's so stubborn. I can't make him take care. I've got to
watch him and stay beside him."

"Very well," replied Marable. "I'll get a revolver. Not that I think it
would be of much use, if I did find--" He broke off, and shrugged his
broad shoulders.

Leffler came storming into the room. "What's this I hear?" he cried,
approaching Marable. "A watchman killed in the night? Carelessness, man,
carelessness! The authorities here are absurd! They hold priceless
treasures and allow thieves to enter and wreak their will. You, Marable,
what's all this mean?"

Leffler was angry. Marable looked into his red face coolly. "We do the
best we can, Mr. Leffler," he said. "It is unlikely that anyone would
wish to steal such a thing as that block of amber."

He waved toward the giant mass.

Leffler made a gesture of impatience. "It cost me many thousands of
dollars," he cried.

"It is time for lunch, Professor," said Betty.

Marable bowed to Leffler and left the millionaire sputtering away,
inspecting the various specimens he had contributed.

The one o'clock gong had struck, and all the workers and investigators
were leaving in paleontological laboratories for a bite to eat.

       *       *       *       *       *

Marable, with Betty, went out last. Leffler was over in one corner of
the room, hidden from their sight by a corner of an amber block. They
could hear Leffler still uttering complaints about the carelessness of
the men in charge of that section of the museum, and Marable smiled at
Betty sadly.

"Poor Rooney," he said. "Betty, I feel more or less responsible, in a
way."

"No, no," cried the girl. "How could you have foreseen such a thing?"

Marable shook his head. "Those eyes, you know. I should have taken
precautions. But I had no idea it could burst from its prison so."

For the first time Marable had definitely mentioned his idea of what
had occurred. The girl had understood it all along, from their broken
conversation and from the look in the young scientist's eyes.

She sighed deeply. "You will get a revolver before you search further?"
she said. "I'm going to. Smythe has one, and I know he'll lend it to
me."

"I will," he promised. "You know, Leffler has the same idea we have, I
think. That's why he keeps talking about it being our fault. I believe
he has seen something, too. His talk about the devil inside the block
was half in earnest. I suppose he put it down to imagination, or perhaps
he did not think this fossil to be dangerous."

They went out together, and walked toward the restaurant they
frequented. Her father was there, lunching with one of the
superintendents of the museum. He smiled and waved to Betty.

Everyone, of course, was discussing the killing of Rooney.

       *       *       *       *       *

After an hour, during which the two young people spoken little, Marable
and Betty Young left the restaurant and started back toward the museum.
Her father was still at his table.

They walked up the driveway entrance, and then Marable uttered an
exclamation. "Something's wrong," he said.

There was a small crowd of people collected on the steps. The outer
doors, instead of being open as usual, were closed and guards stood
peering out.

Marable and Betty were admitted, after they had pushed their way to the
doors.

"Museum's closed to the public, sir," replied a guard to Marable's
question.

"Why?" asked Marable.

"Somethin's happened up in the paleontological laboratories," answered
the guard. "Dunno just what, but orders come to clear the rooms and not
let anybody in but members of the staff, sir."

Marable hurried forward. Betty was at his heels. "Please get yourself a
gun," she said, clutching his arm and holding him back.

"All right. I'll borrow one from a guard."

He returned to the front doors, and came back, slipping a large pistol
into his side pocket.

"I want you to wait here," he said.

"No. I'm going with you."

"Please," he said. "As your superior, I order you to remain downstairs."

The girl shrugged. She allowed him to climb the stairs to the first
floor, and then she hurried back in search of Smythe.

       *       *       *       *       *

Smythe obtained a gun for her, and as she did not wish to wait for the
slow elevator, she ran up the steps. Smythe could not tell her
definitely what had occurred in the upper laboratory that had caused the
museum to be closed for the day.

Her heart beating swiftly, Betty Young hurried up the second flight of
stairs to the third floor. A workman, whom the girl recognized as a
manual laborer in the paleontological rooms, came running down, passing
her in full flight, a look of abject terror on his face.

"What is it?" she cried.

He was so frightened he could not talk logically. "There was a black
fog--I saw a red snake with legs--"

She waited for no more. A pang of fear for the safety of Marable shot
through her heart, and she forced herself on to the top floor.

Up there was a haze, faintly black, which filled the corridors. As Betty
Young drew closer to the door of the paleontological laboratories, the
mist grew more opaque. It was as though a sooty fog permeated the air,
and the girl could see it was pouring from the door of the laboratory in
heavy coils. And her nostrils caught the strange odor of fetid musk.

She was greatly frightened; but she gripped the gun and pushed on.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then to her ears came the sound of a scream, the terrible scream of a
mortally wounded man. Instinctively she knew it was not Marable, but she
feared for the young professor, and with an answering cry she rushed
into the smoky atmosphere of the outer laboratories.

"Walter!" she called.

But evidently he did not hear her, for no reply came. Or was it that
something had happened to him?

She paused on the threshold of the big room where were the amber blocks.

About the vast floor space stood the numerous masses of stone and amber,
some covered with immense canvas shrouds which made them look like ghost
hillocks in the dimness. Betty Young stood, gasping in fright, clutching
the pistol in her hand, trying to catch the sounds of men in that
chamber of horror.

She heard, then, a faint whimpering, and then noises which she
identified in her mind as something being dragged along the marble
flooring. A muffled scream, weak, reached her ears, and as she took a
step forward, silence came.

She listened longer, but now the sunlight coming through the window to
make murky patches in the opaque black fog was her chief sensation.

"Walter!" she called.

"Go back, Betty, go back!"

The mist seemed to muffle voices as well as obscure the vision. She
advanced farther into the laboratory, trying to locate Marable. Bravely
the girl pushed toward the biggest amber block. It was here that she
felt instinctively that she would find the source of danger.

"Leffler!" she heard Marable say, almost at her elbow, and the young man
groaned. The girl came upon him, bending over something on the floor.

       *       *       *       *       *

She knelt beside him, gripping his arm. Now she could see the outline of
Leffler's body at her feet. The wealthy collector was doubled up on the
ground, shrivelled as had been Rooney. His feet, moving as though by
reflex action, patted the floor from time to time, making a curious
clicking sound as the buttons of his gray spats struck the marble.

But it was obvious, even in the murky light, that Leffler was dead, that
he had been sucked dry of blood.

Betty Young screamed. She could not help it. The black fog choked her
and she gasped for breath. Leaving Marable, she ran toward the windows
to throw them open.

The first one she tried was heavy, and she smashed the glass with the
butt of the gun. She broke several panes in two of the windows, and the
mist rolled out from the laboratory.

She started to return to the side of Marable. He uttered a sudden shout,
and she hurried back to where she had left him, stumbling over Leffler's
body, recoiling at this touch of death.

Marable was not there, but she could hear him nearby.

Cool air was rushing in from the windows, and gradually the fog was
disappearing. Betty Young saw Marable now, standing nearby, staring at
the bulk of an amber block which was still covered by its canvas shroud.
Though not as large as the prize exhibit, this block of amber was large
and filled many yards of space.

"Betty, please go outside and call some of the men," begged Marable.

But he did not look at her, and she caught his fascinated stare.
Following the direction of his gaze, the girl saw that a whisp of smoky
mist was curling up from under the edge of the canvas cover.

"It is there," whispered Betty.

       *       *       *       *       *

Marable had a knife which he had picked up from a bench, and with this
he began quietly to cut the canvas case of the block, keeping several
feet to each side of the spot where the fog showed from beneath the
shroud.

Marable cut swiftly and efficiently, though the cloth was heavy and he
was forced to climb up several feet on the block to make his work
effective. The girl watched, fascinated with horror and curiosity.

To their ears came a curious, sucking sound, and once a vague tentacle
form showed from the bottom of the canvas.

At last Marable seized the edge of the cut he had made and, with a
violent heave, sent the canvas flap flying over the big block.

Betty Young screamed. At last she had a sight of the terrible creature
which her imagination had painted in loathing and horror. A flash of
brilliant scarlet, dabbed with black patches, was her impression of the
beast. A head flat and reptilian, long, tubular, with movable nostrils
and antennae at the end, framed two eyes which were familiar enough to
her, for they were the orbs which had stared from the inside of the
amber block. She had dreamed of those eyes.

But the reptile moved like a flash of red light, though she knew its
bulk was great; it sprayed forth black mist from the appendages at the
end of its nose, and the crumpling of canvas reached her ears as the
beast endeavored to conceal itself on the opposite side of the block.

       *       *       *       *       *

Marable had run to the other side of the mass. The air, rushing in from
the windows, had cleared the mist, in spite of the new clouds the
creature had emitted, and Betty could see for some feet in either
direction now.

She walked, with stiff, frozen muscles, around to join Marable. As she
came near to him, she saw him jerking off the entire canvas cover of the
block to expose the horrible reptile to the light of day.

And now the two stood staring at the awful sight. The creature had
flattened itself into the crevices and irregular surfaces of the block,
but it was too large to hide in anything but a huge space. They saw
before them its great bulk, bright red skin blotched with black, which
rose and fell with the breathing of the reptile. Its long, powerful
tail, tapering off from the fat, loathsome body, was curled around the
bottom of the block.

"That's where it's been hidden, under the shroud. We've been within a
few feet of it every moment we've been at work," said Marable, his voice
dry. "There were many hiding places for it, but it chose the best. It
came out only when there was comparative quiet, to get its food...."

"We--we must kill it," stammered the girl.

But she could not move. She was looking at the immense, cruel, lidless
eyes, which balefully held her as a serpent paralyzes a bird. The
tubular nostrils and antennae seemed to be sniffing at them, waving to
and fro.

"See the white expanse of cornea, how large it is," whispered Marable.
"The pupils are nothing but black slits now." The interest excited by
this living fossil was almost enough to stifle the dread of the creature
in the man.

But the girl saw the huge flat head and the crinkled tissue of the
frilled mouth with its sucker disks.

       *       *       *       *       *

Suddenly, from the central portion of the sucker-cup mouth issued a
long, straight red fang.

The two drew back as the living fossil raised a short clawed leg.

"It has the thick body of an immense python and the clawed legs of a
dinosaur," said Marable, speaking as though he were delivering a
lecture. The sight, without doubt, fascinated him as a scientist. He
almost forgot the danger.

"Oh, it's horrible," whispered the girl.

She clung to his arm. He went on talking. "It is some sort of
terrestrial octopus...."

To the girl, it seemed that the living fossil was endless in length.
Coil after coil showed as the ripples passed along its body and the
straight fang threatened them with destruction.

"See, it is armored," said Marable.

"Betty, no one has ever had such an experience as this, seen such a
sight, and lived to tell of it. It must be ravenous with hunger, shut up
in its amber cell inside the black fluid. I--"

A sharp, whistling hiss interrupted his speech. The reptile was puffing
and swelling, and as it grew in bulk with the intake of the air, its
enamel-like scales stood out like bosses on the great body. It spat
forth a cloud of black, oily mist, and Marable came to himself at last.

He raised his revolver and fired at the creature, sending shot after
shot from the heavy revolver into the head.

       *       *       *       *       *

Betty Young screamed as the reptile reared up and made a movement toward
them. Marable and the girl retreated swiftly, as the beast thumped to
the floor with a thud and started at them, advancing with a queer,
crawling movement.

It was between them and the door. Betty thrust her gun into Marable's
hands, for his own was empty and he had hurled it at the monster.

"Hurry! Run for your life!" ordered Marable, placing himself between
Betty and the reptile.

She would not leave him till he swerved to one side, going dangerously
close to the beast and firing into its head. The rush of the flowing
body stopped; it turned and pursued him, leaving the girl safe for the
moment, but separated from Marable.

Luckily, on the smooth marble it could not get an efficient grip with
its clawlike arms. It was clumsy in its gait, and for a time the man
eluded it.

Betty Young, looking about for a weapon, calling for help at the top of
her lungs, caught sight of a fireman's ax in a glass case on the wall.
She ran over, smashed the glass with the small hammer, and took out the
heavy ax.

Shot after shot reverberated through the big laboratory as Marable tried
to stop the monster. Betty, bravely closing in from the rear, saw
Marable leaping from side to side as the brute struck viciously at him
time and again.

The creature had been emitting cloud after cloud of black fog, and the
atmosphere, in spite of the open windows, was dim in its vicinity.
Vaguely Betty heard shouts from the far hall, but all she could do was
to call out in return and run toward the horror.

       *       *       *       *       *

Marable, out of breath, had climbed to the top of an amber block. Betty,
close by, saw the reptile rear its bulk up into the air, until it was
high enough to strike the man.

Before it could send forth its death-dealing fang to pin Marable to the
block, however, Betty Young brought the ax down on its back with all her
strength.

There was a sickening thud as the sharp weapon sunk deep into the fleshy
back. She struck again, and the creature fell in folds, like a
collapsing spring. It lashed back at her, but she leaped clear as it
slashed in agony, thrashing about so that the whole room seemed to rock.

Marable came scrambling down the side of the block to help her. He was
breathing hard, and she turned toward him; as Betty looked away, a
portion of the scarlet tail hit her in the body and she fell, striking
her head on the floor.

Marable reached down, seized the ax, and in a desperate frenzy hacked at
the reptile's awful head. He leaped in and out like a terrier, sinking
the ax deep into the neck and head of the beast. He gave the impression
of slashing at heavy rubber, and Betty Young, trying to drag herself
away from that dangerous body, heard his whistling breath.

They were almost hidden from one another now, in the mist which came
from the thing's nostrils.

"Help, help!" screamed the girl, mustering her last strength in the
despairing cry.

She saw Marable go down, then, as the reptile hit him a glancing blow
with its body. When the powerful young fellow did not rise, the girl
thought it was all over. The air really became black to her; she fainted
and lay still.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Betty Young opened her eyes, the air had cleared greatly, and she
could see the familiar outlines of the paleontological laboratory and
the bulks of the amber blocks. Her father was holding her head in his
lap, and was bathing her temples with water.

"Darling," he said, "are you badly hurt?"

"No," she murmured faintly. "I'm--I'm all right. But--but Walter--did
it--"

"He's all right," said her father. "The reptile was dying, and could do
him no damage. We finished it off."

Then, Marable, covered with blood, which he was trying to wipe from his
hands and clothes, came and smiled down at her.

"Well," said Professor Young, "you two have mutilated a marvelous and
unique specimen between you."

There were several men examining something nearby. Turning her eyes in
their direction, Betty saw they were viewing the remains of the reptile.

       *       *       *       *       *

Marable helped her to her feet, and stood with one arm about her.
Professor Orling, the famous specialist on fossil reptiles, was speaking
now, and the others listened.

"I think we will find it to be some sort of missing link between the
dinosaurs and mososaurs. It is surely unbelievable that such a creature
should be found alive; but perhaps it can be explained. It is related to
the amphibians and was able to live in or out of the water. Now, we have
many instances of reptiles such as lizards and toads penned up in solid
rock but surviving for hundreds of years. Evidently this great reptile
went through the same sort of experience. I would say that there has
been some great upheaval of nature, that the reptile was caught in its
prison of amber thousands and thousands of years ago. Through
hibernation and perhaps a preservative drug it emitted in the black
fluid, this creature has been able to survive its long imprisonment.
Naturally, when it was released by the cutting away of part of the amber
which penned it in, it burst its cell, ravenous with hunger. The
fanglike tooth we see was its main weapon of attack, and it set upon the
unfortunate watchman. After knocking him unconscious, its sucker-like
fringe glued the mouth near the heart while the fang shot into the
arteries and drew forth the body fluids. There is a great deal to be
done with this valuable find, gentlemen. I would suggest that--"

       *       *       *       *       *

Marable grunted. "Oh, hell," he murmured in Betty Young's ear. "To the
devil with paleontology, Betty. You saved my life. Come out and let's
get married. I love you."

The girl smiled up into his eyes. The scientists close by were listening
fascinatedly to Orling's words, and had no time to watch the two young
people, for they stared at the reptile's body as the great man went from
section to section, lecturing upon one point after another.

"You've forgotten paleontology for a moment, thank goodness," said
Betty. "I'm glad."

"Yes, Betty dear. This terrible experience has shaken me, and I realized
how much I love you when I saw you in danger. What an awful few minutes!
If I had to live them over again, I don't think I could face them."

"Never mind," she murmured. "We are safe, Walter. After all, it's not
every woman who is helped by a living fossil to make the man she loves
realize he loves her!"

[Illustration: The SF-22 and her convoy were surrounded by these
unearthly rays.]



The Terror of Air-Level Six

_By Harl Vincent_


It was a sweltering evening in mid-August, during that unprecedented
heat wave which broke Weather Bureau records in 2011. New York City had
simmered under a blazing sun for more than three weeks, and all who were
able had deserted the city for spots of lesser torridity. But I was one
of those unfortunates who could not leave on account of the pressing
urgency of business matters and, there being nothing else to do, kept
doggedly at my work until it seemed that nerves and body must soon give
way under the strain. To-night, as I boarded the pneumatic tube, I
dropped into the nearest seat and could not even summon the energy to
open my newspaper.

[Sidenote: From some far reach of leagueless Space
came a great pillar of flame to lay waste
and terrorize the Earth.]

For some minutes I sat as in a daze, wishing merely that the journey was
over, and that I was on my own front porch out in Rutherford. After
awhile I stirred and looked around. Seeing none of my acquaintances in
the car, I finally opened the newspaper and was considerably startled by
the screaming headlines that confronted me from its usually conservative
first page:

  SECOND COAST TRANSPORT
  PLANE LOST!

  Disaster Like First in Air-Level
  Six!

No wonder the newsboys had been crying an extra on Broadway! I had given
no heed to the import of their shoutings, but this was real news and
well worthy of an extra edition. Since the mysterious loss of the SP-61,
only four days previously, the facilities of the several air
transportation systems were seriously handicapped on account of the
shaken confidence of the general public. It was not surprising that
there was widespread reluctance at trusting human lives and valuable
merchandise to the mercies of the inexplicable power which had
apparently wiped out of existence the SF-61, together with its
twenty-eight passengers and the consignment of one-half million dollars
in gold. And now the NY-18 had gone the way of the other!

Details were meager. Both ships had failed to reply to the regular
ten-minute radio calls from headquarters and had not since been seen or
heard from. In both cases the last call had been answered when the ship
was proceeding at full speed on its regular course in air-level six. The
SF-61 last reported from a position over Mora in New Mexico, and four
days of intensive search by thousands of planes had failed to locate
ship or passengers. To-day, in the early hours of the morning, the NY-18
reported over Colorado Springs, on the northern route, and then, like
the SF-61, dropped out of existence insofar as any attempts at
communicating with or locating her were concerned. She, too, carried a
heavy consignment of specie, though only eleven passengers had risked
the westward journey.

       *       *       *       *       *

Someone had dropped into a seat at my side, and I looked up from my
reading to meet the solemn eyes of Hartley Jones, a young friend whom I
had not seen for several months.

"Why, hello, Hart," I greeted him. "Glad to see you, old man. Where in
Sam Hill have you been keeping yourself?"

"Glad to see you, too, Jack," he returned warmly. "Been spending most of
my time out at the hangar."

"Oh, that's right. You fellows built a new one at Newark Airport, didn't
you?"

"Yeah. Got a great outfit there now, too. Why don't you drop around and
see us one of these days?"

"I will, Hart, and I want you to take me up some time. You know I have
never been in one of these new ships of yours. But what do you think of
this mess?" I pointed to the black headlines.

He grinned joyously and flipped back the lapel of his coat, displaying a
nickeled badge. "George and I are starting out to-night to look around a
little," he gloated. "Just been appointed deputy air commissioners; and
we got a couple of guns on our newest plane. Air Traffic Bureau thinks
there's dirty work afoot. Twelve-motored planes don't disappear without
leaving a trace. Anyhow, we've got a job, and we're going to try and
find out what's wrong. How'd you like to come along?"

"What?" I replied. "You know darn well I'm too busy. Besides, I'd be no
good to you. Just extra load, and not pay load at that. And then, I'm
broke--as usual."

       *       *       *       *       *

Hartley Jones grinned in his engaging way. "You'd be good company," he
parried; "and, what's more, I think the trip would do you a lot of good.
You look all shot to pieces."

"Forget it," I laughed. "It's just the heat. And I'll have to leave you
here, Hart. Drop in and see us, will you? The wife was asking for you
only yesterday."

"Jack, dear," my wife greeted me at the door of my modest suburban home,
"Mr. Preston just called, and he wants you to call him right back."

"Oh, Lord," I groaned, "can't I forget the office for one evening?"
Preston was manager of the concern for which I worked.

Nevertheless, though our two fine youngsters were clamoring for their
dinner, I made the telephone call at once.

"Makely," came the voice of the boss, when the connection was completed,
"I want you to take the night plane for Frisco. Hate to ask you, but it
must be done. Townley is sick and someone has to take those Canadian Ex.
bonds out to Farnsworth. You're the only one to do it, and after you get
there, you can start on that vacation you need. Take a month if you
wish."

The thought of Hartley Jones' offer flashed through my mind. "But have
you read of the loss of the NY-18?" I asked Preston.

"I have, Makely. There'll be another hundred a month in your check, too,
to make up for the worry of your family. But the government is sending
thirty Secret Service men along on the SF-22, which leaves to-night. In
addition, there will be a convoy of seven fighting planes, so there is
not likely to be a repetition of the previous disasters."

That hundred a month sounded mighty good, for expenses had been mounting
rapidly of late. "All right, Mr. Preston," I agreed. "I will be at the
airport before midnight. But how about the bonds?"

"I'll drive around after dinner and deliver them to you. And thanks for
your willingness, Makely. You'll not be sorry."

       *       *       *       *       *

My wife had listened intently and, from my words, she knew what to
expect. Her face was a tragic mask when I replaced the receiver on its
hook, and my heart sank at her expression.

Then there came the ring of the telephone and, for some reason, my pulse
raced as I went to the hall to answer it. Hartley Jones' cheerful voice
greeted me and he was positively gleeful when I told him of my
projected trip.

"Hooray!" he shouted. "But you'll not take the SF-22. You'll take the
trip with me as I wanted. I tell you what: You be out at Newark Airport
at eleven-thirty, but come to my hangar instead of to that of the
transportation company. We'll leave at the same time as the regular
liner, and we'll get your old bonds to Frisco, regardless of what might
happen to the big ship. Also we might learn something mighty
interesting."

I argued with him, but to no avail. And the more I argued, the greater
appeal was presented by his proposition. Finally there was nothing to do
but agree.

       *       *       *       *       *

Preston arrived with the bonds shortly after the children were tucked in
their beds. I did not tell him of my change in plans. He did not stay
long, and I could see that he was uncomfortable under the accusing eyes
of Marie, for all his own confidence in the safety of the trip in the
closely-guarded SF-22.

At precisely eleven-thirty I reached the great steel and glass hangar
where Hart Jones and George Boehm carried on their experiments with
super-modern types of aircraft. Hart Jones had inherited more than two
million dollars, and was in a fair way to spend it all on his favorite
hobby, though those who knew him best vowed that he would make many
times that amount through royalties on his ever-growing number of
valuable inventions.

The immense doors were open, and I gazed for the first time into the
hangar whose spacious interior provided storage and manufacturing
facilities for a dozen or more planes of Hart Jones' design. A curiously
constructed example of his handiwork stood directly before me, and
several mechanics were engaged in making it ready for flight. My friend
advanced from their midst to meet me, a broad smile on his grease
smeared countenance.

"Greetings, Jack," he said, taking my small bag from my hands. "Right on
time, I see. And I can't tell you how glad I am that you are coming with
us. So is George."

"Well, I didn't expect to," I admitted; "but there is no need of telling
you that I had far rather be in your ship than in the big one."

       *       *       *       *       *

George Boehm, the same jolly chap I had several times met in Hart's
company, but fatter than ever, crawled from beneath the shiny metal body
of the plane and scrambled to his feet at my side.

"Going in for a bit of adventuring, Mr. Makely?" he asked, wiping his
hand with a piece of cotton waste before extending it.

"Yes," I replied, as I squeezed his chubby fingers. "Can't stick in the
mud all my life, George. And I wouldn't want to be in better company for
my first attempt either."

"Nor we," he returned, a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. "Rather have a
greenhorn on the Pioneer than some government agent, who'd be butting in
and trying to run everything. Think you'll be scared?"

"Probably," I admitted; "but I guess I can stand it."

"Hear the latest news broadcast?" interrupted Hart Jones.

"No. What was it?" I asked.

"There has been a report from out near Cripple Creek," said Hart
solemnly, "that a pillar of fire was observed in the mountains shortly
after the time the NY-18 last reported. The time and the location
coincide with her probable position and the report was confirmed by no
less than three of the natives of that locality. Of course the
statements are probably extravagant, but they claim this pillar of fire
extended for miles into the heavens and was accompanied by a tremendous
roaring sound that ceased abruptly as the light of the flame
disappeared, leaving nothing but blackness and awe-inspiring silence
behind."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Lot of bunk!" grunted George, who was vigorously scrubbing the back of
his neck.

"Sounds like a fairy tale," I commented.

"Nevertheless, there may be something in it. In fact, there must be.
Three of these mountaineers observed practically the same phenomenon
from quite widely separated points, though one of them said there were
three pillars of fire and that these looked more like the beams of
powerful search-lights. All agreed on the terrific roar. And, after all,
these two liners did disappear. There must be something quite out of the
ordinary about the way in which they were captured or destroyed, and
this occurrence may well be supposed to have a bearing on the matter."

"Possibly they were destroyed by some freak electrical storm," I
suggested.

"Where then are the wrecked vessels?" asked Hart. "No, Jack, electrical
storms do not destroy huge air liners and then suck them out into space
beyond our vision. These two ships are no longer on the surface of the
earth, else they would have been long since located. The magnetic
direction finders of the transportation people have covered every inch
of the United States, as well as Mexico and Canada."

"Of course they might have been carried halfway around the world by a
wind of unprecedented velocity." I commenced a silly argument in favor
of the theory that the elements had accounted for the two vessels, but
was interrupted by the mounting roar of great engines throbbing
overhead.

"Hurry up there, George!" shouted Hart. "It's the SF-22 coming in. We
have to be ready for the take-off in five minutes!"

       *       *       *       *       *

He hastened to take George's place at the washbowl and all was activity
within the confines of our hangar. George and I left the office and went
out to the landing field, which was now brilliant with the glare of
floodlights. The _Pioneer_ had been trundled into the open and stood
ready for the flight. Not a hundred feet above the field, the huge
silver moth that was the SF-22 swept by in a wide circle that would
bring her into the wind. The roar of her engines died as she swung out
of the circle of light into the surrounding darkness.

The crowds which had gathered to witness her landing buzzed with excited
comment and speculation. Her nose brought slightly up, she dropped to a
perfect three-point landing, the brakes screeching as she was brought to
a standstill at the hangar of the transportation company.

"Come on now, you fellows," came the voice of Hart Jones from the hangar
entrance, "there's no time to lose. The _Pioneer_ takes off immediately
after the big fellow."

We hurried to the waiting ship, which seemed like a tiny toy when
compared with the giant SF-22. I had observed very little of the
construction of the _Pioneer_, but I could now see that she was quite
different in design from the ordinary plane. A monoplane she was, but
the wing structure was abnormally short and of great thickness, and
there were a number of tubes projecting from the leading edge that gave
the appearance of a battery of small cannon. The body, like all planes
designed for travel in air-level six, was cigar-shaped, and had
hermetically sealed ports and entrance manholes. A cluster of the
cannon-shaped tubes enclosed the tail just back of the fins and rudder
and, behind the wing structure atop the curved upper surface of the
body, there was a sphere of gleaming metal that was probably three feet
in diameter.

       *       *       *       *       *

Before I could formulate questions regarding the unusual features of the
design, we were within the _Pioneer's_ cabin and Hart Jones was engaged
in clamping the entrance manhole cover to its rubber seat. A throbbing
roar that penetrated our double hull attracted my attention and, looking
through a nearby porthole, I saw that the convoy of army planes had
taken off and was circling over the SF-22 in anticipation of her start.
Trim, speedy fighting ships these were, with heavy caliber machine-guns
in turrets fore and aft and normally manned by crews of twelve each. The
under surfaces of their bodies glistened smooth and sleek in the light
from the field, for the landing gears had been drawn within and the
openings sealed by the close-fitted armor plate that protected these
ordinarily vulnerable portions when in flight.

The SF-22 was ready to take off and the crowds were drawing back into
the obscurity beyond the huge circle of blinding light. One after
another her twelve engines sputtered into life, and ponderously she
moved over the field, gathering speed as the staccato barking of the
exhausts gradually blended into a smooth though deafening purr. The tail
of the great vessel came up, then the wheels, and she was off into the
night.

       *       *       *       *       *

Hart Jones sat at a bewildering array of instruments that covered almost
the entire forward partition of the cabin. He pressed a button and the
starting motor whined for a moment. Then the single engine of the
_Pioneer_ coughed and roared. Slowly we taxied in the direction taken by
the SF-22, whose lights were now vanishing in the darkness. I saw George
open a valve on the wall and Hart stretched the fingers of his left hand
to what appeared to be the keyboard of a typewriter set into the
instrument board. He pressed several of the keys and pulled back his
stick. There was a whistling scream from astern and I was thrown back in
my seat with painful force. With that, the motor roared into full speed
and we had left the airport far behind.

"What on earth?" I gasped.

"Rocket propulsion," laughed Hart. "I should have warned you. Those
tubes you saw outside at the tail and along the leading edge of the
wings. Only used three of them, but that was sufficient for the
take-off."

"But I thought this rocket business was not feasible on account of the
wastage of fuel due to its low efficiency," I objected.

"We should worry about fuel," said Hart.

I looked about me and saw that there was very little space for the
storage of this essential commodity. "Why?" I inquired. "What fuel do
you use?"

"Make our own," he replied shortly. He was busy at the moment,
maneuvering the _Pioneer_ into a position above and behind the SF-22 and
her convoy.

"You make your own fuel enroute?" I asked in astonishment.

"Yes. That sphere you saw on top. It is the collecting end of an
electrical system for extracting nitrogen and other elements, from the
air. This extraction goes on constantly while we are in the atmosphere
and my fuel is an extremely powerful explosive of which nitrates are the
base. The supply is replenished continuously, so we have no fear of
running short even in the upper levels."

       *       *       *       *       *

George had crawled through a small opening into some inaccessible region
in the stern of the vessel. I pondered over what Hart had just told me,
still keeping my eyes glued to the port, through which could be seen the
fleet we were following. The altimeter registered thirty-five thousand
feet. We were entering air-level six--the stratosphere! Below us the
troposphere, divided into five levels, each of seven thousand feet,
teemed with the life of the air. The regular lanes were filled with
traffic, the lights of the speeding thousands of freight and pleasure
craft moving in orderly procession along their prescribed routes.

Up here in the sixth level, which was entirely for high-speed traffic of
commercial and government vessels making transcontinental or
transoceanic voyages, we were the only adventurers in sight--we and the
convoyed liner we were following. The speed indicator showed six hundred
miles an hour, and the tiny spot of light that traveled over the chart
to indicate our position showed that we were nearing Buffalo.

Glancing through one of the lower ports, I saw the lights of the city
shining dimly through a light mist that fringed the shore of Lake Erie
and extended northward along the Niagara. Then we were out over the
lake, and the luminous hue was slipping rapidly behind. I looked ahead
and saw that the distance to the SF-22 and her convoy had somewhat
increased. We were a mile behind and some two thousand feet above them.
Evidently Hart was figuring on keeping at a safe distance for
observation of anything that might happen.

       *       *       *       *       *

Our motor was running smoothly and the angle of the propeller blades had
been altered to take care of the change in air density from the lower
altitudes. It flashed across my mind that this was an ideal location for
an attack, if such was to be made on the SF-22.

Then, far ahead, I saw a beam of light stab through the darkness and
strike the tossing surface of the lake. Another and another followed,
and I could see that the SF-22 and her convoy were surrounded by these
unearthly rays. They converged from high above to outline a brilliant
circle where they met on the surface of the waters, and in the midst of
the cone formed by the beams, the liner and its seven tiny followers
could be seen to falter, and huddle more closely together.

It all happened in the twinkling of an eye--so quickly, in fact, that
Hart and I had not the time to exchange remarks over the strange
occurrence. For a moment the eight vessels hovered, halted suddenly by
this inexplicable force from out the heavens. Then there rose from the
apex of the inverted cone of light a blinding column of blue-white
radiance that poured skyward an instant and was gone. To our ears came a
terrific roaring that could be likened to nothing we had heard on earth.
The _Pioneer_ was tossed and buffeted as by a cyclone, and George came
tumbling from the opening he had entered, his round face grown solemn.
Then came eery silence, for the _Pioneer's_ motor had gone dead. Ahead
there was utter darkness. The liner and her convoy had completely
vanished and the _Pioneer_ was slipping into a spin!

       *       *       *       *       *

"What's up?" asked George of Hart, who was tugging frantically at the
controls.

"The liner has gone the way of the first two," he replied: "and the yarn
about the pillar of fire was not so far wrong after all."

"You saw the same thing?" asked George incredulously.

"Yes, and so did Jack. There came some beams of light from the sky; then
the pillar of fire and the roaring you heard, after which the vessels
were gone and our electrical system paralyzed."

"Holy smoke!" ejaculated George. "What to do now?"

As he spoke, the _Pioneer_ came out of the spin, and we were able to
resume our positions in the seats. None of us was strapped in, and we
had been clinging to whatever was handiest to keep from being tossed
about in the cabin. Hart wiped his forehead and growled out an oath. The
instrument board was still illuminated, for its tiny lamps were supplied
with current from the storage battery. But the main lights of the cabin
and the ignition system refused to function. We were gliding now, but
losing altitude rapidly, having already dropped to the lower limits of
level five.

"Can't you use the rocket tubes?" I inquired hesitatingly.

"They are fired in the same manner as the motor," replied Hart; "but we
might try an emergency connection from the storage battery, which is
ordinarily used only in starting and for the panel lights."

       *       *       *       *       *

George was already fussing with the connections in a small junction box
from which he had removed the cover. Meanwhile, the black waters of Lake
Erie were rushing upward to meet us, and the needle of the altimeter
registered twelve thousand feet.

"Here's the trouble!" shouted George, triumphantly holding up a small
object he had removed from the junction box. "Ignition fuse is blown."

"Probably by some radiations from the cone of light and the column that
destroyed the liner. Lucky we were no closer," were Hart's muttered
comments.

George produced a spare fuse and inserted it in its proper place. The
cabin lights glowed instantly and the motor started at once.

"Well, I'm going up after the generators of this mysterious force that
is destroying our cross-country ships and killing our people," asserted
Hart. "The rays came from high above, but the _Pioneer_ can go as high
as anything that ever flew--_higher_."

He snapped a switch and a beam of light that rivalled the so-called
pillar of fire bored far into the night, dimming the stars by its
brilliance. Again his fingers strayed to the rows of white keys and the
rocket tubes shrieked in response to his pressure. This time I was
prepared for the shock of acceleration, but the action was maintained
for several seconds and I found the pressure against my back growing
painful. Then it was relieved, and I glanced at the altimeter. Its
needle had reached the end of the scale, which was graduated to eighty
thousand feet!

"Good Lord!" I exclaimed. "Do you mean to tell me that we are more than
sixteen miles in the air?"

"Nearly thirty," replied Hart, pointing to another dial which I had not
seen. This one was graduated in miles above sea-level, and its needle
wavered between the twenty-nine and thirty mark!

       *       *       *       *       *

Again Hart pressed the rocket buttons, and we shot still higher into the
heavens. Thirty, forty, fifty miles registered the meter, and still we
climbed.

"Great Scott!" blurted a voice I knew was my own, though I had no
consciousness of willing the speech. "At this rate we'll reach the
moon!"

"We could, if we wished," was Hart's astounding reply; "I wish you
wouldn't say too much about it when we return. We have oxygen to breathe
and an air-tight vessel to retain it. With the fuel we are using, we
could easily do it, provided a sufficient supply were available.
However, the _Pioneer_ does not have large enough storage tanks as yet,
and, of course, we cannot now replenish our supply with sufficient
rapidity, for the atmosphere has become very rare indeed--where we are.
My ultimate object, though, in building the _Pioneer_, was to construct
a vessel that is capable of a trip to the moon."

"You think you could reach a great enough velocity to escape the
gravitational pull of the earth?" I asked, marveling more and more at
the temerity and resourcefulness of my science-minded friend.

"Absolutely," he replied. "The speed required is less than seven miles a
second, and I have calculated that the _Pioneer_ can do no less than
twenty."

Mentally I multiplied by sixty. I could hardly credit the result. Twelve
hundred miles a minute!

"But, how about the acceleration?" I ventured. "Could the human body
stand up under the strain?"

"That is the one problem remaining," he replied; "and I am now working
on a method of neutralizing it. From the latest results of our
experiments, George and I are certain of its feasibility."

       *       *       *       *       *

The _Pioneer_ was now losing altitude once more, and Hart played the
beam of the searchlight in all directions as we descended. He and George
watched through one of the floor ports and I followed suit. We were
falling, unhampered by air resistance, and our bodies were practically
weightless with reference to the _Pioneer_. It was a strange sensation:
there was the feeling of exhilaration one experiences when inhaling the
first whiff of nitrous oxide in the dentist's chair--a feeling of
absolute detachment and care-free confidence in the ultimate result of
our precipitous descent.

I found considerable amusement in pushing myself from side to side of
the cabin with a mere touch of a finger. There was no up nor down, and
sometimes it seemed to me that we were drifting sideways, sometimes that
we fell upward rather than downward. Hart and George were unconcerned.
Evidently they were quite accustomed to the sensations. They bent their
every energy toward discovering what had caused the disaster to the
SF-22 and its convoy.

For several hours we cruised about on the strangest search ever made in
the air. Alternately shooting skyward to unconscionable altitudes and
dropping to levels five and six to replenish our fuel supply, we covered
the greater portion of the United States before the night was over. But
the powerful searchlight of the _Pioneer_ failed to disclose anything
that might be remotely connected with the disappearance of the SF-22.

For me it was a never-to-be-forgotten experience. Lightning dashes from
coast to coast which required but a few minutes of time--circling many
miles above New York or Washington or Savannah in broad daylight with
the sun low on the up-curved horizon; then shooting westward into the
darkness and skirting the Pacific coast less than fifteen minutes later,
but with four hours' actual time difference. Space and time were almost
one.

       *       *       *       *       *

Hart had not provided the _Pioneer_ with a radio or television
transmitter, but there was an excellent receiver, and, through its
agency we learned that the world was in a veritable uproar over the
latest visitation of the mysterious terror of the sixth air level. All
commercial traffic in levels four, five and six was ordered
discontinued, and the government air control stations were flashing long
messages in code, the import of which could but be guessed. Vision
flashes showed immense gatherings at the large airports and in the
public squares of the great cities, where the general populace become
more and more excited and terrified by the awful possibilities pictured
by various prominent speakers.

The governments of all foreign powers made haste to disclaim
responsibility for the air attacks or for any attempt at making war on
the United States. News broadcasts failed to mention Hart Jones or the
_Pioneer_, since the mission had been kept secret. The phenomenon of the
rays and the roaring column of light had been observed from many points
on this occasion and there was no longer any doubt as to the nature of
the terror as visible to the eye, though theories as to the action and
source of the rays conflicted greatly and formed the basis of much
heated discussion.

Eventually the advancing dawn reached San Francisco, and with its advent
Hart decided to make a landing in that city so that my bonds could be
delivered.

       *       *       *       *       *

Jones was apparently a very much mystified and discouraged man. "Jack,"
he said, "it seems to me that this thing is but the beginning of some
tremendous campaign that is being waged against our country by a clever
and powerful enemy. And I feel that our work in connection with the
unraveling of the mystery and overcoming the enemy or enemies is but
begun. It's a cinch that the thing is organized by human minds and is
not any sort of a freak of the elements. Our work is cut out for us, all
right, and I wish you would stick to George and me through the mess.
Will you?"

"Sure," I agreed, readily enough. "After these bonds are delivered I am
free for a month."

"Ha! Ha!" cackled George, without mirth. "A month! We're doggoned lucky
if we get to the bottom of this in a year."

"Nonsense!" snapped Hart, who was considerably upset by the failure to
locate the source of the disastrous rays. "There is nothing supernatural
about this, and anything that can be explained on a scientific basis can
be run to earth in short order. These rays are man-made and, as such,
can be accounted for by man. Our greatest scientists must be put to work
on the problem at once--in fact, they have quite probably been called in
by the government already."

       *       *       *       *       *

He was maneuvering the _Pioneer_ to a landing on the broad field of the
San Francisco airport. Hundreds of idle planes of all sizes lined the
field, and, unmindful of the earliness the hour, a great crowd was
collected in expectation of sensational reports from the occupants of
arriving ships. The unusual construction of the _Pioneer_ attracted
considerable attention and it was with difficulty that the police kept
back the crowd when she rolled to a stop near the office of the local
government supervisor. We hustled inside and were greeted by that
official with open arms.

"Glory be!" he exclaimed. "Hart Jones and the _Pioneer_. Every airport
in the land has been on the lookout for you all night. It was feared you
had been lost with the SF-22 and the others. Code messages to the
supervisors of all districts advised of your mission, though it has been
kept out of the general news, as has the message from the enemy."

"Message from the enemy!" gasped Hart, George and I, echoing the words
like parrots.

"Yes. A demand that the United States surrender, and a threat to descend
into the lower levels if the demand is not complied with in twenty-four
hours!"

"Who is this enemy?" asked Hart, "and where?"

"Who they are is not known," replied the official gravely; "and as to
the location, the War Department is puzzled. Direction finders
throughout the country took readings on the position of their radio
transmitter and these readings differed widely in result. But the
consensus of opinion is that the messages originate somewhere out in
space, probably between fifty and one hundred thousand miles from our
earth."

"Great guns!" Hart glanced at George and me, where we stood with
stupidly hanging jaws. "And what does the government want of me now?"

"You are considered to be the one man who might be able to cope with the
problem, and are ordered to report to the Secretary of War, in person,
immediately."

       *       *       *       *       *

Hart was electrified into instant activity. "Here," he said in a voice
of authority that commanded the official's attention and respect, "see
that this package of bonds is delivered at once to the addressee and
that the addressor is advised of its safe arrival. We're off at once."

Suiting action to the words, he thrust my packet into the hands of the
astonished supervisor. Then, turning sharply on his heel, he flung back,
"Advise the Secretary of War that I shall report to him in person in
less than one hour."

As we stepped through the entrance of the _Pioneer_, he shot a final
look at the official and laughed heartily at his sudden accession of
energy. We had not the slightest doubt that Hart's orders would be
immediately and efficiently carried out.

       *       *       *       *       *

In precisely forty-five minutes, we stood before the desk of Lawrence
Simler, then Secretary of War, in Washington.

"You are Mr. Hartley Jones?" inquired the stern-visaged little man.

"I am, Mr. Secretary, and these are my friends and co-workers, George
Boehm and John Makely."

The Secretary acknowledged the introduction gravely, then plunged into
the heart of the matter at hand with the quick energy for which he was
famed.

"It may or may not be a serious situation," he said, "but certainly it
has thus far been quite alarming. In any event, we have taken the matter
out of the hands of the Air Traffic Bureau. We are prepared to defy the
ultimatum of the enemy, whoever he may be. But we want your help, Mr.
Jones. Every ship of the Air Navy will be in the upper levels within the
prescribed twenty-four hours, and we will endeavor to stave off their
attacks until such time as you can fit the _Pioneer_ for a journey to
their headquarters."

"How can your antiquated war vessels, capable of hurling a high
explosive shell no more than fifty miles, fight off an enemy that is
thousands of miles distant?" asked Hart.

"It is believed by the research engineers of the government that, though
their headquarters may be located at a great distance, the raiders drop
to a comparatively low altitude at the time of one of their attacks,
returning immediately thereafter to their base."

Hart Jones shook his head. "The engineers may be correct," he stated;
"but how on earth can you expect a little vessel like the _Pioneer_ to
battle an enemy who is possessed of these terribly destructive weapons
and who has sufficient confidence in his own invulnerability to declare
war on the greatest country on earth?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Secretary Simler dropped his voice to a confidential tone, and his keen
gray eyes flashed excitement as he unfolded the details of the
discoveries and plans of the War Department. We three listened in
undisguised amazement to a tale of the unceasing labors of our Secret
Service agents in foreign countries, of elaborate experiments with
deadly weapons and the chemicals of warfare.

We heard of marvelous new rays that could be projected for many miles
and destroy whole armies at a single blast; rays that would, in less
time than that required to tell of the feat, reduce to a mass of fused
metal the greatest firstline battleships of the old days of ocean
warfare. We heard of preparations for defensive warfare throughout the
civilized world, preparedness that insured so terrible and final a war
that it was literally impossible for a great world conflagration to
again break out. We learned that the present mysterious signs of a
coming war could not possibly have originated in any country on earth,
else they would have been known of long in advance, due to the network
of the Secret Service system. This war, so unexpectedly thrust upon us,
was undoubtedly a war of planets!

"But," objected Hart, "the messages were in English, were they not?"

"They were," continued Secretary Simler, "and that puzzled our experts
in the beginning. But, it may well be that our enemy from out the skies
has had spies among us for many years and could thus have learned our
languages and radio codes. In any event, we are to meet destructive rays
with others equally destructive, and you, Hartley Jones, are the man who
can make our effectiveness certain."

"I?"

"Yes. How long a time will be required in fitting out the _Pioneer_ for
reliable space flying?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Hart Jones pondered the matter and I could see that he was overjoyed at
the prospect of getting into the thing in earnest. "About one week," he
replied, "providing you can send a force of fifty expert mechanics to my
hangar at once and supply all material as fast as I shall require it."

"Excellent," said the Secretary. "We'll have the men there in a few
hours and will obtain whatever you need, regardless of cost, for
immediate delivery. Incidentally, there will be several scientists as
well, who will supervise the installation of two types of ray generators
and their projecting mechanisms on the _Pioneer_. You will need them
later."

"I don't doubt we shall," said Hart. "And now, with your permission, we
shall leave for the hangar. I'm ready to start work."

"Capital!" Secretary Simler pressed every one of a row of buttons set in
his desk top. We were dismissed.

"Well," said I, when we reached the outside, "he has given you quite a
job, Hart!"

"You said something," he replied. "But, if this threat from the skies
proves as real and as calamitous as I think it will, we all have our
work cut out for us."

"Do you really believe this enemy comes from another planet?" asked
George as we entered the _Pioneer_ for the trip home.

"Where else can they be from?" countered Hart. "But, really it makes no
difference to us now. We have to go after them in earnest. Don't want to
quit, do you, George?"

"Wha-a-at?" shouted George, as he jerked savagely at the main switch of
the _Pioneer_. "You know me better than that, Hart. Did I ever let you
down in anything?"

"No," admitted the smiling Hart, "you never did, bless your heart. But
Jack here is another matter. He has a wife and two kids to look after.
That lets him out automatically."

       *       *       *       *       *

My heart sank at the words, for I knew that he meant what he said. And,
truth to tell, I saw the justice in his remarks.

"But, Hart," I faltered, "I'd like to be in on this thing."

"I know you would, old man. But I think it's out of the question, for
the present at least. You can help with the reconstruction of the
_Pioneer_, however."

And meekly I accepted his dictum, though with secretly conflicting
emotions. Little did I realize at the time that Hart knew far more than
he pretended and that he had merely attempted to salve his own
conscience in this manner.

I was very anxious to return to my family, and, as I sped homeward in a
taxicab after the _Pioneer_ landed at her own hangar, my mind was filled
with doubts and fears. Secretary Simler had been very brief in his talk,
but his every word carried home the gravity of the situation. What if
these invaders carried the war to the surface? Suppose they seared the
countryside and the cities and suburbs with rays of horrible nature that
would shrivel and blast all that lay in their path? My heart chilled at
the thought and it was a distinct relief when I gazed on my little home
and saw that it was safe--so far. I paid the driver with a much too
large bank note and dashed up my own front steps two at a time.

A few hours later I tore myself away and returned to the hangar, where
the _Pioneer_ now reposed in a scaffolded cradle. The sight which met my
eyes was astonishing in the extreme, for the hangar had been transformed
into a huge workshop with seemingly hundreds of men already at work. It
was a scene of furious activity, and, to my utter amazement, I observed
that the _Pioneer_ was already in an advanced stage of disassembly.

       *       *       *       *       *

I had no difficulty in locating Hart Jones, for he was striding from
lathe to workbench to boring mill, issuing his orders with the sureness
and decision of a born leader of men. He welcomed me in his most brisk
manner and immediately assigned me to a portion of the work in the
chemical laboratory--something I was at least partly fitted for.

We labored far into the night, when a siren called us to rest and food.
This was to be a night and day job, and not a man of those on duty gave
thought to the intense nervous and physical strain. Sixty-five of us I
learned there were, though it had seemed there were several times that
number.

During the rest period, Hart switched on the large television and sound
mechanism of the public news broadcasts. Great excitement prevailed
throughout the United States, for there had been a leak and the news had
gone abroad regarding the message from the enemy. There was widespread
panic and disorder and the government was besieged with demands for
authentic news. The twenty-four hours of grace had nearly expired.

Finally the public was told of what actually was happening. Our entire
fleet of one thousand air cruisers was in air-level six, waiting for the
enemy. America was going to fight in earnest!

       *       *       *       *       *

Flashes of our air cruisers in construction and in action came over the
screen; voice-vision records of the popular officers of the fleet
followed in quick succession. Then came the blow--the first of the
strange war.

Two vessels of the air fleet had been destroyed by the triple rays and
pillar of fire! Fifty cruisers rushing to the scene had been unable to
find any traces of the source of the deadly rays. And, this time, there
was an alarming added element. The pillar of fire had risen from a point
near Gadsden in Alabama and, in its wake, there spread a sulphurous,
smoldering fire that crept along the ground and destroyed all in its
path. Farms, factories, and even the steel rails of the railroads were
consumed and burned into the ground as if by the breath of some
tremendous blast furnace. Hundreds of inhabitants of the section
perished, and it was reported that the fumes from the strange fires were
drifting in the direction of Birmingham, terrifyingly visible in
blue-green clouds of searing vapor.

With the first news of the disaster came a wave of fear that spread over
the country with the rapidity of the ether waves that carried the news.
Then came stern determination. This enemy must be swept from the skies!
Gatherings in public places volunteered en masse for whatever service
the government might ask of them. The entire world was in an uproar, and
from Great Britain, France, Germany and Russia, came immediate offers of
their air fleets to assist in fighting off the Terror.

       *       *       *       *       *

In less than an hour there were nearly five thousand cruisers in
air-level six, patroling its entire depth from thirty-five thousand to
one hundred thousand feet altitude.

We resumed work in the hangar, but the news service was kept in
operation as far as the amplifiers were concerned, though the television
screen was switched off on account of the likelihood of its distracting
the workers.

Again came the report of a major disaster, this time over Butte in
Montana. Four American vessels and one British were the victims in level
six. And the city of Butte was in flames; blue, horrible flames that
literally melted the city into the ground. Again there was no trace of
the invaders.

How puny were the efforts of the five thousand air cruisers! Marvels of
engineering and mechanical skill, these vessels were. Deadly as were the
weapons they carried--weapons so terrible that war on earth was
considered impossible since their development--they were helpless
against an enemy who could not be located. Though our vessels were
capable of boring high into the stratosphere, the enemy worked from
still higher.

"Holy smoke!" gasped Hart Jones, who had stopped at my side. "What a
contract I have on my hands!"

       *       *       *       *       *

He looked in the direction of the partly dismantled _Pioneer_, and I
could see by the fixedness of his stare that he was thinking of her
insignificant size in comparison with the job she was to undertake.

Above the din of the machines in the hangar rang the startled voice of a
news announcer. Panic-stricken he seemed, and we stopped to listen.
Another blow of the terror of the skies--and now close by! Over
Westchester County in New York State there was a repetition of the
previous attacks. Only two of the cruisers had vanished this time; but
several towns, including Larchmont and Scarsdale, were pools of molten
fire!

Sick at heart, I thought of my little home in Rutherford and of the dear
ones it contained. I thought of telephoning, but, what was the use?
There was no warding off of this terrible thing that had so suddenly
come to our portion of the world. It was the blowing of the last
trumpet, the way things looked.

The announcer had calmed himself. His voice droned tonelessly now, as
was the custom. Another raid, on the Mexican Border now. We were
stupefied by the rapidity of the enemy's attacks; then electrified once
more by the most astounding news of all. Alexandria, in Egypt, was the
base of a pillar of fire! Fully half of the city was wiped out, and the
remainder in a mortal funk, terrorized and riotous. The United States
was not alone in the war!

The foreign fleets which reinforced our own were ordered home
immediately. But to what avail? The world was doomed!

       *       *       *       *       *

In the morning, after nine fearful attacks during the night, there came
another message from the enemy and this was repeated in five languages
and addressed to the entire world:

"People of Earth," it read, "this is our final warning. One chance has
been given and you have proved stubborn. Consider well that your
civilization be not entirely destroyed, and answer as the expiration of
forty-eight hours, using our transmitting frequency. Our hand is to be
withheld for that period only, when, unless our demands are met, all of
your large cities and towns will be destroyed. Our terms for peace are
that we be permitted to land without resistance on your part; that you
surrender farm and forest lands, cities and towns, able-bodied men of
twenty to forty, selected women of seventeen to thirty, and tribute in
the form of such supplies and precious metals as we may specify, all to
the extent of forty per cent of your resources. No compromise will be
accepted."

That was all. It was during a rest period at the Jones hangar and I had
brought Hart and George to my home for breakfast. We sat at the table
when the news instrument brought the message. Marie was pouring the
coffee, and my two small boys, Jim and Jack, had gone to the playroom,
from whence their joyous voices could be heard. We four were struck dumb
at the announcement, and Marie looked at me with so awful an expression
of dread that my coffee turned bitter in my mouth. Marie was just
twenty-eight!

"What beasts!" cried Hart. "Allow them to land without resistance? I
should say not! Rather we should fight them off until all of us perish."

       *       *       *       *       *

He had risen from his chair in his anger. Now he sat down suddenly and
shook a forefinger in my face.

"Say!" he exploded. "You can't tell me that some master mind of our own
world is not back of this!"

"I'm not telling you," I replied, startled at the fierce fire that
flashed from his eyes.

"I know. I'm just trying to think aloud and I'm liable to say anything.
But this sort of business is the work of humans as sure as you're born.
Still I believe that what Simler says is true. I can't believe that any
country on earth is back of the thing. It must be an attack from beings
of another planet, but I think they have as a leader a man who is of
our own earth."

Marie's eyes opened wide at this. "But how could that be?" she asked.
"Surely no one from our earth has made the trip to one of the other
planets?"

"It may be that someone has," replied Hart. "Do you remember Professor
Oradel? Remember, about ten years ago, I think it was, when he and a
half dozen or more of extremely radical scientists built a rocket they
claimed would reach the moon? They were ridiculed and hissed and
relegated to the position of half-baked, crazy inventors. But Oradel had
a large private fortune, and he and his crowd built themselves a
workshop and laboratory in a secluded region in the Ozarks. Here they
labored and experimented and eventually the rocket ship was constructed.
No person was in their confidence, but when the machine was completed
they issued a statement to the press to the effect that they were ready
for the voyage to the moon, and that, when they returned, a reckoning
with the world was to be made for its disbelief and total lack of
sympathy. Again the press subjected Oradel to a series of scathing
denunciations, and the scientific publications refused to take
cognizance of his claims in any way, shape or form."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Then, one night, a great rocket roared into the heavens, leaving a
terror-stricken countryside in the wake of its brilliantly visible tail.
Several observatories whose telescopes picked up and followed the trail
of the contraption reported that it described a huge parabola, mounting
high into the stratosphere and falling back to earth, where it was lost
in the depths of the Pacific Ocean. There the thing ended and it was
soon forgotten. But I believe that this rocket ship of Oradel's reached
Mars or Venus and that the peoples of whichever planet they reached have
been prevailed upon and prepared to war upon the world."

"That would explain their knowledge of our languages and codes." I
ventured, "and would likewise account for the fact that the first of our
ships to be attacked were those carrying large shipments of currency.
Though if these were destroyed by the fire columns, I can not see what
good the money would do them."

"Don't believe the first three were destroyed," grunted Hart. "You'll
remember that in these cases the pillars of fire, or whatever you want
to call them, were of a cold light, whereas now they are viciously hot
and leave behind them the terrible destructive fires that spread and
spread and seemingly never are extinguished. No, I think that the force
used is something of the nature of an atom-disrupting triad of beams and
that these set up the column as a veritable tornado, a whirling column
of roaring wind rushing skyward with tremendous velocity. The first
ships, I believe, were carried into the stratosphere and captured intact
by the enemy.

"Since the declaration of war the nature of the column has altered. The
three beams, instead of meeting at or near the surface of the earth, now
join high in the heavens and the column strikes downward instead of
expending its force upward. An added energy is used which produces the
terribly destructive force below. And now we are able to locate
fragments of the ships destroyed above, whereas previously there were no
traces."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Sounds reasonable," commented George. "But why have they not landed and
waged their war right here without warning, if that is what they now
intend to do?"

"A natural question, George. But I have a hunch that the space flier or
fliers of the enemy are conserving fuel by remaining beyond gravity. You
know, in space flying, the greatest expenditures of energy are in
leaving or landing on a body and, once landed, they might not have
sufficient fuel for a getaway. They know we are not exactly helpless,
once they are in our midst, and are taking this means of reducing us to
the point of complete subjection before risking their precious selves
among us."

The telephone startled us by its insistent ring. It was a call from the
hangar for Hart. The news broadcast announcer was in the midst of a long
dissertation regarding the discovery only this morning that there were
certain apparent discrepancies in the movements of the tides and
unwonted perturbations of the moon's orbit. There flashed on the screen
a view of the great observatory at Mount Wilson, and Professor Laughlin
of that institution stepped into the foreground of the scene to take up
the discussion so mechanically repeated by the announcer.

"Must leave for the hangar at once," declared Hart, returning from the
telephone. "Simler and his staff are there and we are wanted
immediately."

"Oh, Jack!" Marie begged with her eyes.

"Got to be done, Honey," I responded, "and, believe me, I am going to do
what little I can to help. Suppose we surrendered!"

       *       *       *       *       *

I shuddered anew at the very thought and took hurried leave of my
family, Hart and George awaiting me in the hall. Had I known what was to
transpire before the end of the war, I am certain I would have been in
much less of a hurry.

We rushed to the hangar, where Secretary Simler and his party awaited us
in the office. Rather, I should say, they waited for Hart Jones.

"Mr. Jones," said the Secretary of War, when the introductions were
over, "it is up to you to get the _Pioneer_ in shape to go out after
these terrible creatures before the forty-eight hours have expired. We
have replied to their ultimatum and have told them we will have our
answer ready within the appointed time, but it is already agreed between
the nations of the World Alliance that our reply is to be negative.
Better far that we submit to the utter destruction of our civilization
than agree to their terms."

"I believe I can do it, Mr. Secretary," was Hart Jones' simple comment.
"At least I will try. But you must let me have an experienced astronomer
at once with whom to consult."

"Astronomer?"

"Yes--immediately. I have a theory, but am not enough of a student of
astronomy myself to work it out."

"You shall have the best man in the Air Naval Observatory at once."
Secretary Simler chewed his cigar savagely. "And anything else you might
need," he concluded.

"There is nothing else, sir." Hart turned from the great men who
regarded him solemnly, some with expressions of hope, others with plain
distrust written large on their countenances.

       *       *       *       *       *

They left in silence and we returned to our work with renewed vigor.
Within an hour there arrived by fast plane an undersized,
thick-spectacled man can who presented himself as Professor Linquist
from the government observatory. He was immediately taken into the
office by Hart and the two remained behind closed doors for the best
part of four hours.

Meanwhile the hangar hummed with activity as usual. We in the chemical
laboratory were engaged in compounding the high explosive used as fuel
in the _Pioneer_. This was being compressed to its absolute limit and
was stored in long steel cylinders in the form of a liquid of extremely
low temperature. These cylinders were at once transferred to a special
steel vault where the temperature was kept at a low enough point to
prevent expansion and consequent loss of the explosive, not to speak of
the danger of destroying the entire lot of us in its escape.

The generating apparatus of the _Pioneer_ was to be dispensed with for
this trip, since it was of no value outside the atmosphere where there
was no air from which to extract the elements necessary for the
production of the explosive. Instead, the entire supply of fuel for the
trip was to be carried aboard the vessel in the cylinders we were
engaged in filling. Hart had calculated that there was just sufficient
room to store fuel for a trip of about two hundred thousand miles from
the earth and a safe return. We hoped this would be enough.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the scaffolding around the _Pioneer_ there were now so many workers
that it seemed they must forever be in one another's way. But the work
was progressing with extreme rapidity. Already there projected from her
blunt nose a slender rod of shining metal which was the projector of one
of the destructive rays whose generator and auxiliaries were being
installed under the supervision of the government experts. The force had
been trebled and was now working in shifts of two hours each, the pace
being so exhausting that highest efficiency was obtained by using these
short periods.

Additional rocket tubes were being installed, and the steel framework of
a bulge now showed on the hull, this bulge being an additional fuel
storage compartment that would provide a slight additional resistance
and consequently lower speed in the lower levels, but would prove little
hindrance in level six and none at all in outer space.

When Hart emerged from his office he appeared to be very tired, indeed,
but his face bore an expression of triumph that could not be mistaken.
He and this little scientist from Washington had evidently arrived at
some momentous conclusion regarding the enemy.

"Jack," he said, when he reached my bench during his first round of the
hanger, "celestial mechanics is a wonderful thing. I had a hunch, and
this astronomer chap has proved it correct with his mathematics. Our
friend the enemy is out there in space at a point where his own mass and
velocity are exactly counteracted by those of the earth and its
satellite, the moon. He is just floating around in space, doing no work
whatsoever to maintain his own position. He has temporarily assumed the
rôle of a second satellite to us and is revolving around us at a
definite period that was calculated by Lindquist. The gravitational pull
of the moon keeps him from falling to the earth and that of the earth
keeps him from approaching the moon. The resultant of the set of forces
is what determines his orbit and the disturbance in the normal balance
is what has been observed by the astronomers who reported changes in the
tides and in the moon's orbit."

       *       *       *       *       *

"But Lindquist's figures prove that the vessel or fleet of the enemy
must be of tremendous size to produce such discrepancies,
infinitesimally small though they might seem. We have a big fellow with
whom to deal, but we know where to find him now."

"How can he work from a fixed position to make his attacks on the earth
at such widely separated points?" I asked.

"It isn't a fixed position in the first place, and besides the earth
rotates once in twenty-four hours, while the moon travels around the
earth once in about twenty-eight days. But, even so, the widespread
destruction could not be accounted for. He must send out scouting
parties or something of that sort. That is one of the things we are to
learn when we get out there. We'll have some fun, Jack."

"Will the _Pioneer_ be ready?" I asked. Evidently I was to go.

"She will, with the exception of the acceleration neutralizers. But I'm
having some heavily-cushioned and elastic supports made that will, I
believe, save us from injury. And I guess we can stand the discomfort
for once."

"Yes," I agreed, "in such a cause, I, for one, am willing to go through
anything to help keep this overwhelming disaster from our good old
world."

"Jack," he whispered, "we must prevent it. We've got to!"

Then he was gone, and I watched him for a moment as he dashed headlong
from one task to another. He was a whirlwind of energy once more.

       *       *       *       *       *

Forty-three hours and twenty minutes had passed since the receipt of the
enemy's ultimatum. The last bolt was being tightened in the remodeled
_Pioneer_, and Secretary Simler and his staff were on hand to witness
the take-off of the vessel on which the hopes of the world were pinned.
The news of our attempt had been spread by cable and printed news only,
for there was fear that the enemy might be able to pick up the
broadcasts of the news service and thus be able to anticipate us. As
usual, there were many scoffers, but the consensus of opinion was in
favor of the project. At any rate, what better expedient was there to
offer?

The huge airport, now unused on account of the complete cessation of air
traffic, was closed to the public. But there was quite a crowd to
witness the take-off, the visitors from Washington, the officials of the
field, and the two hundred workers who had enabled us to make ready for
the adventure in time. There were four to enter the _Pioneer_: Hart,
George, Professor Lindquist, and myself. And when the entrance manhole
was bolted home behind us, the watchers stood in silence, waiting for
the roar of the _Pioneer's_ motor. As the starter took hold, Hart waved
his hand at one of the ports and every man of those two hundred and some
watchers stood at attention and saluted is if he were a born soldier and
Hart a born commander-in-chief.

       *       *       *       *       *

We taxied heavily across the field, for the _Pioneer_ was much
overloaded for a quick take-off. She bumped and bounced for a
quarter-mile before taking to the air and then climbed very slowly
indeed, for several minutes. Our speed was a scant two hundred miles an
hour when we swung out over New York and headed for the Atlantic. And
then Hart made first use of the rocket tubes, not daring to discharge
the hot gases below while over populated land at so low an altitude. He
touched one button, maintaining the pressure for but a fraction of a
second. The ocean slipped more rapidly away from beneath our feet and he
touched the button once more. Our speed was now nearly seven hundred
miles an hour and we made haste to buckle ourselves into the padded,
hammocklike contrivances which had been substituted for the former
seats. In a very few minutes we entered level six and the motor was cut
off entirely.

A blast from a number of the tail rockets drove me into my supporting
hammock so heavily that I found difficulty in breathing, and could
scarcely move a muscle to change position. The rate of acceleration was
terrific, and I am still unable to understand how Hart was able to
manipulate the controls. For myself, I could not even turn my head from
its position in the padding and I felt as if I were being crushed by
thousands of tons of pressure. Then, the pressure was somewhat relieved
and I glanced to the instruments. We were more than a thousand miles
from our starting point and the speed indicator read seven thousand
miles an hour. We were traveling at the rate of nearly two miles a
second!

       *       *       *       *       *

Another blast from the rockets, this one of interminable length, and I
must have lost consciousness. For when I next took note of things I
found that we had been out for nearly two hours and that the tremendous
pressure of acceleration was relieved. I moved my head, experimentally
and found that my senses were normal, though there was a strange and
alarming sensation of being wrong side up. Then I remembered that I had
experienced the same thing when we first searched the upper levels of
the atmosphere for the origin of the destructive rays of the enemy.

But this was different! I gazed through a nearby port and saw that the
sky was entirely black, the stars shining magnificently brilliant
against their velvet background. Streamers of brilliant sunlight from
the floor ports struck across the cabin and patterned the ceiling.
Looking between my feet I saw the sun as a flaming orb with streamers of
incandescence that spread in every direction with such blinding
luminosity that I could not bear the sight for more than a few seconds.
Off to what I was pleased to think of as our left side, there was a huge
globe that I quickly made out as our own earth. Eerily green it shone,
and, though a considerable portion of the surface was obscured by
patches of white that I recognized as clouds, I could clearly make out
the continents of the eastern hemisphere. It was a marvelous sight and I
lost several minutes in awed contemplation of the wonder. Then I heard
Hart laugh.

"Just coming out of it, Jack?" he asked.

       *       *       *       *       *

I stared at him foolishly. It had seemed to me that I was alone in this
vast universe, and the sound of his voice startled me. "Guess I'm not
fully out of it yet," I said. "Where are we?"

"Oh, about sixty thousand miles out," he replied carelessly; "and we are
traveling at our maximum speed--that is, the maximum we need for this
little voyage."

"Little voyage!" I gasped. And then I looked at George and the professor
and saw that they, too, were grinning at my discomfiture. I laughed
crazily, I suppose, for they all sobered at once.

Traveling through space at more than forty thousand miles an hour, it
seemed that we were stationary. Movement was now easy--too easy, in
fact, for we were practically weightless. The professor was having a
time of it manipulating a pencil and a pad of paper on which he had a
mass of small figures that were absolutely meaningless to me. He was
calculating and plotting our course and, without him, we should never
have reached the object we sought.

Time passed rapidly, for the wonders of the naked universe were a
never-ending source of fascination. Occasionally a series of rocket
charges was fired to keep our direction and velocity, but these were
light, and the acceleration so insignificant that we were put to no
discomfort whatever. But it was necessary that we keep our straps
buckled, for, in the weightless condition, even the slightest increase
or decrease in speed or change in direction was sufficient to throw us
the length of the cabin, from which painful bruises might be received.

       *       *       *       *       *

The supports to which we were strapped and which saved us from being
crushed by the acceleration and deceleration, were similar to hammocks,
being hooked to the floor and ceiling of the cabin rather than suspended
horizontally in the conventional manner. This was for the reason that
the energy of the rockets was expended fore and aft, except for
steering, and the forces were therefore along the horizontal axis of the
vessel. The supports were elastic and the padding deep and soft. Being
swiveled at top and bottom, they could swing around so that deceleration
as well as acceleration was relieved. For this reason the controls had
been altered so that the flexible support in which Hart was suspended
could rotate about their pedestal, thus allowing for their operation by
the pilot either when accelerating or decelerating. How he could control
the muscles of his arms and hands under the extreme conditions is still
a mystery to me, however, and George agrees with me in this. We found
ourselves to be utterly helpless.

My next impression of the trip is that of swinging rapidly around and
finding myself facing the rear wall of the cabin. Then the tremendous
pressure once more at a burst from the forward tubes. We had commenced
deceleration. For me there were alternate periods of full and
semi-consciousness and, to this day, I can remember no more than the
high spots of that historical expedition.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then we were free to move once more, and I turned to face the instrument
board. Our relative velocity had become practically zero; that is, we
were traveling through space at about the same speed and in the same
direction as the earth. The professor and Hart were consulting a pencil
chart and excitedly looking first through the forward ports and then
into the screen of the periscope.

"This is the approximate location," averred the professor.

"But they are not here," replied Hart.

George and I peered in all directions and could see nothing excepting
the marvels of the universe we had been viewing. The moon now seemed
very close and its craters and so-called seas were as plainly visible as
in a four-inch telescope on earth. But we saw nothing of the enemy.

The earth was a huge ball still, but much smaller than when I had first
observed it from the heavens. The sun's corona--the flaming streamers
which the professor declared extended as much as five million miles into
space--was partly hidden behind the rim of the earth and the effect was
blinding. A thin crescent of brilliant light marked the rim of our
planet and the rest was in shadow, but a shadow that was lighted
awesomely in cold green by reflected light from her satellite.

"I have it!" suddenly shouted the professor. "We are all in very nearly
the same line with reference to the sun, and the enemy is between the
blazing body and ourselves. We must shift our position, move into the
shadow of the earth. We have missed our calculation by a few hundred
miles, that is all."

All! I thought. These astronomers, so accustomed to dealing in
tremendous distances that must be measured in light-years, thought
nothing of an error of several hundred miles. But I suppose it was
really an inconsiderable amount, at that.

At any rate, we shifted position and looked around a bit more. We saw
nothing at first. Then Hart consulted the chronometer.

"Time is up!" he shouted.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the instant there was a flash of dazzling green light from a point
not a hundred miles from our position, a flash that was followed by a
streaking pencil of the same light shooting earthward with terrific
velocity. Breathlessly we followed its length, saw it burst like a bomb
and hurl three green balls from itself which sped at equally spaced
angles to form a perfect triangle. They hovered a moment at about two
thousand miles above the surface of the earth, according to the
professor, who was using the telescope at the time, and shot their
deadly rays toward our world. We were too late to prevent the renewal of
hostilities!

Another and another streak of green light followed and we knew that
great havoc was being wrought back home. But these served to locate the
enemy's position definitely and we immediately set about to draw nearer.
We were still somewhat on the dark side of the object, which had
prevented our seeing it. Now we swung about so that it was plainly
visible. And, what a strange appearance it presented, out here in space!

Fully fifteen miles in diameter, it was a huge doughnut, a great ring of
tubing with a center-opening that was at least eighty per cent of its
maximum diameter. There it hovered, sending out those deadly missiles in
a continuous stream toward our poor world. As we approached the weird
space flier, we saw that a number of objects floated about within the
great circle of its inner circumference. The NY-18, the SF-61 and the
SF-22, without doubt! The theory of Hart's was correct in every detail.

       *       *       *       *       *

We were still at about ten miles distance from the great ring and the
streaking light pencils were speeding earthward at the rate of one a
minute now. There was no time to lose. Already there was more
destruction on its way than had been previously wrought--several times
over.

Hart was sighting along a tiny tube that projected into the forward
partition and he maneuvered the _Pioneer_ until she was nose on to the
great ring. He pulled a switch and there came a purring that was
entirely new. A row of huge vacuum tubes along the wall lighted to vivid
brilliancy and a throbbing vibration filled the artificial air of the
cabin.

He pulled a small lever at the side of the tube and the vessel rocked to
the energy that was released from those vacuum tubes. The thin rod which
had been installed at the _Pioneer's_ nose burst into brilliant
flame--orange tinted luminescence that grew to a sphere of probably ten
feet in diameter. Then there was a heavy shock and the ball of fire left
its position and, with inconceivable velocity, sprang straight for the
side of the great ring. It was a fair hit and, when the weird missile
found its mark, it simply vanished--swallowed up in the metal walls of
the monster vessel. For a moment we thought nothing was to result. Then
we burst into shouts of joy, for a great section of the ring fused into
nothingness and was gone! Fully a quarter of the circumference of the
ring had disappeared into the vacuum of space. Truly, the governments of
Earth had developed some terrible weapons of their own!

We watched, breathless.

       *       *       *       *       *

The green light pencils no longer streaked their paths of death in the
direction of our world, which now seemed so remote. The great ring with
the vacant space in its rim wabbled uncertainly for a moment as though
some terrific upheaval from within was tearing it asunder. Then it
lurched directly for the _Pioneer_. We had been observed!

But Hart was equal to the occasion and he shot the _Pioneer_ in the
direction of the earth with such acceleration that we all were flattened
into our supports with the same old violence. Then, with equal violence,
we decelerated. The ring was following so closely that it actually
rushed many hundreds of miles past us before it was brought to rest.
From it there sprang one of the light pencils, and the _Pioneer_ was
rocked as by a heavy gale when it rushed past on its harmless way into
infinity. The enemy had missed.

Meanwhile, Hart was operating another mechanism that was new to the
_Pioneer_ and again he sighted along the tiny tube. This time there was
no sound within, no ball of fire without, no visible ray. But, when he
had pressed the release of this second energy, the ring seemed to
shrivel and twist as if gripped by a giant's hand. It reeled and spun.
Then, no longer in a balance of forces, it commenced its long drop
earthward.

His job finished and finished well, Hart Jones collapsed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Following his more than three days and four nights of superhuman
endeavor, it seemed strange to see Hart slumped white and still over the
control pedestal. He who had energy far in excess of that of any of the
rest of us had worn himself out. Having had no rest or sleep in nearly a
hundred hours, the body that housed so wonderful a spirit simply refused
to carry on. Tenderly we stretched him on the cabin floor, the _Pioneer_
drifting in space the while. The professor, who was likewise something
of a physician, listened to his heart, drew back his eyelids, and
pronounced him in no danger whatever.

We slapped his wrists, sprinkled his face and neck with cold water from
the drinking supply, and were soon rewarded by his return to
consciousness. He smiled weakly and fell sound asleep. No war in the
universe could have wakened him then, so we lifted him to his
feet--rather I should say, we guided his practically floating body--and
strapped him in George's hammock, preparing for the homeward journey.
Though dangling from the straps in a position that would be vertical
were we on earth, he slept like a baby. George took the controls in
Hart's place and the professor and I returned to our accustomed
supports.

The return trip was considerably slower, as George did not wish to push
the _Pioneer_ to its limit as had been necessary when coming out to meet
the enemy, nor was he able to keep control of the ship against a
too-rapid acceleration. Consequently, the rate of acceleration was much
lower and we were not nearly as uncomfortable as on the outgoing trip.
Thus, nearly ten hours were required for the return. And Hart slept
through it all.

       *       *       *       *       *

In order to make best use of the small amount of fuel still in the
cylinders, George circled the earth five times before we entered the
upper limits of the atmosphere, the circles becoming of smaller diameter
at each revolution and the speed of the ship proportionately reduced. An
occasional discharge from one of the forward rocket tubes assisted
materially in the deceleration, yet, when we slipped into level five,
our speed was so great that the temperature of the cabin rose
alarmingly, due to the friction of the air against the hull of the
vessel. It was necessary to use the last remaining ounce of fuel to
reduce the velocity to a safe value. A long glide to earth was then our
only means of landing and, since we were over the Gulf of Mexico at the
time, we had no recourse other than landing in the State of Texas.

Passing over Galveston in level three, we found that the Humble oil
fields and a great section of the surrounding country had been the
center of one of the enemy bombardments. All was blackness and ruin for
many miles between this point and Houston. At Houston Airport we landed,
unheralded but welcome.

The lower levels were once more filled with traffic, and one of the
southern route transcontinental liners had just made its stop at this
point. The arrival of the _Pioneer_ was thus witnessed by an unusually
large crowd, and, when the news was spread to the city, their numbers
increased with all the rapidity made possible by the various means of
transportation from the city.

So it was that Hart Jones, after we finally succeeded in awakening him
and getting him to his feet, was hailed by a veritable multitude as the
greatest hero of all time. The demonstrations become so enthusiastic
that police reserves, hastily summoned from the city, were helpless in
their attempts to keep the crowd in order.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was with greatest difficulty that Hart was finally extricated from
the clutches of the mob and conveyed to the new Rice Hotel in Houston,
where it was necessary to obtain medical attention for him immediately.
He was in no condition at the time to receive the richly deserved
plaudits of the multitude, and, truth to tell, we others from the
_Pioneer_ were in much the same shape.

To me that night will always be the most terrible of nightmares. My
first thought was of my family and, when I had been assigned to a room,
I immediately asked the switchboard operator for a long-distance
connection to my home in Rutherford. There was complete silence for a
minute and I jangled the hook impatiently, my head throbbing with a
thousand aches and pains. Then, to my surprise, the voice of the hotel
manager greeted me.

"Mr. Makely," he said softly, and I thought there was a peculiar ring in
his voice, "I think you had better not try to get Rutherford this
evening. We are sending the house physician to your room at once
and--there are orders from Washington, you know--you are to think of
nothing at the present but sleep and a long rest."

"Why--why--" I stammered, "can't you see? I must communicate with my
family. They must know of my return. I must know if they're safe and
well."

"I'm sorry, sir," apologized the manager, "Government orders, you know."
And he hung up.

Something in that soft voice brought to me an inkling of the truth. An
icy hand gripped my heart as I heard a knock at the door. With palsied
fingers I turned the key and admitted the professor and a kindly-faced
elderly gentleman with a small black bag. One look at the professor told
me the truth. I seized his two arms in a grip that made him wince.

"Tell me! Tell me!" I demanded, "Has anything happened to my family?"

"Jack," said the professor slowly, "while we were out there watching
Hart destroy the enemy vessel, Rutherford was destroyed!"

       *       *       *       *       *

It must be that I frightened him by my answering stare, for he backed
away from me in apparent fear. I noticed that the doctor was rummaging
in his bag. I know I did not speak, did not cry out, for my tongue clove
to the roof of my mouth. It seemed I must go mad. The professor still
backed away from me; then, wiry little athlete that he was, he sprang
directly for my knees in a beautiful football tackle. I remember that
point clearly and how I admired his agility at the time. I remember the
glint of a small instrument in the doctor's hand. Then all was
blackness.

Eight days later, they tell me it was, I returned to painful
consciousness in a hospital bed. But let me skip the agony of mind I
experienced then. Suffice it to say that, when I was able, I set forth
for Washington. Hart Jones was there and he had sent for me. But I took
little interest in the going; did not even bother to speculate as to the
reason for his summons. I had devoured the news during my convalescence
and now, more than two weeks after the destruction of the Terror, I knew
the extent of the damage wrought upon our earth by those deadly green
light pencils we had seen issuing from the huge ring up there in the
skies. The horror of it all was fresh in my mind, but my own private
horror overshadowed all.

       *       *       *       *       *

I was glad that Hart had been so signally honored by the World Peace
Board, that he was now the most famous and popular man in the entire
world. He deserved it all and more. But what cared I--I who had done
least of all to help in his great work--that the Terror had been found
where it buried itself in the sand of the Sahara when falling to earth?
What cared I that the discoveries made in the excavating of the huge
metal ring were of inestimable value to science?

It gave me passing satisfaction to note that all of Hart Jones' theories
were borne out by the discoveries; that Oradel and his minions were
responsible for this terrible war; that the planet they aligned against
us was Venus and that more than a hundred thousand of the Venerians had
been carried in that weird engine of destruction which had been brought
down by Hart.

It was interesting to read of the fall of that huge ring; how it was
heated to incandescence when it entered our atmosphere at such
tremendous velocity; of the tidal waves of concentric billows in the
sand that led to its discovery by Egyptian Government planes. The
broadcast descriptions and the television views of the stunted and
twisted Venerians whose bodies were recovered from the partly consumed
wreckage were interesting. But it all left me cold. I had no further
interest in life. That the world had escaped an overwhelming disaster
was clear, and it gave me a certain pleasure. But for me it might as
well have been completely destroyed.

Nevertheless, I went to Washington. I felt somehow that I owed it to
Hart Jones, the greatest world hero since Lindbergh. I would at least
listen to what he had to say.

       *       *       *       *       *

A fast plane carried me, a plane chartered by the government. To me it
seemed that it crawled, though it was a sixth-level ship, and made the
trip in record time. Why I was impatient to reach Washington I do not
know, for I was absolutely disinterested in anything that might occur
there. It was merely that my nerves were on edge, I suppose, and
everything annoyed me.

Hart met me at the airport and greeted me like a long-lost brother. He
talked incessantly and jumped from one subject to the other with the
obvious intention of trying to get my mind off my troubles until we
reached his office in the Air Traffic building.

On his door there was the legend, "Director of Research," and, when we
had entered, I observed that the office was furnished with all the
luxury that suited his new position. I dropped into a deeply upholstered
chair at the side of his mahogany desk, and, for the space of several
minutes, Hart regarded me with concern, speaking not a word.

"Jack, old man," he finally ventured. "I can't talk to you of this
thing. But it makes me feel very badly to see you take it so hard. There
are many things you have to live for, old top, and it is to talk about
these that I sent for you."

"You mean work?" I asked.

"Yes. That is the best thing for us all, in any emergency or under any
circumstances whatever. Preston wants you back for one thing, and he
authorized me to tell you that the job of office manager is waiting for
you at double your former salary."

       *       *       *       *       *

My eyes misted at this. Preston was a good old scout! But I could never
bear it to return to the old surroundings, even in the city. "No, Hart,"
I said, "I'd rather be away from New York and from that part of the
country. Associations, you know."

"I understand," he replied, "and that is just what I had hoped you would
decide. Because I have a job for you in the Air Service. A good one,
too.

"You know there is much reconstruction work to be done on earth. More
than forty cities and towns have been wiped out of existence and these
must be rebuilt. That will occupy the minds and energies of thousands
who have been bereaved as you have. But, in the Air Service, we have a
program that I believe will be more to your liking. The log of the
_Terror_, in Oradel's handwriting, was found intact, as were a number of
manuscripts pertaining to plans of the Venerians.

"These misshapen creatures were quite evidently educated by Oradel to a
hatred of our world. We have reason to believe that other attacks may
follow, for they were obviously intending to migrate here in millions.
And, according to records found aboard the _Terror_, they are of
advanced scientific accomplishment. We may expect them to construct
other vessels similar to the _Terror_ and to come here again. We must be
prepared to fight them off, to carry the war to their own planet if
necessary. My work is to organize a world fleet of space ships for this
purpose, and I'd like you to help me in this. The work will take you all
over the world and will keep you too busy to think about--things."

It was just like Hart, and I thanked him wordlessly, but from the bottom
of my heart. Yes, I would accept his generous offer. Though I was no
engineer, I had a knowledge of scientific subjects a little above the
average, and I could follow instructions. By George, it was the very
thing! Suddenly I grew enthusiastic.

       *       *       *       *       *

There was the sound of voices in the outer office, and Hart's secretary
entered to announce the arrival of George Boehm and Professor Lindquist.
This was great!

Chubby George, red-faced and smiling as ever, embraced me with one short
arm and pounded me on the back with his other fist in his jovial, joking
manner. It was good to have friends like these! The professor held forth
his hand timidly. He was thinking of that tackle and the half-Nelson he
had used on me while the doctor slipped that needle into my arm back
there in Houston.

"Don't remove your glasses, Professor," I laughed; "I'm not going to hit
you. That was a swell tackle of yours, and you did me a big service down
there in the Rice Hotel."

He beamed with pleasure and gripped my hand--mightily, for such a little
fellow. George was whispering to Hart, and I could see that they were
greatly excited over something.

"Jack," said Hart, when the professor and I finished talking things
over, "George here wants you to take a little trip over to Philly with
him. He has something there he wants to show you."

I looked from one to the other for signs of a hoax. These two, under
normal circumstances, were always up to something. But what I saw in
their expressions convinced me that I had better go, and somehow, there
rose in my breast a forlorn hope.

"All right," I agreed. "Let's go!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Once more we four took off together, this time in a speedy little
first-level cabin plane of Hart's design, piloted by the irrepressible
George. I was brimming with questions, but George kept up such a
running fire of small talk that I was unable to get in a single word
throughout the short trip to the Quaker City. It was quite evident that
something was in the wind.

Instead of landing at the airport, George swung across the city and
dropped to the roof landing space of a large building which I recognized
as the Germantown Hospital. We had no sooner landed when I was rushed
from the plane to the penthouse over the elevator shafts. We were soon
on the main floor and George went immediately to the desk at the
receiving office, where he engaged in earnest conversation with the
nurse in charge.

"What are you doing--committing me?" I asked, half joking only. For,
from the mysterious expression of my friends' faces, I was not sure what
to expect.

"No," laughed Hart. "George learned of the existence of a patient here
who may turn out to be a very good friend of yours."

I turned this over in my mind, which did not yet function quite
normally. A friend? Why, I had very few that could really be termed good
friends outside of those that accompanied me. It could mean but one
thing. Possibly one of my children--or even my dear wife--might have
escaped somehow. I followed in a daze as a white-capped and gowned nurse
led us along the corridor and into a ward where there were dozens of
high, white beds.

       *       *       *       *       *

Some of the patients were swathed in bandages; some sat up in their
beds, reading or just staring; others lay inert and pale. The reek of
iodoform pervaded the large room.

We stopped at the bedside of one of the staring patients, a young woman
who looked unseeingly at our party. Great heavens, it was Marie!

A physician stood at the other side of her bed, finger on her pulse. The
others drew back as I approached her side, raised her free hand to my
lips and spoke to her.

"Marie, dear," I asked gently, forcing the lump from my throat as best I
could, "don't you know me? It's Jack, Honey."

The fixed stare of the great blue eyes shifted in my direction. It
seemed that they looked through and past me into some terrible realm
where only horror held sway. She drew her hand from my grasp and passed
it before those staring, unnatural eyes. There was an audible gulp from
George. But the doctor smiled encouragement to me. I tried once more.

"Marie," I said, "where are Jim and Jackie?"

       *       *       *       *       *

The hand fluttered to her lap, where it lay, blue-veined and pitifully
thin. The stare focussed on me, seemed to concentrate. Then the film was
gone from the eyes and she saw--she knew me!

"Oh, Jack!" she wailed, "I have been away. Don't you know where they
are?"

My heart nearly stopped at this, but I sat on the edge of the bed and
took her in my arms, looking at the doctor for approval. He nodded his
head brightly and beckoned to the nurse.

"Bring the children," I heard him whisper.

My cup was full. But I must be calm for Marie's sake. She had closed her
eyes now and great tears coursed down her waxen cheeks. Her body shook
with sobs.

"She'll recover?" I asked the doctor.

"You bet. Just an aggravated case of amnesia. Hasn't eaten. Didn't even
know her children. Cured now, but she'll need a few weeks to build up."
He snapped shut the lid of his watch.

Those succinct sentences were the finest I had ever heard.

Marie clung to me like an infant to its mother. Her sobs gradually
ceased and she looked into my eyes. Little Jim and Jack had come in and
were clamoring for recognition.

"Oh, Jack," Marie whispered, "I'm so happy."

She relinquished me and turned her attention to the children. I saw that
my friends had left and that an orderly was placing screens about us. So
I'll close the screen on the remainder of this most happy reunion.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was several days before I had the complete story. Being lonesome
during my absence when we were preparing for the voyage into space, and
not knowing just when I would return, Marie had packed a grip and taken
the train for Philadelphia, deciding to spend a few days with her Aunt
Margaret, or at least to remain there with the children until I
returned.

She had boarded the train at Manhattan Transfer at about the time we
reached the location of the _Terror_ and the train was just pulling out
of the station when there came the first of the new attacks of the
enemy. She thought that the pillar of fire rose from the approximate
location of Rutherford, but was not sure until they reached Newark, when
the news was spread throughout the train by passengers who boarded it
there. She worried and cried over the loss of our little home and had
worked herself into a state of extreme nervousness and near-hysteria by
the time they reached New Brunswick.

Then, as the long train left New Brunswick, there was another attack,
this one on the town they had just left. The last two cars of the train
were blown from the track by the initial concussion, and the remainder
of the train brought to a grinding, jerking stop that threw the
passengers into a panic.

Already hysterical, Marie was in no condition to bear up under the
shock, and the loss of memory followed. Jack and Jim clung to her, of
course, and were taken to the Germantown Hospital with her when the
wreck victims were transferred to that point. She had no identification
on her person, and it was by sheerest luck that George, who was visiting
a friend in the same hospital, chanced to see her and thought he
recognized her.

That was all of it, but to me it was more than enough. From the depths
of despondency, I rose to the peaks of elation. It was true that we
would have to establish a new home, but this would be a joy as never
before. Those I had given up as lost were restored to me and I was
content. Hart would have to make some changes in the duties of that new
job--the world travel was out of the picture. I had had my fill of
adventure.

Besides, the hot spell was over.

[Illustration]



The Forgotten Planet

_By Sewell Peaslee Wright_


I have been asked to record, plainly and without prejudice, a brief
history of the Forgotten Planet.

[Sidenote: The authentic account of why cosmic man damned an outlaw
world to be, forever, a leper of Space.]

That this record, when completed, will be sealed in the archives of the
Interplanetary Alliance and remain there, a secret and rather dreadful
bit of history, is no concern of mine. I am an old man, well past the
century mark, and what disposal is made of my work is of little
importance to me. I grow weary of life and living, which is good. The
fear of death was lost when our scientists showed us how to live until
we grew weary of life. But I am digressing--an old man's failing.

[Illustration: "It's nothing. Close the exit; we depart at once."]

The Forgotten Planet was not always so named. The name that it once bore
had been, as every child knows, stricken from the records, actual and
mental, of the Universe. It is well that evil should not be remembered.
But in order that this history may be clear in the centuries to come, my
record should go back to beginnings.

So far as the Universe is concerned, the history of the Forgotten Planet
begins with the visit of the first craft ever to span the space between
the worlds: the crude, adventuresome _Edorn_, whose name, as well as
the names of the nine Zenians who manned her, occupy the highest places
in the roll of honor of the Universe.

Ame Baove, the commander and historian of the _Edorn_, made but brief
comment on his stop at the Forgotten Planet. I shall record it in full:

     "We came to rest upon the surface of this, the fourth of the
     planets visited during the first trip of the _Edorn_, eighteen
     spaces before the height of the sun. We found ourselves surrounded
     immediately by vast numbers of creatures very different from
     ourselves, and from their expressions and gestures, we gathered
     that they were both curious and unfriendly.

     "Careful analysis of the atmosphere proved it to be sufficiently
     similar to our own to make it possible for us to again stretch our
     legs outside the rather cramped quarters of the _Edorn_, and tread
     the soil of still another world.

     "No sooner had we emerged, however, than we were angrily beset by
     the people of this unfriendly planet, and rather than do them
     injury, we retired immediately, and concluded our brief
     observations through our ports.

     "The topography of this planet is similar to our own, save that
     there are no mountains, and the flora is highly colored almost
     without exception, and apparently quite largely parasitical in
     nature. The people are rather short in stature, with hairless heads
     and high foreheads. Instead of being round or oval, however, the
     heads of these people rise to a rounded ridge which runs back from
     a point between and just above the eyes, nearly to the nape of the
     neck behind. They give evidence of a fair order of intelligence,
     but are suspicious and unfriendly. From the number and size of the
     cities we saw, this planet is evidently thickly populated.

     "We left about sixteen spaces before the height of the sun, and
     continued towards the fifth and last planet before our return to
     Zenia."

       *       *       *       *       *

This report, quite naturally, caused other explorers in space to
hesitate. There were so many friendly, eager worlds to visit, during the
years that relations between the planets were being established, that an
unfriendly people were ignored.

However, from time to time, as space-ships became perfected and more
common, parties from many of the more progressive planets did call. Each
of them met with the same hostile reception, and at last, shortly after
the second War of the Planets, the victorious Alliance sent a fleet of
the small but terrible Deuber Spheres, convoyed by four of the largest
of the disintegrator ray-ships, to subjugate the Forgotten Planet.

Five great cities were destroyed, and the Control City, the seat of the
government, was menaced before the surly inhabitants conceded allegiance
to the Alliance. Parties of scientists, fabricators, and workmen were
then landed, and a dictator was appointed.

From all the worlds of the Alliance, instruments and equipment were
brought to the Forgotten Planet. A great educational system was planned
and executed, the benign and kindly influence of the Alliance made every
effort to improve the conditions existing on the Forgotten Planet, and
to win the friendship and allegiance of these people.

For two centuries the work went on. Two centuries of bloodshed, strife,
hate and disturbance. No where else within the known Universe was there
ill feeling. The second awful War of the Planets had at last succeeded
in teaching the lesson of peace.

Two centuries of effort--wasted effort. It was near the end of the
second century that my own story begins.

Commander at that time of the super-cruiser _Tamon_, a Special Patrol
ship of the Alliance, I was not at all surprised to receive orders from
the Central Council to report at emergency speed. Special Patrol work in
those days, before the advent of the present de-centralized system, was
a succession of false starts, hurried recalls, and urgent, emergency
orders.

       *       *       *       *       *

I obeyed at once. In the Special Patrol service, there is no questioning
orders. The planet Earth, from which I sprang, is and always has been
proud of the fact that from the very beginning, her men have been picked
to command the ships of the Special Patrol. No matter how dangerous, how
forlorn and hopeless the mission given to a commander of a Special
Patrol ship, history has never recorded that any commander has ever
hesitated. That is why our uniform of blue and silver commands the
respect that it does even in this day and age of softening and
decadence, when men--but again an old man digresses. And perhaps it is
not for me to judge.

I pointed the blunt nose of the _Tamon_ at Zenia, seat of the Central
Council, and in four hours, Earth time, the great craft swept over the
gleaming city of the Central Council and settled swiftly to the court
before the mighty, columned Hall of the Planets.

Four pages of the Council, in their white and scarlet livery, met me and
conducted me instantly to a little anteroom behind the great council
chamber.

There were three men awaiting me there; three men whose faces, at that
time, were familiar to every person in the known Universe.

Kellen, the oldest of the three, and the spokesman, rose as I entered
the room. The others did likewise, as the pages closed the heavy doors
behind me.

"You are prompt, and that is good," thought Kellen. "I welcome you.
Remove now thy menore."

I glanced up at him swiftly. This must surely be an important matter,
that I was asked to remove my menore band.

It will, of course, be understood that at that time we had but a bulky
and clumsy instrument to enable us to convey and receive thought; a
device consisting of a heavy band of metal, in which were imbedded the
necessary instruments and a tiny atomic energy generator, the whole
being worn as a circlet or crown upon the head.

Wonderingly, I removed my menore, placed it upon the long, dark table
around which the three men were standing, and bowed. Each of the three,
in turn, lifted their gleaming circlets from their heads, and placed
them likewise upon the table before them.

       *       *       *       *       *

"You wonder," said Kellen, speaking of course, in the soft and liquid
universal language, which is, I understand, still disseminated in our
schools, as it should be. "I shall explain as quickly and as briefly as
possible.

"We have called you here on a dangerous mission. A mission that will
require tact and quickness of mind as well as bravery. We have selected
you, have called you, because we are agreed that you possess the
qualities required. Is it not so?" He glanced at his two companions, and
they nodded gravely, solemnly, without speaking.

"You are a young man, John Hanson," continued Kellen, "but your record
in your service is one of which you can be proud. We trust you--with
knowledge that is so secret, so precious, that we must revert to speech
in order to convey it; we dare not trust it, even in this protected and
guarded place, to the menore's quicker but less discreet communication."

He paused for a moment, frowning thoughtfully as though dreading to
begin. I waited silently, and at last he spoke again.

"There is a world"--and he named a name which I shall not repeat, the
name of the Forgotten Planet--"that is a festering sore upon the body of
the Universe. As you know, for two centuries we have tried to pass on to
these people an understanding of peace and friendship. I believe that
nothing has been left undone. The Council and the forces behind it have
done everything within their power. And now--"

He stopped again, and there was an expression of deepest pain written
upon his wise and kindly face. The pause was for but an instant.

"And now," he went on firmly, "it is at an end. Our work has been
undone. Two centuries of effort--undone. They have risen in revolt, they
have killed all those sent by the Alliance of which this Council is the
governing body and the mouthpiece, and they have sent us an ultimatum--a
threat of war!"

"_What?_"

       *       *       *       *       *

Kellen nodded his magnificent old head gravely.

"I do not wonder that you start," he said heavily. "War! It must not be.
It cannot be! And yet, war is what they threaten."

"But, sir!" I put in eagerly. I was young and rash in those days. "Who
are they, to make war against a united Universe?"

"I have visited your planet, Earth," said Kellen, smiling very faintly.
"You have a tiny winged insect you call _bee_. Is it not so?"

"Yes."

"The bee is a tiny thing, of little strength. A man, a little child,
might crush one to death between a thumb and finger. But the bee may
sting before he is crushed, and the sting may linger on for days, a
painful and unpleasant thing. Is that not so?"

"I see, sir," I replied, somewhat abashed before the tolerant, kindly
wisdom of this great man. "They cannot hope to wage successful war, but
they may bring much suffering to others."

"Much suffering," nodded Kellen, still gently smiling. "And we are
determined that this thing shall not be. Not"--and his face grew gray
with a terrible and bitter resolve--"not if we have to bring to bear
upon that dark and unwilling world the disintegrating rays of every ship
of the Alliance, so that the very shell of the planet shall disappear,
and no life ever again shall move upon its surface.

"But this," and he seemed to shudder at the thought, "is a terrible and
a ruthless thing to even contemplate. We must first try once again to
point out to them the folly of their ways. It is with this mission that
we would burden you, John Hanson."

       *       *       *       *       *

"It is no burden, but an honor, sir," I said quietly.

"Youth! Youth!" Kellen chided me gently. "Foolish, yet rather glorious.
Let me tell you the rest, and then we shall ask for your reply again.

"The news came to us by a small scout ship attached to that unhappy
world. It barely made the journey to Jaron, the nearest planet, and
crashed so badly, from lack of power, that all save one man were killed.

"He, luckily, tore off his menore, and insisted in speech that he be
brought here. He was obeyed, and, in a dying condition, was brought to
this very chamber." Kellen glanced swiftly, sadly, around the room, as
though he could still visualize that scene.

"Every agent of the Alliance upon that hateful planet was set upon and
killed, following the working out of some gigantic and perfectly
executed plan--all save the crew of this one tiny scout ship, which was
spared to act as a messenger.

"'Tell your great Council,' was the message these people sent to us,
'that here is rebellion. We do not want, nor will we tolerate, your
peace. We have learned now that upon other worlds than ours there are
great riches. These we shall take. If there is resistance, we have a
new and a terrible death to deal. A death that your great scientists
will be helpless against; a horrible and irresistable death that will
make desolate and devoid of intelligent life any world where we are
forced to sow the seeds of ultimate disaster.

"'We are not yet ready. If we were, we would not move, for we prefer
that your Council have time to think about what is surely to come. If
you doubt that we have the power to do what we have threatened to do,
send one ship, commanded by a man whose word you will trust, and we will
prove to him that these are no empty words.'"

       *       *       *       *       *

"That, as nearly as I can remember it," concluded Kellen, "is the
message. The man who brought it died almost before he had finished.

"That is the message. You are the man we have picked to accept their
challenge. Remember, though, that there are but the four of us in this
room. There are but four of us who know these things. If you for any
reason do not wish to accept this mission, there will be none to judge
you, least of all, any one of us, who know best of all the perils."

"You say, sir," I said quietly, although my heart was pounding in my
throat, and roaring in my ears, "that there would be none to judge me.

"Sir, there would be myself. There could be no more merciless judge. I
am honored that I have been selected for this task, and I accept the
responsibility willingly, gladly. When is it your wish that we should
start?"

The three presiding members of the Council glanced at each other,
faintly smiling, as though they would say, as Kellen had said a short
time before: "Youth! Youth!" Yet I believe they were glad and somewhat
proud that I had replied as I did.

"You may start," said Kellen, "as soon as you can complete the necessary
preparations. Detailed instructions will be given you later."

He bowed to me, and the others did likewise. Then Kellen picked up his
menore and adjusted it.

The interview was over.

       *       *       *       *       *

"What do you make it?" I asked the observer. He glanced up from his
instrument.

"Jaron, sir. Three degrees to port; elevation between five and six
degrees. Approximate only, of course, sir."

"Good enough. Please ask Mr. Barry to hold to his present course. We
shall not stop at Jaron."

The observer glanced at me curiously, but he was too well disciplined to
hesitate or ask questions.

"Yes, sir!" he said crisply, and spoke into the microphone beside him.

None of us wore menores when on duty, for several reasons. Our
instruments were not nearly as perfect as those in use to-day, and
verbal orders were clearer and carried more authority than mental
instructions. The delicate and powerful electrical and atomic mechanism
of our ship interfered with the functioning of the menores, and at that
time the old habit of speech was far more firmly entrenched, due to
hereditary influence, than it is now.

I nodded to the man, and made my way to my own quarters. I wished most
heartily that I could talk over my plans with someone, but this had been
expressly forbidden.

"I realize that you trust your men, and more particularly your
officers," Kellen had told me during the course of his parting
conversation with me. "I trust them also--yet we must remember that the
peace of mind of the Universe is concerned. If news, even a rumor, of
this threatened disaster should become known, it is impossible to
predict the disturbance it might create.

"Say nothing to anyone. It is your problem. You alone should leave the
ship when you land; you alone shall hear or see the evidence they have
to present, and you alone shall bring word of it to us. That is the wish
of the Council."

"Then it is my wish," I had said, and so it had been settled.

       *       *       *       *       *

Aft, in the crew's quarters, a gong sounded sharply: the signal for
changing watches, and the beginning of a sleep period. I glanced at the
remote control dials that glowed behind their glass panel on one side of
my room. From the registered attraction of Jaron, at our present speed,
we should be passing her within, according to Earth time, about two
hours. That meant that their outer patrols might be seeking our
business, and I touched Barry's attention button, and spoke into the
microphone beside my bunk.

"Mr. Barry? I am turning in for a little sleep. Before you turn over the
watch to Eitel, will you see that the nose rays are set for the Special
Patrol code signal for this enar. We shall be close to Jaron shortly."

"Yes, sir! Any other orders?"

"No. Keep her on her present course. I shall take the watch from Mr.
Eitel."

Since there have been changes since those days, and will undoubtedly be
others in the future, it might be well to make clear, in a document such
is this, that at this period, all ships of the Special Patrol Service
identified themselves by means of invisible rays flashed in certain
sequences, from the two nose, or forward, projectors. These code signals
were changed every enar, a period of time arbitrarily set by the
Council; about eighteen days, as time is measured on the Earth, and
divided into ten periods, as at present, known as enarens. These were
further divided into enaros, thus giving us a time-reckoning system for
use in space, corresponding roughly to the months, days and hours of the
Earth.

I retired, but not to sleep. Sleep would not come. I knew, of course,
that if curious outer patrol ships from Jaron did investigate us, they
would be able to detect our invisible ray code signal, and thus satisfy
themselves that we were on the Council's business. There would be no
difficulty on that score. But what I should do after landing upon the
rebellious sphere, I had not the slightest idea.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Be stern, indifferent to their threats," Kellen, had counseled me, "but
do everything within your power to make them see the folly of their
attitude. Do not threaten them, for they are a surly people and you
might precipitate matters. Swallow your pride if you must; remember that
yours is a gigantic responsibility, and upon the information you bring
us may depend the salvation of millions. I am convinced that they are
not--you have a word in your language that fits exactly. Not pretending
... what is the word?"

"Bluffing?" I had supplied in English, smiling.

"Right! Bluffing. It is a very descriptive word. I am sure they are not
bluffing."

I was sure of it also. They knew the power of the Alliance; they had
been made to feel it more than once. A bluff would have been a foolish
thing, and these people were not fools. In some lines of research they
were extraordinarily brilliant.

But what could their new, terrible weapon be? Rays we had; at least half
a dozen rays of destruction; the terrible dehydrating ray of the Deuber
Spheres, the disintegrating ray that dated back before Ame Baove and his
first voyage into space, the concentrated ultra-violet ray that struck
men down in fiery torment.... No, it could hardly be a new ray that was
their boasted weapon.

What, then? Electricity had even then been exhausted of its
possibilities. Atomic energy had been released, harnessed, and directed.
Yet it would take fabulous time and expense to make these machines of
destruction do what they claimed they would do.

Still pondering the problem, I did fall at last into a fitful travesty
of sleep.

       *       *       *       *       *

I was glad when the soft clamor of the bell aft announced the next
change of watch. I rose, cleared the cobwebs from my brain with an icy
shower, and made my way directly to the navigating room.

"Everything tidy, sir," said Eitel, my second officer, and a Zenian. He
was thin and very dark, like all Zenians, and had the high, effeminate
voice of that people. But he was cool and fearless and had the uncanny
cerebration of his kind; I trusted him as completely as I trusted Barry,
my first officer, who, like myself, was a native of Earth. "Will you
take over?"

"Yes," I nodded, glancing at the twin charts beneath the ground glass
top of the control table. "Get what sleep you can the next few enaros.
Presently I shall want every man on duty and at his station."

He glanced at me curiously, as the observer had done, but saluted and
left with only a brief, "Yes, sir!" I returned the salute and turned my
attention again to the charts.

The navigating room of an interplanetary ship is without doubt
unfamiliar ground to most, so it might be well for me to say that such
ships have, for the most part, twin charts, showing progress in two
dimensions; to use land terms, lateral and vertical. These charts are
really no more than large sheets of ground glass, ruled in both
directions with fine black lines, representing all relatively close
heavenly bodies by green lights of varying sizes. The ship itself is
represented by a red spark and the whole is, of course, entirely
automatic in action, the instruments comprising the chart being operated
by super-radio reflexes.

       *       *       *       *       *

Jaron, the charts showed me at a glance, was now far behind. Almost
directly above--it is necessary to resort to these unscientific terms to
make my meaning clear--was the tiny world Elon, home of the friendly but
impossibly dull winged people, the only ones in the known Universe. I
was there but once, and found them almost laughably like our common
dragon-flies on Earth; dragon-flies that grow some seven feet long, and
with gauzy wings of amazing strength.

Directly ahead, on both charts, was a brilliantly glowing sphere of
green--our destination. I made some rapid mental calculations, studying
the few fine black lines between the red spark that was our ship, and
the nearest edge of the great green sphere. I glanced at our speed
indicator and the attraction meter. The little red slide that moved
around the rim of the attraction meter was squarely at the top, showing
that the attraction was from straight ahead; the great black hand was
nearly a third of the way around the face.

We were very close; two hours would bring us into the atmospheric
envelope. In less than two hours and a half, we would be in the Control
City of what is now called the Forgotten Planet!

I glanced forward, through the thick glass partitions, into the
operating room. Three men stood there, watching intently; they too, were
wondering why we visited the unfriendly world.

The planet itself loomed up straight ahead, a great half-circle, its
curved rim sharp and bright against the empty blackness of space; the
chord ragged and blurred. In two hours ... I turned away and began a
restless pacing.

       *       *       *       *       *

An hour went by; an hour and a half. I pressed the attention button to
the operating room, and gave orders to reduce our speed by half. We were
very close to the outer fringe of the atmospheric envelope. Then,
keeping my eye on the big surface-temperature gauge, with its stubby red
hand, I resumed my nervous pacing.

Slowly the thick red hand of the surface-temperature gauge began to
move; slowly, and then more rapidly, until the eyes could catch its
creeping.

"Reduce to atmospheric speed," I ordered curtly, and glanced down
through a side port at one end of the long navigating room.

We were, at the moment, directly above the twilight belt. To my right,
as I looked down, I could see a portion of the glistening antarctic ice
cap. Here and there were the great flat lakes, almost seas, of the
planet.

Our geographies of the Universe to-day do not show the topography of
the Forgotten Planet: I might say, therefore, that the entire sphere was
land area, with numerous great lakes embedded in its surface, together
with many broad, very crooked rivers. As Ame Baove had reported, there
were no mountains, and no high land.

"Altitude constant," I ordered. "Port three degrees. Stand by for
further orders."

The earth seemed to whirl slowly beneath us. Great cities drifted
astern, and I compared the scene below me with the great maps I took
from our chart-case. The Control City should be just beyond the visible
rim; well in the daylight area.

"Port five degrees," I said, and pressed the attention button to Barry's
quarters.

"Mr. Barry, please call all men to quarters, including the off-duty
watch, and then report to the navigating room. Mr. Eitel will be under
my direct orders. We shall descend within the next few minutes."

"Very well, sir."

I pressed the attention button to Eitel's room.

"Mr. Eitel, please pick ten of your best men and have them report at the
forward exit. Await me, with the men, at that place. I shall be with you
as soon as I turn the command over to Mr. Barry. We are descending
immediately."

"Right, sir!" said Eitel.

       *       *       *       *       *

I turned from the microphone to find that Barry had just entered the
navigating room.

"We will descend into the Great Court of the Control City, Mr. Barry,"
I said. "I have a mission here. I am sorry, but these are the only
instructions I can leave you.

"I do not know how long I shall be gone from the ship, but if I do not
return within three hours, depart without me, and report directly to
Kellen of the Council. To him, and no other. Tell him, verbally, what
took place. Should there be any concerted action against the _Tamon_,
use your own judgment as to the action to be taken, remembering that the
safety of the ship and its crew, and the report of the Council, are
infinitely more important than my personal welfare. Is that clear?"

"Yes, sir. Too damned clear."

I smiled and shook my head.

"Don't worry," I said lightly. "I'll be back well within the appointed
time."

"I hope so. But there's something wrong as hell here. I'm talking now as
man to man; not to my commanding officer. I've been watching below, and
I have seen at least two spots where large numbers of our ships have
been destroyed. The remaining ships bear their own damned emblem where
the crest of the Alliance should be--and was. What does it mean?"

"It means," I said slowly, "that I shall have to rely upon every man and
officer to forget himself and myself, and obey orders without hesitation
and without flinching. The orders are not mine, but direct from the
Council itself." I held out my hand to him--an ancient Earth gesture of
greeting, good-will and farewell--and he shook it vigorously.

"God go with you," he said softly, and with a little nod of thanks I
turned and quickly left the room.

       *       *       *       *       *

Eitel, with his ten men, were waiting for me at the forward exit. The
men fell back a few paces and came to attention; Eitel saluted smartly.

"We are ready, sir. What are your orders?"

"You are to guard this opening. Under no circumstances is anyone to
enter save myself. I shall be gone not longer than three hours; if I am
not back within that time, Mr. Barry has his orders. The exit will be
sealed, and the _Tamon_ will depart immediately, without me."

"Yes, sir. You will pardon me, but I gather that your mission is a
dangerous one. May I not accompany you?"

I shook my head.

"I shall need you here."

"But, sir, they are very excited and angry; I have been watching them
from the observation ports. And there is a vast crowd of them around the
ship."

"I had expected that. I thank you for your concern, but I must go alone.
Those are the orders. Will you unseal the exit?"

His "Yes, sir!" was brisk and efficient, but there was a worried frown
on his features as he unlocked and released the switch that opened the
exit.

The huge plug of metal, some ten feet in diameter, revolved swiftly and
noiselessly, backing slowly in its fine threads into the interior of the
ship, gripped by the ponderous gimbals which, as the last threads
disengaged, swung the mighty disc to one side, like the door of some
great safe.

"Remember your orders," I smiled, and with a little gesture to convey an
assurance which I certainly did not feel, I strode through the circular
opening out into the crowd. The heavy glass secondary door shot down
behind me, and I was in the hands of the enemy.

       *       *       *       *       *

The first thing I observed was that my menore, which I had picked up on
my way to the exit, was not functioning. Not a person in all that vast
multitude wore a menore; the five black-robed dignitaries who marched to
meet me wore none.

Nothing could have showed more clearly that I was in for trouble. To
invite a visitor, as Kellen had done, to remove his menore first, was,
of course, a polite and courteous thing to do if one wished to
communicate by speech; to remove the menore before greeting a visitor
wearing one, was a tacit admission of rank enmity; a confession that
one's thoughts were to be concealed.

My first impulse was to snatch off my own instrument and fling it in the
solemn, ugly faces of the nearest of the five dignataries; I remembered
Kellen's warning just in time. Quietly, I removed the metal circlet and
tucked it under my arm, bowing slightly to the committee of five as I
did so.

"I am Ja Ben," said the first of the five, with an evil grin. "You are
the representative of the Council that we commanded to appear?"

"I am John Hanson, commander of the ship _Tamon_ of the Special Patrol
Service. I am here to represent the Central Council," I replied with
dignity.

"As we commanded," grinned Ja Ben. "That is good. Follow us and you
shall have the evidence you were promised."

Ja Ben led the way with two of his black-robed followers. The other two
fell in behind me. A virtual prisoner, I marched between them, through
the vast crowd that made way grudgingly to let us pass.

       *       *       *       *       *

I have seen the people of most of the planets of the known Universe.
Many of them, to Earth notions, are odd. But these people, so much like
us in many respects, were strangely repulsive.

Their heads, as Ame Baove had recorded, were not round like ours, but
possessed a high bony crest that ran from between their lashless,
browless eyes, down to the very nape of their necks. Their skin, even
that covering their hairless heads, was a dull and papery white, like
parchment, and their eyes were abnormally small, and nearly round. A
hateful, ugly people, perpetually scowling, snarling; their very voices
resembled more the growl of wild beasts than the speech of intelligent
beings.

Ja Ben led the way straight to the low but vast building of dun-colored
stone that I knew was the administration building of the Control City.
We marched up the broad, crowded steps, through the muttering, jeering
multitude into the building itself. The guards at the doors stood aside
to let us through and the crowd at last was left behind.

A swift, cylindrical elevator shot us upward, into a great glass-walled
laboratory, built like a sort of penthouse on the roof. Ja Ben walked
quickly across the room towards a long, glass-topped table; the other
four closed in on me silently but suggestively.

"That is unnecessary," I said quietly. "See, I am unarmed and completely
in your power. I am here as an ambassador of the Central Council, not as
a warrior."

"Which is as well for you," grinned Ja Ben. "What I have to show you,
you can see quickly, and then depart."

From a great cabinet in one corner of the room he took a shining
cylinder of dark red metal, and held it up before him, stroking its
sleek sides with an affectionate hand.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Here it is," he said, chuckling. "The secret of our power. In here,
safely imprisoned now, but capable of being released at our command, is
death for every living thing upon any planet we choose to destroy." He
replaced the great cylinder in the cabinet, and picked up in its stead a
tiny vial of the same metal, no larger than my little finger, and not so
long. "Here," he said, turning again towards me, "is the means of
proving our power to you. Come closer!"

With my bodyguard of four watching every move, I approached.

Ja Ben selected a large hollow hemisphere of crystal glass and placed it
upon a smooth sheet of flat glass. Next he picked a few blossoms from a
bowl that stood, incongruously enough, on the table, and threw them
under the glass hemisphere.

"Flora," he grinned.

Hurrying to the other end of the room, he reached into a large flat
metal cage and brought forth three small rodent like animals, natives of
that world. These he also tossed carelessly under the glass.

"Fauna," he grunted, and picked up the tiny metal vial.

One end of the vial unscrewed. He turned the cap gently, carefully, a
strained, anxious look upon his face. My four guards watched him
breathlessly, fearfully.

       *       *       *       *       *

The cap came loose at last, disclosing the end of the tube, sealed with
a grayish substance that looked like wax. Very quickly Ja Ben rolled the
little cylinder under the glass hemisphere, and picked up a beaker that
had been bubbling gently on an electric plate close by. Swiftly he
poured the thick contents of the beaker around the base of the glass
bell. The stuff hardened almost instantly, forming an air-tight seal
between the glass hemisphere and the flat plate of glass upon which it
rested. Then, with an evil, triumphant smile, Ja Ben looked up.

"_Flora_," he repeated. "_Fauna._ And _death_. Watch! The little metal
cylinder is plugged still, but in a moment that plug will
disappear--simply a volatile solid, you understand. It is going rapidly
... rapidly ... it is almost gone now! Watch ... In an instant now ...
_ah!_"

I saw the gray substance that stopped the entrance of the little metal
vial disappear. The rodents ran around and over it, trying to find a
crevice by which they might escape. The flowers, bright and beautiful,
lay untidily on the bottom of the glass prison.

Then, just as the last vestige of the gray plug vanished; an amazing, a
terrible thing happened. At the mouth of the tiny metal vial a greenish
cloud appeared. I call it a cloud, but it was not that. It was solid,
and it spread in every direction, sending out little needles that lashed
about and ran together into a solid mass while millions of little
needles reached out swiftly.

One of these little needles touched a scurrying animal. Instantly the
tiny brute stiffened, and from his entire body the greenish needles
spread swiftly. One of the flowers turned suddenly thick and pulpy with
the soft green mass, then another, another of the rodents ... _God!_

In the space of two heart beats, the entire hemisphere was filled with
the green mass, that still moved and writhed and seemed to press against
the glass sides as though the urge to expand was insistent,
imperative....

       *       *       *       *       *

"What is it?" I whispered, still staring at the thing.

"_Death!_" grunted Ja Ben, thrusting his hateful face close to mine, his
tiny round eyes, with their lashless lids glinting. "Death, my friend.
Go and tell your great Council of this death that we have created for
every planet that will not obey us.

"We have gone back into the history of dealing death and have come back
with a death such as the Universe has never known before!

"Here is a rapacious, deadly fungus we have been two centuries in
developing. The spores contained in that tiny metal tube would be
invisible to the naked eye--and yet given but a little time to grow,
with air and vegetation and flesh to feed upon, and even that small
capsule would wipe out a world. And in the cabinet,"--he pointed
grinning triumphantly--"we have, ready for instant use, enough of the
spores of this deadly fungas to wipe out all the worlds of your great
Alliance.

"To wipe them out utterly!" he repeated, his voice shaking with a sort
of frenzy now. "Every living thing upon their faces, wrapped in that
thin, hungry green stuff you see there under that glass. All life wiped
out; made uninhabitable so long as the Universe shall endure. And
we--_we_ shall be rulers, unquestioned, of that Universe. Tell your
doddering Council _that_!" He leaned back against the table, panting
with hate.

"I shall tell them all I have seen; all you have said," I nodded.

"You believe we have the power to do all this?"

"I do--God help me, and the Universe," I said solemnly.

       *       *       *       *       *

There was no doubt in my mind. I could see all too clearly how well
their plans had been laid; how quickly this hellish growth would
strangle all life, once its spores began to develop.

The only possible chance was to get back to the Council and make my
report, with all possible speed, so that every available armed ship of
the universe might concentrate here, and wipe out these people before
they had time to--

"I know what you are thinking, my friend," broke in Ja Ben mockingly.
"You might as well have worn the menore! You would have the ships of the
Alliance destroy us before we have time to act. We had foreseen that,
and have provided for the possibility.

"As soon as you leave here, ships, provided with many tubes like the one
just used for our little demonstration, will be dispersed in every
direction. We shall be in constant communication with those ships, and
at the least sign of hostility, they will be ordered to depart and
spread their death upon every world they can reach. Some of them you may
be able to locate and eliminate; a number of them are certain to elude
capture in infinite space--and if only one, one lone ship, should
escape, the doom of the Alliance and millions upon millions of people
will be pronounced.

"I warn you, it will be better, much better, to bow to our wishes, and
pay us the tribute we shall demand. Any attempt at resistance will
precipitate certain disaster for your Council and all the worlds the
Council governs."

"At least, we would wipe you out first," I said hoarsely.

"True," nodded Ja Ben. "But the vengeance of our ships would be a
terrible thing! You would not dare to take the chance!"

I stood there, staring at him in a sort of daze. What he had said was so
true; terribly, damnably true.

If only--

       *       *       *       *       *

There was but one chance I could see, and desperate as it was, I took
it. Whirling the heavy metal ring of my menore in my hand, I sprang
towards the table.

If I could break the sealed glass hemisphere, and loose the fungus upon
its creators; deal to them the doom they had planned for the universe,
then perhaps all might yet be well.

Ja Ben understood instantly what was in my mind. He and his four aides
leaped between me and the table, their tiny round eyes blazing with
anger. I struck one of the four viciously with the menore, and with a
gasp he fell back and slumped to the floor.

Before I could break through the opening, however, Ja Ben struck me full
in the face with his mighty fist; a blow that sent me, dazed and
reeling, into a corner of the room. I brought up with a crash against
the cabinet there, groped wildly in an effort to steady myself, and fell
to the floor. Almost before I struck, all four of them were upon me.

They hammered me viciously, shouted at me, cursed me in the universal
tongue, but I paid no heed. I pretended to be unconscious, but my heart
was beating high with sudden, glorious hope, and in my brain a terrible,
merciless plan was forming.

When I had groped against the cabinet in an effort to regain my balance,
my fingers had closed upon one of the little metal vials. As I fell, I
covered that hand with my body and hastily hid the tiny tube in a deep
pocket of my blue and silver Service uniform.

       *       *       *       *       *

Slowly, after a few seconds, I opened my eyes and looked up at them,
helplessly.

"Go, now!" snarled Ja Ben, dragging me to my feet. "Go, and tell your
Council we are more than a match for you--and for them." He thrust me,
reeling, towards his three assistants. "Take him to his ship, and send
aid for Ife Rance, here." He glanced at the still unconscious figure of
the victim of my menore, and then turned to me with a last warning.

"Remember, one thing more, my friend: you have disintegrator ray
equipment upon your ship. You have the little atomic bombs that won for
the Alliance the Second War of the Planets. I know that. But if you make
the slightest effort to use them, I shall dispatch a supply of the green
death to our ships, and they will depart upon their missions at once.
You would take upon yourself a terrible responsibility by making the
smallest hostile move.

"Go, now--and when you return, bring with you members of your great
Council who will have the power to hear our demands, and see that they
are obeyed. And do not keep us waiting over long, for we are an
impatient race." He bowed, mockingly, and passed his left hand swiftly
before his face, his people's sign of parting.

I nodded, not trusting myself to speak, and, hemmed in by my three
black-robed conductors, was hurried down the elevator and back through
the jeering mob to my ship.

       *       *       *       *       *

The glass secondary door shot up to permit me to enter, and Eitel
gripped my shoulder anxiously, his eyes smoldering angrily.

"You're hurt, sir!" he said in his odd, high-pitched voice, staring into
my bruised face. "What--"

"It's nothing," I assured him. "Close the exit immediately; we depart at
once."

"Yes, sir!" He closed the switch, and the great threaded plug swung
gently on its gimbals and began to revolve, swiftly and silently. A
little bell sounded sharply, and the great door ceased its motion. Eitel
locked the switch and returned the key to his pocket.

"Good. All men are at their stations?" I asked briskly.

"Yes, sir! All except these ten, detailed to guard the exit."

"Have them report to their regular stations. Issue orders to the ray
operators that they are to instantly, and without further orders,
destroy any ship that may leave the surface of this planet. Have every
atomic bomb crew ready for an instant and concentrated offensive
directed at the Control City, but command them not to act under any
circumstances unless I give the order. Is that clear, Mr. Eitel?"

"Yes, sir!"

I nodded, and turned away, making my way immediately to the navigating
room.

"Mr. Barry," I said quickly and gravely, "I believe that the fate of the
known Universe depends upon us at this moment. We will ascend
vertically, at once--slowly--until we are just outside the envelope,
maintaining only sufficient horizontal motion to keep us directly over
the Control City. Will you give the necessary orders?"

"Immediately, sir!" He pressed the attention button to the operating
room and spoke swiftly into the microphone; before he completed the
order I had left.

       *       *       *       *       *

We were already ascending when I reached the port forward atomic bomb
station. The man in charge, a Zenian, saluted with automatic precision
and awaited orders.

"You have a bomb in readiness?" I asked, returning the salute.

"Those were my orders, sir."

"Correct. Remove it, please."

I waited impatiently while the crew removed the bomb from the releasing
trap. It was withdrawn at last; a fish-shaped affair, very much like the
ancient airplane bombs save that it was no larger than my two fists,
placed one upon the other, and that it had four silvery wires running
along its sides, from rounded nose to pointed tail, held at a distance
from the body by a series of insulating struts.

"Now," I said, "how quickly can you put another object in the trap,
re-seal the opening, and release the object?"

"While the Commander counts ten with reasonable speed," said the Zenian
with pride. "We won first honors in the Special Patrol Service contests
at the last Examination, the Commander may remember."

"I do remember. That is why I selected you for this duty."

With hands that trembled a little, I think, I drew forth the little vial
of gleaming red metal, while the bombing crew watched me curiously.

"I shall unscrew the cap from this little vial," I explained, "and drop
it immediately into the releasing trap. Re-seal the trap and release
this object as quickly as it is possible to do so. If you can better the
time you made to win the honors at the Examination--in God's name, do
so!"

"Yes, sir!" replied the Zenian. He gave brisk orders to his crew, and
each of the three men sprang alertly into position.

       *       *       *       *       *

As quickly as I could, I turned off the cap of the little metal vial and
dropped it into the trap. The heavy plug, a tiny duplicate of the exit
door, clicked shut upon it and spun, whining gently, into the opening.
Something clicked sharply, and one of the crew dropped a bar into place.
As it shot home, the Zenian in command of the crew pulled the release
plunger.

"Done, sir!" he said proudly.

I did not reply. My eye fixed upon the observation tube that was
following the tiny missile to the ground.

The Control City was directly below us. I lost sight of the vial almost
instantly, but the indicating cross-hairs showed me exactly where the
vial would strike; at a point approximately half way between the edge of
the city and the great squat pile of the administrating building, with
its gleaming glass penthouse--the laboratory in which, only a few
minutes before, I had witnessed the demonstration of the death which
awaited the Universe.

"Excellent!" I exclaimed. "Smartly done, men!" I turned and hurried to
the navigating room, where the most powerful of our television discs was
located.

The disc was not as perfect as those we have to-day; it was hooded to
keep out exterior light, which is not necessary with the later
instruments, and it was more unwieldy. However, it did its work, and did
it well, in the hands of an experienced operator.

With only a nod to Barry, I turned the range band to maximum, and
brought it swiftly to bear upon that portion of the city in which the
little vial had fallen. As I drew the focusing lever towards me, the
scene leaped at me through the clear, glowing glass disc.

       *       *       *       *       *

Froth! Green, billowing froth that grew and boiled and spread
unceasingly. In places it reached high into the air, and it moved with
an eager, inner life that was somehow terrible and revolting. I moved
the range hand back, and the view seemed to drop away from me swiftly.

I could see the whole city now. All one side of it was covered with the
spreading green stain that moved and flowed so swiftly. Thousands of
tiny black figures were running in the streets, crowding away from the
awful danger that menaced them.

The green patch spread more swiftly always. When I had first seen it,
the edges were advancing as rapidly as a man could run; now they were
fairly racing, and the speed grew constantly.

A ship, two of them, three of them came darting from somewhere, towards
the administration building, with its glass cupola. I held my breath as
the deep, sudden humming from the _Tamon_ told me that our rays were
busy. Would they--

One of the enemy ships disappeared suddenly in a little cloud of dirty,
heavy dust that settled swiftly. Another ... and the third. Three little
streaks of dust, falling, falling....

A fourth ship, and a fifth came rushing up, their sides faintly glowing
from the speed they had made. The green flood, thick and insistent, was
racing up and over the administration building now. It reached the roof,
ran swiftly....

The fourth ship shattered into dust. The fifth settled swiftly--and then
that ship also disappeared, together with a corner of the building. Then
the thick green stuff flowed over the whole building and there was
nothing to be seen there but a mound of soft, flowing, gray-green stuff
that rushed on now with the swiftness of the wind.

       *       *       *       *       *

I looked up, into Barry's face.

"You're ill!" he said quickly. "Is there anything I can do, sir?"

"Yes," I said, forming the words with difficulty. "Give orders to ascend
at emergency speed!"

For once my first officer hesitated. He glanced at the attraction meter
and then turned to me again, wondering.

"At this height, sir, emergency speed will mean dangerous heating of the
surface; perhaps--"

"I want it white hot, Mr. Barry. She is built to stand it. Emergency
speed, please--immediately!"

"Right, sir!" he said briskly, and gave the order.

I felt my weight increase as the order was obeyed; gradually the
familiar, uncomfortable feeling left me. Silently, Barry and I watched
the big surface temperature gauge as it started to move. The heat inside
became uncomfortable, grew intense. The sweat poured from us. In the
operating room forward, I could see the men casting quick, wondering
glances up at us through the heavy glass partition that lay between.

The thick, stubby red hand of the surface temperature gauge moved slowly
but steadily towards the heavy red line that marked the temperature at
which the outer shell of our hull would become incandescent. The hand
was within three or four degrees of that mark when I gave Barry the
order to arrest our motion.

When he had given the order, I turned to him and motioned towards the
television disc.

"Look," I said.

       *       *       *       *       *

He looked, and when at last he tore his face away from the hood, he
seemed ten years older.

"What is it?" he asked in a choked whisper. "Why--they're being wiped
out; the whole of that world--"

"True. And some of the seeds of that terrible death might have drifted
upward, and found a lodging place upon the surface of our ship. That is
why I ordered the emergency speed while we were still within the
atmospheric envelope, Barry. To burn away that contamination, if it
existed. Now we are safe, unless--"

I pressed the attention button to the station of the chief of the ray
operators.

"Your report," I ordered.

"Nine ships disintegrated, sir," he replied instantly. "Five before the
city was destroyed, four later."

"You are certain that none escaped?"

"Positive, sir."

"Very good."

I turned to Barry, smiling.

"Point her nose for Zenia, Mr. Barry," I said. "As soon as it is
feasible, resume emergency speed. There are some very anxious gentlemen
there awaiting our report, and I dare not convey it except in person."

"Yes, sir!" said Barry crisply.

       *       *       *       *       *

This, then, is the history of the Forgotten Planet. On the charts of the
Universe it appears as an unnamed world. No ship is permitted to pass
close enough to it so that its attraction is greater than that of the
nearest other mass. A permanent outpost of fixed-station ships, with
headquarters upon Jaron, the closest world, is maintained by the
Council.

There are millions of people who might be greatly disturbed if they knew
of this potential menace that lurks in the midst of our Universe, but
they do not know. The wisdom of the Council made certain of that.

But, in order that in the ages to come there might be a record of this
matter, I have been asked to prepare this document for the sealed
archives of the Alliance. It has been a pleasant task; I have relived,
for a little time, a part of my youth.

The work is done, now, and that is well. I am an old man, and weary.
Sometimes I wish I might live to see the wonders that the next
generation or so will witness, but my years are heavy upon me.

My work is done.

       *       *       *       *       *

ASTOUNDING STORIES

_Appears on Newsstands_

THE FIRST THURSDAY IN EACH MONTH

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: "_And I would have been the greatest man in the world._"]



The Power and the Glory

_By Charles W. Diffin_


There were papers on the desk, a litter of papers scrawled over, in the
careless writing of indifferent students, with the symbols of chemistry
and long mathematical computations. The man at the desk pushed them
aside to rest his lean, lined face on one thin hand. The other arm,
ending at the wrist, was on the desk before him.

[Sidenote: Sadly, sternly, the old professor reveals to his brilliant
pupil the greater path to glory.]

Students of a great university had long since ceased to speculate about
the missing hand. The result of an experiment, they knew--a hand that
was a mass of lifeless cells, amputated quickly that the living arm
might be saved--but that was some several years ago, ancient history to
those who came and went through Professor Eddinger's class room.

And now Professor Eddinger was weary--weary and old, he told himself--as
he closed his eyes to shut out the sight of the interminable papers and
the stubby wrist that had ended forever his experiments and the delicate
manipulations which only he could do.

He reached slowly for a buzzing phone, but his eyes brightened at the
voice that came to him.

"I've got it--I've got it!" The words were almost incoherent. "This is
Avery, Professor--Avery! You must come at once. You will share in it; I
owe it all to you ... you will be the first to see ... I am sending a
taxi for you--"

Professor Eddinger's tired eyes crinkled to a smile. Enthusiasm like
this was rare among his youngsters. But Avery--with the face of a poet,
a dreamer's eyes and the mind of a scientist--good boy, Avery!--a long
time since he had seen him--had him in his own laboratory for two
years....

"What's this all about?" he asked.

"No--no!" said a voice; "I can't tell you--it is too big--greater than
the induction motor--greater than the electric light--it is the greatest
thing in the world. The taxi should be there now--you must come--"

A knock at the office door where a voice said, "Car for Professor
Eddinger," confirmed the excited words.

"I'll come," said the Professor, "right away."

       *       *       *       *       *

He pondered, as the car whirled him across the city, on what this
greatest thing in the world might be. And he hoped with gentle
skepticism that the enthusiasm was warranted. A young man opened the car
door as they stopped. His face was flushed, Eddinger noted, hair pushed
back in disarray, his shirt torn open at the throat.

"Wait here," he told the driver and took the Professor by the arm to
hurry him into a dilapidated building.

"Not much of a laboratory," he said, "but we'll have better, you and I;
we'll have better--"

The room seemed bare with its meager equipment, but it was neat, as
became the best student of Professor Eddinger. Rows of reagent bottles
stood on the shelves, but the tables were a litter of misplaced
instruments and broken glassware where trembling hands had fumbled in
heedless excitement.

"Glad to see you again, Avery." The gentle voice of Professor Eddinger
had lost its tired tone. "It's been two years you've been working, I
judge. Now what is this great discovery, boy? What have you found?"

The younger man, in whose face the color came and went, and whose eyes
were shining from dark hollows that marked long days and sleepless
nights, still clung to the other's arm.

"It's real," he said; "it's great! It means fortune and fame, and you're
in on that, Professor. The old master," he said and clapped a hand
affectionately upon a thin shoulder; "I owe it all to you. And now I
have--I have learned.... No, you shall see for yourself. Wait--"

       *       *       *       *       *

He crossed quickly to a table. On it was an apparatus; the eyes of the
older man widened as he saw it. It was intricate--a maze of tubing.
There was a glass bulb above--the generator of a cathode ray,
obviously--and electro-magnets below and on each side. Beneath was a
crude sphere of heavy lead--a retort, it might be--and from this there
passed two massive, insulated cables. The understanding eyes of the
Professor followed them, one to a terminal on a great insulating block
upon the floor, the other to a similarly protected terminal of carbon
some feet above it in the air.

The trembling fingers of the young man made some few adjustments, then
he left the instrument to take his place by an electric switch. "Stand
back," he warned, and closed the switch.

There was a gentle hissing from within glass tubes, the faint glow of a
blue-green light. And that was all, until--with a crash like the ripping
crackle of lightning, a white flame arced between the terminals of the
heavy cables. It hissed ceaselessly through the air where now the tang
of ozone was apparent. The carbon blocks glowed with a brilliant
incandescence when the flame ceased with the motion of a hand where
Avery pulled a switch.

The man's voice was quiet now. "You do not know, yet, what you have
seen, but there was a tremendous potential there--an amperage I can't
measure with my limited facilities." He waved a deprecating hand about
the ill-furnished laboratory. "But you have seen--" His voice trembled
and failed at the forming of the words.

"--The disintegration of the atom," said Professor Eddinger quietly,
"and the release of power unlimited. Did you use thorium?" he inquired.

The other looked at him in amazement. Then: "I should have known you
would understand," he said humbly. "And you know what it means"--again
his voice rose--"power without end to do the work of the world--great
vessels driven a lifetime on a mere ounce of matter--a revolution in
transportation--in living...." He paused. "The liberation of mankind,"
he added, and his voice was reverent. "This will do the work of the
world: it will make a new heaven and a new earth! Oh, I have dreamed
dreams," he exclaimed, "I have seen visions. And it has been given to
me--me!--to liberate man from the curse of Adam ... the sweat of his
brow.... I can't realize it even yet. I--I am not worthy...."

       *       *       *       *       *

He raised his eyes slowly in the silence to gaze in wondering
astonishment at the older man. There was no answering light, no
exaltation on the lined face. Only sadness in the tired eyes that looked
at him and through him as if focused upon something in a dim future--or
past.

"Don't you see?" asked the wondering man. "The freedom of men--the
liberation of a race. No more poverty, no endless, grinding labor." His
young eyes, too, were looking into the future, a future of blinding
light. "Culture," he said, "instead of heart-breaking toil, a chance to
grow mentally, spiritually; it is another world, a new life--" And again
he asked: "Surely, you see?"

"I see," said the other; "I see--plainly."

"The new world," said Avery. "It--it dazzles me; it rings like music in
my ears."

"I see no new world," was the slow response.

The young face was plainly perplexed. "Don't you believe?" he stammered.
"After you have seen ... I thought you would have the vision, would help
me emancipate the world, save it--" His voice failed.

"Men have a way of crucifying their saviors," said the tired voice.

The inventor was suddenly indignant. "You are blind," he said harshly;
"it is too big for you. And I would have had you stand beside me in the
great work.... I shall announce it alone.... There will be
laboratories--enormous!--and factories. My invention will be perfected,
simplified, compressed. A generator will be made--thousands of
horsepower to do the work of a city, free thousands of men--made so
small you can hold it in one hand."

The sensitive face was proudly alight, proud and a trifle arrogant. The
exaltation of his coming power was strong upon him.

"Yes," said Professor Eddinger, "in one hand." And he raised his right
arm that he might see where the end of a sleeve was empty.

"I am sorry," said the inventor abruptly; "I didn't mean ... but you
will excuse me now; there is so much to be done--" But the thin figure
of Professor Eddinger had crossed to the far table to examine the
apparatus there.

"Crude," he said beneath his breath, "crude--but efficient!"

       *       *       *       *       *

In the silence a rat had appeared in the distant corner. The Professor
nodded as he saw it. The animal stopped as the man's eyes came upon it;
then sat squirrellike on one of the shelves as it ate a crumb of food.
Some morsel from a hurried lunch of Avery's, the Professor
reflected--poor Avery! Yes, there was much to be done.

He spoke as much to himself as to the man who was now beside him. "It
enters here," he said and peered downward toward the lead bulb. He
placed a finger on the side of the metal. "About here, I should
think.... Have you a drill? And a bit of quartz?"

The inventor's eyes were puzzled, but the assurance of his old
instructor claimed obedience. He produced a small drill and a fragment
like broken glass. And he started visibly as the one hand worked
awkwardly to make a small hole in the side of the lead. But he withdrew
his own restraining hand, and he watched in mystified silence while the
quartz was fitted to make a tiny window and the thin figure stooped to
sight as if aiming the opening toward a far corner where a brown rat sat
upright in earnest munching of a dry crust.

The Professor drew Avery with him as he retreated noiselessly from the
instrument. "Will you close the switch," he whispered.

The young man hesitated, bewildered, at this unexpected demonstration,
and the Professor himself reached with his one hand for the black lever.
Again the arc crashed into life, to hold for a brief instant until
Professor Eddinger opened the switch.

"Well," demanded Avery, "what's all the show? Do you think you are
teaching me anything--about my own instrument?" There was hurt pride and
jealous resentment in his voice.

"See," said Professor Eddinger quietly. And his one thin hand pointed to
a far shelf, where, in the shadow, was a huddle of brown fur and a bit
of crust. It fell as they watched, and the "plop" of the soft body upon
the floor sounded loud in the silent room.

"The law of compensation," said Professor Eddinger. "Two sides to the
medal! Darkness and light--good and evil--life ... and death!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The young man was stammering. "What do you mean?--a death ray evolved?"
And: "What of it?" he demanded; "what of it? What's that got to do with
it?"

"A death ray," the other agreed. "You have dreamed, Avery--one must in
order to create--but it is only a dream. You dreamed of life--a fuller
life--for the world, but you would have given them, as you have just
seen, death."

The face of Avery was white as wax; his eyes glared savagely from dark
hollows.

"A rat!" he protested. "You have killed a rat ... and you say--you
say--" He raised one trembling hand to his lips to hold them from
forming the unspeakable words.

"A rat," said the Professor--"or a man ... or a million men."

"We will control it."

"All men will have it--the best and the worst ... and there is no
defence."

"It will free the world--"

"It will destroy it."

"No!"--and the white-faced man was shouting now--"you don't
understand--you can't see--"

The lean figure of the scientist straightened to its full height. His
eyes met those of the younger man, silent now before him, but Avery knew
the eyes never saw him; they were looking far off, following the wings
of thought. In the stillness the man's words came harsh and commanding--

"Do you see the cities," he said, "crumbling to ruins under the cold
stars? The fields? They are rank with wild growth, torn and gullied by
the waters; a desolate land where animals prowl. And the people--the
people!--wandering bands, lower, as the years drag on, than the beasts
themselves; the children dying, forgotten, in the forgotten lands; a
people to whom the progress of our civilization is one with the ages
past, for whom there is again the slow, toiling road toward the light.

"And somewhere, perhaps, a conquering race, the most brutal and callous
of mankind, rioting in their sense of power and dragging themselves down
to oblivion...."

       *       *       *       *       *

His gaze came slowly back to the room and the figure of the man still
fighting for his dream.

"They would not," said Avery hoarsely; "they'd use it for good."

"Would they?" asked Professor Eddinger. He spoke simply as one stating
simple facts. "I love my fellow men," he said, "and I killed them in
thousands in the last war--I, and my science, and my poison gas."

The figure of Avery slumped suddenly upon a chair; his face was buried
in his hands. "And I would have been," he groaned, "the greatest man in
the world."

"You shall be greater," said the Professor, "though only we shall know
it--you and I.... You will save the world--from itself."

The figure, bowed and sunken in the chair, made no move; the man was
heedless of the kindly hand upon his shoulder. His voice, when he spoke,
was that of one afar off, speaking out of a great loneliness. "You don't
understand," he said dully; "you can't--"

But Professor Eddinger, a cog in the wheels of a great educational
machine, glanced at the watch on his wrist. Again his thin shoulders
were stooped, his voice tired. "My classes," he said. "I must be
going...."

       *       *       *       *       *

In the gathering dusk Professor Eddinger locked carefully the door of
his office. He crossed beyond his desk and fumbled with his one hand for
his keys.

There was a cabinet to be opened, and he stared long in the dim light at
the object he withdrew. He looked approvingly at the exquisite
workmanship of an instrument where a generator of the cathode ray and an
intricate maze of tubing surmounted electro-magnets and a round lead
bulb. There were terminals for attaching heavy cables; it was a
beautiful thing.... His useless arm moved to bring an imaginary hand
before the window of quartz in the lead sphere.

"Power," he whispered and repeated Avery's words; "power, to build a
city--or destroy a civilization ... and I hold it in one hand."

He replaced the apparatus in the safety of its case. "The saviors of
mankind!" he said, and his tone was harsh and bitter.

But a smile, whimsical, kindly, crinkled his tired eyes as he turned to
his desk and its usual litter of examination papers.

"It is something, Avery," he whispered to that distant man, "to belong
in so distinguished a group."



A STAR THAT BREATHES


Beta Cephei, the mysterious Milky Way star which expands and contracts
as though it were breathing, at last has a biography.

A summary of known facts concerning the star, interpreted in the light
of recent observations at the Lick Observatory at the University of
California was completed recently by H. S. Mendenhall, graduate student.

Mendenhall's interpretations were said to lend weight to the theory that
Beta Cephei is contracting and expanding once in every four and one-half
hours. This is such a terrific rate of speed from a terrestrial point of
view that it appears to be moving toward and away from the earth at a
velocity reaching a maximum of about nine and one-half miles per second.

Beta Cephei is a variable star in the Constellation Cepheus. It is best
visible in the northern sky during July or August. Its distance from the
earth is estimated roughly at 2,000,000,000,000,000 miles, and
Mendenhall estimates its diameter at almost 2,000,000 miles, more than
twice that of the sun.

In addition to the apparent velocity caused by contraction and expansion
of its surface five times a day, Beta Cephei seems to have another
motion. This was said by Mendenhall to be a rotation around some other
star in a period of 20 years. Velocity of this rotation is something
over three miles a second.

Variable stars are of particular interest to astronomers because the
light from them pulsates regularly, flaring and dying as though fuel
were replenished at regular intervals. The rate of this pulsation has
been found to be a measure to the candle power of the star. Its distance
then can be determined by contrasting its actual candle power with the
apparent magnitude as seen from the earth.

[Illustration: _"Oh my God!" gasped Bell. He'd known this man before. A
Secret Service man--one of the seven who had vanished._]



Murder Madness

PART THREE OF A FOUR-PART NOVEL

_By Murray Leinster_


Seven United States Secret Service men have disappeared in South
America. Another is found--a screaming homicidal maniac. It is rumored
that they are victims of a diabolical poison which produces "murder
madness."

[Sidenote: More and more South Americans are stricken with the horrible
"murder madness" that lies in The Master's fearful poison. And Bell is
their one last hope as he fights to stem the swiftly rising tide of a
continent's utter enslavement.]

Charley Bell of the "Trade"--a secret service organization which does
not officially exist--discovers that a sinister system of slavery is
flourishing in South America, headed by a mysterious man known only as
The Master. This slavery is accomplished by means of a poison which
causes its victims to experience a horrible writhing of the hands,
followed by a madness to do murder, two weeks after it is taken.

The victims get relief only with an antidote supplied through Ribiera,
The Master's Chief Deputy; but in the antidote there is more of the
poison, which again in two weeks will take effect. And so it is that a
person who once receives the poison is forever enslaved.

Ribiera kidnaps Paula Canalejas, daughter of a Brazilian cabinet
minister who, on becoming a victim, has killed himself, preferring
death to "murder madness." Bell rescues Paula, and they flee from
Ribiera in a plane. They find The Master's hidden jungle stronghold, and
Bell destroys it with a bomb attack from the air. As he is getting away
his motor quits. Paula jumps for her life, and shortly afterwards Bell
follows, drifting straight down towards his enemies below.


CHAPTER XI

Bell was falling head-first when the 'chute opened, and the jerk was
terrific, the more so as he had counted not the customary ten, but
fifteen before pulling out the ring. But very suddenly he seemed to be
floating down with an amazing gentleness, with the ruddy blossom of a
parachute swaying against a background of lustrous stars very far indeed
over his head. Below him were masses of smoke and at least one huge
dancing mass of flame, where the storage tank for airplane gas had
exploded. It was unlikely in the extreme, he saw now, that anyone under
that canopy of smoke could look up to see plane or parachute against the
sky.

Clumsily enough, dangling as he was, Bell twisted about to look for
Paula. Sheer panic came to him before he saw her a little above him but
a long distance off. She looked horribly alone with the glare of the
fires upon her parachute, and smoke that trailed away into darkness
below her. She was farther from the flames than Bell, too. The light
upon her was dimmer. And Bell cursed that he had stayed in the plane to
make sure it would dive clear of her before he stepped off himself.

       *       *       *       *       *

The glow on the blossom of silk above her faded out. The sky still
glared behind, but a thick and acrid fog enveloped Bell as he descended.
Still straining his eyes hopelessly, he crossed his feet and waited.

Branches reached up and lashed at him. Vines scraped against his sides.
He was hurled against a tree trunk with stunning force, and rebounded,
and swung clear, and then dangled halfway between earth and the jungle
roof. It was minutes before his head cleared, and then he felt at once
despairing and a fool. Dangling in his parachute harness when Paula
needed him.

The light in the sky behind him penetrated even the jungle growth as a
faint luminosity. Presently he writhed to a position in which he could
strike a match. A thick, matted mass of climbing vines swung from the
upper branches not a yard from his fingertips. Bell cursed again,
frantically, and clutched at it wildly. Presently his absurd kickings
set him to swaying. He redoubled his efforts and increased the arc in
which he swung. But it was a long time before his fingers closed upon
leaves which came away in his grasp, and longer still before he caught
hold of a wrist-thick liana which oozed sticky sap upon his hands.

But he clung desperately, and presently got his whole weight on it. He
unsnapped the parachute and partly let himself down, partly slid, and
partly tumbled to the solid earth below.

He had barely reached it when, muffled and many times reechoed among the
tree trunks, he heard two shots. He cursed, and sprang toward the sound,
plunging headlong into underbrush that strove to tear the flesh from his
bones. He fought madly, savagely, fiercely.

       *       *       *       *       *

He heard two more shots. He fought the jungle in the darkness like a
madman, ploughing insanely through masses of creepers that should have
been parted by a machete, and which would have been much more easily
slipped through by separating them, but which he strove to penetrate by
sheer strength.

And then he heard two shots again.

Bell stopped short and swore disgustedly.

"What a fool I am!" he growled. "She's telling me where she is, and
I--"

He drew one of the weapons that seemed to bulge in every pocket of his
flying suit and fired two shots in the air in reply. A single one
answered him.

From that time Bell moved more sanely. The jungle is not designed,
apparently, for men to travel in. It is assuredly not intended for them
to travel in by night, and especially it is not planned, by whoever
planned it, for a man to penetrate without either machete or lights.

As nearly as he could estimate it afterward, it took Bell over an hour
to cover one mile in the blackness under the jungle roof. Once he
blundered into fire-ants. They were somnolent in the darkness, but one
hand stung as if in white-hot metal as he went on. And thorns tore at
him. The heavy flying suit protected him somewhat, but after the first
hundred yards he blundered on almost blindly, with his arms across his
face, stopping now and then to try to orient himself. Three times he
fired in the air, and three times an answering shot came instantly, to
guide him.

       *       *       *       *       *

And then a voice called in the blackness, and he ploughed toward it, and
it called again, and again, and at last he struck a match with trembling
fingers and saw her, dangling as he had dangled, some fifteen feet from
the ground. She smiled waveringly, with a little gasp of relief, and he
heard something go slithering away, very furtively.

She clung to him desperately when he had gotten her down to solid earth.
But he was savage.

"Those shots--though I'm glad you fired them--may have been a tip-off to
the town. We've got to keep moving, Paula."

Her breath was coming quickly.

"They could trail us, Charles. By daylight we might not leave signs, but
forcing our way through the night...."

"Right, as usual," admitted Bell. "How about shells? Did you use all
you had?"

"Nearly. But I was afraid, Charles."

Bell felt in his pockets. Half a box. Perhaps twenty-five shells. With
the town nearby and almost certainly having heard their signals to each
other. Black rage invaded Bell. They would be hunted for, of course.
Dogs, perhaps, would trail them. And the thing would end when they were
at bay, ringed about by The Master's slaves, with twenty-five shells
only to expend.

The dim little glow in the sky between the jungle leaves kept up. It was
bright, and slowly growing brighter. There was a sudden flickering and
even the jungle grew light for an instant. A few seconds later there was
a heavy concussion.

"Something else went up then," growled Bell. "It's some satisfaction,
anyway, to know I did a lot of damage."

       *       *       *       *       *

And then, quite abruptly, there was an obscure murmuring sound. It grew
stronger, and stronger still. If Bell had been aloft, he would have seen
the planes from The Master's hangars being rushed out of their shelters.
One of the long row of buildings had caught. And the plateau of Cuyaba
is very, very far from civilization. Tools, and even dynamos and
engines, could be brought toilsomely to it, but the task would be
terrific. Buildings would be made from materials on the spot, even the
shelters for the planes. It would be much more practical to carry the
parts for a saw mill and saw out the lumber on the spot than to attempt
to freight roofing materials and the like to Cuyaba. So that the
structures Bell had seen in the wing lights' glow were of wood, and
inflammable. The powerhouse that lighted the landing field was already
ablaze. The smaller shacks of the laborers perhaps would not be burnt
down, but the elaborate depot for communication by plane and wireless
was rapidly being destroyed. The reserve of gasoline had gone up in
smoke almost at the beginning, and in spreading out had extended the
disaster to nearly all the compact nerve-center of the whole conspiracy.

Presently the droning noise was tumultuous. Every plane in a condition
to fly was out on the landing field, now brightly lighted by the burning
buildings all about. There was frantic, hectic activity everywhere. The
secretaries of The Master were rescuing what records they could, and
growing cold with terror. In the confusion of spreading flames and the
noise of roaring conflagrations the stopping of the motor up aloft had
passed unnoticed. In the headquarters of The Master there was panic. An
attack had been made upon The Master. A person who could not be one of
his slaves had found his stronghold and attacked it terribly. And if one
man knew that location and dared attack it, then....

       *       *       *       *       *

The hold of The Master upon all his slaves was based on one fact and its
corollary. The fact was, that those who had been given his poison would
go murder mad without its antidote. The corollary was that those who
obeyed him would be given that antidote and be safe. True, the antidote
was but a temporary one, and mixed with it for administration was a
further dosage of the poison itself. But the whole power of The Master
was based on his slaves' belief that as long as they obeyed him abjectly
there would be no failure of the antidote's supply. And Bell had given
that belief a sudden and horrible shock.

Orders came from one frightened man, who cursed much more from terror
than from rage. Ribiera had advised him. To do him justice, Ribiera felt
less fear than most. Nephew to The Master, and destined successor to The
Master's power, Ribiera dared not revolt, but at least he had little
fear of punishment for incompetence. It was his advice that set the many
aircraft motors warming up. It was his direction that assorted out the
brainwork staff. And Ribiera himself curtly took control, indifferently
abandoned the enslaved workers to the madness that would come upon them,
and took wing in the last of a stream of roaring things that swept
upward above the smoke and flame and vanished in the sky.

       *       *       *       *       *

Bell and Paula were huddled in between the buttress roots of a jungle
giant, protected on three sides by the monster uprearings of solid wood,
and Bell was absorbedly feeding a tiny smudge fire. The smoke was thick
and choking, but it did keep off the plague of insects which make jungle
travel much less than the romantic adventure it is pictured. Bell heard
the heavy, thunderous buzzing from the town change timbre suddenly. A
single note of it grew loud and soared overhead.

He stared up instinctively, but saw nothing but leaves and branches and
many climbing things above him, dimly lighted by the smoky little blaze.
The roaring overhead went on, and dimmed. A second roaring came from the
town and rose to a monstrous growling and diminished. A third did
likewise, and a fourth.

At stated, even intervals the planes at headquarters of The Master took
off from the landing field, ringed about with blazing buildings, and
plunged through the darkness in a straight line. The steadier droning
from the town grew lighter as the jungles echoed for many miles with the
sounds of aircraft motors overhead.

       *       *       *       *       *

At last a single plane rose upward and thundered over the jungle roof.
It went away, and away.... The town was silent, then, and only a faint
and dwindling murmur came from the line of aircraft headed south.

"They've deserted the town, by God!" said Bell, his eyes gleaming.
"Scared off!"

"And--and we--" said Paula, gazing at him.

"You can bet that every man who could crowd into a plane did so," said
Bell grimly. "Those that couldn't, if they have any brains, will be
trying to make it some other way to where they can subject themselves to
one of The Master's deputies and have a little longer time of sanity.
The poor devils that are left--well--they'll be _camaradas_, _peons_,
laborers, without the intelligence to know what they can do. They'll
wait patiently for their masters to come back. And presently their hands
will writhe.... And the town will be a hell."

"Then they won't be looking for us?"

Bell considered. And suddenly he laughed.

"If the fire has burned out before dawn," he said coldly, "I'll go
looking for them. It's going to be cold-blooded, and it's going to be
rather pitiful, I think, but there's nothing else to do. You try to get
some rest. You'll need it."

And for all the rest of the dark hours he crouched in the little angle
formed by the roots of the forest giant, and kept a thickly smoking
little fire going, and listened to the noises of the jungle all about
him.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was more than a mile back to the town. It was nearer two. But it was
vastly less difficult to force a way through the thick growths by
daylight, even though then it was not easy. With machetes, of course,
Bell and Paula would have had no trouble, but theirs had been left in
the plane. Bell made a huge club and battered openings by sheer strength
where it was necessary. Sweat streamed down his face before he had
covered five hundred yards, but then something occurred to him and he
went more easily. If there were any of the intelligent class of The
Master's subjects left in the little settlement, he wanted to allow time
enough for them to start their flight. He wanted to find the place empty
of all but laborers, who would be accustomed to obey any man who spoke
arrogantly and in the manner of a deputy of The Master. Yet he did not
want to wait too long. Panic spreads among the _camarada_ class as
swiftly as among more intelligent folk, and it even more blind and
hysterical.

It was nearly eleven o'clock before they emerged upon a cleared field
where brightly blooming plants grew hugely. Bell regarded these grimly.

"These," he observed, "will be The Master's stock."

Paula touched his arm.

"I have heard," she said, and shuddered, "that the men who gather the
plants that go to make the poisons of the _Indios_ do not--do not dare
to sleep near the fresh-picked plants. They say that the odor is
dangerous, even the perfume of the blossoms."

"Very probably," said Bell. "I wish I could destroy the damned things.
But since we can't, why, we'll go around the edge of the field."

       *       *       *       *       *

He went upwind, skirting the edge of the planted things. A path showed,
winding over half-heartedly cleared ground. He followed it, with Paula
close behind him. Smoke still curled heavily upward from the heaps of
ashes which he reached first of all. He looked upon them with an
unpleasant satisfaction. He had to pick his way between still smoking
heaps of embers to reach the huts about which laborers stood listlessly,
not working because not ordered to work, not yet frightened because not
yet realizing fully the catastrophe that had come upon them.

He was moving toward them, deliberately adopting an air of suppressed
rage, when a voice called whiningly.

"Senhor! Senhor!" And then pleadingly, in Portuguese, "I have news for
The Master! I have news for The Master!"

Bell jerked his head about. Bars of thick wood, cemented into heavy
timbers at top and bottom. A building that was solid wall on three
sides, and the fourth was bars. A white man in it, unshaven, haggard,
ragged, filthy. And on the floor of the cage....

There had been another such cage on a _fazenda_ back toward Rio. Bell
had looked into it, and had shot the gibbering Thing that had been its
occupant, as an act of pure mercy. But this man had been through horrors
and yet was sane.

"Don't look," said Bell sharply to Paula. He went close.

The figure pressed against the bars, whining. And suddenly it stopped
its fawning.

"The devil!" said the white man in the cage. "What in hell are you doing
here, Bell? Has that fiend caught you too?"

       *       *       *       *       *

"Oh, my God!" gasped Bell. He went white with a cold rage. He'd known
this man before. A Secret Service man--one of the seven who had
vanished. "How's this place opened? I'll let you out."

"It may be dangerous," said the white man with a ghastly grin. "I'm one
of The Master's little victims. I've been trying to work a little game
in hopes of getting within arm's reach of him. How'd you get here? Has
he got you too?"

"I burned the damned town last night," snarled Bell, "and crashed up
after it. Where's that door?"

He found it, a solid mass of planks with a log bar fitted in such a way
that it could not possibly be opened from within. He dragged it wide.
The white man came out, holding to his self-control with an obvious
effort.

"I want to dance and sing because I'm out of there," he told Bell
queerly, "but I know you've done me no good. I've been fed The Master's
little medicine. I've been in that cage for weeks."

Bell, quivering with rage, handed him a revolver.

"I'm going to get some supplies and stuff and try to make it to
civilization," he said shortly. "If you want to help...."

"Hell, yes," said the white man drearily. "I might as well. Number
One-Fourteen was here.... He's The Master's little pet, now. Turned
traitor. Report it, if you ever get out."

"No," said Bell briefly. "He didn't turn." He told in a very few words
of the finding of the body of a man who had fallen or been thrown from a
plane into the jungle.

       *       *       *       *       *

They were moving toward the rows of still standing shacks, then, and
faces were beginning to turn toward them, and there was a little stir of
apathetic puzzlement at sight of the white man who had been set free.

That white man looked suddenly at Paula, and then at Bell.

"I've been turned into a beast," he said wryly. "Look here, Bell. There
were as many as ten and fifteen of us in that cage at one time--men the
deputies sent up for the purpose. We were allowed to go mad, one and two
at a time, for the edification of the populace, to keep the _camaradas_
scared. And those of us who weren't going mad just then used to have to
band together and kill them. That cage has been the most awful hell on
earth that any devil ever contrived. They put three women in there once,
with their hands already writhing.... Ugh!..."

Bell's face was cold and hard is if carved from marble.

"I haven't lived through it," said the white man harshly, "by being
soft. And I've got less than no time to live--sane, anyhow. I was
thinking of shooting you in the back, because the young lady--"

He laughed as Bell's revolver muzzle stirred.

"I'm telling you," said the white man in ghastly merriment, "because I
thought--I thought One-Fourteen had set me the example of ditching the
Service for his own life. But now it's different."

       *       *       *       *       *

He pointed.

"There's a launch in that house, with one of these outboard motors. It
was used to keep up communication with the boat gangs that sweat the
heavy supplies up the river. It'll float in three inches of water, and
you can pole it where the water's too shallow to let the propeller turn.
This rabble will mob you if you try to take it, because it'll have taken
them just about this long to realize that they're deserted. They'll
think you are a deputy, at least, to have dared release me. I'm going to
convince them of it, and use this gun to give you a start. I give you
two hours. It ought to be enough. And then...."

Bell nodded.

"I'm not Service," he said curtly, "but I'll see it's known."

The white man laughed again.

"'Some sigh for the glories of this world, and some for a prophet's
paradise to come,'" he quoted derisively. "I thought I was hard, Bell,
but I find I prefer to have my record clean in the Service--where nobody
will ever see it--than to take what pleasure I might snatch before I
die. Queer, isn't it? Old Omar was wrong. Now watch me bluff, flinging
away the cash for credit of doubtful value, and all for the rumble of a
distant drum--which will be muted!"

       *       *       *       *       *

They were surrounded by swarming, fawning, frightened _camaradas_ who
implored the Senhor to tell them if he were a deputy of The Master, and
if he were here to make sure nothing evil befell them. They worked for
The Master, and they desired nothing save to labor all their lives for
The Master, only--only--The Master would allow no evil to befall them?

The white man waved his arms grandiloquently.

"The Senhor you behold," he proclaimed in the barbarous Portugese of the
hinterland of Brazil, "has released me from the cage in which you saw
me. He is the deputy of The Master himself, and is enraged because the
landing lights on the field were not burning, so that his airplane fell
down into the jungle. He bears news of great value from me to The
Master, which will make me finally a sub-deputy of The Master. And I
have a revolver, as you see, with which I could kill him, but he dares
not permit me to die, since I have given him news for The Master. I
shall wait here and he will go and send back an airplane with the grace
of The Master for me and for all of you."

Bell snarled an assent, in the arrogant fashion of the deputies of The
Master. He waited furiously while the Service man argued eloquently and
fluently. He fingered his revolver suggestively when a wave of panic
swept over the swarming mob for no especial reason. And then he watched
grimly while the light little metal-bottomed boat was carried to the
water's edge and loaded with food, and fuel, and arms, and ammunition,
and even mosquito bars.

The white man grinned queerly at Bell as he extended his hand in a last
handshake.

"'I, who am about to die, salute you!'" he said mockingly. "Isn't this a
hell of a world, Bell? I'm sure we could design a better one in some
ways."

       *       *       *       *       *

Bell felt a horrible, a ghastly shock. The hand that gripped his was
writhing in his grasp.

"Quite so," said the white man. "It started about five minutes ago. In
theory, I've about forty-eight hours. Actually, I don't dare wait that
long, if I'm to die like a white man. And a lingering vanity insists on
that. I hope you get out, Bell.... And if you want to do me a
favor,"--he grinned again, mirthlessly--"you might see that The Master
and as many of his deputies as you can manage join me in hell at the
earliest possible moment. I shan't mind so much if I can watch them."

He put his hands quickly in his pockets as the little outboard motor
caught and the launch went on down-river. He did not even look after
them. The last Bell saw of him he was swaggering back up the little
hillside above the river edge, surrounded by scared inhabitants of the
workmen's shacks, and scoffing in a superior fashion at their fears.


CHAPTER XII

It took Bell just eight days to reach the Paraguay, and those eight days
were like an age-long nightmare of toil and discomfort and more than a
little danger. The launch was headed downstream, of course, and with the
current behind it, it made good time. But the distances of Brazil are
infinite, and the jungles of Brazil are malevolent, and the route down
the Rio Laurenço was designed by the architect of hell. _Raudales_ lay
in wait to destroy the little boat. Insects swarmed about to destroy its
voyagers. And the jungle loomed above them, passively malignant, and
waited for them to die.

And as if physical sufferings were not enough, Bell saw Paula wilt and
grow pale. All the way down the river they passed little clearings at
nearly equal distances. And men came trembling out of the little houses
upon those _fazendas_ and fawned upon the Senhor who was in the launch
that had come from up-river and so must be in the service of The Master
himself. The clearings and the tiny houses had been placed upon the
river for the service of the terribly laboring boat gangs who brought
the heavier supplies up the river to The Master's central depot. Men at
these clearings had been enslaved and ordered to remain at their posts,
serving all those upon the business of The Master. They fawned abjectly
upon Bell, because he was of _os gentes_ and so presumably was
empowered, as The Master had empowered his more intelligent subjects, to
exact the most degraded of submission from all beneath him in the
horrible conspiracy. Once, indeed, Bell was humbly implored by a panic
stricken man to administer "the grace of The Master" to a moody and
irritable child of twelve or so.

"She sees the red spots, Senhor. It is the first sign. And I have served
The Master faithfully...."

       *       *       *       *       *

And Bell could do nothing. He went on savagely. And once he passed a
gang of _camaradas_ laboring to get heavily loaded dugouts up a fiendish
_raudal_. They had ropes out and were hauling at them from the bank,
while some of their number were breast-deep in the rushing water,
pushing the dugouts against the stream.

"They're headed for the plantation," said Bell grimly, "and they'll need
the grace of The Master by the time they get there. And it's abandoned.
But if I tell them...."

Men with no hope at all are not to be trusted. Not when they are
mixtures of three or more races--white and black and red--and steeped in
ignorance and superstition and, moreover, long subject to such masters
as these men had had. Bell had to think of Paula.

He could have landed and haughtily ordered them to float or even carry
the light boat to the calmer waters below. They would have obeyed and
cringed before him. But he shot the rapids from above, with the little
motor roaring past rocks and walls of jungle beside the foaming water,
at a speed that chilled his blood.

       *       *       *       *       *

Paula said nothing. She was white and listless. Bell, himself, was being
preyed upon by a bitter blend of horror and a deep-seated rage that
consumed him like a fever. He had fever itself, of course. He was
taking, and forcing Paula to take, five grains of quinine a day. It had
been included among his stores as a matter of course by those who had
loaded his boat. And with the fever working in his brain he found
himself holding long, imaginary conversations, in which one part of his
brain reproached the other part for having destroyed the plantation of
The Master. The laborers upon that plantation had been abandoned to the
murder madness because of his deed. The caretakers of the tiny _fazenda_
on the river bank were now ignored. Bell felt himself a murderer because
he had caused The Master's deputies to cast them off in a callous
indifference to their inevitable fate.

He suffered the tortures of the damned, and grew morose and bitter, and
could only escape that self torture by coddling his hatred of Ribiera
and The Master. He imagined torments to be inflicted upon them which
would adequately repay them for their crimes, and racked his feverish
brain for memories of the appalling atrocities which can be committed
upon the human body without destroying its capacity to suffer.

It was not normal. It was not sane. But it filled Bell's mind and
somehow kept him from suicide during the horrible passage of the river.
He hardly dared speak to Paula. There was a time when he counted the
days since he had been a guest at Ribiera's estate outside of Rio, and
frenziedly persuaded himself that he saw red spots before his eyes and
soon would have the murder madness come upon him. And then he thought of
the supplies in Ribiera's plane, in which they had escaped from Rio.
They had eaten that food.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was almost unconsciously, then, that he saw the narrow water on which
the launch floated valiantly grow wider day by day. When at last it
debouched suddenly into a vast stream whereon a clumsy steamer plied
beneath a self made cloud of smoke, he stared dully at it for minutes
before he realized.

"Paula," he said suddenly, and listened in amazement to his voice. It
was hoarse and harsh and croaking. "Paula, we've made it. This must be
the Paraguay."

She roused herself and looked about like a person waking from a
lethargic sleep. And then her lips quivered, and she tried to speak and
could not, and tears fell silently from her eyes, and all at once she
was sobbing bitterly.

That sign of the terrific strain she had been under served more than
anything else to jolt Bell out of his abnormal state of mind. He moved
over to her and clumsily put his arm about her, and comforted her as
best he could. And she sat sobbing with her head on his shoulder,
gasping in a form of hysterical relief, until the engine behind them
sputtered, and coughed, and died.

When Bell looked, the last drop of gasoline was gone. But the motor had
served its purpose. It had run manfully on an almost infinitesimal
consumption of gasoline for eight days. It had not missed an explosion
save when its wiring was wetted by spray. And now....

       *       *       *       *       *

Bell hauled the engine inboard and got out the oars from under the
seats. He got the little boat out to mid-stream, and they floated down
until a village of squalid huts appeared on the eastern bank. He landed,
there, and with much bargaining and a haughty demeanor disposed of the
boat to the skipper of a _batelao_ in exchange for passage down-river as
far as Corumba. The rate was outrageously high. But he had little
currency with him and dared go no farther on a vessel which carried a
boat of The Master's ownership conspicuously towed behind.

At Corumba he purchased clothes less obviously of _os gentes_, both for
himself and for Paula, and that same afternoon was able to arrange for
their passage to Asunción as deck passengers on a river steamer going
downstream.

It was as two peasants, then, that they rode in sweltering heat amid a
swarming and odorous mass of fellow humanity downstream. But it was a
curious relief, in some ways. The people about them were gross and
unwashed and stupid, but they were human. There was none of that
diabolical feeling of terror all about. There were no strained, fear
haunted faces upon the deck reserved for deck passengers and other
cattle. The talk was ungrammatical and literal and of the earth. The
women were stolid-faced and reserved. But when the long rows of hammocks
were slung out in the open air, in the casual fashion of sleeping
arrangements in the back-country of all South America, it was blessedly
peaceful to realize that the folk who snored so lustily were merely
human; human animals, it might be, with no thought above their _farinha_
and _feijos_ on the morrow, but human.

       *       *       *       *       *

And the second day they passed the old fort at Coimbra, and went on. The
passage into Paraguayan territory was signalized by an elaborate customs
inspection, and three days later Asunción itself displayed its red-tiled
roofs and adobe walls upon the shore.

Bell had felt some confidence in his ability to pass muster with his
Spanish, though his Portuguese was limited, and it was a shock when the
captain of the steamer summoned him to his cabin with a gesture, before
the steamer docked. Bell left Paula among the other deck passengers and
went with the peasant's air of suspicious humility into the captain's
quarters. But the captain's pose of grandeur vanished at once when the
door closed.

"Señor," said the steamer captain humbly, "I have not spoken to you
before. I knew you would not wish it. But tell me, senor! Have you any
news of what The Master plans?"

Bell's eyes flickered, at the same time that a cold apprehension filled
him.

"Why do you speak to me of The Master?" he demanded sharply.

The steamer captain stammered. The man was plainly frightened at Bell's
tone. Bell relaxed, his flash of panic for Paula gone.

"I know," said the captain imploringly, "that the great _fazenda_ has
been deserted. On my last trip, down, senor, I brought many of the high
deputies who had been there. They warned me not to speak, senor, but I
saw that you were not what you seemed, and I thought you might be going
about to see who obeyed The Master's orders...."

       *       *       *       *       *

Bell nodded.

"That is my mission," he said curtly. "Do not speak of it further--not
even to the deputy in Asunción."

The captain stammered again.

"But I must see the Señor Francia," he said humbly. "I report to him
after every trip, and if he thought that I did not report all that I
learn...."

"It is my order," snapped Bell angrily. "If he reproaches you, say that
one who has orders from The Master himself gave them to you. And do not
speak of the destruction of the _fazenda_. I am searching especially for
the man who caused it. And--wait! I will take your name, and you shall
give me--say--a thousand pesos. I had need of money to bribe a fool I
could not waste time on, up-country. It will be returned to you."

And again the captain stammered, but Bell stared at him haughtily, and
he knelt abjectly before the ship's safe.

       *       *       *       *       *

Asunción, as everybody knows, is a city of sixty thousand people, and
the capital of a republic which enjoyed the rule of a family of
hereditary dictators for sixty years; which rule ended in a war wherein
four-fifths of the population was wiped out. And since that beginning it
has averaged eight revolutions to Mexico's three, has had the joy of
knowing seven separate presidents in five years--none of them
elected--and now boasts a population approximately two-thirds
illegitimate and full of pride in its intellectual and artistic tastes.

Bell and Paula made their way along the cobbled streets away from the
river, surrounded by other similarly peasant-seeming folk. Bell told her
curtly what had happened with the steamer captain.

"It's the devil," he said coldly, "because this whole republic is under
The Master's thumb. Except among the peasants we can count on nearly
everybody being on the lookout for us, if they so much as suspect we're
alive. And they may because I burned their damned _fazenda_. So...."

Paula smiled at him, rather wanly.

"What are you going to do, Charles?"

"Get a boat," said Bell curtly. "One with three or four men, if I can.
If I can buy it with the skipper's money, I will. But I can't take you
to go bargaining. It would look suspicious."

They had reached the central plaza of the town. The market swarmed with
brown skinned folk and seemed to overflow with fruits. A man was
unconcernedly shoveling oranges out of a cart with a shovel, as if they
had been so much coal. A market woman as unconcernedly dropped some of
the same golden fruit within a small pen where a piglet awaited a
purchaser. To the left, there were rows of unshaded stalls where the
infinitely delicate handmade Paraguayan lace was exposed for sale.

"I--think," said Paula, "I think I will go in the cathedral. I will be
very devout, Charles, and you will find me there when you return. I will
be safe there, certainly."

       *       *       *       *       *

He walked with her across the crowded plaza. He should have known that
your peasant does not stride with head up, but regarding the ground.
That a man who works heavily droops his shoulders with weariness at the
end of a day. And especially he should have realized that Paraguay is
not, strictly speaking, a Latin-American nation. It is Latin-Indian, in
which the population graduates very definitely from a sub-stratum of
nearly or quite pure Indian race to an aristocracy of nearly or quite
pure Spanish descent, and that the color of a man's skin fixes his place
in society. Both Bell and Paula were too light of skin for the peasant's
clothes they wore. They aroused curiosity at once. If it was not an
active curiosity, it was nevertheless curiosity of a sort.

But Bell left her in the shadowy, cool interior of the cathedral which
seems so pitifully small to be the center of religion for a nation. He
saw her move toward one of the little candle-lit niches in the wall and
fall quite simply on her knees there.

And he moved off, to wander aimlessly down to the river shore and stare
about and presently begin a desultory conversation with sleepy boatmen.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was three hours and more before he returned to the Cathedral, and
Paula was talking to someone. More, talking to a woman in the most
discreet of mantilla'd church-going costumes. Paula saw him in the
doorway, and uttered a little cry of relief. She came hurrying to him.

"Charles! I have found a friend! Isabella Ybarra. We were schoolmates in
the United States and she has just come back from Paris! So you see, she
cannot--"

"I see," said Bell very quietly.

Paula was speaking swiftly and very softly.

"We went to school together, Charles. I trust her. You must trust her
also. There is no danger, this time. Isabella has never even heard of
The Master. So you see...."

"I see that you need someone you can trust," said Bell grimly. "_I_
found that the captain of the steamer had gone to The Master's deputy
here. While I was talking to some boatmen a warning was given to look
out for a man and woman, together, who may try to buy a boat. We're
described, and only the fact that I was alone kept me from being
suspected. Police, soldiers--everybody is looking out for us. Paraguay's
under The Master's thumb more completely than any other nation on the
continent."

The figure to which Paula had been talking was moving slowly toward
them. A smiling, brown-eyed face twinkled at them.

"You must be Charles!" said a warm and cluckling voice. "Paula has
raved, Señor. Now I am going to take her off in my carriage. She is my
maid. And you will follow the carriage on foot and I will have the
major-domo let you in the servants' entrance, and the three of us will
conspire."

       *       *       *       *       *

It was incongruous to hear the English of a girl's finishing school from
the mantilla'd young woman who beamed mischievously at him. She had the
delighted air of one aiding a romance. It was doubly incongruous because
of the dark and shadowy Cathedral in which they were, and the raucous
noises of the market in the plaza without. Bell had a sense of utter
unreality as Isabella's good humored voice went on:

"Do you remember, Paula, the time the French teacher caught us in the
pantry? I shall feel just like that time."

"This is dangerous," said Bell, steadily, "and it is very serious
indeed."

"Pooh!" said Isabella comfortably. "Paula, you didn't even know I was
married! A whole year and a half! And he's a darling, really. I'm the
Señora Isabella Ybarra de Zuloaga, if you please! Bow gracefully!" She
chuckled. "Jaime came all the way to Rio to meet me last month. I'm wild
about him, Paula.... But come on! Follow me humbly, like a nice little
_mestizo_ girl who wants to be my maid, and I'll let you ride with the
_cochero_ and Charles shall follow behind us."

She swept out of the Cathedral with the air of a grande dame suppressing
a giggle, and Paula went humbly behind her.

And Bell trudged through the dust and the blistering sun while the
highly polished carriage jolted over cobble stones and the youthful
Señora Isabella Ybarra de Zuloaga beamed blissfully at the universe
which did not realize that she was a conspirator, and Paula sat modestly
beside the brown skinned _cochero_.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was not a long ride nor a long walk, though the sun was insufferable.
The capital of Paraguay is not large. It is a sleepy, somnolent little
town in which the most pretentious building was begun as the
Presidential Palace and wound up as the home of a bank. But there are
bullet marks on the façade of the _Museo Nacionál_, and there is still
an empty pedestal here and there throughout the city where the heroes of
last year's revolution, in bronze, have been pulled down and the heroes
of this year's uprising of the people have not yet been set up. Red
tiled roofs give the city color, and the varying shades of its populace
give it variety, and the fact that below the whiter class of inhabitants
_Guarani_ is spoken instead of Spanish adds to the individuality of its
effect.

But the house into which the carriage turned could have been built in
Rio or Buenos Aires without comment on its architecture. It had the
outer bleakness of most private homes of South America, but if it was
huge and its windows were barred, the patio into which Bell was ushered
by a bewildered and suspicious major-domo made up in color and in charm
for all that the exterior lacked.

A fountain played amid flowers, and macaws and parrots and myriad other
caged birds hung in their cages about the colonnade around the court,
and Bell found Paula being introduced to a pale young man in the stiff
collar and unspeakably formal morning clothes of the South American who
is of the upper class.

"Jaime," said Isabella, beaming. "And this is Charles, whom Paula is to
marry! It is romantic! It is fascinating! And I depend on you to give
him clothes so that all our servants won't stare goggle-eyed at him, and
I am going to take Paula off at once and dress her! They are our guests!
And, Jaime, you must threaten all the servants terribly so they will
keep it very secret--that we have two such terrible people with us."

       *       *       *       *       *

Paula smiled at Bell, and he saw that she felt utterly safe and wholly
at peace. Something was hammering at Bell's brain, warning him, and he
could not understand what it was. But he exchanged the decorous limp
handshake which is conventional south of Panama, and followed his
unsmiling host to rooms where a servant laid out a bewildering
assortment of garments. They were all rather formal, the sort of
clothing that is held to be fitting for a man of position where Spanish
is the official if not the common tongue.

His host retired, without words, and Bell came out later to find him
sipping moodily at a drink, waiting for him. He wiped his forehead.

"Be seated, Señor," he said heavily, "until the ladies join us."

He wiped his forehead again and watched somberly while Bell poured out a
drink.

"Isabella...." He seemed to find it difficult to speak. "She has told me
a little, but there has been no time for more than a little: I do not
wish to have her tell me too much. She does not understand. She was
educated in North America, where customs are different. She demands that
I assist you and the senorita--it is the senorita?"

Bell stiffened. In all Spanish America the conventions are strict. For a
man and woman to travel together, even perforce and for a short
distance, automatically damns the woman.

"Go on," said Bell grimly.

His host was very pale indeed.

"She demands that I assist you and the senorita to escape the police and
the government. Provided that you do not tell me who you are, I will
attempt it. But--"

"I wonder," said Bell quietly, "if you have ever seen red spots dancing
before your eyes."

His host went utterly livid.

       *       *       *       *       *

Zuloaga looked down at his hands, as if expecting unguessable things of
them. And then he shrugged, and said harshly:

"I have, Señor. So you see that Isabella, who does not know, is asking
me to risk, not only my life, but her honor."

Bell said nothing for a moment. He was a little pale.

"And your honor?" he asked quietly.

The pallor on the face of the Señor Jaime Zuloaga was horrible. He tried
to speak, and could not. He stood up, and managed to say:

"So much I will risk, because you have been my guest. Until to-morrow
morning you are safe, unless the Señor Francia has his spies within my
own house. I--I will attempt, even to procure a boat. But--"

Something made Bell turn. The major-domo was moving quickly out of
sight. Like a flash Bell was upon him, and like a flash a knife came
out.

Bell's host gasped. The fact that his servant had spied was more than
obvious, and he had spoke treason against The Master. He leaned against
the table, sick and trembling and mumbling of despair, while there were
crashes in the room into which Bell had plunged, while bodies thrashed
about on the floor, and while stertorous breathing grew less, and
stopped....

Bell came back, breathing hard. The front of his coat was slashed open.

"He's dead," he said harshly. "He'd have reported what you said, so I
killed him.... And now we've got to do something with his body."

He helped in the horrible task, while his host grew more and more
shaken. No other servants came near. And Bell could almost read the
thoughts that went through Zuloaga's brain. One servant had spied, to
report his treason. And that meant assassination for himself, as the
least of punishments, and for his wife....

But there would be no punishment if he went first to the deputy and said
that Bell had killed the major-domo.

Bell left the house before dusk, desperately determined to steal a craft
of some sort, return for Paula, and get away from Asunción before dawn.

He returned after an hour. In the morning a man would be found bound and
gagged, with five hundred pesos stuffed into his pockets. His boat would
have vanished.

But there was a commotion before the house where Paula waited fearfully.
A carriage stood there, with a company of mounted soldiers about it.
Someone was being put into it. As Bell broke into a run toward the house
the carriage started up and the soldiers trotted after it.

Paula was taken.


CHAPTER XIII

That night Bell turned burglar. To attempt a rescue of Paula was simply
out of the question. He was entirely aware that he would be expected to
do just such a thing, and that it would be adequately guarded against.
Therefore he prepared for a much more desperate enterprise by
burglarizing a bookstore in the particularly neat method in which
members of The Trade are instructed. The method was invented by a member
of The Trade who was an ex-cabinet maker, and who perished disreputably.
He killed a certain courier of a certain foreign government, thereby
preventing a minor war and irritating two governments excessively, and
was hanged.

The method, of course, is simplicity itself. One removes the small nails
which hold the molding of a door panel in place. The molding comes out.
So does the panel. One enters through the panel, commits one's burglary,
and comes out, replacing the molding and the nails with reasonable care.
Depending upon the care with which the replacing is done, the means of
entrance is more or less undiscoverable. But it is usually used when it
is not intended that the burglary ever be discussed.

Bell abstracted two books, wrapping paper and twine. He departed, using
great care. He walked three miles out of town and to the banks of the
Paraguay. There he carefully saturated the pages of both books in
water, carefully keeping the bindings from being wetted. Then he tore
one book to pieces, saving the leaves and inserting them between the
leaves of the other book. Then, with a brazil nut candle for
illumination, he began to write.

       *       *       *       *       *

You see, when two thoroughly wetted pieces of paper are placed one above
the other with a hard surface such as the cover of another book under
them, you can write upon the top one with a stick. The writing will show
dark against the gray of the saturated paper. You then remove the top
sheet and end the writing reproduced on the bottom sheet. And then you
can dry the second sheet and find the marking vanished--until it is
wetted again. It is, in fact, a method of water-marking paper. And it is
the simplest of all methods of invisible writing.

Bell wrote grimly for hours. The book he had chosen was an old one, an
ancient copy of one of Lope de Vega's plays, and the pages were wrinkled
and yellow from age alone. When, by dawn, the last page was dried out,
there was no sign that anything other than antiquity had affected the
paper. And Bell wrapped it carefully, and addressed it to an elderly
senora of literary tastes in San Juan, Porto Rico, and enclosed an
affectionate letter to his very dear aunt, and signed it with an
entirely improbable name.

It was mailed before sunrise, the necessary stamps having been filched
from the burglarized bookstore and the price thereof being carefully
inserted in the till. Bell had made a complete and painstaking report of
every fact he had himself come upon in the matter of The Master and his
slaves and appended to it a copy of the report of the dead Secret
Service operative Number One-Fourteen. He destroyed that after copying
it. And he concluded that since he had been given dismissal by Jamison
in Rio, he considered himself at liberty to take whatever steps he saw
fit. And since the Senhorina Paula Canalejas had been kidnapped by
agents of The Master, he intended to take steps which might possibly
bring about her safety, but would almost certainly cause his death.

The report should at least be of assistance if the Trade set to work to
combat The Master. Bell had no information whatever about that still
mysterious and still more horrible person himself. But what he knew
about The Master's agents he sent to a lady in Porto Rico who has an
astonishingly large number of far ranging nephews. And then Bell got
himself adequately shaved, bought a hearty breakfast, and, after one or
two heartening drinks, was driven grandly to the residence of the Señor
Francia, deputy of The Master for the republic of Paraguay.

       *       *       *       *       *

The servants who admitted him gazed blankly when he gave his name. A
door was hastily closed behind him. He was ushered into an elaborate
reception room and, after an agitated pause, no less than six separate
frock-coated persons appeared and pointed large revolvers at him while a
seventh searched him exhaustively. Bell submitted amusedly.

"And now," he said dryly, "I suppose the Señor Francia will receive me?"

There was more agitation. The six men remained; with their weapons
pointed at him. The seventh departed, and Bell re-dressed himself in a
leisurely fashion.

Ten minutes later a slender, dark skinned man with impeccably waxed
moustaches entered, regarded Bell with an entirely impersonal interest,
took one of the revolvers from one of the six frock-coated gentlemen,
and seated himself comfortably. He waved his hand and they filed
uneasily from the room. So far, not one word had been spoken.

       *       *       *       *       *

Bell retrieved his cigarette case and lighted up with every appearance
of ease.

"I have come," he said casually, "to request that I be sent to The
Master. I believe that he is anxious to meet me."

The dark eyes scrutinized him coldly. Then Francia smiled.

"_Pero si_," he said negligently, "he is very anxious to see you. I
suppose you know what fate awaits you?"

His smile was amiable and apparently quite friendly, but Bell shrugged.

"I suppose," he said dryly, "he wants to converse with me. I have been
his most successful opponent to date, I think."

Francia smiled again. It was curious how his smile, which at first
seemed so genuine and so friendly, became unspeakably unpleasant on its
repetition.

"Yes." Francia seemed to debate some matter of no great importance. "You
have been very annoying, Señor Bell. The Senhor Ribiera asked that you
be sent to him. It was his intention to execute you, privately. He
described a rather amusing method to me. And I must confess that you
have annoyed me, likewise. Since the Cuyaba plantation was destroyed my
subjects have been much upset. They have been frightened, and even
stubborn. Only last week"--he smiled pleasantly, and the effect was
horrible--"only last week I desired the society of a lady who is my
subject. And her husband considered that, since the _fazenda_ was
destroyed, The Master would be powerless to extend his grace before
long, in any event. So he shot his wife and himself. It annoyed me
enough to make me feel that it would be a pleasure to kill you."

       *       *       *       *       *

He raised the revolver meditatively.

"Well?" said Bell coldly.

Francia lowered the weapon and laughed.

"Oh, I shall not do it. I think The Master would be displeased. You seem
to have the type of courage he most desires in his deputies. And it may
yet be that I shall greet you as my fellow deputy or perhaps my fellow
viceroy. So I shall send you to him. I would say that you have about an
even chance of dying very unpleasantly or of being a deputy. Therefore I
offer you such courtesies as I may."

Bell puffed a cloud of smoke toward the ceiling.

"I'm about out of cigarettes," he said mildly.

"They shall be supplied. And--er--if you would desire feminine society,
I will have some of my pretty subjects...."

"No," said Bell bluntly. "I would like to speak to the Senhorina
Canalejas, though."

Francia chuckled.

"She left for Buenos Aires last night. The Senhor Ribiera sent a most
impatient message for her to be sent on at once. I regretted it, but he
had The Master's authority. I thought her charming, myself."

The skin about Bell's knuckles was white. His hands had clenched
savagely.

"In that event," he said coldly, "the only other courtesy I would ask is
that of following her as soon as possible."

Francia rose languidly. The revolver dangled by his side, but his grip
upon it was firm. He smiled at Bell with the same effect of a horrible,
ghastly geniality.

"Within the hour, Señor," he said urbanely. "With the guard I shall
place over you it is no harm, I am sure, to observe that The Master is
at his retreat in Punta Arenas. You will go there to-morrow, as I go
to-night."

He moved toward the door, and smiled again, and added pleasantly:

"The Senhorina was delivered to the Senhor Ribiera this morning."

       *       *       *       *       *

Matters moved swiftly after that. A servant brought cigarettes and a
tray of liquors--which Bell did not touch. There was the sound of
movement, the scurrying, furtive haste which seems always to imply a
desperate sort of fear. Bell waited in a terrible calmness, while rage
hammered at his temples.

Then the clattering of horses' hoofs outside. A carriage was being
brought. Soldiers came in and a man beckoned curtly. Bell stuffed his
pockets with smokes and followed languidly. He was realizing that there
was little pretense of secrecy about the power of The Master's deputy
here. Police and soldiers.... But Paraguay, of all the nations of the
southern continent, has learned a certain calm realism about
governmental matters.

The man who has power is obeyed. The man who has not power is not
obeyed. Titles are of little importance, though it is the custom for the
man with the actual power eventually to assume the official rank of
authority. Since the President in Asunción was no more than a figurehead
who called anxiously upon the Señor Francia every morning for
instructions concerning the management of the nation, Francia
indifferently ignored him whenever he chose and gave orders directly.
There would be very little surprise and no disorder whatever when The
Master proclaimed Paraguay a viceroyalty of his intended empire.

       *       *       *       *       *

The carriage went smartly through the cobbled streets with a cavalry
escort all about it. An officer sat opposite Bell with his hand on his
revolver.

"I am receiving at least the honors of royalty," Bell commented coldly
to him, in Spanish.

"Señor," said the officer harshly, "this is the state in which the
deputies of The Master were escorted."

He watched Bell heavily, but with the desperate intentness of a man who
knows no excuses will be received if his prisoner escapes.

Out of the town to a flying field, where a multi-engined plane was
warming up. It was one of the ships that had been at The Master's
_fazenda_ of Cuyaba, one of the ships that had fled from the burning
plantation. Bell was ushered into it with a ceremonious suspicion.
Almost immediately he was handcuffed to his seat. Two men took their
place behind him. The big ship rolled forward, lifted, steadied, and
after a single circling set out to the southeast for Buenos Aires.

       *       *       *       *       *

The whole performance had been run off with the smoothly oiled
precision of an iron discipline exercised upon men in the grip of deadly
fear.

"One man, at least," reflected Bell grimly, "has some qualities that fit
him for his job."

And then, for hour after hour, the big ship went steadily southeast. It
flew over Paraguayan territory for two hours, soaring high over the Lago
Ypoa and on over the swampy country that extends to the Argentine
border. It ignored that border and all customs formalities. It went on,
through long hours of flight, while mountains rose before it. It rose
over those mountains and passed over the first railroad line--the first
real sign of civilization since leaving Asunción--at Mercedes, and
reached the Uruguay river where the Mirinjay joins it. It went roaring
on down above the valley of the Rio Uruguay for long and tedious hours
more. At about noon, lunch was produced. The two men who guarded Bell
ate. Then, with drawn revolvers, they unlocked his handcuffs and offered
him food.

       *       *       *       *       *

He ate, of exactly those foods he had seen them eat. He submitted
indifferently to the re-application of his fetters. He had reached a
state which was curiously emotionless. If Paula had been turned over to
Ribiera that morning, Paula was dead. And just as there is a state of
grief which stuns the mind past the realization of its loss, so there is
a condition of hatred which leads to an enormous calmness and an
unnatural absence of any tremor. Bell had reached that state. The
instinct of self-preservation had gone lax. Where a man normally thinks
first, if unconsciously, of the protection of his body from injury or
pain, Bell had come to think first, and with the same terrible clarity,
of the accomplishment of revenge.

He would accept The Master's terms, if The Master offered them. He would
become The Master's subject, accepting the poison of madness without a
qualm. He would act and speak and think as a subject of The Master,
until his opportunity came. And then....

His absolute calmness would have deceived most men. It may have deceived
his guards. Time passed. The Rio de la Plata spread out widely below the
roaring multi-engined plane and the vast expanse of buildings which is
Buenos Aires appeared far ahead in the gathering dusk. Little twinkling
lights blinked into being upon the water and the earth far away. Then
one of the two guards touched Bell on the shoulder.

"Señor," he said sharply above the motors' muffled roar, "we shall land.
A car will draw up beside the plane. There will be no customs
inspection. That has been arranged for. You can have no hope of escape.
I ask you if you will go quietly into the car?"

"Why not?" asked Bell evenly. "I went to Señor Francia of my own
accord."

       *       *       *       *       *

The guard leaned back. The city of Buenos Aires spread out below them.
The tumbled, congested old business quarter glittered in all its
offices, and the broad Avenida de Mayo cut its way as a straight slash
of glittering light through the section of the city to eastward. By
contrast, from above, the far-flung suburbs seemed dark and somber.

The big plane roared above the city, settling slowly; banked steeply and
circled upon its farther side, and dipped down toward what seemed an
absurdly small area, which sprang into a pinkish glow on their descent.
That area spread but as the descent continued, though, and was a wide
and level field when the ship flattened out and checked and lumbered to
a stop.

A glistening black car came swiftly, humming into place alongside almost
before the clumsy aircraft ceased to roll. Its door opened. Two men got
out and waited. The hangars were quite two hundred yards away, and Bell
saw the glitter of weapons held inconspicuously but quite ready.

He stepped out of the cabin of the plane with a revolver muzzle pressing
into his spine. Other revolver muzzles pressed sharply into his sides as
he reached earth.

Smiling faintly, he took four steps, clambered up into the glistening
black car, and settled down comfortably into the seat. The two men who
had waited by the car followed him. The door closed, and Bell was in a
padded silence that was acutely uncomfortable for a moment. A dome light
glowed brightly, however, and he lighted nearly the last of the
cigarettes from Asunción with every appearance of composure as the car
started off with a lurch.

       *       *       *       *       *

The windows were blank. Thick, upholstered padding covered the spaces
where openings should have been, and there was only the muffled
vibration of the motor and the occasional curiously distinct noise of a
flexing spring.

"Just as a matter of curiosity," said Bell mildly, "what is the excuse
given on the flying field for this performance? Or is the entire staff
subject to The Master?"

Two revolvers were bearing steadily upon him and the two men watched him
with the unwavering attention of men whose lives depend upon their
vigilance.

"You, Señor," said one of them without expression or a smile, "are the
corpse of a prominent politician who died yesterday at his country
home."

And then for half an hour or more the car drove swiftly, and stopped,
and drove swiftly forward again as if in traffic. Then there were many
turns, and then a slow and cautious traverse of a relatively few feet.
It stopped, and then the engine vibration ceased.

"I advise you, Señor," said the same man who had spoken before, and in
the same emotionless voice, "not to have hope of escape in the moment of
alighting. We are in an enclosed court and there are two gates locked
behind us."

Bell shrugged as there was the clatter of a lock operating. The door
swung wide.

       *       *       *       *       *

He stepped down into a courtyard surrounded by nearly bare walls. It had
once been the _patio_ of a private home of some charm. Now, however, it
was bleak and empty. A few discouraged flowers grew weedily in one
corner. The glow of light in the sky overhead assured Bell that he was
in the very heart of Buenos Aires, but only the most subdued of rumbles
spoke of the activity and the traffic of the city going on without.

"This way," said the man with the expressionless voice.

The other man followed. The chauffeur of the car stood aside as if some
formality required him neither to start the motor or return to his seat
until Bell was clear of the courtyard.

Through a heavy timber door. Along a passageway with the odor of
neglect. Up stairs which once had been impressive and ornamental. Into a
room without windows.

"You will have an interview with the Señorita Canalejas in five
minutes," said the emotionless voice.

The door closed, while Bell found every separate muscle in his body draw
taut. And while his brain at first was dazed with incredulous relief,
then it went dark with a new and ghastly terror.

"They know _yagué_," he heard himself saying coldly, "which makes any
person obey any command. They may know other and more hellish ones yet."

       *       *       *       *       *

He fought for self control, which meant the ability to conceal
absolutely any form of shock that might await him. That one was in store
he was certain. He paced grimly the length of the room and back
again....

Something on the carpet caught his eye. A bit of string. He stared at it
incredulously. The end was tied into a curious and an individual knot,
which looked like it might be the pastime of a sailor, and which looked
like it ought to be fairly easy to tie. But it was one of those knots
which wandering men sometimes tie absent mindedly in the presence of
stirring events. It was the recognition-knot of the Trade, one of those
signs by which men may know each other in strange and peculiar
situations. And there were many other knots tied along the trailing
length of the string. It seemed as if some nervous and distraught
prisoner in this room might have toyed abstractedly with a bit of cord.

Only, Bell drew it through his fingers. Double knot, single knot, double
knot.... They spelled out letters in the entirely simple Morse code of
the telegrapher, if one noticed.

"RBRA GN ON PLA HRE ST TGT J."

Your old-time telegrapher uses many abbreviations. Your short-wave fan
uses more. Mostly they are made by a simple omission of vowels in normal
English words. And when the recognition sign at the beginning was
considered, the apparently cryptic letters leaped into meaning.

"RiBeRA GoNe ON PauLA HeRe SiT TiGhT Jamison."

When the door opened again and a terribly pale Paula was ushered in,
Bell gave no sign of surprise. He simply took her in his arms and kissed
her, holding her very, very close.


CHAPTER XIV

Paula remained in the room with Bell for perhaps twenty minutes, and
Bell had the feeling of eyes upon them and of ears listening to their
every word. In their first embrace, in fact, he murmured a warning in
her ear and she gasped a little whispered word of comprehension. But it
was at least a relief to be sure that she was alive and yet unharmed.
Francia had been in error when he told Bell of Paula's delivery to the
Brazilian to be enslaved or killed as Ribiera found most amusing. Or
perhaps, of course, Francia had merely wanted to cause Bell all possible
discomfort.

It was clear, however, blessedly clear and evident, that Paula's pallor
was due to nothing more than terror--a terror which was now redoubled
because Bell was in The Master's toils with her. Forgetting his warning,
she whispered to him desperately that he must try to escape, somehow,
before The Master's poison was administered to him. Outside, he might do
something to release her. Here, a prisoner, he was helpless.

Bell soothed her, not daring either to confess the plan he had formed of
a feigned submission in order to wreak revenge, or to offer
encouragement because of the message knotted in the piece of string by
Jamison. And because of that caution she came to look at him with a
queer doubt, and presently with a terrible quiet grief.

"Charles--you--you have been poisoned like the rest?"

       *       *       *       *       *

The feeling of watching eyes and listening ears was strong. Bell had a
part to play, and the necessity for playing that part was the greater
because now he was forced to hope. He hesitated, torn between the need
to play his rôle for the invisible eavesdroppers and the desire to spare
Paula.

Her hand closed convulsively upon his.

"V-very well, Charles," she said quietly, though her lips quivered.
"If--if you are going to serve The Master, I--I will serve him too, if
he will let me stay always near you. But if he--will not, then I can
always--die...."

Bell groaned. And the door opened silently, and there were men standing
without. An emotionless voice said:

"Señorita, the Señor Ortiz will interview the Señor Bell."

"I'm coming," said Paula quietly.

She went, walking steadily. Two men detached themselves from the group
about the door and followed her. The others waited for Bell. And Bell
clenched his hands and squared his shoulders and marched grimly with
them.

       *       *       *       *       *

Again long passages, descending to what must have been a good deal below
the surface of the earth. And then a massive door was opened, and light
shone through, and Bell found himself standing on a rug of the thickest
possible pile in a room of quite barbaric luxury, and facing a desk from
which a young man was rising to greet him. This young man was no older
than Bell himself, and he greeted Bell in a manner in which mockery was
entirely absent, but in which defiance was peculiarly strong. A bulky,
round shouldered figure wrote laboriously at a smaller desk to one side.

"Señor Bell," said the young man bitterly, "I do not ask you to shake
hands with me. I am Julio Ortiz, the son of the man you befriended upon
the steamer _Almirante Gomez_. I am also, by the command of The Master,
your jailer. Will you be seated?"

Bell's eyes flickered. The older Ortiz had died by his own hand in the
first stages of the murder madness The Master's poison produced. He had
died gladly and, in Bell's view, very gallantly. And yet his son.... But
of course The Master's deputies made a point of enslaving whole families
when it was at all possible. It gave a stronger hold upon each member.

"I beg of you," said young Ortiz bitterly, "to accept my invitation. I
wish to offer you a much qualified friendship, which I expect you to
refuse."

Bell sat down and crossed his knees. He lit a cigarette thoughtfully,
thinking swiftly.

"I remember, and admired, your father," he said slowly. "I think that
any man who died as bravely as he did is to be envied."

       *       *       *       *       *

The younger Ortiz had reseated himself as Bell sat down, and now he
fingered nervously, wretchedly, the objects on his desk. A penholder
broke between his fingers and he flung it irritably into the
wastebasket.

"You understand," he said harshly, "the obligations upon me. I am the
subject of The Master. You will realize that if you desire to escape, I
cannot permit it. But you did my father a very great kindness. Much of
it I was able to discover from persons on the boat. More, from the
wireless operator who is also the subject of The Master. You were not
acting, Señor, as a secret service operative in your attempt to help my
father. You bore yourself as a very honorable gentleman. I wish to thank
you."

"I imagine," said Bell dryly, "that anyone would have done what I did."

He seemed to be quite at ease, but he was very tense indeed. The bulky,
round shouldered figure at the other desk was writing busily with a very
scratchy pen. It was an abominable pen. Its sputtering was loud enough
to be noticeable under any circumstances, but Bell was unusually alert,
just now, and suddenly he added still more drily:

"Helping a man in trouble is quite natural. One always gets it back.
It's a sort of dealing with the future in which there is a profit on
every trade."

He put the slightest emphasis on the last word and waited, looking at
young Ortiz, but listening with all his soul to the scratching of the
pen. And that scratching sound ceased abruptly. The pen seemed to write
smoothly all of an instant. Bell drew a deep breath of satisfaction. In
the Trade, when in doubt, one should use the word "Trade" in one's first
remark to the other man. Then the other man will ask your trade, and you
reply impossibly. It is then up to the other man to speak frankly,
first. But circumstances alter even recognition-signs.

Ortiz had not noticed any by-play, of course. It would have been rather
extraordinary if he had. A pen that scratches so that the sound is
Morse code for "Bell, play up. J." is just unlikely enough to avoid all
notice.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ortiz drummed upon the desk. "Now, Señor, what can I do that will serve
you? I cannot release you. You know that. I am not the deputy here.
There has been a set-back to The Master's plans and all the deputies are
called to his retreat to receive instructions and to discuss. I have
merely been ordered to carry out the deputy's routine labors until he
returns. However, I will be obeyed in any matter. I can, and will, do
anything that will make you more comfortable or will amuse you, from a
change in your accommodations to providing you with companions. You
observe," he added with exquisite bitterness, "that the limit of my
capacity to prove my friendship is to offer my services as a pander."

Bell gazed at the tip of his cigarette, letting his eyes wander about
the room for an instant, and permitting them to rest for the fraction of
a second upon the round shouldered, writing form by the side wall.

"I am sufficiently amused," he said mildly. "I asked to be sent to The
Master. He intends to make me an offer, I understand. Or he did. He may
have changed his mind. But I am curious. Your father told me a certain
thing that seemed to indicate he did not enjoy the service of The
Master. Your tone is quite loyal, but unhappy. Why do you serve him?
Aside, of course, from the fact of having been poisoned by his deputy."

       *       *       *       *       *

Internally, Bell was damning Jamison feverishly. If he was to play up to
Ortiz, why didn't Jamison give him some sign of how he was to do it?
Some tip....

"Herr Wiedkind," said Ortiz wearily, "perhaps you can explain."

The round shouldered figure swung about and bowed profoundly to Bell.

"Der Señor Ortiz," he said gutturally, and in a sepulchral profundity,
"he does not understand himself. I haff nefer said it before. But he
serfs Der Master because he despairs, andt he will cease to serf Der
Master when he hopes. And I--I serf Der Master because I hope, andt I
will cease to serf him when I despair."

Ortiz looked curiously and almost suspiciously at the Germanic figure
which regarded him soberly through thick spectacles.

"It is not customary, Herr Wiedkind," he said slowly, "to speak of
ceasing to serve The Master."

"Idt is not customary to speak of many necessary things," said the round
shouldered figure dryly. "Of our religions, for example. Of der women we
lofe. Of our gonsciences. Of various necessary biological functions. But
in der presence of der young man who is der enemy of Der Master we can
speak freely, you and I who serf him. We know that maybe der deputies
serf because they enjoy it. But der subjects? Dey serf because dey fear.
Andt fear is intolerable. A man who is afraid is in an unstable
gondition. Sooner or later he is going to stop fearing because he gets
used to it--when Der Master will haff no more hold on him--or else he is
going to stop fearing because he will kill himself."

       *       *       *       *       *

To an outsider the spectacle of the three men in their talk would have
been very odd indeed. Two men who served The Master, and one who had
been his only annoying opponent, talking of the service of The Master
quite amicably and without marked disagreement.

Ortiz stirred and drummed nervously on the desk. The round shouldered
figure put the tips of its fingers together.

"How did you know," demanded Ortiz suddenly, "that I serve because I
despair?"

Bell watched keenly. He began to see where the talk was trending, and
waited alertly for the moment for him to speak. This was a battlefield,
this too luxurious room in which young Ortiz seemed an alien. Rhetoric
was the weapon which now would serve the best.

"Let us talk frankly," said the placid German voice. "You andt I, Señor
Ortiz, haff worked together. You are not a defil like most of the
deputies, and I do not regret hafing been sent here to help you. And I
am not a scoundtrel like most of those who help the deputies, so you
haff liked me a little. Let us talk frankly. I was trapped. I am a
capable segretary. I speak seferal languages. I haff no particular
ambitions or any loyalties. I am useful. So I was trapped. But you,
Señor Ortiz, you are different."

Ortiz suddenly smiled bitterly.

"It is a saying in Brazil, if I recall the words, '_A cauda do demonio e
de rendas._' 'The devil's tail is made of lace.' That is the story."

Bell said quietly:

"No."

Ortiz stared at him. He was very pale. And suddenly he laughed without
any amusement whatever.

"True," said Ortiz. He smiled in the same bitterness. "I had forgotten.
I am a slave, and the Herr Wiedkind is a slave, and you, Señor Bell, are
the enemy of our master. But I had forgotten that we are gentlemen. In
the service of The Master one does forget that there are gentlemen."

       *       *       *       *       *

He laughed again and lighted a cigarette with hands that shook a little.

"I loved a girl," he said in a cynical amusement. "It is peculiar that
one should love any woman, _señores_--or do you, Señor Bell, find it
natural? I loved this girl. It pleased my father. She was of a family
fully equal to my own: their wealth, their position, their traditions
were quite equal, and it was a most suitable match. Most remarkable of
all, I loved her as one commonly loves only when no such considerations
exist. It is amusing to me now, to think how deeply, and how truly, and
how terribly I loved her...."

Young Ortiz's pallor deepened as he smiled at them. His eyes, so dark as
to be almost black, looked at them from a smiling mask of whiteness.

"There was no flaw anywhere. A romance of the most romantic, my father
very happy, her family most satisfied and pleased, and I--I walked upon
air. And then my father suddenly departed for the United States, quite
without warning. He left a memorandum for me, saying that it was a
matter of government, a secret matter. He would explain upon his return.
I did not worry. I haunted the house of my fiancée. The habits of her
family are of the most liberal. I saw her daily, almost hourly, and my
infatuation grew. And suddenly I grew irritable and saw red spots before
my eyes....

"Her father took me to task about my nervousness. He led me kindly to a
man of high position, who poured out for me a little potion.... And
within an hour all my terrible unease had vanished. And then they told
me of The Master, of the poison I had been given in the house of my
fiancée herself. They informed me that if I served The Master I would be
provided with the antidote which would keep me sane. I raged.... And
then the father of my fiancée told me that he and all his family served
The Master. That the girl I loved, herself, owed him allegiance. And
while I would possibly have defied them and death itself, the thought of
that girl not daring to wed me because of the poison in her veins.... I
saw, then, that she was in terror. I imagined the two of us comforting
each other beneath the shadow of the most horrible of fates...."

       *       *       *       *       *

Ortiz was silent for what seemed to be a long time, smiling mirthlessly
at nothing. When his lips parted, it was to laugh, a horribly discordant
laughter.

"I agreed," he said in ghastly amusement. "For the sake of my loved
one, I agreed to serve The Master that I might comfort her. And plans
for our wedding, which had been often and inexplicably delayed, were set
in train at once. And the deputy of The Master entertained me often. I
plied him with drink, striving to learn all that I could, hoping against
hope that there would be some way of befooling him and securing the
antidote without the poison.... And at last, when very drunken, he
laughed at me for my intention of marriage. He advised me tipsily to
serve The Master zealously and receive promotion in his service. Then,
he told me amusedly, I would not care for marriage. My fiancée would be
at my disposal without such formalities. In fact--while I stood rigid
with horror--he sent a command for her to attend him immediately. He
commanded me to go to an apartment in his dwelling. And soon--within
minutes, it seemed--the girl I loved came there to me...."

Bell did not move. This was no moment to interrupt. Ortiz's fixed and
cynical smile wavered and vanished. His voice was harsh.

"She was at my disposal, as an act of drunken friendship by the deputy
of The Master. She confessed to me, weeping, that she had been at the
disposal of the deputy himself. Of any other person he cared to divert
or amuse.... Oh! _Dios!_"

Ortiz stopped short and said, in forced calmness:

"That also was the night that my father died."

       *       *       *       *       *

Silence fell. Bell sat very still. The Teutonic figure spoke quietly
after the clock had ticked for what seemed an interminable period.

"You didt know, then, that your father's death was arranged?"

Ortiz turned stiffly to look at him.

"Here," said the placid voice, quaintly sympathetic. "Look at these."

A hand extended a thick envelope. Ortiz took it, staring with wide,
distended eyes. The round shouldered figure stood up and seemed to
shake itself. The stoop of its shoulders straightened out. One of the
seemingly pudgy hands reached up and removed the thick spectacles. A
bushy gray eyebrow peeled off. A straggly beard was removed. The other
eyebrow.... Jamison nodded briefly to Bell, and turned to watch Ortiz.

And Ortiz was reading the contents of the envelope. His hands began to
shake violently. He rested them on the desk-top so that he could
continue to read. When he looked up his eyes were flaming.

"The real Herr Wiedkind," said Jamison dryly, "came up from Punta Arenas
with special instructions from The Master. You have talents, Señor
Ortiz, which The Master wished to use. Also you have considerable wealth
and the prestige of an honorable family. But you were afflicted with
ideas of honor and decency, which are disadvantageous in deputies of The
Master. The real Herr Wiedkind had remarkable gifts in eradicating those
ideas."

       *       *       *       *       *

Jamison sat down and crossed his knees carefully.

"I looked you up because I knew The Master had killed your father," he
added mildly, "and I thought you'd either be hunting The Master or he'd
be hunting you. My name's Jamison. I killed the real Wiedkind and took
his identification papers. He was a singularly unpleasant beast. His
idea of pleasure made him seem a fatherly sort of person, very much like
my make-up. He was constantly petting children, and appeared very
benign. I am very, very glad that I killed him."

Ortiz tore at his collar, suddenly. He seemed to be choking.

"This--this says.... It is The Master's handwriting! I know it! And it
says--"

"It says," Jamison observed calmly, "that since your father killed the
previous deputy in an attempt to save you from The Master's poison, that
you are to be prepared for the work your father had been assigned. Herr
Wiedkind is given special orders about your--ah--moral education. In
passing, I might say that your father was sent to the United States
because it was known he'd killed the previous deputy. He told Bell he'd
done that killing. And he was allowed to grow horribly nervous on his
return. He was permitted to see the red spots, because he was
officially--even as far as you were concerned--to commit suicide.

"It was intended that his nervousness was to be noticed. And a plane
tried to deliver a message to him. Your father thought the parcel
contained the antidote to the poison that was driving him mad. Actually,
it was very conventional prussic acid. Your father would have drunk it
and dropped dead, a suicide, after a conspicuous period of nervousness
and worry."

       *       *       *       *       *

Bell felt his cigarette burning his fingers. He had sat rigid until the
thing burned short. He crushed out the coal, looking at Ortiz.

And Ortiz seemed to gasp for breath. But with an almost superhuman
effort he calmed himself outwardly.

"I--think," he said with some difficulty, "that I should thank you. I
do. But I do not think that you told me all of this without some motive.
I abandon the service of The Master. But what is it that you wish me to
do? You know, of course, that I can order both of you killed...."

Bell put down the stub of his cigarette very carefully.

"The only thing you can do," he said quietly, "is to die."

"True," said Ortiz with a ghastly smile. "But I would like my death to
perform some service. The Master has no enemies save you two, and those
of us who die on becoming his enemies. I would like, in dying, to do him
some harm."

"I will promise," said Jamison grimly, "to see that The Master dies
himself if you will have Bell and myself put in a plane with fuel to
Punta Arenas and a reasonable supply of weapons. I include the Señorita
Canalejas as a matter of course."

       *       *       *       *       *

Ortiz looked from one to the other. And suddenly he smiled once more. It
was queer, that smile. It was not quite mirthless.

"You were right, just now," he observed calmly, "when as the Herr
Wiedkind you said that I would quit the service of The Master when I
ceased to despair. I begin to have hopes. You two men have done the
impossible. You have fought The Master, you have learned many of his
secrets, and you have corrupted a man to treason when treason means
suicide. Perhaps, Señores, you will continue to achieve the impossible,
and assassinate The Master."

He stood up, and though deathly pale continued to smile.

"I suggest, Señor, that you resume your complexion. And you, Señor Bell,
you will be returned to your confinement. I will make the necessarily
elaborate arrangements for my death."

Bell rose. He liked this young man. He said quietly:

"You said just now you wouldn't ask me to shake hands. May I ask
you?..." He added almost apologetically as Ortiz's fingers closed upon
his: "You see, when your father died I thought that I would be very glad
if I felt that I would die as well. But I think"--he smiled wryly--"I
think I'll have two examples to think of when my time comes."

       *       *       *       *       *

In the morning a bulky, round shouldered figure entered the room in
which Bell was confined.

"You will follow me," said a harsh voice.

Bell shrugged. He was marched down long passageways and many steps. He
came out into the courtyard, where the glistening black car with the
blank windows waited. At an imperious gesture, he got in and sat down
with every appearance of composure, as of a man resignedly submitting
to force he cannot resist. The thick spectacles of the Herr Wiedkind
regarded him with a gogglelike effect. There was a long pause. Then the
sound of footsteps. Paula appeared, deathly pale. She was ushered into
the vehicle--and only Bell's swift gesture of a finger to his lips
checked her cry of relief.

Voices outside. The guttural Spanish of the Herr Wiedkind. Other,
emotionless voices replying. The Herr Wiedkind climbed heavily into the
car and sat down, producing a huge revolver which bore steadily upon
Bell. The door closed, and he made a swift gesture of caution.

"Idt may be," said the Germanic voice harshly, "that you and the young
ladty haff much to say to each other. But idt can wait. And I warn you,
_mein Herr_, that at the first movement I shall fire."

Bell relaxed. There was the purring of the motor. The car moved off.
Obviously there was some microphonic attachment inside the tonneau which
carried every word within the locked vehicle to the ears of the two men
upon the chauffeur's seat. An excellent idea for protection against
treachery. Bell smiled, and moved so that his lips were a bare half-inch
from Paula's ears.

"Try to weep, loudly," he said in the faintest of whispers. "This man is
a friend."

       *       *       *       *       *

But Paula could only stare at the bulky figure sitting opposite until he
suddenly removed the spectacles, and smiled dryly, and then reached in
his pockets and handed Bell two automatic pistols, and extended a tiny
but very wicked weapon to Paula. He motioned to her to conceal it.

Jamison--moving to make the minimum of noise--handed Bell a sheet of
stiff cardboard. It passed into Bell's fingers without a rustle. He
showed it silently to Paula.

     We were overheard last night by someone. We don't know who or how
     much he heard. Dictaphone in the room we talked in. Can't find out
     who it was or what action he's taken. We may be riding into a trap
     now. Ortiz has disappeared. He may be dead. We can only wait and
     see.

The car was moving as if in city traffic, a swift dash forward and a
sudden stop, and then another swift dash. But the walls within were
padded so that no sound came from without save the faint vibration of
the motor and now and then the distinct flexing of a spring. Then the
car turned a corner. It went more rapidly. It turned another corner. And
another....

In the light of the bright dome light, Bell saw beads of sweat coming
out on Jamison's face. He did not dare to speak, but be formed words
with his lips.

"He's turning wrong! This isn't the way to the field!"

Bell's jaws clenched. He took out his two automatics and looked at them
carefully. And then, much too short a time from the departure for the
flying field to have been reached, the car checked. It went over rough
cobblestones, and Bell himself knew well that there had been no cobbled
roadway between the flying field and his prison. And then the car went
up a sort of ramp, a fairly steep incline which by the feel of the motor
was taken in low, and on for a short distance more. Then the car stopped
and the motor was cut off.

Keys rattled in the lock outside. The door opened. The blunt barrel of
an automatic pistol peered in.

(_To be concluded in the next issue._)

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: _The Readers' Corner_

_A Meeting Place for Readers of_ Astounding Stories]


_About Reprints_

From time to time the Editors of Astounding Stories receive letters,
like the two that follow, in which Readers beg us to run reprints, and
now we feel it is time to call attention to the very good reasons why we
must refuse.

We admit, right off, that some splendid Science Fiction stories have
been published in the past--but are those now being printed in any way
inferior to them? Aren't even _better_ ones being written to-day?--since
a whole civilization now stirs with active interest in science?--since
three or five times as many writers are now supplying us with stories to
choose from?--since science and scientific theory have reached so
immeasurably much farther into the Realm of the Unknown Possible?

The answer is an emphatic _Yes_. We all know it.

"A Trip to the Moon"--for instance--was a good story, but shall we keep
reprinting it to-day, when recent revolutionary theories of space-time
scream to modern authors for Science-Fiction treatment? In the last ten
years the whole aspect, the whole future of science has broadened; we
have sensed an infinity beyond infinity; and who would be so un-modern
as to cling to the oft-told stories of the older science and neglect the
thrilling reaches of the new!

_The Saturday Evening Post_--again, for instance--has been publishing
good stories for years, but who would have them reprint the old ones
instead of keep giving us good new ones?

Would it be fair to 99% of our Readers to force on them reprint novels
they have already read, or had a chance to read, to favor the 1% who
have missed them? Of course it wouldn't, and all of our Readers in that
1% will gladly admit it.

And how about our authors? Contrary to the old-fashioned opinion,
authors must eat--and how will they eat, and lead respectable lives, and
keep out of jail, if we keep reprinting their _old_ stories and turning
down their _new_ ones? After all, eating is very important; those who
wouldn't simply refrain from eating would have to get jobs as
messengers, and errand boys, etc.--with the result that much of our
fascinating modern Science Fiction would never be written!

It would be much cheaper for us to buy once-used material. It would
greatly reduce our task of carefully reading every story that comes to
our office, in hopes to finding a fine, new story, or a potentially good
author. But it would be very unwise, and very unfair, as you have seen.

Many more reasons could be given, but these few are the more important
ones back of our policy of avoiding reprints. Enough said!--_The
Editor._


_Wants Reprints_

     Dear Editor:

     In you April issue, in answer to a correspondent, you stated that
     you were avoiding reprints. Now, that's too bad. Some of the best
     Science-Fiction tales are reprints. Witness:

     "The Blind Spot," by Homer Eon Flint and Austin Hall; "The War In
     The Air," by H. G. Wells; "The Purple Sapphire," by John Taine;
     "The Conquest of Mars," by Garrett P. Serviss; "Darkness and Dawn,"
     and "Into the Great Oblivion," and "The After-Glow," and "The
     Air-Trust"--all by George Allan England.

     You are proud--and rightfully so--of your great author, Ray
     Cummings. Why not give us several stories which helped to build his
     glory? Here are several:

     "Tarranto the Conqueror," "The Man on the Meteor," "The Girl in the
     Golden Atom," "The Man Who Mastered Time," "The Fire People."

     Guess I'll sign off now and give the other fellows a
     chance.--Isidore Manyon, 544 Myrtle Ave., Brooklyn, N. Y.


_What Think You All?_

     Dear Editor:

     There is one question I would like to ask. Perhaps some of the
     other readers of Astounding Stories can answer it.

     Could a person remember his own death in a former incarnation?
     Some say "no," and some say "yes." If it is true that you can't,
     the whole fabric of the wonderful story, one of the most beautiful,
     if not the most beautiful I have ever read, "The Moon Maid," by
     Edgar Rice Burroughs, is built on a fallacy. You see, I am a
     believer in reincarnation and I would surely like to correspond
     with others who are also! Would not that also disprove the whole
     theory of reincarnation if it is true? I think it is not true, but
     I may be wrong. Is reincarnation a proven theory, or unproven?

     You say you are going to avoid reprints. Now that is a mistake. Of
     course, some you might avoid, such as those of Wells, Verne, etc.,
     though I would like you to publish Wells' short stories. There are
     many that have not been published in any magazine for a long time,
     or at all.

     But please, oh please, do publish A. Merritt's "Through the Dragon
     Glass," and give it a cover illustration. It is the only one, I
     think, that I want particularly, but I do want it! If you publish
     any of H. G. Wells' works, give them cover illustrations, too.

     And publish a lot by Merritt, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and authors
     like that; you haven't as yet printed a story of the type that A.
     Merritt writes, and that is one thing this magazine needs, and lots
     of them, as they are the cream of Science Fiction, and the more of
     them you have, the better! They are my favorites, and next come
     those that Edgar Rice Burroughs writes; also John Taine.--Worth K.
     Bryant, 406 No. Third St., Yakima, Wash.


_The S: Lynn Rhorer Society_

     Dear Editor:

     This is to inform you that we have organized a society known as the
     S. Lynn Rhorer Society of Greater Atlanta, a branch of the Science
     Correspondence Club.

     This Society's purpose is to first assist the Science
     Correspondence Club and its affiliated branches in the promotion of
     science and Scientific Fiction. Second, to create a greater
     interest in science and Science Fiction among the laymen who are
     already interested, and to create an interest among those who are
     not at the present interested, and to hold their interest.

     At the present time we have in our library over three hundred
     scientific books; a large collection of ores and rocks from
     different states and countries, classified; a large collection of
     fossilized bones; a three-inch refracting telescope, and a ten-inch
     one in the course of construction; and a large club-house.

     Any information regarding this society can be obtained by
     addressing R. A. Marks, Jr., 893 York Ave., S. W., Atlanta,
     Georgia, or the undersigned.--F. B. Eason, 400 Jefferson Avenue, E.
     Point, Ga.


_Unused to the Smaller Size_

     Dear Editor:

     I have but one comment on your magazine and that is: Having
     complete sets of other Science Fiction magazines I would also like
     to save Astounding Stories, but in its present size and condition
     it looks like trash. Why not have a ballot to what size the
     magazine shall be? By having the price raised to 25 cents it can
     cover the extra expense. I would surely like to add another
     magazine to my collection. Am hereby hoping you will do this for
     the sake of Science Fiction lovers all over the country.--Sidney
     Mack, 1676 59th Street, Brooklyn, New York.


_"The Scienceers" Broadcasts_

     Dear Editor:

     For the benefit of the readers of Astounding Stories who live in
     New York, a club known as The Scienceers has recently been formed.
     Its purpose is to promote informal fellowship among Science Fiction
     fans and to foster discussion of modern developments, theories and
     projects in the realm of science.

     The organization is open to all persons over sixteen years of age
     who are interested in Science Fiction and its relation to the
     various fields of present day science. Since regular weekly
     meetings are held, the membership is necessarily restricted to
     residents of New York City and vicinity.

     A cordial invitation to join the Scienceers is hereby extended to
     all interested. Further information may be obtained by writing to
     the undersigned.--Allen Glasser, 961 Forest Avenue, New York, N. Y.


"_Congratulations for Both_"

     Dear Editor:

     Congratulations for us both. Your company for publishing this
     magazine, myself for being able to buy same.

     Have just finished reading the second issue. It is very good. I
     read every story in both issues. You bet I am going to be a steady
     reader from now on. I like this type of story very much--in fact,
     read two other magazines that publish stories of this type every
     month. I note with great pleasure that in the March issue you are
     starting to publish the first quarter of an interplanetary story by
     Ray Cummings. This is, indeed, good news. I have had the pleasure
     of reading five of his novels this past year and I greatly enjoyed
     all of them. Along with Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ray Cummings is an
     "ace high" author on these "unpredictable-future" stories.

     Some four or fives years ago I read in a magazine a portion of two
     interplanetary stories by Ray Cummings. Now to the point, I wonder
     if it is possible for you to obtain Mr. Cummings' permission to
     have your company publish these two stories? Their names I believe
     are "Tarranto the Conquerer" and "Into the Fourth Dimension." I,
     for one, would greatly appreciate this favor. Please do your best
     to try and publish these novels this coming year. Thanks.--Wm. L.
     Ebelan, 3906 Springdale Avenue, Baltimore, Md.


_Likes the Small Size_

     Dear Editor:

     I received a pleasant surprise when I first bought your wonderful
     magazine. I started in with the second issue, but I wish I could
     get the first.

     All the stories are good. The best of them, I think, is Ray
     Cummings' story, "Brigands of the Moon." I have read the first
     three parts and am eagerly waiting for the last.

     And now for something about the make-up of the magazine. I like the
     small size, and holding the magazine together with two staples is
     good.

     The cover designs are very good, but the pictures inside could be
     improved on. H. Wesso is a good artist.

     How about publishing the magazine twice a month?--Charles Barrett,
     135 Spring St., Woodbury, N. J.


_Thanks, Anyhow!_

     Dear Editor:

     I hope that you are not going to have a blue cover every month. I
     would like to see a different colored background every month. The
     cover on the March issue should have been black because space is
     black.

     I wish that you would have a full-page picture for each story.
     Wesso is the best artist you have. The others haven't enough
     imagination.

     I gave "Brigands of the Moon" by Ray Cummings first place in the
     March issue of Astounding Stories. It promises to be his best story
     since "Tarrano the Conqueror."

     The places of other stories are as follows: 2. "Vandals of the
     Stars"; 3. "The Soul Master"; 4. "Cold Light"; 5. "From the Ocean's
     Depths."

     If you would enlarge Astounding Stories to 11-3/4 by 8-1/2 it would
     be seen more easily on the newsstands and its circulation would
     increase. Please publish it on the first of the month instead of
     the first Thursday.--Jack Darrow, 4225 N. Spaulding Avenue,
     Chicago, Ill.


"_The Readers' Corner_"

All Readers are extended a sincere and cordial invitation to "come over
in 'The Readers' Corner'" and join in our monthly discussion of stories,
authors, scientific principles and possibilities--everything that's of
common interest in connection with our Astounding Stories.

Although from time to time the Editor may make a comment or so, this is
a department primarily for _Readers_, and we want you to make full use
of it. Likes, dislikes, criticisms, explanations, roses, brickbats,
suggestions--everything's welcome here: so "come over in 'The Readers'
Corner'" and discuss it with all of us!

                                                        --_The Editor._





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