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Title: Astounding Stories of Super-Science September 1930
Author: Various
Language: English
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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.

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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. 3              CONTENTS      SEPTEMBER, 1930

  COVER DESIGN              H. W. WESSOLOWSKI
  _Painted in Water-Colors from a Scene in "Marooned Under the Sea."_

  A PROBLEM IN COMMUNICATION     MILES J. BREUER, M.D.               293
  _The Delivery of His Country into the Clutches of a Merciless,
   Ultra-Modern Religion Can Be Prevented Only by Dr. Hagstrom's
   Deciphering an Extraordinary Code._

  JETTA OF THE LOWLANDS        RAY CUMMINGS                          310
  _Fantastic and Sinister Are the Lowlands into Which Philip Grant Descends
   on His Dangerous Assignment._ (Beginning a Three-Part Novel.)

  THE TERRIBLE TENTACLES, OF L-472     SEWELL PEASLEE WRIGHT         332
  _Commander John Hanson of the Special Patrol Service Records Another of
   His Thrilling Interplanetary Assignments._

  MAROONED UNDER THE SEA       PAUL ERNST                            346
  _Three Men Stick Out a Strange and Desperate Adventure Among the
   Incredible Monsters of the Dark Sea Floor._ (A Complete Novelette.)

  THE MURDER MACHINE     HUGH B. CAVE                                377
  _Four Lives Lay Helpless Before the Murder Machine, the Uncanny Device by
   Which Hypnotic Thought Waves Are Filtered Through Men's Minds to Mold
   Them Into Murdering Tools._

  THE ATTACK FROM SPACE     CAPTAIN S. P. MEEK                       390
  _From a Far World Came Monstrous Invaders Who Were All the More
   Terrifying Because Invisible._

  EARTH, THE MARAUDER     ARTHUR J. BURKS                            408
  _Martian Fire-Balls and the Terrific Moon-Cubes Wreak Tremendous
   Destruction on Helpless Earth in the Final Death Struggle of the Warring
   Worlds._ (Conclusion.)

  THE READERS' CORNER         ALL OF US                              423
  _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: I saw the famous Science Temple with its constant stream
of worshippers.]

A Problem in Communication

_By Miles J. Breuer, M.D._


PART I

_The Science Community_

(This part is related by Peter Hagstrom, Ph.D.)


"The ability to communicate ideas from one individual to another," said
a professor of sociology to his class, "is the principal distinction
between human beings and their brute forbears. The increase and
refinement of this ability to communicate is an index of the degree of
civilization of a people. The more civilized a people, the more perfect
their ability to communicate, especially under difficulties and in
emergencies."

[Sidenote: _The delivery of his country into the clutches of a
merciless, ultra-modern religion can be prevented only by Dr. Hagstrom's
deciphering an extraordinary code._]

As usual, the observation burst harmlessly over the heads of most of the
students in the class, who were preoccupied with more immediate
things--with the evening's movies and the week-end's dance. But upon two
young men in the class, it made a powerful impression. It crystallized
within them certain vague conceptions and brought them to a conscious
focus, enabling the young men to turn formless dreams into concrete
acts. That is why I take the position that the above enthusiastic words
of this sociology professor, whose very name I have forgotten, were the
prime moving influence which many years later succeeded in saving
Occidental civilization from a catastrophe which would have been worse
than death and destruction.

       *       *       *       *       *

One of these young men was myself, and the other was my lifelong friend
and chum, Carl Benda, who saved his country by solving a tremendously
difficult scientific puzzle in a simple way, by sheer reasoning power,
and without apparatus. The sociology professor struck a responsive chord
in us: for since our earliest years we had wigwagged to each other as
Boy Scouts, learned the finger alphabet of the deaf and dumb so that we
might maintain communication during school hours, strung a telegraph
wire between our two homes, admired Poe's "Gold Bug" together and
devised boyish cipher codes in which to send each other postcards when
chance separated us. But we had always felt a little foolish about what
we considered our childish hobbies, until the professor's words suddenly
roused us to the realization that we were a highly civilized pair of
youngsters.

Not only did we then and there cease feeling guilty about our secret
ciphers and our dots and dashes, but the determination was born within
us to make of communication our life's work. It turned out that both of
us actually did devote our lives to the cause of communication; but the
passing years saw us engaged in widely and curiously divergent phases of
the work. Thirty years later, I was Professor of the Psychology of
Language at Columbia University, and Benda was Maintenance Engineer of
the Bell Telephone Company of New York City; and on his knowledge and
skill depended the continuity and stability of that stupendously complex
traffic, the telephone communication of Greater New York.

       *       *       *       *       *

Since our ambitious cravings were satisfied in our everyday work, and
since now ordinarily available methods of communication sufficed our
needs, we no longer felt impelled to signal across the house-tops with
semaphores nor to devise ciphers that would defy solution. But we still
kept up our intimate friendship and our intense interest in our beloved
subject. We were just as close chums at the age of fifty as we had been
at ten, and just as thrilled at new advances in communication: at
television, at the international language, at the supposed signals from
Mars.

That was the state of affairs between us up to a year ago. At about that
time Benda resigned his position with the New York Bell Telephone
Company to accept a place as the Director of Communication in the
Science Community. This, for many reasons, was a most amazing piece of
news to myself and to anyone who knew Benda.

Of course, it was commonly known that Benda was being sought by
Universities and corporations: I know personally of several tempting
offers he had received. But the New York Bell is a wealthy corporation
and had thus far managed to hold Benda, both by the munificence of its
salary and by the attractiveness of the work it offered him. That the
Science Community would want Benda was easy to understand; but, that it
could outbid the New York Bell, was, to say the least, a surprise.

Furthermore, that a man like Benda would want to have anything at all to
do with the Science Community seemed strange enough in itself. He had
the most practical common sense--well-balanced habits of thinking and
living, supported by an intellect so clear and so keen that I knew of
none to excel it. What the Science Community was, no one knew exactly;
but that there was something abnormal, fanatical, about it, no one
doubted.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Science Community, situated in Virginia, in the foothills of the
Blue Ridge, had first been heard of many years ago, when it was already
a going concern. At the time of which I now speak, the novelty had worn
off, and no one paid any more attention to it than they do to Zion City
or the Dunkards. By this time, the Science Community was a city of a
million inhabitants, with a vast outlying area of farms and gardens. It
was modern to the highest degree in construction and operation; there
was very little manual labor there; no poverty; every person had all the
benefits of modern developments in power, transportation, and
communication, and of all other resources provided by scientific
progress.

So much, visitors and reporters were able to say.

The rumors that it was a vast socialistic organization, without private
property, with equal sharing of all privileges, were never confirmed. It
is a curious observation that it was possible, in this country of ours,
for a city to exist about which we knew so little. However, it seemed
evident from the vast number and elaboration of public buildings, the
perfection of community utilities such as transportation, streets,
lighting, and communication, from the absence of individual homes and
the housing of people in huge dormitories, that some different, less
individualistic type of social organization than ours was involved. It
was obvious that as an organization, the Science Community must also be
wealthy. If any of its individual citizens were wealthy, no one knew it.

I knew Benda as well as I knew myself, and if I was sure of anything in
my life, it was that he was not the type of man to leave a fifty
thousand dollar job and join a communist city on an equal footing with
the clerks in the stores. As it happens, I was also intimately
acquainted with John Edgewater Smith, recently Power Commissioner of New
York City and the most capable power engineer in North America, who,
following Benda by two or three months, resigned his position, and
accepted what his letter termed the place of Director of Power in the
Science Community. I was personally in a position to state that neither
of these men could be lightly persuaded into such a step, and that
neither of them would work for a small salary.

       *       *       *       *       *

Benda's first letter to me stated that he was at the Science Community
on a visit. He had heard of the place, and while at Washington on
business had taken advantage of the opportunity to drive out and see it.
Fascinated by the equipment he saw there, he had decided to stay a few
days and study it. The next letter announced his acceptance of the
position. I would give a month's salary to get a look at those letters
now; but I neglected to preserve them. I should like to see them because
I am curious as to whether they exhibit the characteristics of the
subsequent letters, some of which I now have.

As I have stated, Benda and I had been on the most intimate terms for
forty years. His letters had always been crisp and direct, and
thoroughly familiar and confidential. I do not know just how many
letters I received from him from the Science Community before I noted
the difference, but I have one from the third month of his stay there
(he wrote every two or three weeks), characterized by a verbosity that
sounded strange for him. He seemed to be writing merely to cover the
sheet, trifles such as he had never previously considered worth writing
letters about. Four pages of letter conveyed not a single idea. Yet
Benda was, if anything, a man of ideas.

There followed several months of letters like that: a lot of words,
evasion of coming to the point about anything; just conventional
letters. Benda was the last man to write a conventional letter. Yet, it
was Benda writing them: gruff little expressions of his, clear ways of
looking at even the veriest trifles, little allusion to our common past:
these things could neither have been written by anyone else, nor written
under compulsion from without. Something had changed Benda.

       *       *       *       *       *

I pondered on it a good deal, and could think of no hypothesis to
account for it. In the meanwhile, New York City lost a third technical
man to the Science Community. Donald Francisco, Commissioner of the
Water Supply, a sanitary engineer of international standing, accepted a
position in the Science Community as Water Director. I did not know
whether to laugh and compare it to the National Baseball League's
trafficking in "big names," or to hunt for some sinister danger sign in
it. But, as a result of my ponderings, I decided to visit Benda at The
Science Community.

I wrote him to that effect, and almost decided to change my mind about
the visit because of the cold evasiveness of the reply I received from
him. My first impulse on reading his indifferent, lackadaisical comment
on my proposed visit was to feel offended, and determine to let him
alone and never see him again. The average man would have done that, but
my long years of training in psychological interpretation told me that a
character and a friendship built during forty years does not change in
six months, and that there must be some other explanation for this. I
wrote him that I was coming. I found that the best way to reach the
Science Community was to take a bus out from Washington. It involved a
drive of about fifty miles northwest, through a picturesque section of
the country. The latter part of the drive took me past settlements that
looked as though they might be in about the same stage of progress as
they had been during the American Revolution. The city of my destination
was back in the hills, and very much isolated. During the last ten miles
we met no traffic at all, and I was the only passenger left in the bus.
Suddenly the vehicle stopped.

"Far as we go!" the driver shouted.

I looked about in consternation. All around were low, wild-looking
hills. The road went on ahead through a narrow pass.

"They'll pick you up in a little bit," the driver said as he turned
around and drove off, leaving me standing there with my bag, very much
astonished at it all.

       *       *       *       *       *

He was right. A small, neat-looking bus drove through the pass and
stopped for me. As I got in, the driver mechanically turned around and
drove into the hills again.

"They took up my ticket on the other bus," I said to the driver. "What
do I owe you?"

"Nothing," he said curtly. "Fill that out." He handed me a card.

An impertinent thing, that card was. Besides asking for my name,
address, nationality, vocation, and position, it requested that I state
whom I was visiting in the Science Community, the purpose of my visit,
the nature of my business, how long I intended to stay, did I have a
place to stay arranged for, and if so, where and through whom. It looked
for all the world as though they had something to conceal; Czarist
Russia couldn't beat that for keeping track of people and prying into
their business. Sign here, the card said.

It annoyed me, but I filled it out, and, by the time I was through, the
bus was out of the hills, traveling up the valley of a small river; I am
not familiar enough with northern Virginia to say which river it was.
There was much machinery and a few people in the broad fields. In the
distance ahead was a mass of chimneys and the cupolas of iron-works, but
no smoke.

There were power-line towers with high-tension insulators, and, far
ahead, the masses of huge elevators and big, square buildings. Soon I
came in sight of a veritable forest of huge windmills.

In a few moments, the huge buildings loomed up over me; the bus entered
a street of the city abruptly from the country. One moment on a country
road, the next moment among towering buildings. We sped along swiftly
through a busy metropolis, bright, airy, efficient looking. The traffic
was dense but quiet, and I was confident that most of the vehicles were
electric; for there was no noise nor gasoline odor. Nor was there any
smoke. Things looked airy, comfortable, efficient; but rather
monotonous, dull. There was a total lack of architectural interest. The
buildings were just square blocks, like neat rows of neat boxes. But, it
all moved smoothly, quietly, with wonderful efficiency.

       *       *       *       *       *

My first thought was to look closely at the people who swarmed the
streets of this strange city. Their faces were solemn, and their clothes
were solemn. All seemed intently busy, going somewhere, or doing
something; there was no standing about, no idle sauntering. And look
whichever way I might, everywhere there was the same blue serge, on men
and women alike, in all directions, as far as I could see.

The bus stopped before a neat, square building of rather smaller size,
and the next thing I knew, Benda was running down the steps to meet me.
He was his old gruff, enthusiastic self.

"Glad to see you, Hagstrom, old socks!" he shouted, and gripped my hand
with two of his. "I've arranged for a room for you, and we'll have a
good old visit, and I'll show you around this town."

I looked at him closely. He looked healthy and well cared-for, all
except for a couple of new lines of worry on his face. Undoubtedly that
worn look meant some sort of trouble.


PART II

_The New Religion_

(This part is interpolated by the author into Dr. Hagstrom's narrative.)

Every great religion has as its psychological reason for existence the
mission of compensating for some crying, unsatisfied human need.
Christianity spread and grew among people who were, at the time,
persecuted subjects or slaves of Rome; and it flourished through the
Middle Ages at a time when life held for the individual chiefly pain,
uncertainty, and bereavement. Christianity kept the common man consoled
and mentally balanced by minimizing the importance of life on earth and
offering compensation afterwards and elsewhere.

A feeble nation of idle dreamers, torn by a chaos of intertribal feuds
within, menaced by powerful, conquest-lusting nations from without,
Arabia was enabled by Islam, the religion of her prophet Mohammed, to
unite all her sons into an intense loyalty to one cause, and to turn her
dream-stuff into reality by carrying her national pride and honor beyond
her boundaries and spreading it over half the known world.

The ancient Greeks, in despair over the frailties of human emotion and
the unbecomingness of worldly conduct, which their brilliant minds
enabled them to recognize clearly but which they found themselves
powerless to subdue, endowed the gods, whom they worshipped, with all of
their own passions and weaknesses, and thus the foolish behavior of the
gods consoled them for their own obvious shortcomings. So it goes
throughout all of the world's religions.

In the middle of the twentieth century there were in the civilized
world, millions of people in whose lives Christianity had ceased to play
any part. Yet, psychically--remember, "psyche" means "soul"--they were
just as sick and unbalanced, just as much in need of some compensation
as were the subjects of the early Roman empire, or the Arabs in the
Middle Ages. They were forced to work at the strained and monotonous
pace of machines; they were the slaves, body and soul, of machines; they
lived with machines and lived like machines--they were expected to _be_
machines. A mechanized mode of life set a relentless pace for them,
while, just as in all the past ages, life and love, the breezes and the
blue sky called to them; but they could not respond. They had to drive
machines so that machines could serve them. Minds were cramped and
emotions were starved, but hands must go on guiding levers and keeping
machines in operation. Lives were reduced to such a mechanical routine
that men wondered how long human minds and human bodies could stand the
restraint. There is a good deal in the writings of the times to show
that life was becoming almost unbearable for three-fourths of humanity.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is only natural, therefore, that Rohan, the prophet of the new
religion, found followers more rapidly than he could organize them.
About ten years before the visit of Dr. Hagstrom to his friend Benda,
Rohan and his new religion had been much in the newspapers. Rohan was a
Slovak, apparently well educated in Europe. When he first attracted
attention to himself, he was foreman in a steel plant at Birmingham,
Alabama. He was popular as an orator, and drew unheard-of crowds to his
lectures.

He preached of _Science_ as God, an all-pervading, inexorably systematic
Being, the true Center and Motive-Power of the Universe; a Being who saw
men and pitied them because they could not help committing inaccuracies.
The Science God was helping man become more perfect. Even now, men were
much more accurate and systematic than they had been a hundred years
ago; men's lives were ordered and rhythmic, like natural laws, not like
the chaotic emotions of beasts and savages.

Somehow, he soon dropped out of the attention of the great mass of the
public. Of course, he did so intentionally, when his ideas began to
crystallize and his plans for his future organization began to form. At
first he had a sort of church in Birmingham, called The Church of the
Scientific God. There never was anything cheap nor blatant about him.
When he moved his church from Birmingham to the Lovett Branch Valley in
northern Virginia, he was hardly noticed. But with him went seven
thousand people, to form the nucleus of the Science Community.

       *       *       *       *       *

Since then, some feature writer for a metropolitan Sunday paper has
occasionally written up the Science Community, both from its physical
and its human aspects. From these reports, the outstanding bit of
evidence is that Rohan believes intensely in his own religion, and that
his followers are all loyal worshippers of the Science God. They
conceive the earth to be a workshop in which men serve Science, their
God, serving a sort of apprenticeship during which He perfects them to
the state of ideal machines. To be a perfect machine, always accurate,
with no distracting emotions, no getting off the track--that was the
ideal which the Great God _Science_ required of his worshippers. To be a
perfect machine, or a perfect cog in a machine, to get rid of all
individuality, all disturbing sentiment, that was their idea of supreme
happiness. Despite the obvious narrowness it involved, there was
something sublime in the conception of this religion. It certainly had
nothing in common with the "Christian Science" that was in vogue during
the early years of the twentieth Century; it towered with a noble
grandeur above that feeble little sham.

The Science Community was organized like a machine: and all men played
their parts, in government, in labor, in administration, in production,
like perfect cogs and accurate wheels, and the machine functioned
perfectly. The devotees were described as fanatical, but happy. They
certainly were well trained and efficient. The Science Community grew.
In ten years it had a million people, and was a worldwide wonder of
civic planning and organization; it contained so many astonishing
developments in mechanical service to human welfare and comfort that it
was considered as a sort of model of the future city. The common man
there was provided with science-produced luxuries, in his daily life,
that were in the rest of the world the privilege of the wealthy few--but
he used his increased energy and leisure in serving the more devotedly,
his God, Science, who had made machines. There was a great temple in the
city, the shape of a huge dynamo-generator, whose interior was worked
out in a scheme of mechanical devices, and with music, lights, and odors
to help in the worship.

       *       *       *       *       *

What the world knew the least about was that this religion was becoming
militant. Its followers spoke of the heathen without, and were horrified
at the prevalence of the sin of individualism. They were inspired with
the mission that the message of God--scientific perfection--must be
carried to the whole world. But, knowing that vested interests,
governments, invested capital, and established religions would oppose
them and render any real progress impossible, they waited. They studied
the question, looking for some opportunity to spread the gospel of their
beliefs, prepared to do so by force, finding their justification in
their belief that millions of sufferers needed the comforts that their
religion had given them. Meanwhile their numbers grew.

Rohan was Chief Engineer, which position was equal in honor and dignity
to that of Prophet or High Priest. He was a busy, hard-worked man, black
haired and gaunt, small of stature and fiery eyed; he looked rather
like an overworked department-store manager rather than like a prophet.
He was finding his hands more full every day, both because of the
extraordinary fertility of his own plans and ideas, and because the
Science Community was growing so rapidly. Among this heterogenous mass
of proselyte strangers that poured into the city and was efficiently
absorbed into the machine, it was yet difficult to find executives,
leaders, men to put in charge of big things. And he needed constantly
more and more of such men.

       *       *       *       *       *

That was why Rohan went to Benda, and subsequently to others like Benda.
Rohan had a deep knowledge of human nature. He did not approach Benda
with the offer of a magnanimous salary, but came into Benda's office
asking for a consultation on some of the puzzling communication problems
of the Science Community. Benda became interested, and on his own
initiative offered to visit the Science Community, saying that he had to
be in Washington anyway in a few days. When he saw what the conditions
were in the Science Community, he became fascinated by its advantages
over New York; a new system to plan from the ground up; no obsolete
installation to wrestle with; an absolutely free hand for the engineer
in charge; no politics to play; no concessions to antiquated city
construction, nor to feeble-minded city administration--just a dream of
an opportunity. He almost asked for the job himself, but Rohan was
tactful enough to offer it, and the salary, though princely, was hardly
given a thought.

For many weeks Benda was absorbed in his job, to the exclusion of all
else. He sent his money to his New York bank and had his family move in
and live with him. He was happy in his communication problems.

"Give me a problem in communication and you make me happy," he wrote to
Hagstrom in one of his early letters.

He had completed a certain division of his work on the Science
Community's communication system, and it occurred to him that a few
days' relaxation would do him good. A run up to New York would be just
the thing.

To his amazement, he was not permitted to board the outbound bus.

"You'll need orders from the Chief Engineer's office," the driver said.

       *       *       *       *       *

Benda went to Rohan.

"Am I a prisoner?" he demanded with his characteristic directness.

"An embarassing situation," the suave Rohan admitted, very calmly and at
his ease. "You see, I'm nothing like a dictator here. I have no
arbitrary power. Everything runs by system, and you're a sort of
exception. No one knows exactly how to classify you. Neither do I. But,
I can't break a rule. That is sin."

"What rule? I want to go to New York."

"Only those of the Faith who have reached the third degree can come and
go. No one can get that in less than three years."

"Then you got me in here by fraud?" Benda asked bluntly.

Rohan side-stepped gracefully.

"You know our innermost secrets now," he explained. "Do you suppose
there is any hope of your embracing the Faith?"

Benda whirled on his heel and walked out.

"I'll think about it!" he said, his voice snapping with sarcasm.

Benda went back to his work in order to get his mind off the matter. He
was a well-balanced man if he was anything; and he knew that nothing
could be accomplished by rash words or incautious moves against Rohan
and his organization. And on that day he met John Edgewater Smith.

"You here?" Benda gasped. He lost his equilibrium for a moment in
consternation at the sight of his fellow-engineer.

Smith was too elated to notice Benda's mood.

"I've been here a week. This is certainly an ideal opportunity in my
line of work. Even in Heaven I never expected to find such a chance."

By this time Benda had regained control of himself. He decided to say
nothing to Smith for the time being.

       *       *       *       *       *

They did not meet again for several weeks. In the meantime Benda
discovered that his mail was being censored. At first he did not know
that his letters, always typewritten, were copied and objectionable
matter omitted, and his signature reproduced by the photo-engraving
process, separately each time. But before long, several letters came
back to him rubber-stamped: "Not passable. Please revise." It took Benda
two days to cool down and rewrite the first letter. But outwardly no one
would have ever known that there was anything amiss with him.

However, he took to leaving his work for an hour or two a day and
walking in the park, to think out the matter. He didn't like it. This
was about the time that it began to be a real issue as to who was the
bigger man of the two, Rohan or Benda. But no signs of the issue
appeared externally for many months.

John Edgewater Smith realized sooner than Benda that he couldn't get
out, because, not sticking to work so closely, he had made the attempt
sooner. He looked very much worried when Benda next saw him.

"What's this? Do you know about it?" he shouted as soon as he had come
within hearing distance of Benda.

"What's the difference?" Benda replied casually. "Aren't you satisfied?"

Smith's face went blank.

Benda came close to him, linked arms and led him to a broad vacant lawn
in the park.

"Listen!" he said softly in Smith's ear. "Don't you suppose these
people who lock us in and censor our mail aren't smart enough to spy on
what we say to each other?"

"Our only hope," Benda continued, "is to learn all we can of what is
going on here. Keep your eyes and ears open and meet me here in a week.
And now come on; we've been whispering here long enough."

       *       *       *       *       *

Oddly enough, the first clue to the puzzle they were trying to solve was
supplied by Francisco, New York's former Water Commissioner. Why were
they being kept prisoners in the city? There must be more reason for
holding them there than the fear that information would be carried out,
for none of the three engineers knew anything about the Science
Community that could be of any possible consequence to outsiders. They
had all stuck rigidly to their own jobs.

They met Francisco, very blue and dejected, walking in the park a couple
of months later. They had been having weekly meetings, feeling that more
frequent rendezvous might excite suspicion. Francisco was overjoyed to
see them.

"Been trying to figure out why they want us," he said. "There is
something deeper than the excuse they have made; that rot about a
perfect system and no breaking of rules may be true, but it has nothing
to do with us. Now, here are three of us, widely admitted as having good
heads on us. We've got to solve this."

"The first fact to work on," he continued, "is that there is no real job
for me here. This city has no water problem that cannot be worked out by
an engineer's office clerk. Why are they holding me here, paying me a
profligate salary, for a job that is a joke for a grown-up man? There's
something behind it that is not apparent on the surface."

The weekly meetings of the three engineers became an established
institution. Mindful that their conversation was doubtless the object of
attention on the part of the ruling powers of the city through spies
and concealed microphones, they were careful to discuss trivial matters
most of the time, and mentioned their problem only when alone in the
open spaces of the park.

       *       *       *       *       *

After weeks of effort had produced no results, they arrived at the
conclusion that they would have to do some spying themselves. The great
temple, shaped like a dynamo-generator attracted their attention as the
first possibility for obtaining information. Benda, during his work with
telephone and television installation, found that the office of some
sort of ruling council or board of directors were located there. Later
he found that it was called the Science Staff. He managed to slip in
several concealed microphone detectors and wire them to a private
receiver on his desk, doing all the work with his own hands under the
pretense of hunting for a cleverly contrived short-circuit that his
subordinates had failed to find.

"They open their meeting," he said, reporting several days of listening
to his comrades, "with a lot of religious stuff. They really believe
they are chosen by God to perfect the earth. Their fanaticism has the
Mohammedans beat forty ways. As I get it from listening in, this city is
just a preliminary base from which to carry, forcibly, the gospel of
Scientific Efficiency to the whole world. They have been divinely
appointed to organize the earth.

"The first thing on the program is the seizure of New York City. And, it
won't be long; I've heard the details of a cut-and-dried plan. When they
have New York, the rest of America can be easily captured, for cities
aren't as independent of each other as they used to be. Getting the rest
of the world into their hands will then be merely a matter of routine;
just a little time, and it will be done. Mohammed's wars weren't in it
with this!"

Francisco and Smith stared at him aghast. These dull-faced,
blue-sergeclad people did not look capable of it; unless possibly one
noted the fiery glint in their eyes. A worldwide Crusade on a scientific
basis! The idea left them weak and trembling.

"Got to learn more details before we can do anything," Benda said. "Come
on; we've been whispering here long enough; they'll get suspicious."
Benda's brain was now definitely pitted against this marvelous
organisation.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I've got it!" Benda reported at a later meeting. "I pieced it together
from a few hours listening. Devilish scheme!

"Can you imagine what would happen in New York in case of a break-down
in water-supply, electric power, and communication? In an hour there
would be a panic; in a day the city would be a hideous shambles of
suffering, starvation, disease, and trampling maniacs. Dante's Inferno
would be a lovely little pleasure-resort in comparison.

"Also, have you ever stopped to think how few people there are in the
world who understand the handling of these vital elements of our modern
civilized organization sufficiently to keep them in operation? There you
have the scheme. Because they do not want to destroy the city, but
merely to threaten it, they are holding the three of us. A little
skilful management will eliminate all other possible men who could
operate the city's machinery, except ourselves. We three will be placed
in charge. A threat, perhaps a demonstration in some limited section of
what horrors are possible. The city is at their mercy, and promptly
surrenders.

"An alternative plan was discussed: just a little quiet violence could
eliminate those who are now in charge of the city's works, and the panic
and horrors would commence. But, within an hour of the city's
capitulation, the three of us could have things running smoothly again.
And there would be no New York; in its place would be Science Community
Number Two. From it they could step on to the next city."

The other two stared at him. There was only one comment.

"They seem to be sure that they could depend on us," Smith said.

"They may be correct," Benda replied. "Would you stand by and see people
perish if a turn of your hand could save them? You would for the moment,
forget the issue between the old order and the new religion."

They separated, horrified by the ghastly simplicity of the plan.

       *       *       *       *       *

Just following this, Benda received the telegram announcing the
prospective visit of his lifelong friend, Dr. Hagstrom. He took it at
once to Rohan.

"Will my friend be permitted to depart again, if he once gets in here?"
he demanded with his customary directness.

"It depends on you," Rohan replied blandly. "We want your friend to see
our Community, and to go away and carry with him the nicest possible
reports and descriptions of it to the world. I wonder, do I make myself
clear?"

"That means I've got to feed him taffy while he's here?" Benda asked
gruffly.

"You choose to put it indelicately. He is to see and hear only such
things about the Science Community as well please the world and impress
it favorably. I am sure you will understand that under no other
circumstances will he be permitted to leave here."

Benda turned around abruptly and walked out without a word.

"Just a moment," Rohan called after him. "I am sure you appreciate the
fact that every precaution will be taken to hear the least word that you
say to him during his stay here? You are watched only perfunctorily now.
While he is here you will be kept track of carefully, and there will be
three methods of checking everything you do or say. I am sure you do not
underestimate our caution in this matter."

Benda spent the days intervening between then and the arrival of his
friend Hagstrom, closed up in his office, in intense study. He figured
things on pieces of paper, committed them to memory, and scrupulously
burned the paper. Then he wandered about the park and plucked at leaves
and twigs.


PART III

_The Cipher Message_

(Related by Peter Hagstrom, Ph.D.)

Benda conducted me personally to a room very much like an ordinary hotel
room. He was glad to see me. I could tell that from his grip of welcome,
from his pleased face, from the warmth in his voice, from the eager way
in which he hovered around me. I sat down on a bed and he on a chair.

"Now tell me all about it," I said.

The room was very still, and in its privacy, following Benda's
demonstrative welcome, I expected some confidential revelations.
Therefore I was astonished.

"There isn't much to tell," he said gaily. "My work is congenial,
fascinating, and there's enough of it to keep me out of mischief. The
pay is good, and the life pleasant and easy."

I didn't know what to say for a moment. I had come there with my mind
made up that there was something suspicious afoot. But he seemed
thoroughly happy and satisfied.

"I'll admit that I treated you a little shabbily in this matter of
letters," he continued. "I suppose it is because I've had a lot of new
and interesting problems on my mind, and it's been hard to get my mind
down to writing letters. But I've got a good start on my job, and I'll
promise to reform."

I was at a loss to pursue that subject any further.

"Have you seen Smith and Francisco?" I asked.

He nodded.

"How do they like it?"

"Both are enthusiastic about the wonderful opportunities in their
respective fields. It's a fact: no engineer has ever before had such
resources to work with, on such a vast scale, and with such a free hand.
We're laying the framework for a city of ten millions, all thoroughly
systematized and efficient. There is no city in the world like it; it's
an engineer's dream of Utopia."

       *       *       *       *       *

I was almost convinced. There was only the tiniest of lurking suspicions
that all was not well, but it was not powerful enough to stimulate me to
say anything. But I did determine to keep my eyes open.

I might as well admit in advance that from that moment to the time when
I left the Science Community four days later, I saw nothing to confirm
my suspicions. I met Smith and Francisco at dinner and the four of us
occupied a table to ourselves in a vast dining hall, and no one paid for
the meal nor for subsequent ones. They also seemed content, and talked
enthusiastically of their work.

I was shown over the city, through its neat, efficient streets, through
its comfortable dormitories each housing hundreds of families as
luxuriously as any modern hotel, through its marvelous factories where
production had passed the stage of labor and had assumed the condition
of a devoted act of worship. These factory workers were not toiling:
they were worshipping their God, of Whom each machine was a part.
Touching their machine was touching their God. This machinery, while
involving no new principles, was developed and coordinated to a degree
that exceeded anything I had ever seen anywhere else.

I saw the famous Science Temple in the shape of a huge
dynamo-generator, with its interior decorations, paintings, carvings,
frescoes, and pillars, all worked out on the motive of machinery; with
its constant streams of worshippers in blue serge, performing their
conventional rites and saying their prayer formulas at altars in the
forms of lathes, microscopes, motors, and electron-tubes.

"You haven't become a Science Communist yourself?" I bantered Benda.

There was a metallic ring in the laugh he gave.

"They'd like to have me!" was all he said.

       *       *       *       *       *

I was rather surprised at the emptiness of the large and well-kept park
to which Benda took me. It was beautifully landscaped, but only a few
scattering people were there, lost in its vast reaches.

"These people seem to have no need of recreation," Benda said. "They do
not come here much. But I confess that I need air and relaxation, even
if only for short snatches. I've been too busy to get away for long at a
time, but this park has helped me keep my balance--I'm here every day
for at least a few minutes."

"Beautiful place," I remarked. "A lot of strange trees and plants I
never saw before--"

"Oh, mostly tropical forms, common enough in their own habitats. They
have steam pipes under the ground to grow them. I've been trying to
learn something about them. Fancy _me_ studying natural history! I've
never cared for it, but here, where there is no such thing as
recreation, I have become intensely interested in it as a hobby. I find
it very much of a rest to study these plants and bugs."

"Why don't you run up to New York for a few days?"

"Oh, the time will come for that. In the meanwhile, I've got an idea all
of a sudden. Speaking of New York, will you do me a little service? Even
though you might think it silly?"

"I'll do anything I can," I began, eager to be of help to him.

"It has been somewhat of a torture to me," Benda continued, "to find so
many of these forms which I am unable to identify. I like to be
scientific, even in my play, and reference books on plants and insects
are scarce here. Now, if you would carry back a few specimens for me,
and ask some of the botany and zoology people to send me their names--"

"Fine!" I exclaimed. "I've got a good-sized pocket notebook I can carry
them in."

"Well then, please put them in the order in which I hand them to you,
and send me the names by number. I am pretty thoroughly familiar with
them, and if you will keep them in order, there is no need for me to
keep a list. The first is a blade of this queer grass."

I filed the grass blade between the first two pages of my book.

"The next is this unusual-looking pinnate leaf." He tore off a dry
leaflet and handed me a stem with three leaflets irregularly disposed of
it.

"Now leave a blank page in your book. That will help me remember the
order in which they come."

       *       *       *       *       *

Next came a flat insect, which, strangely enough, had two legs missing
on one side. However, Benda was moving so fast that I had to put it away
without comment. He kept darting about and handing me twigs of leaves,
little sticks, pieces of bark, insects, not seeming to care much whether
they were complete or not; grass-blades, several dagger-shaped
locust-thorns, cross-sections of curious fruits, moving so rapidly that
in a few moments my notebook bulged widely, and I had to warn him that
its hundred leaves were almost filled.

"Well, that ought to be enough," he said with a sigh after his lively
exertion. "You don't know how I'll appreciate your indulging my foolish
little whim."

"Say!" I exclaimed. "Ask something of me. This it nothing. I'll take it
right over to the Botany Department, and in a few days you ought to have
a list of names fit for a Bolshevik."

"One important caution," he said. "If you disturb their order in the
book, or even the position on the page, the names you send me will mean
nothing to me. Not that it will be any great loss," he added
whimsically. "I suppose I've become a sort of fan on this, like the
business men who claim that their office work interferes with their
golf."

We walked leisurely back toward the big dormitory. It was while we were
crossing a street that Benda stumbled, and, to dodge a passing truck,
had to catch my arm, and fell against me. I heard his soft voice whisper
in my ear:

"Get out of this town as soon as you can!"

I looked at him in startled amazement, but he was walking along, shaking
himself from his stumble, and looking up and down the street for passing
trucks.

"As I was saying," he said in a matter-of-fact voice, "we expect to
reach the one-and-one-quarter million mark this month. I never saw a
place grow so fast."

       *       *       *       *       *

I felt a great leap of sudden understanding. For a moment my muscles
tightened, but I took my cue.

"Remarkable place," I said calmly; "one reads a lot of half-truths about
it. Too bad I can't stay any longer."

"Sorry you have to leave," he said, in exactly the right tone of voice.
"But you can come again."

How thankful I was for the forty years of playing and working together
that had accustomed us to that sort of team-work! Unconsciously we
responded to one another's cues. Once our ability to "play together" had
saved my life. It was when we were in college and were out on a
cross-country hike together; Benda suddenly caught my hand and swung it
upward. I recognized the gesture; we were cheerleaders and worked
together at football games, and we had one stunt in which we swung our
hands over our heads, jumped about three feet, and let out a whoop. This
was the "stunt" that he started out there in the country, where we were
by ourselves. Automatically, without thinking, I swung my arms and
leaped with him and yelled. Only later did I notice the rattlesnake over
which I had jumped. I had not seen that I was about to walk right into
it, and he had noticed it too late to explain. A flash of genius
suggested the cheering stunt to him.

"_Communication_ is a science!" he had said, and that was all the
comment there was on the incident.

So now, I followed my cue, without knowing why, nor what it was all
about, but confident that I should soon find out. By noon I was on the
bus, on my way through the pass, to meet the vehicle from Washington. As
the bus swung along, a number of things kept jumbling through my mind:
Benda's effusive glee at seeing me, and his sudden turning and bundling
me off in a nervous hurry without a word of explanation; his lined and
worried face and yet his insistence on the joys of his work in The
Science Community; his obvious desire to be hospitable and play the good
host, and yet his evasiveness and unwillingness to chat intimately and
discuss important thing as he used to. Finally, that notebook full of
odd specimens bulging in my pocket. And the memory of his words as he
shook hands with me when I was stepping into the bus:

"Long live the science of communication!" he had said. Otherwise, he was
rather glum and silent.

       *       *       *       *       *

I took out the book of specimens and looked at it. His caution not to
disturb the order and position of things rang in my ears. The Science of
Communication! Two and two were beginning to make four in my mind. All
the way on the train from Washington to New York I could hardly, keep
my hands off the book. I had definitely abandoned the idea of hunting up
botanists and zoologists at Columbia. Benda was not interested in the
names of these things. That book meant something else. Some message. The
Science of Communication!

That suddenly explained all the contradictions in his behavior. He was
being closely watched. Any attempt to tell me the things he wanted to
say would be promptly recognized. He had succeeded brilliantly in
getting a message to me. Now, my part was to read it! I felt a sudden
sinking within me. That book full of leaves, bugs, and sticks? How could
I make anything out of it?

"There's the Secret Service," I thought. "They are skilled in reading
hidden messages. It must be an important one, worthy of the efforts of
the Secret Service, or he would not have been at such pains to get it to
me--

"But no. The Secret Service is skilled at reading hidden messages, but
not as skilled as I am in reading my friend's mind. Knowing Benda, his
clear intellect, his logical methods, will be of more service in solving
this than all the experts of the Secret Service."

I barely stopped to eat dinner when I reached home. I hurried to the
laboratory building, and laid out the specimens on white sheets of
paper, meticulously preserving order, position, and spacing. To be on
the safe side I had them photographed, asking the photographer to vary
the scale of his pictures so that all of the final figures would be
approximately the same size. Plate I. shows what I had.

       *       *       *       *       *

I was all a-tremble when the mounted photographs were handed to me. The
first thing I did was to number the specimens, giving each blank space
also its consecutive number. Certainly no one could imagine a more
meaningless jumble of twigs, leaves, berries, and bugs. How could I
read any message out of that?

Yet I had no doubt that the message concerned something of far more
importance than Benda's own safety. He had moved in this matter with
astonishing skill and breathless caution; yet I knew him to be reckless
to the extreme where only his own skill was concerned. I couldn't even
imagine his going to this elaborate risk merely on account of Smith and
Francisco. Something bigger must be involved.

I stared at the rows of specimens.

"Communication is a science!" Benda had said, and it came back to me as
I studied the bent worms and the beetles with two legs missing. I was
confident that the solution would be simple. Once the key idea occurred
to me I knew I should find the whole thing astonishingly direct and
systematic. For a moment I tried to attach some sort of heiroglyphic
significance to the specimen forms; in the writing of the American
Indians, a wavy line meant water, an inverted V meant a wigwam. But, I
discarded that idea in a moment. Benda's mind did not work along the
paths of symbolism. It would have to be something mathematical, rigidly
logical, leaving no room for guess-work.

No sooner had the key-idea occurred to me than the basic conception
underlying all these rows of twigs and bugs suddenly flashed into clear
meaning before me. The simplicity of it took my breath away.

"I knew it!" I said aloud, though I was alone. "Very simple."

I was prepared for the fact that each one of the specimens represented a
letter of the alphabet. If nothing else, their number indicated that.
Now I could see, so clearly that the photographs shouted at me, that
each specimen consisted of an upright stem, and from this middle stem
projected side-arms to the right and to the left, and in various
vertical locations on each side.

The middle upright stem contained these side-arms in various numbers
and combinations. In five minutes I had a copy of the message,
translated into its fundamental characters, as shown on Plate II.

[Illustration: Plate I]

The first grass-blade was the simple, upright stem; the second, three
leaflets on their stem, represented the upright portion with two arms to
the left at the top and middle, and one arm to the right at the top; and
so on.

That brought the message down to the simple and straightforward matter
of a substitution cipher. I was confident that Benda had no object in
introducing any complications that could possibly be avoided, as his
sole purpose was to get to me the most readable message without getting
caught at it. I recollected now how cautious he had been to hand me no
paper, and how openly and obviously he had dropped each specimen into my
book; because he knew someone was watching him and expecting him to slip
in a message. He had, as I could see now in the retrospect, been
conspicuously careful that nothing suspicious should pass from his hands
to mine.

[Illustration: Plate II]

Substitution ciphers are easy to solve, especially for those having some
experience. The method can be found in Edgar Allen Poe's "Gold Bug" and
in a host of its imitators. A Secret Service cipher man could have read
it in an hour. But I knew my friend's mind well enough to find a
short-cut. I knew just how he would go about devising such a cipher, in
fact, how ninety-nine persons out of a hundred with a scientific
education would do it.

If we begin adding horizontal arms to the middle stem, from top to
bottom and from left to right, the possible characters can be worked out
by the system shown on Plate III.

[Illustration: Plate III]

It is most logical to suppose that Benda would begin with the first sign
and substitute the letters of the alphabet in order. That would give us
the cipher code shown on Plate IV.

It was all very quick work, just as I had anticipated, once the key-idea
had occurred to me. The ease and speed of my method far exceeded that
of Poe's method, but, of course, was applicable only to this particular
case. Substituting letters for signs out of my diagram, I got the
following message:

     AM PRISONER R PLANS CAPTURE OF N Y BY SEIZING POWER WATER AND
     PHONES THEN WORLD CONQUEST S O S

[Illustration: Plate IV]


PART IV

_L'Envoi_

(By Peter Hagstrom, M.D.)

My solution of the message practically ends the story. Events followed
each other from then on like bullets from a machine-gun. A wild drive in
a taxicab brought me to the door of Mayor Anderson at ten o'clock that
night. I told him the story and showed him my photographs.

Following that I spent many hours telling my story to and consulting
with officers in the War Department. Next afternoon, photographic maps
of the Science Community and its environs, brought by airplanes during
the forenoon, were spread on desks before us. A colonel of marines and a
colonel of aviation sketched plans in notebooks. After dark I sat in a
transport plane with muffled exhaust and propellers, slipping through
the air as silently as a hawk. About us were a dozen bombing planes, and
about fifty transports, carrying a battalion of marines.

I am not an adventure-loving man. Though a cordon of husky marines about
me was a protection against any possible danger, yet, stealing along
through that wild valley in the Virginia mountains toward the dark
masses of that fanatic city, the silent progress of the long, dark line
through the night, their mysterious disappearance, one by one, as we
neared the city, the creepy, hair-raising journey through the dark
streets--I shall never forget for the rest of my life the sinking
feeling in my abdomen and the throbbing in my head. But I wanted to be
there, for Benda was my lifelong friend.

I guided them to Rohan's rooms, and saw a dozen dark forms slip in, one
by one. Then we went on to the dormitory where Benda lived. Benda
answered our hammering at his door in his pajamas. He took in the
Captain's automatic, and the bayonets behind me, at a glance.

"Good boy, Hagstrom!" he said. "I knew you'd do it. There wasn't much
time left. I got my instructions about handling the New York telephone
system to-day."

As we came out into the street. I saw Rohan handcuffed to two big
marines, and rows of bayonets gleaming in the darkness down the streets.
Every few moments a bright flare shot out from the planes in the sky,
until a squad located the power-house and turned on all the lights they
could find.

[Illustration]



Jetta of the Lowlands

BEGINNING A THREE-PART NOVEL

By Ray Cummings


_Foreword_

_Have you ever stood on the seashore, with the breakers rolling at your
feet, and imagined what the scene would be like if the ocean water were
gone? I have had a vision of that many times. Standing on the Atlantic
Coast, gazing out toward Spain, I can envisage myself, not down at the
sea-level, but upon the brink of a height. Spain and the coast of
Europe, off there upon another height._

[Sidenote: Fantastic and sinister are the Lowlands into which Philip
Grant descends on his dangerous assignment.]

_And the depths between? Unreal landscape! Mysterious realm which now we
call the bottom of the sea! Worn and rounded crags; bloated mud-plains;
noisome reaches of ooze which once were the cold and dark and silent
ocean floor, caked and drying in the sun. And off to the south the
little fairy mountain tops of the West Indies rearing their verdured
crowns aloft._

[Illustration: "Look around, Chief. See where I am?"]

_If the ocean water were gone! Can you picture it? A new world, greater
in area than all the land we now have. They would call the former
sea-level the zero-height, perhaps. The depths would go down as far
beneath it as Mount Everest towers above it. Aeroplanes would fly down
into them._

_And I can imagine the settlement of these vast new realms: New little
nations being created, born of man's indomitable will to conquer every
adverse condition of inhospitable nature._

_A novel setting for a story of adventure. It seems so to me. Can you
say that the oceans will never drain of their water? That an earthquake
will not open a rift--some day in the future--and lower the water into
subterranean caverns? The volume of water of all the oceans is no more
to the volume of the earth than a tissue paper wrapping on an orange._

_Is it too great a fantasy? Why, reading the facts of what happened in
1929, it is already prognosticated. The fishing banks off the Coast of
Newfoundland have suddenly sunk. Cable ships repairing a broken cable,
snapped by the earthquake of November 18th, 1929, report that for
distances of a hundred miles on the Grand Banks the cables have
disappeared into unfathomable depths. And before the subterranean
cataclysm, they were within six hundred feet of the surface. And all the
bottom of that section of the North Atlantic seems to have caved in. Ten
thousand square miles dropped out of the bottom of the ocean! Fact, not
fancy._

_And so let us enlarge the picture. Let us create the Lowlands--twenty
thousand feet below the zero-height--the setting for a tale of
adventure. The romance of the mist-shrouded deeps. And the romance of
little Jetta._



CHAPTER I

_The Secret Mission_


I was twenty-five years of age that May evening of 2020 when they sent
me south into the Lowlands. I had been in the National Detective Service
Bureau, and then was transferred to the Customs Department, Atlantic
Lowlands Branch. I went alone; it was best, my commander thought. An
assignment needing diplomacy rather than a show of force.

It was 9 P. M. when I catapulted from the little stage of Long Island
airport. A fair, moonlit evening--a moon just beyond the full, rising to
pale the eastern stars. I climbed about a thousand feet, swung over the
headlands of the Hook, and, keeping in the thousand-foot local lane,
took my course.

My destination lay some thirteen hundred miles southeast of Great New
York. I could do a good normal three-ninety in this fleet little Wasp,
especially if I kept in the rarer air-pressures over the zero-height.
The thousand-foot lane had a southward drift, this night. I was making
now well over four hundred; I would reach Nareda soon after midnight.

The Continental Shelf slid beneath me, dropping away as my course took
me further from the Highland borders. The Lowlands lay patched with inky
shadows and splashes of moonlight. Domes with upstanding, rounded heads;
plateaus of naked black rock, ten thousand feet below the zero-height;
trenches, like valleys, ridged and pitted, naked in places like a
pockmarked lunar landscape. Or again, a pall of black mist would
shroud it all, dark curtain of sluggish cloud with moonlight tinging its
edges pallid green.

To my left, eastward toward the great basin of the mid-Atlantic
Lowlands, there was always a steady downward slope. To the right, it
came up over the continental shelf to the Highlands of the United
States.

There was often water to be seen in these Lowlands. A spring-fed lake
far down in a caldron pit, spilling into a trench; low-lying,
land-locked little seas; cañons, some of them dry, others filled with
tumultuous flowing water. Or great gashes with water sluggishly flowing,
or standing with a heavy slime, and a pall of uprising vapor in the heat
of the night.

At 37°N. and 70°W., I passed over the newly named Atlas Sea. A lake of
water here, more than a hundred miles in extent. Its surface lay fifteen
thousand feet below the zero-height; its depth in places was a full
three thousand. It was clear of mist to-night. The moonlight shimmered
on its rippled surface, like pictures my father had often shown me of
the former oceans.

I passed, a little later, well to the westward of the verdured mountain
top of the Bermudas.

There was nothing of this flight novel to me. I had frequently flown
over the Lowlands; I had descended into them many times. But never upon
such a mission as was taking me there now.

I was headed for Nareda, capital village of the tiny Lowland Republic of
Nareda, which only five years ago came into national being as a
protectorate of the United States. Its territory lies just north of the
mountain Highlands of Haiti, Santo Domingo and Porto Rico. A few hundred
miles of tumbled Lowlands, embracing the turgid Nares Sea, whose bottom
is the lowest point of all the Western Hemisphere--some thirty thousand
feet below the zero-height.

The village of Nareda is far down indeed. I had never been there. My
charts showed it on the southern border of the Nares Sea, at minus
twenty thousand feet, with the Mona Valley behind it like a gash in the
steep upward slopes to the Highlands of Porto Rico and Haiti.

Nareda has a mixed population of typical Lowland adventures, among which
the hardy Dutch predominate; and Holland and the United States have
combined their influence in the World Court to give it national
identity.

       *       *       *       *       *

And out of this had arisen my mission now. Mercury--the quicksilver of
commerce--so recently come to tremendous value through its universal use
in the new antiseptics which bid fair to check all human disease--was
being produced in Nareda. The import duty into the United States was
being paid openly enough. But nevertheless Hanley's agents believed that
smuggling was taking place.

It was to investigate this condition that Hanley was sending me. I had
introduction to the Nareda government officials. I was to consult with
Hanley by ether-phone in seeking the hidden source of the contraband
quicksilver, but, in the main, to use my own judgment.

A mission of diplomacy. I had no mind to pry openly among the people of
these Lowland depths, looking for smugglers. I might, indeed, find them
too unexpectedly! Over-curious strangers are not welcomed by the
Lowlanders. Many have gone into the depths and have never returned....

I was above the Nares Sea, by midnight. I was still flying a thousand
feet over the zero-height. Twenty-one thousand feet below me lay the
black expanse of water. The moon had climbed well toward the zenith,
now. Its silver shafts penetrated the hanging mist-stratas. The surface
of the Nares Sea was visible--dark and sullen looking.

I shifted the angles of incidence of the wings, re-set my propeller
angles and made the necessary carburetor adjustments, switching on the
supercharger which would supply air at normal zero-height pressure to
the carburetors throughout my descent.

I swung over Nareda. The lights of the little village, far down, dwarfed
by distance, showed like bleary, winking eyes through the mists. The
jagged recesses of the Mona valley were dark with shadow. The Nares Sea
lay like some black monster asleep, and slowly, heavily panting.
Moonlight was over me, with stars and fleecy white clouds. Calm, placid,
atmospheric night was up here. But beneath, it all seemed so mysterious,
fantastic, sinister.

My heart was pounding as I put the Wasp into a spiral and forced my way
down.



CHAPTER II

_The Face at the Window_


With heavy, sluggish engines I panted down and came to rest in the dull
yellow glow of the field lights. A new world here. The field was flat,
caked ooze, cracked and hardened. It sloped upward from the shore toward
where, a quarter of a mile away, I could see the dull lights of the
settlement, blurred by the gathered night vapors.

The field operator shut off his permission signal and came forward. He
was a squat, heavy-set fellow in wide trousers and soiled white shirt
flung open at his thick throat. The sweat streamed from his forehead.
This oppressive heat! I had discarded my flying garb in the descent. I
wore a shirt, knee-length pants, with hose and wide-soled shoes of the
newly fashioned Lowland design. What few weapons I dared carry were
carefully concealed. No alien could enter Nareda bearing anything
resembling a lethal weapon.

My wide, thick-soled shoes did not look suspicious for one who planned
much walking on the caked Lowland ooze. But those fat soles were
cleverly fashioned to hide a long, keen knife-blade, like a dirk. I
could lift a foot and get the knife out of its hidden compartment with
fair speed. This I had in one shoe.

In the other, was the small mechanism of a radio safety recorder and
image finder, with its attendant individual audiophone transmitter and
receiver. A miracle of smallness, these tiny contrivances. With
batteries, wires and grids, the whole device could lay in the palm of
one's hand. Once past this field inspection I would rig it for use under
my shirt, strapped around my chest. And I had some colored magnesium
flares.

       *       *       *       *       *

The field operator came panting.

"Who are you?"

"Philip Grant. From Great New York." I showed him my name etched on my
forearm. He and his fellows searched me, but I got by.

"You have no documents?"

"No."

My letter to the President of Nareda was written with invisible ink upon
the fabric of my shirt. If he had heated it to a temperature of 180°F.
or so, and blown the fumes of hydrochloric acid upon it, the writing
would have come out plain enough.

I said, "You'll house and care for my machine?"

They would care for it. They told me the price--swindlingly exorbitant
for the unwary traveller who might wander down here.

"All correct," I said cheerfully. "And half that much more for you and
your men if you give me good service. Where can I have a room and
meals?"

"Spawn," said the operator. "He is the best. Fat-bellied from his own
good cooking. Take him there, Hugo."

I had a gold coin instantly ready; and with a few additional directions
regarding my flyer, I started off.

It had been hot and oppressive standing in the field; it was infinitely
worse climbing the mud-slope into the village; but my carrier, trudging
in advance of me along the dark, winding path up the slope, shouldered
my bag and seemed not to notice the effort. We passed occasional
tube-lights strung on poles. They illumined the heavy rounded crags. A
tumbled region, this slope which once was the ocean floor twenty
thousand feet below the surface. Rifts were here like gulleys; little
buttes reared their rounded, dome heads. And there were caves and
crevices in which deep sea fish once had lurked.

       *       *       *       *       *

For ten minutes or so we climbed. It was past the midnight hour; the
village was asleep. We entered its outposts. The houses were small
structures of clay. In the gloom they looked like drab little beehives
set in unplanned groups, with paths for streets wandering between them.

Then we came to a more prosperous neighborhood. The street widened and
straightened. The clay houses, still with rounded dome like tops, stood
back from the road, with wooden front fences, and gardens and shrubbery.
The windows and doors were like round finger-holes plugged in the clay
by a giant hand. Occasionally the windows, dimly lighted, stared like
sleeping giant eyes.

There were flowers in all the more pretentious private gardens. Their
perfume, hanging in the heavy night air, lay on the village, making one
forget the over-curtain of stenching mist. Down by the shore of the
Nares Sea, this world of the depths had seemed darkly sinister. But in
the village now, I felt it less ominous. The scent of the flowers, the
street lined in one place by arching giant fronds drowsing and nodding
overhead--there seemed a strange exotic romance to it. The sultry air
might almost have been sensuous.

"Much further, Hugo?"

"No. We are here."

He turned abruptly into a gateway, led me through a garden and to the
doorway of a large, rambling, one-story building. The news of my coming
had preceded me. A front room was lighted; my host was waiting.

Hugo set down my bag, accepted another gold coin; and with a queer
sidelong smile, the incentive for which I had not the slightest idea,
he vanished. I fronted my host, this Jacob Spawn. Strange fate that
should have led me to Spawn! And to little Jetta!

       *       *       *       *       *

Spawn was a fat-bellied Dutchman, as the field attendant had said. A
fellow of perhaps fifty-five, with sparse gray hair and a heavy-jowled,
smooth-shaved face from which his small eyes peered stolidly at me. He
laid aside a huge, old-fashioned calabash pipe and offered a pudgy hand.

"Welcome, young man, to Nareda. Seldom do we see strangers."

The meal which he presently cooked and served me himself was lavishly
done. He spoke good English, but slowly, heavily, with the guttural
intonation of his race. He sat across the table from me, puffing his
pipe while I ate.

"What brings you here, young lad? A week, you say?"

"Or more. I don't know. I'm looking for oil. There should be petroleum
beneath these rocks."

For an hour I avoided his prying questions. His little eyes roved me,
and I knew he was no fool, this Dutchman, for all his heavy, stolid
look.

We remained in his kitchen. Save for its mud walls, its concave,
dome-roof, it might have been a cookery of the Highlands. There was a
table with its tube-light; the chairs; his electron stove; his orderly
rows of pots and pans and dishes on a broad shelf.

I recall that it seemed to me a woman's hand must be here. But I saw no
woman. No one, indeed, beside Spawn himself seemed to live here. He was
reticent of his own business, however much he wanted to pry into mine.

I had felt convinced that we were alone. But suddenly I realized it was
not so. The kitchen adjoined an interior back-garden. I could see it
through the opened door oval--a dim space of flowers; a little path to a
pergola; an adobe fountain. It was a sort of Spanish patio out there,
partially enclosed by the wings of the house. Moonlight was struggling
into it. And, as I gazed idly, I thought I saw a figure lurking. Someone
watching us.

       *       *       *       *       *

Was it a boy, observing us from the shadowed moonlit garden? I thought
so. A slight, half grown boy. I saw his figure--in short ragged trousers
and a shirt-blouse--made visible in a patch of moonlight as he moved
away and entered the dark opposite wing of the house.

I did not see the boy's figure again; and presently I suggested that I
retire. Spawn had already shown me my bedroom. It was in another wing of
the house. It had a window facing the front; and a window and door back
to this same patio. And a door to the house corridor.

"Sleep well, Meester Grant." My bag was here on the table under an
electrolier. "Shall I call you?"

"Yes," I said. "Early."

He lingered a moment. I was opening my bag. I flung it wide under his
gaze.

"Well, good night. I shall be very comfortable, thanks."

"Good night," he said.

He went out the patio door. I watched his figure cross the moonlit path
and enter the kitchen. The noise of his puttering there sounded for a
time. Then the light went out and the house and garden fell into
silence.

I closed my doors. They sealed on the inside, and I fastened them
securely. Then I fastened the transparent window panes. I did not
undress, but lay on the bed in the dark. I was tired; I realized it now.
But sleep would not come.

I am no believer in occultism, but there are premonitions which one
cannot deny. It seemed now as I lay there in the dark that I had every
reason to be perturbed, yet I could not think why. Perhaps it was
because I had been lying to this innkeeper stoutly for an hour past, and
whether he believed me or not for the life of me I could not now
determine.

       *       *       *       *       *

I sat up on the bed, presently, and adjusted the wires and diaphragms of
the ether-wave mechanism. When in place it was all concealed under my
shirt. As I switched it on, the electrodes against my flesh tingled a
little. But it was absolutely soundless, and one gets used to the
tingle. I decided to call Hanley.

The New York wave-sorter handled me promptly, but Hanley's office was
dead.

As I sat there in the darkness, annoyed at this, a slight noise forced
itself on me. A scratching--a tap--something outside my window.

Spawn, come back to peer in at me?

I slipped noiselessly from the bed. The sound had come from the window
which faced the patio. The room, over by the bed, was wholly dark. The
moonlight outside showed the patio window as a dimly illumined oval.

For a moment I crouched on the floor by the bed. No sound. The silence
of the Lowlands is as heavy and oppressive as its air. I felt as though
my heart were audible.

I lifted my foot; extracted my dirk. It opened into a very businesslike
steel blade of a good twelve-inch length. I bared the blade. The click
of it leaving the flat, hollow handle sounded loud in the stillness of
the room.

A moment. Then it seemed that outside my window a shadow had moved. I
crept along the floor. Rose up suddenly at the window.

And stared at a face peering in at me. A small face, framed by short,
clustering, dark curls.

A girl!



CHAPTER III

_In a Moonlit Garden_


She drew back from the window like a startled fawn; timorous, yet
curious, too, for she ran only a few steps, then turned and stood
peering. The moonlight slanted over the western roof of the building and
fell on her. A slight, boyish figure in short, tattered trousers and a
boy's shirt, open at her slim, rounded throat. The moonlight gleamed on
the white shirt fabric to show it torn and ragged. Her arms were
upraised; her head, with clustering, flying dark curls, was tilted as
though listening for a sound from me. A shy, wild creature. Drawn to my
window; tapping to awaken me, then frightened at what she had done.

I opened the garden door. She did not move. I thought she would run, but
she did not. The moonlight was on me as I stood there. I was conscious
of its etching me with its silver sheen. And twenty feet from me this
girl stood and gazed, with startled eyes and parted lips--and white
limbs trembling like a frightened animal.

The patio was very silent. The heavy arching fronds stirred slightly
with a vague night breeze; the moonlight threw a lacy dark pattern of
them on the gray stone path. The fountain bowl gleamed white in the
moonlight behind the girl, and in the silence I could hear the low
splashing of the water.

A magic moment. Unforgettable. It comes to some of us just once, but to
all of us it comes. I stood with its spell upon me. Then I heard my
voice, tense but softly raised.

"Who are you?"

It frightened her. She retreated until the fountain was between us. And
as I took a step forward, she retreated further, noiseless, with her
bare feet treading the smooth stones the path.

       *       *       *       *       *

I ran and caught her at the doorway of the flowered pergola. She stood
trembling as I seized her arms. But the timorous smile remained, and her
eyes, upraised to mine, glowed with misty starlight.

"Who are you?"

This time she answered me. "I am called Jetta."

It seemed that from her white forearm within my grasp a magic current
swept from her to me and back again. We humans, for all our clamoring,
boasting intellectuality, are no more than puppets in Nature's hands.

"Are you Spawn's daughter?"

"Yes."

"I saw you a while ago, when I was having my meal."

"Yes--I was watching you."

"I thought you were a boy."

"Yes. My father told me to keep away. I wanted to meet you, so I came to
wake you up."

"He may be watching us now."

"No. He is sleeping. Listen--you can hear him snore."

I could, indeed. The silence of the garden was broken now by a distant,
choking snore.

We both laughed. She sat on the little mossy seat in the pergola doorway
And on the side away from the snore. (I had the wit to be sure of that.)

"I wanted to meet you," she repeated. "Was it too bold?"

       *       *       *       *       *

I think that what we said sitting there with the slanting moonlight on
us, could not have amounted to much. Yet for us, it was so important!
Vital. Building memories which I knew--and I think that she knew, even
then--we would never forget.

"I will be here a week, Jetta."

"I want--I want very much to know you. I want you to tell me about the
world of the Highlands. I have a few books. I can't read very well, but
I can look at the pictures."

"Oh, I see--"

"A traveler gave them to me. I've got them hidden. But he was an old
man: all men seem to be old--except those in the pictures, and you,
Philip."

I laughed. "Well, that's too bad. I'm mighty glad I'm young."

Ah, in that moment, with blessed youth surging in my veins, I was glad
indeed!

"Young. I don't remember ever seeing anyone like you. The man I am to
marry is not like you. He is old, like father--"

I drew back from her, startled.

"Marry?"

"Yes. When I am seventeen. The law of Nareda--your Highland law, too,
father says--will not let a girl be married until she is that age. In a
month I am seventeen."

"Oh!" And I stammered, "But why are you going to marry?"

"Because father tells me to. And then I shall have fine clothes: it is
promised me. And go to live in the Highlands, perhaps. And see things;
and be a woman, not a ragged boy forbidden to show myself; and--"

       *       *       *       *       *

I was barely touching her. It seemed as though something--some vision of
happiness which had been given me--were fading, were being snatched
away. I was conscious of my hand moving to touch hers.

"Why do you marry--unless you're in love? Are you?"

Her gaze like a child came up to meet mine. "I never thought much about
that. I have tried not to. It frightened me--until to-night."

She pushed me gently away. "Don't. Let's not talk of him. I'd rather
not."

"But why are you dressed as a boy?"

I gazed at her slim but rounded figure in tattered boy's garb--but the
woman's lines were unmistakable. And her face, with clustering curls.
Gentle girlhood. A face of dark, wild beauty.

"My father hates women. He says they are all bad. It is a sin to wear
woman's finery; or it breeds sin in women. Let's not talk of that.
Philip, tell me--oh, if you could only realize all the things I want to
know. In Great New York, there are theatres and music?"

"Yes," I said. And began telling her about them.

The witching of this moonlit garden! But the moon had presently sunk,
and to the east the stars were fading.

"Philip! Look! Why, it's dawn already. I've got to leave you."

I held her just a moment by the hand.

"May I meet you here to-morrow night?" I asked.

"Yes," she said simply.

"Good night--Jetta."

"Good night. You--you've made me very happy."

She was gone, into a doorway of the opposite wing. The silent, empty
garden sounded with the distant, reassuring snores of the still sleeping
Spawn.

I went back to my room and lay on my bed. And drifted off on a sea of
magic memories. The world--my world before this night--now seemed to
have been so drab. Empty. Lifeless. But now there was pulsing, living
magic in it for me.

I drifted into sleep, thinking of it.



CHAPTER IV

_The Mine in the Cauldron Depths_


I was awakened by the tinkling, buzzing call of the radio-diaphragm
beneath my shirt. I had left the call open.

It was Hanley. I lay down, eyeing my window which now was illumined by
the flat light of dawn.

Hanley's microscopic voice:

"Phil? I've just raised President Markes, there in Nareda. I've been a
bit worried about you."

"I'm all right, Chief."

"Well, you'd better see President Markes this morning."

"That was my intention."

"Tell him frankly what you're after. This smuggling of quicksilver from
Nareda has got to stop. But take it easy, Phil; don't be reckless.
Remember: one little knife thrust and I've lost a good man!"

I laughed at his anxious tone. That was always Hanley's way. A devil
himself, when he was on a trail, but always worried for fear one of his
men would come to harm.

"Right enough, Chief. I'll be careful."

He cut off presently.

I did not see Jetta that morning. I told Spawn I was hoping to see
President Markes on my petroleum proposition. And at the proper hour I
took myself to the government house.

       *       *       *       *       *

This Lowland village by daylight seemed even more fantastic than
shrouded in the shadows of night. The morning sun had dissipated the
overhead mists. It was hot in the rocky streets under the weird
overhanging vegetation. The settlement was quietly busy with its
tropical activities. There were a few local shops; vehicles with the
Highland domestic animals--horses and oxen--panting in the heat; an
occasional electro-automatic car.

But there were not many evidences of modernity here. The street and
house tube-lights. A few radio image-finders on the house-tops. An
automatic escalator bringing ore from a nearby mine past the government
checkers to an aero stage for northern transportation. Cultivated fields
in the village outskirts operated with modern machinery.

But beyond that, it seemed primitive. Two hundred years back. Street
vendors. People in primitive, ragged, tropical garb. Half naked
children. I was stared at curiously. An augmenting group of children
followed me as I went down the street.

The President admitted me at once. In his airy office, with safeguards
against eavesdropping, I found him at his desk with a bank of modern
instruments before him.

"Sit down, Grant."

       *       *       *       *       *

He was a heavy-set, flabby man of sixty-odd, this Lowland President.
White hair; and an old-fashioned, rolling white mustache of the sort
lately come into South American fashion. He sat with a glass of iced
drink at his side. His uniform was stiffly white, and ornate with heavy
gold braid, but his neckpiece was wilted with perspiration.

"Damnable heat, Grant."

"Yes, Sir President."

"Have a drink." He swung a tinkling glass before me. "Now then, tell me
what is your trouble. Smuggling, here in Nareda. I don't believe it."
His eyes, incongruously alert with all the rest of him so fat and lazy,
twinkled at me. "We of the Nareda Government watch our quicksilver
production very closely. The government fee is a third."

I might say that the Nareda government collected a third on all the
mineral and agricultural products of the country, in exchange for the
necessary government concessions. Markes exported this share openly to
the world markets, paying the duty exactly like a private corporation.

He added, "You think--Hanley thinks--the smuggling is on too large a
scale to be any illicit producer?"

I nodded.

"Then," he said, "it must be one of our recognized mines."

"Hanley thinks it is a recognized mine, falsifying its production
record," I explained.

"If that is so, I will discover it," he said. He spoke with enthusiasm
and vigor. "For you I shall treat as what you are--the representative
of our most friendly government. The figures of our quicksilver
production I shall lay before you in just a few days. Let me fill up
your glass, Grant."

       *       *       *       *       *

The lazy tropics. I really did not doubt his sincerity. But I did doubt
his ability to cope with any clever criminal. His enthusiasm for action
would wilt like his neckpiece, in Nareda's heat. Unless, perhaps, the
knowledge that the smuggler was cheating him as well as the United
States--_that_ might spur him.

He added--and now I got a shock wholly unexpected: "If we think that
some recognized producer of quicksilver here is cheating us, it should
not be difficult to check up on it. Nareda has only one large cinnabar
lode being worked. A private individual: that fellow Jacob Spawn--"

"Spawn?" I exclaimed involuntarily.

"Why, yes. Did not he mention it? His mine is no more than ten
kilometers from here--back on the southern slope."

"He didn't mention it," I said.

"So? That is strange; but he is a secretive Dutchman by nature. He
specializes in prying into the other fellow's affairs. Hm-m."

He fell into a reverie while I stared at him. Spawn, the big--the only
big--quicksilver producer here!

       *       *       *       *       *

The President interrupted my startled thoughts. "I hope you did not
intimate your real purpose?"

"No."

We both turned at the sound of an opening door. Markes called, "Ah, come
in Perona! Are you alone? Good! Close that slide. Here is Chief Hanley's
representative." He introduced us all in a breath. "This is interesting,
Perona. Damnably interesting. We're being cheated, what? It looks that
way. Sit down, Perona."

This was Greko Perona. Nareda's Minister of Internal Affairs. Spawn had
mentioned him to me. A South American. A man in his fifties. Thin and
darkly saturnine, with iron-gray hair, carefully plastered to cover his
half-bald head. He sat listening to the President's harangue, twirling
the upturned waxen ends of his artificially black mustache. A wave of
perfume enveloped him. A ladies' courtier, this Perona by the look of
him. His white uniform was immaculate, carefully tailored and carefully
worn to set off at its best his still trim and erect figure.

"Well," he said, when at last the President paused, "of a surety
something must be done."

Perona seemed not excited, rather more carefully watchful, of his own
words, and of me. His small dark eyes roved me.

"What is it you would plan to do about it, Señorito?"

An irony was in that Latin diminutive! He spread his pale hands. "Your
United States officials perhaps exaggerate. I am very doubtful if we
have smugglers here in Nareda."

"Unless it is Spawn," the President interjected.

       *       *       *       *       *

Perona frowned slightly. But his suave manner remained. "Spawn? Why
Spawn?"

"You need not take offense, Perona," Markes retorted. "We are discussing
this before an envoy of the United States, sent here to consult with us.
We have nothing to hide."

Markes turned to me. And his next words were like a bomb exploding at my
feet.

"Perona _is_ offended, Grant. But I promise you, his natural personal
prejudice will not affect my investigation. Of course he is prejudiced,
since he is to marry Spawn's daughter, the little Jetta."

I started involuntarily. This pomaded old dotard! This perfumed, ancient
dandy!

For all the importance of my mission in Nareda my thoughts had been
subconsciously more upon Jetta--far more--than upon smugglers of
quicksilver. This palsied popinjay! This, the reality of the specter
which had been between Jetta and me during all that magic time in the
moonlit garden!

This suave old rake! Betrothed to that woodland pixie whose hand I had
held and to whom I had sung love songs in the magic flower-scented
moonlight only a few hours ago! And whom I had promised to meet there
again to-night!

This, then, was my rival!

       *       *       *       *       *

Nothing of importance transpired during the remainder of that interview.
Markes reiterated his intention of making a complete governmental
investigation at once. To which Perona suavely assented.

"_Por Dios Señorito_," he said to me, "we would not have your great
government annoyed at Nareda. If there are smugglers, we will capture
them of a certainty."

From the Government House, it now being almost time for the midday meal,
I returned to Spawn's.

The rambling mud walls of the Inn stood baking in the noonday heat when
I arrived. The outer garden drowsed; there seemed no one about. I went
through the main door oval into the front public room, where first I had
met Spawn. He was not here now, nor was Jetta.

A sudden furtiveness fell upon me. With noiseless steps I went the
length of the dim, padded interior corridor to my own room. My
belongings seemed undisturbed; a vague idea that Spawn might have seized
this opportunity to ransack them had come to me. But it seemed not;
though if he had he would have found nothing.

I stood for a moment listening at my patio window. I could see the
kitchen from here; there was no one in it. I started back for the living
room. That furtive instinct was still on me. I made no noise. And
abruptly I heard Spawn's voice, floating out softly in the hushed
silence of the house.

"So, Perona?"

       *       *       *       *       *

A brief silence, in which it seemed that I could hear a tiny aerial
answer. Then Spawn again. A startled oath.

"De duvel! You say--"

I stood frozen, listening.

"She is here.... Yes, I will keep her close. I am no fool, Perona."

Spawn's laugh was like a growl. "Later to-day, yes. Fear not! I am no
fool. I will be careful of it."

Spawn, talking by private audiphone, to Perona. The colloquy came to an
abrupt end.

"... Might eavesdrop? By hell, you are right!"

I heard the click as Spawn and Perona broke connection. Spawn came from
his room. But he was not quick enough. I slipped away before he saw me.
In the living room I had time to be calmly seated with a lighted
cigarette. His approaching heavy footsteps sounded. He came in.

"Oh--Grant."

"Good noon, friend Spawn. I'm hungry." I grinned at him. "I understand
my bargain with you included a noonday meal. Does it?"

He eyed me suspiciously. "Have you been waiting here long?"

"No. I just came in."

He led me to the kitchen. He apologized for the informality of his hotel
service: visitors were so infrequent. But the good quality of his food
would make up for it.

"Right," I agreed. "Your food is marvelous, friend Spawn."

       *       *       *       *       *

There was a difference in Spawn's manner toward me now. He seemed far
more wary. Outwardly he was in a high good humor. He asked nothing
concerning my morning at the Government House. He puttered over his
electron-stove, making me help him; he cursed the heat; he said one
could not eat in such heat as this; but the meal he cooked, and the way
he sat down opposite me and attacked it, belied him.

He was acting; but so was I. And perhaps I deceived him as little as he
deceived me. We avoided the things which were uppermost in the thoughts
of us both. But, when we had very nearly finished the meal, I decided to
try him out. I said suddenly, out of a silence:

"Spawn, why didn't you tell me you were a producer of quicksilver?" I
shot him a sharp glance. "You are, aren't you?"

It took him by surprise, but he recovered himself instantly. "Yes. Are
you interested?"

I tried another shot. "What surprised me was that a wealthy mine
owner--you are, aren't you?--should bother to keep an unprofitable
hotel. Why bother with it, Spawn?"

I thought I knew the answer: he wanted Nareda's visitors under his eyes.

"That is a pleasure." There was irony in his tone. "I am a lonesome man.
I like--interesting companionship, such as yours, young Grant."

It was on my tongue to hint at his daughter. But I thought better of it.

"I am going to the mine now," he said abruptly. "Would you like to
come?"

"Yes," I smiled. "Thanks."

       *       *       *       *       *

I wanted to see his mine. But that he should be eager to show it,
surprised me. I wondered what purpose he could have in that. I had a
hint of it later; for when we took his little autocar and slid up the
winding road into the bloated crags towering on the slope behind Nareda,
he told me calmly:

"I shall have to put you in charge of my mine commander. I am busy
elsewhere this afternoon. You will see the mine just as well without
me."

He added. "I must go to the Government House: President Markes wants a
report on my recent production."

So that was what Perona had told him over the audiphone just before our
noonday meal?

It was an inferno of shadows and glaring lights, this underground
cavern. As modern mining activities go, it was small and primitive. No
more than a dozen men were here, beside the sweating pudgy mine
commander who was my guide. A voluble fellow; of what original
nationality I could not determine.

We stood watching the line of carts dumping the ore onto the endless
lifting-belt. It went a hundred feet or so up and out of the cavern's
ascending shaft, to fall with a clatter into the bins above the smelter.

"Rich ore," I said. "Isn't it?"

The cinnabar ran like thick blood-red veins in the rock.

"Rich," said the mine commander. "That it is. Rich. But who does it make
rich? Only Spawn, not me." He waved his arms, airing his grievance with
which for an hour past he had regaled me. "Only Spawn. For me, a dole
each week."

The smelter was in a stone building--one of a small group of mine houses
which stood in a cauldron depression above excavations. Rounded domes of
rock towered above them. The sun, even at this tri-noon hour, was gone
behind the heights above us. The murky shadows of night were gathering,
the mists of the Lowlands settling. The tube-lights of the mine, strung
between small metal poles, winked on like bleary eyes.

"Of a day soon I will fling this job to hell--"

       *       *       *       *       *

I was paying scant attention to the fellow's tirade. Could there be
smuggling going on from this mine? It all seemed to be conducted openly
enough. If the production record were being falsified I felt that this
dissatisfied mine commander was not aware of it. He showed me the
smelter, where the quicksilver condensed in the coils and ran with its
small luminous silver streams into the vats.

He was called away momentarily by one of his men, leaving me standing
there. I was alone; no one seemed in sight, or within hearing. In the
shadow of the condensers I drew out my transmitter and called Hanley.

I got him within a minute.

"Chief!"

"Yes, Phil. I hoped you'd call me. Didn't want to chance it, raising you
when you might not be alone."

I told him swiftly what I had done; where I was now.

And Hanley said, with equal briskness: "I've an important fact. Just had
Markes on secret wave-length. He tells me that Spawn has been saving up
his quicksilver for six months past. He's got several hundred thousand
dollar-standards' worth of it in ingots there right now."

"Here at the mine?"

"Yes. Got them all radiuminized, ready for the highest priced markets.
Markes says he is scheduled to turn them over to the government checkers
to-morrow. The Nareda government takes its share to-morrow; then Spawn
exports the rest."

I heard a footstep. "Off, Chief! I'll call you later!"

I clicked off summarily. The little grid was under my shirt when the
mine commander rejoined me.

       *       *       *       *       *

For another half hour or to I hovered about the smelter house. A
treasure of quicksilver ingots here? I mentioned it casually to my
companion. He shot me a sharp glance.

"Spawn has told you that?"

"I heard it."

"His business. We do not talk of that. Never can I tell what Spawn will
choose to take offense at."

We rambled upon other subjects. Later, he said, "We work not at night.
But Spawn, he is here often at night, with his friend, the Señor
Perona."

That caught my attention. "I met Perona this morning," I said quickly.
"Is he a partner of Spawn's?"

"If he is so, I never was told it. But much he is here--at night."

"Why at night?"

The fellow really knew nothing. Or if he did, he was diplomatic enough
not to jeopardize his post by babbling of it to me. He said:

"Perona is Spawn's friend. Why not? His daughter to marry: that will
make him a son-in-law." He laughed. "An old fool, but not such a fool
either. Spawn is rich."

"His daughter. Has he a daughter?"

"The little Jetta. You haven't seen her? Well, that is not strange.
Spawn keeps her very hidden. A mystery about it: all Nareda talks, but
no one knows; and Spawn does not like questions."

Spawn abruptly joined us! He came from the black shadows of the lurid
smelter room. Had he heard us discussing Jetta? I wondered.



CHAPTER V

_Mysterious Meeting_


"Ah, Grant--have you enjoyed yourself?" He dismissed his subordinate. "I
was detained. Sorry."

He was smoothly imperturbable. "Have you seen everything? Quite a little
plant I have here? We shut down early to-day. I will make ready to
close."

I followed him about while he arranged for the termination of the day's
activities. The clatter of the smelter house was presently still; the
men departing. Spawn and I were the last to leave, save for the eight
men who were the mine's night guards. They were stalwart, silent
fellows, armed with electronic needle projectors.

The lights of the mine went low until they were mere pencil points of
blue illumination in the gloom. The eery look of the place was
intensified by the darkness and silence of the abnormally early
nightfall. The fantastic crags stood dark with formless shadow.

Spawn stopped to speak to one of the guards. The men wore a
gold-trimmed, but now dirty, white linen uniform, wilted by the
heat--the uniform of Nareda's police. I remarked it to him.

"The government lent me the men," Spawn explained. "Of an ordinary time
I have only one guard."

"But this then, is not an ordinary time?" I hinted.

He looked at me sharply. And upon sudden impulse, I added:

"President Markes said something about you having a treasure here.
Radiumized quicksilver."

It was evidently Spawn's desire to appear thoroughly frank with me. He
laughed. "Well, then, if Markes has told you, then might I not as well
admit it? The treasure is here, indeed yes. Will you like to see it?"

       *       *       *       *       *

He led me into a little strong room adjoining the smelter
coil-rectifiers. He flashed his hand searchlight. On the floor, piled
crosswise, were small moulded bars of refined quicksilver--dull,
darkened silver ingots of this world's most precious metal.

"Quite a treasure, Grant, here to-night. See, it is radiumized."

He snapped off his torch. In the darkness the little bars glowed
irridescent.

"To-morrow I will divide with our Nareda government. One-third for them.
And my own share I will export: to Great New York, this shipment.
Already I have the order for it."

He added calmly, "The duty is high, Grant. Too bad your big New York
market is protected by so large a duty. With my cost of
production--these accursed Lowland workmen who demand so much for their
labor, and a third of all I produce taken by Nareda--there is not much
in it for me."

He had re-lighted the room. I could feel his eyes on me, but I said
nothing. It was obvious to me now that he knew I was a government
customs agent.

I said, "This certainly interests me, friend Spawn. I'll tell you why
some other time."

We exchanged significant glances, both of us smiling.

"Well can I guess it, young Grant. So here is my treasure. Without the
duty I would soon be wealthy. Chut! Why should I roll in a pity for
myself? There is a duty and I am an honest man, so I pay it."

I said, "Aren't you afraid to leave this stored here?" I knew that this
pile of ingots--the quicksilver in its radiumized form--was worth four
or five hundred thousand dollars in American gold-coin at the very
least.

       *       *       *       *       *

Spawn shrugged. "Who would attack it? But of course I will be glad to be
rid of it. It is a great responsibility--even though it carries
international insurance, to protect my and the Nareda Government share."

He was sealing up the heavy barred portals of the little strong-room.
There was an alarm-detector, connected with the office of Nareda's
police commander. Spawn set the alarm carefully.

"I have every safeguard, Grant. There is really no danger." He added, as
though with sudden thought. "Except possibly one--a depth bandit named
De Boer. Ever you have heard of him?"

"Yes. I have."

We climbed into Spawn's small automatic vehicle. The lights of the mine
faded behind us as we coasted the winding road down to the village.

"De Boer," said Spawn. "A fellow who lives by his wits in the depths.
Near here, perhaps: who knows? They say he has many followers--fifty--a
hundred, perhaps--outlaws: a cut-belly band it must be."

"Didn't he once take a hand in Nareda's politics?" I suggested.

Spawn guffawed. "That is so. He was once what they called a patriot
here. He thought he might be made President. But Markes ran him out. Now
he is a bandit. I have believe that American mail-ship which sank last
year in the cauldron north of the Nares Sea--you remember how it was
attacked by bandits?--I have always believe that was De Boer's band."

       *       *       *       *       *

We rolled back to Nareda. Spawn's manner had again changed. He seemed
even more friendly than before. More at his ease with me. We had supper,
and smoked together in his living room for half an hour afterward. But
my thoughts were more on Jetta than on her father. There was still no
evidence of her about the premises. Ah, if I only had known what had
taken place there at Spawn's that afternoon while I was at the mine!

Soon after supper Spawn yawned. "I think I shall go to bed." His glance
was inquiring. "What are you going to do?"

I stood up. "I'll go to bed, too. Markes wants to see me early in the
morning. You'll be there, Spawn?"

"Yes. We will go together."

It was still no more than eight o'clock in the evening. Spawn followed
me to my bedroom, and left me at its door.

"Sleep well. I will call you in time."

"Thanks, Spawn."

I wondered if there were irony in his voice as he said good night. No
one could have told.

       *       *       *       *       *

I did not go to bed. I sat listening to the silence of my room and the
garden, and Spawn's retreating footsteps. He had said he was sleepy, but
nevertheless I presently heard him across the patio. He was apparently
in the kitchen, cleaning away our meal, to judge by the rattling of his
pans. It was as yet not much after hour eight of the evening. The hours
before my tryst with Jetta seemed an interminable time to wait. She
might not come, though, I was afraid, until midnight.

At all events I felt that I had some hours yet. And it occurred to me
that the evening was not yet too far advanced for me to call upon
Perona. He lived not far from here, I had learned. I wanted to see this
beribboned old Minister of Nareda's Internal Affairs.

I would use as my excuse a desire to discuss further the possibility of
smuggler being here in Nareda.

I put on my hat and a light jacket, verified that my dirk was readily
accessible and sealed up my room. Spawn apparently was still in the
kitchen. I got out of the house, I felt sure, without him being aware of
it.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Nareda streets were quiet. There was a few pedestrians, and none of
them paid much attention to me. It was no more than ten minutes walk to
Perona's home.

His house was set back from the road, surrounded by luxurious
vegetation. There was a gate in front of the garden, and another, a
hundred feet or to along a small alleyway which bordered the ground to
my left. I was about to enter the front gate when sight of a figure
passing under the garden foliage checked me. It was a man, evidently
coming from the house and headed toward the side gate. He went through a
shaft of light that slanted from one of the lower windows of the house.

Perona! I was sure it was he. His slight figure, with a gay,
tri-cornered hat. A short tasseled cloak hanging from his shoulders. He
was alone; walking fast. He evidently had not seen me. I crouched
outside the high front wall, and through its lattice bars I saw him
reach the side gate, open it swiftly, pass through, and close it after
him. There was something furtive about his manner, for all he was
undisguised. I decided to follow him.

The front street fortunately was deserted at the moment. I waited long
enough for him to appear. But he did not; and when I ran to the alley
corner--chancing bumping squarely into him--I saw him far down its dim,
narrow length where it opened into the back street which bordered his
grounds to the rear. He turned to the left and shot a swift glance up
the alley, which I anticipated, provided for by drawing back. When I
looked again, he was gone.

       *       *       *       *       *

I have had some experience at playing the shadow. But it was not easy
here along the almost deserted and fairly bright Nareda streets. Perona
was walking swiftly down the slope toward the outskirts of the village
where it bordered upon the Nares Sea. For a time I thought he was headed
for the landing field, but at a cross-path he turned sharply to the
right, away from the field, whose sheen of lights I could now see down
the rocky defile ahead of me. There was nothing but broken, precipitous
rocky country ahead of him, into which this path he had taken was
winding. What could Perona, a Minister, be engaged in, wandering off
alone into this black, deserted region?

It was black indeed, by now. The village was soon far behind us. A storm
was in the night air; a wind off the sea; solid black clouds overhead
blotted out the moon and stars. The crags and buttes and gullies of this
tumbled area loomed barely visible about me. There were times when only
my feel of the path under my feet kept me from straying, to fall into a
ravine or crevice.

I prowled perhaps two hundred yards behind Perona. He was using a tiny
hand-flash now; it bobbed and winked in the darkness ahead, vanishing
sometimes when a curve in the path hid him, or when he plunged down into
a gully and up again. I had no search-beam. Nor would I have dared use
one: Perona could too obviously have seen that someone was following
him.

There was half a mile of this, I think, though it seemed interminable. I
could hear the sea, rising with the wind, pounding against the rocks to
my left. Then, a distance ahead, I saw lights moving. Perona's--and
others. Three or four of them. Their combined glow made a radiance which
illumined the path and rocks. I could see the figures of several men
whom Perona had joined. They stood a moment and then moved off. To the
right a ragged cliff wall towered the path. The spots of light bobbed
toward it. I caught the vague outline of a huge broken opening, like a
cave mouth in the cliff. The lights were swallowed by it.

I crept cautiously forward.



CHAPTER VI

_Ether-wave Eavesdropping_


I had thought it was a cavern mouth into which the men had disappeared,
but it was not. I reached it without any encounter. It loomed above me,
a great archway in the cliff--an opening fifty feet high and equally as
broad. And behind it was a roofless cave--a sort of irregularly circular
bowl, five hundred feet across its broken, bowlder-strewn, caked-ooze
floor.

I crouched in the blackness under the archway. The moon had risen and
its light filtered with occasional shafts through the swift-flying black
clouds overhead. The scene was brighter. It was dark in the archway, but
a glow of moonlight in the bowl beyond showed me its tumbled floor and
the precipitous, eroded walls, like a crater-rim, which encircled it.

The men whom Perona had met were across the bowl near its opposite side.
I could see the group of them, five hundred feet from me, by a little
moonlight that was on them; also by the sheen from the spots of their
hand-lights. Four or five men, and Perona. I thought I distinguished the
aged Minister sitting on a rock, and before him a huge giant man's
figure striding up and down. Perona seemed talking vehemently: the men
were listening; the giant paused occasionally in his pacing to fling a
question.

All this I saw with my first swift glance. My attention was drawn from
the men to an object near them. The nose of a flyer showed between two
upstanding crags on the floor of the valley. Only its forward horizontal
propellers and the tip of its cabin and landing gear were visible, but I
could guess that it was a fair-sized ship.

The men were too far away for me to hear them. Could I get across the
floor of the bowl without discovery? It did not seem so. The accursed
moonlight became stronger every moment. Then I saw a guard--a dark
figure of a man showing just inside the archway, some seventy feet from
me. He was leaning against a rock, facing my way. In his hands was a
thick-barreled electronic projector.

I could not advance: that was obvious. The moonlight lay in a clear
clean patch beyond the archway. The guard stood at its edge.

       *       *       *       *       *

A minute or two had passed. Perona was still talking vehemently. I was
losing it: not a word was audible. Yet I felt that if I could hear
Perona now, much that Hanley and I wanted to learn would be made clear
to us. My little microphone receiver could be adjusted for audible air
vibrations. I crouched and held it cautiously above my head with its
face, like a listening ear, turned toward the distant men. My
single-vacuum amplification brought up the sound until their voices
sounded like whispers murmured in my ear-grids.

"De Boer, listen to me--"

Perona's voice. They must have been chance words spoken loudly. It was
all I could hear, save tantalizing, unintelligible murmurs.

So this was De Boer, the bandit! The big fellow pacing before Perona. I
wanted infinitely more, now, to hear what was being said.

I thought of Hanley. There might be a way of handling this.

I had to murmur very softly. I was hidden in these shadows from the
guard's sight, but he was close enough to hear my normal voice. I
chanced it. A wind was sucking through the archway with an audible
whine: the guard might not hear me.

"X. 2. AY."

The sorter's desk. He came in. I murmured Hanley's rating. "Rush.
Danger. Special."

It went swiftly through. Hanley, thank Heaven, was at his desk.

       *       *       *       *       *

I plugged in my little image finder; held it over my head; turned it
slowly. I whispered:

"Look around, Chief. See where I am? Near Nareda; couple of miles out.
Followed Perona; he met these men.

"The big one is De Boer, the depth bandit. I can't hear what they're
saying--but I can send you their voice murmurs."

"Amplify them all you can. Relay them up," Hanley ordered.

I caught Perona's murmurs again; I swung them through my tiny
transformers and off my transmitter points into the ether.

"Hear them, Chief?"

"Yes. I'll try further amplification."

It was what I had intended. Hanley's greater power might be able to
amplify those murmurs into audible strength.

"I'm getting them, Phil."

He swung them back to me. Grotesquely distorted, blurred with tube-hum
and interference crackle, they roared in my ear-grids so loudly that I
saw the nearby guard turn his head as though startled. Listening....

But evidently he concluded it was nothing.

I cut down the volume. Hanley switched in.

"By God. Phil! This--"

"Off, Chief! Let me hear, too!"

       *       *       *       *       *

He cut away. Those distorted voices! They came from Perona and the
bandits to me across this five hundred foot moonlit bowl; from me,
thirteen hundred miles up to Hanley's instruments; and back to me once
more. But the words, most of them, now were distinguishable.

Perona's voice: "I tell it to you. De Boer ... and a good chance for you
to make the money."

"But will they pay?"

"Of course they will pay. Big. A ransom princely."

"And why, Perona? Why princely? Who is this fellow--so important?"

"He is with rich business men, I tell to you."

"A private citizen?"

"... And a private citizen, of a surety. Fool! Have you come to be a
coward, De Boer?"

"Pah!"

"Well then I tell you it is a lifetime chance. All of it I have
arranged. If he was a government agent, that would be very different,
for they are very keen, this administration of the American government,
to protect their agents. But their private citizens--it is a scandal! Do
you not ever pick the newscasters' reports, De Boer? Has it not been a
scandal that this administration does very little for its citizens
abroad?"

"And you want to get rid of this fellow? Why, Perona?"

"That is not your concern. The ransom is to be all yours. Make away with
him--in the depths somewhere. Demand your ransom. Fifty thousand
gold-standards! Demand it of me. Of Nareda!"

"And you will pay it?"

"I promise it. Nareda will pay it--and Nareda will collect the ransom
from the American capitalists. Very easy."

His voice fell lower. "Between us, you will get the ransom money from
Nareda--and then kill your prisoner if you like. Call it an accident;
what matter? And dead men are silent men, De Boer. I will see that no
real pursuit is made after you."

       *       *       *       *       *

They were talking about me! It was obvious. Questions rushed at me.
Perona, planning with this bandit to abduct me. Hold me for ransom. Or
kill me! But Perona knew that I was not a private citizen. He was lying
to De Boer, to persuade him.

Why this attack upon me? Was Spawn in on it? Why were they so anxious to
get rid of me? Because of Jetta? Or because I was dangerous, prying
into their smuggling activities. Or both?

De Boer: "... Get up with my men through the streets to Spawn's house?
You have it fixed?"

"Yes. Over the route from here as I told you, there are no police
to-night. I have ordered them off. In the garden. _Dios!_ You offer so
many objections! I tell you all is fixed. In an hour, half an hour; even
now, perhaps, the Americano is in the garden. The girl has promised to
meet him there. He will be there, fear not. Will you go?"

"Yes."

"Hah! That is the De Boer I have always admired!"

I could see them in the moonlight across the pit. Perona now standing
up, the giant figure of the bandit towering over him.

       *       *       *       *       *

Hanley's microscopic voice cut in: "Getting it, Phil? To seize you for
ransom!"

"Yes. I hear it."

"This girl. Who--?"

"Wait, Chief. Off--"

De Boer: "I will do it! Fifty thousand."

Perona: "An hour now. Spawn will be at his home asleep."

"And you will go to the mine?"

"Yes. Now, from here. You seize this fellow Grant, and then attack the
mine. Our regular plan, De Boer. This does not change it."

Attack Spawn's mine! Half a million of treasure was there to-night!

Perona was chuckling: "You give Spawn's guards the signal. They are all
my men--in my pay. They will run away when you appear."

Hanley cut in again. "By the gods, they're after that treasure! Phil,
listen to me! you must...." His voice faded.

"Chief, I can't hear you!"

Hanley came again: "... And I will notify Porto Rico. The local patrol
will be about ready to leave."

"Or notify Nareda headquarters," I suggested. "If you can get President
Markes, he can send some police to the mine--"

"And find all Nareda's police bribed by Perona? I'll get Porto Rico. We
have an hour or two; the patrol can reach you in an hour."

The bandits were preparing to leave here. Two or three of them had gone
to the flyer. Perona and De Boer were parting.

"... Well, that is all, De Boer."

"Right, Señor Perona. I will start shortly."

"On foot, by the street route to Spawn's--"

Hanley's hurried voice came back: "I've sent the call to Porto Rico."

       *       *       *       *       *

The guard had moved again. He was no more than forty feet away from me
now--standing up gazing directly toward where I was crouching over my
tiny instruments in the shadows of the rocky arch. A footstep sounded
behind me, on the path outside the arch. Someone approaching!

A tiny light bobbing!

Then a voice calling, "Perona! De Boer!"

The guard took a step forward; stopped, with levelled weapon.

Then the voice again: it was so loud it went through my opened relay,
flashed up to New York, and blew out half a dozen of Hanley's attuned
vacuums.

"Perona!"

Spawn's voice! He was coming toward me! I lay prone, my little grids
switched off. I held my breath.

Spawn's figure went past within ten feet of me. But he did not see me.

He met the guard. "Hello, Gutierrez. The damned American--"

Perona and De Boer came hastening. Spawn joined them in the moonlight
just beyond the archway, close enough for me to hear them plainly. Spawn
was out of breath, panting from his swift walk. He greeted them with a
roar.

"The American--he is gone!"

"_Dios!_ Gone where, Spawn?"

"The hell--how do I know, Perona? He is gone from his room--from the
house. Maybe he followed you here? Did he?"



CHAPTER VII

_Behind the Sealed Door_


There was a moment when I think I might have escaped unseen from that
archway. But I was too amazed at Spawn's appearance to think of my own
situation. I had believed that Perona was plotting against Spawn,
meeting these bandits in this secret place; I had just heard them
planning to attack Spawn's mine--to rob it of the treasure doubtless,
which I knew was stored there.

But I realized now it was not a plot against Spawn. He had come here
swiftly to join Perona and tell him that I, their intended victim, was
missing. He had greeted the bandit guard by name. He seemed, indeed, as
well known to these bandits as Perona himself.

They stood now in a group some thirty feet away from me. I could hear
their excited voices perfectly clearly. My instruments were off; but I
recall that as I listened to Spawn I was also aware of the tingle of the
electrode-band on my chest--Hanley, vigorously calling me back to find
out why I had so summarily disconnected.

"I took him to his room," Spawn was explaining excitedly. "De duvel, why
should I have sealed him in? How could I? He is no child!"

De Boer laughed caustically. "And so he has walked away from you? I
think I am a fool to mix myself with you two."

Perona retorted, "I have made you rich, De Boer. Think what you like;
to-night is the end of our partnership. Only, you do what I have told
you to-night."

"Hah! How can I? Your American has flown his trap."

This guard--this Gutierrez, as Spawn had called him--was listening with
interest. De Boer's several other men were gathered there. I felt
myself safe where I was, for the moment at least.

       *       *       *       *       *

I cut Hanley in. "Chief, they're closer! Spawn has come! They've missed
me! I'll relay what they're saying, but you step it down; there's too
much volume."

"You're all right, Phil? Thank Heaven for that! Something blew my
vacuums."

"Chief, listen--here they are--"

Perona: "But he will be back. In the garden now, no doubt, with Jetta."

De Boer: "Ah--the little Jetta! So she is there, Spawn? Not in years
have you spoken of your daughter. A young lady now, I suppose. Is it
so?"

Spawn cursed. "We leave her out of this. You follow the Señor's plan."

"Come to your house? You think the bird will be there for me to seize?"

"Yes," Perona put in. "You go there; in an hour. Then to the mine."

Spawn undoubtedly was in this plot to attack his mine! He said, "At the
mine we have arranged everything. Damn this American! But for Perona I
would not bother with him."

"But you will bother," Perona interjected.

De Boer laughed again. "I would be witless could I not figure this! He
is a young man, and so handsome he has frightened you with the little
Jetta! Is that it, Perona? Jealous, eh?"

I had been holding the image finder so that Hanley might see them.
Hanley's voice rattled my ear-grid. "Phil! Get away from there! Look! De
Boer is searching!"

       *       *       *       *       *

De Boer had, a moment before, spoken quietly aside to Gutierrez. And now
three or four of the men were spreading out, poking about with small
hand-flashes. Searching for me! The possibility that I might be here,
eavesdropping!

Hanley repeated vehemently, "Phil, they'll find you! Get out of there:
the way is still open!"

Gutierrez was approaching the archway. But I lingered a moment longer.

"Chief, you heard about that girl, Jetta, Spawn's daughter--"

I stopped. Perona was saying, "Spawn, was Jetta still in her room? You
did not untie her?"

"No."

"And gagged? Suppose the Americano was back there now? She might call to
him, and he would release her--"

De Boer: "How do you know he is not around here? Listening?"

With the assumption that I might be within hearing, De Boer tried to
trap me. Gutierrez, at a signal now, suddenly dashed through the archway
and planted himself on the path outside. The other searchers spread
their rays; the rocks all about me were lighted. But my niche was still
untouched.

De Boer: "If he is around here--"

Perona: "He could not have followed me; I was too careful."

I was murmuring: "Chief, they've got that girl."

"Phil, you get away! Go to Markes. Stay with him."

"But Chief, that Jetta, I--"

"Keep out of this! You're only one; you can't help any! I've sent for
the Porto Rican patrol ship to handle this."

"Chief, I'm going back to Spawn's."

"No--"

I cut off abruptly. In another moment I would have been discovered. The
searchers were headed directly for me.

       *       *       *       *       *

I moved, crouching, back along the inner wall of the archway. The moon
was momentarily behind a cloud. It was black under the arch; and out
front it was so dim I could only see the faint blob of Gutierrez's
standing figure, and the spot of his flashlight.

Perona: "He is not around here, De Boer. That is foolish."

Spawn: "He could have gone anywhere. Maybe a walk around the village."

Perona: "Go back home, Spawn. De Boer will come--"

Their voices faded as I moved away. A searching bandit behind me poked
with his light into the crevice where a moment before I had been
crouching. I moved faster. Only Gutierrez now was in front of me. He was
at the far end of the arch. I could slip past, and still be fifty feet
from him--if I could avoid his swinging little light-beam.

I was running now, chancing that he would hear me. I was on the path; I
could see it vaguely.

From behind me came a sizzling flash, and the ting of the flying needle
as it missed me by a foot.

"The Americano! He goes there!"

Another shot. The shouts of the bandits in the archway. A turmoil back
there.

But it was all behind me. I leaped sidewise off the path as Gutierrez
small light-beam swept it. I ran stumbling through a stubble of
boulders, around an upstanding rock spire, back to the path again.

There were other shots. Then De Boer's voice, faint by distance: "Stop!
Fools! We will alarm the village! The landing field can see our shots
from here! Take it easy! You can't get him!"

The turmoil quieted. I went around a bend in the path, running swiftly.

Pursuit was behind me. I could hear them coming.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a run of no more than ten minutes to the junction where, down the
slope, I could see the lights of the landing field.

The glow of the village was ahead of me. Then I was in its outskirts.
Occasional dark houses. Deserted streets.

I slowed to a fast walk. I was breathless, panting in the heat.

I heard no pursuit now. But Spawn and the rest of them doubtless were
after me. Would they head back for Spawn's inn? I thought they would.
But I could beat them back there; I was sure there was no shorter route
than this I was taking.

Would they use their flyer? That would not gain them any time, what
with launching it and landing, for so short a flight. And a bandit flyer
could not very well land unseen or unnoticed, even in somnolent Nareda.

I reached the main section of the village. There were occasional lights
and pedestrians. My haste was noticeable, but I was not accosted. There
seemed no police about. I recalled Perona's remark that he had attended
to that.

My electrode was tingling. I had been running again. I slowed down.

"Chief?"

"Phil." His voice carried relief. "You got away?"

"Yes. I'm in the village."

"Go to President Markes."

"No, I'm headed for Spawn's! They're all behind me; I can get there a
few minutes ahead of them."

       *       *       *       *       *

I panted an exclamation, incoherently, but frankly, about Jetta. "I'm
going to get her out of there."

"Phil, what in hell--"

I told him.

"So you've fallen in love with a girl? Entangled--"

"Chief!"

"Go after her, Phil! Got her bound and gagged, have they? Going to marry
her to this Perona? Like the Middle Ages?"

I had never seen this side of Hanley.

"Get her if you want her. Get her out of there. Take her to Markes--No,
I wouldn't trust anybody in Nareda! Take her into the uplands behind the
village. But keep away from that mine! Have you got flash-fuses?"

"Yes."

I was within sight of Spawn's house. The street was dim and deserted. I
was running again.

I panted. "I'm--almost at Spawn's!"

"Good! When it's over, whatever happens up there at the mine, then
signal the patrol."

"Yes."

I reached Spawn's front gate. The house and front garden were dark.

"Use your fuses, Phil. What colors?"

"I have red and blue."

"I'll talk to the patrol ship again. Tell them to watch for you. Red and
blue. Two short red flashes, a long blue."

"Right, Chief. I'm here at Spawn's, cutting off."

"Come back on when you can." His voice went anxious again. "I'll wait
here."

"All right."

I cut silent. I ran through the front doorway of Spawn's inn. The living
room was dim and empty. Which way was Jetta's room? I could only guess.

I had a few minutes, perhaps, before my pursuers would arrive.

       *       *       *       *       *

I reached the inner, patio garden. The moon was well out from under the
clouds now. The patio shimmered, a silent, deserted fairyland.

"Jetta!" I called it softly. Then louder. "Jetta!"

Spawn's house was fairly large and rambling. There were so many rooms.
Jetta was gagged; how could she answer me? But I had no time to search
for her.

"Jetta?"

And then came her voice. "Philip?"

"Jetta! Which way? Where are you?"

"Here! This way: in my room."

A window and a door near the pergola. "Jetta!"

"Yes. I am in here. They tied me up. Not so loud, Phil: father will hear
you."

"He's gone out."

I reached her garden door. Turned its handle. Rattled the door. Shoved
frantically with my shoulder!

The metal door was firmly sealed!

_(To be continued)_



[Illustration: _One of the men rolled free and came Lurching toward
us._]

The Terrible Tentacles of L-472

_By Sewell Peaslee Wright_


It was a big mistake. I should not have done it. By birth, by instinct,
by training, by habit, I am a man of action. Or I was. It is queer that
an old man cannot remember that he is no longer young.

[Sidenote: Commander John Hanson of the Special Patrol Service records
another of his thrilling interplanetary assignments.]

But it was a mistake for me to mention that I had recorded, for the
archives of the Council, the history of a certain activity of the
Special Patrol--a bit of secret history[1] which may not be mentioned
here. Now they insist--by "they" I refer to the Chiefs of the Special
Patrol Service--that I write of other achievements of the Service, other
adventures worthy of note.

[Footnote 1: Editors Note: "The Forgotten Planet" July 1930 issue of
Astounding Stories]

Perhaps that is the penalty of becoming old. From commander of the
_Budi_, one of the greatest of the Special Patrol ships, to the duties
of recording ancient history, for younger men to read and dream about.
That is a shrewd blow to one's pride.

But if I can, in some small way, add luster to the record of my service,
it will be a fitting task for a man grown old and gray in that service;
work for hands too weak and palsied for sterner duties.

But I shall tell my stories in my own way; after all, they are my
stories. And I shall tell the stories that appeal to me most. The
universe has had enough and too much of dry history; these shall be
adventurous tales to make the blood of a young man who reads them run a
trifle faster--and perhaps the blood of the old man who writes them.

This, the first, shall be the story of the star L-472. You know it
to-day as Ibit, port-o'-call for interplanetary ships, and source of
ocrite for the universe, but to me it will always be L-472, the world of
terrible tentacles.

       *       *       *       *       *

My story begins nearly a hundred years ago--reckoned in terms of Earth
time, which is proper, since I am a native of Earth--when I was a young
man. I was sub-commander, at the time, of the _Kalid_, one of the early
ships of the Special Patrol.

We had been called to Zenia on special orders, and Commander Jamison,
after an absence of some two hours, returned to the _Kalid_ with his
face shining, one of his rare smiles telling me in advance that he had
news--and good news.

He hurried me up to the deserted navigating room and waved me to a seat.

"Hanson," he said. "I'm glad to be the first to congratulate you. You
are now Commander John Hanson, of the Special Patrol Ship _Kalid_!"

"Sir." I gasped, "do you mean--"

His smile broadened. From the breast pocket of the trim blue and silver
uniform of our Service he drew a long, crackling paper.

"Your commission," he said. "I'm taking over the _Borelis_."

It was my turn to extend congratulations then; the _Borelis_ was the
newest and greatest ship of the Service. We shook hands, that ancient
gesture of good-fellowship on Earth. But, as our hands unclasped,
Jamison's face grew suddenly grave.

"I have more than this news for you, however," he said slowly. "You are
to have a chance to earn your comet hardly."

       *       *       *       *       *

I smiled broadly at the mention of the comet, the silver insignia, worn
over the heart, that would mark my future rank as commander, replacing
the four-rayed star of a sub-commander which I wore now on my tunic.

"Tell me more, sir," I said confidently.

"You have heard of the Special Patrol Ship _Filanus_?" asked my late
commander gravely.

"Reported lost in space," I replied promptly.

"And the _Dorlos_?"

"Why--yes; she was at Base here at our last call," I said, searching his
face anxiously. "Peter Wilson was Second Officer on her--one of my best
friends. Why do you ask about her, sir?"

"The _Dorlos_ is missing also," said Commander Jamison solemnly. "Both
of these ships were sent upon a particular mission. Neither of them has
returned. It is concluded that some common fate has overtaken them. The
_Kalid_, under your command, is commissioned to investigate these
disappearances.

"You are not charged with the mission of these other ships; your orders
are to investigate their disappearance. The course, together with the
official patrol orders, I shall hand you presently, but with them go
verbal orders.

"You are to lay and keep the course designated, which will take you well
out of the beaten path to a small world which has not been explored,
but which has been circumnavigated a number of times by various ships
remaining just outside the atmospheric envelope, and found to be without
evidence of intelligent habitation. In other words, without cities,
roads, canals, or other evidence of human handiwork or civilization.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I believe your instructions give you some of this information, but not
all of it. This world, unnamed because of its uninhabited condition, is
charted only as L-472. Your larger charts will show it, I am sure. The
atmosphere is reported to be breatheable by inhabitants of Earth and
other beings having the same general requirements. Vegetation is
reported as dense, covering the five continents of the world to the
edges of the northern and southern polar caps, which are small.
Topographically, the country is rugged in the extreme, with many peaks,
apparently volcanic, but now inactive or extinct, on all of its five
large continents."

"And am I to land there, sir?" I asked eagerly.

"Your orders are very specific upon that point," said Commander Jamison.
"You are not to land until you have carefully and thoroughly
reconnoitered from above, at low altitude. You will exercise every
possible precaution. Your specific purpose is simply this: to determine,
if possible, the fate of the other two ships, and report your findings
at once. The Chiefs of the Service will then consider the matter, and
take whatever action may seem advisable to them." Jamison rose to his
feet and thrust out his hand in Earth's fine old salute of farewell.

"I must be going, Hanson," he said. "I wish this patrol were mine
instead of yours. You are a young man for such a responsibility."

"But," I replied, with the glowing confidence of youth, "I have the
advantage of having served under Commander Jamison!"

       *       *       *       *       *

He smiled as we shook again, and shook his head.

"Discretion can be learned only by experience," he said. "But I wish you
success, Hanson; on this undertaking, and on many others. Supplies are
on their way now; the crew will return from leave within the hour. A
young Zenian, name of Dival, I believe, is detailed to accompany you as
scientific observer--purely unofficial capacity, of course. He has been
ordered to report to you at once. You are to depart as soon as feasible:
you know what that means. I believe that's all--Oh, yes! I had almost
forgotten.

"Here, in this envelope, are your orders and your course, as well as all
available data on L-472. In this little casket is--your comet, Hanson. I
know you will wear it with honor!"

"Thank you, sir!" I said, a bit huskily. I saluted, and Commander
Jamison acknowledged the gesture with stiff precision. Commander Jamison
always had the reputation of being something of a martinet.

When he had left, I picked up the thin blue envelope he had left. Across
the face of the envelope, in the--to my mind--jagged and unbeautiful
Universal script, was my name, followed by the proud title: "_Commander,
Special Patrol Ship Kalid._" My first orders!

There was a small oval box, of blue leather, with the silver crest of
the Service in bas-relief on the lid. I opened the case, and gazed with
shining eyes at the gleaming, silver comet that nestled there.

Then, slowly, I unfastened the four-rayed star on my left breast, and
placed in its stead the insignia of my commandership.

Worn smooth and shiny now, it is still my most precious possession.

       *       *       *       *       *

Kincaide, my second officer, turned and smiled as I entered the
navigating room.

"L-472 now registers maximum attraction, sir," he reported. "Dead ahead,
and coming up nicely. My last figures, completed about five minutes
ago, indicate that we should reach the gaseous envelope in about ten
hours." Kincaide was a native of Earth, and we commonly used Earth
time-measurements in our conversation. As is still the case, ships of
the Special Patrol Service were commanded without exception by natives
of Earth, and the entire officer personnel hailed largely from the same
planet, although I have had several Zenian officers of rare ability and
courage.

I nodded and thanked him for the report. Maximum attraction, eh? That,
considering the small size of our objective, meant we were much closer
to L-472 than to any other regular body.

Mechanically, I studied the various dials about the room. The attraction
meter, as Kincaide had said, registered several degrees of attraction,
and the red slide on the rim of the dial was squarely at the top,
showing that the attraction was coming from the world at which our nose
was pointed. The surface-temperature gauge was at normal. Internal
pressure, normal. Internal moisture-content, a little high. Kincaide,
watching me, spoke up:

"I have already given orders to dry out, sir," he said.

"Very good, Mr. Kincaide. It's a long trip, and I want the crew in good
condition." I studied the two charts, one showing our surroundings
laterally, the other vertically, all bodies about us represented as
glowing spots of green light, of varying sizes; the ship itself as a
tiny scarlet spark. Everything shipshape: perhaps, a degree or two of
elevation when we were a little closer--

"May I come in sir?" broke in a gentle, high-pitched voice.

"Certainly, Mr. Dival," I replied, answering in the Universal language
in which the request had been made. "You are always very welcome." Dival
was a typical Zenian of the finest type: slim, very dark, and with the
amazingly intelligent eyes of his kind. His voice was very soft and
gentle, and like the voice of all his people, clear and high-pitched.

"Thank you," he said. "I guess I'm over-eager, but there's something
about this mission of ours that worries me. I seem to feel--" He broke
off abruptly and began pacing back and forth across the room.

I studied him, frowning. The Zenians have a strange way of being right
about such things; their high-strung, sensitive natures seem capable of
responding to those delicate, vagrant forces which even now are only
incompletely understood and classified.

"You're not used to work of this sort," I replied, as bluffly and
heartily as possible. "There's nothing to worry about."

"The commanders of the two ships that disappeared probably felt the same
way, sir," said Dival. "I should have thought the Chiefs of the Special
Patrol Service would have sent several ships on a mission such as this."

"Easy to say," I laughed bitterly. "If the Council would pass the
appropriations we need, we might have ships enough so that we could send
a fleet of ships when we wished. Instead of that, the Council, in its
infinite wisdom, builds greater laboratories and schools of higher
learning--and lets the Patrol get along as best it can."

"It was from the laboratories and the schools of higher learning that
all these things sprang," replied Dival quietly, glancing around at the
array of instruments which made navigation in space possible.

"True," I admitted rather shortly. "We must work together. And as for
what we shall find upon the little world ahead, we shall be there in
nine or ten hours. You may wish to make some preparations."

"Nine or ten hours? That's Earth time, isn't it? Let's see: about two
and a half enaros."

"Correct," I smiled. The Universal method of reckoning time had never
appealed to me. For those of my readers who may only be familiar with
Earth time measurements, an enar is about eighteen Earth days, an enaren
a little less than two Earth days, and an enaro nearly four and a half
hours. The Universal system has the advantage, I admit, of a decimal
division; but I have found it clumsy always. I may be stubborn and
old-fashioned, but a clock face with only ten numerals and one hand
still strikes me as being unbeautiful and inefficient.

"Two and a half enaros," repeated Dival thoughtfully. "I believe I shall
see if I can get a little sleep now; I should not have brought my books
with me, I'm afraid. I read when I should sleep. Will you call me should
there be any developments of interest?"

I assured him that he would be called as he requested, and he left.

"Decent sort of a chap, sir," observed Kincaide, glancing at the door
through which Dival had just departed.

"A student," I nodded, with the contempt of violent youth for the man of
gentler pursuits than mine, and turned my attentions to some
calculations for entry in the log.

       *       *       *       *       *

Busied with the intricate details of my task, time passed rapidly. The
watch changed, and I joined my officers in the tiny, arched dining
salon. It was during the meal that I noticed for the first time a sort
of tenseness; every member of the mess was unusually quiet. And though I
would not, have admitted it then, I was not without a good deal of
nervous restraint myself.

"Gentlemen," I remarked when the meal was finished, "I believe you
understand our present mission. Primarily, our purpose is to ascertain,
if possible, the fate of two ships that were sent here and have not
returned. We are now close enough for reasonable observation by means of
the television disc, I believe, and I shall take over its operation
myself.

"There is no gainsaying the fact that whatever fate overtook the two
other Patrol ships, may lay in wait for us. My orders are to observe
every possible precaution, and to return with a report. I am going to
ask that each of you proceed immediately to his post, and make ready, in
so far as possible, for any eventuality. Warn the watch which has just
gone off to be ready for instant duty. The disintegrator ray generators
should be started and be available for instant emergency use, maximum
power. Have the bombing crews stand by for orders."

"What do you anticipate, sir?" asked Correy, my new sub-commander. The
other officers waited tensely for my reply.

"I don't know, Mr. Correy," I admitted reluctantly. "We have no
information upon which to base an assumption. We do know that two ships
have been sent here, and neither of them have returned. Something
prevented that return. We must endeavor to prevent that same fate from
overtaking the _Kalid_--and ourselves."

       *       *       *       *       *

Hurrying back to the navigating room, I posted myself beside the
cumbersome, old-fashioned television instrument. L-472 was near enough
now to occupy the entire field, with the range hand at maximum. One
whole continent and parts of two others were visible. Not many details
could be made out.

I waited grimly while an hour, two hours, went by. My field narrowed
down to one continent, to a part of one continent. I glanced up at the
surface temperature gauge and noted that the hand was registering a few
degrees above normal. Correy, who had relieved Kincaide as navigating
officer, followed my gaze.

"Shall we reduce speed, sir?" he asked crisply.

"To twice atmospheric speed," I nodded. "When we enter the envelope
proper, reduce to normal atmospheric speed. Alter your course upon
entering the atmosphere proper, and work back and forth along the
emerging twilight zone, from the north polar cap to the southern cap,
and so on."

"Yes, sir!" he replied, and repeated the orders to the control room
forward.

I pressed the attention signal to Dival's cubicle, and informed him that
we were entering the outer atmospheric fringe.

"Thank you, sir!" he said eagerly. "I shall be with you immediately."

In rapid succession I called various officers and gave terse orders.
Double crews on duty in the generator compartment, the ray projectors,
the atomic bomb magazines, and release tubes. Observers at all
observation posts, operators at the two smaller television instruments
to comb the terrain and report instantly any object of interest. With
the three of us searching, it seemed incredible that anything could
escape us. At atmospheric altitudes even the two smaller television
instruments would be able to pick out a body the size of one of the
missing ships.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dival entered the room as I finished giving my orders.

"A strange world, Dival," I commented, glancing towards the television
instrument. "Covered with trees, even the mountains, and what I presume
to be volcanic peaks. They crowd right down to the edge of the water."

He adjusted the focusing lever slightly, his face lighting up with the
interest of a scientist gazing at a strange specimen, whether it be a
microbe or a new world.

"Strange ... strange ..." he muttered. "A universal vegetation ... no
variation of type from equator to polar cap, apparently. And the
water--did you notice its color, sir?"

"Purple," I nodded. "It varies on the different worlds, you know. I've
seen pink, red, white and black seas, as well as the green and blue of
Earth."

"And no small islands," he went on, as though he had not ever heard me.
"Not in the visible portion, at any rate."

I was about to reply, when I felt the peculiar surge of the _Kalid_ as
she reduced speed. I glanced at the indicator, watching the hand drop
slowly to atmospheric speed.

"Keep a close watch, Dival," I ordered. "We shall change our course now,
to comb the country for traces of two ships we are seeking. If you see
the least suspicious sign, let me know immediately."

       *       *       *       *       *

He nodded, and for a time there was only a tense silence in the room,
broken at intervals by Correy as he spoke briefly into his microphone,
giving orders to the operating room.

Perhaps an hour went by. I am not sure. It seemed like a longer time
than that. Then Dival called out in sudden excitement, his high, thin
voice stabbing the silence:

"Here, sir! Look! A little clearing--artificial, I judge--and the ships!
Both of them!"

"Stop the ship, Mr. Correy!" I snapped as I hurried to the instrument.
"Dival, take those reports." I gestured towards the two attention
signals that were glowing and softly humming and thrust my head into the
shelter of the television instrument's big hood.

Dival had made no mistake. Directly beneath me, as I looked, was a
clearing, a perfect square with rounded corners, obviously blasted out
of the solid forest by the delicate manipulation of sharply focused
disintegrator rays. And upon the naked, pitted surface thus exposed,
side by side in orderly array, were the missing ships!

       *       *       *       *       *

I studied the strange scene with a heart that thumped excitedly against
my ribs.

What should I do? Return and report? Descend and investigate? There was
no sign of life around the ships, and no evidence of damage. If I
brought the _Kalid_ down, would she make a third to remain there, to be
marked "lost in space" on the records of the Service?

Reluctantly, I drew my head from beneath the shielding hood.

"What were the two reports, Dival?" I asked, and my voice was thick.
"The other two television observers?"

"Yes, sir. They report that they cannot positively identify the ships
with their instruments, but feel certain that they are the two we seek."

"Very good. Tell them, please, to remain on watch, searching space in
every direction, and to report instantly anything suspicious. Mr.
Correy, we will descend until this small clearing becomes visible,
through the ports, to the unaided eye. I will give you the corrections
to bring us directly over the clearing." And I read the finder scales of
the television instrument to him.

He rattled off the figures, calculated an instant, and gave his orders
to the control room, while I kept the television instrument bearing upon
the odd clearing and the two motionless, deserted ships.

       *       *       *       *       *

As we settled, I could make out the insignia of the ships, could see the
pitted, stained earth of the clearing, brown with the dust of
disintegration. I could see the surrounding trees very distinctly now:
they seemed very similar to our weeping willows, on Earth, which, I
perhaps should explain, since it is impossible for the average
individual to have a comprehensive knowledge of the flora and fauna of
the entire known Universe, is a tree of considerable size, having long,
hanging branches arching from its crown and reaching nearly to the
ground. These leaves, like typical willow leaves, were long and slender,
of rusty green color. The trunks and branches seemed to be black or dark
brown: and the trees grew so thickly that nowhere between their branches
was the ground visible.

"Five thousand feet, sir," said Correy. "Directly above the clearing.
Shall we descend further?"

"A thousand feet at a time, Mr. Correy," I replied, after a moment's
hesitation. "My orders are to exercise the utmost caution. Mr. Dival,
please make a complete analysis of the atmosphere. I believe you are
familiar with the traps provided for the purpose?"

"Yes. You propose to land, sir?"

"I propose to determine the fate of those two ships and the men who
brought them here," I said with sudden determination. Dival made no
reply, but as he turned to obey orders, I saw that his presentiment of
trouble had not left him.

"Four thousand feet, sir," said Correy.

I nodded, studying the scene below us. The great hooded instrument
brought it within, apparently, fifty feet of my eyes, but the great
detail revealed nothing of interest.

The two ships lay motionless, huddled close together. The great circular
door of each was open, as though opened that same day--or a century
before.

"Three thousand feet, sir," said Correy.

"Proceed at the same speed," I replied. Whatever fate had overtaken the
men of the other ships had caused them to disappear entirely--and
without sign of a struggle. But what conceivable fate could that be?

"Two thousand feet, sir," said Correy.

"Good," I said grimly. "Continue with the descent, Mr. Correy."

Dival hurried into the room as I spoke. His face was still clouded with
foreboding.

"I have tested the atmosphere, sir," he reported. "It is suitable for
breathing by either men of Earth or Zenia. No trace of noxious gases of
any kind. It is probably rather rarified, such as one might find on
Earth or Zenia at high altitudes."

"One thousand feet, sir," said Correy.

I hesitated an instant. Undoubtedly the atmosphere had been tested by
the other ships before they landed. In the case of the second ship, at
any rate, those in command must have been on the alert against danger.
And yet both of those ships lay there motionless, vacant, deserted.

       *       *       *       *       *

I could feel the eyes of the men on me. My decision must be delayed no
further.

"We will land, Mr. Correy," I said grimly. "Near the two ships, please."

"Very well, sir," nodded Correy, and spoke briefly into the microphone.

"I might warn you, sir," said Dival quietly, "to govern your activities,
once outside: free from the gravity pads of the ship, on a body of such
small size, an ordinary step will probably cause a leap of considerable
distance."

"Thank you, Mr. Dival. That is a consideration I had overlooked. I shall
warn the men. We must--"

At that instant I felt the slight jar of landing. I glanced up; met
Correy's grave glance squarely.

"Grounded, sir," he said quietly.

"Very good, Mr. Correy. Keep the ship ready for instant action, please,
and call the landing crew to the forward exit. You will accompany us,
Mr. Dival?"

"Certainly, sir!"

"Good. You understand your orders, Mr. Correy?"

"Yes, sir!"

I returned his salute, and led the way out of the room, Dival close on
my heels.

       *       *       *       *       *

The landing crew was composed of all men not at regular stations; nearly
half of the _Kalid's_ entire crew. They were equipped with the small
atomic power pistols as side-arms, and there were two three-men
disintegrator ray squads. We all wore menores, which were unnecessary
in the ship, but decidedly useful outside. I might add that the menore
of those days was not the delicate, beautiful thing that it is to-day:
it was comparatively crude, and clumsy band of metal, in which were
imbedded the vital units and the tiny atomic energy generator, and was
worn upon the head like a crown. But for all its clumsiness, it conveyed
and received thought, and, after all, that was all we demanded of it.

I caught a confused jumble of questioning thoughts as I came up, and
took command of the situation promptly. It will be understood, of
course, that in those days men had not learned to blank their minds
against the menore, as they do to-day. It took generations of training
to perfect that ability.

"Open the exit," I ordered Kincaide, who was standing by the switch, key
in the lock.

"Yes, sir," he thought promptly, and unlocking the switch, released the
lever.

The great circular door revolved swiftly, backing slowly on its fine
threads, gripped by the massive gimbals which, as at last the ponderous
plug of metal freed itself from its threads, swung the circular door
aside, like the door of a vault.

       *       *       *       *       *

Fresh clean air swept in, and we breathed, it gratefully. Science can
revitalize air, take out impurities and replace used-up constituents,
but if cannot give it the freshness of pure natural air. Even the
science of to-day.

"Mr. Kincaide, you will stand by with five men. Under no circumstances
are you to leave your post until ordered to do so. No rescue parties,
under any circumstances, are to be sent out unless you have those orders
directly from me. Should any untoward thing happen to this party, you
will instantly reseal this exit, reporting at the same time to Mr.
Correy, who has his orders. You will not attempt to rescue us, but will
return to the Base and report in full, with Mr. Correy in command. Is
that clear?"

"Perfectly," came back his response instantly; but I could sense the
rebellion in his mind. Kincaid and I were old friends, as well as fellow
officers.

I smiled at him reassuringly, and directed my orders to the waiting men.

"You are aware of the fate of the two ships of the Patrol that have
already landed here," I thought slowly, to be sure they understood
perfectly. "What fate overtook them, I do not know. That is what we are
here to determine."

"It is obvious that this is a dangerous mission. I'm ordering none of
you to go. Any man who wishes to be relieved from landing duty may
remain inside the ship, and may feel it no reproach. Those who do go
should be constantly on the alert, and keep in formation; the usual
column of twos. Be very careful, when stepping out of the ship, to
adjust your stride to the lessened gravity of this small world. Watch
this point!" I turned to Dival, motioned him to fall in at my side.
Without a backward glance, we marched out of the ship, treading very
carefully to keep from leaping into the air with each step.

Twenty feet away, I glanced back. There were fourteen men behind me--not
a man of the landing crew had remained in the ship!

"I am proud of you men!" I thought heartily: and no emanation from any
menore was ever more sincere.

       *       *       *       *       *

Cautiously, eyes roving ceaselessly, we made our way towards the two
silent ships. It seemed a quiet, peaceful world: an unlikely place for
tragedy. The air was fresh and clean, although, as Dival had predicted,
rarefied like the air at an altitude. The willow-like trees that hemmed
us in rustled gently, their long, frond-like branches with their rusty
green leaves swaying.

"Do you notice, sir," came a gentle thought from Dival, an emanation
that could hardly have been perceptible to the men behind us, "that
there is no wind--and yet the trees, yonder, are swaying and rustling?"

I glanced around, startled. I had not noticed the absence of a breeze.

I tried to make my response reassuring:

"There is probably a breeze higher up, that doesn't dip down into this
little clearing," I ventured. "At any rate, it is not important. These
ships are what interest me. What will we find there?"

"We shall soon know," replied Dival. "Here is the _Dorlos_; the second
of the two, was it not?"

"Yes." I came to a halt beside the gaping door. There was no sound
within, no evidence of life there, no sign that men had ever crossed
that threshold, save that the whole fabric was the work of man's hands.

"Mr. Dival and I will investigate the ship, with two of you men," I
directed. "The rest of the detail will remain on guard, and give the
alarm at the least sign of any danger. You first two men, follow us."
The indicated men nodded and stepped forward. Their "Yes, sirs" came
surging through my menore like a single thought. Cautiously, Dival at my
side, the two men at our backs, we stepped over the high threshold into
the interior of the _Dorlos_.

The _ethon_ tubes overhead made everything as light as day, and since
the _Dorlos_ was a sister ship of my own _Kalid_, I had not the
slightest difficulty in finding my way about.

There was no sign of a disturbance anywhere. Everything was in perfect
order. From the evidence, it would seem that the officers and men of the
_Dorlos_ had deserted the ship of their own accord, and--failed to
return.

"Nothing of value here," I commented to Dival. "We may as well--"

There was a sudden commotion from outside the ship. Startled shouts
rang through the hollow hull, and a confused medley of excited thoughts
came pouring in.

With one accord the four of us dashed to the exit, Dival and I in the
lead. At the door we paused, following the stricken gaze of the men
grouped in a rigid knot just outside.

Some, forty feet away was the edge of the forest that hemmed us in. A
forest that now was lashing and writhing as though in the grip of some
terrible hurricane, trunks bending and whipping, long branches writhing,
curling, lashing out--

"Two of the men, sir!" shouted a non-commissioned officer of the landing
crew, as we appeared in the doorway. In his excitement he forgot his
menore, and resorted to the infinitely slower but more natural speech.
"Some sort of insect came buzzing down--like an Earth bee, but larger.
One of the men slapped it, and jumped aside, forgetting the low gravity
here. He shot into the air, and another of the men made a grab for him.
They both went sailing, and the trees--_look!_"

But I had already spotted the two men. The trees had them in their grip,
long tentacles curled around them, a dozen of the great willow-like
growths apparently fighting for possession of the prizes. And all
around, far out of reach, the trees of the forest were swaying
restlessly, their long, pendulous branches, like tentacles, lashing out
hungrily.

"The rays, sir!" snapped the thought from Dival, like a flash of
lightning. "Concentrate the beams--strike at the trunks--"

"Right!" My orders emanated on the heels of the thought more quickly
than one word could have been uttered. The six men who operated the
disintegrator rays were stung out of their startled immobility, and the
soft hum of the atomatic power generators deepened.

"Strike at the trunks of the trees! Beams narrowed to minimum! Action at
will!"

The invisible rays swept long gashes into the forest as the trainers
squatted behind their sights, directing the long, gleaming tubes.
Branches crashed to the ground, suddenly motionless. Thick brown dust
dropped heavily. A trunk, shortened by six inches or so, dropped into
its stub and fell with a prolonged sound of rending wood. The trees
against which it had fallen tugged angrily at their trapped tentacles.

One of the men rolled free, staggered to his feet, and came lurching
towards us. Trunk after trunk dropped onto its severed stub and fell
among the lashing branches of its fellows. The other man was caught for
a moment in a mass of dead and motionless wood, but a cunningly directed
ray dissolved the entangling branches around him and he lay there, free
but unable to arise.

       *       *       *       *       *

The rays played on ruthlessly. The brown, heavy powder was falling like
greasy soot. Trunk after trunk crashed to the ground, slashed into
fragments.

"Cease action!" I ordered, and instantly the eager whine of the
generators softened to a barely discernible hum. Two of the men, under
orders, raced out to the injured man: the rest of us clustered around
the first of the two to be freed from the terrible tentacles of the
trees.

His menore was gone, his tight-fitting uniform was in shreds, and
blotched with blood. There was a huge crimson welt across his face, and
blood dripped slowly from the tips of his fingers.

"_God!_" he muttered unsteadily as kindly arms lifted him with eager
tenderness. "They're alive! Like snakes. They--they're _hungry_!"

"Take him to the ship," I ordered. "He is to receive treatment
immediately," I turned to the detail that was bringing in the other
victim. The man was unconscious, and moaning, but suffering more from
shock than anything else. A few minutes under the helio emanations and
he would be fit for light duty.

       *       *       *       *       *

As the men hurried him to the ship, I turned to Dival. He was standing
beside me, rigid, his face very pale, his eyes fixed on space.

"What do you make of it, Mr. Dival?" I questioned him.

"Of the trees?" He seemed startled, as though I had aroused him from
deepest thought. "They are not difficult to comprehend, sir. There are
numerous growths that are primarily carnivorous. We have the fintal vine
on Zenia, which coils instantly when touched, and thus traps many small
animals which it wraps about with its folds and digests through
sucker-like growths.

"On your own Earth there are, we learn, hundreds of varieties of
insectivorous plants: the Venus fly-trap, known otherwise as the Dionaea
Muscipula, which has a leaf hinged in the median line, with teeth-like
bristles. The two portions of the leaf snap together with considerable
force when an insect alights upon the surface, and the soft portions of
the catch are digested by the plant before the leaf opens again. The
pitcher plant is another native of Earth, and several varieties of it
are found on Zenia and at least two other planets. It traps its game
without movement, but is nevertheless insectivorous. You have another
species on Earth that is, or was, very common: the Mimosa Pudica.
Perhaps you know it as the sensitive plant. It does not trap insects,
but it has a very distinct power of movement, and is extremely
irritable.

"It is not at all difficult to understand a carniverous tree, capable of
violent and powerful motion. This is undoubtedly what we have here--a
decidedly interesting phenomena, but not difficult of comprehension."

It seems like a long explanation, as I record it here, but emanated as
it was, it took but an instant to complete it. Mr. Dival went on
without a pause:

"I believe, however, that I have discovered something far more
important. How is your menore adjusted, sir?"

"At minimum."

"Turn it to maximum, sir."

I glanced at him curiously, but obeyed. New streams of thought poured in
upon me. Kincaide ... the guard at the exit ... _and something else_.

I blanked out Kincaide and the men, feeling Dival's eyes searching my
face. There was something else, something--

I focused on the dim, vague emanations that came to me from the circlet
of my menore, and gradually, like an object seen through heavy mist, I
perceived the message:

"Wait! Wait! We are coming! Through the ground. The trees ...
disintegrate them ... all of them ... all you can reach. But not the
ground ... not the ground...."

"Peter!" I shouted, turning to Dival. "That's Peter Wilson, second
officer of the _Dorlos_!"

Dival nodded, his dark face alight.

"Let us see if we can answer him," he suggested, and we concentrated all
our energy on a single thought: "We understand. We understand."

The answer came back instantly:

"Good! Thank God! Sweep them down, Hanson: every tree of them. Kill them
... kill them ... kill them!" The emanation fairly shook with hate. "We
are coming ... to the clearing ... wait--and while you wait, use your
rays upon these accursed hungry trees!"

Grimly and silently we hurried back to the ship. Dival, the savant,
snatching up specimens of earth and rock here and there as we went.

       *       *       *       *       *

The disintegrator rays of the portable projectors were no more than toys
compared with the mighty beams the _Kalid_ was capable of projecting,
with her great generators to supply power. Even with the beams narrowed
to the minimum, they cut a swath a yard or more in diameter, and their
range was tremendous; although working rather less rapidly as the
distance and power decreased, they were effective over a range of many
miles.

Before their blasting beams the forest shriveled and sank into tumbled
chaos. A haze of brownish dust hung low over the scene, and I watched
with a sort of awe. It was the first time I had ever seen the rays at
work on such wholesale destruction.

A startling thing became evident soon after we began our work. This
world that we had thought to be void of animal life, proved to be
teeming with it. From out of the tangle of broken and harmless branches,
thousands of animals appeared. The majority of them were quite large,
perhaps the size of full-grown hogs, which Earth animal they seemed to
resemble, save that they were a dirty yellow color, and had strong,
heavily-clawed feet. These were the largest of the animals, but there
were myriads of smaller ones, all of them pale or neutral in color, and
apparently unused to such strong light, for they ran blindly, wildly
seeking shelter from the universal confusion.

Still the destructive beams kept about their work, until the scene
changed utterly. Instead of resting in a clearing, the _Kalid_ was in
the midst of a tangle of fallen, wilting branches that stretched like a
great, still sea, as far as the eye could see.

"Cease action!" I ordered suddenly. I had seen, or thought I had seen, a
human figure moving in the tangle, not far from the edge of the
clearing. Correy relayed the order, and instantly the rays were cut off.
My menore, free from the interference of the great atomic generators of
the _Kalid_, emanated the moment the generators ceased functioning.

"Enough. Hanson! Cut the rays; we're coming."

"We have ceased action; come on!"

I hurried to the still open exit. Kincaide and his guards were staring
at what had been the forest; they were so intent that they did not
notice I had joined them--and no wonder!

A file of men were scrambling over the debris; gaunt men with
dishevelled hair, practically naked, covered with dirt and the greasy
brown dust of the disintegrator ray. In the lead, hardly recognizable,
his menore awry upon his tangled locks, was Peter Wilson.

"Wilson!" I shouted; and in a single great leap I was at his side,
shaking his hand, one arm about his scarred shoulders, laughing and
talking excitedly, all in the same breath. "Wilson, tell me--in God's
name--what has happened?"

He looked up at me with shining, happy eyes, deep in black sockets of
hunger and suffering.

"The part that counts," he said hoarsely, "is that you're here, and we're
here with you. My men need rest and food--not too much food, at first,
for we're starving. I'll give you the story--or as much of it as I
know--while we eat."

I sent my orders ahead; for every man of that pitiful crew of survivors,
there were two eager men of the _Kalid's_ crew to minister to him. In
the little dining salon of the officers' mess, Wilson gave us the story,
while he ate slowly and carefully, keeping his ravenous hunger in check.

"It's a weird sort of story," he said. "I'll cut it as short as I can.
I'm too weary for details.

"The _Dorlos_, as I suppose you know, was ordered to L-472 to determine
the fate of the _Filanus_, which had been sent here to determine the
feasibility of establishing a supply base here for a new interplanetary
ship line.

"It took us nearly three days, Earth time, to locate this clearing and
the _Filanus_, and we grounded the _Dorlos_ immediately. Our
commander--you probably remember him, Hanson: David McClellan? Big,
red-faced chap?"

I nodded, and Wilson continued.

"Commander McClellan was a choleric person, as courageous a man as ever
wore the blue and silver of the Service, and very thoughtful of his men.
We had had a bad trip; two swarms of meteorites that had worn our nerves
thin, and a faulty part in the air-purifying apparatus had nearly done
us in. While the exit was being unsealed, he gave the interior crew
permission to go off duty, to get some fresh air, with orders, however,
to remain close to the ship, under my command. Then, with the usual
landing crew, he started for the _Filanus_.

"He had forgotten, under the stress of the moment, that the force of
gravity would be very small on a body no larger than this. The result
was that as soon as they hurried out of the ship, away from the
influence of our own gravity pads, they hurtled into the air in all
directions."

Wilson paused. Several seconds passed before he could go on.

"Well, the trees--I suppose you know something about them--reached out
and swept up three of them. McClellan and the rest of the landing crew
rushed to their rescue. They were caught up. _God!_ I can see them ...
hear them ... even now!

"I couldn't stand there and see that happen to them. With the rest of
the crew behind me, we rushed out, armed only with our atomic pistols.
We did not dare use the rays; there were a dozen men caught up
everywhere in those hellish tentacles.

"I don't know what I thought we could do. I knew only that I must do
something. Our leaps carried us over the tops of the trees that were
fighting for the ... the bodies of McClellan and the rest of the landing
crew. I saw then, when it was too late, that there was nothing we could
do. The trees ... had done their work. They ... they were _feeding_....

"Perhaps that is why we escaped. We came down in a tangle of whipping
branches. Several of my men were snatched up. The rest of us saw how
helpless our position was ... that there was nothing we could do. We
saw, too, that the ground was literally honeycombed, and we dived down
these burrows, out of the reach of the trees.

"There were nineteen of us that escaped. I can't tell you how we
lived--I would not if I could. The burrows had been dug by the pig-like
animals that the trees live upon, and they led, eventually, to the
shore, where there was water--horrible, bitter stuff, but not salty, and
apparently not poisonous."

We lived on these pig-like animals, and we learned something of their
way of life. The trees seem to sleep, or become inactive, at night. Not
unless they are touched do they lash about with their tentacles. At
night the animals feed, largely upon the large, soft fruit of these
trees. Of course, large numbers of them make a fatal step each night,
but they are prolific, and their ranks do not suffer.

"Of course, we tried to get back to the clearing, and the _Dorlos_;
first by tunneling. That was impossible, we found, because the rays used
by the _Filanus_ in clearing a landing place had acted somewhat upon the
earth beneath, and it was like powder. Our burrows fell in upon us
faster than we could dig them out! Two of my men lost their lives that
way.

"Then we tried creeping back by night; but we could not see as can the
other animals here, and we quickly found that it was suicide to attempt
such tactics. Two more of the men were lost in that fashion. That left
fourteen.

"We decided then to wait. We knew there would be another ship along,
sooner or later. Luckily, one of the men had somehow retained his
menore. We treasured that as we treasured our lives. To-day, when, deep
in our runways beneath the surface, we felt, or heard, the crashing of
the trees, we knew the Service had not forgotten us. I put on the
menore; I--but I think you know the rest, gentlemen. There were eleven
of us left. We are here--all that is left of the _Dorlos_ crew. We found
no trace of any survivor of the _Filanus_; unaware of the possibility of
danger, they were undoubtedly, all the victims of ... the trees."

Wilson's head dropped forward on his chest. He straightened up with a
start and an apologetic smile.

"I believe, Hanson," he said slowly, "I'd better get ... a little ...
rest," and he slumped forward on the table in the death-like sleep of
utter exhaustion.

       *       *       *       *       *

There the interesting part of the story ends. The rest is history, and
there is too much dry history in the Universe already.

Dival wrote three great volumes on L-472--or Ibit, as it is called now.
One of them tells in detail how the presence of constantly increasing
quantities of volcanic ash robbed the soil of that little world of its
vitality, so that all forms of vegetation except the one became extinct,
and how, through a process of development and evolution, those trees
became carniverous.

The second volume is a learned discussion of the tree itself; it seems
that a few specimens were spared for study, isolated on a peninsula of
one of the continents, and turned over to Dival for observation and
dissection. All I can say for the book is that it is probably accurate.
Certainly it is neither interesting nor comprehensible.

And then, of course, there is his treatise on ocrite: how he happened
to find the ore, the probable amount available on L-472--or Ibit, if you
prefer--and an explanation of his new method of refining it. I saw him
frantically gathering specimens while we were getting ready to leave,
but it wasn't until after we had departed that he mentioned what he had
found.

       *       *       *       *       *

I have a set of these volumes somewhere; Dival autographed them and
presented me with them. They established his position, I understand, in
his world of science, and of course, the discovery of this new source of
ocrite was a tremendous find for the whole Universe; interplanetary
transportation wouldn't be where it is to-day if it were not for this
inexhaustible source of power.

Yes, Dival became famous--and very rich.

I received the handshakes and the gratitude of the eleven men we
rescued, and exactly nine words of commendation from the Chief of my
squadron: _"You are a credit to the Service, Commander Hanson!"_

Perhaps, to some who read this, it will seem that Dival fared better
than I. But to men who have known the comradeship of the outer space,
the heart-felt gratitude of eleven friends is a precious thing. And to
any man who has ever worn the blue and silver uniform of the Special
Patrol Service, those nine words from the Chief of Squadron will sound
strong.

Chiefs of Squadrons in the Special Patrol Service--at least in those
days--were scanty with praise. It may be different in these days of soft
living and political pull.

[Illustration]



Marooned Under the Sea

_By Paul Ernst_

     (Editor's note: This document, written on a curious kind of
     parchment and tied to a piece of driftwood, was reported to have
     been picked out of the sea near the Fiji Islands. The first and
     last pages were so water soaked as to be indecipherable.)

Yacht _Rosa_ was due to leave the San Francisco harbor in two hours.

We were going on some mysterious cruise to the South Seas, the details
of which I did not know.

[Sidenote: Three men stick out a strange and desperate adventure among
the incredible monsters of the dark sea floor.]

"Professor George Berry, the famous zoologist, and myself are going to
do some exploring that is hazardous in the extreme," Stanley had said.
"For purely mechanical reasons we need a third. You are young and have
no family ties, so I thought I'd ask you to go with us.
I'd rather not tell you what it's all about until we are on our way."

[Illustration: _"Look at the cable!" called Stanley._]

That was all the explanation he had given. It was sufficient. I was
fed-up with life just then: I had enough money to avoid work and was
tired of playing.

"I must warn you that you'll risk your life in this," he had continued,
in answer to my acceptance of his invitation.

And I had replied that the hazard, whatever it might be, only made the
trip appear more desirable.

So here I was, on board the yacht, about to sail for far places on some
scientific mission which had so far been kept veiled in secrecy and
which was represented as "hazardous in the extreme." It sounded
attractive!

       *       *       *       *       *

Stanley came aboard accompanied by a lean, wiry man with iron gray hair
and cool, alert black eyes.

"Hello, Martin," Stanley greeted me. "I want you to meet Professor
Berry, the real leader of this expedition. Professor, this young
red-head is Martin Grey, a sort of nephew by adoption who knows more
about night life than most cabaret proprietors--and not much of anything
else. He has shaken the dangers of the gold-diggers to face with us the
dangers of the tropic seas."

The professor gripped my hand, and his cool black eyes gazed into mine
with a kind of friendly frostiness.

"Don't pay any attention to him," he advised me. "Twenty years ago, when
I first met him, he was on his way to Africa to shoot elephants because
some revue beauty had just thrown him over and he felt he ought to do
something big and heroic about it. It was shortly afterward that he
decided to stay a bachelor all his life, and became such a confirmed
woman hater."

He smiled thinly at Stanley's prod in the ribs, and the two went below,
talking and laughing with the intimacy of old friendship.

I stayed on deck and soon found myself watching, with no little wonder,
an enormous truck and trailer arrangement that drew up on the dock
heavily loaded with a single immense crate. It was for us. I speculated
as to what it could possibly contain.

It was a twenty or twenty-five-foot cube solidly braced with strap-iron
and steel brackets. It evidently contained something fragile. The
yacht's donkey engine lowered a hook for it, and swung it over the side
and into the hold as daintily as though it had been packed with
explosives.

The last of the ship's stores followed it over the side: the group of
newspaper reporters who had been trying to pump the captain and first
mate for a story were warned to leave, and we were ready to go.
Precisely where and for what purpose?

I was to find out almost immediately.

Even as the yacht nosed superciliously away from the dock, the steward
approached me with the information that lunch was ready. I went to the
small, compactly furnished dining salon, where I was joined by Stanley
and the professor.

       *       *       *       *       *

There were only the three of us at the table. Stanley Browne, noted big
game hunter and semi-retired owner of the great Browne Glassworks at
Altoona, a man fifteen years my senior but tanned and fit looking;
Professor Berry, well known in scientific circles; and myself, known in
no branch of activity save the one Stanley had jested about--the night
life of my home city, Chicago.

"It's time you knew just what you're up against," said Stanley to me
after the consomme had been served. "Now that we've actually sailed,
there's no longer any need for secrecy. Indeed there never has been
urgent need of it: the Professor and myself merely thought we might
provoke incredulity and comment if we stated the purpose of our trip
publicly."

He buttered a roll.

"We--the Professor and you and I--are going in for some deep sea diving.
And when I say deep, I mean deep. We are going to investigate conditions
as they exist one mile down from the surface of the ocean."

"A mile!" I exclaimed. "Why--"

There I stopped. I had only a layman's knowledge of such matters. But I
knew that the limit of man's submersion, till then at any rate, was a
matter of a few hundred feet.

"Sounds incredible, doesn't it," said Stanley with a smile. "But that's
what we're going to do--if the Professor's gadget works as he seems to
think it will."

"I don't think it, I know it," retorted the Professor. "And man, man,
the things we may see down there! New and unknown species--a world no
human has ever seen before--perhaps the secret of all of life--"

"Dragons, sea-serpents, and what not!" Stanley finished with a grin.

"Or, possibly--nothing at all." The Professor shrugged. "I mustn't let
my scientific curiosity run away with me. Perhaps we'll find no new
thing down down. Our deep sea dredging and classification may already
embrace most of the forms of life in the greater depths."

"If it does I want my money back," said Stanley. "When you asked me to
finance this expedition for you, I agreed on condition that you would
show me a thrill--some _real_ big game, even if I would not be able to
shoot it. If we draw blank--"

"The mere descent should satisfy you, my adventuring friend," replied
the Professor brusquely. "I think you'll find that thrilling enough."

"But--a mile under the surface!" I marveled, feeling not entirely
comfortable. "The pressure! Enormous! It can't be done! That is, I mean,
can it be done?"

"It had better be," said Stanley with a humor that I did not entirely
appreciate. "If it isn't, the three of us are going to be pressed out
like three sheets of tissue paper! For we are assuredly going down that
far in the Professor's gadget."

"Was that the thing I saw hoisted aboard just before we left?"

"That was it. We'll stroll around after lunch and look it over."

If I had taken this cruise in search of distraction--I was surely going
to be successful! That was plain!

"Just where are we going?" I asked. "You said something about the South
Seas, but you've named no special part of them."

"We're bound for Penguin Deep. That's a delightful little dimple in the
Kermadec Trough, which," Stanley explained, "is north-northeast of New
Zealand almost halfway up to the Fiji Islands. Penguin Deep is ticketed
at five thousand one hundred and fifty feet, but it probably runs deeper
in spots."

The rest of the meal was consumed in silence. I hardly tasted what I
ate; I remember that. Over five thousand feet down--where no man had
ever ventured before! Could we make it?

I tried to recall my neglected physics lessons and compute the pressure
that far down. I couldn't. But I knew it must be an appalling total of
tons to the square inch. What possible arrangement could they have
brought in which to make that awful descent?

And, if the descent were accomplished, what in the world would we see
when we got down there? Gigantic, hitherto unknown fishes? Marine
growths, hair animal and half vegetable?

Decidedly, hot rolls and salad, cutlets and baked potatoes, good as they
were, could not distract attention from the crowding questions that
assailed me. And I could see that Stanley and the Professor were also
far away in their thoughts--probably already exploring Penguin Deep.

       *       *       *       *       *

After lunch we went forward to look at the Professor's gadget, as
Stanley insisted on calling it.

It had been carefully unpacked by the crew while we ate, and it
shimmered in the electric lighted hold like a great bubble.

It was a giant glass sphere, polished and flawless. Inside it could be
made out various objects--a circular bench arrangement on a wooden
flooring, batteries that filled the cup between the floor and the bottom
arc of the sphere, tall metal cylinders, a small searchlight set next to
a mechanism that was indeterminate. At three equidistant points on the
sides there were glass handles, as thick as a man's thigh, cast integral
with the walls. On the top there was a smaller handle.

At first glance the sphere seemed all in one piece, with the central
objects cast inside like a toy ship in a sealed bottle. Then a
mathematically precise ring of prismatic reflections showed me that the
top third of the ball was a separate piece, fitting conically down like
the tapered glass stopper of a monstrous perfume bottle. The handle on
the top was for the purpose of lifting this giant's teapot lid, and
allowing entrance into the sphere.

"Isn't it a beauty?" murmured Stanley. "It ought to be," he added. "It
cost me eighty-six thousand to make it in my own glass factory. Eleven
castings before this one came along that was reasonably free of flaws.
Twenty-two feet six inches over all, walls five feet thick, new formula
unbreakable glass, four men working a month to grind the lid into place,
tolerance limits plus or minus zero."

He slapped the Professor's shoulders. "Let's go in and look over the
apparatus."

       *       *       *       *       *

To accommodate the huge ball a well had been constructed in the Rosa's
hold. This brought the deck we were standing on up to within six feet of
the top ring, above which was rigged a chain hoist for lifting the
ponderous lid.

The hoist was revolved, the conical top was swung free, and we clambered
into our unique diving shell.

The tall cylinders were revealed as great flasks of compressed air. The
indeterminate thing beside the searchlight turned out to be a hand pump,
geared to work against heavy pressure. From the suction chamber of this
three tubes extended.

"We inhale the air of the chamber," the Professor explained to me, "and
exhale through the tubes into the pump cylinder. Breathe in through the
nose and out through the mouth. The pump piston is forced down by this
geared handle, sending the used air out of the shell through this
sixteenth-inch hole. A ball check valve keeps the water from squirting
in when the exhaust pressure is released."

He pointed to a telegraphic key which completed a circuit from the
batteries in the bottom of the ball to a thread of copper cast through
the lid.

"That's your plaything, Martin. You are to raise or lower us by pressing
that key. It controls the donkey engine electrically, so that we guide
our own destinies though we are a mile beneath our power plant. Stanley
works the pump. I direct the searchlight, write down notes, and, I
sincerely hope, take snapshots of deep sea life."

For a moment my part of the labor seemed so easy as to be unfair. Merely
to sit there and punch a little key at raising and lowering time! But as
I thought it over it began to appear more difficult.

The _Rosa_ could not anchor, of course, in a mile of water. We would
drift helplessly. If we approached an undersea cliff I must raise us at
once to prevent us being smashed against it. And if the cliff were too
lofty to be cleared in time....

I mentioned this to the Professor.

"That would be unfortunate," he said, with his frosty smile. "Stanley
assures us this glass is unbreakable. He means commercially unbreakable.
What would happen to it if it were submitted to the strain of being
flung against a rock pile--in addition to the enormous stress of the
water pressure--I don't know. It's your job to see that we don't have to
find out!"

       *       *       *       *       *

It had been planned to test the sphere empty first to see how it stood
the strain.

We drifted to a full stop over the center of Penguin Deep where we were
to gamble our lives in a game with Neptune. Sea anchors were rigged to
lessen our drift and the donkey engine was geared to the first cable
drum.

There was an impressive row of these drums, each holding an interminable
length of three-quarter-inch cable. The bulk of a mile of steel cable
has to be seen to be believed!

The glass sphere was lifted from the hold, delicately for all its
enormous weight, and swung over the rail preparatory to being lowered
into the depths.

Not until that moment did I notice two things: that there was no
fastening of any kind to keep the thick lid in place: and that the
three-quarter-inch cable looked like a pack thread in comparison to the
ponderous bulk it strained to support.

"We couldn't use a heavier cable," said the Professor, "because of the
strain. We're overloading the hoist as it is. As for the lid being
fastened down--I think you'll find it will be pressed into place
securely enough!"

There was unanimous silence as the great globe slipped into the
sea--down and down until the last reflection of the morning sun ceased
to shimmer from its surface. Drum after drum was played out, till the
first mate held his hand up to check the engineer.

"Five thousand feet, sir," he called to Stanley.

"Haul it back up. And let us hope," Stanley added fervently, "that we'll
find the gadget in one piece."

       *       *       *       *       *

The engine began to snort rhythmically. Dripping, vibrating, the coils
of cable began to crawl back in place on the drums. There was a glint
under the surface again as the sunlight reflected on the nearing sphere.

The great ball flashed out of the water, and a cheer burst from the
throats of all of us. It was absolutely unharmed. Only--there was a
beading of fine moisture inside the thick globe. What that could mean,
none of us could figure out.

"Difference in temperature?" worried the Professor. "No, it's as cold
inside as out. Molecules of water driven by sheer pressure through five
feet of glass to unite in drops on the inside? Possibly. Well, there's
one way to find out. Stanley, Martin--are you ready?"

We nodded, and prepared to visit the bottom a mile below the _Rosa's_
keel. The preparation consisted merely in donning heavy, fleece-lined
jumpers to protect us from the cold of the sunless depths.

Soberly we entered the ball to undergo whatever ordeal awaited us on
the distant ocean floor. How comparative distance is! A mile walk in the
country--it is nothing. A mile ascent in an airplane--a trifle. But a
mile descent into pitch black, bone chilling depths of water--that is an
immense distance!

Copper wire, on a separate drum, was connected from the engine switch to
the copper thread that curled through the glass wall to my telegraphic
key. We strapped the mouthpieces of the breathing tubes over our heads,
and Browne started the slow turning of the compression pump.

The Professor snapped the searchlight on and off several times to see
that it was in working shape. He raised his hand, I pressed the key, and
the long descent began.

       *       *       *       *       *

That plunge into the bottomless depths remains in my memory almost as
clearly as the far more fantastic adventures that came to us later.

Smoothly, rapidly, the yellow-green of the surface water dimmed to
olive. This in turn grew blacker and blacker. Then we were slipping down
into pitch darkness--a big bubble lit by a meagre lamp and containing
three fragile human beings that dared to trust the soft pulp of their
bodies to the crushing weight of the deepest ocean.

The most impressive thing was the utter soundlessness of our descent. At
first there had been a pulsing throb of the donkey engine transmitted to
us by the sustaining cable. This died as we slid farther from the Rosa.
At length it was hushed entirely, cushioned by the springy length of
steel. There was no stir, no sound of any kind. As far as our senses
could tell us, we were hanging motionless in the pressing, awesome
blackness.

The Professor switched off our light and turned on the searchlight which
he trained downward through the wall at as steep an angle as the
flooring would permit. Even then the illusion of motionlessness was
preserved. There was nothing in the water to mark our progress. We
might have been floating in a back void of space.

Down and down we went, for an interminable length of time--till at
length we reached the abysmal level where the sun never shone and the
eyes of man had never gazed till now.

       *       *       *       *       *

Words were made to describe familiar articles. I find now when I am
faced with the necessity of portraying events and objects beyond the
range of normal human experience that I cannot conjure up words to fit.
I despair of trying to make you see what we saw, and feel what we felt.

But try to picture yourself in the glass ball with us:

All is profound blackness save for a streak of white, dying about fifty
feet away, which is the beam of our searchlight. Twenty feet below is a
bare floor of flinty lava and broken shell. This is unrelieved by
sea-weed of any kind, appearing like an imagined fragment of Martian or
lunar landscape.

The ball sways idly to the push of some explicable submarine current. It
is like being in a captive balloon, except that the connecting cable
extends stiffly upward instead of downward.

There is a realization, an instinctive _feel_ of awful pressure around
you. Logic tells you how you are clamped about, but deeper than logic is
the intuition that the glass walls are pressing in on themselves--at the
point of collapse. Your ears, tingle with the feel of it: your head
rings with it.

You are breathing in through your nose--thin, unsatisfying gulps of air
that cause your lungs to labor at their task; and you are exhaling
through, your mouth, with difficulty, into the barrel of the powerful
pump. No bubbles arise from the tiny hole where the used air is forced
into the water. The pressure is too enormous for that. Only a thin,
milky line marks its escape from the sphere.

In a ghostly way you see Stanley turning the pump handle. With a handful
of waste which he has borrowed from the _Rosa's_ engine room, the
Professor wipes from the section of wall through which the searchlight
plays the moisture that constantly collects there. I sit with my hand
near the key, peering downward and ahead like an engineer in a
locomotive cab, ready to raise the shell or lower it as occasion
warrants.

And always the suffocating awareness of pressure....

       *       *       *       *       *

Strange and mystic journey as the tortured glass sphere floated over the
bottom, following the slow drift of the _Rosa_ far above!

The finger of light played along the tilted side of a wrecked tramp
steamer. There was a crumpled gash in the bow. From this ragged hole
suddenly appeared a great, serpentine form....

The Professor clutched at his camera, pointed it, and clenched his hands
in a frenzy of disappointment. The serpent shape had disappeared back
into the hull. A little later and we had drifted slowly past the wreck.

"Damn it!" the Professor snatched away his mouthpiece to exclaim: "If we
could only _stop_."

The bottom changed character shortly after we had passed the hulk. We
began to creep over low, gently rounded mounds.

These were so regular in form that they were puzzling. About fifty feet
across and ten in altitude, they looked artificial in their
symmetry--like great saucers set on the ocean floor bottom side up. They
took on a dirty black hue as our light struck them, and glowed with a
faint phosphorescence as they stretched away into the darkness.

A twelve-foot monstrosity, all toad-like head and eyes, swam into the
light beam and bumped blindly against the glass ball. For an instant it
goggled crazily at us. The Professor took its picture. It blundered
away. As it reached the darkness beyond the beam it, too, showed
phosphorescent. A belt of blue-white spots like the portholes of a
liner extended down its ugly sides.

Along the bottom, between the curious mounds, writhed a wormlike thing.
But it was too huge to be described as truly wormlike--it was eighteen
or twenty feet long and a foot thick. It was blood red, almost blunt
ended and patently without eyes.

I took my gaze off it for an instant. When I looked again it had
disappeared. I blinked at this seeming miracle and then discovered a
foot or so of its tail protruding from under the edge of one of the
mounds. It was threshing furiously about.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was at this instant that I suddenly found increased difficulty, and
glanced at Stanley.

He had stopped pumping and was clutching at the Professor's arm with one
hand while he pointed down with the other. The Professor motioned him
toward the pump, and began to click pictures furiously with the camera
pointed at the nearest mound.

Wondering at the urgency of Stanley's gesture and the frantic clicking
of the camera shutter, I looked more closely at the curious, saucerlike
hump.

Under closer inspection something remarkably like a huge, mud-colored
eye was revealed! And as we drifted along, twenty feet away on the
farther slope, another appeared!

Paralyzed, I stared at the edges of the thing. They were waving almost
imperceptibly up and down, _creeping_!

The mounds were living creatures! Acres and acres of them lying
lethargically on the bottom waiting for something to crawl within range
of their monstrous edges!

Involuntarily I pressed the key to raise us. But we had gone only a few
feet when the Professor called to me.

"Down again, Martin. I don't think these things will bother us unless we
scrape against them. Anyway they can't hurt the shell."

I lowered the ball to our former twenty-foot level, and there we swung
just over the monsters' backs.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Professor had said that the giant inverted saucers would probably
not bother us if we did not come in contact with them. It soon became
apparent that, in a measure, he was right. The creatures either could
not or would not lift their enormous bulks from the sea floor.

A gigantic wriggling thing, all grotesque fringe and tentacles, drifted
down into the range of our light. Lower it floated until it hovered just
above one of the larger mounds. The Professor got its portrait. At the
same instant, as though it had heard the click of the shutter and been
frightened by it, the thing dropped another foot--and touched the
sloping back.

With the speed of light the inverted saucer became a cup. Like a
clenching fist, the cup closed over one of the straggling tentacles.

There followed a tug of war that was all the more ghastly for its
soundlessness. The hunted jerked spasmodically to get away from the
hunter. So wild were its efforts that several times it raised the
monster clear of the bottom for a foot or so. But the grim clutch could
not be broken.

Closer and closer it was dragged. Then, after a supreme paroxysm, the
tentacle parted and the prey escaped. The tentacle disappeared into the
mass of the baffled hunter. It made no attempt to follow the fleeing
creature. It slowly relaxed along the bottom and waited for its next
meal.

The unearthly incident gave us fresh confidence, convincing us that the
monsters did not move unless they were directly touched. Of course we
could not foresee the fatal accident that was going to put us within
reach of one of the giant saucers.

       *       *       *       *       *

We thought for awhile that these great blobs of cold life were the
largest creatures of the depths. It was soon made clear to us how
mistaken that notion was!

For a time we gazed spellbound at the nightmare assortment of
grotesqueries that gradually assembled around us, attracted no doubt by
our light. The things were mainly sightless and of indescribable shape.
Most of them were phosphorescent, and they avoided collisions in a way
that suggested that they had some buried sense of light perception.

As time passed the Professor emptied his camera, refilled it several
times and groaned that he had no more film. Twice as we drifted along I
raised us to keep us clear of a gradual upward slope of the smooth
floor.

Stanley removed his mouthpiece long enough to suggest that we go back to
the surface: we had been submerged for nearly four hours now. But before
we could reply a violent movement was felt.

The ball rocked and twirled so that we were forced to cling to the
circular bench to avoid being thrown to the floor. It was as though a
hurricane of wind had suddenly penetrated the unruffled depths.

"Earthquake?" called Stanley.

"Don't know," answered the Professor. He swung the searchlight in an arc
and focussed it at length on something that appeared only as a field of
blurred movement. He wiped the moisture from the wall before the lens,
and there was revealed to us a sight that makes my heart pound even now
when I recall it to memory.

Something vast and serpentine had ventured too near the bottom--and had
been caught by the death traps there!

The creature was a writhing mass of gigantic coils. It was impossible
even to guess at its length, but its girth was such that the
mound-shaped monsters that had fastened to it could not entirely
encircle it.

There it twined and knotted: a mighty serpent of the deepest ocean,
snapping its awful length and threshing its powerful tail in an effort
to dislodge the giant leeches that were flattened against it. And every
time it touched the bottom in its blind frenzy, more of the teeming
deathtraps attached themselves to it, crawling over their fellows in an
effort to find unoccupied areas.

       *       *       *       *       *

Soon the sea-serpent was a distorted, creeping mass. For one appalling
instant its head came into our view....

It resembled the head of a crocodile, only it was ten times larger and
covered with scale like the armor plate of a destroyer. The jaws, wide
open and slashing with enormous, needle-shaped teeth at the huge
parasites, were large enough to have held our glass sphere. One eye
appeared. It was at least three feet across and of a shimmering amethyst
color.

One of the deadly saucers wrapped itself around the great head. The
entire mass of attackers and attacked settled slowly to the bottom.

But before it completely succumbed the beaten monster gave one last,
convulsive flick of its tail....

"Good God!" cried Stanley, shrinking away from the pump and staring
upward.

I followed his gaze with my own eyes.

In the faint reflected glow of the searchlight I could see row on row of
large cups flattened against the top of the ball. As I watched these
flattened still more and the big sphere quivered perceptibly.

In its death struggle the mighty serpent had flicked one of the huge
leeches against us. It now clung there with blind tenacity, covering
nearly two-thirds of our shell with the underside of its body.

I reached for the control key to send us to the surface.

"Don't!" snapped the Professor. "The weight--"

He needed to say no more. My hand recoiled as though the key had been
red hot.

The three-quarter-inch cable above us was now sustaining, in addition to
its own huge weight, our massive glass ball and the appalling tonnage
of this grim blanket of flesh that encircled us. Could it further hold
against the strain of lifting that combined tonnage through the press of
the water? Almost certainly it could not!

There was nothing we could do but hang there and discover at first hand
exactly what happened to things that were clamped in those mighty,
living vises!

       *       *       *       *       *

The Professor turned on the interior bulb. The result was ghastly. It
showed every detail of the belly of the thing that gripped us.

Crowded over its entire under surface were gristly, flattened suckers.
Now and then a convulsive ripple ran through its surface tissue and
great ridges of flesh stood out. With each squeeze the glass shell
quivered ominously as though the extreme limit of its pressure resisting
power were being reached--and passed.

"A nice fix," remarked the Professor, his calm, dry voice acting like a
tonic in that moment of fear. "If we try to go up, the cable would
probably break. If we try to outlast the patience of this thing we might
run out of air, or actually be staved in."

He paused thoughtfully.

"I suggest, though, that we follow the latter course for awhile at
least. It would be just too bad if that cable broke, gentlemen!"

Stanley shuddered, and looked at the dirty white belly that pressed
against the glass walls on all sides.

"I vote we stay here for a time."

"And I," was my addition.

I relieved Stanley at the pump. He and the Professor sat down on the
bench. Casting frequent glances at the constricted blanket of flesh that
covered us, we prepared to wait as composedly as we might for the thing
to give up its effort to smash our shell.

       *       *       *       *       *

The hour that followed was longer than any full day I have ever lived
through. Had I not confirmed the passage of time by looking at my
watch, I would have sworn that at least twenty hours had passed.

Every half-minute I gazed at that weaving pattern of cup-shaped suckers
only five feet away, trying to see if they were relaxing in their
pressure. I attempted to persuade myself that they were. But I knew I
was only imagining it. Actually they were pressed as flat as ever, and
the sphere still quivered at regular intervals as the heavy body
squeezed in on itself. There was no sign that its blind, mindless
patience was becoming exhausted.

There was little conversation during that interminable hour.

Stanley grinned wryly once and commented on the creature's
disappointment if it actually succeeded in getting at us.

"We'd be scattered all over the surrounding half mile by the pressure of
the water," he said. "There'd be nothing left for our pet to feed on but
five-foot chunks of broken glass. Not a very satisfying meal."

"We might try to reason with the thing--point out how foolish it is to
waste its time on us," I suggested, trying to appear as nonchalant as he
was.

The Professor said nothing. He was coolly writing in his notebook,
describing minutely the appearance of our abysmal captor.

Finally I chanced to look down through a section of wall not covered by
our stubborn enemy. I wiped the moisture from the glass before the
searchlight so that I could see more clearly.

       *       *       *       *       *

The bottom seemed to be heaving up and down. I blinked my eyes and
looked again. It was not an illusion. With a regular dip and rise we
were approaching to within a few feet of the rocky floor and moving back
up again. Also we were floating faster than at anytime previous. The
bottom was bare again; we had left the crowding, ominous mounds.

I waved to the Professor. He snapped his notebook shut and stared at the
uneasy ocean bottom.

"I've been hoping I was wrong," he said simply. "I thought I felt a wavy
motion fifteen minutes ago, and it seemed to me to increase steadily."

The three of us stared at each other.

"You mean ..." began Stanley with a shudder.

"I mean that the _Rosa_, one mile above us, is having difficulties. A
storm. Judging from our movement it must be a hurricane: the length of
cable would cushion us from any average wave, and we are rising and
falling at least fifteen feet."

"My God!" groaned Stanley. "The _Rosa_ is already heeled with the weight
of us. She could never weather a hurricane!"

The plight of the crew above our heads was as clear to us as though we
had been aboard with them.

Should they cut the cable, figuring that the lives of the three of us
were certainly not to be set against the thirty on the yacht?

Should they disconnect the electric control and try to haul us up
regardless?

Or should they try to ride out the storm in spite of being crippled by
the drag of us?

"I think if I were up there I'd cut us adrift," said Stanley grimly.
Both the Professor and myself nodded. "Though," he added hopefully, "my
captain is a good gambler...."

       *       *       *       *       *

The cable quivered like a live thing under the terrific strain. At each
downward swoop, before the upswing began, there was a sickening sag.

"We no longer have a decision to make," said the Professor. "Press the
key, Martin, and God grant we can rise with all this dead weight."

And at that instant the crew of the _Rosa_ were also relieved of the
necessity for making a decision.

At the bottom of one of those long, sickening falls there was a
jerk--and we continued on down to the ocean floor!

The sphere rolled over, jumbling the equipment in a tangled mess with
the three of us in the center, bruised and cut. The light snapped off as
the battery connections were torn loose.

There we lay at the bottom of Penguin Deep, in an inert sphere that was
dead and dark in the surrounding blackness--a coffin of glass to hold us
through the centuries....

       *       *       *       *       *

"Martin," I heard the Professor's voice after a time. "Stanley--can
either of you move? I'm caught."

"I'm caught, too," came Stanley's gasping answer. "Something on my
leg--feels like it's broken."

A heavy object was pressing across my body. With an effort I freed
myself and fumbled in the pitch darkness for the other two.

"Lights first," commanded the Professor. "The pump, you know."

I did know! Frantically I scrambled in the dark till I located the
batteries. They were right side up and still wired together.

The air grew rapidly foul with no one at the pump. Panting for breath I
blundered at the task of connecting the light. After what seemed an
eternity I accomplished it.

The light revealed Stanley with an air tank lying across his leg. The
mouthpiece of his breathing tube had been forced back over his head,
gashing his face in its journey. His face was white with pain.

The Professor was caught under the heavy bench. I freed him and together
we attended to Stanley, finding that his leg wasn't broken but only
badly bruised.

The mound-shaped monster, dislodged possibly by the fall, was nowhere to
be seen.

I resumed work at the pump, the connections of which were so strongly
contrived that they had withstood the shock of the upset.

For a moment we were content to rest while the air grew purer. Then we
were forced squarely to face our fate.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Professor summed up the facts in a few concise words.

"We're certainly doomed! Here at the bottom of Penguin Deep we're as out
of reach of help as though we were stranded on the moon. We're as good
as dead right now."

"If we have nothing left to hope for," whispered Stanley after a time,
"we might as well close the air valves and get it over with at once. No
use torturing ourselves...."

The Professor moistened his lips.

"It might be wise." He turned to me. "What's your opinion, Martin?"

But I--I confess I had not the stark courage of these two.

"No! No!" I cried out. "Let's keep on living as long as the air holds
out. Something might happen--"

I avoided their eyes as I said it, utterly ashamed of my cowardly
quibbling with death. What in the name of God could possibly happen to
help us?

The Professor shrugged dully, and nodded.

"I feel with Stanley that we ought to get it over in one short stab. But
we have no right to force you...." His voice trailed off.

We readjusted our mouthpieces. I turned automatically at the pump; and
we silently awaited the last suffocating moment of our final doom.

       *       *       *       *       *

As before, attracted by the light, a strange assortment of deep-sea life
wriggled and darted about us, swimming lazily among the looped coils and
twists of our cable which had settled down around us.

Among these were certain fish that resembled great porcupines. Spines a
foot and a half long, like living knife blades, protected them from the
attacks of other species.

They were the only things we saw that were not constantly writhing away
from the jaws of some hostile monster--the only things that seemed able
to swim about their own affairs without even deigning to watch for
danger.

Fascinated, I watched the six-foot creatures. Here were we, reasoning
humans, supposed lords of creation, slowly but surely perishing--while
only a few feet away one of the lowest forms of life could exist in
perfect safety and tranquility!

Then, as I watched them, I seemed to see a difference in some of them.

The majority of them had two fins just behind the gill slits, typical
fish tails and blunt, sloping heads. But now and then I saw a spined
monster that was queerly unlike its fellows.

Instead of two front fins, these unique ones had two vacant round holes.
The head looked as though it had forgotten to grow; its place was taken
by an eyeless, projecting, shield shaped cap. And there was no tail.

Glad to find something to distract my half crazed thoughts, I studied
the nearest of these.

They moved slower than their tailed and finned brothers, I noticed. I
wondered how they could move at all, lacking in any kind of motive power
as they seemed to be.

Next instant the secret of their movement was made clear!

       *       *       *       *       *

Out of the empty fin holes of the creature I was studying crept two
long, powerful looking tentacles. But these were not true tentacles.
There were no vacuum discs on them, and they moved as though supported
by jointed bones--like arms.

The arms ended in flat paddles that resembled hands. These threshed the
water in a sort of breast-stroke, propelling the body forward.

Shortly after the arms had appeared, the spiny head cap was cautiously
extended a few inches forward from the main shell. Further it was
extended as the head of a turtle might slowly appear from the protection
of its bony case. And under it--

"Professor!" I screamed wildly. "My God! Look!"

Both the Professor and Stanley merely stared dully at me. I babbled of
what I had seen.

"A man! A human looking thing, anyway! Arms and a head! A man inside a
fish's spined hide--like armor!"

They looked pityingly at me. The Professor laid his hand on my shoulder.

"Now, now," he soothed, "don't go to pieces--"

"I tell you I saw it!" I shouted. Then, shrinking from the hysterical
loudness of my own voice, I lowered my tone. "Something that looks human
has occupied some of those prickly, six-foot shells. I saw arms--and a
man's head! I swear it!"

"Nonsense! How could a human being stand the cold, the pressure--"

Here I happened to glance at the wall of the shell through which the
searchlight shone.

"Look! See for yourself!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Squarely in the rays of the light showed a head, projecting from one of
the shells and capped with a wide flat helmet of horned bone.

There were eyes and nose and mouth placed on one side of that head--a
face! There were even tabs of flesh or bony protuberances that resembled
ears.

"Curious," muttered the Professor, staring. "It certainly looks human
enough to talk. But it's only a fish, nevertheless. See--in the throat
are gill slits."

"But the eyes! Look at them! They're not the eyes of a fish!"

And they were not. There was in them a light of reason, of intelligence.
Those eyes were roaming brightly over us, observing the light, the
equipment, seeming to note our amazement as we crowded to look at it.

The sphere rocked slightly. Behind the staring, manlike visitor there
was a glimpse of enormous, crocodile jaws and huge, amethyst eyes.
Instantly the head and arms receded, leaving an empty-seeming, lifeless
shell. An impregnable fortress of spines, the thing drifted slowly away
through the twisted loops of cable.

"It certainly looked like--" began Stanley shakily.

"The creature was just a fish," said the Professor shaking his head at
the light in Stanley's eyes. "Some sort of giant parasite that inhabits
the shells of other fish."

He opened the valve of the last air cylinder and seated himself
resignedly on the bench.

"We have another half hour or so--"

All of us suddenly put out our hands to brace ourselves. The sphere had
moved.

"Look at the cable!" called Stanley.

We did so. It was moving, writhing away from us over the bottom as
though abruptly given life of its own. Coil after coil disappeared into
the further gloom.

At length the cable was straight. The ball moved again--was dragged a
few feet along the rocky floor.

Something--possessed of incredibly vast power--had seized the end of the
steel cable and was reeling us in as a fisherman reels in a trout!

       *       *       *       *       *

Slowly, unsteadily, we slid along the ocean floor. Ahead of us appeared
a jagged black wall--a cliff. There was a gloomy hole at its base.
Toward this we were being dragged by whatever it was that had caught the
end of the cable.

Helpless, we watched ourselves engulfed by the murky den. In the beam of
the searchlight we saw that the submarine cavern extended on and on for
an unguessable depth. The cable, taut with the strain, stretched ahead
out of sight.

Time had been lost track of during that mysterious, ominous journey. It
was recalled to us by the state of the air we were breathing.

The Professor removed his mouthpiece and cast the tube aside.

"You might as well stop pumping, Martin," he said quietly. "We're done.
There's no more air in the flask."

We stared at each other. Then we shook hands, solemnly, tremulously,
taking leave of each other before we departed on that longest of all
journeys....

The air in that small space was rapidly exhausted. We lay on the floor,
laboring for breath, and closed our eyes....

The Professor, the oldest of the three of us, succumbed first. I heard
his breath whistle stertorously and, glancing at him, saw that he was in
a coma. In a moment Stanley had joined him in blessed unconsciousness.

I could feel myself drifting off.... Hammers beat at my ears.... Daggers
pierced my heaving lungs....

Hazily I could see scores of the bristly, manlike fish when I opened my
eyes and glanced through the walls. It was not one monster then, but
many that had brought us to their lair. Abruptly, as though a signal had
been given, they all streamed back toward the mouth of the cavern....

My eyesight dimmed.... The hammers pulsed louder.... A veil descended
over my senses and I knew no more....

       *       *       *       *       *

A soft, sustained roar came to my ears. Through my closed eyelids I
could sense light. A dank, fishy smell came to my nostrils.

I groaned and moved feebly, finding that I was resting on something soft
and pleasant.

Dazedly I opened my eyes and sat up. An exclamation burst from me as I
suddenly remembered what had gone before, and realized that somehow,
incredibly, I was still living.

Feeling like a man who has waked from a nightmarish sleep to find
himself in his tomb, I gazed about.

I was in a long, lofty rock chamber, the uneven floor of which was
covered with shallow pools of water. The further end was of
smooth-grained stone that resembled cement. The near end was rough like
the walls; but in it there was a small, symmetrical arch, the mouth of a
passage leading away to some other point in the bowels of the earth.

The place was flooded with clear light that had a rosy tinge. From my
position on the floor I could not see what made the light. It streamed
from a crevice that extended clear around the cave parallel with the
floor and about twelve feet above it. From this groove, along with the
light, came the soft roaring hiss.

Beside me was the glass ball, the cover off and lying a few feet away
from the opening in the top. There was no trace of Stanley or the
Professor.

I rose from my couch, a thick, mattresslike affair of soft, pliant hide,
and walked feebly toward the small arch in the near end of the cave.

Even as I approached it I heard footsteps, and voices resounded in some
slurring, musical language. Half a dozen figures suddenly came into
view.

They were men, as human as myself! Indeed, as I gazed at them, I felt
inclined to think they were even more human!

       *       *       *       *       *

They were magnificent specimens. The smallest could not have been less
than six feet three, and all of them were muscular and finely
proportioned. Their faces were arresting in their expression of calm
strength and kindliness. They looked like gods, arrayed in soft, thick,
beautifully tanned hides in this rosy tinted hole a mile below the
ocean's top.

They stared at me for an instant, then advanced toward me. My face must
have reflected alarm, for the tallest of them held up his hand, palm
outward, in a peaceful gesture.

The leader spoke to me. Of course the slurred, melodious syllable meant
nothing to me. He smiled and indicated that I was to follow him. I did
so, hardly aware of what I was doing, my brain reeling in an attempt to
grasp the situation.

How marvelous, how utterly incredible, to find human beings here! How
many were there? Where had they come from? How had they salvaged us from
Penguin Deep? I gave it up, striding along with my towering guards like
a man walking in his sleep.

At length the low passageway ended, and I exclaimed aloud at what I saw.

I was looking down a long avenue of buildings, all three stories in
height. There were large door and window apertures, but no doors nor
window panes. In front of each house was a small square with--wonder of
wonders!--a lawn of whitish yellow vegetation that resembled grass. In
some of the lawns were set artistic fountains of carved rock.

I might have been looking down any prosperous earthly subdivision, save
for the fact that the roofs of the houses were the earth itself, which
the building walls, in addition to functioning as partitions, served to
support. Also earthly subdivisions aren't usually illuminated with rosy
light that comes softly roaring from jets set in the walls.

       *       *       *       *       *

We were walking toward a more brightly lighted area that showed ahead of
us. On the way we passed intersections where other, similar streets
branched geometrically away to right and left. These were smaller than
the one we were on, indicating that ours was Main Street in this bizarre
submarine city.

Faces appeared at door and window openings to peer at me as we passed.
And even in that jumbled moment I had time to realize that these folk
could restrain curiosity better than we can atop the earth. There was no
hub-bub, no running out to tag after the queerly dressed foreigner and
shout humorous remarks at him.

We approached the bright spot I had noticed from afar. It was an open
square, about a city block in area, in the center of which was a royal
looking building covered with blazing fragments of crystal and so
brilliantly resplendent with light that it seemed to glow at the heart
of a pink fire.

I was led toward this and in through a wide doorway. As courteously as
though I were a visiting king, I was conducted up a great staircase,
down a corridor set with more of the sparkling crystals and into a huge,
low room. There my escort bowed and left me.

       *       *       *       *       *

Still feeling that I could not possibly be awake and seeing actual
things, I glanced around.

In a corner was another of the mattresslike couches made of the thick,
soft hide that seemed to be the principal fabric of the place. A few
feet away was a table set with dishes of food in barbaric profusion.
None of the viands looked familiar but all appealed to the appetite. The
floor was strewn with soft skins, and comfortable, carved benches were
scattered about.

I walked to the window and looked out. Underneath was a plot of the
cream colored grass through which ran a tiny stream. This widened at
intervals into clear pools beside which were set stone benches. A
hundred yards away was the edge of the square, where the regular, three
storied houses began.

While I was staring at this unearthly vista, still unable to think with
any coherence. I heard my name called. I turned to face Stanley and the
Professor.

       *       *       *       *       *

Both were pale in the rose light, and Stanley limped with the pain of
his bruised leg: but both had recovered from their partial suffocation
as completely as had I.

"We thought perhaps you'd decided to swim back up to the _Rosa_ and
leave us to our fates," said Stanley after we had stopped pumping each
other's arms and had seated ourselves.

"And I thought--well, I didn't think much of anything," I replied. "I
was too busy straining my eyesight over the wonders of this city. Did
you ever see anything like it?"

"We haven't seen it at all, save for a view from the windows," said
Stanley. "All we know of the place is that a while ago we woke up in a
room like this, only much smaller and less lavish. I wonder why you rate
this distinction?"

I described the streets as I had seen them. (It is impossible for me to
think of them as anything but streets; it would seem as though the rock
roof over all would give the appearance of a series of tunnels; but I
had always the impression of airiness and openness.)

"Light and heat are furnished by natural gas," said the Professor when I
remarked on the perfection of these two necessities. "That's what makes
the low roaring noise--the thousands of burning jets. But the presence
of gas here isn't as unusual as the presence of air. Where does that
come from? Through wandering underground mazes, from some cave mouth in
the Fiji Islands to the north? That would indicate that all the earth
around here is honeycombed like a gigantic section of sponge. I
wonder--"

"Have you any idea how we were rescued?" I interrupted, a little
impatient of his abstract scientific ponderings.

"We have," said Stanley. "A woman told us. We woke up to find her
nursing us--gorgeous looking thing--finest woman I've ever seen, and
I've seen a good many--"

"She didn't exactly 'tell' us," remarked the Professor with his thin
smile. Women were only interesting to him as biological studies. "She
drew a diagram that explained it.

"That tunnel, Martin, was like the outer diving chamber of a submarine.
We were hauled in on a big windlass--driven by gas turbines, I think.
Once we were inside, a twenty-yard, counterbalanced wall of rock was
lowered across the entrance. Then the water was drained out through a
well, and into a subterranean body of water that extends under the
entire city. And here we are."

We fell silent. Here we were. But what was going to happen to us among
these friendly-seeming people; and how--if ever--we were going to get
back to the earth's surface, were questions we could not even try to
answer.

       *       *       *       *       *

We ate of the appetizing food laid out on the long table. Shortly
afterward we heard steps in the corridor outside the room.

A woman entered. She was ravishingly beautiful, tall, slender but
symmetrically rounded. A soft leather robe slanted upward across her
breast to a single shoulder fastening and ended just above her knees in
a skirt arrangement. Around her head was a regal circlet of silvery gray
metal with a flashing bit of crystal set in the center above her broad,
low forehead.

She smiled at Stanley who looked dazzled and smiled eagerly back.

She pointed toward the door, signifying that we were to go with her. We
did so; and were led down the great staircase and to a huge room that
took up half the ground floor of the building. And here we met the
nobility of the little kingdom--the upper class that governed the
immaculate little city.

They were standing along the walls, leaving a lane down the center of
the room--tall, finely modelled men and women dressed in the single
garments of soft leather. There were people there with gray hair and
wisdom wrinkled faces; but all were alike in being erect of body, firm
of bearing and in splendid health.

They stopped talking as we entered the big room. Our gaze strayed ahead
down the lane toward the further wall.

Here was a raised dais. On it was a gleaming crystal encrusted throne.
And occupying it was the most queenly, exquisitely beautiful woman I
had ever dreamed about.

       *       *       *       *       *

Woman? She was just a girl in years in spite of her grave and royal air.
Her eyes were deep violet. Her hair was black as ebony and gleaming with
sudden glints of light. Her skin--

But she cannot be described. Only a great painter could give a hint of
her glory. Too, I might truthfully be described as prejudiced about her
perfections.

The Queen, for patently she was that, bowed graciously at us. It seemed
to me--though I told myself that I was an imaginative fool--that her
eyes rested longest on me, and had in them an expression not granted to
the Professor or Stanley.

She spoke to us a melodious sentence or two, and waved her beautiful
hand in which was a short ivory wand, evidently a scepter.

"She's probably giving us the keys to the city," whispered Stanley. He
edged nearer the fair one who had conducted us. "I sincerely hope
there's room here for us."

The open lane closed in on us. Men and women crowded about us speaking
to us and smiling ruefully as they realized we could not understand. I
noticed that, for some curious reason, they seemed fascinated by the
color of my hair. Red-haired men were evidently scarce there.

At length the beauty who had so captured Stanley's fancy, and who seemed
to have been appointed a sort of mentor for us, suggested in sign
language that we might want to return to our quarters.

It was a welcome suggestion. We were done in by the experiences and
emotions that had gripped us since leaving the _Rosa_ such an incredibly
few hours ago.

We went back to the second floor. I to my luxurious big apartment and
Stanley and the Professor to their smaller but equally comfortable
rooms.

       *       *       *       *       *

A pleasant period slid by, every waking hour of which was filled with
new experiences.

The city's name, we found, was Zyobor. It was a perfect little
community. There were artisans and thinkers, artists and laborers--all
alike in being physically perfect beyond belief and cultured as no race
on top the ground is cultured.

As we began to learn the language, more exact details of the practical
methods of existence were revealed to us.

The surrounding earth furnished them with building materials, metals and
unlimited gas. The sea, so near us and yet so securely walled away, gave
them food. Which warrants a more detailed description.

We were informed that the manlike, two-armed fishes were the servants of
these people--domesticated animals, in a sense, only of an extremely
high order of intelligence. They were directed by mental telepathy
(Every man, woman and child in Zyobor was skilled at thought projection.
They conversed constantly, from end to end of the city, by mental
telepathy.)

Protected in their spined shells, which they captured from the schools
of porcupine fish that swarmed in Penguin Deep, they gathered sea
vegetation from the higher levels and trapped sea creatures. These were
brought into the subterranean chamber where our glass ball now reposed.
Then the chamber was emptied of water and the food was borne to the
city.

The vast army of mound-fish provided the bulk of the population's food,
and also furnished the thick, pliant skin they used for clothing and
drapes. They were cultivated as we cultivate cattle--an ominous herd, to
be handled with care and approached by the fish-servants with due
caution.

Thus, with all reasonable wants satisfied, with talent and brains to
design beautiful surroundings, lighted and warmed by inexhaustible
natural gas, these fortunate beings lived their sheltered lives in
their rosy underground world.

At least I thought their lives were sheltered then. It was only later,
when talking to the beautiful young Queen, that I learned of the dread
menace that had begun to draw near to them just a short time before we
were rescued....

       *       *       *       *       *

My first impression, when we had entered the throne room that first day,
that the Queen had regarded me more intently than she had Stanley or the
Professor, had been right. It pleased her to treat me as an equal, and
to give me more of her time than was granted to any other person in the
city.

Every day, for a growing number of hours, we were together in her
apartment. She personally instructed me in the language, and such was my
desire to talk to this radiant being that I made an apt pupil.

Soon I had progressed enough to converse with her--in a stilted,
incorrect way--on all but the most abstract of subjects. It was a fine
language. I liked it, as I liked everything else about Zyobor. The upper
earth seemed far away and well forgotten.

Her name, I found, was Aga. A beautiful name....

"How did your kingdom begin?" I asked her one day, while we were sitting
beside one of the small pools in the gardens. We were close together.
Now and then my shoulder touched hers, and she did not draw away.

"I know not," she replied. "It is older than any of our ancient records
can say. I am the three hundred and eleventh of the present reigning
line."

"And we are the first to enter thy realm from the upper world?"

"Thou art the first."

"There is no other entrance but the sea-way into which we were drawn?"

"There is no other entrance."

       *       *       *       *       *

I was silent, trying to realize the finality of my residence here.

At the moment I didn't care much if I never got home!

"In the monarchies we know above," I said finally, avoiding her violet
eyes, "it is not the custom for the queen--or king--to reign alone. A
consort is chosen. Is it not so here? Has thou not, among thy nobles,
some one thou hast destined--"

I stopped, feeling that if she dismissed me in anger and never spoke to
me again the punishment would be just.

But she wasn't angry. A lovely tide of color stained her cheeks. Her
lips parted, and she turned her head. For a long time she said nothing.
Then she faced me, with a light in her eyes that sent the blood racing
in my veins.

"I have not yet chosen," she murmured. "Mayhap soon I shall tell thee
why."

She rose and hurried back toward the palace. But at the door she
paused--and smiled at me in a way that had nothing whatever to do with
queenship.

       *       *       *       *       *

As the time sped by the three of us settled into the routine of the city
as though we had never known of anything else.

The Professor spent most of his time down by the sea chamber where the
food was dragged in by the intelligent servant-fish.

He was in a zoologist's paradise. Not a creature that came in there had
ever been catalogued before. He wrote reams of notes on the parchment
paper used by the citizens in recording their transactions. Particularly
was he interested in the vast, lowly mound-fish.

One time, when I happened to be with him, the receding waters of the
chamber disclosed the body of one of the odd herdsmen of these deep sea
flocks. Then the Professor's elation knew no bounds. We hurried forward
to look at it.

"It is a typical fish," puzzled the Professor when we had cut the body
out of its usurped armor. "Cold blooded, adapted to the chill and
pressure of the deeps. There are the gills I observed before ... yet it
looks very human."

It surely did. There were the jointed arms, and the rudimentary hands.
Its forehead was domed; and the brain, when dissected, proved much
larger than the brain of a true fish. Also its bones were not those of a
mammal, but the cartilagenous bones of a fish. It was not quite six feet
long; just fitted the horny shell.

"But its intelligence!" fretted the Professor, glorying in his inability
to classify this marvelous specimen. "No fish could ever attain such
mental development. Evolution working backward from human to reptile and
then fish--or a new freak of evolution whereby a fish on a short cut
toward becoming human?" He sighed and gave it up. But more reams of
notes were written.

"Why do you take them?" I asked. "No one but yourself will ever see
them."

       *       *       *       *       *

He looked at me with professorial absent-mindedness.

"I take them for the fun of it, principally. But perhaps, sometime, we
may figure out a way of getting them up. My God! Wouldn't my learned
brother scientists be set in an uproar!"

He bent to his observations and dissections again, cursing now and then
at the distortion suffered by the specimens when they were released from
the deep sea pressure and swelled and burst in the atmospheric pressure
in the cave.

Stanley was engrossed in a different way. Since the moment he laid eyes
on her, he had belonged to the stately woman who had first nursed him
back to consciousness. Mayis was her name.

From shepherding the three of us around Zyobor and explaining its
marvels to us, she had taken to exclusive tutorship of Stanley. And
Stanley fairly ate it up.

"You, the notorious woman hater," I taunted him one time, "the wary
bachelor--to fall at last. And for a woman of another world--almost of
another planet! I'm amazed!"

"I don't know why you should be amazed," said he stiffly.

"You've been telling me ever since I was a kid that women were all
useless, all alike--"

"I find I was mistaken," he interrupted. "They aren't all alike. There's
only one Mayis. She is--different."

"What do you talk about all the time? You're with her constantly."

"I'm not with her any more than you're with the Queen," he shot back at
me. "What do you find to talk about?"

That shut me up. He went to look for Mayis; and I wandered to the royal
apartments in search of Aga.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the first days of our friendship I had several times surprised in
Aga's eyes a curious expression, one that seemed compounded of despair,
horror and resignation.

I had seen that same expression in the eyes of the nobles of late, and
in the faces of all the people I encountered in the streets--who, I
mustn't forget to add here, never failed to treat me with a deference
that was as intoxicating as it was inexplicable.

It was as though some terrible fate hovered over the populace, some
dreadful doom about which nothing could be done. No one put into words
any fears that might confirm that impression; but continually I got the
idea that everybody there went about in a state of attempting to live
normally and happily while life was still left--before some awful,
wholesale death descended on them.

At last, from Aga, I learned the fateful reason.

But first--a confession that was hastened by the knowledge of the fate
of the city--I learned from her something that changed all of life for
me.

       *       *       *       *       *

We were surrounded by the luxury of her private apartment. We sat on a
low divan, side by side. I wanted, more than anything I had ever wanted
before, to put my arms around her. But I dared not. One does not make
love easily to a queen, the three hundred and eleventh of a proud line.

And then, as maids have done often in all countries, and, perhaps, on
all planets, she took the initiative herself.

"We have a curious custom in Zyobor of which I have not yet told thee,"
she murmured. "It concerns the kings of Zyobor. The color of their
hair."

She glanced up at my own carrot-top, and then averted her gaze.

"For all of our history our kings have had--red hair. On the few
occasions when the line has been reduced to a lone queen, as in my case,
the red-haired men of the kingdom have striven together in public combat
to determine which was most powerful and brave. The winner became the
Queen's consort."

"And in this case?" I asked, my heart beginning to pound madly.

"In my case, my lord, there is to be no--no striving. When I was a child
our only two red-haired males died, one by accident, one by sickness.
Now there are none others but infants, none of eligible age. But--by a
miracle--thou--"

She stopped; then gazed up at me from under long, gold flecked lashes.

"I was afraid ... I was doomed to die ... alone...."

       *       *       *       *       *

It was after I had replied impetuously to this, that she told me of the
terror that was about to engulf all life in the beautiful undersea city.

"Thou hast wonder, perhaps, why I should be forward enough to tell thee
this instead of waiting for thine own confession first," she faltered.
"Know, then--the reason is the shortness of the time we are fated to
spend together. We shall belong each to the other only a little while.
Then shall we belong to death! And I--when I knew the time was to be so
brief--"

And I listened with growing horror to her account of the enemy that was
advancing toward us with every passing moment.

       *       *       *       *       *

About twenty miles away, in the lowest depression of Penguin Deep, lived
a race of monsters which the people of Aga's city called Quabos.

The Quabos were grim beings that were more intelligent than Aga's
fish-servants--even, she thought, more intelligent than humans
themselves. They had existed in their dark hole, as far as the Zyobites
knew, from the beginning of time.

Through the countless centuries they had constructed for themselves a
vast series of dens in the rock. There they had hidden away from the
deep-sea dangers. They, too, preyed on the mound-fish; but as there was
plenty of food for all, the Zyobites had never paid much attention to
them.

But--just before we had appeared, there had come about a subterranean
quake that changed the entire complexion of matters in Penguin Deep.

The earthquake wiped out the elaborately burrowed sea tunnels of the
Quabos, killing half of them at a blow and driving the rest out into the
unfriendly openness of the deep.

Now this was fatal to them. They were not used to physical self defense.
During the thousands of years of residence in their sheltered burrows
they had become utterly unable to exist when exposed to the primeval
dangers of the sea. It was as though the civilization-softened citizens
of New York should suddenly be set down in a howling wilderness with
nothing but their bare hands with which to contrive all the necessities
of a living.

       *       *       *       *       *

Such was the situation at the time Stanley, the Professor and myself
arrived in Zyobor.

The Quabos must find an immediate haven or perish. On the ocean bottom
they were threatened by the mound-fish. In the higher levels they were
in danger from almost everything that swam: few things were so
defenceless as themselves after their long inertia.

Their answer was Zyobor. There, in perfect security, only to be reached
by the diving chamber that could be sealed at will by the twenty-yard,
counterbalanced lock, the Quabos would be even more protected than in
their former runways.

So--they were working day and night to invade Aga's city!

"But Aga," I interrupted impulsively at this point. "If these monsters
are fishes, how could they live here in air--"

I stopped as my objection answered itself before she could reply.

They would not have to live in air to inhabit Zyobor. They would
inundate the city--flood that peaceful, beautiful place with the awful
pressure of the lowest depths!

That thought, in turn, suggested to me that every building in Zyobor
would be swept flat if subjected suddenly to the rush of the sea. The
great low cavern, without the support of the myriad walls, would
probably collapse--trapping the invading Quabos and leaving the rest
without a home once more.

But Aga answered this before I could voice it.

The Quabos had foreseen that point. They were tunneling slowly but
surely toward the city from a point about half a mile from the diving
chamber. And as they advanced, they blocked up the passageway behind
them at intervals, drilled down to the great underground sea that lay
beneath all this section, and drained a little of the water away.

       *       *       *       *       *

In this manner they lightened, bit by bit, the enormous weight of the
ocean depths. When the city was finally reached, not only would it be
ensured against sudden destruction but the Quabos themselves would have
become accustomed to the difference in pressure. Had they gone
immediately from the accustomed press of Penguin Deep into the
atmosphere of Zyobor, they would have burst into bits. As it was they
would be able to flood the city slowly, without injury to themselves.

"Now thou knowest our fate," concluded Aga with a shudder. "Zyobor will
be a part of the great waters. We ourselves shall be food for these
monsters...." She faltered and stopped.

"But this cannot be!" I exclaimed, clenching my fists impotently. "There
_must_ be something we can do; some way--"

"There is nothing to be done. Our wisest men have set themselves
sleeplessly to the task of defence. There it no defence possible."

"We can't simply sit here and wait! Your people are wonderful, but this
is no time for resignation. Send for my two friends, Aga. We will have a
council of war, we four, and see if we can find a way!"

She shrugged despairfully, started to speak, then sent in quest of
Stanley and the Professor.

       *       *       *       *       *

They as well as myself, had had no idea of the menace that crept nearer
us with each passing hour. They were dumbfounded, horrified to learn of
the peril. We sat awhile in silence, realizing our situation to the
full.

Then the Professor spoke:

"If only we could see what these things look like! It might help in
planning to defeat them."

"That can be done with ease," said Aga. "Come."

We went with her to the gardens and approached the nearest pool.

"My fish-men are watching the Quabos constantly. They report to me by
telepathy whenever I send my thoughts their way. I will let you see, on
the pool, the things they are now seeing."

She stared intently at the sheet of water. And gradually, as we watched,
a picture appeared--a picture that will never fade from my memory in any
smallest detail.

The Quabos had huddled for protection into a large cave at the foot of
the cliff outside Zyobor. There were a great many Quabos, and the cave
was relatively confining. Now we saw, through the eyes of the spine
protected outpost of the Queen, these monstrous refugees crowded
together like sheep.

The watery cavern was a creeping mass of viscous tentacles, enormous
staring eyes and globular heads. The cave was paved three deep with the
horrible things, and they were attached to the it walls and roof in
solid blocks.

"My God!" whispered Stanley. "There are thousands of them!"

       *       *       *       *       *

There were. And that they were in distress was evident.

The layers on the floor were weaving and shifting constantly as the
bottom creatures struggled feebly to rise to the top of the mass and be
relieved of the weight of their brothers. Also they were famished....

One of the blood red, gigantic worms floated near the cave entrance.
Like lightning the nearest Quabos darted after it. In a moment the prey
was torn to bits by the ravenous monsters.

The other side of the story was immediately portrayed to us.

With the emerging of the reckless Quabos, a sea-serpent appeared from
above and snapped up three of their number. Evidently the huge serpent
considered them succulent tidbits, and made it its business to wait near
the cave and avail itself of just such rash chance-taking as this.

While we watched the nightmare scene, a Quabo disengaged itself from the
parent mass and floated upward into the clear, giving us a chance to see
more distinctly what the creatures looked like.

There was a black, shiny head as large as a sugar barrel. In this were
eyes the size of dinner plates, and gleaming with a cold, hellish
intelligence. Four long, twining tentacles were attached directly to
the head. Dotted along these were rudimentary sucker discs, that had
evidently become atrophied by the soft living of thousands of the
creature's ancestors.

As though emerging from the pool into which we were gazing, the monster
darted viciously at us. At once it disappeared: the fish-servant through
whose eyes we were seeing all this had evidently retreated from the
approach; although, protected by its spines, it could not have been in
actual danger.

"How dost thou know of the tunneling?" I asked Aga. "Thy fish-men cannot
be present there, in the rear of the tunnel, to report."

"My artisans have knowledge of each forward move," she answered. "I will
show thee."

       *       *       *       *       *

We walked back to the palace and descended to a smooth-lined vault.
There we saw a great stone shaft sunk down into the rock of the floor.
On this was a delicate vibration recording instrument of some sort, with
a needle that quivered rhythmically over several degrees of an arc.

"This tells of each move of the Quabos," said Aga. "It also tells us
where they will break through the city wall. How near to us are they,
Kilor?" she asked an attendant who was studying the dial, and who had
bowed respectfully to Aga and myself as we approached.

"They will break into the city in four rixas at the present rate of
advance, Your Majesty."

Four rixas! In a little over sixteen days, as we count time, the city of
Zyobor would be delivered into the hands--or, rather, tentacles--of the
slimy, starving demons that huddled in the cavern outside!

Somberly we followed Aga back to her apartment.

       *       *       *       *       *

"As thou seest," she murmured, "there is nothing to be done. We can only
resign ourselves to the fate that nears us, and enjoy as much as may be
the few remaining rixas...."

She glanced at me.

The Professor's dry, cool voice cut across our wordless, engrossed
communion.

"I don't think we'll give up quite as easily as all that. We can at
least try to outwit our enemies. If it does nothing else for us, the
effort can serve to distract our minds."

He drew from his pocket a sheet of parchment and the stub of his last
remaining pencil. His fingers busied themselves apparently idly in the
tracing of geometric lines.

"Looking ahead to the exact details of our destruction," he mused
coolly, "we see that our most direct and ominous enemy is the sea
itself. When the city is flooded, we drown--and later the Quabos can
enter at will."

He drew a few more lines, and marked a cross at a point in the outer rim
of the diagram.

"What will happen? The Quabos force through the last shell of the city
wall. The water from their tunnel floods into Zyobor. But--and mark me
well--_only_ the water from the tunnel! The outer end, remember, is
blocked off in their pressure-reducing process. The vast body of the sea
itself cannot immediately be let in here because the Quabos must take as
long a time to re-accustom themselves to its pressure as they did to
work out of it."

He spread the parchment sheet before us.

"Is this a roughly accurate plan of the city?" he asked Aga.

She inclined her lovely head.

"And this," indicating the cross, "is the spot where the Quabos will
break in?"

Again she nodded, shuddering.

"Then tell me what you think of this," said the Professor.

       *       *       *       *       *

And he proceeded to sketch out a plan so simple, and yet so seemingly
efficient, that the rest of us gazed at him with wordless admiration.

"My friend, my friend," whispered Aga at last, "thou hast saved us.
Thou art the guardian hero of Zyobor--"

"Not too fast, Your Highness," interrupted the Professor with his frosty
smile. "I shall be much surprised if this little scheme actually saves
the city. We may find the rock so thick there that our task is
hopeless--though I imagine the Quabos picked a thin section for help in
their own plans."

A vague look came into his eyes.

"I must certainly get my hands on one of these monsters ... superhumanly
intelligent fish ... marvelous--akin to the octopus, perhaps?"

He wandered off, changed from the resourceful schemer to the dreamy man
of scientific abstractions.

The Queen gazed after him with wonder in her eyes.

"A great man," she murmured, "but is he--a little mad?"

"No, only a little absent-minded," I replied. Then, "Come on, Stanley.
We'll round up every able bodied citizen in Zyobor and get to work. I
suppose they have some kind of rock drilling machinery here?"

They had. And they strangely resembled our own rock drills: revolving
metal shafts, driven by gas turbines, tipped with fragments of the same
crystal that glittered so profusely in the palace walls. Another proof
that practically every basic, badly needed tool had been invented again
and again, in all lands and times, as the necessity for it arose.

With hundreds of the powerful men of Zyobor working as closely together
as they could without cramping each others movements, and with the whole
city resounding to the roar of the machinery, we labored at the defence
that might possibly check the advance of the hideous Quabos.

And with every breath we drew, waking or sleeping, we realized that the
cold blooded, inhuman invaders had crept a fraction of an inch closer in
their tunneling.

The Quabos against the Zyobites! Fish against man! Two diametrically
opposed species of life in a struggle to the death! Which of us would
survive?

       *       *       *       *       *

The hour of the struggle approached. Every soul in Zyobor moved in a
daze, with strained face and fear haunted eyes. Their proficiency in
mental telepathy was a curse to them now: every one carried constantly,
transmitted from the brains of the servant-fish outposts, a thought
picture of that outer cavern in the murky depths of which writhed the
thousands of crowding Quabos. Each mind in Zyobor was in continual
torment.

Spared that trouble, at least, Stanley and the Professor and I walked
down to the fortification we had so hastily contrived. It was finished.
And none too soon: the vibration indicator in the palace vault told us
that only two feet of rock separated us from the burrowing monsters!

The Professor's scheme had been to cut a long slot down through the rock
floor of the city to the roof of the vast, mysterious body of water
below.

This slot was placed directly in front of the spot in the city wall
where the Quabos were about to emerge. As they forced through the last
shell of rock, the deluge of water, instead of drowning the city, was
supposed to drain down the oblong vent. Any Quabos that were too near
the tunnel entrance would be swept down too.

       *       *       *       *       *

In silence we approached the edge of the great trough and stared down.

There was a stratum of black granite, fortunately only about thirty feet
thick at this point, and then--the depths! A low roar reached our ears
from far, far beneath us. A steady blast of ice cold air fanned up
against us.

The Professor threw down a large fragment of rock. Seconds elapsed and
we heard no splash. The unseen surface was too far below for the noise
of the rock's fall to carry on up to us.

"The mystery of this ball of earth on which we live!" murmured the
Professor. "Here is this enormous underground body of water. We are far
below sea level. Where, then, is it flowing? What does it empty into?
Can it be that our planet is honeycombed with such hollows as this we
are in? And is each inhabited by some form of life?"

He sighed and shook his head.

"The thought is too big! For, if that were true, wouldn't the seas be
drained from the surface of the earth should an accidental passage be
formed from the ocean bed down to such a giant river as this beneath us?
How little we know!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The wild clamor of an alarm bell interrupted his musing. From all the
city houses poured masses of people, to form in solid lines behind the
large well.

In addition to men, there were many women in those lines, tall and
strong, ready to stand by their mates as long as life was left them.
There were children, too, scarcely in their teens, prepared to fight for
the existence of the race. Every able-bodied Zyobite was mustered
against the cold-blooded Things that pressed so near.

The arms of these desperate fighters were pitiful compared to our own
war weapons. With no need in the city for fighting engines, none had
ever been developed. Now the best that could be had was a sort of ax,
used for dissecting the mound-fish, and various knives fashioned for
peaceful purposes.

Again the bell clamored forth a warning, this time twice repeated. Every
hand grasped its weapon. Every eye went hopefully to the hole in the
floor on which our immediate fate depended, then valiantly to the
section of wall above it.

This quivered perceptibly. A heavy, pointed instrument broke through;
was withdrawn; and a hissing stream of water spurted out.

The Quabos were about to break in upon us!

       *       *       *       *       *

With a crash that made the solid rock tremble, a section of the wall
collapsed. It was the top half of the end of the Quabos' tunnel. They
had so wrought that the lower half stayed in place--a thing we did not
have time to recognize as significant until later.

A solid wall of water, in which writhed dozens of tentacled monsters,
was upon us, and we had time for nothing but action.

The ditch had of necessity been placed directly under the Quabos'
entrance. The first rush of water carried half over it. With it were
borne scores of the cold-blooded invaders.

In an instant we were standing knee deep in a torrent that tore at our
footing, while we hacked frantically with knives and axes at the slimy
tentacles that reached up to drag us under.

A soft, horrible mass swept against my legs. I was overthrown. A
tentacle slithered around my neck and constricted viciously like a
length of rotten cable. I sawed at it with the long, notched blade I
carried. Choking for air, I felt the pressure relax and scrambled to my
knees.

Two more tentacles went around me, one winding about my legs and the
other crushing my waist. Two huge eyes glared fiendishly at me.

I plunged the knife again and again into the barrel-shaped head. It did
not bleed: a few drops of thin, yellowish liquid oozed from the wounds
but aside from this my slashing seemed to make no impression.

In a frenzy I defended myself against the nightmare head that was
winding surely toward me. Meanwhile I devoted every energy to keeping on
my feet. If I ever went under again--

It seemed to me that the creature was weakening. With redoubled fury I
hacked at the spidery shape. And gradually, when it seemed as though I
could not withstand its weight and crushing tentacles another second,
it slipped away and floated off on the shallow, roaring rapids.

       *       *       *       *       *

For a moment I stood there, catching my breath and regaining my
strength. Shifting, terrible scenes flashed before my eyes.

A tall Zyobite and an almost equally stalwart woman were both caught by
one gigantic Quabo which had a tentacle around the throat of each. The
man and woman were chopping at the viscous, gruesome head. One of the
Thing's eyes was gashed across, giving it a fearsome, blind appearance.
It heaved convulsively, and the three struggling figures toppled into
the water and were swirled away.

The Professor was almost buried by a Quabo that had all four of its
tentacles wound about him. As methodically as though he were in a
laboratory dissecting room, he was cutting the slippery lengths away,
one by one, till the fourth parted and left him free.

A giant Zyobite was struggling with two of the monsters. He had an ax in
each hand, and was whirling them with such strength and rapidity that
they formed flashing circles of light over his head. But he was torn
down at last and borne off by the almost undiminished flood that gushed
from the tunnel.

And now, without warning, a heavy soft body flung against my back, and
the accident most to be dreaded in that mêlée occurred.

I was knocked off my feet! My head was pressed under the water. On my
chest was a mass that was yielding but immovable, soft but terribly
strong. Animated, firm jelly! I had no chance to use my knife. My arms
were held powerless against my sides.

Water filled my nose and mouth. I strangled for breath, heaving at the
implacable weight that pinned me helpless. Bright spots swirled before
my eyes. There was a roaring in my ears. My lungs felt as though filled
with molten lead. I was drowning....

       *       *       *       *       *

Vaguely I felt the pressure loosen at last. An arm--with good, solid
flesh and bone in it--slipped under my shoulders and dragged me up into
the air.

"Don't you know--can't drown a fish--holding it under water?" panted a
voice.

I opened my eyes and saw Stanley, his face pale with the thrill of
battle, his chin jutting forward in a berserk line, his eyes snapping
with eager, wary fires.

I grinned up at him and he slapped me on the back--almost completing the
choking process started by the salt water I'd inhaled.

"That's better. Now--at it again!"

I don't remember the rest of the tumult. The air seemed filled with
loathsome tentacles and bright metal blades. It was a confused eternity
until the decreased volume of water in the tunnel gave us a respite....

As the tunnel slowly emptied the pressure dropped, and the incoming
flood poured squarely into the trough instead of half over it. From that
moment there was very little more for us to do.

Our little army--with about a fourth of its number gone--had only to
guard the ditch and see that none of the Quabos caught the edges as they
hurtled out of their passage.

For perhaps ten minutes longer the water poured from the break in the
wall, with now and then a doomed Quabo that goggled horribly at us as it
was dashed down the hole in the floor to whatever awesome depths were
beneath.

Then the flow ceased. The last oleaginous corpse was pushed over the
edge. And the city, save for an ankle-deep sheet of water that was
rapidly draining out the vents in the streets, presented its former
appearance.

The Zyobites leaned wearily against convenient walls and began telling
themselves how fortunate they were to have been spared what seemed
certain destruction.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Professor didn't share in the general feeling of triumph.

"Don't be so childishly optimistic!" he snapped as I began to
congratulate him on the victory his ditch had given us. "Our troubles
aren't over yet!"

"But we've proved that we can stand up to them in a hand-to-tentacle
fight--"

His thin, frosty smile appeared.

"One of those devils, normally, is stronger than any three men. The only
reason all of us weren't destroyed at once is that they were slowly
suffocating as they fought. The foot and a half of water we were in
wasn't enough to let their gills function properly. Now if they were
able to stand right up to us and not be handicapped by lack of water to
breathe ... I wonder.... Is that part of their plan? Is there any way
they could manage ...?"

"But, Professor," I argued, "it's all over, isn't it? The tunnel is
emptied, and all the Quabos are--"

"The tunnel isn't emptied. It's only _half_ emptied! I'll show you."

He called Stanley; and the three of us went to the break.

"See," the Professor pointed out to us as we approached the jagged hole,
"the Quabos only drilled through the top half of their tunnel ending.
That means that the tunnel still has about four feet of water in
it--enough to accommodate a great many of the monsters. There may be
four or five hundred of them left in there; possibly more. We can expect
renewed hostilities at any time!"

"But won't it be just a repetition of the first battle?" remonstrated
Stanley. "In the end they'll be killed or will drown for lack of water
as these first ones did."

       *       *       *       *       *

The Professor shook his head.

"They're too clever to do that twice. The very fact that they kept half
their number in reserve shows that they have some new trick to try.
Otherwise they'd all have come at once in one supreme effort."

He paced back and forth.

"They're ingenious, intelligent. They're fighting for their very
existence. They must have figured out some way of breathing in air, some
way of attacking us on a more even basis in case that first rush went
wrong. What can it be?"

"I think you're borrowing trouble before it is necessary--" I began,
smiling at his elaborate, scientific pessimism. But I was interrupted by
a startled shout from Stanley.

"Professor Martin," he cried, pointing to the tunnel mouth. "Look!"

Like twin snakes crawling up to sun themselves, two tentacles had
appeared over the rock rim. They hooked over the edge; and leisurely,
with grim surety of invulnerability, the barrel-like head of a Quabo
balanced itself on the ledge and glared at us.

       *       *       *       *       *

For a moment we stared, paralyzed, at the Thing. And, during that moment
it squatted there, as undistressed as though the air were its natural
element, its gills flapping slowly up and down supplying it with oxygen.

The thing that held us rooted to the spot with fearful amazement was the
fantastic device that permitted it to be almost as much at home in air
as in water.

Over the great, globular head was set an oval glass shell. This was
filled with water. A flexible metal tube hung down from the rear.
Evidently it carried a constant stream of fresh water. As we gazed we
saw intermittent trickles emerging from the bottom of the crystalline
case.

Point for point the creature's equipment was the same as diving
equipment used by men, only it was exactly opposite in function. A
helmet that enabled a fish to breathe in air, instead of a helmet to
allow a man to breathe in water!

Stanley was the first of us to recover from the shock of this spectacle.
He faced about and raised his voice in shouts of warning to the resting
Zyobites. For other glass encased monsters had appeared beside the
first, now.

One by one, in single file like a line of enormous marching insects,
they crawled down the wall and humped along on their tentacles--around
the ditch and toward us!

       *       *       *       *       *

The deadly infallibility of that second attack!

The Quabos advanced on us like armored tanks bearing down on defenceless
savages. Their glass helmets, in addition to containing water for their
breathing, protected them from our knives and axes. We were utterly
helpless against them.

They marched in ranks about twenty yards apart, each rank helping the
one in front to carry the cumbersome water-hoses which trailed back to
the central water supply in the tunnel.

Their movements were slow, weighted down as they were by the great glass
helmets, but they were appallingly sure.

We could not even retard their advance, let alone stop it. Here were no
suffocating, faltering creatures. Here were beings possessed of their
full vigor, each one equal to three of us even as the Professor had
conjectured. Their only weak points were their tentacles which trailed
outside the glass cases. But these they kept coiled close, so that to
reach them and hack at them we had to step within range of their
terrific clutches.

The Zyobites fought with the valor of despair added to their inherent
noble bravery. Man after man closed with the monstrous, armored
Things--only to be seized and crushed by the weaving tentacles.

Occasionally a terrific blow with an ax would crack one of the glass
helmets. Then the denuded Quabo would flounder convulsively in the air
till it drowned. But there were all too few of these individual
victories. The main body of the Quabos, rank on rank, dragging their
water-hose behind them, came on with the steadiness of a machine.

       *       *       *       *       *

Slowly we were driven back down the broad street and toward the palace.
As we retreated, old people and children came from the houses and went
with us, leaving their dwellings to the mercy of the monsters.

A block from the palace we bunched together and, by sheer mass and
ferocity, actually stopped the machinelike advance for a few moments.
Miscellaneous weapons had been brought from the houses--sledges, stone
benches, anything that might break the Quabos' helmets--and handed to us
in silence by the noncombatants.

Somebody tugged at my sleeve. Looking down I saw a little girl. She had
dragged a heavy metal bar out to the fray and was trying to get some
fighter's attention and give it to him.

I seized the formidable weapon and jumped at the nearest Quabo, a
ten-foot giant whose eyes were glinting gigantically at me through the
distorting curve of the glass.

Disregarding the clutching tentacles entirely, I swung the bar against
the helmet. It cracked. I swung again and it fell in fragments, spilling
the gallons of water it had contained.

The tentacles wound vengefully around me, but in a few seconds they
relaxed as the thing gasped out its life in the air.

       *       *       *       *       *

I turned to repeat the process on another if I could, and found myself
facing the Queen. Her head was held bravely high, though the violet of
her eyes had gone almost black with fear and repulsion of the terrible
things we fought.

"Aga!" I cried. "Why art thou here! Go back to the palace at once!"

"I came to fight beside thee," she answered composedly, though her
delicate lips quivered. "All is lost, it seems. So shall I die beside
thee."

I started to reply, to urge her again to seek the safety of the palace.
But by now the deadly advance of the tentacled demons had begun once
more.

Fighting vainly, the population of Zyobor was swept into the palace
grounds, then into the building itself.

Men, women and children huddled shoulder to shoulder in the cramping
quarters. An ironic picture came to me of the crowding masses of Quabos
stuffed into the protection of the outer cave, waiting the outcome of
the fight being waged by their warriors. Here were we in a similar
circumstance, waiting for the battle to be decided. Though there was
little doubt in the minds of any of us as to what the outcome would be.

Guards, the strongest men of the city, were stationed with sledges at
the doors and windows. The Quabos, able only to enter one at a time,
halted a moment and there was a badly needed breathing spell.

       *       *       *       *       *

"We've got to find some drastic means of defence," said the Professor,
"or we won't last another three hours."

"If you asked me, I'd say we couldn't last another three hours anyway,"
replied Stanley with a shrug. "These fish have out-thought us!"

"Nonsense! There may still be a way--"

"A brace of machine-guns...." I murmured hopefully.

"You might as well wish for a dozen light cannon!" snapped the
Professor. "Please try to concentrate, and see if any effective weapon
suggests itself to you--something more available at the moment than
machine-guns."

In silence the three of us racked our brains for a means of defence.
Aga, leaving for a time the task of soothing her more hysterical
subjects, came quietly over to us and sat on the bench beside me.

Frankly I could think of nothing. To my mind we were surely doomed. What
arms could possibly be contrived at such short notice? What weapon
could be called forth to be effective against the thick glass helmets?

But as I glanced at Stanley I saw his face set in a new expression as
his thoughts took a turn that suggested possible salvation.

"Glass," he muttered. "Glass. What destroys it? Sharp blows ... certain
acids ... variation in temperature ... heat and cold.... That's it!
_That's it!_"

He turned excitedly to the Queen.

"I think we have it! At least it's worth trying. If there is any tubing
around...." He stopped as he realized he was talking in English, and
resumed stiltedly in Aga's own language.

"Hast thou, in the palace, any lengths of pipe like to that which the
Quabos drag behind them?"

"No ..." Aga began, her eyes round and wondering. Then she interrupted
herself. "Ah, yes! There is! In a vault near that of Kilor's there is a
great spool of it. He had it fashioned to carry air for one of his
experiments--"

"Come along!" cried Stanley. "I'll explain what I have in mind while we
dig up this coil of hose."

       *       *       *       *       *

A score of Zyobite workmen were gathered at once. The length of
hose--made of some linen-like fabric of tough, shredded sea-weed and
covered with a flexible metal sheath--was cut into three pieces each
about fifty yards long. These were connected to three of the largest gas
vents of the palace.

Stanley, the Professor and I each took an end. And we prepared to fight,
with fire, the creatures of water.

"It ought to work," Stanley, repeated several times as though trying to
reassure himself as well as us. "It's simple enough: the water in those
helmets is ice cold: if fire is suddenly squirted against them they'll
crack with the uneven expansion."

"Unless," retorted the Professor, "their glass has some special heat and
cold resisting quality."

Stanley shrugged.

"It may well have some such properties. How such creatures can make
glass at all is beyond me!"

Dragging our hose to the big front entrance of the palace, and warning
the crowded people to keep their feet clear of it, we prepared to test
out the efficiency of this, our last resource against the enemy.

       *       *       *       *       *

For an instant we paused just inside the doorway, looking out at the
ugly, glassed-in Things that were massing to attack us again.

The ranks of Quabos had closed in now, till they extended down the
street for several hundred yards in close formation--a forest of great
pulpy heads with huge eyes that glared unblinkingly at the glittering,
pink building that was their objective.

"Light up!" ordered Stanley, setting an example by touching his hose
nozzle to the nearest wall jet. A spurt of fire belched from his hose,
streaming out for four or five feet in a solid red cone. The Professor
and I touched off our torches; and we moved slowly out the door toward
the ranks of Quabos.

"Don't try to save yourselves from their tentacles," advised Stanley.
"Walk right up to them, direct the fire against their helmets, and damn
the consequences. If they grip too hard you can always play the torch on
their tentacles till they think better of it."

The Quabos' front line humped grimly toward us, unblinking eyes glaring,
tentacles writhing warily, little spurts of used water trickling from
their helmets.

"Keep together," warned Stanley, "so that if any one of us loses his
light he can get it from the hose of one of the other two. And--_Here
they come!_"

There was no more time for commands. The Quabos in front, supplied with
slack in their hoses by those behind, leaped at us with incredible
agility. We fell back a step so that none should get at our backs.

The last stand was begun.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was not a battle so much as a series of fierce duels. The Quabos
realized their new danger instantly, and devoted all their efforts to
extinguishing our torches. We parried and thrust with the flaming hoses
in an equally desperate effort to prevent it.

One of them scuttled toward me like a great crab. A tentacle darted
toward my right arm. Another was pressed against the nozzle. There was a
sickening smell--and the tentacle was jerked spasmodically away.

I caught the hose in my left hand and turned the fiery jet against the
water-filled helmet.

A shout of savage exultation broke from my lips. Hardly, had the flame
touched the glass before it cracked! There was a report like a pistol
shot--and a miniature Niagara of water and splintered glass poured at my
feet!

The tentacle around my arm tightened, then relaxed. The monster
shuddered in a convulsive heap on the ground.

I went toward the next one, swinging the flaring hose in a slow arc as I
advanced. The creature lunged at me and threshed at the burning jet with
all four of its feelers. But it had been exposed to the air for a long
time now. The ghastly tentacles were dry; withered and soft. A touch of
the fire seared them unmercifully.

Nevertheless with a swift move it slapped a tentacle squarely down over
the hose nozzle. The flame was extinguished as the flame of a candle is
pinched out between thumb and forefinger. I retreated.

"Catch!" came a voice behind me.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Professor swung his four-foot jet my way. I held my hose to it, and
the flame burst out again. A touch at my grisly antagonist's helmet--a
sharp crack--the welcome rush of water over the cream-colored grass--and
another monster was writhing in the death throes!

Keeping close together, the three of us faced the massed Quabos in the
palace grounds. Again and again the fiery weapon of one or the other of
us was dashed out--to be re-lighted from the nearest hose. Again and
again loud detonations heralded the collapse of more of the invaders.

But it seemed as though their flailing tentacles were as myriad as the
stars they had never seen. It seemed as though their numbers would never
appreciably diminish. We thrust and parried till our arms grew numb. And
still there appeared to be hundreds of the Quabos left.

By order of the Queen three stout Zyobites stepped up to us and relieved
us of our exhausting labor. Gladly we handed the hoses to them and went
to the palace for a much needed rest.

       *       *       *       *       *

Two more shifts of fighters took the flaming jets before the monsters
began the retreat slowly back toward their tunnel. And here the
Professor took command again.

"We mustn't let them get away to try some new scheme!" he snapped.
"Martin, take fifty men and beat them back to the break in the wall. Go
around a side street. They move so slowly that you can easily cut off
their retreat."

"There isn't any more hose--" began Stanley.

"There's plenty of it. The Quabos brought it with them." The Professor
turned to me again. "Take metal-saws with you. Cut sections of the
Quabos water-hose and connect them to the nearest wall jets. Run!"

I ran, with fifty of the men of Zyobor close behind me. We dodged out
the side of the palace grounds least guarded by the Quabos, ducking
between their ranks like infantry men threading through an opposition of
powerful but slow-moving tanks. Four of our number were caught, but the
rest got through unscathed.

Down a side street we raced, and along a parallel avenue toward the
tunnel. As we went I prayed that all the Quabos had centered their
attention on the palace and left their vulnerable water-hoses unguarded.

They had! When we stole up the last block toward the break we found the
nearest Quabo was a hundred yards down the street--and working further
away with every move.

At once we set to work on the scores of hoses that quivered over the
floor with each move of the distant monsters.

       *       *       *       *       *

A Zyobite with the muscles of a Hercules swung his ax mightily down on a
hose. The metal was soft enough to be sheered through by the stroke. The
cut ends were smashed so that they could not be crammed down over the
tapering jets; but we could use our metal-saws for cleaner severances at
the other ends.

The giant with the ax stepped from hose to hose. Lengths were completed
with the saws. A man was placed at each jet to hold the connections in
position. Before the Quabos had reached us we had rigged six fire-hoses
and had cut through forty or fifty more water-lines.

The end was certain and not long in coming.

We sprayed the monsters with fire as workmen spray fruit trees with
insect poison. Stanley, the Professor and a Zyobite came up in the rear
with their three hoses.

Caught between the two forces, the beaten fish milled in hopeless
confusion and indecision.

In half an hour they were all reduced to huddles of slimy wet flesh that
dotted the pavement from the break back to the palace grounds. The
invaders were completely annihilated--and the city of Zyobor was saved!

"Now," said the Professor triumphantly, "we have only to knock out the
bottom half of the tunnel wall, empty the tunnel and make sure there are
no more Quabos lurking there. After that we can fill it in with solid
cement. The Queen can order her fish-servants to guard the outer cave
and see that no food gets in to the starving monsters there. The war is
over, gentlemen. The Quabos are as good as exterminated at this moment.
And I can get back to my zoological work...."

Stanley and I looked at each other. We knew each others thoughts well
enough.

He could resume his companionship with the beautiful Mayis. And I--I had
Aga....

       *       *       *       *       *

With the menace of the Quabos banished forever, the city of Zyobor
resumed its normal way.

The citizens lowered their dead into the great well we had cut, with
appropriate rites performed by the Queen. The daily tasks and pleasures
were picked up where they had been dropped. The haunting fear died from
the eyes of the people.

Shortly afterward, with great ceremony and celebration, I was made King
of Zyobor, to rule by Aga's side. Stanley took Mayis for his wife. He is
second to me in power. The Professor is the official wise man of the
city.

Life flows smoothly for us in this pink lighted community. We are more
than content with our lot here. Our only concern has been the grief that
must have been occasioned our relatives and friends when the _Rosa_
sailed home without us.

Now we have thought of a way in which, with luck, we may communicate
with the upper world. By relays of my Queen's fish-servants we believe
we can send up the Professor's invaluable notes[A] and this informal
account of what has happened since we left San Francisco that....

     (Editor's note: There was no trace of any "notes." The yacht,
     _Rosa_, was reported lost with all hands in a hurricane off New
     Zealand. Aboard her were a Professor George Berry and the owner,
     Stanley Browne. There is no record, however, of any passenger by
     the name of Martin Grey. To date no one has taken this document
     seriously enough to consider financing an expedition of
     investigation to Penguin Deep.)



[Illustration: _"When I am finished, Dale, I shall probably kill you."_]

The Murder Machine

_By Hugh B. Cave_


[Sidenote: Four lives lay helpless before the murder machine, the
uncanny device by which hypnotic thought-waves are filtered through
men's minds to mold them into murdering tools!]

It was dusk, on the evening of December 7, 1906, when I first
encountered Sir John Harmon. At the moment of his entrance I was
standing over the table in my study, a lighted match in my cupped hands
and a pipe between my teeth. The pipe was never lit.

I heard the lower door slam shut with a violent clatter. The stairs
resounded to a series of unsteady footbeats, and the door of my study
was flung back. In the opening, staring at me with quiet dignity, stood
a young, careless fellow, about five feet ten in height and decidedly
dark of complexion. The swagger of his entrance branded him as an
adventurer. The ghastly pallor of his face, which was almost colorless,
branded him as a man who has found something more than mere adventure.

"Doctor Dale?" he demanded.

"I am Doctor Dale."

He closed the door of the room deliberately, advancing toward me with
slow steps.

"My name is John Harmon--Sir John Harmon. It is unusual, I suppose," he
said quietly, with a slight shrug, "coming at this late hour. I won't
keep you long."

He faced me silently. A single glance at those strained features
convinced me of the reason for his coming. Only one thing can bring such
a furtive, restless stare to a man's eyes. Only one thing--fear.

"I've come to you. Dale, because--" Sir John's fingers closed heavily
over the edge of the table--"because I am on the verge of going mad."

"From fear?"

"From fear, yes. I suppose it is easy to discover. A single look at
me...."

"A single look at you," I said simply, "would convince any man that you
are deadly afraid of something. Do you mind telling me just what it is?"

       *       *       *       *       *

He shook his head slowly. The swagger of the poise was gone; he stood
upright now with a positive effort, as if the realization of his
position had suddenly surged over him.

"I do not know," he said quietly. "It is a childish fear--fear of the
dark, you may call it. The cause does not matter; but if something does
not take this unholy terror away, the effect will be madness."

I watched him in silence for a moment, studying the shrunken outline of
his face and the unsteady gleam of his narrowed eyes. I had seen this
man before. All London had seen him. His face was constantly appearing
in the sporting pages, a swaggering member of the upper set--a man who
had been engaged to nearly every beautiful woman in the country--who
sought adventure in sport and in night life, merely for the sake of
living at top speed. And here he stood before me, whitened by fear, the
very thing he had so deliberately laughed at!

"Dale," he said slowly, "for the past week I have been thinking things
that I do not want to think and doing things completely against my will.
Some outside power--God knows what it is--is controlling my very
existence."

He stared it me, and leaned closer across the table.

"Last night, some time before midnight," he told me, "I was sitting
alone in my den. Alone, mind you--not a soul was in the house with me.
I was reading a novel; and suddenly, as if a living presence had stood
in the room and commanded me, I was forced to put the book down. I
fought against it, fought to remain in that room and go on reading. And
I failed."

"Failed?" My reply was a single word of wonder.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I left my home: because I could not help myself. Have you ever been
under hypnotism, Dale? Yes? Well, the thing that gripped me was
something similar--except that no living person came near me in order to
work his hypnotic spell. I went alone, the whole way. Through back
streets, alleys, filthy dooryards--never once striking a main
thoroughfare--until I had crossed the entire city and reached the west
side of the square. And there, before a big gray town-house, I was
allowed to stop my mad wandering. The power, whatever it was, broke.
I--well, I went home."

Sir John got to his feet with an effort, and stood over me.

"Dale," he whispered hoarsely, "what was it?"

"You were conscious of every detail?" I asked. "Conscious of the time,
of the locality you went to? You are sure it was not some fantastic
dream?"

"Dream! Is it a dream to have some damnable force move me about like a
mechanical robot?"

"But.... You can think of no explanation?" I was a bit skeptical of his
story.

He turned on me savagely.

"I have no explanation. Doctor," he said curtly. "I came to you for the
explanation. And while you are thinking over my case during the next few
hours, perhaps you can explain this: when I stood before that gray
mansion on After Street, alone in the dark, there was murder in my
heart. I should have killed the man who lived in that house, had I not
been suddenly released from the force that was driving me forward!"

Sir John turned from me in bitterness. Without offering any word of
departure, he pulled open the door and stepped across the sill. The door
closed, and I was alone.

       *       *       *       *       *

That was my introduction to Sir John Harmon. I offer it in detail
because it was the first of a startling series of events that led to the
most terrible case of my career. In my records I have labeled the entire
case "The Affair of the Death Machine."

Twelve hours after Sir John's departure--which will bring the time, to
the morning of December 8--the headlines of the Daily Mail stared up at
me from the table. They were black and heavy: those headlines, and
horribly significant. They were:

  FRANKLIN WHITE Jr. FOUND
  MURDERED

  Midnight Marauder Strangles
  Young Society Man in West-End
  Mansion

I turned the paper hurriedly, and read:

     Between the hours of one and two o'clock this morning, an unknown
     murderer entered the home of Franklin White, Jr., well known
     West-End sportsman, and escaped, leaving behind his strangled
     victim.

     Young White, who is a favorite in London upper circles, was
     discovered in his bed this morning, where he had evidently lain
     dead for many hours. Police are seeking a motive for the crime,
     which may have its origin in the fact that White only recently
     announced his engagement to Margot Vernee, young and exceedingly
     pretty French débutante.

     Police say that the murderer was evidently an amateur, and that he
     made no attempt to cover his crime. Inspector Thomas Drake of
     Scotland Yard has the case.

There was more, much more. Young White had evidently been a decided
favorite, and the murder had been so unexpected, so deliberate, that the
Mail reporter had made the most of his opportunity for a story. But
aside from what I have reprinted, there was only a single short
paragraph which claimed my attention. It was this:

     The White home is not a difficult one to enter. It is a huge gray
     town-house, situated just off the square, in After Street. The
     murderer entered by a low French window, leaving it open.

I have copied the words exactly as they were printed. The item does not
call for any comment.

       *       *       *       *       *

But I had hardly dropped the paper before she stood before me. I say
"she"--it was Margot Vernee, of course--because for some peculiar reason
I had expected her. She stood quietly before me, her cameo face, set in
the black of mourning, staring straight into mine.

"You know why I have come?" she said quickly.

I glanced at the paper on the table before me, and nodded. Her eyes
followed my glance.

"That is only part of it, Doctor," she said. "I was in love with
Franklin--very much--but I have come to you for something more. Because
you are a famous psychologist, and can help me."

She sat down quietly, leaning forward so that her arms rested on the
table. Her face was white, almost as white as the face of that young
adventurer who had come to me on the previous evening. And when she
spoke, her voice was hardly more than a whisper.

"Doctor, for many days now I have been under some strange power.
Something frightful, that compels me to think and act against my will."

She glanced at me suddenly, as if to note the effect of her words. Then:

"I was engaged to Franklin for more than a month, Doctor: yet for a
week now I have been commanded--commanded--by some awful force, to
return to--to a man who knew me more than two years ago. I can't explain
it. I did not love this man; I hated him bitterly. Now comes this mad
desire, this hungering, to go to him. And last night--"

       *       *       *       *       *

Margot Vernee hesitated suddenly. She stared at me searchingly. Then,
with renewed courage, she continued.

"Last night, Doctor, I was alone. I had retired for the night, and it
was late, nearly three o'clock. And then I was strangely commanded, by
this awful power that has suddenly taken possession, of my soul, to go
out. I tried to restrain myself, and in the end I found myself walking
through the square. I went straight to Franklin White's home. When I
reached there, it was half past three--I could hear Big Ben. I went
in--through the wide French window at the side of the house. I went
straight to Franklin's room--_because I could not prevent myself from
going_."

A sob came from Margot's lips. She had half risen from her chair, and
was holding herself together with a brave effort. I went to her side and
stood over her. And she, with a half crazed laugh, stared up at me.

"He was dead when I saw him!" she cried. "Dead! Murdered! That infernal
force, what ever it was, had made me go straight to my lover's side, to
see him lying there, with those cruel finger marks on his throat--dead,
I tell you, I--oh, it is horrible!"

She turned suddenly.

"When I saw him," she said bitterly, "the sight of him--and the sight of
those marks--broke the spell that held me. I crept from the house as if
I had killed him. They--they will probably find out that I was there,
and they will accuse me of the murder. If does not matter. But this
power--this awful thing that has been controlling me--is there no way
to fight it?"

I nodded heavily. The memory, of that unfortunate fellow who had come to
me with the same complaint was still holding me. I was prepared to wash
my hands of the whole horrible affair. It was clearly not a medical
case, clearly out of my realm.

"There is a way to fight it," I said quietly. "I am a doctor, not a
master of hypnotism, or a man who can discover the reasons behind that
hypnotism. But London has its Scotland Yard, and Scotland Yard has a man
who is one of my greatest comrades...."

She nodded her surrender. As I stepped to the telephone, I heard her
murmur, in a weary, troubled voice:

"Hypnotism? It is not that. God knows what it is. But it has always
happened when I have been alone. One cannot hypnotise through
distance...."

       *       *       *       *       *

And so, with Margot Vernee's consent, I sought the aid of Inspector
Thomas Drake, of Scotland Yard. In half an hour Drake stood beside me,
the quiet of my study. When he had heard Margot's story, he asked a
single significant question. It was this:

"You say you have a desire to go back to a man who was once intimate
with you. Who is he?"

Margot looked at him dully.

"It is Michael Strange," she said slowly. "Michael Strange, of Paris. A
student of science."

Drake nodded. Without further questioning he dismissed my patient; and
when she had gone, he turned to me.

"She did not murder her sweetheart, Dale" he said. "That is evident.
Have you any idea who did?"

And so I told him of that other young man. Sir John Harmon, who had come
to me the night before. When I had finished. Drake stared at me--stared
through me--and suddenly turned on his heel.

"I shall be back, Dale," he said curtly. "Wait for me!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Wait for him! Well, that was Drake's peculiar way of going about things.
Impetuous, sudden--until he faced some crisis. Then, in the face of
danger, he became a cold, indifferent officer of Scotland Yard.

And so I waited. During the twenty-four hours that elapsed before Drake
returned to my study, I did my best to diagnose the case before me.
First, Sir John Harmon--his visit to the home of Franklin White.
Then--the deliberate murder. And, finally, young Margot Vernee, and her
confession. It was like the revolving whirl of a pinwheel, this series
of events: continuous and mystifying, but without beginning or end.
Surely, somewhere in the procession of horrors, there would be a loose
end to cling to. Some loose end that would eventually unravel the
pinwheel!

It was plainly not a medical affair, or at least only remotely so. The
thing was in proper hands, then, with Drake following it through. And I
had only to wait for his return.

He came at last, and closed the door of the room behind him. He stood
over me with something of a swagger.

"Dale, I have been looking into the records of this Michael Strange," he
said quietly. "They are interesting, those records. They go back some
ten years, when this fellow Strange was beginning his study of science.
And now Michael Strange is one of the greatest authorities in Paris on
the subject of mental telegraphy. He has gone into the study of human
thought with the same thoroughness that other scientists go into the
subject of radio telegraphy. He has written several books on the
subject."

Drake pulled a tiny black volume from the pocket of his coat and dropped
it on the table before me. With one hand he opened it to a place which
he had previously marked in pencil.

"Read it," he said significantly.

       *       *       *       *       *

I looked at him in wonder, and then did as he ordered. What I read was
this:

"Mental telegraphy is a science, not a myth. It is a very real fact, a
very real power which can be developed only by careful research. To most
people it is merely a curiosity. They sit, for instance, in a crowded
room at some uninteresting lecture, and stare continually at the back of
some unsuspecting companion until that companion, by the power of
suggestion, turns suddenly around. Or they think heavily of a certain
person nearby, perhaps commanding him mentally to hum a certain popular
tune, until the victim, by the power of their will, suddenly fulfills
the order. To such persons, the science of mental telegraphy is merely
an amusement.

"And so it will be, until science has brought it to such a perfection
that these waves of thought can be broadcast--that they can be
transmitted through the ether precisely as radio waves are transmitted.
In other words, mental telegraphy is at present merely a mild form of
hypnotism. Until it has been developed so that those hypnotic powers can
be directed through space, and directed accurately to those individuals
to whom they are intended, this science will have no significance. It
remains for scientists of to-day to bring about that development."

I closed the book. When I looked up, Drake was watching me intently, as
if expecting me to say something.

"Drake," I said slowly, more to myself than to him, "the pinwheel is
beginning to unravel. We have found the beginning thread. Perhaps, if we
follow that thread...."

Drake smiled.

"If you'll pick up your hat and coat, Dale," he interrupted, "I think we
have an appointment. This Michael Strange, whose book you have just
enjoyed so immensely, is now residing on a certain quiet little side
street about three miles from the square, in London!"

       *       *       *       *       *

I followed Drake in silence, until we had left Cheney Lane in the gloom
behind us. At the entrance to the square my companion called a cab; and
from there on we rode slowly, through a heavy darkness which was
blanketed by a wet, penetrating fog. The cabby, evidently one who knew
my companion by sight (and what London cabby does not know his Scotland
Yard men!) chose a route that twisted through gloomy, uninhabited side
streets, seldom winding into the main route of traffic.

As for Drake, he sank back in the uncomfortable seat and made no attempt
at conversation. For the entire first part of our journey he said
nothing. Not until we had reached a black, unlighted section of the city
did he turn to me.

"Dale," he said at length, "have you ever hunted tiger?"

I looked at him and laughed.

"Why?" I replied. "Do you expect this hunt of ours will be something of
a blind chase?"

"It will be a blind chase, no doubt of it," he said. "And when we have
followed the trail to its end, I imagine we shall find something very
like a tiger to deal with. I have looked rather deeply into Michael
Strange's life, and unearthed a bit of the man's character. He has twice
been accused of murder--murder by hypnotism--and has twice cleared
himself by throwing scientific explanations at the police. That is the
nature of his entire history for the past ten years."

       *       *       *       *       *

I nodded, without replying. As Drake turned away from me again, our cab
poked its laboring nose into a narrowing, gloomy street. I had a glimpse
of a single unsteady street lamp on the corner, and a dim sign, "Mate
Lane." And then we were dragging along the curb. The cab stopped with a
groan.

I had stepped down and was standing by the cab door when suddenly, from
the darkness in front of me, a strange figure advanced to my side. He
glanced at me intently; then, seeing that I was evidently not the man he
sought, he turned to Drake. I heard a whispered greeting and an
undertone of conversation. Then, quietly, Drake stepped toward me.

"Dale," he said. "I thought it best that I should not show myself here
to-night. No, there is no time for explanation now; you will understand
later. Perhaps"--significantly--"sooner than you anticipate. Inspector
Hartnett will go through the rest of this pantomime with you."

I shook hands with Drake's man, still rather bewildered at the sudden
substitution. Then, before I was aware of it, Drake had vanished and the
cab was gone. We were alone, Hartnett and I, in Mate Lane.

The home of Michael Strange--number seven--was hardly inviting. No light
was in evidence. The big house stood like a huge, unadorned vault set
back from the street, some distance from its adjoining buildings. The
heavy steps echoed to our footbeats as we mounted them in the darkness;
and the sound of the bell, as Hartnett pressed it came sharply to us
from the silence of the interior.

       *       *       *       *       *

We stood there, waiting. In the short interval before the door opened,
Hartnett glanced at his watch (it was nearly ten o'clock), and said to
me:

"I imagine, Doctor, we shall meet a blank wall. Let me do the talking,
please."

That was all. In another moment the big door was pulled slowly open from
the inside, and in the entrance, glaring out at us, stood the man we had
come to see. It is not hard to remember that first impression of Michael
Strange. He was a huge man, gaunt and haggard, moulded with the hunched
shoulders and heavy arms of a gorilla. His face seemed to be
unconsciously twisted into a snarl. His greeting, which came only after
he had stared at us intently, for nearly a minute, was curt and
rasping.

"Well, gentlemen? What is it?"

"I should like a word with Dr. Michael Strange," said my companion
quietly.

"I am Michael Strange."

"And I," replied Hartnett, with a suggestion of a smile, "am Raoul
Hartnett, from Scotland Yard."

I did not see any sign of emotion on Strange's face. He stepped back in
silence to allow us to enter. Then closing the big door after us, he led
the way along a carpeted hall to a small, ill-lighted room just beyond.
Here he motioned us to be seated, he himself standing upright beside the
table, facing us.

"From Scotland Yard," he said, and the tone was heavy with dull sarcasm.
"I am at your service, Mr. Hartnett."

       *       *       *       *       *

And now, for the first time, I wondered just why Drake had insisted on
my coming here to this gloomy house in Mate Lane. Why he had so
deliberately arranged a substitute so that Michael Strange should not
come face to face with him directly. Evidently Hartnett had been
carefully instructed as to his course of action--but why this seemingly
unnecessary caution on Drake's part? And now, after we had gained
admission, what excuse would Hartnett offer for the intrusion? Surely he
would not follow the bull-headed rôle of a common policeman!

There was no anger, no attempt at dramatics, in Hartnett's voice. He
looked quietly up at our host.

"Dr. Strange," he said at length, "I have come to you for your
assistance. Last night, some time after midnight, Franklin White was
strangled to death. He was murdered, according to substantial evidence,
by the girl he was going to marry--Margot Vernee. I come to you because
you know this girl rather well, and can perhaps help Scotland Yard in
finding her motive for killing White."

Michael Strange said nothing. He stood there, scowling down at my
companion in silence. And I, too, I must admit, turned upon Hartnett
with a stare of bewilderment. His accusation of Margot had brought a
sense of horror to me. I had expected almost anything from him, even to
a mad accusation of Strange himself. But I had hardly foreseen this cold
blooded declaration.

"You understand, Doctor," Hartnett went on, in that same ironical drawl,
"that we do not believe Margot Vernee did this thing herself. She had a
companion, undoubtedly, one who accompanied her to the house on After
Street, and assisted her in the crime. Who that companion was, we are
not sure; but there is decidedly a case of suspicion against a certain
young London sportsman. This fellow is known to have prowled about the
White mansion both on the night of the murder and the night before."

       *       *       *       *       *

Hartnett glanced up casually. Strange's face was a total mask. When he
nodded, the nod was the most even and mechanical thing I have ever seen.
Certainly this man could control his emotions!

"Naturally, Doctor," Hartnett said, "we have gone rather deeply into the
past life of the lady in question. Your name appears, of course, in a
rather unimportant interval when Margot Vernee resided in Paris. And so
we come to you in the hope that you can perhaps give us some slight bit
of information--something that seems insignificant, perhaps, to you, but
which may put us on the right track."

It was a careful speech. Even as Hartnett spoke it, I could have sworn
that the words were Drake's, and had been memorized. But Michael Strange
merely stepped back to the table and faced us without a word. He was
probably, during that brief interlude, attempting to realize his
position, and to discover just how much Raoul Hartnett actually knew.

And then, after his interim of silence, he came forward sullenly and
stood over my comrade.

"I will tell you this much, Mr. Hartnett of Scotland Yard," he said
bitterly: "My relations with Margot Vernee are not an open book to be
passed through the clumsy fingers of ignorant police officers. As to
this murder, I know nothing. At the time of it, I was seated in this
room in company with a distinguished group of scientific friends. I will
tell you, on authority, that Margot _did not murder her lover_. Why?
Because she loved him!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The last words were heavy with bitterness. Before they had died into
silence, Michael Strange had opened the door of his study.

"If you please, gentlemen," he said quietly.

Hartnett got to his feet. For an instant he stood facing the
gorilla-like form of our host; then he stepped over the sill, without a
word. We passed down the unlighted corridor in silence, while Strange
stood in the door of his study, watching us. I could not help but feel,
as we left that gloomy house, that Strange had suddenly focused his
entire attention upon me, and had ignored my companion. I could feel
those eyes upon me, and feel the force of the will behind them. A
decided feeling of uneasiness crept over me, and I shuddered.

A moment later the big outer door had closed shut after us, and we were
alone in Mate Lane. Alone, that is, until a third figure joined us in
the shadows, and Drake's hand closed over my arm.

"Capital, Dale," he said triumphantly. "For half an hour you entertained
him, you and Hartnett. And for half an hour I've had the unlimited
freedom of his inner rooms, with the aid of an unlocked window on the
lower floor. Those inner rooms, gentlemen, are significant--very!"

As we walked the length of Mate Lane, the gaunt, sinister home of
Michael Strange became an indistinct outline in the pitch behind us.
Drake said nothing more on the return trip, until we had nearly reached
my rooms. Then he turned to me with a smile.

"We are one up on our friend, Dale," he said. "He does not know, just
now, which is the bigger fool--you or Hartnett here. However, I imagine
Hartnett will be the victim of some very unusual events before many
hours have passed!"

That was all. At least, all of significance. I left the two Scotland
Yard men at the opening of Cheney Lane, and continued alone to my rooms.
I opened the door and let myself in quietly. And there some few hours
later, began the last and most horrible phase of the case of the murder
machine.

       *       *       *       *       *

It begin--or to be more accurate, I began to react to it--at three
o'clock in the morning. I was alone, and the rooms were dark. For hours
I had sat quietly by the table, considering the significant events of
the past few days. Sleep was impossible with so many unanswered
questions staring into me, and so I sat there wondering.

Did Drake actually believe that Margot Vernee's simple story had been a
ruse--that she had in truth killed her lover on that midnight intrusion
of his home? Did he believe that Michael Strange knew of that
intrusion--that he had possibly planned it himself, and aided her, in
order that Margot might be free to return to him? Did Strange know of
that other intrusion, and of the uncanny power which had driven Sir John
Harmon, and supposedly driven Margot to that house on After Street?

Those were the questions that still remained without answers: and it was
over those questions that I pondered, while my surroundings became
darker and more silent as the hour became more advanced. I heard the
clock strike three, and heard the answering drone of Big Ben from the
square.

       *       *       *       *       *

And then it began. At first it was little more than a sense of
nervousness. Before I had been content to sit in my chair and doze. Now,
in spite of myself, I found myself pacing the floor, back and forth like
a caged animal. I could have sworn, at the time, that some sinister
presence had found entrance to my room. Yet the room was empty. And I
could have sworn, too, that some silent power of will was commanding me,
with undeniable force, to go out--out into the darkness of Cheney Lane.

I fought it bitterly. I laughed at it, yet even through my laugh came
the memory of Sir John Harmon and Margot, and what they had told me. And
then, unable to resist that unspoken demand, I seized my hat and coat
and went out.

Cheney Lane was deserted, utterly still. At the end of it, the street
lamp glowed dully, throwing a patch of ghastly light over the side of
the adjoining building. I hurried through the shadows, and as I walked,
a single idea had possession of me. I must hurry, I thought, with all
possible speed, to that grim house in Mate Lane--number seven.

Where that deliberate desire came from I did not know. I did not stop to
reason. Something had commanded me to go at once to Michael Strange's
home. And though I stopped more than once, deliberately turning in my
tracks, inevitably I was forced to retrace my steps and continue.

       *       *       *       *       *

I remember passing through the square, and prowling through the
unlightened side streets that lay beyond. Three miles separated Cheney
Lane from Mate Lane, and I had been over the route only once before, in
a cab. Yet I followed that route without a single false turn, followed
it instinctively. At every intersecting street I was dragged in a
certain direction and not once was I allowed to hesitate. It was as
though some unseen demon perched on my shoulders, as the demon of the
sea rode Sinbad, and pointed out the way.

Only one disturbing thing occurred on that night journey through London.
I had turned into a narrow street hardly more than a quarter mile from
my destination; and before me, in the shadows, I made out the form of a
shuffling old man. And here, as I watched him, I was conscious of a new,
mad desire. I crept upon him stealthily, without a sound. My hands were
outstretched, clutching, for his throat. At that moment I should have
killed him!

I cannot explain it. During that brief interval I was a murderer at
heart. I wanted to kill. And now that I remember it, the desire had been
pregnant in me ever since the lights of Cheney Lane had died behind me.
All the time that I prowled through those black streets, murder lurked
in my heart. I should have killed the first man who crossed my path.

But I did not kill him. Thank God, as my fingers twisted toward the back
of his throat, that mad desire suddenly left me. I stood still, while
the old fellow, still unsuspecting, shuffled, away into the darkness.
Then, dropping my hands with a sob of helplessness, I went forward
again.

       *       *       *       *       *

And so I reached Mate Lane, and the huge gray house that awaited me.
This time, as I mounted the stone steps, the old house seemed even more
repulsive and horrible. I dreaded to see that door open, but I could not
retreat.

I dropped the knocker heavily. A moment passed: and then, precisely as
before, the huge door swung inward. Michael Strange stood before me.

He did not speak. Perhaps, if he had spoken, that fiendish spell would
have been broken, and I should have returned, even then, to my own
peaceful little rooms in Cheney Lane. No--he merely held the door for
me to enter, and as I passed him he stood there, watching me with a
significant smile.

Straight to that familiar room at the end of the hall I went, with
Strange behind me. When we had entered, he closed the door cautiously.
For a moment he faced me without speaking.

"You came very close to committing a murder on your way here, did you
not, Dale?"

I stared at him. How, in God's name, could this man read my thoughts so
completely?

"You would have completed the murder," he said softly, "had I wished it.
I did not wish it!"

I did not answer. There was no reply to such a mad declaration. As for
my companion, he watched me for an instant and then laughed. He was not
mad. I am doctor enough to know that.

But the laugh was not long in duration. He stepped forward suddenly and
took my arm in a steel grip, dragging me toward the half hidden door at
the farther end of the room.

"I shall not keep you long, Dale," he said harshly. "I could have killed
you--could have made you kill yourself, and in fact, I intended to do
so--but after all, you are merely a poor stumbling fool who has meddled
in things too deep for you."

       *       *       *       *       *

He pulled open the door and pushed me forward. The room was dark, and
not until he had closed the door again and switched on a dim light,
could I see its contents.

Even then I saw nothing. At least, nothing of importance to an
unscientific mind. There was a low table against the wall, with a
profusion of tiny wires emanating from it. I was aware that a cup shaped
microphone--or something very similar--hung over the table, about on a
level with my eyes, had I been sitting in the chair. Beyond that I saw
nothing, until Strange had moved forward and drawn aside a curtain that
hung beside the table.

"I made you come here to-night, Dale," he murmured, "because I was a bit
afraid of you. Your comrade, Hartnett, was an ignorant police officer.
He has not the intellect to connect the series of events of the past day
or two, and so I did not trouble myself with him. But you are an
educated man. You have made no demonstrations of your ability in the
field of science, but--"

He stopped speaking abruptly. From the room behind us came the sound of
a warning bell. Strange turned quickly and went to the door.

"You will wait here, Doctor," he said. "I have another caller to-night.
Another one who came the same way as you!"

He vanished. For a short interlude I was alone, with that peculiar
radio-like apparatus before me. It was, for all the world, like a
miniature control room in some small broadcasting station. Except for
the odd shape of the microphone, if it was such I could detect no
radical difference in equipment.

       *       *       *       *       *

However, I had little time for conjecture. A patter of footsteps
interrupted me from the next room, and a frightened, feminine voice
broke the stillness of the outer study. Even before the owner of that
voice stepped in to my presence, I knew her.

And when she came, with white, fearful face and trembling body, I could
not withhold a shudder of apprehension. It was the young woman who had
come to my office--Margot Vernee. Evidently, at last, she had yielded to
the horrible impulse that had drawn her back to Michael Strange, an
impulse which, I now understood, had originated from the man himself.

He pressed her forward. There was nothing tender in his touch: it was
cruel and triumphant.

"So you have succeeded--at last," I said bitterly.

He turned to me with a sneer.

"I have brought her here, yes," he replied. "And now that she has come,
she shall hear what I have to tell you. It will perhaps give her a
respect for me, and this time she will not have the power to turn me
away."

He pointed to the table, to the apparatus that lay there.

"I'm telling you this, Dale," he said, "because it gives me pleasure to
do so. You are enough of a scientist to appreciate and understand it.
And if, when I have finished, I have told you too much, there is a very
easy way to keep your tongue silent. You have heard of hypnotism, Dale?
You have heard also of radio? Have you ever thought of combining the
two?"

       *       *       *       *       *

He faced me directly. I made no effort to reply.

"Radio," he said quietly, "is broadcast by means of sound waves. That
much you know. But hypnotism too, can be transmitted through distance,
if an instrument delicate enough to transmit _thought waves_ can be
invented. For twenty years I have worked on that instrument, and for
twenty years I have studied hypnotism. You understand, of course, that
this instrument is worthless unless it is operated by a master mind.
Thought waves are useless; they will not control the actions of even a
cat. But hypnotic waves or concentrated thought waves--will control the
world."

There was no denying him. He faced me with the savage triumph of a wild
beast. He was glorying in his power, and in my amazement.

"I wanted Franklin White to die!" he cried. "It was I who murdered him.
Why? Because he was about to take the girl I desired. Is that not reason
enough for murder? And so I killed him. It was not Margot Vernee who
strangled her lover: it was a complete stranger, a London sportsman, who
had no reason for committing the murder, _except that I wished him to_!

"He died on the night of December seventh, murdered by Sir John Harmon,
the sportsman. Why? Because, of all London, Sir John would be the last
man to be suspected. I have a keen appreciation for the irony of fate!
White would have died the night before, Dale, except that I lacked the
courage to kill him. His murderer was standing, under my power, outside
his very house--and then I suddenly thought it best that I should have
an alibi. Your Scotland Yard is clever, and it was best that I have
protection. And so, on the following night, I sent Sir John to the house
once again. This time, while I sat here and controlled the actions of my
puppet, a group of men sat here with me. They believed that I was
experimenting with a new type of radio receiver!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Michael Strange laughed, laughed harshly, in utter triumph, as a cat
laughs at the antics of his mouse victims.

"When that murder was done," he said, "I sent Margot to the scene, so
that she might see her lover strangled, dead. I repeat, Dale, that I
enjoy the irony of fate, especially when I can control it. And as for
you--I brought you here to-night merely so that you would realize the
intensity of the powers that control you. When you leave here, you will
be unharmed--but after the exhibition I shall give you, I am sure that
you will make no further attempt to interfere with things out of your
realm of understanding."

I heard a sob from Margot. She had retreated to the door, and clung
there. For myself, I did not move. Strange's recital had revealed to me
the horrible lust that gripped him, and now I watched him in
fascination. He would not harm the girl; that much I was sure of. In his
distorted fashion he loved her. In his crazed, murderous way he would
attempt to win her love, even though she had once scorned him.

       *       *       *       *       *

I saw him step toward the table. Saw him drop heavily into the chair,
and stare directly into that microphonic thing that hung before his
eyes. As he stared, he spoke to me.

"Science, in its intricate forms, is probably above the mind of a common
medical man, Dale," he said. "It would be useless to explain to you how
my thoughts--and my will--can be transmitted through space. Perhaps you
have sat in a theater and stared at a certain person until that person
turned to face you. You have? Then you will perhaps understand how I can
control the minds of any human creature within the radius of my power.
You see, Dale, this intricate little machine gives me the power to
transform London into a city of stark murder. I could bring about such a
horrible wave of crime that Scotland Yard would be scorned from one end
of the world to the other. I could make every man murder his neighbor,
until the streets of the city were running with blood!"

Strange turned quietly to look at me. He spoke deliberately.

"And now for the little exhibition of which I spoke, Dale," he murmured.
"Your detective friend, Hartnett, has been under my power for the past
three hours. You see, it was safer to control his movements, and be sure
of him. And now, to be doubly sure of him, perhaps you would like to see
him kill himself!"

I stepped forward with a sudden cry. Strange said nothing: his eyes
merely burned into mine. Once again I felt that strange, all-powerful
control forcing me back. I retreated, step by step, until the wall
stopped me. Yet even as I retreated, a childish hope filled me. How
could Strange, working his terrible murder machine, concentrate his
power on any individual, when the whole of London lay before him?

       *       *       *       *       *

He answered my question. He must have read it as it came over me.

"Have you ever been in a crowd, Dale, and watched a certain individual
intently, until that particular individual turned to look at you? The
rest of the crowd pays no attention, of course, but that one man. And
now we shall make that one man murder himself!"

Strange turned slowly. I saw his fingers creep along the rim of the
table, touching certain wires that came together there. I heard a dull,
droning hum fill the room, and, over it, Strange's penetrating voice.

"When I am finished, Dale, I shall probably kill you. I brought you here
merely to frighten you, but I believe I have told you too much."

With that new horror upon me, I saw my captor's lips move slowly....

And then, from the shadows at the other end of the small room, came a
low, unemotional voice.

"Before you begin, Strange--"

Michael Strange whipped about in his chair like a tiger. His hand
dropped to his pocket, so swiftly that my eyes did not follow it. And as
it dropped, a single staccato shot split the darkness of the room. The
scientist slumped forward in his chair.

The dull, whirring sound of that hellish machine had stopped abruptly,
cut short by the sudden weight of Strange's lunging body as he fell upon
it. I saw the livid, fiery snake of white light twist suddenly upward
through that coil of wires: and in another moment the entire apparatus
shattered by a blinding crash of flame.

       *       *       *       *       *

After that I turned away. Whether the bullet killed Strange or not, I do
not know: but the sight of his charred face, hanging over that table of
destruction, told its own story.

It was Inspector Drake who came across the room toward me, and took my
arm. The smoking revolver still lay in his hand, and as he led me into
the adjoining room, I saw that Margot had already found refuge there.

"You see now, Dale," Drake said quietly, "why I let Hartnett go with you
before? If Strange had suspected me, I should have been merely another
victim. As for Hartnett, he has been under constant guard down at
headquarters. He's safe. They've kept him there, at my instructions, in
spite of all his terrific efforts to leave them."

I was listening to my companion in admiration. Even then I did not quite
understand.

"I was wrong in just one thing, Dale. I left you alone, without
protection. I believed Strange would ignore you, because, after all, you
are not a Scotland Yard man. Thank God I had the sense to follow
Margot--to trail her here--and get here soon enough."

       *       *       *       *       *

And so ended the horrible series of events that began with Sir John
Harmon's chance visit to my study. As for Harmon, he was later cleared
of all guilt, upon the charred evidence in Michael Strange's house in
Mate Lane. The girl, I believe, has left London, where she can be as far
as possible from memories that are all too terrible.

As for me, I am back once again in my quiet rooms in Cheney Lane, where
the routine of common medical practice has wiped out many of those vivid
horrors. In time, I believe, I shall forget, unless Inspector Drake, of
Scotland Yard, insists upon bringing the affair up again!



  _IN THE NEXT ISSUE_

  THE INVISIBLE DEATH

  _A Thrilling Novelet of an Invisible
  Empire Within the United States_

  _By_ Victor Rousseau

  STOLEN BRAINS

  _Another Absorbing Dr. Bird Story_

  _By_ Capt. S. P. Meek

  PRISONERS ON THE ELECTRON

  _An Exciting Story of a Young
  Man Marooned on an Electron_

  _By_ Robert H. Leitfred

  JETTA OF THE LOWLANDS

  _Part Two of the Current Novel_

  _By_ Ray Cummings

  _--AND OTHERS!_



[Illustration: _We had been captured by a race of gigantic beetles._]

The Attack from Space

A SEQUEL TO "BEYOND THE HEAVISIDE LAYER"

_By Captain S. P. Meek_

     "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 protective layer."--From "Beyond the Heaviside Layer."


Over a year has passed since I wrote those lines. When they were written
the hole which Jim Carpenter had burned with his battery of infra-red
lamps through the heaviside layer, that hollow sphere of invisible
semi-plastic organic matter which encloses the world as a nutshell does
a kernel, was gradually filling in as he had predicted it would: every
one thought that in another ten years the world would be safely enclosed
again in its protective layer as it had been since the dawn of time.
There were some adventurous spirits who deplored this fact, as it would
effectually bar interplanetary travel, for Hadley had proved with his
life that no space flyer could force its way through the fifty miles of
almost solid material which barred the road to space, but they were in
the minority. Most of humanity felt that it would rather be protected
against the denizens of space than to have a road open for them to
travel to the moon if they felt inclined.

[Sidenote: From a far world came monstrous invaders who were all the
more terrifying because invisible.]

To be sure, during the five years that the hole had been open, nothing
more dangerous to the peace and well-being of the world had appeared
from space than a few hundreds of the purple amoeba which we had found
so numerous on the outer side of the layer, when we had traveled in a
Hadley space ship up through the hole into the outer realms of space,
and one lone specimen of the green dragons which we had also
encountered. The amoeba had been readily destroyed by the disintegrating
rays of the guarding space-ships which were stationed inside the layer
at the edge of the hole and the lone dragon had fallen a ready victim to
the machine-gun bullets which had been poured into it. At first the
press had damned Jim Carpenter for opening the road for these horrors,
but once their harmlessness had been clearly established, the row had
died down and the appearance of an amoeba did not merit over a squib on
the inside pages of the daily papers.

       *       *       *       *       *

While the hole in the heaviside layer was no longer news for the daily
press, a bitter controversy still waged in the scientific journals as to
the reason why no observer on earth, even when using the most powerful
telescopes, could see the amoeba before they entered the hole, and then
only when their telescopes were set up directly under the hole. When a
telescope of even small power was mounted in the grounds back of
Carpenter's laboratory, the amoeba could be detected as soon as they
entered the hole, or when they passed above it through space; but, aside
from that point of vantage, they were entirely invisible.

Carpenter's theory of the absorptive powers of the material of which the
heaviside layer was composed was laughed to scorn by most scientists,
who pointed out the fact that the sun, moon and stars could be readily
seen through it. Carpenter replied that the rays of colored or visible
light could only pass through the layer when superimposed upon a carrier
wave of ultra-violet or invisible light. He stated dogmatically that the
amoeba and the other denizens of space absorbed all the ultra-violet
light which fell on them and reflected only the visible rays which could
not pass through the heaviside layer because of the lack of a
synchronized carrier wave of shorter wave-length.

Despetier replied at great length and showed by apparently unimpeachable
mathematics that Carpenter was entirely wrong and that his statements
showed an absolute lack of knowledge of the most elementary and
fundamental laws of light transmission. Carpenter replied briefly that
he could prove by mathematics that two was equal to one and he
challenged Despetier or anyone else to satisfactorily explain the
observed facts in any other way. While they vainly tried to do so,
Carpenter lapsed into silence in his Los Angeles laboratory and delved
ever deeper into the problems of science. Such was the situation when
the attack came from space.

My first knowledge of the attack came when McQuarrie, the city editor of
the San Francisco _Clarion_, sent for me. When I entered his office he
tossed a Los Angeles dispatch on the desk before me and with a growl
ordered me to read it. It told of the unexplained disappearance of an
eleven year old boy the night before. It looked like a common
kidnapping.

"Well?" I asked as I handed him back the dispatch.

With another growl he tossed down a second telegram. I read it with
astonishment, for it told of a second disappearance which had happened
about an hour after the first. The similarity of the two cases was at
once apparent.

"Coincidence or connection?" I asked as I returned it.

"Find out!" he replied. "If I knew which it was I wouldn't be wasting
the paper's money by sending you to Los Angeles. I don't doubt that I am
wasting it anyway, but as long as I am forced to keep you on as a
reporter, I might as well try to make you earn the money the owner
wastes on paying you a salary, even although I know it to be a hopeless
task. Go on down there and see what you can find out, if anything."

I jotted down in my notebook the names and addresses of the missing
children and turned to leave. A boy entered and handed McQuarrie a
yellow slip. He glanced at it and called me back.

"Wait a minute, Bond," he said as he handed me the dispatch. "I doubt
but you'd better fly down to Los Angeles. Another case has just been
reported."

I hastily copied down the dispatch he handed me, which was almost a
duplicate of the first two with the exception of the time and the name.
Three unexplained disappearances in one day was enough to warrant speed;
I drew some expense money and was on my way south in a chartered plane
within an hour.

On my arrival I went to the Associated Press office and found a message
waiting for me, directing me to call McQuarrie on the telephone at once.

"Hello, Bond," came his voice over the wire, "have you just arrived?
Well, forget all about that disappearance case. Prince is on his way to
Los Angeles to cover it. You hadn't been gone an hour before a wire came
in from Jim Carpenter. He says, 'Send Bond to me at once by fastest
conveyance. Chance for a scoop on the biggest story of the century.' I
don't know what it's about, but Jim Carpenter is always front page news.
Get in touch with him at once and stay with him until you have the
story. Don't risk trying to telegraph it when you get it--telephone. Get
moving!"

I lost no time in getting Carpenter on the wire.

"Hello, First Mortgage," he greeted me. "You made good time getting down
here. Where are you?"

"At the A. P. Office."

"Grab a taxi and come out to the laboratory. Bring your grip with you:
you may have to stay over night."

"I'll be right out, Jim. What's the story?"

His voice suddenly grew grave.

"It's the biggest thing you ever handled," he replied. "The fate of the
whole world may hang on it. I don't want to talk over the phone; come on
out and I'll give you the whole thing."

       *       *       *       *       *

An hour later I shook hands with Tim, the guard at the gate of the
Carpenter laboratory, and passed through the grounds to enter Jim's
private office. He greeted me warmly and for a few minutes we chatted of
old times when I worked with him as an assistant in his atomic
disintegration laboratory and of the stirring events we had passed
through together when we had ventured outside the heaviside layer in his
space ship.

"Those were stirring times," he said, "but I have an idea, First
Mortgage, that they were merely a Sunday school picnic compared to what
we are about to tackle."

"I guessed that you had something pretty big up your sleeve from your
message." I replied. "What's up now? Are we going to make a trip to the
moon and interview the inhabitants?"

"We may interview them without going that far," he said. "Have you seen
a morning paper?"

"No."

"Look at this."

He handed me a copy of the _Gazette_. Streamer headlines told of the
three disappearances which I had come to Los Angeles to cover, but they
had grown to five during the time I had been flying down. I looked at
Jim in surprise.

"We got word of that in San Francisco," I told him, "and I came down
here to cover the story. When I got here, McQuarrie telephoned me your
message and told me to come and see you instead. Has your message
anything to do with this?"

"It has everything to do with it, First Mortgage; in fact, it _is_ it.
Have you any preconceived ideas on the disappearance epidemic?"

"None at all."

"All the better--you'll be able to approach the matter with an unbiased
viewpoint. Don't read that hooey put out by an inspired reporter who
blames the laxness of the city government; I'll give you the facts
without embellishment. Nothing beyond the bare fact of the disappearance
is known about the first case. Robert Prosser, aged eleven, was sent to
the grocery store by his mother about six-thirty last night and failed
to return. That's all we know about it, except that it happened in Eagle
Rock. The second case we have a little more data on. William Hill, aged
twelve, was playing in Glendale last night with some companions. They
were playing 'hide and go seek' and William hid. He could not be found
by the boy who was searching and has not been found since. His
companions became frightened and reported it about eight o'clock. They
saw nothing, but mark this! Four of them agree that they heard a sound
in the air _like a motor humming_."

"That proves nothing."

"Taken alone it does not, but in view of the third case, it is quite
significant. The third case happened about nine-thirty last night. This
time the victim was a girl, aged ten. She was returning home from a
moving picture with some companions and she disappeared. This time the
other children saw her go. They say she was suddenly taken straight up
into the air and then disappeared from sight. They, also claim to have
heard a sound like a big electric fan in the air at the time, although
they could see nothing."

"Had they heard the details of the second disappearance?"

"They had not. I can see what you are thinking; that they were
unconsciously influenced by the account given of the other case."

"Consciously or unconsciously."

"I doubt it, for the fourth case was almost a duplicate of the third.
The fourth and fifth cases happened this morning. In the fourth case the
child, for it was a nine year old girl this time, was lifted into the
air in broad daylight and disappeared. This disappearance was witnessed,
not only by children, but also by two adults, and their testimony agrees
completely with that of the children. The fifth case is similar to the
first: a ten year old boy disappeared without trace. The whole city is
in a reign of terror."

       *       *       *       *       *

The telephone at Carpenter's elbow rang and he answered it. A short
conversation took place and he turned to me with a grim face as he hung
up the receiver.

"Another case has just been reported to police headquarters from Beverly
Hills," he said. "Again the child was seen to be lifted into the air by
some invisible means and disappeared. The sound of a motor was plainly
heard by five witnesses, who all agree that it was just, above their
heads, but that nothing could be seen."

"Was it in broad daylight?"

"Less than an hour ago."

"But, Jim, that's impossible!"

"Why is it impossible?"

"It would imply the invisibility of a tangible substance; of a solid."

"What of it?"

"Why, there isn't any such substance. Nothing of the sort exists."

Carpenter pointed to one of the windows of his laboratory.

"Does that window frame contain glass or not?" he asked.

I strained my eyes. Certainly nothing was visible.

"Yes," I said at a venture.

He rose and thrust his hand through the space where the glass should
have been.

"Has this frame glass in it?" he asked, pointing to another.

"No."

He struck the glass with his knuckle.

"I'll give up," I replied. "I am used to thinking of glass as being
transparent but not invisible; yet I can see that under certain light
conditions it may be invisible. Granted that such is the case, do you
believe that living organisms can be invisible?"

"Under the right conditions, yes. Has any observer been able to see any
of the purple amoeba which we know are so numerous on the outer side of
the heaviside layer?"

"Not until they have entered the hole through the layer."

"And yet those amoeba are both solid and opaque, as you know. Why is it
not possible that men, or intelligences of some sort, are in the air
about us and yet are invisible to our eyes!"

"If they are, why haven't we received evidence of it years ago?"

"Because there has only been a hole through the heaviside layer for six
years. Before that time they could not penetrate it any more than poor
Hadley could with his space ship. They have not entered the hole earlier
because it is a very small one, at present only some two hundred and
fifty yards in diameter in a sphere of over eight thousand miles
diameter. The invaders have just found the entrance."

"The invaders? Do you think that the world has been invaded?"

"I do. How else can you explain the very fact which you have just
quoted, that no evidence of the presence on these invisible entities has
previously been recorded?"

"Where did they come from?"

"They may have come from anywhere in the solar system, or even from
outside it but I fancy, that they are from Mars or Venus."

"Why so?"

"Because they are the two planets nearest to the earth and are the ones
where conditions are the most like they are on the earth. Venus, for
example, has an atmosphere and a gravity about .83 of earthly gravity,
and life of a sort similar to that of the earth might well live there.
Further, it seems more probable that the invaders have come from one of
the nearby planets than from the realms of space beyond the solar
system."

"What about the moon?"

"We can dismiss that because of the lack of an atmosphere."

"It sounds logical, Jim, but the idea of living organisms of sufficient
size to lift a child into the air who are invisible seems a little
absurd."

"I never said they were invisible. I don't think they are."

"But they must be, else why weren't they seen?"

"Use your head, First Mortgage. Those purple amoeba we encountered were
quite visible to us, yet they are invisible to observers on the earth."

"Yes, but that is because the heaviside layer is between them and the
earth. As soon as they come below it they can be seen."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Exactly. Why is it not possible that the Venetians, or Martians, or
whoever our invaders are, have encased themselves and their space flyer
in a layer of some substance similar to the heaviside layer, a substance
which is permeable to light rays only when a large proportion of
ultra-violet rays accompany the visible rays? If they did this and then
constructed the walls of their ship of some substance which absorbed all
the ultra-violet rays which fell on it; not only would the ship itself
be invisible, but also everything contained in it--and yet they could
see the outside world easily. That such _is_ the case is proved by the
disappearance of those children in mid-air. They were taken into a space
ship behind an ultra-violet absorbing wall and so became invisible."

"If the walls absorbed all the ultra-violet and were impermeable to
light without ultra-violet, the ship would appear as a black opaque
substance and could be seen."

"That would be true except for one thing which you are forgetting. The
heaviside layer, as I have repeatedly proved, is a splendid conductor of
ultra-violet. The rays falling on it are probably bent along the line of
the covering layer so that they open up and bend around the ship in the
same manner as flowing water will open up and flow around a stone and
then come together again. The light must flow around the solid ship and
then join again in such a manner that the eye can detect no
interruption."

"Jim, all that sounds reasonable, but have you any proof of it?"

"No, First Mortgage, I haven't--yet; but if the Lord is good to us we'll
have definite proof this afternoon and be in a position to successfully
combat this new menace to the world."

"Do you expect me to go on another one of your crack-brained expeditions
into the unknown with you?"

       *       *       *       *       *

"Certainly I do, but this time we won't go out of the known. I have our
old space flyer which we took beyond the heaviside layer six years ago
ready for action and we're going to look for the invaders this
afternoon."

"How will we see them if they are invisible?"

"They are invisible to ordinary light but not to ultra-violet light.
While most of the ultra-violet is deflected and flows around the ship of
else is absorbed, I have an idea that, if we bathe it in a sufficient
concentration of ultra-violet, some would be reflected. We are going to
look for the reflected portion."

"Ultra-violet light is invisible."

"It is to the eye, but it can be detected. You know that radium is
activated and glows under ultra-violet?"

"Yes."

"Mounted on our flyer are six ultra-violet searchlights. By the side of
each one is a wide angle telescopic concentrator which will focus any
reflected ultra-violet onto a radium coated screen and thus make it
visible to us. In effect the apparatus is a camera obscura with all lens
made of rock crystal or fused quartz, both of which allow free passage
to ultra-violet."

"What will we do if we find them?"

"Mounted beneath the telescope is a one-pounder gun with radite shells.
If we locate them, we will use our best efforts to shoot them down."

"Suppose they are armed too?"

       *       *       *       *       *

"In that case I hope that you shoot faster and straighter than they do.
If you don't--well, old man, it'll just be too damned bad."

"I don't know that the _Clarion_ hires me to go out and shoot at
invisible invaders from another planet, but if I don't go with you, I
expect you'd just about call up the _Echo_ or the _Gazette_ and ask them
for a gunner."

"Just about."

"In that case, I may as well be sacrificed as anyone else. When do we
start?"

"You old faker!" cried Jim, pounding me on the back. "You wouldn't miss
the trip for anything. If you're ready we'll start right now. Everything
is ready."

"Including the sacrifice," I replied, rising. "All right, Jim, let's go
and get it over with. If we live, I'll have to get back in time to
telephone the story to McQuarrie for the first edition."

I followed Jim out of the laboratory and to a large open space behind
the main building where the infra-red generators with which he had
pierced the hole through the heaviside layer had been located. The
reflectors were still in place, but the bank of generators had been
removed. A gang of men were hard at work erecting a huge parabolic
reflector in the center of the circle, about the periphery of which the
infra-red reflectors were placed. In an open space near the center stood
a Hadley space ship, toward which Jim led the way.

       *       *       *       *       *

I wondered at the activity and meant to ask what it portended, but in
the excitement of boarding the flyer forgot it. I followed Jim in; he
closed the door and started the air conditioner.

"Here, First Mortgage," he said as he turned from the control board and
faced me, "here are the fluoroscopic screens. They are arranged in a
bank, so that you can keep an eye on all of them readily. Beneath each
telescope is an automatic one-pounder gun with its mount geared to the
telescope and the light, so that the gun bears continually on the point
in space represented by the center of the fluoroscopic screen which
belongs to that light. If we locate anything, turn your beam until the
object is in the exact center of the screen where these two cross-hairs
are. When you have it lined up, push this button and the gun will fire."

"What about reloading?"

"The guns are self-loading. Each one has twenty shells in its magazine
and will fire one shot each time the button is pushed until it is empty.
If you empty one magazine, I can turn the ship so that another gun will
bear. This gives you a total of one hundred and twenty shots quickly
available; there are sixty extra pounds, which we can break out and load
into the magazines in a few seconds. Do you understand everything?"

"I guess so. Everything seems clear enough."

"All right; sit down and we'll start."

       *       *       *       *       *

I took my seat, and Jim pulled the starting lever. I was glued to the
seat and the heavy springs in the cushion were compressed almost to
their limit by the sudden acceleration. As soon as we were well clear
of the ground Jim reduced his power, and in a few moments we were
floating motionless in the air, a thousand feet up. He left the control
board and came to my side.

"Start your ultra lights," he said as he joined me. "We may be able to
spot something from here."

I started the lights and we stared at the screens before us. Nothing
appeared on any of them except the one pointing directly down, and only
an image of the ground, appeared on it. Under Jim's tutelage I swung the
beams in wide circles, covering the space around us, but nothing
appeared.

"Those beams won't project over five miles in this atmosphere," he said,
"and the ship we are looking for may be so small that we would have
trouble locating it at any great distance. I am going to move over near
the scene of the last disappearance. Keep your lights swinging and sing
out if you see anything on the screens."

I could feel the ship start to move slowly under the force of a side
discharge from the rocket motor, and I swung the beams of the six lights
around, trying to cover the entire area about us. Nothing appeared on
the screens for an hour, and my head began to ache from the strain of
unremitting close observation of the glowing screens. A buzz sounding
over the hum of the rocket motor attracted my attention; Jim pulled his
levers to neutral with the exception of the one which maintained our
elevation and stepped to an instrument on the wall of the flyer.

"Hello," he called. "What? Where did it happen? All right, thanks, we'll
move over that way at once."

       *       *       *       *       *

He turned from the radio telephone and spoke.

"Another disappearance has just been reported," he said. "It happened on
the outskirts of Pasadena. Keep your eyes open: I'm going to head in
that direction."

A few minutes later we were floating over Pasadena. Jim stopped the
flyer and joined me at the screens. We swung our beams in wide circles
to cover the entire area around us, but no image on the screens rewarded
us.

"Doggone it, they must have left here in a hurry," grumbled Jim.

Even as he spoke the flyer gave a lurch which nearly threw me off my
seat and which sent Jim sprawling on the floor. With a white face he
leaped to the control board and pulled the lever controlling our one
working stern motor to full power. For a moment the ship moved upward
and then came to a dead stop, although the motor still roared at full
speed.

"Can't you see anything, Pete?" cried Jim as he threw our second stern
motor into gear.

Again the ship moved upward for a few feet and then stopped. I swung the
searchlights frantically in all directions, but five of the screens
remained blank and the sixth showed only the ground below us.

"Not a thing," I replied.

"Something ought to show," he muttered, and suddenly shut off both
motors. The flyer gave a sickening lurch toward the ground, but we fell
only a hundred yards before our motion stopped. We hung suspended in the
air with no motors working. Jim joined me at the screens and we swung
the lights rapidly without success.

"Look, Pete!" Jim cried hoarsely.

       *       *       *       *       *

My gaze followed his pointing finger and I saw the door of our flyer
springing out as though some force from the outside were trying to
wrench it open. The pull ceased for an instant, then came again; the
sturdy latches burst and the door was torn from its hinges. Jim swung
one of the searchlights until the beam was at right angles to the hull
of the flyer and pressed the gun button. A crash filled the confined
space of the flyer as a one-pounder radite shell tore out into space.

"They're there but still invisible," he exclaimed as he shifted the
direction of the gun and fired again. "I am shooting by guess-work, but
I might score a hit."

He changed the direction of the gun again, but before he could press the
button he was lifted into the air and drawn rapidly toward the open
door.

"Shoot, Pete!" he shouted. "Shoot and keep on shooting--it's your only
chance!"

I turned to the knobs controlling the guns and lights, but, before I
could make a move, something hard and cold grasped me about the middle
and I was lifted into the air and drawn toward the open door after Jim.
I tore at the thing holding me with my hands, but it was a smooth round
thing like a two-inch thick wire, and I could get no grip on it to
loosen it. Out through the door I went and was drawn through the air a
few feet behind Jim. He moved ahead of me for fifteen or twenty feet and
then vanished in mid-air. I dared not struggle in mid-air and I was
drawn through a door into a large space flyer which became visible as I
entered it. The flexible wire or rod which had held me uncoiled and I
was free on the floor beside Jim Carpenter. This much was clear and
understandable, but when I looked at the crew of that space ship, I was
sure that I had lost my mind or was seeing visions. I had naturally
expected men, or at least something in semi-human form, but instead of
anything of the sort, before me stood a dozen gigantic beetles!

       *       *       *       *       *

I rubbed my eyes and looked again. There was no mistaking the fact that
we had been captured by a race of gigantic beetles flying an invisible
space ship. When I had time later to examine them critically, I could
see marked differences between our captors and the beetles we were
accustomed to see on the earth besides the mere matter of size. To begin
with, their bodies were relatively much smaller, the length of shell of
the largest specimen not being over four feet, while the head of the
same insect, exclusive of the horns or pinchers, was a good eighteen
inches in length. The pinchers, which by all beetle proportions should
have been a couple of feet long at the least, did not extend over the
head a distance greater than eight inches, although they were sturdy and
powerful.

Instead of traveling with their shells horizontal as do earthly beetles,
these insects stood erect on their two lower pairs of legs, which were
of different lengths so that all four feet touched the ground when the
shell was vertical. The two upper pairs of legs were used as arms, the
topmost pair[A] being quite short and splitting out at the end into four
flexible claws about five inches long, which they used as fingers. These
upper arms, which sprouted from a point near the top of the head, were
peculiar in that they apparently had no joints like the other three
pairs but were flexible like an elephant's trunk. The second pair of
arms were armed with long, vicious-looking hooks. The backplates
concealed only very rudimentary wings, not large enough to enable the
insects to fly, although Jim told me later that they could fly on their
own planet, where the lessened gravity made such extensive wing supports
as would be needed on earth unnecessary.

[Footnote A: Mr. Bond has made a laughable error in his description.
Like all of the coleoptera, the Mercurians were hexapoda (six legged).
What Mr. Bond continually refers to in his narrative as "upper arms"
were really the antenna of the insects which split at the end into four
flexible appendages resembling fingers. His mistake is a natural one,
for the Mercurians used their antenna as extra arms.--James S.
Carpenter.]

The backplates were a brilliant green in color, with six-inch stripes of
chrome yellow running lengthwise and crimson spots three inches in
diameter arranged in rows between the stripes. Their huge-faceted eyes
sparkled like crystal when the light fell on them, and from time to time
waves of various colors passed over them, evidently reflecting the
insect's emotions. Although they gave the impression of great muscular
power, their movements were slow and sluggish, and they seemed to have
difficulty in getting around.

       *       *       *       *       *

As my horrified gaze took in these monstrosities I turned with a shudder
to Jim Carpenter.

"Am I crazy, Jim," I asked, "or do you see these things too?"

"I see them all right, Pete," he replied. "It isn't as surprising as it
seems at first glance. You expected to find human beings; so did I, but
what reason had we for doing so? It is highly improbable, when you come
to consider the matter, that evolution should take the same course
elsewhere as it did on earth. Why not beetles, or fish, or horned toads,
for that matter?"

"No reason, I guess," I answered; "I just hadn't expected anything of
the sort. What do you suppose they mean to do with us?"

"I haven't any idea, old man. We'll just have to wait and see. I'll try
to talk to them, although I don't expect much luck at it."

He turned to the nearest beetle and slowly and clearly spoke a few
words. The insect gave no signs of comprehension, although it watched
the movement of Jim's lips carefully. It is my opinion, and Jim agrees
with me, that the insects were both deaf and dumb, for during the entire
time we were associated with them, we never heard them give forth a
sound under any circumstances, nor saw them react to any sound that we
made. Either they had some telepathic means of communication or else
they made and heard sounds beyond the range of the human ear, for it was
evident from their actions that they frequently communicated with one
another.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Jim failed in his first attempt to communicate he looked around for
another method. He noticed my notebook, which had fallen on the floor
when I was set down; he picked it up and drew a pencil from his pocket.
The insects watched his movements carefully, and when he had made a
sketch in the book, the nearest one took it from him and examined it
carefully and then passed it to another one, who also examined it. The
sketch which Jim had drawn showed the outline of the Hadley space flyer
from which he had been taken. When the beetles had examined the sketch,
one of them stepped to an instrument board in the center of the ship and
made an adjustment. Then he pointed with one of his lower arms.

We looked in the direction in which he pointed; to our astonishment, the
walls of the flyer seemed to dissolve, or at least to become perfectly
transparent. The floor of the space ship was composed of some silvery
metal, and from it had risen walls of the same material, but now the
effect was as though we were suspended in mid-air, with nothing either
around us or under us. I gasped and grabbed at the instrument board for
support. Then I felt foolish as I realized that there was no change in
the feel of the floor for all its transparency and that we were not
falling.

       *       *       *       *       *

A short distance away we could see our flyer suspended in the air, held
up by two long flexible rods or wires similar to those which had lifted
us from our ship into our prison. I saw a dozen more of these rods
coiled up, hanging in the air, evidently, but really on the floor near
the edge of the flyer, ready for use. Jim suddenly grasped me by the
arm.

"Look behind you in a moment," he said, "but don't start!"

He took the notebook in his hand and started to draw a sketch. I looked
behind as he had told me to. Hanging in the air in a position which told
me that they must have been in a different compartment of the flyer,
were five children. They were white as marble, and lay perfectly
motionless.

"Are they dead, Jim?" I asked in a low voice without looking at him.

"I don't know," he replied, "but we'll find out a little later. I am
relieved to find them here, and I doubt if they are harmed."

The sketch which he was making was one of the solar system, and, when he
had finished, he marked the earth with a cross and handed the notebook
to one of the beetles. The insect took it and showed it to his
companions; so far as I was able to judge expressions, they were amazed
to find that we had knowledge of the heavenly bodies. The beetle took
Jim's pencil in one of its hands and, after examining it carefully, made
a cross on the circle which Jim had drawn to represent the planet
Mercury.

       *       *       *       *       *

"They come from Mercury," exclaimed Jim in surprise as he showed me the
sketch. "That accounts for a good many things; why they are so
lethargic, for one thing. Mercury is much smaller than the earth and the
gravity is much less. According to Mercurian standards, they must weigh
a ton each. It is quite a tribute to their muscular development that
they can move and support their weight against our gravity. They can
understand a drawing all right, so we have a means of communicating with
them, although a pretty slow one and dependent entirely on my limited
skill as a cartoonist. I wonder if we are free to move about?"

"The only way to find out is to try," I replied and stood erect. The
beetles offered no objection and Jim stood up beside me. We walked, or
rather edged, our way toward the side of the ship. The insects watched
us when we started to move and then evidently decided that we were
harmless. They turned from us to the working of the ship. One of them
manipulated some dials on the instrument board. One of the rods which
held our flyer released its grip, came in toward the Mercurian ship and
coiled itself up on the floor, or the place where the floor should have
been. The insect touched another dial. Jim threw caution to the winds,
raced across the floor and grasped the beetle by the arm.

The insect looked at him questioningly; Jim produced the notebook and
drew a sketch representing our flyer falling. On the level be had used
to represent the ground he made another sketch of it lying in ruins. The
beetle nodded comprehendingly and turned to another dial; the ship sank
slowly toward the ground.

       *       *       *       *       *

We sank until we hung only a few feet from the ground when our flyer was
gently lowered down. When it rested on the ground, the wire which had
held it uncoiled, came aboard and coiled itself up beside the others. As
the Mercurian ship rose I noticed idly that the door which had been torn
from our ship and dropped lay within a few yards of the ship itself. The
Mercurian ship rose to an elevation of a hundred feet, drifting gently
over the city.

As we rose I determined to try the effect of my personality on the
beetles. I approached the one who seemed to be the leader and, putting
on the most woeful expression I could muster, I looked at the floor. He
did not understand me and I pretended that I was falling and grasped at
him. This time he nodded and stepped to the instrument board. In a
moment the floor became visible. I thanked him as best I could in
pantomime and approached the walls. They were so transparent that I felt
an involuntary shrinking as I approached them. I edged my way cautiously
forward until my outstretched hand encountered a solid substance. I
looked out.

At the slow speed we were traveling the drone of our motors was hardly
audible to us, and I felt sure that it could not be heard on the ground.
Once their curiosity was satisfied, our captors paid little or no
attention to me and left me free to come and go as I wished. I made my
way cautiously toward the children, but ran into a solid wall.
Remembering Jim's words, I made my way back toward him without
displaying any interest.

       *       *       *       *       *

Jim could probably have wandered around as I did had he wished, but he
chose to occupy his time differently. With his notebook and pencil he
carried on an extensive conversation, if that term can be applied to a
crudely executed set of drawings, with the leader of the beetles. I was
not especially familiar with the methods of control of space ships and I
could make nothing of the maze of dials and switches on the instrument
board.

For half an hour we drifted slowly along. Presently one of the beetles
approached, seized my arm and turned me about. With one of his arms he
pointed ahead. A mile away I could see another space flyer similar to
the one we were on.

"Here comes another one, Jim." I called.

"Yes, I saw it some time ago. I don't know where the third one is."

"Are there three of them?"

"Yes. Three of them came here yesterday and are exploring the country
round about here. They are scouts sent out from the fleet of our brother
planet to see if the road was clear and what the world was like. They
spotted the hole through the layer with their telescope and sent their
fleet out to pay us a visit. He tells me that the scouts have reported
favorably and that the whole fleet, several thousand ships, as near as I
can make out, are expected here this evening."

"Have you solved the secret of their invisibility?"

       *       *       *       *       *

"Partly. It is as I expected. The walls of the ship are double, the
inner one of metal and the outer one of vitrolene or some similar
perfectly transparent substance. The space between the walls is filled
with some substance which will bend both visible and ultra-violet rays
along a path around the ship and then lets them go in their original
direction. The reason why we can see through the walls and see the
protective coating of that ship coming is that they are generating some
sort of a ray here which acts as a carrier for the visible light rays. I
don't know what sort of a ray it is, but when I get a good look at their
generators, I may be able to tell. Are you beginning to itch and burn?"

"Yes, I believe that I am, although I hadn't noticed it until you
spoke."

"I have been noticing it for some time. From its effects on the skin, I
am inclined to believe it to be a ray of very short wave-length,
possibly something like our X-ray, or even shorter."

"Have you found out what they intend to do with us?"

"I don't think they have decided yet. Possibly they are going to take us
up to the leader of their fleet and let him decide. The cuss that is in
command of this ship seems surprised to death to find out that I can
comprehend the principles of his ship. He seems to think that I am a
sort of a rara avis, a freak of nature. He intimated that he would
recommend that we be used for vivisection."

"Good Lord!"

"It's not much more worse than the fate they design for the rest of
their captives, at that."

"What is that?"

"It's a long story that I'll have to tell you later. I want to watch
this meeting."

       *       *       *       *       *

The other ship had approached to within a few yards and floated
stationary, while some sort of communication was exchanged between the
two. I could not fathom the method used, but the commander of our craft
clamped what looked like a pair of headphones against his body and
plugged the end of a wire leading from them into his instrument board.
From time to time various colored lights glowed on the board before
him. After a time he uncoupled his device from the board, and one of the
long rods shot out from our ship to the other. It returned in a moment
clamped around the body of a young girl. As the came on board, she was
lowered onto the deck beside the other children. Like them, she was
stiff and motionless. I gave an exclamation and sprang forward.

"Pete!"

Jim's voice recalled me to myself, and I watched the child laid with the
others with as disinterested an expression as I could muster. I had
never made a mistake in following Jim Carpenter's lead and I knew that
somewhere in his head a plan was maturing which might offer us some
chance of escape.

Our ship moved ahead down a long slant, gradually dropping nearer to the
ground. I watched the maneuver with interest while Jim, with his friend
the beetle commander, went over the ship. The insect was evidently
amused at Jim and was determined to find out the limits of his
intelligence, for he pointed out various controls and motors of the ship
and made elaborate sketches which Jim seemed to comprehend fairly well.

       *       *       *       *       *

One of the beetles approached the control board and motioned me back. I
stepped away from the board; evidently a port in the side of the vessel
opened, for I felt a breath of air and could hear the hum of the city. I
walked to the side and glanced down, and found that we were floating
about twenty feet off the ground over a street on the edge of the city.
On the street a short distance ahead of us two children, evidently
returning from school, to judge by the books under their arms, were
walking unsuspectingly along. A turn of the dial sped up our motors, and
as the hum rang out in a louder key the children looked upward. Two of
the long flexible wires shot out and wrapped themselves about the
children; screaming, they were lifted into the space flyer. The port
through which they came in shut with a clang and the ship rose rapidly
into the air. The children were released from the wires which coiled
themselves up on deck and the beetle who had operated them stepped
forward and grasped the nearer of the children, a boy of about eleven,
by the arm. He raised the boy, who was paralyzed with terror, up toward
his head and gazed steadily into his eyes. Slowly the boy ceased
struggling and became white and rigid. The beetle laid him on the deck
and turned to the girl. Involuntarily I gave a shout and sprang forward,
but Jim grasped me by the arm.

"Keep quiet, you darned fool!" he cried. "We can do nothing now. Wait
for a chance!"

"We can't stand here and see murder done!" I protested.

"It's not murder. Pete, those children aren't being hurt. They are being
hypnotized so that they can be transported to Mercury."

"Why are they taking them to Mercury?" I demanded.

"As nearly as I can make out, there is a race of men up there who are
subject to these beetles. This ship is radium propelled, and the men and
women are the slaves who work in the radium mines. Of course the workers
soon become sexless, but others are kept for breeding purposes to keep
the race alive. Through generations of in-breeding, the stock is about
played out and are getting too weak to be of much value.

"The Mercurians have been studying the whole universe to find a race
which will serve their purpose and they have chosen us to be the
victims. When their fleet gets here, they plan to capture thousands of
selected children and carry them to Mercury in order to infuse their
blood into the decadent race of slaves they have. Those who are not
suitable for breeding when they grow up will die as slaves in the radium
mines."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Horrible!" I gasped. "Why are they taking children, Jim? Wouldn't
adults suit their purpose better?"

"They are afraid to take adults. On Mercury an earthman would have
muscles of unheard of power and adults would constantly strive to rise
against their masters. By getting children, they hope to raise them to
know nothing else than a life of slavery and get the advantage of their
strength without risk. It is a clever scheme."

"And are we to stand here and let them do it?"

"Not on your life, but we had better hold easy for a while. If I can get
a few minutes more with that brute I'll know enough about running this
ship that we can afford to do away with them. You have a pistol, haven't
you?"

"No."

"The devil! I thought you had. I have an automatic, but it only carries
eight shells. There are eleven of these insects and unless we can get
the jump on them, they'll do us. I saw what looks like a knife lying
near the instrument board; get over near it and get ready to grab it as
soon as you hear my pistol. These things are deaf and if I work it right
I may be able to do several of them in before they know what's
happening. When you attack, don't try to ram them in the back; their
backplates are an inch thick and will be proof against a knife thrust.
Aim at their eyes; if you can blind them, they'll be helpless. Do you
understand?"

"I'll do my best, Jim," I replied. "Since you have told me their plans I
am itching to get at them."

       *       *       *       *       *

I edged over toward the knife, but as I did so I saw a better weapon. On
the floor lay a bar of silvery metal about thirty inches long and an
inch in diameter. I picked it up and toyed with it idly, meanwhile
edging around to get behind the insect which I had marked for my first
attentions. Jim was talking again by means of the notebook with his
beetle friend. They walked around the ship, examining everything in it.

"Are you ready, Pete?" came Jim's voice at last.

"All set," I replied, getting a firmer grasp on my bar and edging toward
one of the insects.

"Well, don't start until I fire. You notice the bug I am talking to?
Don't kill him unless you have to. This ship is a little too complicated
for me to fathom, so I want this fellow taken prisoner. We'll use him as
our engineer when we take control."

"I understand."

"All right, get ready."

I kept my eye on Jim. He had drawn the beetle with whom he was talking
to a position where they were behind the rest. Jim pointed at something
behind the insect's back and the beetle turned. As it did so, Jim
whipped out his pistol and, taking careful aim, fired at one of the
insects.

As the sound of the shot rang out I raised my bar and leaped forward. I
brought it down with crushing force on the head of the nearest beetle.
My victim fell forward, and I heard Jim's pistol bark again; but I had
no time to watch him. As the beetle I struck fell the others turned and
I had two of them coming at me with outstretched arms, ready to grasp
me. I swung my bar, and the arm of one of them fell limp; but the other
seized me with both its hands, and I felt the cruel hooks of its lower
arms against the small of my back.

       *       *       *       *       *

One of my arms was still free; I swung my bar again, and it struck my
captor on the back of the head. It was stunned by the blow and fell. I
seized the knife from the floor, and threw myself down beside it and
struck at its eyes, trying to roll it over so as to protect me from the
other who was trying to grasp me.

I felt hands clutch me from behind; I was wrenched loose from the body
of my victim and lifted into the air. I was turned about and stared
hard into the implacable crystalline eyes of one of the insects. For a
moment my senses reeled and then, without volition, I dropped my bar. I
remembered the children and realized that I was being hypnotized. I
fought against the feeling, but my senses reeled and I almost went limp,
when the sound of a pistol shot, almost in my ear, roused me. The spell
of the beetle was momentarily broken. I thrust the knife which I still
grasped at the eyes before me. My blow went home, but the insect raised
me and bent me toward him until my head lay on top of his and the huge
horns which adorned his head began to close. Another pistol shot
sounded, and I was suddenly dropped.

I grasped my bar as I fell and leaped up. The flyer was a shambles. Dead
insects lay on all sides while Jim, smoking pistol in hand, was staring
as though fascinated into the eyes of one of the surviving beetles. I
ran forward and brought my bar down on the insect's head, but as I did
so I was grasped from behind.

"Jim, help!" I cried as I was swung into the air. The insect whirled me
around and then threw me to the floor. I had an impression of falling;
then everything dissolved in a flash of light. I was unconscious only
for a moment, and I came to to find Jim Carpenter standing over me,
menacing my assailant with his gun.

"Thanks, Jim," I said faintly.

"If you're conscious again, get up and get your bar," he replied. "My
pistol is empty and I don't know how long I can run a bluff on this
fellow."

       *       *       *       *       *

I scrambled to my feet and grasped the bar. Jim stepped behind me and
reloaded his pistol.

"All right," he said when he had finished. "I'll take charge of this
fellow. Go around and see if the rest are dead. If they aren't when you
find them, see that they are when you leave them. We're taking no
prisoners."

I went the rounds of the prostrate insects. None of them were beyond
moving except two whose heads had been crushed by my bar, but I obeyed
Jim's orders. When I rejoined him with my bloody bar, the only beetle
left alive was the commander, whom Jim was covering with his pistol.

"Take the gun," he said when I reported my actions, "and give me the
bar."

We exchanged weapons and Jim turned to the captive.

"Now, old fellow," he said grimly, "either you run this ship as I want
you to, or you're a dead Indian. Savvy?"

He took his pencil and notebook from his pocket and drew a sketch of our
Hadley space ship. On the other end of the sheet he drew a picture of
the Mercurian ship, and then drew a line connecting the two. The insect
looked at the sketch but made no movement.

"All right, if that's the way you feel about it," said Jim. He raised
the bar and brought it down with crushing force on one of the insect's
lower arms. The arm fell as though paralyzed and a blue light played
across the beetle's eyes. Jim extended the sketch again and raised the
bar threateningly. The beetle moved over to the control board, Jim
following closely, and set the ship in motion. Ten minutes later it
rested on the ground beside the ship in which we had first taken the
air.

       *       *       *       *       *

Following Jim's pictured orders the beetle opened the door of the
Mercurian ship and followed Jim into the Hadley. As we emerged from the
Mercurian ship I looked back. It had vanished completely.

"The children, Jim!" I gasped.

"I haven't forgotten them," he replied, "but they are all right for the
present. If we turned them loose now, we'd have ninety reporters around
us in ten minutes. I want to get our generators modified first."

He pointed toward the spot where the Mercurian ship had stood and then
toward our generators. The beetle hesitated, but Jim swung his bar
against the insect's side in a vicious blow. Again came the play of blue
light over the eyes; the beetle bent over our generaters and set to
work. Jim handed me the bar and bent over to help. They were both
mechanics of a high order and they worked well together; in an hour the
beetle started the generators and swung one of the searchlights toward
his old ship. It leaped into view on the radium coated screen.

"Good business!" ejaculated Jim. "We'll repair this door; then we'll be
ready to release the children and start out."

       *       *       *       *       *

We followed the beetle into the Mercurian ship, which it seemed to be
able to see. It opened a door leading into another compartment of the
flyer, and before us lay the bodies of eight children. The beetle lifted
the first one, a little girl, up until his many-faceted eyes looked full
into the closed ones of the child. There was a flicker of an eyelash, a
trace of returning color, and then a scream of terror from the child.
The beetle set the girl down and Jim bent over her.

"It's all right now, little lady," he said, clumsily smoothing her hair.

"You're safe now. Run along to your mother. First Mortgage, take charge
of her and take her outside. It isn't well for children to see these
things."

The child clung to my hand: I led her out of the ship, which promptly
vanished as we left it. One by one, seven other children joined us, the
last one, a miss of not over eight, in Jim's arms. The beetle followed
behind him.

"Do any of you know where you are?" asked Jim as he came out.

"I do, sir," said one of the boys. "I live close to here."

"All right, take these youngsters to your house and tell your mother to
telephone their parents to come and get them. If anyone asks you what
happened, tell them to see Jim Carpenter to-morrow. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir."

"All right, run along then. Now, First Mortgage, let's go hunting."

       *       *       *       *       *

We wired our captive up so securely that I felt that there was no
possible chance of his escape; then, with Jim at the controls and me at
the guns, we fared forth in search of the invaders. Back and forth over
the city we flew without sighting another spaceship in the air. Jim gave
an exclamation of impatience and swung on a wider circle, which took us
out over the water. I kept the searchlights working. Presently, far
ahead over the water, a dark spot came into view. I called to Jim and we
approached it at top speed.

"Don't shoot until we are within four hundred yards," cautioned Jim.

I held my fire until we were within the specified distance. The newcomer
was another of the Mercurian space-ships; with a feeling of joy I swung
my beam until the cross-hairs of the screen rested full on the invader.

"All ready!" I sung out.

"If you are ready, Gridley, you may fire!" replied Jim. I pressed the
gun button. The crash of the gun was followed by another report from
outside as the radite shell burst against the Mercurian flyer. The
deadly explosive did its work, and the shattered remains of the wreck
fell, to be engulfed in the sea below.

"That's one!" cried Jim. "I'm afraid we won't have time to hunt up the
other right now. This bug told me that the other Mercurians are due here
to-day, and I think we had better form ourselves into a reception
committee and go up to the hole to meet them."

       *       *       *       *       *

He sent the ship at high speed over the city until we hovered over the
laboratory. We stopped for a moment, and Jim stepped to the radio
telephone.

"Hello, Williams," he said, "how are things going? That's fine. In an
hour, you say? Well, speed it up as much as you can; we may call for it
soon."

He turned both stern motors to full power, and we shot up like a rocket
toward the hole in the protective layer through which the invaders had
entered. In ten minutes we were at the altitude of the guard ships and
Jim asked if anything had been seen. The report was negative; Jim left
them below the layer and sent our flyer up through the hole into space.
We reached the outer surface in another ten minutes and we were none too
soon. Hardly had we debouched from the hole than ahead of us we saw
another Mercurian flyer. It was a lone one, and Jim bent over the
captive and held a hastily made sketch before him. The sketch showed
three Mercurian flyers, one on the ground, one wrecked and the third one
in the air. He touched the drawing of the one in the air and pointed
toward our port hole and looked questioningly at the beetle. The insect
inspected the flyer in space and nodded.

"Good!" cried Jim. "That's the third of the trio who came ahead as
scouts. Get your gun ready, First Mortgage: we're going to pick him
off."

Our ship approached the doomed Mercurian. Again I waited until we were
within four hundred yards; then I pressed the button which hurled it, a
crumpled wreck, onto the outer surface of the heaviside layer.

"Two!" cried Jim as we backed away.

"Here come plenty more," I cried as I swung the searchlight. Jim left
his controls, glanced at the screen and whistled softly. Dropping toward
us from space were hundreds of the Mercurian ships.

"We got here just in time," he said. "Break out your extra ammunition
while I take to the hole. We can't hope to do that bunch alone, so we'll
fight a rearguard action."

       *       *       *       *       *

Since our bow gun would be the only one in action, I hastily moved the
spare boxes of ammunition nearer to it while Jim maneuvered the Hadley
over the hole. As the Mercurian fleet came nearer he started a slow
retreat toward the earth. The Mercurians overtook us rapidly; Jim locked
his controls at slow speed down and hurried to the bow gun.

"Start shooting as soon as you can," he said. "I'll keep the magazine
filled."

I swung the gun until the cross-hairs of the screen rested full on the
leading ship and pressed the button. My aim was true, and the shattered
fragments of the ship fell toward me. The balance of the fleet slowed
down for an instant; I covered another one and pressed my button. The
ship at which I had aimed was in motion and I missed it, but I had the
satisfaction of seeing another one fall in fragments. Jim was loading
the magazine as fast as I fired. I covered another ship and fired again.
A third one of our enemies fell in ruins. The rest paused and drew off.

"They're retreating, Jim!" I cried.

"Cease firing until they come on again," he replied is he took the
shells from the magazines of the other guns and piled them near the bow
gun.

I held my fire for a few minutes. The Mercurians retreated a short
distance and then came on again with a rush. Twenty times my gun went
off as fast as I could align it and press the trigger, and eighteen of
the enemy ships were in ruins. Again the Mercurians retreated. I held my
fire. We were falling more rapidly now and far below we could see the
black spots which were the guard ships. I told Jim that they were in
sight; he stepped to the radio telephone and ordered them to keep well
away from the hole.

       *       *       *       *       *

Again the Mercurian ships came on with a rush, this time with beams of
orange light stabbing a way before them. When I told Jim of this he
jumped to the controls and shot our ship down at breakneck speed.

"I don't know what sort of fighting apparatus they have, but I don't
care to face it," he said to me. "Fire if they get close; but I hope to
get out of the hole before they are in range."

Fast as we fell, the Mercurians were coming faster, and they were not
over eight hundred yards from us when he reached the level of the guard
ships. Jim checked our speed; I managed to pick off three more of the
invaders before we moved away from the hole. Jim stopped the side motion
and jumped to the radio telephone.

"Hello, Williams!" he shouted into the instrument. "Are you ready down
there? Thank God! Full power at once, please!

"Watch what happens," he said to me, as he turned from the instrument.

Some fifty of the Mercurian flyers had reached our level and had started
to move toward us before anything happened. Then from below came a beam
of intolerable light. Upward it struck, and the Mercurian ships on which
it impinged disappeared in a flash of light.

"A disintegrating ray," explained Jim. "I suspected that it might be
needed and I started Williams to rigging it up early this morning. I
hated to use it because it may easily undo the work that six years have
done in healing the break in the layer, but it was necessary. That ends
the invasion, except for those ten or twelve ships ahead of us. How is
your marksmanship? Can you pick off ten in ten shots?"

"Watch me," I said grimly as the ship started to move.

       *       *       *       *       *

Pride goeth ever before a fall: it took me sixteen shots to demolish the
eleven ships which had escaped destruction from the ray. As the last one
fell in ruins, Jim ordered the ray shut off. We fell toward the ground.

"What are we going to do with our prisoner?" I asked.

Jim looked at the beetle meditatively.

"He would make a fine museum piece if he were stuffed," he said, "but
on the whole, I think we'll let him go. He is an intelligent creature
and will probably be happier on Mercury than anywhere else. What do you
say that we put him on his ship and turn him loose?"

"To lead another invasion?" I asked.

"I think not. He has seen what has happened to this one and is more
likely to warn them to keep away. In any event, if we equip the guard
ships with a ray that will show the Mercurian ships up and keep the
disintegrating ray ready for action, we needn't fear another invasion.
Let's let him go."

"It suits me all right, Jim, but I hold out for one thing. I will never
dare to face McQuarrie again if I fail to get a picture of him. I insist
on taking his photograph before we turn him loose."

"All right, go ahead," laughed Jim. "He ought to be able to stand that,
if you'll spare him an interview."

An hour later we watched the Mercurian flyer disappear into space.

"I hope I've seen the last of those bugs," I said as the flyer faded
from view.

"I don't know," said Jim thoughtfully. "If I have interpreted correctly
the drawings that creature made, there is a race of manlike bipeds on
Mercury who are slaves to those beetles and who live and die in the
horrible atmosphere of a radium mine. Some of these days I may lead an
expedition to our sister planet and look into that matter."



MECHANICAL VOICES FOR PHONE NUMBERS


     New developments whereby science goes still farther in its
     assumption of human attributes were described and demonstrated
     recently by Sergius P. Grace, Assistant Vice-President of Bell
     Telephone Laboratories, where the developments were conceived and
     worked out.

     One development described, and soon to be put into service in New
     York, transforms a telephone number dialed by a subscriber into
     speech. Although the subscriber says not a word the number dialed
     is spoken aloud to the operator.

     The device is expected to simplify and speed the hooking together
     of automatic and voice-hand-operated telephone exchanges, and also
     to speed long-distance calls from automatic phones through rural
     exchanges.

     The numbers which can thus be spoken are recorded on talkie films
     and those which are to go into use here have already been made, all
     by an Irish girl said to have the best voice among the city's
     "number, please" girls.

     Mr. Grace demonstrated this device by carrying into the audience a
     telephone with a long cord connected with a loud speaker on the
     stand, which represented central. A member of the audience was
     requested to dial a number, and choose 5551-T, the letter T
     representing the exchange.

     This number the spectator dialed on the phone Mr. Grace carried.
     There was no sound but the clicking of the dial. Then, two seconds
     later, the loudspeaker spoke up clearly, in an almost human voice,
     "5551 T."

     As for the recording of the sound films, there is a film for each
     of the ten Arabic numerals from zero to nine, and these wound on
     revolving drums. The dial on the telephone automatically sets in
     action the drum corresponding to the numeral moved on the dial.

     Another development which sounds promising for bashful suitors and
     other timid souls, enables a person to store within himself
     electrically a message he desires to deliver and then to deliver it
     without speaking, simply by putting a finger to the ear of the
     person for whom the message is intended.

     This Mr. Grace demonstrated. He spoke into a telephone transmitter
     and his words were clearly heard by all in the audience, by means
     of amplifiers. At the same time a part of the electrical current
     from the amplifier, representing the sentence he voiced, was stored
     in a "delay circuit," another recent invention of the laboratories.
     After being stored four and a half seconds this current was
     transformed to a high voltage and passed into Mr. Grace's body. He
     then put his finger against the ear of a member of the audience,
     who heard in his brain the same sentence. The ear drum and
     surrounding tissues are made to act as one plate of a
     condenser-receiver, Mr. Grace explained, with the vibrations of the
     drum interpreted by the brain.

     A new magnetic metal, "perminvar," and a new insulating material,
     "para gutta," which make possible construction of a telephone cable
     across the Atlantic to supplement the radio systems, were also
     described. Actual construction of the cable is expected to be
     started in 1930, Mr. Grace said.



[Illustration: _The flight was hovering above the first fire-ball._]

Earth, the Marauder

CONCLUSION OF A THREE-PART NOVEL

_By Arthur J. Burks_



CHAPTER XIX

_Desolation_


Stranger, more thrilling even than had been the flight of the Earth
after being forced out of its orbit, was the flight of those dozen
aircars of the Moon, bearing the rebels of Dalis' Gens back to Earth.

[Sidenote: Martian fire-balls and the terrific Moon-cubes wreak
tremendous destruction on helpless Earth in the final death struggle of
the warring worlds.]

For the light which glowed from the bodies of the rebels, which had been
given them by their passage through the white flames, was transmitted to
the cars themselves, so that they glowed as with an inner radiance of
their own--like comets flashing across the night.

Strange alchemy, which Sarka wondered about and, wondering, looked ahead
to the time when he should be able, within his laboratory, to analyze
the force it embodied, and thus gain new scientific knowledge of untold
value to people of the Earth.

As the cars raced across outer darkness, moving at top speed, greater
than ever attained before by man, greater than even these mighty cars
had traveled, Sarka looked ahead, and wondered about the fearful report
his father had just given him.

That there was an alliance between Mars and the Moon seemed almost
unbelievable. How had they managed the first contact, the first
negotiations leading to the compact between two such alien peoples? Had
there been any flights exchanged by the two worlds, surely the
scientists of Earth would have known about it. But there had not, though
there had been times and times when Sarka had peered closely enough at
the surface of both the Moon and of Mars to see the activities, or the
results of the activities, of the peoples of the two worlds.

Somehow, however, communication, if Sarka the Second had guessed
correctly, had been managed between Mars and the Moon; and now that the
Earth was a free flying orb the two were in alliance against it, perhaps
for the same reason that the Earth had gone a-voyaging.

       *       *       *       *       *

Side by side sat Sarka and Jaska, their eager eyes peering through the
forward end of the flashing aircar toward the Earth, growing minute by
minute larger. They were able, after some hours, to make out the
outlines of what had once been continents, to see the shadows in valleys
which had once held the oceans of Earth....

And always, as they stared and literally willed the cubes which piloted
and were the motive power of the aircars to speed and more speed, that
marvelous display of interplanetary fireworks which had aroused the
concern of Sarka the Second.

What were those lights? Whence did they emanate? Sarka the Second had
said that they came from Mars, yet Mars was invisible to those in the
speeding aircars, which argued that it was hidden behind the Earth.
There was no way of knowing how close it was to the home of these rebels
of Dalis' Gens.

And ever, as they flashed forward, Sarka was recalling that vague hint
on the lips of Jaska, to the effect that Luar, for all her sovereignty
of the Moon, might be, nonetheless, a native of the Earth. But....

How? Why? When? There were no answers to any of the questions yet. If
she were a native of Earth, how had she reached the Moon? When had she
been sent there? Who was she? Her name, Luar, was a strange one, and
Sarka studied it for many minutes, rolling the odd syllables of it over
his tongue, wondering where, on the Earth, he had heard names, or words,
similar to it. This produced no result, until he tried substituting
various letters; then, again, adding various letters. When he achieved a
certain result at last, he gasped, and his brain was a-whirl.

       *       *       *       *       *

Luar, by the addition of the letter _n_, between the _u_ and the _a_,
became Lunar, meaning "of the Moon!" Yet Lunar was unmistakably a word
derived from the language of the Earth! It was possible, of course, that
this was mere coincidence; but, taken in connection with the suspicions
of Jaska, and the incontrovertible fact that Luar resembled people of
the Earth, Sarka did not believe in this particular whim of coincidence.

Who was Luar?

His mind went back to the clucking sounds which, among the Gnomes of the
Moon, passed for speech. He pondered anew. He shaped his lips, as nearly
as possible, to make the clucking sounds he had heard, and discovered
that it was very difficult to manage the letter _n_!

The conclusion was inescapable: This woman, Luar, had once been _Lunar_,
the _n_, down the centuries, being dropped because difficult for the
Gnomes to pronounce.

"Yes, Jaska," he said suddenly, "somewhere on Earth, when we reach it,
we may discover the secret of Luar--and know far more about Dalis than
we have ever known before!"

Jaska merely smiled her inscrutable smile, and did not answer. By
intuition, she already knew. Let Sarka arrive at her conclusion by
scientific methods if he desired, and she would simply smile anew.

Sarka thought of the manner in which Jaska and he had been transported
to the Moon; of how much Dalis seemed to know of the secrets of the
laboratory of the Sarkas. Might he not have known, two centuries ago, of
the Secret Exit Dome, and somehow managed to make use of it in some
ghastly experiment? And still the one question remained unanswered: Who
was Luar?

       *       *       *       *       *

The Earth was now so close that details were plainly seen. The Himalayas
were out of sight, over the Earth, and by a mental command Sarka managed
to change slightly the course of the dozen aircars. By passing over the
curve of the Earth at a high altitude, he hoped also to see from above
something of the result of the strange aerial bombardment of which his
father had spoken.

In their flight, which had been, to them a flight through the glories of
a super-heavenly Universe, they had lost all count of time. Neither
Sarka nor Jaska, nor yet the people in those other aircars, could have
told how long they had been flying, when, coming over the curve of the
Earth, at an elevation of something like three miles, they were able at
last to see into the area which had once housed the Gens of Dalis.

A gasp of horror escaped the lips of Sarka and of Jaska.

The Gens of Dalis had occupied all the territory northward to the Pole,
from a line drawn east and west through the southernmost of what had
once been the Hawaiian Islands. Upon this area had struck the strange
blue light from the deep Cone of the Moon.

Here, however, the light was invisible, and Sarka flew on in fear that
somehow his aircars would blunder into it, and be destroyed--for that
the blue light was an agent of ghastly destruction became instantly
apparent.

       *       *       *       *       *

The dwellings of the Gens of Dalis were broken and smashed into chaotic
ruins. Over all the area, and even into the area of the Gens southward
of that which had been Dalis, the blind gods of destruction had
practically made a clean sweep. Sarka had opportunity to thank God that,
at the time the blue column had struck the Earth, it had struck at the
spot which had been almost emptied of people, and realized that blind
chance had caused it. For, in order for the Gens of Dalis to be in
position to launch their attack against the Moon, he had managed, by
manipulating the speed of the Beryls, to bring that area into position
directly opposite the Moon.

Had it been otherwise, the blue column might have struck anywhere, and
wiped out millions of lives!

"God, Jaska," murmured Sarka. "Look!"

Think of a shoreline, once lined with mighty buildings, after the
passage of a tidal wave greater than ever before known to man. The
devastation would be indescribable. Multiply that shoreline by the vast
area which had housed the Gens of Dalis, and the mental picture is
almost too big to grasp. Chaos, catastrophe, approaching an infinity of
destruction.

The materials of which the vast buildings, set close together, had been
made, had been twisted into grotesque, nightmarish shapes, and the whole
fused into a burned and gleaming mass--which covered half of what had
once been a mighty ocean--as though a bomb larger and more devastating
than ever imagined of man, a bomb large enough to rock the Earth, had
landed in the midst of the area once occupied by the Gens of Dalis!

Yet, Sarka knew, remembering the murmuring of the blue column as it came
out of the cone, all this devastation had been caused in almost absolute
silence. People could have watched and seen these deserted buildings
slowly fuse together, run together as molten metal runs together, like
the lava from a volcano of long ago under the ponderous moving to and
fro of some invisible, juggernautlike agency.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sarka shuddered, trying to picture in his mind the massing of the
minions of Mars, who thus saw a new country given into their hands--if
they could take it. Had the Earth been taken by surprise? Had Sarka the
Second been able to prepare for the approaching catastrophe?

"Father," he sent his thoughts racing on ahead of him, "are those lights
which are striking the Earth causing any damage?"

"Only," came back the instant answer, "in that they destroy the courage
of the people of the Earth! The people, however, now know that Sarka is
returning, and their courage rises again! The flames are merely a hint
of what faces us; but the people will rise and follow you wherever you
lead!"

So, as they raced across the area of devastation, the face of Sarka
became calm again. On a chance, he sent a single sentence of strange
meaning to his father.

"The ruler of the Moon is a woman called Luar, which seems a contraction
of Lunar!"

For many minutes Sarka the Second made no answer. When it came it
startled Sarka to the depths of him, despite the fact that he had
expected to be startled.

"There was a woman named Lunar!"



CHAPTER XX

_Sarka Commands Again_


Ahead, through the storms which still hung tenaciously to the roof of
the world, flashed those dozen aircars of the Moon. Now Sarka could
plainly see the dome of his laboratory, and from the depths of him
welled up that strange glow which Earthlings recognize as the joy of
returning home, than which there is none, save the love for a woman,
greater.

Now he could see the effect of those flares, or lights, from Mars, which
impinged on the face of the Earth, though he could see no purpose in
them, no reason for their being, since they seemed to do no damage at
all, though the effect of them was weird in the extreme.

Outer darkness, rent with ripping, roaring storms, flurries of ice, snow
and sleet, shot through and through by balls of lambent flames in
unguessable numbers. Eery lights which struck the surface of the Earth,
bounded away and, half a mile or so from the surface again, burst into
flaming pin-wheels, like skyrockets of ancient times. Strange lights,
causing weird effects, but producing no damage at all, save to lessen to
some extent the courage of Earthlings, because they did not understand
these things. And always, down the ages, man had stood most in fear of
the Unknown.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sarka peered off across the heavens where a ball of flame now seemed to
be rising over the horizon, and was amazed at the size of this planet.
Mars was close to Earth, so close that, had they possessed aircars like
those of the Moon-people--which remained to be seen--they could easily
have attacked the Earth.

Across the face of the Earth flashed those fiery will-o'-the-wisps from
Mars, without rhyme or reason; yet Sarka knew positively that they
possessed some meaning, and that the Earth had been forced thus close to
Mars for a purpose. What that purpose was must yet be discovered.

Then, under the aircars, the laboratory of Sarka.

Down dropped the aircars to a landing near the laboratory, and to the
cubes in the forepeak of each Sarka sent the mental command:

"Assure yourselves that the aircars will remain where they are! Muster
inside the laboratory, keeping well away from the Master Beryl!"

Then to the people who had returned, clothed in strange radiance, from
the Moon with Sarka and with Jaska he spoke:

"Leave the cars and enter my laboratory, where further orders will be
given you!"

With Jaska still by his side, Sarka entered the laboratory through the
Exit Dome. Inside, clothing was swiftly brought for the rebels, for
Sarka and for Jaska. But, even when they were clothed, these people who
had come back seemed to glow with an inner radiance which transfigured
them.

Sarka the Second, his face drawn and pale, came from the Observatory to
meet his son, and the two were clasped in each other's arms for a
moment. Sarka the Second, who had looked no older than his son, seemed
to have aged a dozen centuries in the time Sarka had been gone.

But it was not of the threatened attack by Martians that Sarka the
Second spoke. He made no statement. He merely asked a question:

"Was Lunar very beautiful, and just a bit unearthly in appearance?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Sarka started.

"Yes. Beautiful! Wondrously, fearfully beautiful: but I had the feeling
that she had no heart or soul, no conscience: that she was
somehow--well, bestial!"

A moan of anguish escaped Sarka the Second.

"Dalis again!" he ejaculated. "But much of the fault was mine! Before
you were born, we scientists of Earth had already several times realized
the necessity of expansion for the children of Earth if they were to
continue. Dalis' proposal to my father was discarded, because it
involved the wholesale taking of life. But after the oceans had been
obliterated, and the human family still outgrew its bounds, Dalis came
to my father and me with still another proposal. It involved a strange,
other-worldly young woman whom he called Lunar! Her family--well,
nothing was known about her, for her family could not be traced. Wiped
out, I presume, in some inter-family quarrel, leaving her alone. Dalis
found her, took an interest in her, and the very strangeness of her gave
him his idea, which he brought to my father and me.

"His proposal was somewhat like that which you made when we sent the
Earth out of its orbit into outer space, save that Dalis' scheme
involved no such program. His was simply a proposal to somehow
communicate with the Moon by the use of an interplanetary rocket that
should carry a human passenger.

"He put the idea up to this girl, Lunar, and she did not seem to care
one way or another. Dalis was all wrapped up in his ideas, and gave the
girl the name of Lunar, as being symbolical of his plans for her. He
coached and trained her against the consummation of his plan. We knew
something, theoretically at least, about the conditions on the Moon, and
everything possible was done for her, to make it feasible for her to
exist on the Moon. My error was in ever permitting the experiment to be
made, since if I had negatived the idea. Dalis would have gone no
further!

"But I, too, was curious, and Lunar did not care. Well, the rocket was
constructed, and shot outward into space by a series of explosions. No
word was ever received from Lunar, though it was known that she landed
on the Moon!

       *       *       *       *       *

"I say no word was ever received, yet what you have intimated proves
that Dalis has either been in mental communication with her, hoping to
induce her to send a force against the Earth, and assist him in
mastering the Earth, overthrowing we Sarkas--or has been biding his
time against something of the thing we have now accomplished."

This seemed to clear up many things for Sarka, though it piled higher
upon his shoulders the weight of his responsibilities. The
other-worldliness of Lunar, called now Luar, explained her mastery of
the Gnomes, and through them the cubes, and her knowledge of the
omnipotent qualities of the white flames of the Moon's core, which might
have been, it came to Sarka in a flash, the source of all life on the
Moon in the beginning!

"But father," went on Sarka, "I don't see any sense in this aerial
bombardment by Mars!"

"I believe," said Sarka the Second sadly, "that before another ten hours
pass we shall know the worst there is to be known: but now, son, instead
of going into attack against the Moon, we go into battle against the
combined forces of Mars and of the Moon!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Sarka now took command of the forces of the Earth. Swiftly he turned to
the people of the Gens of Dalis who had come back with him.

"You will be divided into eleven equal groups, as nearly as possible.
Father, will you please arrange the division? Each group will be
attached to the staff of one of the Spokesman of the Gens, so that each
Spokesman will have the benefit of your knowledge with reference to
conditions on the Moon. Each group will re-enter its particular aircar,
retaining control of the cube in each case, of course, and will at once
repair to his proper station. Telepathy is the mode of communication
with the cubes, and you rule them by your will. Each group, when
assembled by my father, will choose a leader before quitting this
laboratory, and such leader will remain in command of his group, under
the overlordship of the Spokesman to whom he reports with his group. You
understand!

"Your loyalty is unquestioned. You will consecrate your lives to the
welfare of the Gens to which you are going, since you no longer have a
Gens of your own!"

Sarka turned to the cubes, which had formed in a line just inside the
Exit Dome, and issued a mental command to the cube that had piloted his
aircar from the Moon. The cube faded out instantly, appearing
immediately afterward on the table of the vari-colored lights.

"Father," said Sarka, "while I am issuing orders to the Spokesmen,
please see if you can discover the secret of these cubes: how they are
actuated, the real extent of their intelligence! The rest of you, with
your cubes, depart immediately and report to your new Gens!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Within ten minutes the divisions had been made, and the Radiant People
had entered the aircars and, outside the laboratory, risen free of the
Earth, and turned, each in its proper direction, for the Gens of its
assignment. The Sarkas and Jaska watched them go.

There remained but one aircar, standing outside on half a dozen of those
grim tentacles, with two tentacles swinging free, undulating to and fro
like serpents. Harnessed electricity actuating the tentacles--cars and
tentacles subservient to the cubes.

The aircars safely on their way, Sarka stepped to the Master Beryl,
tuned it down to normal speed, and signalled the Spokesmen of the Gens.

"The Moon and Mars are in alliance against us, and Dalis has allied
himself and his Gens with the ruler of the Moon! I don't know yet what
form the attack will take, but know this: that the safety of the world,
of all its people, rests in your hands, and that the war into which we
are going is potentially more vast than expected when this venture
began, and more devastating than the fight with the aircars of the Moon!
Coming to you, in aircars which we managed to take from the
Moon-people, are such of the people of the Gens of Dalis as were able to
return with me. Question them, gather all the information you can about
them, and through them keep control of the cubes which pilot the
aircars, for in the cubes, I believe, lies the secret of our possible
victory in the fight to come!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Sarka scarcely knew why he had spoken the last sentence. It was as
though something deep within him had risen up, commanded him to speak,
and deeper yet, far back in his consciousness, was a mental picture of
the devastation he had witnessed on his flight above the area that had
once housed the Gens of Dalis.

For in that ghastly area, he believed, was embodied an idea greater than
mere wanton destruction, just as there was an idea back of the fiery
lights from Mars greater than mere display. Somehow the two were allied,
and Sarka believed that, between the blue column, and the fiery lights
from Mars, the fate of the world rested.

He could, he believed, by manipulation of the Beryls that yet remained,
maneuver the world away from that blue column--which on the Earth was
invisible. But to have done so would have thwarted the very purpose for
which this mad voyage had been begun. The world had been started on its
mad journey into space for the purpose of attacking and colonizing the
Moon and Mars.

The Moon had been colonized by the Gens of Dalis, already in potential
revolt against the Earth. Mars was next, and by forcing the Earth into
close proximity to Mars the people of the Moon had played into the hands
of Earth-people--if the people of Earth were capable of carrying out the
program of expansion originally proposed by Sarka!

If they were not ... well, Sarka thought somewhat grimly, the resultant
cataclysmic war would at least solve the problem of over-population!
Inasmuch as the Earth was already committed to whatever might transpire,
Sarka believed he should take a philosophic view of the matter!

       *       *       *       *       *

Sarka turned to an examination of the Master Beryl, and even as he
peered into the depths of it, he thought gratefully how nice it was to
be home again, in his own laboratory, upon the world of his nativity. He
even found it within his heart to feel somewhat sorry for Dalis, and to
feel ashamed that he had, even in his heart, mistreated him.

Then he thought, with a tightening of his jaw muscles, of the casual way
in which Dalis had destroyed Sarka the First, of his forcing his people
to undergo the terrors of the lake of white flames without telling them
the simple secret; of his betrayal of the Earth in his swift alliance
with Luar; or Luar herself when, as Lunar, a strange waif of Earth,
Dalis had sent her out as the first human passenger aboard a rocket to
the Moon. All his pity vanished, though he still believed he had done
right in sparing Dalis' life.

Suddenly there came an ominous humming in the Beryl, and simultaneously
signals from the vari-colored lights on the table. Sarka whirled to the
lights, noting their color, and mentally repeating the names of the
Spokesmen who signalled him.

Even before he gave the signal that placed him in position to converse
with them, he noted the strange coincidence. The Spokesmen who desired
speech with him were tutelary heads of Gens whose borders touched the
devasted area where Dalis had but recently been overlord!

An icy chill caressed his spine as he signalled the Spokesmen to speak.

"Yes, Vardee? Prull? Klaser? Cleric?"

       *       *       *       *       *

The report of each of them was substantially the same, though couched in
different words, words freighted heavily with strange terror.

"The devasted area has suddenly broken into movement! Throughout that
portion of it visible from my Gens area, the fused mass of debris is
bubbling, fermenting, walking into life! An aura of unearthly menace
seems to flow outward from this heaving mass, and the whole is assuming
a most peculiar radiance--cold gleaming, like distant starshine!"

"Wait!" replied Sarka swiftly. "Wait until the people I have sent you
have arrived! Report to me instantly if the movement of the mass is
noticeably augmented, and especially so if it seems to be breaking up,
or coagulating into any sort of form whatever!"

Then he dimmed the lights, indicating that for the moment there was
nothing more to be said. Just then his father, face very gray and very
old, entered the room of the Master Beryl from the laboratory.

"Son!" he said. "The crisis is almost upon us! The Martians are coming!"



CHAPTER XXI

_Cubes of Chaos_


Sarka raced into the Observatory, wondering as he ran how the attack of
the Martians would manifest itself; but scarcely prepared for the
brilliant display which greeted his gaze. Compared to the oncoming
flames from Mars, the preceding display of lights had been as nothing.
The whole Heavens between the Earth and Mars seemed alight with an
unearthly glare, as though the very heart of the sun had burst and
hurled part of its flaming mass outward into space.

On it came with unbelievable speed.

But there was no telling, yet, the form of the things which were coming.

"What are they?" whispered Jaska, standing fearlessly at Sarka's side.
"Interplanetary cars? Rockets? Balls of fire? Or beings of Mars?"

"I think," said Sarka, after studying the display for a few minutes,
"that they are either rockets or fireballs, perhaps both together! But
the Martians cannot consolidate any position on the Earth without coming
to handgrips. Since they must know this, we can expect to see the people
of Mars themselves when, or soon after, those balls of fire strike the
Earth!"

Sarka raced back to the room of the Master Beryl as a strident humming
came through to him.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Spokesmen of the Gens whose borders touched those of the devasted
Dalis area, were reporting again, and their voices were high pitched
with fear that threatened to break the bounds of sanity.

"The ferment in the devasted area," was the gist of their report, "is
assuming myriads of shapes! The fused mass has broken up into isolated
masses, and each mass of itself is assuming one of the many forms!"

"What forms?" snapped Sarka. "Quickly!"

"Cubes! Thousands and millions of cubes, and the cubes themselves are
forming into larger cubes, some square, some rectangular! In the midst
of these formations are others, mostly columnar, each column consisting
of cubes which have coalesced into the larger form from the same small
cubes! The columnar formations are topped by globes which emit an
ethereal radiance!"

"Listen!" Sarka's voice was vibrant with excitement. "Spokesmen of the
Gens, make sure that every individual member of your Gens is fully
equipped with flying clothing including belts and ovoids--prepared for
an indefinite stay outside on the roof of the world! Get your people out
swiftly, keeping them in formation! Keep about you those people of Dalis
whom I sent you, and understand before you break contact with your
Beryls, that instructions received from these people come from me! In
turn, after you have quitted the hives, anything you wish to say to me
you can repeat to any one of the glowing people of Dalis!"

The contacts were broken. Sarka stared into the Beryl, glancing swiftly
in all directions, to see whether his orders were obeyed.

Out of the myriads of hives were flying the people of all the Gens of
Earth, their vast numbers already darkening the roof of the world. The
advance fires from Mars seemed to have no effect on them, which Sarka
had expected, since the fires seemed to consume nothing they had touched
previously.

       *       *       *       *       *

By millions the people came forth. People dressed in the clothing of
this Gens or that, wearing each the insignia of the house of his
Spokesman. A brave show. Sarka could see the faces of many, now in
light, now in shadow, as the advance fires of Mars lighted them for a
moment in passing, then left them in shadow as the bursting balls of
fire faded and died.

Strange, too, that the fireballs made no noise. Noiseless flame which
rebounded from the surface of the Earth broke in silence, deluging the
heavens with shooting stars of great brilliance. Through its display
flew the people of the Gens, mustering in flight above flight, each to
his own level, under command of the Spokesmen of the Gens.

"How long, father," queried Sarka, "should it take to empty the Gens
areas?"

"The people of Earth have been waiting for word to go into battle since
we first sent the people of Dalis against the Moon-men. They still are
ready! The dwellings of our people, _all_ of them, can be emptied within
an hour!"

"I wonder," mused Sarka, "if that is soon enough!"

Perhaps yes, perhaps no. It would be a race, in any case. Sarka divided
his attention between the rapidly changing formations of the Moon-cubes
in that devasted area and the onrushing charge of the fire-balls from
Mars. All were visible to him through the Master Beryl, and from the
Observatory, though the Martian fire-balls were now so close that the
vanguard of them could even be seen in the Master Beryl, adjusted to
view only activities on the surface of the Earth.

Even as the last flights of the Gens of Earth were slipping into the icy
air from the roof of the world, the Moon-cubes began their terrifying,
appalling attack, every detail of which could be seen by Sarka from the
Master Beryl.

       *       *       *       *       *

Those columns, composed of cubes, seemed to be the leaders of a vast
cube-army. The top of each of them was a gleaming globe whose eery light
played over the country immediately surrounding each column, their weird
light reflected in the squares, rectangles and globes that other cubes
had formed.

Sarka sought swiftly among the columns for the one which might
conceivably be in supreme command; but even as he sought the Moon-cubes
moved to the attack. The globes on the tops of the columns dimmed their
lights, and the squares, rectangles and globes got instantly into
terrible motion.

Southward from the position in which they had formed they began to move,
the squares and rectangles apparently sliding along the surface of the
scarred and broken soil, the globes rolling.

Southward there was the vast wall of the Gens that bordered the devasted
area in that direction, and the cube-army was instantly at full charge
toward this, in what Sarka realized was, to be a war of demolition!

Within a minute, Sarka was conscious of a trembling of all the
laboratory, and the eyes of Jaska were wide with fear. Swiftly the
trembling grew, until sound now was added to the vast, awesome tremor--a
vast, roaring crescendo of sound that mounted and mounted as the speed
of the cube-army increased. The vanguard of the cube-army struck the
dwelling of the Gens southward of that of Dalis, and a mighty,
rocketing roar sounded in the Master Beryl, was audible inside the
laboratory, even without the aid of the Beryl, at whose surface Sarka
stared as a man fascinated, hypnotized.

       *       *       *       *       *

The cube-army struck the dwellings, disappeared into them as though they
had been composed of tissue paper, and continued on! Over the tops of
the cube-army toppled the roofs of the dwellings, there, in the midst of
the cubes, to be ground to powder, with a sound as of a million
avalanches grinding together in some awesome, sun-size valley.
Southward, in the wake of the chaotic charge, moved a mighty, gigantic
crevasse, whose sides were the walls of the hives left standing. And
still the cube-army moved in, grinding everything it touched to dust,
trampling buildings into nothingness, destroying utterly along a front
hundreds of miles wide, and as deep as the dwellings of men!

"God!" cried Sarka, his voice so tense that both his father and Jaska
heard it above the roaring which shook and rocked the world. "Do you
see? The Moon-cubes are destroying the dwelling of our people, and the
Martians are to destroy the people who have fled!"

"There must be a way," said Sarka the Second quietly, "to circumvent the
cubes! But what? Your will still rules the cubes which piloted you from
the Moon?"

"Yes," replied Sarka tersely, "but there are only a dozen of the cubes.
What can they do against countless millions of them? Cubes which are
Moon-cubes, brought to the Earth in the heart of that blue column, here
reformed to create an army which is invincible, because it cannot be
slain! It means that the Moon-people themselves, thousands of miles out
of our reach, have but to sit in comfort and watch their cube-slaves
destroy us! When they have laid waste the Earth, the Martians have but
to finish the fight!"

       *       *       *       *       *

"If, beloved," said Jaska, "your will commands those twelve cubes, it
can also command all the others, for they must be essentially the same.
Call on the rebels of Dalis to help you!"

"Then what of the Spokesmen of the Gens, who will be out of contact with
me?"

"They must stand on their own feet, must fight their own battle! Call to
you the people who have passed through the white flames, and fight with
the distant will of Luar and of Dalis for control of the cube-army!"

Again that exaltation, which convinced him he could move mountains with
his two hands, coursed through the being of Sarka.

Quietly be answered Jaska.

"I believe you are right," he said softly. "Those of us who have passed
through the flames which bore these Moon-cubes will control the cubes,
even bend them to our will. The Spokesmen must vanquish the Martians or
perish!"

Then he sent his mental commands to the Spokesmen:

"Meet the Martians when they arrive and destroy or drive them back! You
live only if you win! We speak no more until victory is ours! People of
the Gens of Dalis, go to the areas being devasted by the cubes, taking
your cubes and aircars with you, and I will join you there! _And Jaska
with me!_"

Sarka had not himself mentally spoken the last four words. Jaska had
thought-spoken them, before he could prevent. He turned upon her, lips
shaping a command that she remain behind. But she forestalled him.

"I, too, have been through the white flames! You may have need of all of
us!"



CHAPTER XXII

_The Struggle for Mastery_


The people of all the Gens of Earth were now between two fires. The
cube-army, ruled by the mistress of the Moon, was laying waste the
dwellings of the Gens, destroying them with a speed and surety of which
no earthquake, whatever its proportions, would have been capable. The
Gens were forced out upon the roof of the world--where, scarcely had
they maneuvered into their prearranged formations, than the Martians
struck.

Those huge balls of fire, larger even than the aircars of the Moon,
landed in vast and awe-inspiring numbers on the roof of the
world--landed easily, with no apparent effort or shock. The light of
them made all the world a place of vast radiance, save only that portion
which was being destroyed by the cube-army, and this area had a cold,
chill radiance of its own.

By groups and organisations the fire-balls of Mars landed, and rested
quiescent on the surface of the globe.

Sarka, pausing only long enough in his laboratory to study this strange
attack and to discover how it would get under way, was at the same time
preparing to go forth to take his own strange part in the defensive
action of Earthlings. A vast confidence was in him....

"We will lose millions of people, father," he said softly. "But it will
end in our victory, in the most glorious war ever fought on this Earth!"

"That is true, my son!" replied the older man sadly.

       *       *       *       *       *

For several minutes the vast fire-balls, which seemed to be monster
glowing octagons, rested where they had landed, and even then the Gens
of the people were closing on them, bringing their ray directors and
atom-disintegrators into action.

Then, when the Earthlings would have destroyed the first of the vast
fire-balls--and Sarka was noting that the flames which bathed the balls
seemed to have no effect whatever on Earthlings, save to outline them in
mantles of fire--the fire-balls wakened to new life.

They opened like the halves of peaches falling apart, and out upon the
roof of the world poured the first Martians Earth had ever seen!

They were more than twice the size, on the average, of Earth people, and
at first glance seemed to resemble them very much, save that their eyes,
of which each Martian was possessed of two, were set on the ends of long
tentacles which could stretch forth to a length of two feet or more from
the eye-sockets and thus be turned in any direction. Each eye was
independent of its neighbor, as one could look forward while the other
looked backward, or one could look right while the other looked left.

Each Martian possessed two arms on each side of a huge, powerful torso,
and legs that were like the bolls of trees, compared to the slender
limbs of Earthlings. All the Martians seemed to be dressed in the skins
of strange, vari-colored beasts. Each carried in his upper right hand a
slender canelike thing some three feet in length, from whose tip there
flashed those spurts of flame which had puzzled the Earth people before
the actual launching of the attack.

       *       *       *       *       *

Beyond these weapons, the Martians seemed to possess no weapons of
offense at all, nor of defense.

"With our ray directors and atom-disintegrators," said Sarka, moving
into the Exit Dome with Jaska, "we can blast them from the face of the
Earth!"

But in a moment he realized that he had spoken too hastily.

The nearest fire-ball was, of course, within the area of the Gens of
Cleric, and Sarka could here see with his naked eyes all that
transpired. The Martian passengers, who moved swiftly away from their
fire-ball vehicles, then a flight of the Gens of Cleric descended upon
the fireball and its fleeing passengers, with tiny ray directors and
atom-disintegrators held to the fore, ready for action.

The Martians, at some distance from their glowing vehicle, paused and
formed a ragged line, facing the ball, staring at the descending people
of the Gens of Cleric, their tentaclelike eyes waving to and fro, oddly
like the tentacles of those aircars of the Moon.

The flight was hovering above the first fireball. In a second now, at
the command of an underling, the ray directors would destroy fire-ball
and Martians as thoroughly as though they had never existed at all.

       *       *       *       *       *

But then a strange thing happened. At that exact moment, timing their
actions to fractions of seconds, the Martians raised and pointed their
canelike weapons of the spurting flames. They pointed them, however, not
at the Earthlings, but at the fire-ball which had brought them to Earth!

Instantly the fire-ball exploded as with the roaring of a hundred mighty
volcanoes--and the descending flight of the Gens of Cleric was blasted
into countless fragments! Bits of them flew in all directions. Many
dropped, the mangled, infinitesmal remains of them, down to the roof of
Earth, while many were hurled skyward through formations above
them--while those formations, to a height of a full two miles, were
broken asunder. Many flights above that first flight were smashed and
broken, their individual members hurled in all directions by that one
single blast of a single fire-ball.

Individuals who escaped destruction were hurled end over end, upward
through other flights higher above, and the whole aggregation of flights
which had been concentrated on that first fire-ball was instantly
demoralized, while full fifty per cent of its individuals were instantly
torn to bits!

Sarka groaned to the depths of him.

"The leader of the Martians, or the master who sent them here, sent them
here to win. For if they do not win, they cannot return to Mars, as they
will have destroyed their vehicles! Their confidence is superhuman!"

"Have faith in the courage of Earthlings, son!" said Sarka.

It was much to ask, for if one single one of these fire-balls could
wreak such havoc with the people of Earth, what would be the destruction
by the countless other unexploded fireballs of the Martians?

       *       *       *       *       *

Still, the Spokesmen themselves must discover a way to hold their own,
to win against the Martians. For Sarka there was greater work to do. He
must oppose the wills of Luar and of Dalis in a mighty mental conflict,
which would decide whether the homes of men would be saved, or utterly
destroyed by the Moon-cubes.

But as he left through the Exit Dome, with Jaska by his side, he
shuddered, and was just a little sick inside as he saw the fearful
result of that first explosion of a Martian fire-ball! Bits of human
wreckage were scattered over the Earth for a great distance in all
directions from where the fire-ball had exploded. And at that spot a
gigantic crater had been torn in the roof of the world, going down to
none knew what depths.

Even the Martians, here only to consolidate positions which had passed
the demolition of the Moon-cubes, were capable of demolitions almost as
ghastly and complete as those of the cubes!

The sound was incapable of being described, for outside the laboratory
the sound of the advance of the Moon-cubes eating into the dwellings of
men, tumbling them down, grinding them to powder, was cataclysmic in its
mighty volume. A million express trains crashing head-on into walls of
galvanized iron at top speed, simultaneously.

Ear-drum crashing blows as fireballs exploded. The screams and shrieks
of maimed and dying Earthlings--of Earthlings unwounded but possessed of
abysmal fear....

       *       *       *       *       *

Then, resolutely, Sarka turned his back on the conflict between the
Martians and the people of Earth, and hurtled across the devastated
roof of the world toward that area which was feeling the destructive
force of the vandal cube-army. As he flew, Jaska keeping pace with him
in silence, his mind was busy.

Passage through the white flames of the Moon had given him the key.
Those white flames--source of all life on the Moon--rendered almost
godlike those whom it bathed ... gave them unbelievable access of mental
brilliance ... were the source of that blue column which had forced the
Earth outward toward Mars ... were the source, in some way, of the cubes
themselves, as he and Jaska, after passing through them, owed their now
near-divinity to the same white flames! Those flames had made Luar
mistress of the Moon--therefore of the Gnomes and of the cubes!
Therefore, Sarka, having been bathed in the flames, should make himself
master of the cubes, if he could out-will the combined determinations of
Luar and of Dalis!

His confidence was supreme as he fled through outer darkness toward the
eery light which came from the area of demolitions. Looking ahead, he
could see tiny glows in the sky, which he knew to be the rebels of
Dalis' Gens, flying to keep their rendezvous with him.

Higher mounted his courage and his confidence as he approached the
roaring crash, perpetual and always mounting, which showed him where the
cube-army was busiest. The sound vibrated the very air, causing the
bodies of Sarka to tingle with it, causing them to flutter and shake in
their flight with its awesome power. But they did not hold back, flew
onward through the gloom, leaving behind them the brightly lighted areas
where Gens of Earth battled with the fireballs of the Martians, moving
into the area of the eery glowing of the cubes.

       *       *       *       *       *

Just as he approached the spot where mighty dwellings were tumbling
before the march of the cube-army, he sent a single command toward the
cube which had piloted him from the Moon.

"Come to me on the edge of the crevasse nearest the place of most
destruction!"

Would the cube now be subservient to his will? He wondered. Everything
depended upon that. If not, then he might as well try to stay the forces
of a mighty avalanche with his breath, as halt the cube-army with his
will.

But strangely enough, the closer he came to the vast area of tumbling
dwellings the calmer he became, the more sure that he would win against
the cubes.

For when he landed at the lip of the crevasse, across which he could
look for a hundred miles, a single cube gleamed brightly almost at his
feet, awaiting his orders!

One by one, by twos, threes, fours, dozens, came the glowing people who
had been bathed in the white flames of the Moon's life-source, and as
each dropped down beside him, Sarka gave a command.

"Drop down in the midst of the cubes! Make your own cube the rallying
point for this vast army of cubes, force the cubes to desist in their
mighty destruction, be subservient to your will--and do you, each of
you, be subservient to _my_ will!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Away dropped the rebels, glowing points of white flame, dropping down
the sides of the crevasse, a mighty, awesome canyon, into the very heart
of the activity of the cubes, and from the brain of Sarka, aided by the
will of Jaska, went forth a simple command:

"Cease your march of destruction, O Moon-cubes, and harken to the will
of Sarka, your master! Draw back from your labors, and muster, not as
squares, rectangles and columns, but as individual cubes, in the area
already devastated by you! Rally about the glowing people who have
passed through the flames which were your Moon-mother, and wait for
orders! Take no further heed of commands from Dalis and Luar!"

Instantly it seemed to Sarka that he had drawn into some invisible
vortex which tore at his brain, at his body, at his soul. Inside him a
cold voice seemed to say:

"Fool, Sarka! My will is greater than yours!"

But though the force of the will of Luar, whose thought he recognized,
tore at him, almost shriveled the soul and brain of him with its might,
he continued to send his thought-command out to the Moon-cubes, forcing
it through the wall of Luar's will, hurling it like invisible
projectiles at the cube-army below.

Exultation possessed him, buoyed him up, gave him greater courage and
confidence as the moments passed for even as all his being concentrated
on the will-command to the cubes, his senses told him that the mighty
sound of destruction was dying away, fading out.

       *       *       *       *       *

Slower now the dwellings fell, slower moved the Moon-cubes; and as they
slowed in their mighty march through the dwellings of men, so increased
the confidence, the power of will, of Sarka and his people--the rebels
of the Gens of Dalis.

Then, after an hour, whose mighty mental conflict had bathed Sarka in
the perspiration of superhuman effort, the sound of destruction ceased
all together, and the dwellings ceased to fall.

A silent shout, like an inborn paean of rejoicing, surged through Sarka
as he noted the retreat from the dwellings of men, of the Moon-cubes!
Back and back retreated the squares and the rectangles, the columns and
the globes, breaking apart as they retreated.

Within fifteen minutes after the destruction had ceased, millions of
gleaming cubes winked upward from the bottom of the
crevasse--motionless, quiescent!

Sarka sent forth another thought.

"I am your master, O cubes of the Moon!"

No sound, no movement, answered him.

"Luar and Dalis are no longer able to command you!"

Still no sound or movement of the cubes.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then, taking a deep breath, as of a swimmer preparing to dive into icy
water, Sarka gave a new command.

"Dissolve! Reform on the roof of the world in globes! Roll over the face
of the Earth, destroy the fire-balls of Mars--and take prisoners, inside
the globes, the attackers from Mars!"

Instantly the gleaming cubes vanished, and darkness as of a mighty pit
possessed the crevasse of destruction. Then, at the lip of the great
crevasse, the cubes swept into form--myriads of globes which gleamed
with the cold blue brilliance of the Moon!

They had no sooner formed as globes than they were in action again,
rolling over the roof of the world as with a rising crescendo of thunder
tumbling down the night-black sky. So mighty was their rush that the
roof of the world trembled and shook.

Above their charge raced Sarka and Jaska, and with them the rebels of
the Gens of Dalis.

All were present when the cubes crashed into the fire-balls from Mars,
swept the Martians within themselves as prisoners, held them
securely--and continued on, destroying the fire-balls in myriads. Here
and there fire-balls exploded on contact, destroying the globes, which
immediately reformed again, as though the explosions had not been felt
at all.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sarka had won the allegiance of the Moon-cubes, which had defeated and
taken prisoners the Martians, destroying the vehicles in which they
might have returned to Mars. And as realization came, darkness settled
over the roof of the world; the last flare of Mars faded and died.

This done, the cubes formed in mighty rows, facing the laboratory of
Sarka. His heart beating madly with exultation, Sarka studied them. Then
he stepped into the Observatory, gazed away across the space which
separated the Earth from the Moon, sent a mental message winging
outward.

"Luar! Dalis!"

Faintly, fearfully, came the answer.

"We hear, O Sarka!"

"Shift the blue column away from the Earth! Do not interfere as we
return to our orbit about the sun! Obey, or I combine the total
knowledge of Mars, the Earth, and the Moon in an attack against you and
your Martian ally! Inform your ally that their people will not return,
that the Earth has need of them--but that two Gens of Earth will be
received by Martians in perfect amity, and these Gens allowed biding
places on Mars! Unless your ally obeys, the Martians in my hands will be
destroyed!"

In an hour the answer came, the snarling thought-answer of Dalis.

"We hear! We obey! But Dalis is never beaten while he lives! His day
will come!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Sarka found himself feeling even a little sorry for sorely beaten Dalis;
but his face was grim as he sent another command to the people of Dalis
who had passed through the life-source of the Moon.

"Take command of the cubes, and force them to repair the damage which
has been done to the dwellings of men--to repair them completely, over
all the face of the Earth!"

As the glowing people hurried to obey, Sarka softly asked his father:

"But what shall we do with the Martians?"

Sarka the Second smiled.

"Release them and send them to the lowest level where, guarded by the
cubes, they will be set to constructing fireballs like those in which
they arrived for the use of Earth if Dalis, or the Martians, ever attack
again! And, son...."

"Yes, O my father?" said Sarka softly.

"I have another suggestion for the employment of the cubes! Let them
build aircars to be used by the Gens of Prull and of Klaser, as
transportation to Mars whenever you are ready for them to go!"

Sarka smiled boyishly, happily.

"Yes, O my father; and is there anything else?"

"Yes! Take Jaska as your mate! Do you not see that she is waiting for
you to speak?"

Sarka turned to Jaska, whose face was glorious in her surrender, and
whose lips were parted in a loving smile--which faded only when Sarka's
lips caressed it away.

  (_The end._)



  ASTOUNDING STORIES

  _Appears on Newsstands_

  THE FIRST THURSDAY IN EACH MONTH



[Illustration: The Readers' Corner

_A Meeting Place for Readers of_ Astounding Stories]


  _From Australia_


  Dear Editor:

     I am taking the privilege of writing to you in an endeavor to show
     my appreciation of your magazine Astounding Stories.

     Although I am an inveterate reader I must say that I have never
     read any book or magazine to come up to the above, and confess that
     though I am ignorant of the intricacies of science (and lacked
     interest in same prior to my reading your first issue) same is
     described so plainly that I have no trouble in fully understanding
     exactly what the author conveys. I must thank you for this other
     interest in the monotony of life.

     Have pleasure of informing you that through my enthusiasm have
     created several subscribers, and on occasions when adopting the age
     old custom of placing my foot upon the rail and bending the elbow,
     have entered into many a conversation and discussion re the
     different stories included in your magazine.

     I assure you of my whole-hearted support in the furthering of the
     popularity of your enjoyable and unique work in my country, and
     wish you every success in your venture.--M. B. Johnston, 237
     Flinders Lane, Melbourne, Australia.


  _Mr. Neal's Favorites_


  Dear Editor:

     The other day I saw Astounding Stories on one of the newsstands. I
     purchased it, and after reading "Brigands of the Moon", I eagerly
     finished the rest of the magazine. I did not like "Out of the
     Dreadful Depths." In my opinion it should not be in a Science
     Fiction magazine. The only thing the matter with your magazine is
     that it is too small. I would like to read some stories in "our"
     magazine by Ed Earl Repp, David H. Keller, M. D., Miles J. Brewer,
     M. D., and Stanton Coblentz--Francis Neal, R. R. 4, Box 105,
     Kokomo, Ind.


  _No Ghost Stories_


  Dear Editor:

     I received your April issue and I think it is the best yet. I have
     but one complaint to make, and that is your magazine seems to print
     some good science stories, but also has some stories which do not
     belong in a Science Fiction magazine. They might come under the
     name of weird tales. Is your magazine devoted to pure 100 per cent.
     Science Fiction? If so, I think you ought to leave out the ghost
     stories.--Louis Wentzler, 1933 Woodbine St., Brooklyn, N. Y.


  _From the Other Sex_


  Dear Editor:

     You'll be surprised to hear from a girl, as I notice only boys
     wrote to praise your new magazine. I tried reading some of the
     Science Fiction magazines my brother buys every month but I'd start
     reading a story only to leave it unfinished. But your magazine is
     different. When I picked it up to read it I thought I'd soon throw
     it down and read something else, but the moment I started to read
     one of the stories of your new magazine I read it to the finish. I
     never read such vivid and exciting stories. Even my brother who
     loves all kinds of Science Fiction magazines couldn't stop praising
     your new magazine. He said Astounding Stories beats them all.

     Some of our readers criticized your new magazine, and I haven't
     anything but disagreement for them. Yet, who am I, to judge persons
     who have read and know all about Science Fiction?

     Will recommend your new magazine to all my friends.--Sue O'Bara,
     13440 Barley Ave., Chicago, Illinois.


  _January Issue Was First_


  Dear Editor:

     I have just finished reading the April issue of "our" magazine. Can
     mere words describe my feelings? I am classing the stories as
     follows: A--excellent; B--very good; C--good; D--passable; E--poor.

     A--"Monsters of Moyen," "Vampires of Venus," "The Ray of Madness,"
     "The Soul-Snatcher."

     B--"The Man Who Was Dead."

     C--None. D--None. E--None.

     "Brigands of the Moon" is getting more and more interesting. Can
     you please tell me which month's issue was the first one, as I
     didn't procure the first two copies and should like to do so?--Eli
     Meltzer, 1466 Coney Island Ave., Brooklyn, N. Y.


  "_Eclipses All_"


  Dear Editor:

     Just as soon as your new magazine came out I espied it. It eclipsed
     all the other magazines on the stand. As a cub magazine I couldn't
     ask for more.

     I am going to comment on your stories now because I know you want
     me too, for I know you would like to know what sort of stories your
     readers like.

     I have a lot to say about Ray Cummings. He is the best writer I
     have ever seen. His stories couldn't be beat. "Phantoms of Reality"
     was a corking good story, but I believe his new serial, "Brigands
     of the Moon," is going to be better. Captain S. P. Meek is a very
     good writer also. I take immense joy in his Dr. Bird stories. And
     we must not forget that great writer, Murray Leinster. His stories
     are really good.

     I congratulate you on your new magazine, Mr. Editor.--Albert
     Philbrick, 117 N. Spring St., Springfield, Ohio.


  "_A Unique Magazine_"


  Dear Editor:

     I've been trying to write your magazine for a long time, so here
     goes.

     I've bought every copy from the first issue and sure think it is a
     good magazine. In fact I should say a unique magazine; there are
     but few magazines in its class among Science Fiction magazines. The
     stories come up to the standards of good Science Fiction, and some
     go far above it. A few stories I did not like were: "The Man Who
     Was Dead," "The Soul Snatcher," "The Corpse on the Grating" and
     "The Stolen Mind." The science in all these stories was very poor.
     But your magazine became better in my eyes when you published
     "Phantoms of Reality," "Tanks," "Old Crompton's Secret," "Brigands
     of the Moon," "Monsters of Moyen," and all of Captain S. P. Meek's
     stories. These were extraordinarily good stories.

     Wesso's drawings are very good, and I hope you keep him. I have
     seen his drawings in another magazine for quite a time. I don't
     like the illustrations of your other artist. Could you, by chance,
     secure an artist by the name of Leo Morey or Hugh Mackay? They both
     illustrate for other Science Fiction magazines and are about as
     good as Wesso. Please keep the latter. And why don't you have him
     to do all of your illustrating?

     Sorry to seem such a grouch, but I don't like your grade of paper
     either. And why not enlarge the magazine to about 11" x 9" by 1/2",
     and charge 25 cents for your thoroughly good magazine, apart from
     the defects I have mentioned.

     About your authors. They are, for the most part, good. But they are
     mostly amateurs at writing Science Fiction stories. I am delighted
     to see such expert writers of Science Fiction as Harl Vincent, Ray
     Cummings, Victor Rousseau and Captain S. P. Meek writing for your
     magazine, but couldn't you include in your staff of authors A.
     Hyatt Verrill, Dr. Miles J. Breuer, Dr. David H. Keller, R. F.
     Starzl, and a few more such notable authors? I hope to see these
     authors in your magazine soon.--Linus Hogenmiller, 502 N.
     Washington St., Farmington, Mo.


  _The Star System!_


  Dear Editor:

     One star means fairly good, two stars, good; three stars,
     excellent; four, extraordinary; no stars--just another story.

     I give "Brigands of the Moon," by Ray Cummings, three stars; "The
     Atom-Smasher," by Victor Rousseau, three stars; "Murder Madness,"
     by Murray Leinster, two stars; "Into the Ocean Depths," by S. P.
     Wright, two stars, and "The Jovian Jest," by L. Lorraine, no stars.
     It was short and sweet.

     Wesso sure can draw. I would like to see a full page illustration
     for each story by him.

     My favorite type of stories are interplanetary, and, second
     favorite, stories of future wars. Will you have many of them in the
     future? I like long stories like the novelette in the May issue of
     Astounding Stories--Jack Darrow, 4225 N. Spaulding Ave., Chicago,
     Illinois.


  _We Expect Not To_


  Dear Editor:

     While going over your "The Readers' Corner" of the April issue, I
     noticed in your answer to one of the letters that you will avoid
     reprints. Now many of your readers have not read the older classics
     of Science Fiction. Would it not be a good idea to publish a
     reprint at least once a year? One of the suggestions given was
     Merritt's "Through the Dragon Glass." Another very interesting
     story, and one that I am sure almost all of your followers have not
     read, is "The Blind Spot," by Homer Flint.

     I like the idea of having three members to a volume, as it will be
     much easier to bind. Now, starting with the April issue, I think
     that the best story in there is "Monsters of Moyen." "The Ray of
     Madness" was up to the usual standard of Capt. S. P. Meek's
     stories. "The Man Who Was Dead" was fairly good; average, I would
     say. I did not like "Vampires of Venus."

     I say that the May issue was the best of the Astounding Stories. I
     was satisfied with every story in it. "Into the Ocean Depths" was
     the best story, "The Atom Smasher" being a close second. I like the
     way the story "Into the Ocean Depths" ended; a slight trace of
     sadness and not at all like the "and they lived happily ever after"
     ending. A real story.

     I was disappointed in not finding any story concerning Dr. Bird in
     the April issue. Will any more be printed soon?

     Before I close I would like a definite answer to this question:
     Will you ever, or in the near future, reprint any of the genre of
     Science Fiction, stories by the late master Garret P. Serviss, or
     from the pen of A. Merritt and H. G. Wells?--Nathan Greenfeld, 313
     E. 70th St., New York City.


  _Again Reprints_


  Dear Editor:

     Although I am a reader of six Science Fiction magazines, I was more
     than glad to see the latest one out, Astounding Stories. Because
     the stories are all interesting. I consider Astounding Stories
     superior to most of the Science Fiction periodicals on the
     newsstands to-day.

     My favorite stories are those of interplanetary voyages and other
     worlds. My favorite authors are: Ray Cummings, A. Merritt, Victor
     Rousseau, Murray Leinster, Arthur J. Burks and Harl Vincent. I hope
     that you will soon have stories by Edmond Hamilton and David H.
     Keller.

     Now here is something I hope you will give some thought and
     consideration. I noticed that many of the readers wrote in,
     requesting reprints. I am one of those who would like to see you
     publish some reprints, especially stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs,
     A. Merritt and Ray Cummings. These authors have written many
     masterpieces of Science Fiction. It is very difficult, if not
     impossible, for a person to get these stories. They could be made
     available easily if Astounding Stories would reprint them.

     Most of the readers who object to reprints do so because they would
     hate to see a story by H. G. Wells or Jules Verne. I, myself, do
     not like these authors as they are too dull. But if you have only
     reprints by the three authors I mentioned and a few other popular
     writers, I am sure all the readers would welcome them. At least you
     could have a vote and see how they stand on reprints--Michael
     Fogaris, 157 Fourth St., Passaic, N. J.


  _Likes_ "_The Readers' Corner_"


  Dear Editor:

     Your "The Readers' Corner" interests me very much. It surely does
     show how your magazine pleases its readers. You cannot get too much
     science in your stories to suit me. Chemistry and physics more than
     anything else.

     I surely enjoyed reading "Mad Music" and "The Thief of Time." I
     don't like long stories. They are too interesting to have to wait a
     month for the next part.

     I hope that your magazine continues to have as "astounding" stories
     as it has in the past.--Vern L. Enrich, R. F. D. 1, Casey,
     Illinois.


  _From Master Weiner_


  Dear Editor:

     One day coming home from school I saw your magazine. That night I
     bought it and have since been an ardent reader.

     But why not give us a change? I prefer stories of the Sargasso Sea,
     the Maelstrom, and about invasions of the Earth.--Milton Weiner,
     age 12, 2430 Baker St., Baltimore Maryland.


  _High Praise_


  Dear Editor:

     Enclosed you will find twenty cents in stamps for the first copy of
     Astounding Stories.

     I have just finished the May issue of Astounding Stories and the
     rating of the stories is: 1--"Brigands of the Moon"--Excellent!
     2--"The Atom Smasher"--Marvelous! 3--"Murder Madness"--Perfect.
     4--"Into the Ocean's Depths"--Good. 5--"The Jovian Jest"--Pretty
     Good.

     The cover design by H. Wesso is good. Don't lose him.

     I would like more stories by Victor Rousseau and Ray Cummings.
     Where are some stories by H. G. Wells, Stanton Coblens, Gawain
     Edwards, Francis Flagg, Henrik Jarve and Dr. Keller? My favorite
     stories are interplanetary stories.

     Here are some things that may improve your magazine (though I must
     say that your magazine is about perfect as it is): More pictures in
     long stories; about two novelettes in each issue; about two short
     stories in each issue; more interplanetary novels and novelettes;
     about one serial in one issue; smoother paper.--Isidore Horowitz,
     1161 Stratford Avenue, New York City.


  "_Fairly Good Satire_"


  Dear Editor:

     I have read your two issues of Astounding Stories and I feel they
     will fill a very much needed place in literature.

     I am especially interested in the stories like the "Vampires of
     Venus" and the "Brigands of the Moon." The "Vampires of Venus" can
     be classed as a fairly good satire on Earth beings; I consider that
     story one with a moral. It reminds one of Voltaire's Micromegas,
     and it's taking us to another planet to show us our faults at home
     will stimulate interest in social improvement.

     I have kept tab on Edgar Rice Burroughs' writings because he
     teaches evolution in a way that makes it easy for the ordinary
     reader to grasp.

     You have a great field, if you can keep up the interplanetary
     stories and mix some evolutionary stories with them.

     The true stories are playing a valuable part in stimulating people
     to take a deeper view of life, and you have a field in Astounding
     Stories almost without a competitor.--J. L. Stark, 530 Sutcliffe
     Ave., Louisville, Kentucky.


  _He is H. W. Wessolowski_


  Dear Editor:

     Since I have read every copy of Astounding Stories since it was
     inaugurated I feel well qualified to contribute a few bouquets and
     also some criticism. The cover illustrations are wonderful but I
     cannot find the artist's name on it. So good an artist should put
     his "moniker" on his productions. I am glad to see that the words
     "Super-Science" are on the top of the cover in bright red letters;
     some other Science Fiction magazines seem desirous of disguising
     the contents of their magazines for some obscure and mysterious
     reason.

     And now a brickbat. It is my humble opinion that the science should
     be examined more carefully before the stories are printed in this
     excellent magazine. The stories should be not only astounding, but
     should contain some science information that will be remembered
     after the fiction is forgotten. "The Man Who Was Dead" is an
     excellent ghost story or weird tale, but is out of place in "our"
     magazine. (I take the liberty to call it "our" magazine since a
     department is given over to the readers and we express our choice
     of the kind of stories that are printed.) However, taken all
     together, our magazine is steadily improving; each issue up to now
     has been distinctly better than the one before.

     I have graded the stories in the April and May copies as follows:
     Excellent--"Vampires of Venus," "The Ray of Madness," "Brigands
     of the Moon," "Murder Madness," "Into the Ocean's Depths" and "The
     Jovian Jest." Good--"Monsters of Moyen," "The Atom Smasher" and
     "The Soul Searcher." Poor--"The Man Who Was Dead."

     My favorite authors are Dr. David H. Keller, Harl Vincent, Lillith
     Lorraine, Anthony Pelcher, Capt. S. P. Meek, Dr. Miles J. Breuer
     and Ray Cummings. I can hardly wait a month for my next
     copy.--Wayne D. Bray, Campbell, Missouri.


  _Story Says Cro-Magnons Fled to Europe_


  Dear Editor:

     Ever since I was first introduced to Astounding Stories by a cousin
     I have been a steady reader. I have not missed a single issue so
     far.

     I hope you will have stories by Hyatt Verril, Edgar Rice Burroughs,
     Edmond Hamilton, Leslie Stone, Stanton A. Coblentz and Francis
     Flagg.

     The stories I like best in each issue (not counting serials) are:
     "Phantoms of Reality," "Spawn of the Stars," "Vandals of the
     Stars," "Vampires of Venus" and "The Atom Smasher." In "The Atom
     Smasher" it says that all Europeans descended from the Atlanteans.
     Now when the hero killed them all with the disintegrating ray,
     would he not have affected their birth?

     Wesso is some artist. I saw a mistake on the cover of the March
     issue. The color of space is a deep black, not blue, because the
     blue color of the heavens when viewed from the earth is due to the
     reflection of light by the atmosphere.--George Brande, 141 South
     Church St., Schenectady, N. Y.


  "_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._





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Astounding Stories of Super-Science September 1930" ***

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