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Title: Astounding Stories of Super-Science, December 1930
Author: Various
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Astounding Stories of Super-Science, December 1930" ***

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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

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 WESTERN LOVE STORIES.

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


  VOL. IV, No. 3               CONTENTS                  DECEMBER, 1930

  COVER DESIGN                 H. W. WESSOLOWSKI

  _Painted in Oils from a Scene in "The Ape-Men of Xlotli."_

  SLAVES OF THE DUST           SOPHIE WENZEL ELLIS                  295

  _Fate's Retribution Was Adequate. There Emerged a Rat with a
  Man's Head and Face._

  THE PIRATE PLANET            CHARLES W. DIFFIN                    310

  _It is War. Interplanetary War. And on Far-Distant Venus Two
  Fighting Earthlings Stand Up Against a Whole Planet Run Amuck._
  (Part Two of a Four-Part Novel.)

  THE SEA TERROR               CAPTAIN S. P. MEEK                   336

  _The Trail of Mystery Gold Leads Carnes and Dr. Bird to a
  Tremendous Monster of the Deep._

  GRAY DENIM                   HARL VINCENT                         354

  _The Blood of the Van Dorn's Ran in Karl's Veins. He Rode
  the Skies Like an Avenging God._

  THE APE-MEN OF XLOTLI        DAVID R. SPARKS                      370

  _A Beautiful Face in the Depths of a Geyser--and Kirby Plunges
  into a Desperate Mid-Earth Conflict with the Dreadful
  Feathered Serpent._ (A Complete Novelette.)

  THE READERS' CORNER          ALL OF US                            421

  _A Meeting place for Readers of Astounding Stories._

       *       *       *       *       *

  Single Copies, 20 Cents (In Canada, 25 Cents)
  Yearly Subscription, $2.00

Issued monthly by Readers' Guild, Inc., 80 Lafayette St., New York, N.Y.
W. M. Clayton, President; Francis P. Pace, 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. Crow & Co., Inc., 25 Vanderbilt Ave.,
New York; or 225 North Michigan Ave., Chicago.

       *       *       *       *       *



Slaves of the Dust

_By Sophie Wenzel Ellis_

  Fate's retribution was adequate. There emerged a rat with a man's
  head and face.

  _It's a poor science that would hide from us the great, deep,
  sacred infinitude of Nescience, whither we can never penetrate, on
  which all science swims as mere superficial film._

    --_Carlyle_.

[Illustration: _Sir Basil showed his teeth in his ugly smile. "A creator
is never merciful."_]


The two _batalões_ turned from the open waters of the lower Tapajos
River into the _igarapé_, the lily-smothered shallows that often mark an
Indian settlement in the jungles of Brazil. One of the two half-breed
rubber-gatherers suddenly stopped his _batalõe_ by thrusting a paddle
against a giant clump of lilies. In a corruption of the Tupi dialect, he
called over to the white man occupying the other frail craft.

"We dare go no farther, master. The country of the Ungapuks is
bewitched. It is too dangerous."

Fearfully he stared over his shoulder toward a spot in the slimy water
where a dim bulk moved, which was only an alligator hunting for his
breakfast.

Hale Oakham, as long and lanky and level-eyed as Charles Lindbergh, ran
despairing fingers through his damp hair and groaned.

"But how can I find this jungle village without a guide?"

The _caboclo_ shrugged. "The village will find you. It is bewitched,
master. But you will soon see the path through the _matto_."

"Can't you stay by me until time to land? I don't like the looks of
these alligators."

"It is better for a white man to face an alligator than for a _caboclo_
to face an Ungapuk. Once they used to kill and eat us for our strength.
Now--" Again his shrug was eloquent.

"Now?" Hale prompted impatiently.

"The white god who put a spell on these one-time cannibals will bewitch
us and make us wash and rejoice when it is time to die."

       *       *       *       *       *

He shuddered and spat at a cayman that was lumbering away from his
_batalõe._

Hale Oakham laughed, a hearty boyish laugh for a rather learned young
professor.

"Is that all they do to you?" he asked.

"No. All who enter this magic _matto_ die soon, rejoicing. Before the
last breath comes, it is said their bodies turn into a handful of silver
dust--poof!--like that." He snapped his dirty fingers. "Then the life
that leaves them goes into rocks that walk."

Hale sighed resignedly. There wasn't any use to argue.

"Unload your _batalõe_," he ordered testily, "and get your filthy
carcasses away."

The half-breeds obeyed readily. As the departing _batalõe_ turned from
the _igarapé_ into the open water of the river, the young man repressed
a sudden lifting of his scalp. He was in for it now!

His long body sprawled out in the _batalõe_, he paddled about aimlessly
for several minutes until he found an aisle through the jungle--the path
that led to the jungle village which he was visiting in the name of
science, and for a certain award.

Before plunging into that waiting tangle where life and death carried on
a visible, unceasing struggle, he hesitated. Instinctively he shrank
from losing himself in that mad green world.

       *       *       *       *       *

He had first heard of the Ungapuks at the convention of the Nescience
Club in New York, that body of scientists, near-scientists and
adventurers linked together for the purpose of awarding the yearly
Woolman prizes for the most spectacular addition of empiric facts to
various branches of science. One of the members of the club, an
explorer, had told a wild yarn about a tribe of Brazilian Indians,
headed by Sir Basil Addington, an English scientist, who was conducting
secret experiments in biochemistry in his jungle laboratory. The
explorer had said that the scientist, half-crazed by a powerful
narcotic, had seemingly discovered some secret of life which enabled him
to produce monsters in his laboratory and to change the physical
characteristics of the Ungapuk Indians, who, in five years, had been
transformed from cannibals into cultured men and women.

And now Hale Oakham, hoping to win one of the Woolman prizes, was here
in the country of the Ungapuks, entering the jungle path that lead to
the unknown.

Fifty feet from the _igarapé_, the path curved sharply away from a giant
tree. Hale approached the bend with his hand on his gun. Just before he
reached it, he stopped suddenly to listen.

A woman's voice had suddenly broken forth in a wild, incredibly sweet
song. Hale stood entranced, drinking in the heady sounds that stirred
his emotions like _masata_, the jungle intoxicant. The singer
approached the bend in the path, while the young man waited eagerly.

The first sight of her made him gasp. He had expected to see an Indian
girl. No sane traveler would imagine a white woman in the Amazon jungle,
with skin as amazingly pale as the great, fleshy victoria regia lilies
in the _igarapé_.

When she saw Hale, she stopped instantly. With a quick, practiced twist,
she reached for the bow flung across her shoulders and fitted a barbed
arrow to the string.

       *       *       *       *       *

She was a beautiful barbarian, standing quivering before him. In the
thick dull gold braids hanging over her bare shoulders flamed two
enormous scarlet flowers, no redder than her own lips pouted in alarm.
There was a savage brevity to her clothing, which consisted only of a
short skirt of rough native grass and breastplates of beaten gold, held
in place by strings of colored seeds.

The girl held out an imperious hand and, in perfect English, said:

"Go back!"

Hale drew his long body up to its slim height, folded his arms, and gave
her his most winning smile. His insolence added to his wholesome good
looks.

"Why?" he exclaimed. "I've come a couple of thousand miles to call on
you."

He saw that the eyes which held his levelly were pure and limpid, and of
an astonishing orchid-blue.

"Who are you?" Her throaty, vibrant voice was a thing of the flesh,
whipping Hale's senses to sudden madness.

"I'm Hale Oakham," he said, a little tremulously, "a lone, would-be
scientist knocking about the jungle. Won't you tell me your name?"

She nodded gravely. "I am Aña. I, too, am white." Her rich voice was
quietly proud. "Come; I'll see if Aimu will receive you."

With surprising, childlike trust, she held out her little hand to him.
The gesture was so delightfully natural that Hale, grinning boyishly,
took her hand and held it as they walked down the jungle path.

"Sing for me," he demanded abruptly. "Sing the song you sang just now."

"That?" asked the girl, turning the virgin-blue fire of her eyes on him.
"That was my death-song that I practice each day. Perhaps soon I shall
be released from this." She passed her hands over her beautiful,
half-clothed body.

       *       *       *       *       *

Hale's warm glance swept over her. "Do you want to die?"

"Yes; don't you? But you do not, or you would not have retreated from my
poisoned arrow."

"No, Aña; I want to live."

"To live--and be a slave of _this_?" Again her hand went over her slim
body. "A slave of a pile of flesh that you must feed and protect from
the agonies that attack it on every side? Bah! But I am hoping that my
turn will come next."

"Your turn for what, Aña?"

"To enter the Room of Release. Perhaps, if Aimu approves of you, you,
too, may taste of death." Her gentle smile was beatific.

"Do you speak of Sir Basil Addington?"

"He was called that once, before he came to us. Now he has no name. We
can find none holy enough for him; and so we call him Aimu, which means
good friend." Her beautiful face was sweet with reverence.

And now, in the distance, Hale saw that the path led into a large
clearing. He slowed his pace, for he wanted to know this lovely girl
better before he joined the Ungapuks.

"Who are you, Aña?" he asked suddenly, bending closer to the crinkled,
dull-gold hair.

"I am Aña, a white woman." She looked at him frankly.

"But who are your parents, and how did you get among the Ungapuks?"

Aña's red lips curved into a dewy smile. "I thought all white men were
wise, like Aimu. But you are stupid. How do you think a white woman
could appear in a tribe of Indians who live in the jungle, many weeks'
journey from what you call civilization?"

Hale looked a little blank and more than a little disconcerted.

"I suppose I am stupid," he said dryly. "But tell me, Aña, how did you
get here?"

"Why," she exclaimed, "he made me!"

"Made you? Good Lord! What do you mean?"

"Just what I said, Hale Oakham. If he can take a few grains of dust and
make a shoot that will grow into a giant tree like yonder monster
itauba, don't you think he can create a small white girl like me?" Her
orchid-blue eyes glowed innocently into his.

       *       *       *       *       *

The eager questions that he would have asked froze upon his lips, for a
party of Indians approached.

The six nearly naked red men came close and surveyed him, toying
nervously with their primitive, feather-decorated weapons.

A tall, handsome young fellow who possessed something of the picturesque
perfection of the North American plains' Indian stepped forward and, in
perfect English, said:

"Good morning, white stranger. What is it you wish of the Ungapuks?"

"I came to see your white _cacique_," said Hale.

"Aimu? What is it you wish of Aimu? He is ours, white stranger."

"Yes, he is yours. I come as a friend, perhaps to help him in his great
work."

"Perhaps!" The young Indian folded his bronze, muscular arms over his
broad chest and continued his cool survey of Hale. "White men before you
have come: spies and thieves. Some we poisoned with curari. Others Aimu
took into the Room of Release."

He turned to Aña, who was still standing by Hale, and his expression
softened.

"What shall we do with him, Aña?" he asked the question, a fleeting look
of hunger swept his fine, flashing eyes.

Aña flushed beautifully, and, moving closer to Hale, with an impulsive,
almost childish gesture, slipped her arm through his.

"Let us take him to our village, Unani Assu!" she suggested. "I like
him."

It was Hale's turn to flush, which he did like a schoolboy.

       *       *       *       *       *

Unani Assu's brows drew together in a scowl. The hand holding his
blow-pipe jerked convulsively.

"Aña! Come away!" he growled. "You mustn't touch a stranger!"

Aña's blue eyes stretched with astonishment. "But I like to touch him,
Unani Assu!"

The tall Indian, with a half comical gesture of despair, said:

"Don't misunderstand her, stranger. She is young, very young, ah! And
she has known only the reborn men of the Ungapuks."

He stepped firmly over to Aña, and, taking the girl by the arm, drew her
away.

"Run ahead," he commanded, "and tell Aimu that we come."

Aña, her feathered bamboo anklets clicking together, sped away.

Unani Assu bowed courteously to Hale.

"Come, stranger. If you are an enemy, it is you who must fear." He
motioned for him to proceed down the jungle path.

The path ended at a clearing studded with _moloccas_, the Indian grass
huts made of plaited straw. Altogether the scene was peaceful and sane
and far removed from the strange tales that Hale had heard concerning
the Ungapuks.

Hale was conducted to a long, low stone building, where, in the
doorway, stood a tall and emaciated white man.

"Aimu!" said the Indians reverently, and bowed themselves.

Over the bare, brown backs, the white man looked at Hale.

"Sir Basil Addington?" asked the young man.

"Yes. You are welcome. Come in."

Hale entered the building.

       *       *       *       *       *

He was in a book-filled study, furnished with hand-made chairs and a
desk. Sir Basil asked him to be seated. He offered the young man long,
brown native cigarettes and a very good drink made from yucca.

After several minutes of conversation, Sir Basil suddenly changed his
manner.

"And now," he shot out, eyeing the young man through narrowed lids,
"will you please state the purpose of this visit?"

Hale looked squarely at his questioner. "Frankly, Sir Basil, I have
called on you because I am so intensely interested in your work among
the Ungapuks that I wish to offer my services."

He gave in detail his family history, his education, and his experience
as a teacher and a scientist.

Sir Basil tapped his teeth thoughtfully with a pencil.

"But why do you think you can be of assistance to me?"

"That, of course, is for you to decide."

Hale thought that the scientist looked like a huge, starved crow in his
loose-fitting coat. He was so fleshless that, when the light fell
strongly on his face as it now did, the bones of his head and hands
showed through the skin with horrible clearness.

Hale, under Sir Basil's scrutiny, decided instantly that he did not like
him.

"I need a helper," the scientist went on, with the air of talking to
himself. "A white assistant who neither loves nor fears me. Unani Assu
is good enough in his way, but I need a helper who has had technical
training." Suddenly he wheeled on Hale and asked sharply, "How are your
nerves, young man?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Hale started, but managed to answer calmly. "Excellent. My war record
isn't half bad, and that was surely backed with good nerves."

"And you say you have no close relatives, no ties of any sort to
interfere with work that is dangerous--and something else?"

"Not a soul would care if I passed out to-day, Sir Basil."

"Good! And now tell me this: are you one of those scientists whose minds
are so mechanical, so mathematically made, as it were, that your entire
outlook on science is based on old, established beliefs, or do you
belong to that rare but modern type of trained thinker and dreamer who
refuse to permit yesterday's convictions to influence to-day's
visions?"

Hale smiled quietly. "I recently lost my chair in a famous university
because of my so-called unscientific teachings regarding ether-drift."

Expressing himself in purely scientific terms, he went into an
elaboration of his revolutionary theory. When he had finished, Sir Basil
reached out his clawlike hand to him.

"Good!" he approved. "You have dared to think originally. Now listen to
my theory of mind-electrons which has grown into the established fact
that I have discovered the secret of life and death."

The long, thin hands reached into a pocket for a box of pills. He
swallowed one greedily, and immediately his emaciated face seemed
charged with new virility.

He spoke out suddenly. "Our world, you know, is made up of three powers:
matter, energy and what you call life. I might really say that there are
but two powers, for matter, in its last analysis, is a form of energy.
And what is life? You can't call it a form of energy, for every
inorganic atom has energy without having life. Life, Mr. Oakham, is
mind or consciousness."

He began pacing the floor restlessly. "Everything that lives has this
consciousness, and I say this in defiance of some fixed scientific
views. The amoeba in a stagnant pool, a thallophyte on a bit of old
bread, any of the myriads of trees and plants that you see in the jungle
all have consciousness as well as you. And why?"

       *       *       *       *       *

He brought his fist down upon the table. "Because they issue from the
same source as you and I, the almighty mind, eternal, indestructible,
which has permitted itself to be enslaved by matter. You are Hale
Oakham. I am Basil Addington, yet we are one and the same. Let me
illustrate."

He seized a glass and poured it full of _masata_. "Look! Two portions of
_masata_. But I pour what is in the glass back into the bottle. The
molecules cohere and the two portions become one again. Some day you and
I--our individual consciousnesses--will flow back to the Whole. That
sounds mystical, but listen.

"We scientists hold that the electron explains nearly all the physical
and chemical phenomena. I go further and say that it explains _all_.
Matter, electricity, light, heat, magnetism--all can be reduced to the
ultimate unit. So, Mr. Oakham, I am going to make clear to you how life
itself is electronic."

His long finger touched Hale's arm. "You, I, yonder mosquito on your
sleeve, even one of the germs that is causing my malaria, all being
individual living things, are the ultimate units of what I shall
personify as the Mind. When I say _you_ I do not speak of that mound of
flesh in which you exist, and which can be reduced to the same familiar
basic elements and compounds as make up inorganic structures; I speak of
your mind, your consciousness--for that is the real you. Are you
following me?"

"Perfectly, Sir Basil." Hale reached for another drink. "But do you
mean to say that you and I are no more than a mosquito, a malaria
protozoan, or even one of those trees in the jungle?"

Sir Basil's dry skin slipped back into a long smile. "Startling,
isn't it? You, I, and all other living organisms are nothing but
matter, energy and consciousness. You and I have a larger share of
consciousness, because our organic structure permits the mind-electrons
greater freedom over the matter than composes our bodies. We are more
acutely aware of the universe about us, have a greater facility for
enjoyment and suffering, a more intricate brain and nervous system.
Yet when our bodies die and our consciousness is released, the
mind-electrons enslaved by our atoms go back to the elemental Whole.
This holds good for the protozoan, the tree, the man--for all things
that live."

       *       *       *       *       *

Hale was drinking again. "You mean, Sir Basil, that there is a sort of
war waged against what you personify as the Mind by matter; that matter
is constantly seeking to enslave mind-electrons, so that it may become
an organism which, for awhile, may enjoy what we call life?"

Sir Basil pushed back his tufted hair and looked happy. "Yes! And it's
Nature's supreme blunder! In the end, the Mind always conquers and gains
its release, yet the eternal chain of enslavement goes on and on, and
will continue to go on as long as there is a living organism in the
world to bind mind to matter."

Hale was excited now, as much from the fiery intoxicant as from the
scientist's weird revelation. "I get you," he said, rather inelegantly
for a professor. "You mean that if every living thing in the world
should pass out, every man, every plant, every animal, even down to
microscopic infusoria, the Mind would collect all its electrons, and
through some more jealous law of, er, cohesion hold these electrons
inviolate from matter and energy?"

"Right! And again, as in the beginning, the Mind would rule supreme. By
what I have proved, you and I and all other creatures that now have life
may, as separate unfleshed electrons, enjoy eternal consciousness as a
part of the Mind." A new passion leaped to his dark eyes. "When I have
finished my mission, no more need we be slaves of the dust, subject to
all the frightful sufferings of this dunghill of flesh."

He brought his fist down upon his skinny leg with a resounding blow.

"But you cannot reduce your theory to fact, Sir Basil!"

"No?" Again came that frightful grin to his cadaverous face. "Can you
withstand shock?"

"If you mean shock to the eye, let me remind you that I served two years
in the big fight."

"Then come to my laboratory. Better take another drink."

While Hale helped himself again from the _masata_ bottle, Sir Basil
swallowed another pellet.

Then the two went into the adjoining apartment.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sir Basil, his hand over the doorknob, paused.

"Before we go in," he said, "I want you to remember that we call natural
that which is characteristic of the physical world. Everything alive in
this laboratory was produced by nature. I merely made available the
materials, or, rather, I made the conditions under which matter was able
to enslave mind-electrons."

He opened the door, slipped his body through, and, with his ugly,
teeth-revealing grin, gestured for Hale to follow him.

Hale steeled himself and looked around half fearfully. The first glance
took in a large and well-equipped laboratory, somewhat fetid with animal
odors. The second lingered here and there on cages, aquariums,
incubators, and other containers where creatures moved.

Suddenly, as something scuttled across the floor and disappeared into a
hole in the wall, Hale cried out and covered his eyes with a hand.

Sir Basil laughed aloud. "Why didn't you examine it closer?"

Hale looked nauseated. "My God, Sir Basil! A rat with a man's head and
face!"

Sir Basil's voice was sharp, decisive. "Before you leave this
laboratory, you're going to come out of your foolish belief that man is
a creature apart from other living organisms. You--the conscious you--is
no greater, no more important in the final balance than the spark of
consciousness in that rat. When your body and the rat's body give up
their atoms to nature's laboratory, the little enslaved mind-electron
that is you and the one that is the rat will be identical."

Again Hale shivered and turned away from that cold, too-thin face.

The scientist was speaking. "Step around to all those cages and pens. I
want you to see all my slaves of the dust."

       *       *       *       *       *

But long before Hale had encircled the room, he was so disturbed at what
he saw that he could scarcely complete his frightful inspection. In
every enclosure he viewed a monstrosity that in some way resembled a
human. Every reptile, every insect, every queer, misshapen animal not
only looked human in some shocking manner, but also seemed to possess
human characteristics. It seemed as though some demented creator with a
perverted sense of humor had attempted to mock man by calling forth
monsters in his image.

At last the young man cried out: "How did you breed these freaks?"

"They are not freaks, and I did not breed them. They are nature's
parentless products whose basic elements were brought together in
this laboratory, and, by a scientific reproduction of the functions
of creation, endowed with the life principle, which is merely
mind-electrons." He smoothed his long tuft of hair nervously. "Would
you like to see how life springs from a wedding of matter, energy,
and consciousness?"

"I suspect I can stand anything now," Hale admitted.

"Then come and peep into a very remarkable group of apparatus I have
developed, where you can watch atoms building molecules and molecules
building living organisms."

"You say I can see atoms?"

"Not directly, of course. The light waves will forever prevent us from
actually seeing the atom. But I have perfected a system of photography
which magnifies particles smaller than light waves, and, separating
their images from the light waves, renders detail clear in the moving
pictures."

       *       *       *       *       *

He went to a huge machine or series of machines which took up all the
center floor space of the laboratory, where he busied himself in an
intricate network of wires, mirrors, electrodes, ray projectors, and
traveling metal compartments. Presently he called out to Hale.

"Let me remind you, Oakham, that while any scientist can break up any of
the various proteid molecules which are the basis of all living cells,
animal and vegetable, no scientist before me has been able to compound
the atoms and build them into a proteid molecule."

He bared his teeth in the smile that Hale hated.

"I am proud to tell you that the proteid molecule can be built up only
when the third element of nature's trinity is added--the mind-electron.
I have found a means of capturing the mind-electron and of bringing it
in contact with proteid elements. And now it is possible to bring forth
life in the laboratory. Come closer and watch proteid forming
protoplasm, protoplasm forming a cell, and the cell evolving into--well,
what do you want, an animal, plant, or an insect?"

Hale had fallen under the scientist's spell. He did not feel foolish
when he said:

"Let's have a rat!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Hale became so absorbed in the wonders of the laboratory that when lunch
time came, Sir Basil had food brought to them. While they were eating a
very good vegetable stew, farina, and luscious tropical fruits, a
sudden, agonized scream rang out, followed by other screams and wails.

Sir Basil opened the door and looked out. Aña came running forward. Her
blue eyes were flooded with tears.

"Oh, Aimu!" she moaned. "A tree fell on Unani Assu."

She buried her beautiful face in her hands and sobbed aloud.

Sir Basil frowned heavily.

"I can't lose Unani Assu yet," he declared. "He is a wonderful help
around the laboratory. Is he dead?"

"No. We should rejoice if his time of release had come. But his legs,
Aimu! No one wants to suffer and be crippled."

Even in her distress, the girl's voice was rich and vibrant, and every
tone moved Hale curiously.

"Hurry!" cried the scientist. "Have them bring him here before he
dies."

The girl leaped to her feet and sped away.

"Come, Oakham," continued Sir Basil. "Here is a rare opportunity for you
to see how completely I have mastered the laws that govern organic
matter. Help me prepare."

       *       *       *       *       *

For several minutes, Hale worked under the scientist's sharply spoken
directions. By the time the injured man was brought to the laboratory,
Sir Basil was ready for him.

Unani Assu was still conscious, but his pale face indicated that he had
lost much blood. When the improvised stretcher was lowered to the floor,
Sir Basil sent all the Indians away.

Unani Assu opened his eyes and called feebly, "Aña!"

"Be still!" ordered Sir Basil. "Aña is not here."

"Please!" gasped the dying man. "I want her--my Aña!"

Sir Basil sucked in his breath sharply. "What's this? Have you been
making love to Aña again, after my warning to you?"

The sufferer stirred uneasily. "No!" he panted. "But perhaps my hour of
release has come, and I want to look at her--once more."

The scientist smiled unpleasantly as he eyed the magnificent body which
looked like a broken statue in bronze.

"Some human characteristics are strange," he muttered. "In spite of
everything I do, this fellow continues to love Aña: Aña whom I intend
for myself."

He stepped to the apparatus and swiftly changed one of the adjustments.

"Perhaps," he resumed, with a gleam in his eyes that chilled Hale, "this
will forever cure him."

       *       *       *       *       *

In another moment, the still, half-dead body was lifted and gently
slipped into a compartment.

Before Hale's horrified gaze fastened on the eye-piece which revealed
moving pictures of every process that went on within, Unani Assu's body
was reduced almost instantly to a fine, silvery dust.

"Good God!" he cried. "You have killed him."

The scientist's teeth showed in his wide smile. "Think so? Does a woman
destroy a dress when she rips it up to make it over?"

"Do you mean me to understand that you can reduce a living body to its
basic elements and then rebuild these elements into a remade man?"

"Watch!" warned the scientist.

Hale looked again and saw the silver dust that was once a living body
being whirled into a tiny, grublike thing. He saw the grub expand into
an embryo, and the embryo develop into a foetus. From now on the
development was slower, and he often stopped to talk with Sir Basil.

Once he asked: "If this man had died naturally, could you have brought
him back to life?"

Sir Basil shook his head. "No. When once the mind-electron is completely
freed from its enslavement by matter, it is forever beyond recall by the
body it has just vacated. Like atomic electrons, whose equilibrium
disturbed break away from their planetary system and go dashing off into
space, only to be drawn into another planetary system, the mind-electron
may be enslaved almost immediately by extraneous matter. Had Unani Assu
died, his liberated mind-electron might at once have been captured by a
jungle flower going to seed. Immediately a new seed would be started.
And now the former Unani Assu would be a seed of a jungle flower, later
to find new life as a plant."

Suddenly the scientist threw up his hand and cried: "You see? The Mind
will be eternally enslaved as long as there is life! Oh, for the time of
deliverance!" He gazed fanatically into space, as though he dreamed
magnificently.

Hale observed him thoughtfully. When that great brain weakened, the
consequences would be frightful.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sir Basil, as though he had made a sudden decision, went over to that
part of his machine which he called the molecule-disintegrator.

"Oakham!" he called out. "I have taken you partly into my confidence.
Now I want to show you something. Come here."

Hale obeyed with misgivings. The scientist pointed out the window to a
group of Indians, anxious relatives of Unani Assu.

"Watch!" he ordered.

Turning one of the projectors on the machine toward the window, he
sighted carefully and pressed a button.

Immediately one of the Indians fell to the ground and struggled. His
companions began dancing around him in evident joy. Faintly to the
laboratory came a familiar chant, which Hale recognized as Aña's death
song.

    Dust to dust
    Mind to Mind--
    He will shed his body
    As the green snake sheds his skin.

As Hale watched, the struggling Indian's body seemed to shrink, and
then, instantly, it disappeared.

"Watch them scatter the dust!" said the scientist.

One of the Indians stooped and blew upon the grass.

"What have you done!" Hale gasped. "You've killed this one. Oh, I see
now! These poor devils are totally ignorant that you are killing them
for practice. They worship you while you turn them to--silver dust!" He
turned angrily on the scientist as though he longed to strike him.

"Keep cool, young man!" Sir Basil held up his fleshless hand. "There is
no death! Change, yes; but no permanent blotting out of consciousness.
Can't you see the horror of it as nature works? When your time for
release comes, as it inevitably will, your mind-electron might find new
enslavement in a worm!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Hale's reply came hotly. "If that is true, why do you murder these poor
devils deliberately!"

"My dear Oakham, perhaps you are not so brilliant as I had hoped! All
that I have done thus far is only child's play, in preparation for my
real work. Haven't you guessed by now what I am getting ready to do?"

"No; I'm a poor guesser."

The scientist made a gesture of mock despair. "Then let me tell you. The
molecule-disintegrator is active only on organic structures. When I
concentrate it so"--he reached out again, sighted the projector on some
point beyond the window and pressed a button--"one single living
organism passes out. See that jupati tree by the rock disappear?"

Before Hale's eyes, the tall, slender tree melted into air.

"But," continued Sir Basil, "if I should _broadcast_ my
molecule-disintegrator on electron magnetic waves, destruction would
pass out in all directions, following the curve of the earth's surface,
penetrating earth, air, water." He wet his lips carefully. "You
understand?"

Hale stiffened suddenly. "I understand. No life could survive these
vibrations of destruction? Through every corner of the earth where life
lurks, they would reach?"

"Yes!" cried Sir Basil. "There would be not a blade of grass, not a
living spore, not a hidden egg! Think of it, Oakham! No more would the
clean air and the sweet earth reek with life, and at last the ultimate
mind-electron would be released forever."

He was breathing fast, and his emaciated face burned with two red
spots.

Hale thought rapidly. He was convinced now that the fate of all life lay
within that diabolical network of chemical apparatus.

At last he said: "And what of you and I, Sir Basil? Shall we, too, be
caught in this wholesale destruction?"

"Not immediately," replied the scientist. "Of course, I want to
remain in the flesh long enough to be sure that my purpose has been
accomplished. I have provided a way for my own safety. If you desire,
you may remain with me." He smiled craftily. "I have planned to keep
Aña also, the woman whom I called into life and made as I wished."

       *       *       *       *       *

His words pounded against Hale's tortured ears with almost physical
force. With a supreme effort, the young man controlled his rage and
despair. Aña needed him too much now for him to risk defeat by showing
his emotions.

To Sir Basil he said: "But if all life disappears from the earth, what
shall we do for food--you, Aña, and I?"

Sir Basil lifted his brows. "You don't think I overlooked that, do you?
What is food? Various combinations of the basic elements. I who have
conquered the atom need never worry about starving to death."

All this time, the machinery had been humming, and now the humming
changed its note to a shrill whistle. Sir Basil went to the eye-piece
and looked into it. Opening a door in the machinery, he disappeared
inside. He came out soon, flushed and evidently elated.

"Bring the stretcher, Oakham," he ordered.

Hale brought the stretcher, placing it close to the machine. Then Sir
Basil opened a metal door and gently eased out a human body.

It was Unani Assu, unconscious but alive and breathing. Hale, helping
the scientist to get the man on the stretcher, noticed that the crushed
legs were perfectly healed. Together they bore him to a long seat. The
Indian's eyes were still closed, but his even breathing indicated that
he was only sleeping.

Suddenly Hale pointed a finger and cried out. "My God, Sir Basil, look
at his hands and feet!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Unani Assu, still lying like a recumbent bronze statue sculptured by a
master, was perfect from shoulder to wrist, from thigh to ankle. But,
somewhere in that diabolical machine through which he had passed, his
hands and feet had undergone a hideous metamorphism which had
transformed them from the well-formed extremities of a splendid young
Indian into the hairy paws of a giant rat!

Hale turned away his head, sick with disgust.

Sir Basil cut the silence triumphantly:

"Now he'll never again face Aña with love in his eyes!"

"What!" broke in Hale. "Did you plan this monstrous thing?"

"Of course! I told you I should forever cure him of his mad
infatuation."

"But why didn't you kill him, as you killed the others? It would have
been the most merciful way."

Sir Basil showed his teeth in his ugly smile. "A creator is never
merciful."

A quiver passed through the Indian's body and presently, he sighed
deeply and opened his eyes. He seemed dazed, puzzled. He looked from
Hale to the scientist, and turned seeking eyes to other parts of the
laboratory.

"Aña!" he called weakly. "Where is Aña?"

He pulled himself a little unsteadily to his feet--to the spatulated,
hairy _rodent_ feet that had come out of the life-machine. Staggering,
he would have fallen, had he not thrown out his arm to steady himself.
Instinctively he tried to grasp something for support, and then, for the
first time, he discovered his deformity.

       *       *       *       *       *

Hale was never to forget that expression of horror and disgust that
swept over the Indian's face as he spread open his revolting extremities
and stared at them.

A sudden, wild roar of despair rang through the room. "Aimu! My hands!"

The scientist smiled with evident amusement. "You are a grotesque sight,
Unani Assu. Do you want to see Aña now?"

The fright and horror faded from the Indian's face, for now he glared
with hate into the mad, mocking eyes.

"You did it!" the Indian ground out. "You've made me into a thing from
which Aña will run screaming."

Through the quiet rage of the perfectly spoken English ran a thread of
sorrow. "Aimu, whom we considered too holy to name!"

Choking, he hobbled away to the door, which he unbolted. As he passed
out into the open, Sir Basil went over to the machine and began sighting
the projector which cast forth the ray of destruction.

"No!" cried Hale. "You've done enough murder for to-day."

The scientist paused. "I was trying to be merciful. And then, I wonder
if it is safe to let him go, hating me? Oh, well!" He shrugged his
narrow shoulders. "I seldom leave the laboratory, and certainly nothing
can harm me here." He touched the death-projector significantly.

Hale made a mental decision. "I must find out how the damned thing works
and put it out of commission."

       *       *       *       *       *

With this determination uppermost in his mind, he assumed a more intense
interest in the strange laboratory. For the next two days, he assisted
Sir Basil so assiduously that he learned much about the operation of the
life-machine. And gradually he stopped being horrified as the
fascination of producing life in the laboratory grew upon him.

After he had assisted the scientist in building living organisms from
basic elements, he ceased to cringe when he remembered that perhaps it
was true that Aña was created in the mysterious life-machine.

Once the scientist declared, "She is untainted with inheritance. She is
the perfect mate that I called into life so that before I pass from the
flesh I may taste that one human emotion I've never experienced--love."

That very night Hale kept a secret tryst with Aña after the village
slept. Sweet, virginal Aña, who knew less of the world than a civilized
child of twelve--what a sensation she would create in New York with her
beauty, her culture, her natural fascination! With her in his arms and
an orange tropical moon hanging low in the hot, black sky, he ceased to
care that she had no ancestors, for now his one passionate desire was to
save her from Sir Basil and to hold her forever for himself.

He might have been content to go on like this for months, tampering with
creation in the day time, courting Aña in secret at night, had not Unani
Assu come back for revenge.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the fourth night after Unani Assu had disappeared into the jungle,
Hale went to the _igarapé_ to meet Aña. He had gone only half the
distance when he encountered her, running frantically up the path toward
him.

"Hale!" she gasped, falling into his opened arms, where she lay panting
and exhausted.

Hale gently patted the long braids, shimmering in silver tangles under
the moonlight, and, crushing the soft little trembling body close, he
murmured:

"What's the matter, darling?"

She dug her face deeper into the bend of his arm. "Oh, Hale! I saw Unani
Assu a few minutes ago." For several moments she was unable to go on,
for sudden sobs cut off her breath. "It's terrible, Hale, what Aimu did
to his hands and feet, but what Unani's going to do to Aimu is still
more terrible."

Hale placed his hand gently under her chin and tilted up her small,
pale, tear-drenched face.

"Be calm, Aña, and tell me plainly."

Still clinging to him, she went on. "He told me that Aimu is a devil,
Hale. He showed me his hands and asked me if I could ever get used to
them and be--his squaw." The round gold breastplates and the necklace of
painted seeds clinked together over her panting bosom. "I told him about
you, Hale. And then he seemed to go mad. He said he'd kill Aimu
to-night."

"But, Aña! Why did he let you go, knowing that you would give the
alarm?"

"He didn't let me go." Her petaled lips parted in a faint smile. "I
escaped. Unani Assu tied me to a tree by the _igarapé_. Because he
doesn't ... hate me, he could not bear to tie me too tightly."

"Then he must be close to the laboratory now. If he breaks in upon
Aimu--oh, my God!"

Hale remembered the death-projector. If Sir Basil were in danger of
attack, he would not hesitate to touch the waiting button that would
broadcast death throughout the world.

He seized Aña's little hand and cried out: "Run, Aña! The only safe
place now is Aimu's laboratory. Run!"

       *       *       *       *       *

As they dashed on madly, Hale opened wide his nostrils to scent the
heavy, flower-laden air of the jungle. Any moment all this sweet, rich
life might vanish instantly. He had a horrible vision of a world devoid
of life, a world of bare rocks, dry sand, odorless, dead waters. For it
was life that greened the landscape, roughened the stones with moss and
lichen, thickened the ocean with ooze, and turned the dry sand into
loam--life that swarmed underfoot, overhead, all around!

And now, just as they reached the laboratory door, panting and frantic,
a hoarse shriek broke forth. Dragging Aña after him, Hale dashed
forward, conscious of two masculine voices raised in passion.

The door to the room where the life-machine performed its vile work was
locked. Hale pounded against it and called out to Sir Basil, but only
curses and the sound of tumbling bodies came from beyond the door.
Although originally the door had been thick and strong, the destructive
forces of the tropics had pitted and rotted the wood. A few blows of
Hale's shoulder broke it down.

Under the brilliant electric light, Sir Basil and Unani Assu were
fighting upon the blood-spattered floor. The struggle was uneven: the
scientist's emaciated body was no match for the splendid strength of the
young Indian.

"Help Aimu!" cried Aña, pushing Hale forward.

Aimu was being choked to death.

Hale acted fantastically but efficiently. Catching up a bottle of
ammonia, he moistened a handkerchief and clapped it against Unani Assu's
nose. Instantly the Indian choked, released Sir Basil, and fell back,
gasping for breath.

Hale thrust the handkerchief into his pocket.

"Get out!" he ordered Unani Assu. "Quick!" He threatened him with the
ammonia bottle.

But Unani Assu was not looking at the bottle. "Aimu!" he screamed,
pointing.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Hale saw and understood, he leaped across the room to plant his
body in front of Aña; for Sir Basil was behind the life-machine,
reaching for the controls of the ray projector.

Suddenly, from behind Hale, a silver streak shot across the room. Sir
Basil groaned and sank to the floor of the laboratory.

A keen-bladed dissecting knife, thrown by Aña, stuck out from his left
breast.

Aña ran forward, sobbing wildly. "Oh, Aimu! I'm sorry! I didn't mean for
it to strike you there. Only your hand, Aimu! I didn't want Hale to die,
Aimu. I didn't--oh!"

She was on her knees by the scientist's side, his head held in her
slender arms.

"He's breathing!" she rejoiced. "Some _masata_, Hale, quick!"

Hale found a bottle of good brandy which he had contributed from his own
supplies. Soon Sir Basil gasped and opened his eyes. He stared about him
wildly, then gasped:

"I'm dying, Hale Oakham! Quick, the life-machine, before my mind-electron
escapes."

He tried to pull his body up, but fell back, weak and panting.

Hale hesitated, looking doubtfully at Aña.

"For God's sake, quick!" screamed Sir Basil. "I'm dying, I say! I must
have--rebirth. Lift me to the disintegrator. Hurry!..." His voice
trailed off faintly.

"He is dying," snapped Hale. "We might as well try it." He jerked open
the door to the disintegrator. "Here, Unani Assu! Lend a hand!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Instantly the Indian came forward, a peculiar, pleased expression on his
handsome face. In a moment, Sir Basil's body was inside, and the machine
began its weird humming, the humming that indicated the transformation
of a human body into dust.

"Now!" cried Unani Assu exultingly, going behind the machine. "I have
helped him enough to understand that if one changes this--and this--and
this"--he made some rapid adjustments on the machine--"something that is
not pleasant will happen."

"Stop!" cried Hale. "What did you change?"

The Indian laughed mockingly. "Wouldn't you like to know? But, yet, you
should not worry. You have no cause to love him, have you?"

"I can't be a traitor, Unani Assu! Arrange the machine as it was
originally, and I give you my word of honor than when Sir Basil comes
out, I'll wreck the damned thing beyond repair. See, Unani Assu? You and
I together will smash it."

The Indian folded his arms so that the repulsive things that should have
been hands were hidden.

"It's too late now," he admitted, shaking his head. "Yet I've done no
more to him than he did to me."

Hale went to the eye-piece in the machine and started to look inside.
Unani Assu stepped forward, tapped him on the shoulder, and, fingering
significantly the dissecting knife which he had picked up, said:

"I am operating the machine. Will you sit over there by Aña and wait? It
won't be long. And, white stranger, remember this: I am your friend. I
am turned against none but our common enemy." He pointed significantly
to the machine.

       *       *       *       *       *

Two hours passed, long, silent hours for the watchers in the laboratory.
Aña fell asleep, in a sweet, childish bundle upon the piled cushions,
her golden hair, still decorated with the red flowers which she always
wore, crushed and withered now. Several times Hale caught Unani Assu
gazing at her sadly, and his own look saddened when it rested on the
Indian's strong, outraged body.

The humming of the machine changed to a whistle. Placing his fingers on
his lips in a signal of quiet, Unani Assu whispered:

"Let Aña sleep. She mustn't see this."

Opening a door in the machine, his handsome face lighted with a grim
smile, he whispered exultingly:

"Watch!"

A scuttling sound issued forth and then, half drunkenly, an enormous rat
tumbled out--one of those horrible rats with the hairless, humanlike
faces that had so frequently come from the life-machine.

Hale could not crush back the cry that issued from his throat.

"Where is Sir Basil?" he gasped.

"There!" cried the Indian, pointing to the kicking rat, which was fast
gaining strength.

       *       *       *       *       *

Hale staggered back. "No! You don't mean it, do you?"

Unani Assu turned the rat over with a contemptuous toe. "Yes, I mean it.
Behold Aimu, the man who thought himself creator and destroyer--the man
who said that a human being was no higher than a rat! Perhaps he was
right, for see this thing that was once a man!"

Hale buried his face in his hands. "Kill it, Unani Assu! Kill it!"

Unani Assu's low laugh was metallic. "You kill it."

Hale uncovered his face. "Open the disintegrator." Gingerly he reached
for the rat's tail.

But his hand never touched the animal. The hairless face turned for a
second, and the little, beady eyes blinked up at Hale with an expression
that his fevered imagination thought almost human. Then, like a dark
shadow, the rat dashed away. Once around the room it scampered, hunting
for an exit. Hale started in pursuit. He was almost upon the animal
again, when, leaping up from his grasp, it landed on a low shelf where
chemicals were stored. Several bottles fell, filling the room with
fumes.

Another bottle fell, and, suddenly, amid a thunderous roar, the ceiling
and walls began falling. Some highly explosive chemical had been stored
in one of the bottles.

Hale was thrown violently against the couch. His hand touched Aña's
body. One last shred of consciousness enabled him to pick her up and
drag her out. In the open, he fell, aware, before blackness descended,
that flames leaped high over the laboratory building and that Unani Assu
lay dead within.

       *       *       *       *       *

Hale and Aña, leaning over the deck-rail of a small steam launch, gazed
into the dark waters of the Amazon.

"We ought to reach Para by morning," said Hale, "and then, dearest,
we're off for New York!"

Aña, wearing one of the first civilized dresses she had ever donned, and
looking as smart as any débutante, slipped her little hand into her
husband's.

"Isn't it a shame, Hale," she moaned, "that the fire burned all the
animals and insects, the machinery, and even your notes?" Her beautiful
face saddened. "Just one or two specimens might have been proof enough
for your What-You-Call-It Club!"

"The Nescience Club, darling. No, I can't expect to win the Woolman
prize, but I've won a prize worth far more." He squeezed her little hand
and looked devotedly into her blue eyes. "And, Aña, I've reasoned out
something concerning mind-electrons which even Sir Basil overlooked."

"What is it, Hale?"

"He maintained that matter seeks always to enslave mind-electrons, but I
am convinced that mind-electrons seek to enslave matter. Understand?
It's creation, Aña! Had Sir Basil succeeded in broadcasting death
throughout the world, the freed mind-electrons, as in the beginning,
would have started again to vitalize inorganic atoms. And, in a few
million years, which is no time to the Mind, the world would be humming
with a new civilization. Large thought, eh, sweetheart?"



A SIGNAL TO THE MOON

The idea of a radio signal to the moon may sound fantastic, but is
easily within the range of possibility, says Dr. A. Hoyt Taylor, Chief
of the Radio Division of the United States Naval Research Laboratories
at Washington, who plans such an attempt in the near future.

"We have reason to expect a good chance of getting the signal back in a
time interval of slightly less than three seconds," said Dr. Taylor.

To be exact, a radio signal should be reflected back to earth in a time
interval of 2.8 seconds, this being the necessary elapsed time for it to
carry the 250,000 miles to the moon and return at its speed of 300,000
kilometers, or 186,000 miles per second.

The signal would be very weak, Dr. Taylor points out, but not impossible
of detection with the present refinement of receiving instruments,
provided no great absorption took place in interstellar space.

A high frequency wave will be used, as such a wave penetrates readily
the earth's atmosphere and probably goes far beyond. The frequency of
the wave will range between 20,000 and 30,000 kilocycles. Twenty
kilowats of power will be used, enough to furnish current for about
forty flatirons.

The value of a radio signal to the moon lies in the confirmation of
whether there is or not heavy absorption of waves in the upper levels of
our own atmosphere. If successful it would indicate a reasonably good
reflection coefficient at the surface of the moon--the power of the
moon's surface to act as a joint agent in the perfection of the signal.

The signal might have some bearing also on whether the moon has an
atmosphere--something pretty much settled already by astronomical
observation. It would also lead to the possibility of fairly accurate
determination of wave velocity in free space, all of interest to
science, either confirming existing theories or establishing new ones.



The Pirate Planet

PART TWO OF A FOUR-PART NOVEL

_By Charles W. Diffin_

  It is war. Interplanetary war. And on far distant Venus two
  fighting Earthlings stand up against a whole planet run amuck.


WHAT HAS GONE BEFORE

A flash of light on Venus!--and at Maricopa Flying Field Lieutenant
McGuire and Captain Blake laugh at its possible meaning until the
radio's weird call and the sight of a giant ship in the night sky prove
their wildest thoughts are facts. "Big as an ocean liner," it hangs in
midair, then turns and shoots upward at incredible speed until it
disappears entirely, in space!

McGuire goes to Mount Lawson observatory, and there he sees the flash on
Venus repeated. Professor Sykes, who had observed the first flash,
confirms it and sees still more. He sees the enveloping clouds of Venus
torn asunder, and beneath them an identifying mark, a continent shaped
like the letter "L."

And then the great ship comes again. It hovers above the observatory and
settles slowly down.

[Illustration: "Hold them off as long as you can!"]

Back at Maricopa Field, Captain Blake has tested a new plane for
altitude, and is now prepared to interview the stranger in the higher
levels. McGuire's frantic phone call sends him out into the night with
the 91st Squadron of planes in support. It is their last flight, for all
but Blake. The invader smothers them in a great sphere of gas, but
Blake, with his oxygen flasks, flies through to crash beside the
observatory. Only Blake survives to see the enemy land, while strange
man-shapes loot the buildings and carry off McGuire and Sykes.

A bombardment with giant shells dispels the last doubt of the earth
being under attack. The flashes from Venus at regular intervals spout
death and destruction upon the earth; a mammoth gun, sunk into the
planet itself, bears once upon the earth at every revolution, until the
changing position of the globes take the target out of range.

In less than a year and a half the planets must meet again. It is war to
the death; a united world against an enemy unknown--an enemy who has
conquered space. And there is less than a year and a half in which to
prepare!

Far out in the blackness of space McGuire and Sykes are captives in the
giant ship. Their stupor leaves them; they find themselves immersed in
clouds. The clouds part; their ship drops through; and below them is a
strange continent shaped like the letter "L." Captives of inhuman but
man-shaped things, they are landing upon a strange globe--upon the
planet Venus itself!


CHAPTER VIII

Miles underneath the great ship, from which Lieutenant McGuire and
Professor Sykes were now watching through a floor-window of thick glass,
was a glittering expanse of water--a great ocean. The flickering gold
expanse that reflected back the color of the sunlit clouds passed to one
side as the ship took its station above the island, a continent in size,
that had shown by its shape like a sharply formed "L" an identifying
mark to the astronomer.

They were high in the air; the thick clouds that surrounded this new
world were miles from its surface, and the things of the world that
awaited were tiny and blurred.

Airships passed and repassed far below. Large, some of them--as bulky
as the transport they were on; others were small flashing cylinders, but
all went swiftly on their way.

It must have come--some ethereal vibration to warn others from the
path--for layer after layer of craft were cleared for the descent. A
brilliant light flashed into view, a dazzling pin-point on the shore
below, and the great ship fell suddenly beneath them. Swiftly it dropped
down the pathway of light; on even keel it fell down and still down,
till McGuire, despite his experience in the air, was sick and giddy.

The light blinked out at their approach. It was some minutes before the
watching eyes recovered from the brilliance to see what mysteries might
await, and then the surface was close and the range of vision small.

A vast open space--a great court paved with blocks of black and white--a
landing field, perhaps, for about it in regular spacing other huge
cylinders were moored. Directly beneath in a clear space was a giant
cradle of curved arms; it was a mammoth structure, and the men knew at a
glance that this was the bed where their great ship would lie.

       *       *       *       *       *

The smooth pavement seemed slowly rising to meet them as their ship
settled close. Now the cradle was below, its arms curved and waiting.
The ship entered their grasp, and the arms widened, then closed to draw
the monster to its rest. Their motion ceased. They were finally, beyond
the last faint doubt, at anchor on a distant world.

A shrill cackle of sound recalled them from the thrill of this
adventure, and the attenuated and lanky figure, with its ashen,
blotchy face that glared at them from the doorway, reminded them that
this excursion into space was none of their desire. They were
prisoners--captives from a foreign land.

A long hand moved its sinuous fingers to motion them to follow, and
McGuire regarded his companion with a hopeless look and a despondent
shrug of his shoulders.

"No use putting up a fight," he said; "I guess we'd better be good."

He followed where the figure was stepping through a doorway into a
corridor beyond. They moved, silent and depressed, along the dimly
lighted way; the touch of cold metal walls was as chilling to their
spirits as to their flesh.

But the mood could not last: the first ray of light from the outside
world sent shivers of anticipation along their spines. They were
landing, in very fact, upon a new world; their feet were to walk where
never man had stood; their eyes would see what mortal eyes had never
visioned.

Fears were forgotten, and the men clung to each other not for the human
touch but because of an ecstasy of intoxicating, soul-filling joy in the
sheer thrill of adventure.

They were gripping each other's hand, round-eyed as a couple of
children, as they stepped forward into the light.

       *       *       *       *       *

Before them was a scene whose blazing beauty of color struck them to
frozen silence; their exclamations of wonder died unspoken on their
lips. They were in a city of the stars, and to their eyes it seemed as
if all the brilliance of the heavens had been gathered for its
building.

The spacious, open court itself stood high in the air among the masses
of masonry, and beyond were countless structures. Some towered skyward;
others were lower; and all were topped with bulbous towers and graceful
minarets that made a forest of gleaming opal light. Opalescence
everywhere!--it flashed in red and gold and delicate blues from every
wall and cornice and roof.

"Quartz?" marveled Sykes after one long drawn breath. "Quartz or
glass?--what are they made of? It is fairyland!"

A jewelled city! Garish, it might have been, and tawdry, in the full
light of the sun. But on these weirdly unreal structures the sun's rays
never shone; they were illumined only by the soft golden glow that
diffused across this world from the cloud masses far above.

McGuire looked up at that uniform, glowing, golden mass that paled
toward the horizon and faded to the gray of banked clouds. His eyes came
slowly back to the ramp that led downward to the checkered black and
white of the court. Beyond an open portion the pavement was solidly
massed with people.

"People!--we might as well call them that," McGuire had told Sykes;
"they are people of a sort, I suppose. We'll have to give them credit
for brains: they've beaten us a hundred years in their inventions."

He was trying to see everything, understand everything, at once. There
was not time to single out the new impressions that were crowding upon
him. The air--it was warm to the point of discomfort; it explained the
loose, light garments of the people; it came to the two men laden with
strange scents and stranger sounds.

McGuire's eyes held with hungry curiosity upon the dwellers in this
other world; he stared at the gaping throng from which came a bedlam of
shrill cries. Lean colorless hands gesticulated wildly and pointed with
long fingers at the two men.

       *       *       *       *       *

The din ceased abruptly at a sharp, whistled order from their captor. He
stood aside with a guard that had followed from the ship, and he
motioned the two before him down the gangway. It was the same scarlet
one who had faced them before, the one whom McGuire had attacked in a
frenzy of furious fighting, only to go down to blackness and defeat
before the slim cylinder of steel and its hissing gas. And the slanting
eyes stared wickedly in cold triumph as he ordered them to go before
him in his march of victory.

McGuire passed down toward the masses of color that were the ones who
waited. There were many in the dull red of the ship's crew; others in
sky-blue, in gold and pink and combinations of brilliance that blended
their loose garments to kaleidoscopic hues. But the figures were similar
in one unvarying respect: they were repulsive and ghastly, and their
faces showed bright blotches of blood vessels and blue markings of veins
through their parchment-gray skins.

The crowd parted to a narrow, living lane, and lean fingers clutched
writhingly to touch them as they passed between the solid ranks.

McGuire had only a vague impression of a great building beyond, of lower
stories decorated in barbaric colors, of towers above in strange forms
of the crystal, colorful beauty they had seen. He walked toward it
unseeing; his thoughts were only of the creatures round about.

"What damned beasts!" he said. Then, like his companion, he set his
teeth to restrain all show of feeling as they made their way through the
lane of incredible living things.

       *       *       *       *       *

They followed their captor through a doorway into an empty room--empty
save for one blue-clad individual who stood beside an instrument board
let into the wall. Beyond was a long wall, where circular openings
yawned huge and black.

The one at the instrument panel received a curt order: the weird voice
of the man in red repeated a word that stood out above his curious,
wordless tone. "Torg," he said, and again McGuire heard him repeat the
syllable.

The operator touched here and there among his instruments, and tiny
lights flashed; he threw a switch, and from one of the black openings
like a deep cave came a rushing roar of sound. It dropped to silence as
the end of a cylindrical car protruded into the room. A door in the
metal car opened, and their guard hustled them roughly inside. The one
in red followed while behind him the door clanged shut.

Inside the car was light, a diffused radiance from no apparent source,
the whole air was glowing about them. And beneath their feet the car
moved slowly but with a constant acceleration that built up to
tremendous speed. Then that slackened, and Sykes and McGuire clung to
each other for support while the car that had been shot like a
projectile came to rest.

"Whew!" breathed the lieutenant; "that was quick delivery." Sykes made
no reply, and McGuire, too, fell silent to study the tremendous room
into which they were led. Here, seemingly, was the stage for their next
experience.

A vast open hall with a floor of glass that was like obsidion, empty but
for carved benches about the walls; there was room here for a mighty
concourse of people. The walls, like those they had seen, were decorated
crudely in glaring colors, and embellished with grotesque designs that
proclaimed loudly the inexpert touch of the draughtsman. Yet, above
them, the ceiling sprang lightly into vaulted, sweeping curves.
McGuire's training had held little of architecture, yet even he felt the
beauty of line and airy gracefulness of treatment in the structure
itself.

       *       *       *       *       *

The contrast between the flaunting colors and the finished artistry that
lay beneath must have struck a discordant note to the scientist. He
leaned closer to whisper.

"It is all wrong some way--the whole world! Beauty and refinement--then
crude vulgarity, as incongruous as the people themselves--they do not
belong here."

"Neither do we," was McGuire's reply; "it looks like a tough spot that
we're in."

He was watching toward a high, arched entrance across the room. A
platform before it was raised some six feet above the floor, and on
this were seats--ornate chairs, done in sweeping scrolls of scarlet and
gold. A massive seat in the center was like the fantastic throne of a
child's fairy tale. From the corridor beyond that entrance came a stir
and rustling that rivetted the man's attention.

A trumpet peal, vibrant and peculiar, blared forth from the ceiling
overhead, and the red figures of the guards stood at rigid attention
with lean arms held stiffly before them. The one in scarlet took the
same attitude, then dropped his hands to motion the two men to give the
same salute.

"You go to hell," said Lieutenant McGuire in his gentlest tones. And the
scarlet figure's thin lips were snarling as he turned to whip his arms
up to their position. The first of a procession of figures was entering
through the arch.

Sykes, the scientist, was paying little attention. "It isn't true," he
was muttering aloud; "it can't be true. Venus! Twenty-six million miles
at inferior conjunction!"

He seemed lost in silent communion with his own thoughts; then: "But
I said there was every probability of life; I pointed out the
similarities--"

"Hush!" warned McGuire. The eyes of the scarlet man were sending wicked
looks in their direction. Tall forms were advancing through the arch.
They, too, were robed in scarlet, and behind them others followed.

       *       *       *       *       *

The trumpet peal from the dome above held now on a long-drawn, single
note, while the scarlet men strode in silence across the dais and parted
to form two lines. An inverted "V" that faced the entrance--they were an
assembly of rigid, blazing statues whose arms were extended like those
on the floor below.

The vibrant tone from on high changed to a crashing blare that shrieked
discordantly to send quivering protest through every nerve of the
waiting men. Those about them were shouting, and again the name of Torg
was heard, as, in the high arch, another character appeared to play his
part in a strange drama.

Thin like his companions, yet even taller than them, he wore the same
brilliant robes and, an additional mark of distinction, a head-dress of
polished gold. He acknowledged the salute with a quick raising of his
own arms, then came swiftly forward and took his place upon the massive
throne.

Not till he was seated did the others on the platform relax their rigid
pose and seat themselves in the semicircle of chairs. And not till then
did they so much as glance at the men waiting there before them--the two
Earth-men, standing in silent, impassive contemplation of the brilliant
scene and with their arms held quiet at their sides. Then every eye
turned full upon the captives, and if McGuire had seen deadly
malevolence in the face of their captor he found it a hundred-fold in
the inhuman faces that looked down upon them now.

The inquiring mind of Professor Sykes did not fail to note the
character of their reception. "But why," he asked in whispers of his
fellow-prisoner, "--why this open hatred of us? What possible animus
can they have against the earth or its people?"

The figure on the throne voiced a curt order; the one who had brought
them stepped forward. His voice was raised in the same discordant,
singing tone that leaped and wandered from note to note. It conveyed
ideas--that was apparent; it was a language that he spoke. And the
central figure above nodded a brief assent as he finished.

Their captor took an arm of each in his long fingers and pushed them
roughly forward to stand alone before the battery of hard eyes.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now the crowned figure addressed them directly. His voice quavered
sharply in what seemed an interrogation. The men looked blankly at each
other.

Again the voice questioned them impatiently. Sykes and McGuire were
silent. Then the young flyer took an involuntary step forward and looked
squarely at the owner of the harsh voice.

"We don't know what you are saying," he began, "and I suppose that our
lingo makes no sense to you--" He paused in helpless wonderment as to
what he could say. Then--

"But what the devil is it all about?" he demanded explosively. "Why all
the dirty looks? You've got us here as prisoners--now what do you expect
us to do? Whatever it is, you'll have to quit singing it and talk
something we can understand."

He knew his words were useless, but this reception was getting on his
nerves--and his arm still tingled where the scarlet one had gripped
him.

It seemed, though, that his meaning was not entirely lost. His words
meant nothing to them, but his tone must have carried its own message.
There were sharp exclamations from the seated circle. The one who had
brought them sprang forward with outstretched, clutching hands; his face
was a blood-red blotch. McGuire was waiting in crouching tenseness that
made the red one pause.

"You touch me again," said the waiting man, "and I'll knock you into an
outside loop."

The attacker's indecision was ended by a loud order from above. McGuire
turned as if he had been spoken to by the leader on the throne. The thin
figure was leaning far forward; his eye were boring into those of the
lieutenant, and he held the motionless pose for many minutes. To the
angry man, staring back and upward, there came a peculiar optical
illusion.

The evil face was vanishing in a shifting cloud that dissolved and
reformed, as he watched, into pictures. He knew it was not there, the
thing he saw; he knew he was regarding something as intangible as
thought; but he got the significance of every detail.

He saw himself and Professor Sykes; they were being crushed like ants
beneath a tremendous heel; he knew that the foot that could grind out
their lives was that of the one on the throne.

       *       *       *       *       *

The cloud-stuff melted to new forms that grew clearer to show him the
earth. A distorted Earth--and he knew the distortion came from the mind
of the being before him who had never seen the earth at first hand; yet
he knew it for his own world. It was turning in space; he saw oceans and
continents; and before his mental gaze he saw the land swarming with
these creatures of Venus. The one before him was in command; he was
seated on an enormous throne; there were Earth people like Sykes and
himself who crept humbly before him, while fleets of great Venusian
ships hovered overhead.

The message was plain--plain as if written in words of fire in the brain
of the man. McGuire knew that these creatures intended that the vision
should be true--they meant to conquer the earth. The slim, khaki-clad
figure of Lieutenant McGuire quivered with the strength of his refusal
to accept the truth of what he saw. He shook his head to clear it of
these thought wraiths.

"Not--in--a--million--years!" he said, and he put behind his words all
the mental force at his command. "Try that, old top, and they'll give
you the fight of your life--" He checked his words as he saw plainly
that the thin cruel face that stared and stared was getting nothing from
his reply.

"Now what do you think about that?" he demanded of Professor Sykes. "He
got an idea across to me--some form of telepathy. I saw his mind, or I
saw what he wanted me to see of it. It's taps, he says, for us, and then
they think they're going across and annex the world."

He glanced upward again and laughed loudly for the benefit of those who
were watching him so closely. "Fine chance!" he said; "a fat chance!"
But in the deeper recesses of his mind he was shaken.

For themselves there was no hope. Well, that was all in a lifetime. But
the other--the conquest of the earth--he had to try with all his power
of will to keep from his mind the pictures of destruction these beastly
things could bring about.

       *       *       *       *       *

The chief of this strange council made a gesture of contempt with the
grotesque hands that were so translucent yet ashy-pale against his
scarlet robe, and the down-drawn thin lips reflected the thoughts that
prompted it. The open opposition of Lieutenant McGuire failed to impress
him, it seemed. At a word the one who had brought them sprang forward.

He addressed himself to the circle of men, and he harangued them
mightily in harsh discordance. He pointed one lean hand at the two
captives, then beat it upon his own chest. "They are mine," he was
saying, as the men knew plainly. And they realized as if the weird talk
came like words to their ears that this monster was demanding that the
captives be given him.

An exchange of dismayed glances, and "Not so good!" said McGuire under
his breath; "Simon Legree is asking for his slaves. Mean, ugly devil,
that boy!"

The lean figures on the platform were bending forward, an expression of
mirth--distorted, animal smiles--upon their flabby lips. They
represented to the humans, so helpless before them, a race of thinking
things in whom no last vestige of kindness or decency remained. But was
there an exception? One of the circle was standing; the one beside them
was sullenly silent as the other on the platform addressed their ruler.

He spoke at some length, not with the fire and vehemence of the one who
had claimed them, but more quietly and dispassionately, and his cold
eyes, when they rested on those of McGuire and Sykes, seemed more
crafty than actively ablaze with malevolent ill-will. Plainly it was the
councilor now, addressing his superior. His inhuman voice was silenced
by a reply from the one on the throne.

He motioned--this gold-crowned figure of personified evil--toward the
two men, and his hand swept on toward the one who had spoken. He intoned
a command in harsh gutturals that ended in a sibilant shriek. And the
two standing silent and hopeless exchanged looks of despair.

They were being delivered to this other--that much was plain--but that
it boded anything but captivity and torment they could not believe. That
last phrase was too eloquent of hissing hate.

       *       *       *       *       *

The creature rose, tall and ungainly, from his throne; amid the
salutations of his followers he turned and vanished through the arch.
The others of his council followed, all but the one. He motioned to the
two men to come with him, and the sullen one who had demanded the men
for himself obeyed an order from this councilor who was his superior.

He snapped an order, and four of his men ranged themselves about the
captives as a guard. Thin metal cords were whipped about the wrists of
each; their hands were tied. The wire cut like a knife-edge if they
strained against it.

The new director of their destinies was vanishing through an exit at one
side of the great hall; their guard hustled them after. A corridor
opened before them to end in a gold-lit portal; it was daylight out
beyond where a street was filled with hurrying figures in many colors.
With quavering shrieks they scattered like frightened fowls as an
airship descended between the tall buildings that reflected its passing
in opalescent hues.

It was a small craft compared with the one that had brought them, and
it swept down to settle lightly upon the street with no least regard
for those who might be crushed by its descent. Consideration for their
fellows did not appear as a marked characteristic of this strange
people, McGuire observed thoughtfully. They swarmed in endless droves,
these multicolored beings who made of the thoroughfare an ever-changing
kaleidoscope--and what was a life or two, more or less, among so many?
He found no comfort for themselves in the thought.

Shoulder to shoulder, the two followed where the scarlet figure of the
councilor moved toward the waiting ship. Only the professor paid further
heed to their surroundings; he marveled aloud at the numbers of the
people.

"Hundreds of them," he said; "thousands! They are swarming everywhere
like rats. Horrible!" His eyes passed on to the buildings in their glory
of delicate hues, as he added, "And the contrast they make with their
surroundings! It is all wrong some way; I wish I knew--"

They were in the ship when McGuire replied. "I hope we live long enough
to satisfy your curiosity," he said grimly.

The ship was rising beneath them; the opal and quartz of the city's
walls were flashing swiftly down.


CHAPTER IX

They were in a cabin at the very nose of the ship, seated on metal
chairs, their hands unshackled and free. Their scarlet guardian reclined
at ease somewhat to one side, but despite his apparent disregard his
cold eyes seldom left the faces of the two men.

Windows closed them in; windows on each side, in front, above them, and
even in the floor beneath. It was a room for observation whose
metal-latticed walls served only as a framework for the glass. And there
was much to be observed.

The golden radiance of sunlit clouds was warm above. They rose toward
it, until, high over the buildings' tallest spires, there spread on
every hand the bewildering beauty of that forest of minarets and sloping
roofs and towers, whose many facets made glorious blendings of soft
color. Aircraft at many levels swept in uniform directions throughout
the sky. The ship they were in hung quiet for a time, then rose to a
higher level to join the current of transportation that flowed into the
south.

"We will call it south," said Professor Sykes. "The sun-glow, you will
observe, is not directly overhead; the sun is sinking; it is past their
noon. What is the length of their day? Ah, this interesting--interesting!"
The certain fate they had foreseen was forgotten; it is not often given to
an astronomer to check at first hand his own indefinite observations.

"Look!" McGuire exclaimed. "Open country! The city is ending!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Ahead and below them the buildings were smaller and scattered. Their new
master was watching with closest scrutiny the excitement of the men; he
whispered an order into a nearby tube, and the ship slowly slanted
toward the ground. He was studying these new specimens, as McGuire
observed, but the lieutenant paid little attention; his eyes were too
thoroughly occupied in resolving into recognizable units the picture
that flowed past them so quickly. He was accustomed, this pilot of the
army air service, to reading clearly the map that spreads beneath a
plane, but now he was looking at an unfamiliar chart.

"Fields," he said, and pointed to squared areas of pale reds and blues;
"though what it is, heaven knows. And the trees!--if that's what they
are." The ship went downward where an area of tropical denseness made a
tangled mass of color and shadow.

"Trees!" Lieutenant McGuire had exclaimed, but these forests were of
tree-forms in weirdest shapes and hues. They grew to towering heights,
and their branches and leaves that swayed and dipped in the slow-moving
air were of delicate pastel shades.

"No sunlight," said the Professor excitedly; "they have no direct rays
of the sun. The clouds act as a screen and filter out actinic rays."

McGuire did not reply. He was watching the countless dots of color that
were people--people who swarmed here as they had in the city; people
working at these great groves, crouching lower in the fields as the ship
swept close; people everywhere in teeming thousands. And like the
vegetation about them, they, too, were tall and thin, attenuated of form
and with skin like blood-stained ash.

"They need the sun," Sykes was repeating; "both vegetable and animal
life. The plants are deficient in chlorophyl--see the pale green of the
leaves!--and the people need vitamines. Yet they evidently have electric
power in abundance. I could tell them of lamps--"

       *       *       *       *       *

His comments ceased as McGuire lurched heavily against him. The flyer
had taken note of the tense, attentive attitude of the one in scarlet;
the man was leaning forward, his eyes focused directly upon the
scientist's face; he seemed absorbing both words and emotions.

How much could he comprehend? What power had he to vision the
idea-pictures in the other's mind? McGuire could not know. But "Sorry!"
he told Sykes; "that was clumsy of me." And he added in a whisper, "Keep
your thoughts to yourself; I think this bird is getting them."

Buildings flashed under them, not massed solidly as in the city, yet
spaced close to one another as if every foot of ground not devoted to
their incredible agriculture were needed to house the inhabitants. The
ground about them was alive with an equally incredible humanity that
swarmed over all this world in appalling profusion.

Their horrid flesh! Their hideous features! And their number! McGuire
had a sudden, sickening thought. They were larvae, these crawling
hordes--vile worm-things that infested a beautiful world--that bred here
in millions, their numbers limited only by the space for their bodies
and the food for their stomachs. And he, McGuire, a _man_--he and this
other man with his clear-thinking scientific brain were prisoners to
this horde; captives, to be used or butchered by those vile, crawling
things!

And again it was this world of contrast that drove home the conviction
with its sickening certainty. A world of beauty, of delicate colors, of
sweeping oceans and gleaming shores and towering cities with their grace
and beauty and elfin splendor yet a world that shuddered beneath this
devouring plague of grublike men.

       *       *       *       *       *

They swept past cities and towns and over many miles of open land before
their craft swung eastward toward the dark horizon. The master gave
another order into the speaking tube and their ship shot forward, faster
and yet faster, with a speed that pressed them heavily into their seats.
Behind them was the glory of the sunlit clouds; ahead the gloomy
gray-black masses that must make a stygian night sky over this lonely
world--a world cut off by that vaporous shell from all communion with
the stars.

They were over the water; before them a dark ocean reached out in
forbidding emptiness to a darker horizon. Ahead, the only broken line in
the vast level expanse was a mountain rising abruptly from the sea. It
was a volcanic cone surmounting an island; the sunlight's glow reflected
from behind them against the sombre mass that lifted toward the clouds.
Their ship was high enough to clear it, but instead it swung, as McGuire
watched, toward the south.

The island drifted past, and again they were on their course. But to
the flyer there were significant facts that could not pass unobserved.
Their own ship had swung in a great circle to avoid this mountain. And
all through the skies were others that did the same. The air above and
about the grim sentinel peak was devoid of flying shapes.

McGuire caught the eyes of the councilor, their keeper. "What is that?"
he asked, though he knew the words were lost on the other. He nodded his
head toward the distant peak, and his question was plainly in regard to
the island. And for the first time since their coming to this wild
world, he saw, flashing across the features of one of these men, a trace
of emotion that could only be construed as fear.

The slitted cat eyes lost their look of complacent superiority. They
widened involuntarily, and the face was drained of its blotched color.
There was fear, terror unmistakable, though it showed for but an
instant. He had control of his features almost at once, but the flyer
had read their story.

Here was something that gave pause to this race of conquering vermin; a
place in the expanse of this vast sea that brought panic to their
hearts. And there came to him, as he stowed the remembrance away in his
mind, the first glow of hope. These things could fear a mountain; it
might be that they could be brought to fear a man.

       *       *       *       *       *

The sky was clearing rapidly of traffic and the mountain of his
speculations was lost astern, when another island came slanting swiftly
up to meet them as their ship swept down from the heights. It was a tiny
speck in the ocean's expanse, a speck that resolved itself into the
squared fields of colored growth, orchards whose brilliant, strange
fruits glowed crimson in the last light of day, and enormous trees,
beyond which appeared a house.

A palace, McGuire concluded, when he saw clearly the many-storied pile.
Like the buildings they had seen, this also constructed of opalescent
quartz. There were windows that glowed warmly in the dusk. A sudden wave
of loneliness, almost unbearable, swept over the man.

Windows and gleaming lights, the good sounds of Earth; home!... And his
ears, as he stepped out into the cool air, were assailed with the
strange cackle and calling of weird folk; the air brought him scents,
from the open ground beyond, of fruits and vegetation like none he had
ever known; and the earth, the homeland of his vain imaginings, was
millions of empty miles away....

The leader stopped, and McGuire looked dispiritedly at the unfamiliar
landscape under dusky lowering skies. Trees towered high in the
air--trees grotesque and weird by all Earth standards--whose limbs were
pale green shadows in the last light of day. The foliage, too, seemed
bleached and drained of color, but among the leaves were flashes of
brilliance where night-blooming flowers burst open like star-shells to
fill the air with heavy scents.

Between the men and the forest growth was a row of denser vegetation,
great ferns twenty feet and more in height, and among them at regular
intervals stood plants of another growth--each a tremendous pod held in
air on a thick stalk. Tendrils coiled themselves like giant springs
beside each pod, tendrils as thick as a man's wrist. The great pods were
ranged in a line that extended as far as McGuire could see in the dim
light.

       *       *       *       *       *

His shoulders drooped as the guard herded him and his companion toward
the building beyond. He must not be cast down--he would not! Who knew
how much of such feeling was read by these keen-eyed observers? And the
only thought with which he could fill his mind, the one forlorn ghost of
a hope that he could cling to, was that of an island, a volcanic peak
that rose from dark waters to point upward toward the heights.

The guard of four was clustered about; the figures were waiting now in
the gathering dark--waiting, while the one in scarlet listened and spoke
alternately into a jeweled instrument that hung by a slender chain about
his neck. He raised one lean hand to motion the stirring guards to
silence, listened again intently into the instrument, then pointed that
hand toward the cloud-filled sky, while he craned his thin neck to look
above him.

The men's eyes followed the pointing hand to see only the sullen black
of unlit clouds. The last distant aircraft had vanished from the skies;
not a ship was in the air--only the enveloping blanket of high-flung
vapor that blocked out all traces of the heavens. And then!--

The cloud banks high in the skies flashed suddenly to dazzling, rolling
flame. The ground under their feet was shaken as by a distant
earthquake, while, above, the terrible fire spread, a swift, flashing
conflagration that ate up the masses of clouds.

"What in thunder--" McGuire began; then stopped as he caught, in the
light from above, the reflection of fierce exultation in the eyes of the
scarlet one. The evil, gloating message of those eyes needed no words to
explain its meaning. That this cataclysm was self-made by these beings,
McGuire knew, and he knew that in some way it meant menace to him and
his.

Yet he groped in thought for some definite meaning. No menace could this
be to himself personally, for he and Sykes stood there safe in the
company of the councilor himself. Then the threat of this flaming blast
must be directed toward the earth!

       *       *       *       *       *

The fire vanished, and once more, as Professor Sykes had seen on that
night so long ago, the blanket of clouds was broken. McGuire followed
the gaze of the scientist whose keen eyes were probing in these brief
moments into the depths of star-lit space.

"There--there!" Sykes exclaimed in awe-struck tones. His hand was
pointing outward through the space where flames had cleared the sky. A
star was shining in the heavens with a glory that surpassed all others.
It outshone all neighboring stars, and it sent its light down through
the vast empty reaches of space, a silent message to two humans,
despondent and heartsick, who stared with aching eyes.

Lieutenant McGuire did not hear his friend's whispered words. No need to
name that distant world--it was Earth! Earth!... And it was calling to
its own....

There was a flying-field--so plain before his mental eyes; men in khaki
and leather who moved and talked and spoke of familiar things ... and
the thunder of motors ... and roaring planes....

Some far recess within his deeper self responded strangely. What now of
threats and these brute-things that threatened?--he was one with this
picture he had visioned. He was himself; he was a man of that distant
world of men; they would show these vile things how men could meet
menace--or death.... His shoulders were back and unconsciously he stood
erect.

The scarlet figure was close beside them in the dusk, his voice vibrant
with a quality which should have struck fear to his captives' hearts as
he ordered them on. But the look in his crafty eyes changed to one of
puzzled wonder at sight of the men.

Hands on each other's shoulders, they stood there in the gathering dark,
where grotesque trees arched twistingly overhead. Their moment of
depression had passed; Earth had called, and they had heard it, each
after his own fashion. But to each the call had been one of clear
courage. No longer cast off and forlorn, they were one with their own
world.

"Down," said Professor Sykes with a whimsical smile; "down, but not
out!" And the lieutenant responded in kind.

"Are we down-hearted?" he demanded loudly. And the two turned as one man
to grin at the scarlet one as they thundered. "N-o-o!"


CHAPTER X

Two men grinned in derision at the horrible, man-shaped thing that held
their destinies in his lean, inhuman hands!--but they turned abruptly
away to look again above them where that bright star still shone through
an opening in the clouds.

"The earth! Home!" It seemed as if they could never tear their eyes away
from the sight.

Their captor whistled an order, and the guard of four tugged vainly at
the two, who resisted that they might gaze upon their own world until
the closing clouds should blot it from sight. A cry from one of the red
guards roused them.

The dark was closing in fast, and their surroundings were dim. Vaguely,
McGuire felt more than saw one of the red figures whirled into the air.
He sensed a movement in the jungle darkness where were groves of weird
trees and the tangle of huge vegetable growths. What it was he could not
say, but he felt the guard who clutched at him quiver in terror.

Their leader snatched at the instrument that hung about his neck and put
it to his lips; he whistled an order, sharp and shrill. Blazing light
that seemed to flame in the air was the response; the air was aglow with
an all-pervading brilliance like that in the car that had whirled them
from the landing field. The light was everywhere, and the building
before them was surrounded by a dazzling envelope of luminosity.

Whatever of motion or menace there had been ceased abruptly. Their
guard, three now in number instead of four, seized them roughly and
hustled them toward an open door. No time, as they passed, for more than
fleeting impressions: a hall of warm, glowing light--a passage that
branched off--and, at the end, a room into which they were thrown, while
a metal door clanged behind them.

       *       *       *       *       *

These were no gentle hands that hurled the men staggering through the
doorway, and Professor Sykes fell headlong upon the glassy floor. He
sprang to his feet, his face aflame with anger. "The miserable beasts!"
he shouted.

"Take it easy," admonished the flyer. "We're in the hoose-gow; no use of
getting all fussed up if they don't behave like perfect gentlemen.

"There's a bunk in the corner," he said, and pointed to a woven hammock
that was covered with soft cloths; "and here's another that I can sling.
Twin beds! What more do you want?"

He opened a door and the splash of falling water came to them. A
fountain cascaded to the ceiling to fall splashing upon a floor of
inlaid, glassy tile. McGuire whistled.

"Room and bath," he said. "And you complained of the service!"

"I have an idea," he told the scientist, "that our scarlet friend who
owns this place intends to treat us decently, even though his helpers
are a bit rough. My hunch is that he wants to get some information out
of us. That old bird back there in the council chamber told me as plain
as day that they think they are going to conquer the earth. Maybe that's
why we are here--as exhibits A and B, for them to study and learn how to
lick us."

"You are talking what I would have termed nonsense a month ago,"
replied Sykes, "but now--well, I am afraid you are right. And," he said
slowly, "I fear that they are equally correct. They have conquered
space; they have ships propelled by some unknown power; they have gas
weapons, as you and I have reason to know. And they have all the
beastly ferocity to carry such a plan through to success. But I wonder
what that sky-splitting blast meant."

"Bombardment," the flyer told him; "bombardment of the earth as sure as
you're alive."

"More nonsense," said Sykes; "and probably correct.... Well, what are we
to do?--sit tight and give them as little information as we can? or--"
His question ended unfinished; the alternative, it seemed, was not plain
to him.

"There's only one answer," said McGuire. "We must get away; escape
somehow."

       *       *       *       *       *

Professor Sykes' eyes showed his appreciation of a spirit that could
still dare to hope, but he asked dejectedly: "Escape? Good idea. But
where to?"

"I have an idea," the flyer said slowly. "An idea about an island." He
told the professor what he had observed--the fact that there was one
spot of land on this globe from which the traffic of these monsters of
Venus steered clear. This, he explained, must have some significance.

"Whatever is there, God only knows," he admitted, "but it is something
these devils don't like a little bit. It might be interesting to learn
more. We'll make a break for it; find a boat. No, we probably can't do
it, but we can make a try. Now what is our first step, I wonder."

"Our first step," said Professor Sykes, measuring his words as if he
might be working out some astronomical calculation, "is into the
inverted shower-bath, if you feel as hot as I do. And our next step,
when all is quiet for the night, is through the window I see beyond. I
can see the branches of one of those undernourished trees from here."

"Last one in is a lop-eared Venusian!" said McGuire, throwing off his
jacket. And in that strange room in a strange world, under the shadow of
death and of tortures unknown, the two men stripped with all the
care-free abandon of a couple of schoolboys racing to be first in the
old swimming hole.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was some time later when the door opened and a long red hand pushed a
tray of food into the room. The tray was of unbreakable crystal--he
rattled it heedlessly upon the floor--and it held crystal dishes of
unknown foods.

They were sampling them all when Sykes remarked plaintively, "I would
like to know what under heaven I am eating."

"I've wished to know that in lots of restaurants," McGuire replied. "I
remember a place down on--" He stopped abruptly, then chewed in silence
upon a fruit like a striped pepper that stung his mouth and tongue while
he scarcely felt it. References to Earth things plainly were to be
avoided: the visions they brought before one's eyes were unnerving.

They made a pretence of sleeping in case they were being observed, and
it was some hours later when the two stood quietly beside the open
window. As Sykes had seen, there were branches of a pale, twisted
tree-growth close outside. McGuire tried his weight upon them, then
swung himself out, hand over hand, upon the branch that bent low beneath
him. Sykes was close behind when he clambered to the ground to stand for
some minutes, listening silently in the dark.

"Too easy!" the lieutenant whispered. "They are too foxy to leave
a gateway like that--but here we are. The shore is off in this
direction."

The dark of a night unrelieved by a single star was about them as they
moved noiselessly away. They followed open ground at first. The building
that had been their brief prison was upon their right; beyond and at the
left was where the ship landed--it was gone now--and beyond that the
wall of vegetation.

And again, in the dark, McGuire had an uncanny sense of motion. Soft
bodies were slipping quietly one upon another; something that lived was
there beyond them in the night. No sound or sign of life came from the
house; no guard had been posted; and McGuire stopped again, before
plunging into the tangled growth, to whisper, "Too easy, Sykes! There's
something about this--"

       *       *       *       *       *

He had pushed aside the fronds of a giant fern; a cautious step
beyond his hands touched a slippery, pliant vine. And his whisper
ended as he felt the thing turn and twist beneath his hand. It was
alive!--writhing!--cold as the body of a monster snake, and just as
vicious and savage in the way that it whipped down and about him in
the gloom of the starless night.

The thing was alive! It threw its coils around his body in an embrace
that left him breathless; a slender tendril was tightening about his
neck; his hands and arms were bound.

His ankle was grasped as he was whirled aloft--a human hand that gripped
him this time--and Sykes, forgetting discretion and the need for
silence, was shouting in the darkness that gave no clue to their
opponent. "Hang on!" he yelled. "I've got you, Mac!"

His shouts were cut short by another serpent shape that thrashed him and
smashed the softer growing things to earth that it might wrap this man,
too, in its deadly coils.

McGuire felt his companion's hold loosen as he was lifted from the
ground; there were other arms flailing about him--living, coiling things
that seemed to fight one with another for this prize. Abruptly,
blindingly, the scene was vividly etched before him: the strange trees,
the ferns, the writhing and darting serpent-arms! They were illumined in
a dazzling, white light!

He was in the air, clutched strangely in constricting arms; an odor of
rotted flesh was in his nostrils, sickening, suffocating! Beyond and
almost beneath him a cauldron of green gaped open, and he saw within it
a pool of thick liquid that eddied and steamed to give off the stench
of putrescence.

All this in an instant of vision--and in that instant he knew the death
they courted. It was a giant pod that held that pool--one of the growths
he had seen ranged out like a line of sentinels. But the terrible
tendrils that had been coiled and at rest were wrapped about him now,
drawing him to that reeking pool of death and the waiting thick lips
that would close above him. Sykes, too! The tendrils that had clutched
him were whisking his helpless body where another gaping mouth was
open--

       *       *       *       *       *

And then, in the blazing light that was more brilliant than any light of
day in this world, the hold about McGuire relaxed. He saw, as he fell,
the thick, green lips snap shut; and the arms that had held him pulled
back into harmless, tight-wound coils.

Their bodies crashed to earth where a great fern bent beneath them to
cushion their fall. And the men lay silent and gasping for great choking
breaths, while from the building beyond came the cackle and shrieking of
man-things in manifest enjoyment of the frustrated plans.

It was the laughter that determined McGuire.

"Damn the plants!" he said between hoarse breaths. "Man-eating
plants--but they're--better--than--those devils! And there's only--one
line of them: I saw them here before. Shall we go on?--make a break for
it?"

Sykes rolled to the shelter of an arching frond and, without a word,
went crawling away. McGuire was behind him, and the two, as they came to
open ground, sprang to their feet and ran on through the weird orchard
where tree trunks made dim, twisting lines. They ran blindly and
helplessly toward the outer dark that promised temporary shelter.

A hopeless attempt: both men, knew the futility of it, while they
stumbled onward through the dark. Behind them the night was hideous
with noise as the great palace gave forth an eruption of shrieking,
inhuman forms that scattered with whistling and wailing calls in all
directions.

       *       *       *       *       *

A mile or more of groping, hopeless flight, till a yellow gleam shone
among the trees to guide them. A building, beyond a clearing, gave a
bright illumination to the black night.

"We've run in a circle," choked McGuire, his voice weak and uncertain
with exhaustion. "Like a couple of fools!--"

He waited until the heavy breathing that shook his body might be
controlled, then corrected himself. "No--this is another--a new one--see
the towers! And listen--it's a radio station!"

The slender frameworks that towered high in air glowed like flame--a
warning to the ships whose lights showed now and then far overhead. And,
clear and distinct, there came to the listening men the steady,
crackling hiss of an uninterrupted signal.

Against the lighted building moving figures showed momentarily, and
McGuire pulled his friend into the safe concealment of a tangle of
growth, while the group of yelling things sped past.

"Come on," he told Sykes; "we can't get away--not a chance! Let's have a
look at this place, and perhaps--well, I have an idea!" He slipped
silently, cautiously on, where a forest of jungle ferns gave promise of
safe passage.

       *       *       *       *       *

Some warning had been sounded; the occupants of the building were
scattered to aid in the man-hunt. Only one was left in the room where
two Earth-men peeped in at the door.

The figure was seated upon an insulated platform, and his long hands
manipulated keys and levers on a table before him. McGuire and Sykes
stared amazedly at this broadcasting station whose air was filled with a
pandemonium of crashing sound from some distant room, but McGuire was
concerned mainly with the motion of a lean, blood-red hand that swung
an object like a pointer in free-running sweeps above a dial on the
table. And he detected a variation in the din from beyond as the pointer
moved swiftly.

Here was the control board for those messages he had heard; this was the
instrument that varied the sending mechanism to produce the wailing
wireless cries that made words in some far-distant ears. McGuire, as he
slipped into the room and crept within leaping distance of the grotesque
thing so like yet unlike a man, was as silent as the nameless, writhing
horror that had seized them in the dark. He sprang, and the two came
crashing to the floor.

Lean arms came quickly about him to clutch and tear at his face, but the
flyer had an arm free, and one blow ended the battle. The man of Venus
relaxed to a huddle of purple and yellow cloth from which a ghastly face
protruded. McGuire leaped to his feet and sprang to the place where the
other had been.

"Hold them off as long as you can!" he shouted to Sykes, and his hand
closed upon the pointer.

Did this station send where he was hoping? Was this the station that had
communicated with the ship that had hovered above their flying field in
that far-off land? He did not know, but it was a powerful station, and
there was a chance--

       *       *       *       *       *

He moved the pointer frantically here and there, swung it to one side
and another; then found at last a point on the outside of the strange
design beneath his hand where the pointer could rest while the crashing
crackle of sound was stilled.

And now he swung the pointer--upon the plate--anywhere!--and the noise
from beyond told instantly of the current's passage. He held it an
instant, then pushed it back to the silent spot--a dash! A quick return
that flashed back again to bring silence--a dot! More dashes and dots
... and McGuire thanked a kindly heaven that had permitted him to learn
the language of the air, while he cursed his slowness in sending.

Would it reach? Would there be anyone to hear? No certainty; he could
only flash the wild Morse symbols out into the night. He must try to get
word to them--warn them! And "Blake," he called, and spelled out the
name of their field, "warning--Venus--"

"Hold them!" he yelled to Sykes at the sound of rushing feet. "Keep them
off as long as you can!"

"... Prepare--for invasion. Blake, this is McGuire...." Over and over,
he worked the swinging pointer into symbols that might in some way, by
some fortunate chance, help that helpless people to resist the horror
that lay ahead.

And while heavy bodies crashed against the door that Sykes was holding,
there came from some deep-hidden well of memory an inspiration. There
was a man he had once met--a man who had confided wondrous things; and
now, with the knowledge of these others who had conquered space, he
could believe wholly what he had laughed and joked about before. That
man, too, had claimed to have travelled far from the earth; he had
invented a machine; his name--

The pointer was swinging in frenzied haste to spell over and over the
name of a man, and the name, too, of a forgotten place in the mountains
of Nevada. It was repeating the message; then finished in one long
crashing wail as a cloud of vapor shot about McGuire and his hand upon
the pointer went suddenly limp.


CHAPTER XI

Captain Blake's game of solitaire had become an obsession. He drove
himself to the utmost in the line of duty, and, through the day, the
demands of the flying field filled his mind to forgetfulness. And for
the rest, he forced his mind to concentrate upon the turn of the cards.
He could not read--and he must not think!--so he sat through long
evenings trying vainly to forget.

He looked up with an expressionless face as Colonel Boynton entered the
room. The colonel saw the cards and nodded.

"Does that help?" he asked, and added without waiting for an answer, "I
don't like cards, but I find my mathematics works well.... My old
problems--I can concentrate on them, and stop this eternal, damnable
thinking, thinking--"

There was something of the same look forming about the eyes of
both--that look that told of men who struggled gamely under the sentence
of death, refusing to think or to fear, and waiting, waiting,
impotently. Blake looked at the colonel with a carefully emotionless
gaze. "It's hell in the big towns, I hear."

The Colonel nodded. "Can't blame them much, if that's what appeals to
them. A year and a half!--and they've got to forget it. Why not crowd
all the recklessness and excesses they can into the time that is
left?--poor devils! But for the most part the world is wagging along,
and people are going through the familiar motions."

"Well," said Blake, "I used to wonder at times how a man might feel if
he were facing execution. Now we all know. Just going dumbly along,
feeling as little as we can, thinking of anything, everything--except
the one thing. They've turned to using dope, a lot of them, I hear.
Maybe it helps; nobody cares much. Only a year and a half."

       *       *       *       *       *

He raised his face from which all expression was consciously erased.
"Any possible hope?" he asked. "Or do we take it when it comes and fight
with what we've got as long as we can? There was some talk in the papers
of an invention--Bureau of Standards cooperating with the big General
Committee to investigate. Anything come of it?"

"A thousand of them," said the colonel, "all futile. No, we can't expect
much from those things. Though there's a whisper that came to me from
Washington. General Clinton--you may remember him; he was here when the
thing first broke--says that some scientist, a real one, not another of
these half-baked geniuses, has worked out a transformation of some kind.
It was too deep for me, but it is based upon changing hydrogen into
helium, I think. Liberates some perfectly tremendous amount of power.
The general had it all down pat--"

He stopped speaking at the change in Captain Blake's face. The careful
repression of all emotions was gone; the face was suddenly alive--

"I know," he said sharply; "I remember something of the theory. There is
a difference in the atoms or their protons--the liberation of an
electron from each atom--matter actually transformed into energy;
theoretical, what I have read. But--but--Oh my God, Boynton, do you mean
that they've got it?--that it will drive us through space?"

       *       *       *       *       *

The colonel drove one fist into the palm of his other hand. "Fool!
Idiot!" he exclaimed, and it was evident that the epithets were intended
for himself.

"I had forgotten that you had been trained along that line. The general
wants a man to work with them, somewhat as a liason officer to link the
army requirements closely with their developments; we are hoping to work
out a space ship, of course. You are just the man; I will radio him this
minute. Be ready to leave--" The slamming of the door marked a hurried
exit toward the radio room.

And abruptly, stifflingly, Captain Blake dared to hope. "Scientists will
come through with something, some new method of propulsion. All the
world is looking to them!" His thoughts were leaping from one
possibility to another. "Some miracle of power that will drive a fleet
through space as they have done, to battle with the enemy on his own
ground--"

Could he help? Was there one little thing that he could do to apply
their knowledge to practical ends? The thought thrilled him with
overpowering emotion an hour later as he felt the lift of the plane
beneath him.

"Report to General Clinton," the colonel's reply had said. "Captain
Blake will be assigned to special duty." He opened the throttle to his
ship's best cruising speed, but his spirit was soaring ahead to urge on
the swift scout ship whose wings drove steadily into the gathering
dusk.

       *       *       *       *       *

And then, after long hours, Washington! Brief words with many men--and
discouragement! The seat of government of the United States was a city
of despondent men, weary, hopeless, but fighting. There was a look of
strain on every face; the eyes told a story of sleepless nights and
futile thinking and planning. Blake's elation was short lived.

He was sent to New York and on into the state, where the laboratories of
a great electrical company had turned their equipment from commercial
purposes to those of war. Here, surely, one might find fuel to feed the
dying embers of hope; the new development must give greater promise than
General Clinton had intimated.

"Nothing you can do as yet," he was told, when he had stated his
mission. "It is still experimental, but we have worked out the
transformation on a small scale, and harnessed the power."

Captain Blake was in no mood for temporizing; he was tired with being
put off. He stared belligerently at the chief of this department.

"Power--hell!" he said. "We've got power now. How will you apply it? How
will we use it for travelling through space?"

The great man of science was unmoved by the outburst. "That is
poppycock," he replied; "the unscientific twaddle of the sensational
press. We are practical men here; we are working to give you men who do
the fighting better ships and better arms. But you will use them right
here on Earth."

The calm assurance of this man who spoke with a voice of such confidence
and authority left the flyer speechless. His brain sent a chaos of
profane and violent expletives to the lips that dared not frame them.
There was no adequate reply.

       *       *       *       *       *

Blake jammed his hat upon his head and walked blindly from the room.
Heedless of the protests of those he jostled on the street he went
raging on, but some subconscious urge directed his steps. He found
himself at the railway. There was a station, and a grilled window where
he was asking for a ticket back to Washington. And on the following
day--

"There is nothing I can do," he told General Clinton. "It is hopeless. I
ask to be relieved."

"Why?" The general snapped the question at him. What kind of man was
this that Boynton had sent him?

"They are fools," said Blake bluntly, "pompous, well-meaning fools! They
are planning better motors, more power"--he laughed harshly--"and they
think that with them we can attack ships that are independent of the
air."

"Still," asked General Clinton coldly, "for what purpose do you wish to
be relieved? What do you intend to do?"

"Return to the field," said Captain Blake, "to work, and put my planes
and personnel in the best possible condition; then, when the time comes,
go up and fight like hell."

An unusual phrasing of a request when one is addressing one's commander;
but the older man threw back his shoulders, that were bending under
responsibilities too great for one man to bear, and took a long breath
that relaxed his face and seemed to bring relief.

"You've got the right idea,"--he spoke slowly and thoughtfully--"the
right philosophy. It is all we have left--to fight like hell when the
time comes. Give my regards to Colonel Boynton; he sent me a good man
after all."

       *       *       *       *       *

Another long flight, westward this time, and, despite the failure of his
hopes and of his errand, Blake was flying with a mind at peace. "It is
all we have left," the general had said. Well, it was good to face
facts, to admit them--and that was that! There was no use of thinking or
worrying.... He lifted the ship to a higher level and glanced at his
compass. There were clouds up ahead, and he drove still higher into the
night, until he was above them.

And again his peace of mind was not to last.

It was night when he swung the ship over his home port and signalled for
a landing. A flood of light swept out across the field to guide him
down. He went directly to the colonel's quarters but found him gone.

"In the radio room, I think," an orderly told him.

Colonel Boynton was listening intently in the silent room; he scowled
with annoyance at the disturbance of Blake's coming; then, seeing who it
was, he motioned quickly for the captain to listen in.

"Good Lord, Blake," he told the captain in an excited whisper; "I'm glad
you're here. Another ship had been sighted; she's been all over the
earth; just scouting and mapping, probably. And there have been signals
the same as before--the same until just now. Listen!--it's talking
Morse!--it's been calling for you!"

He thrust a head set into Blake's hands, then reached for some papers.
"Poor reception, but there's what we've got," he said.

       *       *       *       *       *

The paper held the merest fragments of messages that the operator had
deciphered. Blake examined them curiously while he listened at the
silent receiver.

"Maricopa"--the message, whatever it was, was meant for them, but there
were only parts of words and disjointed phrases that the man had written
down--"Venus attacking Earth ... Captain Blake ... Sykes and...."

At the name of Sykes, Blake dropped the paper.

"What does this mean?" he demanded. "Sykes!--why Sykes was the
astronomer who was captured with McGuire!"

"Listen! Listen!" The colonel's voice was almost shrill with excitement.

The night was whispering faintly the merest echo of a signal from a
station far away, but it resolved itself into broken fragments of sound
that were long and short in duration, and the fragments joined to form
letters in the Morse code.

"See Winslow," it told them, and repeated the message: "See Winslow at
Sierra...." Some distant storm crashed and rattled for breathless
minutes. "Blake see Winslow. This is McGuire, Blake. Winslow can
help--"

The message ended abruptly. One long, wailing note; then again the night
was voiceless ... and in the radio room at Maricopa Flying Field two men
stood speechless, unbreathing, to stare at each other with incredulous
eyes, as might men who had seen a phantom--a ghost that spoke to them
and called them by name.

"McGuire--is--alive!" stammered Blake. "They've taken him--there!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Colonel Boynton was considering, weighing all the possibilities, and his
voice, when he answered, had the ring of conviction.

"That was no hoax," he agreed; "that quavering tone could never be
faked. That message was sent from the same station we heard before. Yes,
McGuire is alive--or was up to the end of that sending.... But, who the
devil is Winslow?"

Blake shook his head despairingly. "I don't know," he said. "And it
seems as if I should--"

It was hours later, far into the night, when he sprang from out of a
half-conscious doze to find himself in the middle of the floor with the
voice of McGuire ringing clearly in his ears. A buried memory had
returned to the level of his conscious mind. He rushed over to the
colonel's quarters.

"I've got it," he shouted to that officer whose head was projecting from
an upper window. "I remember! McGuire told me about this Winslow--some
hermit that he ran across. He has some invention--some machine--said he
had been to the moon. I always thought Mac half believed him. We'll go
over Mac's things and find the address."

"Do you think--do you suppose--?" began Colonel Boynton doubtfully.

"I don't dare to think," Blake responded. "God only knows if we dare
hope; but Mac--Mac's got a level head; he wouldn't send us unless he
knew! Good Lord, man!" he exclaimed, "Mac radioed us from Venus; is
there anything impossible after that?"

"Wait there," said Colonel Boynton; "I'll be right down--"


CHAPTER XII

Lieutenant McGuire awoke, as he had on other occasions, to the smell of
sickly-sweet fumes and the stifling pressure of a mask held over his
nose and mouth. He struggled to free himself, and the mask was removed.
Another of the man-creatures whom McGuire had not seen before helped him
to sit up.

A group of the attenuated figures, with their blood-and-ashes faces,
regarded him curiously. The one who had helped him arise forced the
others to stand back, and he gave McGuire a drink of yellow fluid from a
crystal goblet. The dazed man gulped it down to feel a following surge
of warmth and life that pulsed through his paralyzed body. The figures
before him came sharply from the haze that had enveloped them. A window
high above admitted a golden light that meant another day, but it
brought no cheer or encouragement to the flyer. McGuire felt crushed and
hopeless in the knowledge that his life must still go on.

If only that sleep could have continued--carried him out to the deeper
sleep of death! What hope for them here? Not a chance! And then he
remembered Sykes; he mustn't desert Sykes. He looked about him to see
the same prison room from which he and Sykes had escaped. The body of
the scientist was motionless on the hammock-bed across the room; an
occasional deep-drawn breath showed that the man still lived.

No, he must not leave Sykes, even if he had the means of death. They
would fight it through together, and perhaps--perhaps--they might yet be
of service, might find some way to avert the catastrophe that threatened
their world. Hopeless? Beyond doubt. But he must hope--and fight!

The leader had watched the light of understanding as it returned to the
flyer's eyes. He motioned now to the others, and McGuire was picked up
bodily by four of them and carried from the room.

       *       *       *       *       *

McGuire's mind was alert once more; he was eager to learn what he could
of this place that was to be their prison, but he saw little. A glory of
blending colors beyond, where the golden light from without shone
through opal walls--then he found himself upon a narrow table where
straps of metal were thrown quickly about to bind him fast. He was tied
hand and foot to the table that moved forward on smooth rollers to a
waiting lift.

What next? he questioned. Not death, for they had been too careful to
keep him alive, these repulsive things that stared at him with such cold
malevolence. Then what? And McGuire found himself with unpleasant
recollections of others he had seen strapped in similar fashion to an
operating table.

The lift that he had thought would rise fell smoothly, instead, to stop
at some point far below ground where the table with its helpless burden
was rolled into a great room.

He could move his head, and McGuire turned and twisted to look at the
maze of instruments that filled the room--a super-laboratory for
experiments of which he dared not think.

"Whoever says I'm not scared to death is a liar," he whispered to
himself, but he continued to look and wonder as he was wheeled before a
gleaming machine of many coils and shining, metal parts. A smooth sheet
of metal stood vertically beyond him; painted a grayish-white, he saw;
but he could not imagine its use. A throng of people, seated in the
room, turned blood-red faces toward the bound man and the metal sheet.

"Looks as if we were about to put on a show of some kind," he told
himself, "and I am cast for a leading role." He watched as best he could
from his bound position while a tall figure in robes of lustreless black
appeared to stand beside him.

The newcomer regarded him with a face that was devoid of all emotion.
McGuire felt the lack of the customary expression of hatred; there was
not even that; and he knew he was nothing more than a strange animal,
bound, and helpless, ready for this weird creature's experiments. The
one in black held a pencil whose tip was a tiny, brilliant light.

       *       *       *       *       *

Abruptly the room plunged to darkness, where the only visible thing was
this one point of light. Ceaselessly it waved back and forth before his
eyes; he followed it in a pattern of strange design; it approached and
receded. Again and again the motion was repeated, until McGuire felt
himself sinking--sinking--into a passive state of lethargy. His muscles
relaxed; his mind was at rest; there seemed nothing in the entire
universe of being but the single point of light that drew him on and on
... till something whispered from the far reaches of black space....

It came to him, an insistent call. It was asking about the earth--his
own world. _What of Earth's armies and their means of defense?_ Vaguely
he sensed the demand, and without conscious volition he responded. He
pictured the world he had known; how plainly he saw the wide field at
Maricopa, and the sweeping flight of a squadron of planes! _Yes--yes!
How high could they ascend?_ From one of the planes he saw the world
below; the ships were near their ceiling; this was the limit of their
climb. _And did they fight with gas? What of their deadliness?_ And
again he was seated in a plane, and he was firing tiny bullets from a
tiny gun. No. They did not use gas. _But on the ground below--what
fortifications? What means of defense?_

McGuire's mind was no longer his own; he could only respond to that
invisible questioner, that insistent demand from out of the depths where
he was floating. And yet there was something within him that protested,
that clamored at his mind and brain.

Fortifications! They must know about fortifications--anti-aircraft
guns--means for combatting aerial attack. Yes, he knew, and he must
explain--and the thing within him pounded in the back of his brain to
draw him back to himself.

He saw a battery of anti-aircraft guns in operation; the guns were
firing; shells were bursting in little plumes of smoke high in the air.
And that self within him was shouting now, hammering at him; "You are
seeing it," it told him; "it is there before you on the screen. Stop!
Stop!"

       *       *       *       *       *

And for an instant McGuire had the strange experience of witnessing his
own thoughts. Memories, mental records of past experience, were flashing
through his mind; mock battles, and the batteries were firing! And,
before him, on the metal screen, there glowed a vivid picture of the
same thing. Men were serving the guns with sure swiftness; the bursts
were high in the air--in a flash of understanding Lieutenant McGuire
knew that he was giving his country's secrets to the enemy. And in that
same instant he felt himself swept upward from the depths of that
darkness where he had drifted. He was himself again, bound and helpless
before an infernal contrivance of these devil-creatures. They had read
his thoughts; the machine beside him had projected them upon the screen
for all to see; a steady clicking might mean their reproduction in
motion pictures for later study! He, Lieutenant McGuire, was a traitor
against his will!

The screen was blank, and the lights of the room came on to show the
thin lips that smiled complacently in a cruel and evil face.

McGuire glared back into that face, and he tried with all the mental
force that he could concentrate to get across to the exultant one the
fact that they had not wholly conquered him. This much they had got--but
no more!

The thin-lipped one had an instrument in his hand, and McGuire felt the
prick of a needle plunged into his arm. He tried to move his head and
found himself powerless. And now, in the darkness of the room where all
lights were again extinguished, the helpless man was fighting the most
horrible of battles, and the battleground was within his own mind. He
was two selves, and he fought and struggled with all his consciousness
to keep those memories from flooding him.

With one part of himself he knew what it meant: a sure knowledge given
these invaders of what they must prepare to meet; he was betraying his
country; the whole of humanity! And that raging, raving self was
powerless to check the flow of memory pictures that went endlessly
through his mind and out upon the screen beyond....

He had no sense of time; he was limp and exhausted with his fruitless
struggle when he felt himself released from the bondage of the metal
straps and placed again in the hammock in his room. And he could only
look wanly and hopelessly after the figure of Professor Sykes, carried
by barbarous figures to the same ordeal.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sleep, through the long night, restored both McGuire and his companion
to normal strength. The flyer was seated with his head bowed low in his
cupped hands. His words seemed wrung from an agony of spirit. "So that's
what they brought us here for," he said harshly; "that's why they're
keeping us alive!"

Professor Sykes walked back and forth in their bare room while he shook
his impotent fists in the air.

"I told them everything," he exploded; "everything!" Their astronomical
knowledge must be limited; under this blanket of clouds they can see
nothing, and from their ships they could make approximations only.

"And I have told them--the earth, and its days and seasons--its orbital
velocity and motion--its relation to the orbit of this accursed planet.
They had documents from the observatory and I explained them; I
corrected their time of firing their big gun on its equatorial position.
Oh, there is little I left untold--damn them!"

"I wish to heaven," said the flyer savagely, "that we had known; we
would have jumped out of their beastly ship somehow ten thousand feet
up, and we would have taken our information with us."

Sykes nodded agreement. "Well," he asked, "how about to-morrow, and the
next day, and the next? They will want more facts; they will pump the
last drop of information from us. Are we going to allow it?"

       *       *       *       *       *

McGuire's tone was dry. "You know the answer to that as well as I do. We
have just two alternatives; either we get out of here--find some place
to hide in, then find some way to put a crimp in their plans; or we get
out of here for good. It's twenty feet, not twenty thousand, from that
window to the ground, but I think a head-first dive would do it."

Sykes did not reply at once; he seemed to be weighing some problem in
his mind.

"I would prefer the water," he said at last. "If we _can_ get away and
reach the shore, and if there is not a possibility of escape--which I
must admit I consider highly improbable--well, we can always swim out as
far as we can go, and the result will be certain.

"This other is so messy." The man had stopped his ceaseless pacing, and
he even managed a cheerful smile at the lieutenant. "And, remember, it
might only cripple us and leave us helpless in their hands."

"Sounds all right to me," McGuire agreed, and there was a tone of
finality in his voice as he added: "They've made us do that traitor act
for the last time, anyway."

       *       *       *       *       *

Daylight comes slowly through cloud-filled skies; the window of the
room where the fountain sprayed ceaselessly was showing the first hint
of gold in the eastern sky. Above was the utter darkness of the
cloud-wrapped night as the two men swung noiselessly out into the
grotesque branches of a tree to make their way into the gloom below.
There, under the cover of great leaves, they crouched in silence, while
the darkness about them faded and a sound of subdued whistling noises
came to them from the night.

A wheel creaked, and in the dim light two figures appeared tugging at a
cart upon which was a cage of woven wire. Beyond them, against the
darker background of denser growth, tentacles coiled and twisted above
the row of guardian plants that surrounded the house.

One of the ghostly forms reached within the cage and brought forth a
struggling object that whimpered in fear. The low whine came distinctly
to the hidden men. They saw a vague black thing tossed through the air
and toward the deadly plants; they heard the swishing of pliant
tentacles and the yelping cry of a frightened animal. And the cry rose
to a shriek that ended with the gulping splash of thick liquid.

The giant pod next in line was open--they could see it dimly--and its
tentacles were writhing convulsively, hungrily, across the ground.
Another animal was taken from the cage and thrown to the waiting,
serpent forms that closed about and whirled it high in air. Another--and
another! The yelps of terror grew faint in the distance as the monsters
passed on in their gruesome work. And the two men, palpitant with
memories of their own experience, were limp and sick with horror.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the growing light they saw more plainly the fleshy, pliant arms that
whipped through the air or felt searchingly along the ground. No hope
there for bird or beast that passed by in the night; nor for men, as
they knew too well. But now, as the golden light increased, the arms
drew back to form again the tight-wound coils that flattened themselves
beside the monstrous pods whose lips were closing. Locked within them
were the pools of liquid that could dissolve a living body into food for
these vampires of the vegetable world.

"Damnable!" breathed Sykes in a savage whisper. "Utterly damnable! And
this world is peopled with such monsters!"

The last deadly arm was tightly coiled when the men stole off through
the lush growth that reached even above their heads. McGuire remembered
the outlines he had seen from the air and led the way where, if no
better concealment could be found, the ocean waited with promise of rest
and release from their inhuman captors.

They counted on an hour's start--it would be that long before their
jailer would come with their morning meal and give the alarm--and now
they went swiftly and silently through the stillness of a strange world.
The air that flicked misty-wet across their faces was heavy and heady
with the perfume of night-blooming plants. Crimson blossoms flung wide
their odorous petals, and the first golden light was filtered through
tremendous tree-growths of pale lavenders and grays to show as unreal
colors in the vegetation close about them.

       *       *       *       *       *

They found no guards; the isolation of this island made the land itself
their prison, and the men ran at full speed through every open space,
knowing as they ran that there was no refuge for them--only the ocean
waiting at the last. But their flight was not unobserved.

A great bird rose screaming from a tangle of vines; its heavy, flapping
wings flashed red against the pale trees. A pandemonium of shrieking
cries echoed its alarm as other birds took flight; the forest about them
was in an uproar of harsh cries. And faintly, from far in the rear, came
a babel of shrill calls--weird, inhuman!--the voices of the men-things
of Venus.

"It's all off," said McGuire sharply; "they'll be on our trail now!" He
plunged through where the trees were more open, and Sykes was beside him
as they ran with a burst of speed toward a hilltop beyond.

They paused, panting, upon the crest. A wide expanse of foliage in
delicate shadings swept out before them to wave gently in a sea of color
under the morning breeze, and beyond was another sea that beckoned with
white breakers on a rocky shore.

"The ocean!" gasped Sykes, and pointed a trembling hand toward their
goal. "But--I had no idea--that suicide--was--such hard work!"

The tall figure of Lieutenant McGuire turned to the shorter, breathless
man, and he gripped hard at one of his hands.

"Sykes," he said, "I'll never get another chance to say it--but you're
one good scout!... Come on!"

       *       *       *       *       *

McGuire fought to force his way through jungle growth, while screaming
birds marked where they went. The sounds of their pursuers were close
behind them when the two tore their way through the last snarled tangle
of pale vine to stand on a sheer bluff, where, below, deep waters
crashed against a rocky wall. They staggered with weariness and gulped
sobbingly of the morning air. McGuire could have sworn he was exhausted
beyond any further effort, yet from somewhere he summoned energy to
spring savagely upon a tall, blood-red figure whose purpling face rose
suddenly to confront them.

One hand closed upon the metal tube that the other hand raised, and,
with his final reserve of strength, the flyer wrapped an arm about the
tall body and rushed it stumblingly toward the cliff. To be balked
now!--to be brought back to that intolerable prison and the unthinkable
role of traitor! The khaki-clad figure wrenched furiously at the deadly
tube as they struggled and swayed on the edge of the cliff.

He freed his arm quickly, and, regardless of the clawing thing that tore
at his face and eyes, he launched one long swing for the horrible face
above him. He saw the awkward fall of a lean body, and he swayed
helplessly out to follow when the grip of Sykes' hand pulled him back
and up to momentary safety.

McGuire's mind held only the desire to kill, and he would have begun a
staggering rush toward the shrieking mob that broke from the cover
behind them, had not Sykes held him fast. At sight of the weapon, their
own gas projector, still clutched in the flyer's hand, the pursuers
halted. Their long arms pointed and their shrill calls joined in a
chorus that quavered and fell uncertainly.

       *       *       *       *       *

One, braver than the rest, dashed forward and discharged his weapon. The
spurting gas failed to reach its intended victims; it blew gently back
toward the others who fled quickly to either side. Above the trees a
giant ship nosed swiftly down, and McGuire pointed to it grimly and in
silence. The men before them were massed now for a rush.

"This is the end," said the flyer softly. "I wonder how this devilish
thing works; there's a trigger here. I will give them a shot with the
wind helping, then we'll jump for it."

The ship was above them as the slim figure of Lieutenant McGuire threw
itself a score of paces toward the waiting group. From the metal tube
there shot a stream of pale vapor that swept downward upon the others
who ran in panic from its touch.

Then back--and a grip of a hand!--and two Earth-men who threw themselves
out and downward from a sheer rock wall to the cool embrace of deep
water.

They came to the top, battered from their fall, but able to dive under a
wave and emerge again near one another.

"Swim!" urged Sykes. "Swim out! They may get us here--recover our
bodies--resuscitate us. And that wouldn't do!"

Another wave, and the two men were swimming beyond it; swimming feebly
but steadily out from shore, while above them a great cylinder of
shining metal swept past in a circling flight. They kept on while their
eyes, from the wave tops, saw it turn and come slowly back in a long
smooth descent.

It was a hundred feet above the water a short way out at sea, and the
two men made feeble motions with arms and legs, while their eyes
exchanged glances of dismay.

       *       *       *       *       *

A door had opened in the round under-surface, and a figure, whose
gas-suit made it a bloated caricature of a man, was lowered from beneath
in a sling. From the stern of the ship gaseous vapor belched downward to
spread upon the surface of the water. The wind was bringing the misty
cloud toward them. "The gas!" said McGuire despairingly. "It will knock
us out, and then that devil will get us! They'll take us back! Our last
chance--gone!"

"God help us!" said Sykes weakly. "We can't--even--die--" His feeble
strokes stopped, and he sank beneath the water. McGuire's last picture
as he too sank and the waters closed over his head, was the shining ship
hovering beyond.

He wondered only vaguely at the sudden whirling of water around him. A
solid something was rising beneath his dragging feet; a firm, solid
support that raised him again to the surface. He realized dimly the air
about him, the sodden form of Professor Sykes some few feet distant. His
numbed brain was trying to comprehend what else the eyes beheld.

A metal surface beneath them rose higher, shining wet, above the water;
a metal tube raised suddenly from its shield, to swing in quick aim upon
the enemy ship approaching from above.

His eyes moved to the ship, and to the man-thing below in the sling. Its
clothes were a mass of flame, and the figure itself was falling headlong
through the air. Above the blazing body was the metal of the ship
itself, and it sagged and melted to a liquid fire that poured, splashing
and hissing, to the waters beneath. In the wild panic the great shape
threw itself into the air; it swept out and up in curving flight to
plunge headlong into the depths....

The gas was drifting close, as McGuire saw an opening in the structure
beside him. The voice of a man, human, kindly, befriending, said
something of "hurry" and "gas," and "lift them carefully but make
haste." The white faces of men were blurred and indistinct as McGuire
felt himself lowered into a cool room and laid, with the unconscious
form of Sykes, upon a floor.

He tried to remember. He had gone down in the water--Sykes had drowned,
and he himself--he was tired--tired. "And this,"--the thought seemed a
certainty in his mind--"this is death. How--very--peculiar--" He was
trying to twist his lips to a weak laugh as the lighted ports in the
wall beside him changed from gold to green, then black--and a rushing of
torn waters was in his ears....

(_To be continued_)

       *       *       *       *       *

  ASTOUNDING STORIES
  _Appears on Newsstands_
  THE FIRST THURSDAY IN EACH MONTH



The Sea Terror

_By Captain S. P. Meek_

  The trail of mystery gold leads Carnes and Dr. Bird to a
  tremendous monster of the deep.

[Illustration: "_The mass hung over the ship._"]


"I beg your pardon, sir. I'm looking for Dr. Bird."

The famous Bureau of Standards scientist appraised the speaker rapidly.
Keen blue eyes stared questioningly at him from a mahogany brown face,
criss-crossed with a thousand tiny wrinkles. The tattooed anchor on his
hand and the ill-fitting blue serge suit smacked of the sea while the
squareness of his shoulders and the direct gaze of his eye spoke
eloquently of authority.

"I'm Dr. Bird, Captain. What can I do for you?"

"Thank you, Doctor, but I'm not a captain. My name is Mitchell and I am,
or was, the first mate of the _Arethusa_."

"The _Arethusa_!" Operative Carnes of the United States Secret Service
sprang to his feet. "You said the _Arethusa_? There _were_ no
survivors!"

"I believe that I am the only one."

"Where have you been hiding and why haven't you reported the fact of
your rescue to the proper authorities? Tell the truth; I'm a federal
officer!"

Carnes flashed the gold badge of the Secret Service and an expression of
anger crossed Mitchell's face.

"If I had wished to talk to an officer I could have found plenty in New
York," he said shortly. "I came to Washington in order to tell my story
to Dr. Bird."

The seaman and the detective glared at one another for a moment and then
Dr. Bird intervened.

"Pipe down, Carnes," he said softly. "Mr. Mitchell undoubtedly has
reasons, excellent reasons, for his actions. Sit down, Mr. Mitchell, and
have a cigar."

       *       *       *       *       *

Mitchell accepted the cigar which the doctor proferred and took a chair.
He lighted the weed and after another glance of hostility toward the
detective he pointedly ignored him and addressed his remarks to Dr.
Bird.

"I have no objection to telling you why I haven't spoken earlier,
Doctor," he said. "When the _Arethusa_ sank, I must have hit my head on
something, for the next thing I knew, I was in the Marine Hospital in
New York. I had been picked up unconscious by a fishing boat and brought
in, and I lay there a week before I knew anything. When I knew what I
was doing I heard about the loss of my ship and was told that there were
no survivors, and I didn't know what to do. The story I had to tell was
so weird and improbable that I hesitated to speak to anyone about it. I
was not sure at first that it was not a trick of a disordered brain, but
since my head has cleared I am convinced of the truth of it ... and yet
I know that it _can't_ be so. I have read about you and some of the
things you have done, and so as soon as I was able to travel I came
here to tell you about it. You will be better able to judge than I,
whether what I tell you really happened or was only a vision."

Dr. Bird leaned back in his chair and put the tips of his fingers
together. Long, tapering fingers they were, sensitive and well shaped,
though sadly marred by acid stains. It was in his hands alone that Dr.
Bird showed the genius in his make-up, the artistry which inspired him
to produce those miracles of experimentation which had made his name a
household word in the realm of science. Aside from those hands he more
resembled a pugilist than a scientist. A heavy shock of unruly black
hair surmounted a face with beetling black brows and a prognathous jaw.
His enormous head, with a breadth and height of forehead which were
amazing, rose from a pillar-like neck which sprang from a pair of
massive shoulders and the arching chest of the trained athlete. Dr. Bird
stood six feet two inches in his socks, and weighed over two hundred
stripped. As he leaned back a curious glitter, which Carnes had learned
to associate with keen interest, showed for an instant in his eyes.

"I will be glad to hear your story, Mr. Mitchell," he said softly. "Tell
it in your own way and try not to omit any detail, no matter how trivial
it may be."

       *       *       *       *       *

The seaman nodded and sat silent for a moment as though marshaling his
thoughts.

"The story really starts the afternoon of May 12th," he said, "although
I didn't realize the importance of the first incident at the time. We
were steaming along at good speed, hoping to make New York before too
late for quarantine, when a hail came from the forward lookout. I was on
watch and I went forward to see what was the matter. The lookout was
Louis Green, an able bodied seaman and a good one, but a confirmed
drunkard. I asked him what the trouble was and he turned toward me a
face that was haggard with terror.

"'I've seen a sea serpent, Mr. Mitchell,' he said.

"'Nonsense!' I replied sharply. 'You've been drinking again.'

"He swore that he hadn't and I asked him to describe what he had seen.
His teeth were chattering so that he could hardly speak, but he gasped
out a story about seeing a monstrous head, a half mile across, he said,
with a long snake body stretching out over the sea until the end of it
was lost on the horizon. I turned my glass in the direction he pointed
and of course there was nothing to be seen. The man's condition was such
as to make him worse than useless as a lookout, so I relieved him and
ordered him below. I took it for a touch of delirium tremens.

"We were bucking a head wind, although not a very stiff one, and we
didn't make port until after dark, so we anchored at quarantine, just
off Staten Island, in forty fathoms of water, and Captain Murphy radioed
for a Coast Guard boat to come out and lay by us for the night. As you
have probably heard, we were carrying four millions in bar gold
consigned to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York from the Bank of
England."

       *       *       *       *       *

Dr. Bird and Carnes nodded. The inexplicable loss of the _Arethusa_ had
occupied much space in the papers ten days earlier.

"The cutter came out, signalled, and dropped anchor about three hundred
yards away. So far, everything was exactly as it should be. I walked to
the stern of the boat and looked out across the Atlantic and then I
realized that Green wasn't the only one who could see things. The wind
had fallen and it was getting pretty dark, but not too dark to see
things a pretty good distance away. As I looked I saw, or thought I saw,
a huge black leathery mass come to the surface a mile or so away. There
were two things on it that looked like eyes, and I had a feeling as
though some malignant thing was staring at me. I rubbed my eyes and
looked again, but the vision persisted, and I went forward to get a
glass. When I came back the thing, whatever it was, had disappeared, but
the water where it had been was boiling as though there were a great
spring or something of the sort under the surface.

"I trained my glass on the disturbed area, and I will take my oath
that I saw a huge body like a snake emerge from the water. It lay in
long undulations on the waves, and moved with them as though it were
floating. It was quite a bit nearer than the first thing had been and
I could see it plainly with the glass. I would judge it to be fifteen
or twenty feet thick, and it actually seemed to disappear in the
distance as Green had described it. The sight of the thing sent shivers
up and down my spine, and I gave a hoarse shout. The lookout hurried
to my side and asked me what the trouble was. I pointed and handed
him the glass. He looked through it and handed it back to me with a
curious expression.

"'I can't see nothing, sir,' he said.

"I took the glass from him and tried to level it but my hands were
trembling so that I was forced to rest it on the rail. The lookout was
right. There was absolutely nothing to be seen and the peculiar
appearance of the sea had subsided to normal. The lookout was staring at
me rather curiously and I knew that he was thinking the same thing about
me as I had thought about Green in the afternoon. I made some kind of an
excuse and went below to pull myself together. I caught a glimpse of
myself in the glass. I was as white as a sheet, and the sweat was
running off my face in drops.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I shook myself together after a fashion and managed to persuade myself
that the whole thing was just a trick of my mind, inspired by Green's
vivid description of his delirious vision of the afternoon. Eight bells
struck, and when Mr. Fulton, the junior officer, relieved me, I laid
down and tried to quiet myself. I didn't have much luck. Just before I
took the deck again at midnight I slipped down to the forecastle to see
how Green was coming along. He was lying in his bunk, wide awake, with
staring eyes.

"'How are you feeling now, Green?' I asked.

"He looked up at me with an expression of a man who has looked death in
the face.

"'Ain't there no chance of dockin' to-night, Mr. Mitchell?' he asked.

"'Of course not,' I said rather sharply. 'What's the matter with you?
Are you afraid your sea serpent will get us?'

"'He'll get us if we stay out here to-night, sir,' he replied with an
air of conviction. 'I saw the horrible mouth on him, large enough to
bite this ship in half; and it had a beak like a bird, like a bloody
parrot, sir. I saw its horrible body, too, with great black ulcers on
the under side of it where the sharks had been after it. For all the
shark takes a man now and then, he's the seaman's friend, sir, because
he kills off the sea serpents who would take ship and all.'

"'Nonsense, Green!' I said sharply. 'Don't talk any more such
foolishness or I'll have you ironed. You've been drinking so much that
you are seeing things, and I won't have the crew disturbed by your crazy
talk.'

"'You won't think it's talk when those big eyes stare into yours
to-night, Mr. Mitchell, and that body twists around you and squeezes the
life out of you. I don't care whether you iron me or not; I know that
I'm doomed and so is everyone else; but I won't talk about it, sir. The
crew might as well rest easy while they can, for there's no escape if we
have to stay out here to-night.'

"'Well, be sure you keep a tight mouth then,' I said, and left rather
hurriedly. I was in a cold sweat, for his air of conviction, together
with what I had seen, had shaken me pretty badly. I heard the watch
changing up above, and knew there would be men in the forecastle in a
minute. I didn't want to face them right then.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Mr. Fulton reported everything quiet when I went on deck to relieve
him, and although I surveyed the water through a night glass for as far
as I could see, there was nothing out of the way. The Coast Guard's
lights were shining less than a quarter of a mile away, and things
looked peaceful enough. The wind had gone down with the sun; the sea was
almost glassy, and there was a bright moon.

"After going around the ship, I relieved all of the watch except two men
for lookouts, and sent them below to get a good night's sleep. If I
hadn't done that, some of them might be alive now.

"I paced the deck for an hour trying to quiet my nerves, but really
getting more nervous every minute. Three bells struck and I walked
forward and leaned on the rail to watch the water. I saw a peculiar
swirl as though some large body were coming to the surface from below,
and then I saw--it.

"Dr. Bird, I take a drink once in a while when I am on shore, but never
at sea and never in excess, and I know it wasn't a vision of drink
delirium. I felt perfectly normal aside from my nervousness, and I don't
think it was fever. Either I saw it or I am insane, for it is as vivid
to me as though I were standing on the _Arethusa's_ deck and that
monstrous horror was rising once more before my eyes."

The seaman's face had become drawn and white as he talked, and drops of
sweat were trickling from his chin. Carnes sat forward absorbed in his
narrative while Dr. Bird sat back with a glitter in his black eyes and
an expression of great attention on his face.

"Go on, Mr. Mitchell," the doctor said soothingly. "Tell me just what
you saw."

       *       *       *       *       *

Mitchell shuddered and glanced quickly around the laboratory as though
to assure himself that he was safe within four walls.

"From the surface of the sea," he went on, "rose a massive body, black,
and of the appearance of wet leather. It must have been a couple of
hundred yards across, although the size of objects is often magnified by
moonlight and my terror may have added to its size. In the midst of it
were two great discs, thirty feet across, which glowed red with the
reflected moonlight. It stared for a moment and then rose higher until
it towered above the ship; and then I saw, or thought I saw, a huge
gaping beak like a parrot's. It was as Green had described it, large
enough to bite the _Arethusa_ in half, and she was a ship of three
thousand tons.

"I was frozen with horror and couldn't move or cry out. As I watched, I
saw the long snake-like body emerge from the water, and the estimate I
had made of the size in the afternoon seemed pitifully inadequate.
Presently a second and a third snake arose from the water, and then
more, until the whole sea and the air above it seemed a writhing mass of
huge snakes. I remember wondering why the watch of the Coast Guard
cutter didn't sound an alarm, and then I realized that the thing had
arisen on our port side and the cutter was on the starboard.

"The mass of snakes writhed backward and forward, and then two of them
rose in the air and hung over the ship. I could see the under side and I
saw what Green had called the scars where the sharks had attacked. They
were great cup-shaped depressions with vile white edges, and they did
resemble huge sores or ulcers. They wavered over the ship for an
instant, and then both of them dropped down on the deck.

"I found my voice and I think that I gave a yell, but even as I opened
my mouth, I realized the futility of it. The _Arethusa_ was sucked down
into the sea as though it had been a tiny chip. I saw the water rising
to the rail, and I think I cried out again. The ship tilted and I felt
myself falling. The next thing I knew was when I was in the hospital and
was told that I had been raving for a week. I was afraid to tell my
story for fear I would be put in an asylum, so I kept a tight tongue in
my head until I was discharged."

       *       *       *       *       *

Dr. Bird mused for a moment as the seaman's voice stopped.

"You cried out all right, Mr. Mitchell," he said. "You gave two distinct
shouts, both of which were heard by the watch on the _Wren_, the Coast
Guard cutter. They reported that at 1:30, the _Arethusa_ sank without
warning. As soon as he heard your shouts, the watch gave the alarm and
the crew piled on deck. The _Arethusa_ was gone completely and the
_Wren_ was tossing about like 'a chip in a whirlpool' as they
graphically described it. The _Wren_ had steam up and they fought the
waves and steamed over your anchoring ground looking for survivors, but
they found none. The sea gradually subsided and they did the only thing
they could do--dropped a buoy, to guide the salvage people, and radioed
for assistance. The _Robin_ came out and joined them, and both cutters
stood by until daylight, but nothing unusual was seen. The insurance
people are trying to salvage the wreck now, but so far they have made
little headway."

"That brings me to the rest of the story, the part that made me decide
to come to you, Doctor," said the seaman. "Did you see what happened to
the divers yesterday?"

Dr. Bird nodded.

"I saw a brief account of it," he said. "It seems that two of them were
lost through their lines getting fouled and their air connections
severed in some way. I don't believe the bodies have been recovered
yet."

"They never will be recovered, Doctor. I was discharged from the
hospital yesterday and the papers were just out with an account of it. I
went down to the dock where the _John MacLean_, the salvage ship, ties
up, and I talked to Captain Starley who commands it. I have known him
casually for some years, although not intimately, and he gave me a few
more details than the press got. He didn't connect me up at first with
the Mitchell who was reported lost on the _Arethusa_.

"The first man to go down from the _MacLean_ was Charley Melrose, an
expert diver. He went down in a pressure outfit to the bottom and
started to work. Everything was going along fine until the telephone
suddenly rang and the man who answered it heard him say, 'Raise me, for
God's sake! Hurry!' The signal for raising was given, but they hadn't
got him more than thirty feet from the bottom before there came a tug on
the line and he was gone! The air line, the lifting cable and the
telephone cord floated free and were reeled in. Melrose had been plucked
off the end of that line as you or I would pluck off a grape."

       *       *       *       *       *

Dr. Bird leaned forward with the curious glitter again in his eye.

"Go on," he said tersely.

"Blake, the other diver, donned a suit and insisted on being lowered at
once. Starley tried to dissuade him but he insisted on going down. They
lowered him over the side with a twelve-foot steel-shod pike in his
hand. He never got to the bottom. He had not been lowered more than a
hundred feet when a scream came over the telephone, and again there was
a jerk on the lines which threatened to wreck the reel--and the line
came aboard with no diver on the end of it. At the same time, Starley
told me, the sea boiled and churned as though the whole bottom were
coming up, and his ship was tossed about as though it were in a violent
storm, although it was calm enough for forty fathom salvage work and
that is pretty quiet, you know. Half the time his screws were out of
water and he had a hard time to keep from being capsized. He fought his
way out of the disturbed area, and as soon as he did, it started to
quiet down, and in ten minutes it was calm again.

"Starley was pretty badly shaken and besides he had lost both of his
divers, so he came in and I saw him at the dock. When I heard his yarn,
I took him into my confidence and told him what I had seen and that I
proposed coming to you and asking your advice. I was afraid until I
heard his story that it was merely a vision that I had had, but it
certainly was no vision that plucked those two divers off their lines."

"Has Captain Starley told that story to anyone else yet?"

"No, Doctor, he hasn't. He promised not to talk until after I had seen
you. I'll vouch for him; he'll keep his word through anything; and he is
keeping his whole crew on board until he hears from me."

       *       *       *       *       *

Dr. Bird sprang to his feet.

"Mr. Mitchell," he said energetically, "you have shown excellent
judgment. Wire Captain Starley that you have seen me and that he is to
hold his crew on board and to talk to no one until I get there. Carnes,
telephone the Chief of Naval Operations and ask him to receive me in
conference at once. Have him get the Secretary of the Navy in, too, if
he is available. When you have finished that, telephone Bolton that you
will be away from Washington indefinitely."

"I'll telephone Admiral Buck for you, Doctor, but I don't dare telephone
any such message to Bolton; he'd take my head off. He has been running
the whole service ragged lately, and this is my first afternoon off duty
in a fortnight."

"What's the trouble, a flood of new counterfeits?"

"No, the counterfeit division is getting along all right. In point of
fact, they have lent us a dozen men. The trouble is a sudden big
increase in Communist activity throughout the country, with the Young
Labor party behind it. Bolton has been pretty jumpy since that Stokowski
affair last August and he is afraid of another attempt of some sort on
the President."

"The Young Labor party? I thought that gang was bankrupt and out of
business, since the Coast Guard broke up their alien smuggling scheme."

"They were down and out for a while, but they are in funds again--and
how! They must have three or four millions at least."

"Where did they get it?"

"That's what we have been trying to find out. The leaders have presented
bars of gold to a dozen banks throughout the country and demanded
specie. The banks shipped the gold to the mint and it was good gold,
nine hundred and twenty-five fine. What we are trying to find out is how
that gold got into the United States."

"A shipment of that size should be easy to trace."

"It would seem so, but it hasn't been. We have accounted for every pound
of every shipment that has come in through a port of entry, and we have
checked almost that close on the output of every mine in the United
States. If the gold came from Russia, it would have had to cross Europe,
and we can't get any trace of it from abroad. It looks as though they
were _making_ it."

       *       *       *       *       *

Dr. Bird rubbed his head thoughtfully.

"Possible, but hardly probable," he said. "How much did you say they
had?"

"Over three millions in thirty-pound bars. Each bar shows signs of
having a mint mark chiselled off, but that don't help much for they have
done too good a job. It has us pretty well bluffed."

Again Dr. Bird rubbed his head.

"Telephone Admiral Buck, and then phone Bolton and tell him exactly what
I told you to: that you will be away indefinitely. When he gets through
exploding, tell him that you are going with me and that possibly, just
barely possibly, we might be on the trail of that gold shipment."

"On the trail of the gold!" gasped Carnes. "Surely, Doctor, you don't
think--"

"Once in a while, old dear," replied the Doctor with a chuckle, "which
is more than anyone in the Secret Service does. You might tell Bolton
that I said that, but hang up quickly if you do. I don't want the wires
of my telephone melted off. No, Carnesy, I have no miraculous
inspiration as to where that gold is coming from; I just have a plain
old-fashioned hunch, and that hunch is that we are going to have lots of
fun and more than our share of danger before we see Washington again.
After you get through bearding Bolton in his den, you might call the
Chief of the Air Corps and ask him to have a bomber held at Langley
Field subject to my orders. If he squawks any, I'll talk to him."

He turned to a telephone which stood on his desk and lifted the
receiver.

"Get Mr. Lambertson on the wire," he said. "He is the chief technician
of the Pyrex Glass Works at Corning, New Jersey."

       *       *       *       *       *

The _U.S.S. Minneconsin_ steamed out of New York harbor and headed down
toward the lower bay. On her forward deck rested a huge globe. The
bottom quarter of the sphere was made of some dark opaque substance but
the upper portion was transparent as crystal. Through the walls could be
seen a quantity of apparatus resting on the opaque bottom portion. Two
mechanics from the Bureau of Standards were making final adjustments of
one of the pieces of apparatus, which resembled a tank fitted with a
piston geared to an electric motor. From the tank, tubes ran to four
hollow pipes, an inch and a half in diameter, which ran through the skin
and extended thirty inches from the outer skin of the twenty-foot
sphere. Dr. Bird stood near talking with the executive officer of the
ship and from time to time giving a brief word of direction to the
mechanics.

"It's safer than you might think, Commander," he said. "In the first
place, that globe is not made of ordinary glass; it is made of
vitrilene, a new semi-malleable glass which was developed at the Bureau
and which is being made on an experimental scale for us by the Pyrex
people. It is much stronger than ordinary glass, and is not sensitive to
shock. It is also perfectly transparent to ultra-violet light, being
superior even to rock crystal or fused quartz in that respect. The
walls, as you have noticed, are four inches thick, and I have calculated
that the ball will stand a uniform external pressure of thirty-five
hundred atmospheres, the pressure which would be encountered at a depth
of about twenty miles. I believe that it will stand a squeeze of six
thousand tons without buckling, and it is impossible to fracture it by
shock. It could be dropped from the top of the Woolworth Building, and
it would just bounce."

"It seems incredible that it could stand such a pressure as you have
named."

"My figures are conservative ones. Lambertson calculated them even
higher, but we allowed for the fact that this is the first large mass of
the material to be cast, and lowered them."

       *       *       *       *       *

"But suppose your lifting cable should break?" objected the naval
officer. "The outfit weighs a good many tons."

"You notice that the lower quarter is made of lead. The specific gravity
of the entire globe when sealed up tight with two men in it is only a
little more than unity. In the water its weight is so little that a
three-inch manilla hawser would raise it, let alone a steel cable. I
have another safety device. Granted that the cable should snap, I can
detach the lead from it and it would shoot to the surface like a
rocket."

"How long can you remain under water in it?"

"A week, if necessary. I have an oxygen tank and a carbon dioxide
removing apparatus which will keep the air in good condition. The globe
is electrically lighted, and can be heated if necessary. Should my
telephone line become fouled and broken, I have a radio set which will
enable me to communicate with you. I can't see that it is especially
dangerous; not nearly as much so as a submarine."

"What is your object in going down, if I may ask?"

"To take pictures and to explore the wreck if we can. The globe is
equipped with huge floodlights and excellent cameras. The salvage people
are having a little trouble and we are trying to help them out."

"You mentioned exploring. Can you leave the globe while it is under
water?"

"Yes. There is a locking device for doing so. A man in a diving suit can
enter the lock and fill it with water. Once the external pressure is
released he can open the outer door and step out. Coming back, he seals
the outer door and the man inside blows out the lock and compressed air
and then the inner door can be opened. It is the same principle as a
torpedo tube."

       *       *       *       *       *

A jangle of bells interrupted them and the _Minneconsin_ slowed down.
Commander Lawrence stepped to the rail and gave a sharp order to the
navigating officer on the bridge. The bells jangled again and the ship's
engines stopped.

"We are almost over the buoy, Doctor," he said.

Dr. Bird nodded and spoke to the two mechanics. With a few final
touches to the apparatus they emerged from the globe and Dr. Bird
entered.

"Come on, Carnes," he called. "No backing out at the last minute."

Carnes stepped forward with a sickly smile and joined the Doctor in the
huge sphere.

"All right, boys; close her up."

The mechanics swung the outer door into place with a crane. Both the
edge of the door and the surface against which it fitted had been ground
flat and were in addition faced with soft rubber. Bolts were fastened in
the door which passed through holes in the main sphere, and Dr. Bird
spun nuts onto them and tightened them with a heavy wrench. He and
Carnes lifted the smaller inner door into place and bolted it tight. Dr.
Bird stepped to the telephone.

"Lower away," he directed.

From a boom attached to the _Minneconsin's_ forward fighting top, a huge
steel cable swung down, and the latch at the end of the cable was closed
over a vitrilene ring which was fastened to the top of the sphere. The
cable tightened and the globe with the two men in it was lifted over the
side of the battleship and lowered gently into the water. Carnes
involuntarily ducked and threw up his hand as the waters closed over
them. Dr. Bird laughed.

"Look up, Carnes," he said.

Carnes gasped as he looked up and saw the surface of the water above
him. Dr. Bird laughed again and turned to the telephone.

"Lower away," he said. "Everything is tight."

       *       *       *       *       *

The globe descended into the depths of the sea. Darker and darker it
grew until only a faint twilight glow filled the sphere. A dark bulk
loomed before them. Dr. Bird snapped on one of his huge floodlights and
pointed.

"The _Arethusa_," he said.

The ill-fated vessel lay on her side with a huge jagged hole torn in her
fabric amidships.

"That's where her boilers burst," explained the Doctor. "Luckily we have
a hard bottom to deal with. Let's see if we can locate any of Mitchell's
sea serpents."

He turned on other flood lights and swept the bottom of the sea with
them. The huge beams bored out into the water for a quarter of a mile,
but nothing unusual was to be seen. Dr. Bird turned his attention again
to the wreck.

"Things look normal from this side," he said after a prolonged scrutiny.
"I'll have the _Minneconsin_ steam around it while we look it over."

In response to his telephone orders the ship above them swung around the
wreck in a circle, and Carnes and the Doctor viewed each side in turn.
But nothing of a suspicious nature made its appearance. The sphere
stopped opposite the hole in the side and Dr. Bird turned to Carnes.

"I'm going to put on a diving suit and explore that wreck," he said. "If
there ever was any danger, it isn't apparent now; and I can't find out
anything until I get inside."

"Don't do it, Doctor!" cried Carnes. "Remember what happened to the
other divers!"

       *       *       *       *       *

"We don't know what happened to them, Carnes. No matter what it was,
there is no danger apparent right now, and I've got to get into that
ship before I can get any real information. We could have lowered an
under-sea camera and learned as much as we have so far."

"Let me go instead of you, Doctor."

"I'm sorry to refuse you, old dear, but frankly, I wouldn't trust your
judgment as to what you had seen if you went alone; and we can't both
go."

"Why not?"

"If we both went, who would work the air to let us back in? No, this is
a one-man job and I'm the one to do it. While I am gone, keep a sharp
lookout, and if you see anything unusual call me at once."

"How can I call you?"

"On this small radio phone. A pair of receivers tuned to the right
wave-length are in my diving helmet, and I will be able to hear you
although I can't reply. I won't be gone long: I have only a small air
tank, large enough to keep me going for thirty minutes. Now help me into
my suit and keep a sharp watch. A timely warning may save my life if
anything happens."

With Carnes' assistance, Dr. Bird donned a deep-sea diving outfit and
screwed down the helmet. He crawled through the inner door into the lock
and lifted the inner door into place. Carnes fastened the door with nuts
and the Doctor opened a pair of valves in the outer door and filled the
lock with water. He removed the outer door; and, taking in one hand a
steel-shod twelve-foot pike with a hook on the end, and in the other a
waterproof flashlight, he sallied forth. As he left the shell he paused
for a moment, and then returned and picked up the heavy wrench with
which he had removed the nuts holding the outer door into place. He
fastened the tool to the belt of his suit. Then, with a wave of his hand
toward the detective, he approached the hulk.

The hole in the side was too high for him to reach, but he hooked the
end of his pike in one of the joints of the _Arethusa's_ plates and
climbed slowly and painfully up the side of the vessel. As he
disappeared into the hull, Carnes realized with a sudden start that he
had been watching his friend and neglecting the duty imposed on him of
keeping a sharp watch. He turned quickly to the floodlights and searched
the sea bottom.

       *       *       *       *       *

Nothing appeared, and the minutes moved as slowly as hours should.
Carnes felt that he had been submerged alone for weeks, and his nerves
grew so tense that he felt that he would scream in another instant. A
sudden thought sobered him like a dash of cold water. If he screamed,
Dr. Bird would take it for an alarm signal and possibly be afraid to
emerge from the vessel. His watch showed him that the Doctor had been
gone for twenty-five minutes and he moved slowly to the radio
transmitter.

"Dr. Bird," he said slowly and distinctly, "you have been gone nearly
thirty minutes. Nothing alarming has appeared but I will feel better
when I see you coming back."

He glued his eyes on the opening in the ship's side and waited. Five
minutes passed, and then ten, with no signs of the Doctor. Carnes moved
again to the receiver.

"It has been over half an hour. Doctor," he cried in a pleading voice.
"If you are all right, for God's sake show yourself. I am frantic with
worry."

Another five minutes passed, and the sweat dripped in a steady stream
from the detective's chin. Suddenly he gave a sob of relief and sank
back against the side of the globe. A bulky figure showed at the edge of
the hole, and Dr. Bird climbed slowly and heavily out of the hold and
dropped to the sea bottom. He lay prone for a moment before he rose and
made his way with evident effort toward the sphere. He entered the
compartment and with a heroic effort lifted the outer door into place,
and feebly and with fumbling fingers placed nuts on the bolts. His hands
wandered uncertainly toward the valves and closed the upper one. He
waved his hand toward Carnes and sank in a heap on the floor of the
lock.

       *       *       *       *       *

With trembling hands Carnes connected the air and opened the valve. Air
flowed into the lock and the water was gradually forced out. When the
lock was empty, he waited for Dr. Bird to close the outer valve but the
Doctor did not move. Carnes tore at the bolts which held the inner door
and threw his weight against it. It held against his assault, and he
thought frantically. An inspiration came to him, and he disconnected
the air valve. With a whistling rush, the air from the lock rushed into
the sphere and he forced open the inner door. A stream of sea water
drove against his feet through the open valve, and he reached for the
valve to close it. The force of the water held it open for a moment, but
he threw every ounce of his strength into the effort. The valve slowly
closed.

It was beyond his strength to haul the heavy Doctor with his pressure
diving suit through the restricted confines of the inner door, so Carnes
wormed his way into the lock and with trembling fingers unscrewed the
helmet of the Doctor's diving suit. The helmet clanged to the floor and
Carnes scooped up his hands full of water and dashed it into the
Doctor's face. There was no response and he was at his wit's end. He
sprang for the radio to order the sphere hauled up when his glance fell
on the oxygen tank. It took him only a moment to connect a rubber hose
to the tank, and in a few seconds a blast of the life-giving gas was
blowing into the scientist's face. Dr. Bird gave a convulsive gasp or
two and opened his eyes.

"Shut off the juice, Carnes," he said faintly. "Too much of that's
bad."

Carnes shut off the oxygen and Dr. Bird struggled to a sitting position
and inhaled deep breaths.

"That was a narrow squeak, old dear," he said faintly. "Give me a hand
and I'll climb in."

       *       *       *       *       *

With the detective's aid he climbed into the sphere and Carnes fastened
the inner door. Slowly the Doctor rid himself of the diving suit and lay
prone on the floor, his breath still coming in gasps.

"Thanks for your warning about the time, Carnes," he said. "I knew that
my air supply was running short but I was caught down there and couldn't
readily free myself. I thought for a while that my time had come, but it
wasn't so written. By the looks of things, I freed myself just in
time."

"Did you find out anything?" asked the detective eagerly.

"I did," replied Dr. Bird grimly. "For one thing, the gold is no longer
in the hold of the _Arethusa_."

"It's gone?"

"Clean as a whistle, every bar of it. A hole has been cut in the vault
around the combination, and the bars slid back and the door opened. The
gold has been stolen."

"Might it not have been stolen before the vessel sank?"

"The idea occurred to me of course, and I examined things pretty
carefully. I know that the theft occurred after the vessel sank."

"How could you tell?"

"For one thing, the hole was cut with an under-water cutting torch. For
the second, look here."

       *       *       *       *       *

The Doctor rolled up his trousers and showed the detective his leg.
Carnes cried out as he saw huge purple welts on it.

"What caused that?" he cried.

"As I entered the vault, I stepped full into a steel bear trap which was
set there for the purpose of catching and holding anyone who entered.
Someone has visited the _Arethusa_, since she sank, and looted her, and
also arranged so that any diver who got as far as the vault would never
return to the surface to tell of it. Luckily for myself, I carried a
heavy wrench and was able to free myself. Most divers don't carry such a
thing."

"But who could have done it?"

"That's what we have got to find out, and we aren't going to do it down
here. Give the word to have us hauled up; and, Carnes, don't mention
anything about the looting of the vessel. Allow it to be understood that
I couldn't get into the hold. We'll head back for New York at once. I
want to have a few small changes made in this sphere before we use it
again. While I am doing that, I want you to get hold of the Coast Guard
or the Immigration Service or whoever it is that has the complete
records in that case of alien smuggling, by the Young Labor party. When
you get the information, report to me and we'll go over it. You might
also drop a hint to Captain Starley that will stop all further attempts
at salvage operations for a few days. Tell him that I'll arrange to have
a Coast Guard cutter guard the locality of the wreck."

"Won't that be rather risky for the cutter?"

"I think not. The gold is gone and there is no reason to apprehend any
further danger in that locality, at least for the present."

       *       *       *       *       *

At nine o'clock next morning Carnes and Dr. Bird sat in the office of
Lieutenant Commander Minden of the United States Coast Guard, listening
intently to the history of the alien smuggling case. Commander Minden
was saying:

"Their boats would load up and clear ostensibly for Rio de Janeiro or
some other South American port, but once they were in the Atlantic, they
would alter their course and head from the Massachusetts coast. Of
course, we had no right to interfere with them on the high seas, and
they never came closer than fifty miles of our coast line. When they got
that close, they would cruise slowly back and forth for a few days and
then steam away south to the port they had cleared for. When they got
there, of course there were no passengers on board.

"We patrolled the coast carefully while they were around but we never
got any indication of any landing of aliens and yet we knew they were
being landed in some way. We drew lines so close that a cork couldn't
get by without being seen and we even had the air patrolled, but with no
results. Eventually the air patrol was the thing that gave them away.

"They had been operating so successfully that they evidently got
careless and started a load off late in the night so they didn't reach
the coast by dawn. A Navy plane was flying along the coast-line about
twelve miles off when they spotted a submarine running parallel with the
coast, headed north. It didn't look like an American craft and they went
on and radioed Washington and found that we had no under-sea craft in
that neighborhood. They returned to their patrol and followed the sub
for a matter of thirty or forty miles up the coast, and then it turned
in right toward the shore. The shore line there is rocky, and, at the
point where the sub was heading, it falls sheer about two hundred
fathoms. The sub ran right at the cliff and disappeared from view."

       *       *       *       *       *

Lieutenant Commander Minden paused impressively. Carnes and Dr. Bird set
forward in their chairs, for it was evident that the crux of the story
was at hand.

"When the plane reported what they had seen, we knew how those aliens
were being landed. The point where the sub went in gave us a good idea
of the location of their base and we threw a cordon of men around and
searched. A Navy sub was sent to the scene and they reported that there
was a tunnel opening into the rock, about a hundred fathoms under water,
running for they had no idea how far under the land. They stayed to
guard the hole while we combed the land. It took us a week to locate the
place, but we traced some truck loads of food and finally found it. This
tunnel ran under the land for a mile and then ended in a large cave
underground. The Young Labor party had established a regular receiving
depot there, and took the aliens from the sub and kept them for a day or
two until they had a chance to load them into trucks and run them into
Boston or some other town in the night.

"Once we had the place spotted, we sent a gang in and captured the whole
works without any trouble. The underground cavern had no natural opening
to the surface, but one had been made by blasting. We captured the
whole lot and then sealed the end of the hole with rock and concrete.
That was the end of the affair."

"Thank you, Commander; you have given us a very graphic description of
it. I suppose you could find the entrance which was sealed up?"

       *       *       *       *       *

"Easily. I led the raiding party. I forgot to mention one blunder we
made. Evidently some word of our plans leaked out, for the sub which was
guarding the outer end of the tunnel was called away by a radio message
supposed to be from the Navy Department. It had gone only a short
distance, however, when the commander smelled a rat and made his way
back. He was too late. He was just in time to see the sub emerge from
the hole and head into the open sea. He gave chase, but the other sub
was faster than the Navy boat and it got clear away. The leader of the
gang must have been on it, for we didn't get him."

"Who was the leader?"

"From some records we captured, his name was Ivan Saranoff. I never saw
him."

"Saranoff?" said Dr. Bird thoughtfully. "The name seems familiar. Where
have I--Thunder! I know now. He was at one time a member of the faculty
of St. Petersburg. He was one of the leading biologists of his time.
Carnes, we've found our man."

"If you are thinking of Saranoff, I am afraid you are mistaken, Doctor,"
said Commander Minden. "Neither he nor his submarine have ever been
heard of since and it has been generally conceded that they were lost at
sea. We had some pretty rough weather just after that affair."

"Rough weather doesn't mean much to a sub, Commander. I expect that he's
our man. At any rate, the place we want to go is the end of that
tunnel."

"I'm at your service, Doctor."

"Carnes, get the location of that tunnel entrance from Commander Minden
and order the _Minneconsin_ to proceed north along the coast to that
vicinity and stand by for radio orders. I am going to telephone Mitchell
Field and get a plane. We have no time to lose."

       *       *       *       *       *

The plane from Mitchell Field roared down to a landing, and Carnes, Dr.
Bird and Commander Minden dismounted from the rear cockpit and looked
around. They had landed in a smooth field at the base of a rise almost
rugged enough to be called a mountain. A group of three men were
standing near them as they got out of the plane. One of the men
approached.

"Dr. Bird?" asked the newcomer. "I am Tom Harron, United States Marshal.
These two men are deputies. I understand that I am to report to you for
orders."

"I'm glad to know you, Mr. Harron. This is Operative Carnes of the
Secret Service and Commander Minden of the Coast Guard. We are going to
explore an underground cavern that is located in this vicinity."

"Do you mean the one where they used to smuggle aliens? That is closed
up. I was in charge of that work and we closed it tight as a drum two
years ago."

"Can you find the entrance?"

"Sure. It isn't over a mile from here."

"Lead the way, then. We want to take a look at it."

The marshal led the way toward the eminence and took a path which led up
a gully in its side. He paused for a moment to take his bearings and
then turned sharply to his left and climbed part way up the side of the
ravine.

"Here it is," he announced. An expression of astonishment crossed his
face and he examined the ground closely. "By Golly, Doc," he went on as
he straightened up, "this place has been opened since I left it!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Dr. Bird hurried forward and joined him. The heavy stone and concrete
with which the entrance to the cavern had been sealed were undisturbed,
but in the side of the hill was set a steel door beside the concrete.
There was no sign of a keyhole or other means of entering it.

"Was this steel door part of your work?" asked Carnes.

"No, sir, it wasn't. We sealed it solid. That door has been put there
since."

Dr. Bird closely examined the structure. He tapped it and went around
the edges and then straightened up and took a small pocket compass from
his pocket and opened the case. The needle swung crazily for a moment
and then pointed straight toward the door.

"A magnetic lock," he exclaimed. "If we could find the power line it
would be easy to force, but finding that line might take us a week. At
any rate, we have found out what we were after. This is their base from
which they are operating. Mr. Harron, I want you to station a guard
armed with rifles at this door day and night until I personally relieve
you. Remember, until I relieve you, in person. Verbal or written orders
don't go. Capture or kill anyone who tries to enter or leave the cavern
through this entrance. Just now we'll find that cavern more vulnerable
from the sea end, and that is where I mean to attack. We'll force that
door and explore from this end later. Commander Minden, you may stay
here with Mr. Harron, if you like, or you may come with Carnes and me.
We are going on board the _Minneconsin_."

       *       *       *       *       *

The Mitchell Field plane roared to a take-off and bore south along the
coast. Half an hour of flying brought them in view of the battleship
steaming at full speed up the coast. Dr. Bird radioed instructions to
the ship, and an hour later a launch picked them up from the beach and
took them out. As soon as they were on board they resumed their
progress, and in two hours the peak that Dr. Bird had marked as a
landmark was opposite.

"Steam in as close to the shore as you can safely," he said, "and then
lower us. Once we are down, you will be guided by our telephoned
instructions. Come on, Carnes, let's go."

The detective followed him into the sphere as the _Minneconsin_ edged up
toward the shore. The huge ball was lifted from the deck and lowered
gently into two hundred fathoms of water. It was pitch dark at that
depth, and Dr. Bird switched on one floodlight and studied the cliff
which rose a hundred yards from them.

"We have missed the place, Carnes," he said. "We'll have them pull us up
a few hundred feet and then steam along the coast."

He turned to the telephone and the sphere rose while the battleship
steamed slowly ahead, the vitrilene ball following in her wake. For a
quarter of a mile they continued on their way, and then Dr. Bird halted
the ship.

"What depth are we?" he asked. "Eighty fathoms? All right, lower us,
please."

       *       *       *       *       *

The ball sank until it rested on the sea bottom, and Dr. Bird turned on
two additional floodlights and studied the surroundings. The bed of the
ocean was literally covered with lobster and crab shell, with the bones
of fish scattered here and there among them. A few bones of land animals
were mixed with the debris and Carnes gave a gasp as Dr. Bird pointed
out to him a diving helmet.

"We are on the right track," said the scientist grimly. He stepped to
the telephone and ordered the sphere raised to one hundred fathoms. The
ship moved forward along the coast until Dr. Bird again stepped to the
telephone and halted it. Before them yawned the entrance to the
underground tunnel. It was about two hundred feet high and three hundred
across, and their most powerful beams would not penetrate to the end of
it. A pile of debris could be seen on the floor of the tunnel and
Carnes fancied that he could see another diving helmet among the litter.
Dr. Bird pointed toward the side of the cavern.

"See those floodlights fastened to the cliff so that their beams will
sweep across the mouth of the tunnel when they are lighted?" he said.
"Apparently the cave is used as a prison and the light beams are the
bars. The creature is not at home just now or the bars would be up. My
God! Look at that, Carnes!"

Carnes stared and echoed the Doctor's cry of surprise. Clinging to a
shelf of rock which extended out from the wall of the cavern and half
hidden among the seaweed was a huge marine creature. It looked like a
huge black slug with rudimentary eyes and mouth. The thing was fifty
feet in length and fully fifteen feet in diameter. It hung there, moving
sluggishly as though breathing, and rudimentary tentacles projecting
from one end moved in the water.

"What is it, Doctor?" asked Carnes in a voice of awe.

"It is a typical trochosphere of the giant octopus, the devil fish of
Indian Ocean legend, multiplied a thousand times," he replied. "When the
octopus lays its eggs, they hatch out into the larval form. The free
swimming larva is known as a trochosphere, and I am positive that that
is what we see; but look at the size of the thing! Man alive, if that
ever developed, I can't conceive of its dimensions!"

       *       *       *       *       *

"I have seen pictures of a huge octopus pulling down a ship," said
Carnes, "but I always fancied they were imaginary."

"They are. This monstrosity before us is no product of nature. A dozen
of them would depopulate the seas in a year. It is a hideous parody of
nature conceived in the brain of a madman and produced by some glandular
disturbance. Saranoff spent years in glandular experimentation, and no
doubt he has managed to stimulate the thyroid of a normal octopus and
produce a giant. I fancy that the immediate parent of the thing before
us was of normal size, and so, probably, are its brothers and sisters.
The phenomenon of giantism of this nature occurs in alternate
generations and then only in rare instances. Its grandparent may not be
far away, however. I wish it was safe to use a submarine to explore that
cavern."

"Why isn't it?"

"Any creature powerful enough to pull the _Arethusa_ under water would
crush a frail submarine without effort. Anyway, a Navy sub isn't built
for under-water exploration like this ball is. The window space is quite
limited and they aren't equipped with powerful floodlights. I would like
to be able to reach that thing and destroy it, but it can wait until
later. The best thing we can do is to put out our lights and wait."

His hand sought the light switch, and the globe became dark. Only a tiny
glimmer of light came down to them from the surface, a hundred fathoms
above. In the darkness they stared into the depths of the sea.

       *       *       *       *       *

For an hour they waited and then Dr. Bird grasped Carnes by the
shoulder and pointed. Far in the distance could be seen a tiny point
of light. It wavered and winked and at times disappeared, but it was
gradually approaching them. Dr. Bird stepped to the telephone and the
_Minneconsin_ moved a hundred yards further from the shore. The light
disappeared again as though hidden by some opaque body. Their eyes
had become accustomed to the dim light and they could dimly see a long
snake-like body approach the globe and then suddenly withdraw.

The light appeared again only a few hundred yards away. The water
swirled and the sphere swayed drunkenly as some gigantic body moved past
it with express train speed and entered the mouth of the cavern. The
light turned toward them and they could see the dim outlines of a small
submarine on which it was mounted. Another rush of water came as the
object which had entered the cave started to leave it, and the light
swung around. It bore on a huge black body, and was reflected with a red
glow from huge eyes, and the creature backed again into the cave. Back
and forth across the mouth of the cavern the light played, and the
watchers caught a glimpse of a huge parrot beak which could have
engulfed a freight car. From the cavern projected twisting tentacles of
gargantuan dimensions, and red eyes, thirty feet in diameter, glared
balefully at them. For several minutes the light of the submarine played
across the mouth of the cave, and then the floodlights on the cliff
sprang into full glow and bathed the ball and the mouth of the tunnel in
a flood of light.

Before their horrified gaze was an octopus of a size to make them
disbelieve their eyes. The submarine had moved up to within a few feet
of them, and the light from it played full on the ball. The submarine
maneuvered in the vicinity, keeping the ball full in the beam of its
light, and then drew back. As it did so, the floodlights on the cliff
died out and the beam of the submarine's light was directed away from
them. Dr. Bird jumped to the telephone.

"Head straight out to sea and full speed ahead!" he shouted. "Don't try
to pull us in; tow us!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The ball swayed as the _Minneconsin's_ mighty engines responded to his
orders and the cliff wall disappeared.

"As long as they know we're here, we might as well announce our presence
in good style," said the doctor grimly as he closed a switch and threw
all of the sphere's huge lights into action. He had turned on the lights
just in time, for even as he did so a mighty tentacle shot out of the
darkness and wrapped itself around the ball. For a moment it clung there
and then was withdrawn.

"The thing can't stand light," remarked the doctor as he threw off the
switch. "That sub was herding it like a cow by the use of a light beam.
As long as we are lighted up we are safe from attack."

"Then for God's sake turn on the lights!" cried Carnes.

"I want it to attack us," replied the doctor calmly. "We have no
offensive weapons and only by meeting an attack can we harm the thing."

As he spoke there came a soft whisper of sound from the vitrilene walls
and they were thrown from their feet by a sudden jerk. Dr. Bird stumbled
to the switch and closed it, and the ball was flooded with light. Two
arms were now on them but they were slowly withdrawn as the lights
glared forth. The huge outlines of the beast could be seen as it
followed them toward the surface. Its great eyes glared at them
hungrily. The submarine was visible only as a speck of light in the
distance.

       *       *       *       *       *

The _Minneconsin's_ speed was picking up under the urge of her huge
steam turbines, and the ball was nearing the surface. The sea was light
enough now that they could see for quite a distance. The telephone bell
jangled and Dr. Bird picked the receiver from its hook.

"Hello," he said. "What's that? You can? By all means, fire. Yes,
indeed, we're well out of danger; we must be thirty or forty feet down.
Watch the fun now," he went on to Carnes as he replaced the receiver.
"The beast is showing above the surface and they're going to shell it."

They watched the surface and suddenly there came a flash of light
followed by a dull boom of sound. The huge octopus suddenly sank below
them, thrashing its arms about wildly.

"A hit!" shouted Dr. Bird into the telephone. "Get it again if it shows
up. I want it to get good and mad."

He turned off the lights in the ball and the octopus attacked again. The
shell had taught it caution and it kept well down, but three huge arms
came up from the depths of the sea and wrapped themselves about the
ball. The forward motion stopped for a moment, and then came a jerk that
threw them down. The ball started to sink.

"Our cable has parted!" cried the doctor. "Turn on the lights!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Carnes closed the switch. The ball was so covered with the huge
tentacles that they could see nothing, but the light had its usual
effect and they were released. The ball sank toward the bottom and they
could see the huge cephalopod lying below watching them. Blood was
flowing from a wound near one of its eyes where the _Minneconsin's_
shell had found its mark.

Toward the huge monster they sank until they lay on the bottom of the
ocean and a few yards from it. In an instant the sea became opaque and
they could see nothing.

"He has shot his ink!" cried the doctor. "Here comes the real attack.
Strap yourself to the wall where you can reach one of the motor
switches."

Through the darkness huge arms came out and wrapped themselves around
the ball. The heavy vitrilene groaned under the enormous pressure which
was applied, but it held. The ink was clearing slightly and they could
see that the sphere was covered by the arms. The mass moved and the huge
maw opened before them. The pipes projecting from the sides of the ball
were buried in the creature's flesh.

"Good Lord, he's going to swallow us!" gasped the doctor. "Quick,
Carnes, the motor switch."

He closed one of them as he spoke, and the powerful little electric
motors began to hum, forcing forward the piston attached to the tank
connected to the hollow rods. Steadily the little motors hummed, and the
tank emptied through the rods into the body of the giant cephalopod.

"I hope the stuff works fast," groaned the doctor as they approached
closer to the giant maw. "I never tried giving an octopus a hypodermic
injection of prussic acid before, but it ought to do the business.
There's enough acid there to kill half New York City."

       *       *       *       *       *

Carnes blanched as the ball approached the mouth. One by one the arms
unwound until only one was holding them and the jaws opened wider. They
were almost in them when the motion stopped. They could feel a shudder
run through the arm which held them. For a moment the arm alternately
expanded and contracted, almost releasing them only to clutch them
again. Another arm came from the depths and whipped about the ball, and
again the vitrilene groaned at the pressure which was applied. The arms
were suddenly withdrawn and the ball started to sink.

"Drop the lead, Carnes!" cried the doctor. With the aid of the detective
he operated the electric catches which held the huge mass of lead to the
bottom, and the sphere shot up through the water like a rocket. It
leaped clear of the water and fell back with a splash. A half mile away
the _Minneconsin_ was swinging in a wide circle to head back toward
them. They turned their gaze toward the shore.

As they looked a giant arm shot a hundred yards up into the air,
twisting and writhing frantically. It disappeared, and another, and then
half a dozen flashed into the air. The arms dipped below the surface. A
huge black body reared its bulk free from the water for a moment, and
the sea boiled as though in a violent storm. The body sank and again the
arms were thrown up, twisting and turning like a half dozen huge snakes.
The whole creature sank below the waves and the ball tossed back and
forth, often buried under tons of water and once tossed thirty feet into
the air by the huge waves.

       *       *       *       *       *

A momentary lull came in the waves. Carnes gave a cry of astonishment
and pointed toward the shore. With an effort, Dr. Bird twisted himself
in his lashing and looked in that direction. The huge body had again
come to the surface, and three of the arms were towering into the air.
Grasped in them was a long, black, cigar-shaped object. As they watched
the object was torn into two parts and the fragments crushed by the
enormous power of the octopus. Again the arms writhed in torment, and
then they stiffened out. For a moment they towered in the air and then
slowly sank below the surface of the sea.

"The cyanide has worked," cried the doctor, "and in its last agonies the
creature has turned on its creator and destroyed him. It is a shame, for
Saranoff was a brilliant although perverted genius, and besides, I would
have liked to have learned his method. However, I may find something
when we open the land end and raid the cave; and really, he was too
brilliant a man to hang for murder. Once we open the cave and I get any
data that is there, my connection with the case will end. Trailing down
the gold and recovering it is a routine matter for Bolton, and one in
which he won't need my help."

"What about that creature we saw in the cave, Doctor? Won't it hatch
into another terror of the sea like the thing that destroyed the ship?"

"The trochosphere? No, I'm not worried there. It won't try to leave the
cave for some days yet, and by that time we'll have the land end opened
and the floodlights turned on. They will keep it there and it will
starve to death. We could send down a sub to feed it a torpedo, but
there's no need. Nature will dispose of it. Meanwhile, I hope the
_Minneconsin_ rigs up a jury tackle pretty soon and takes us on board.
I'm getting seasick."

       *       *       *       *       *

_IN THE NEXT ISSUE_

  THE FIFTH-DIMENSION CATAPULT

  _A Novelette of an Extraordinary Interdimensional Rescue_
  _By_ Murray Leinster


  THE GATE TO XORAN

  _A Thrilling Story of a Metal Man's Visit to Earth_
  _By_ Hal K. Wells


  THE EYE OF ALLAH

  _A Story of the Tracking Down of a Mysterious Scientific Killer_
  _By_ C. D. Willard


  THE PIRATE PLANET

  _Part Three of the Outstanding Current Novel_
  _By_ Charles W. Diffin


  ----_AND OTHERS_!

       *       *       *       *       *



Gray Denim

_By Harl Vincent_

  The blood of the Van Dorn's ran in Karl's veins. He rode the skies
  like an avenging god.

[Illustration: _There came a stabbing pencil of light from over Karl's
shoulder._]


Beneath the huge central arch in Cooper Square a meeting was in
progress--a gathering of the gray-clad workers of the lower levels of
New York. Less than two hundred of their number were in evidence, and
these huddled in dejected groups around the pedestal from which a
fiery-tongued orator was addressing them. Lounging negligently at the
edge of the small crowd were a dozen of the red police.

"I tell you, comrades," the speaker was shouting, "the time has come
when we must revolt. We must battle to the death with the wearers of the
purple. Why work out our lives down here so they can live in the lap of
luxury over our heads? Why labor day after day at the oxygen generators
to give them the fresh air they breathe?"

The speaker paused uncertainly as a chorus of raucous laughter came to
his ears. He glared belligerently at a group of newcomers who stood
aloof from his own gathering. Seven or eight of them there were, and
they wore the gray with obvious discomfort. Slummers! Well, they'd hear
something they could carry back with them when they returned to their
homes!

"Why," he continued in rising tones, "do we sit at the controls of the
pneumatic tubes which carry thousands of our fellows to tasks equally
irksome, while they of the purple ride their air yachts to the pleasure
cities of the sky lanes? Never in the history of mankind have the poor
been poorer and the rich richer!"

"Yah!" shouted a disrespectful voice from among the newcomers. "You're
full o' bunk! Nothing but bunk!"

An ominous murmur swelled from the crowd and the red police roused from
their lethargy. The mounting scream of a siren echoed in the vaulted
recesses above and re-echoed from the surrounding columns--the call for
reserves.

       *       *       *       *       *

All was confusion in the Square. The little group of newcomers
immediately became the center of a mêlée of dangerous proportions. Some
of the more timid of the wearers of the gray struggled to get out of the
crowd and away. Others, not in sympathy with the speaker, rushed to the
support of the besieged visitors. The police were, for the moment,
overwhelmed.

The orator, mad with resentment and injured pride, hurled himself into
the group. A knife flashed in his hand; rose and fell. A scream of agony
shrilled piercingly above the din of the fighting.

Then came the reserves, and the wielder of the knife turned to escape.
He broke away from the milling combatants and made speedily for the
shadows that lay beyond the great pillars of the Square. But he never
reached them, for one of the red guards raised his riot pistol and
fired. There was a dull _plop_, and a rubbery something struck the
fleeing man and wrapped powerful tentacles around his body, binding him
hand and foot in their swift embrace. He fell crashing to the pavement.

A lieutenant of the red police was shouting his orders and the din in
the Square was deafening. With their numbers greatly augmented, the
guards were now in control of the situation and their maces struck left
and right. Groans and curses came from the gray-clad workers, who now
fought desperately to escape.

Then, with startling suddenness, the artificial sunlight of the
cavernous Square was gone, leaving the battle to continue in utter
darkness.

       *       *       *       *       *

Cooper Square, in the year 2108, was the one gathering place in New York
City where the wearers of the gray denim were permitted to assemble and
discuss their grievances publicly. Deep in the maze of lower-level ways
seldom visited by wearers of the purple, the grottolike enclosure bore
the name of a philanthropist of the late nineteenth century and still
carried a musty air of certain of the traditions of that period.

In Astor Way, on the lowest level of all, there was a tiny book shop.
Nestled between two of the great columns that provided foundation
support for the eighty levels above, it was safely hidden from the gaze
of curious passersby in the Square. Slumming parties from afar, their
purple temporarily discarded for the gray, occasionally passed within a
stone's throw of the little shop, never suspecting the existence of such
a retreat amidst the dark shadows of the pillars. But to the initiated
few amongst the wearers of the gray, and to certain of the red police,
it was well known.

Rudolph Krassin, proprietor of the establishment, was a bent and
withered ancient. His jacket of gray denim hung loosely from his
spare frame and his hollow cough bespoke a deep-seated ailment.
Looking out from behind thick lenses set in his square-rimmed
spectacles, the watery eyes seemed vacant; uncomprehending. But old
Rudolph was a scholar--keen-witted--and a gentleman besides. To his
many friends of the gray-clad multitude he was an anomaly; they
could not understand his devotion to his well-thumbed volumes. But they
listened to his words of wisdom and, more frequently than they could
afford, parted with precious labor tickets in exchange for reading
matter that was usually of the lighter variety.

       *       *       *       *       *

When the fighting started in the Square, Rudolph was watching and
listening from a point of vantage in the shadows near his shop. This
fellow Leontardo, who was the speaker, was an agitator of the worst
sort. His arguments always were calculated to arouse the passions of his
hearers; to inflame them against the wearers of the purple. He had
nothing constructive to offer. Always he spoke of destruction; war;
bloodshed. Rudolph marveled at the patience of the red police. To-day,
these newcomers, obviously a slumming party of youngsters bent on
whatever mischief they could find, were interfering with the speaker.
The old man chuckled at the first interruption. But at signs of real
trouble he scurried into the shadows and vanished in the blackness of
first-level passages known only to himself. He knew where to find the
automatic sub-station of the Power Syndicate.

Returning to the darkness he had created in the Square, he was relieved
to find that the sounds of the fighting had subsided. Apparently most of
the wearers of the gray had escaped. He skirted the avenue of pillars
along Astor Way, feeling his way from one to another as he progressed
toward his little shop. Peering into the blackness of the square he saw
the feeble beams of several flash-lamps in the hands of the police. They
were searching for survivors of the fracas, maces and riot pistols held
ready for use. A sobbing gasp from close by set his pulses throbbing. He
crept stealthily in the direction from which the sound had come.

"Steady now," came a whispered voice. "My uncle's shop is close by.
He'll take you in. Here--let me lift you."

       *       *       *       *       *

There was a shuffling on the opposite side of the pillar at which
Rudolph had halted; another grunt of pain.

"Karl!" hissed the old man. It was his nephew.

"Uncle Rudolph?" came the guarded response.

"Yes. Can I help you?"

"Quick--yes--he's fainted."

The old man was around the huge base of the column in an instant. He
groped in the darkness and his hands encountered human bodies.

"Who is it?" he breathed.

"One of the hecklers, Uncle. A young lad; and of the purple I think.
He's been knifed."

Together they dragged the inert form into the shelter of the long line
of pillars. There was a trampling of many men in the square. That would
be a second detachment of reserves. A ray of light filtered through and
dancing shadows of the giant columns made grotesque outlines against the
walls of the Way. A portable searchlight had been brought to the scene.
They must hurry.

Impeded by the dead weight of their burden, they made sorry progress and
several times found it necessary to halt in the shadow of a pillar while
the red police passed by in their search of the Square. It was with a
sigh of relief that Rudolph opened the door of his shop and with still
greater satisfaction closed and bolted it securely. His nephew
shouldered the limp form of the unconscious youth and carried it to his
own bed in one of the rear rooms.

"Ugh!" exclaimed old Rudolph as he ripped open the young man's shirt,
"it's a nasty cut. Warm water, Karl."

The gaping wound was washed and bound tightly. Rudolph's experienced
fingers told him the knife had not reached a vital spot. The youth would
recover.

"But Karl," he objected, "he wears the purple. Under the gray. See!
It'll get us in trouble if we keep him."

He was stripping the young man of his clothing to prepare him for bed.
Suddenly there was revealed on the white skin a triangular mark. Bright
scarlet it was and just over the right hip. He made a hasty attempt to
hide it from the watching eyes of Karl.

"Uncle!" snapped his nephew, "--the mark you call cursed! He has it,
too!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The tall young man in gray was on his knees, tearing the hands of the
old man away. He saw the mark clearly now. There was no further use of
attempting to conceal it. Rudolph rose and faced his angered nephew, his
watery eyes inscrutable.

"You told me, Rudolph, that it was a brand that cursed me. I have seen
it on him, too. You have lied to me."

The old man's eyes wavered. He trembled violently.

"Why did you lie?" demanded Karl. "Am I not your nephew? Am I not really
cursed as you've maintained? Tell me--tell me!"

He had the old man by the shoulders, shaking him cruelly.

"Karl--Karl," begged the helpless ancient, "it was for your good. I
swear it. You were born to the purple. That's what that mark means--not
that you're degraded to the gray, as I said. But there's a reason. Let
me explain."

"Bah! A reason! You've kept me in this misery and squalor for a reason!
Who's my father?"

He flung Rudolph to the floor, where the old man crouched in apprehensive
misery.

"Please Karl--don't! I can explain. Just give me time. It's a long
story."

"Time! Time! For twenty-odd years you've lied to me; cheated me. My
birthright--where is it?"

He menaced his supposed uncle; was about to strike him. Then suddenly he
was ashamed. He turned on his heel.

"I'm leaving," he said shortly.

"Karl--my boy," begged Rudolph Krassin, struggling to his feet. "You
can't! That lad in there--he--"

But Karl was too angry to reason.

"To hell with him!" he raged, "and to hell with you! I'm through!"

He stamped from the room and out into the eery shadows of the Way. Karl
was done with his old life. He'd go to the upper levels and claim his
rights. Some day, too, he'd punish the man who'd stolen them away. God!
Born to the purple! To think he'd missed it all! Probably was kidnaped
by the old rascal he'd been calling uncle. But he'd find out. Rudolph
didn't have to explain. Fingerprint records would clear his name;
establish his rightful station in life. He dived into a passage that
would lead him to one of the express lifts. He'd soon be overhead.

       *       *       *       *       *

A sergeant of the red police looked up startled from his desk as a tall
youth in the gray denim of forty levels below appeared before him.

"Well?" he growled. The stalwart young worker had stared belligerently
and insolently, he thought.

"I want to check my fingerprint record, Sergeant."

"Hm. Pretty cocky, aren't you? The records for such as you are down
below, where you belong."

"Not mine, I think."

"So? And who the devil are you?"

"That's what I'm here to find out. I've got a triangle branded on my
right hip."

"A what?"

"Triangle. Here--look!"

The amazing youngster had raised his jacket and was pulling at his
shirt. The sergeant stared at what was revealed, his eyes bulging as he
looked.

"Lord!" he gasped, "a Van Dorn--in the gray!"

Quickly he turned to the radiovision and made rapid connection with
several persons in turn--important ones, by the appearance of the
features of each in the brilliant disc of the instrument.

Karl was confused by the sudden turn of things. The sergeant talked so
rapidly he could not catch the sense of his words. And that name, Van
Dorn, eluded him. He knew he had heard it before, in the little shop
down there in Astor Way. But he could not place it. He wished fervently
that he had paid more attention to the desires of old Rudolph; had
studied more and read the books the old man had begged him to read. His
new surroundings confused him, too, and he knew that he was the center
of some great new excitement.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then they were in the room; two individuals, one in the red uniform of a
captain of police, the other a pompous, whiskered man in purple. Others
followed and it seemed to Karl that the room was filled with them,
strangers all, and they stared at him and chattered incessantly. He
experienced an overwhelming impulse to run, but mastered it and faced
them boldly.

A square of plate glass was placed under his outstretched fingers. It
was smeared with something sticky and he watched the whiskered man as he
held it up to the light and studied the impressions. Then there was more
confusion. Everyone talked at once and the pompous one in purple made
use of the radiovision, holding the square of glass near its disc for
observation by the person he had called. The identification number was
repeated aloud, a string of figures and letters that were a meaningless
jumble to Karl. The room became quiet while the police captain thumbed
the pages of a huge book he had taken from among many similar ones that
filled a rack behind the desk.

Karl's blood froze in his veins at the rumbling swish of a car speeding
through the pneumatic tube beneath their feet. His nerves were on edge.
Then the captain of police looked up from the book and there was a
peculiar glint in his eyes as he spoke.

"Peter Van Dorn. Missing since 2085. Wanted by Continental Government.
Ha!"

The words came to Karl's ears through a growing sensation of unreality.
It seemed that the speaker was miles away and that his voice and
features were those of a radiovision likeness. Wanted by the great power
across the Atlantic! It was unthinkable. Why, he had been but an infant
in 2085! What possible crime could he have committed? But the red police
captain was speaking again, this time in a chill voice. And the room of
the police, thick with the smoke of a dozen cigars, became suddenly
stifling.

"Where have you been these twenty-three years, Peter Van Dorn?" asked
the captain. "Who have you lived with, I mean?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Something warned him to protect old Rudolph. And somehow he wished
he had not treated the old fellow as he did when he left. His
self-possession returned. A wave of hot resentment swept over him.

"That's my affair," he said defiantly.

The captain shrugged his shoulders. "Oh, well," he said, "you needn't
answer--now. We'll find out when it's necessary. In the meanwhile we'll
have to turn you over to the Continental Ambassador."

Two of the red police advanced toward him and the rest drew back.

"You mean I'm under arrest?" asked Karl incredulously.

"Certainly. Of course you're not to be harmed."

One of the guards had him by the arm and he saw the glint of handcuffs.
They couldn't do this! If it had been for rioting in the Square it
would be different. But this! It meant he was a prisoner of a foreign
government, for what reason he could not guess. He lost his head
completely.

The captain cried out in amazement as one of his huskiest guards went
sprawling under a well-planted punch. This youngster must be as crazy as
was his father before him. But he was a whirlwind. Before he could be
stopped he had tackled the other guard and with a mighty heave flung him
halfway across the room where he fell with a thud that left him dazed
and gasping. The pompous little man in the purple crawled under the desk
as the sergeant leveled a slender tube at the young giant in gray.

Karl ducked instinctively at sight of the weapon, but the spiteful
crackle of its mechanism was too quick for him. A faintly luminous ray
struck him full in the breast and stopped him in his tracks. A thrill of
intense cold chased up his spine and a thunderbolt crashed in his brain.
The captain caught his stiffened body as he fell.

       *       *       *       *       *

Karl--refusing to think of himself as Peter Van Dorn--came to his senses
as from a troubled sleep. His head ached miserably and he turned it
slowly to view his surroundings. Then, in a flash, he remembered. The
paralyzing ray of the red police! They never used it in the lower
levels; but overhead--why, the swine! He sat suddenly erect and glared
into a pair of green eyes that regarded him curiously.

A quick glance showed him that he was in a small padded compartment like
that of the pneumatic tube cars. At one end there was an amazing array
of machinery with glittering levers and handwheels--a control board on
which numberless tiny lights blinked and flickered in rapid succession.
At these controls squatted the twisted figure of a dwarf. A second of
the creatures sat at his side and stared with those horrible green
eyes.

"Lord!" he muttered. "Am I still asleep?"

"No," smiled the dwarf, "you're awake, Peter Van Dorn." The misshapen
creature did not seem unfriendly.

"Then where am I, and who are you?"

"You're in one of the Zar's rocket cars, speeding toward Dorn. We are
but two of the Zar's servants--Moon men."

"Rocket car? Moon men?" Karl was aghast. He wanted to pinch himself. But
a hollow roar to the rear told him he was in a rapidly moving vessel of
some sort. Certainly, too, these dwarfs were not figments of his
imagination.

"You've been kept completely ignorant?" asked the dwarf.

"It--it seems so." Karl was bewildered. "You mean we are out in the
open--traveling in space--to the Moon perhaps?"

       *       *       *       *       *

The dwarf laughed. "No, I wish we were," he replied. "But we are about
halfway to the capital of the Continental Empire, greatest of world
powers. We'll be there in an hour."

"But I don't understand."

"Stupid. Didn't you ever hear of the rocket ships that cross the ocean
like a projectile, mounting a thousand miles from the surface and making
the trip in two hours?"

"No!" Karl was aghast. "Are we really in such a contraption?" he
faltered.

"Say! Are you kidding me?" The dwarf was incredulous. "Do you mean to
tell me you know so little of your world as that? Have you never read
anything? The news broadcasts, the thought exchangers--don't you follow
them at all?"

Karl shook his head in growing wonder. Truly Rudolph had kept him in
ignorance. Or was it his own fault? He had refused to dig into the
volumes old Krassin had begged him to read. The broadcasts and the
thought machines--well, only those of the purple had access to those.

"Hey, Laro!" called the dwarf to his companion, "this mole is as dumb as
can be. Doesn't know he's alive hardly. And a Van Dorn!"

The two laughed uproariously and Karl raged inwardly. Mole! So that's
what they called wearers of the gray! He clenched his fists and rose
unsteadily to his feet.

"Sorry," apologized his tormentor. "Mustn't get sore now. It seems so
funny to us though. And listen, kid, you'll never have another chance to
hear it all. So, if you'll sit down and calm yourself a bit I'll give
you an earful."

       *       *       *       *       *

Mollified, Karl listened. A marvelous tale it was, of a disgruntled
scientist of the Eastern Hemisphere who had conquered that portion of
the world with the aid of the inhabitants he had found on the outer side
of the Moon; of the scientist who still ruled the East--Zar of the
Continental Empire. A horrible war--in 2085, the year of his own
birth--depopulated the countries of Asia, Europe and Africa and reduced
them to subjection. There was no combatting the destructive rays and
chemical warfare of the Moon men. The United Americas, still weakened
from a civil war of their own, remained aloof and, for some strange
reason, the Zar left them in peace, contenting himself with his conquest
of practically all of the rest of the world. Now, it seemed, the two
major powers were as separate as if on different planets, there being no
traffic between them save by governmental sanction; and that was rarely
given.

It grew uncomfortably warm in the compartment as the rocket car entered
the lower atmosphere but Karl listened spellbound to the astounding
revelations of the Moon man. There came a pause in the discourse of the
dwarf as a number of relays clicked furiously on the control board and
the vessel slackened its speed perceptibly.

"But," said Karl, thinking aloud rather than meaning to interrupt,
"what has all this to do with me? Why does the government of this Zar
want me?"

The dwarf bent close and eyed him cautiously. "Poor kid!" he whispered,
"it doesn't seem right that you should suffer for something that
happened when you were born; something you know nothing about. But the
Zar knows best. You--"

There came a stabbing pencil of light from over Karl's shoulder and the
green eyes of the dwarf went wide with horrified surprise. He clutched
at his breast where the flame had contacted, then slowly collapsed in a
pitiful, distorted heap. Karl recoiled from the odor of putrefaction
that immediately filled the compartment. He whirled to face the new
danger but saw nothing but the padded walls.

Then they were in darkness save for the blinking lights of the control
board. He was thrown forward violently and the piercing screech of
compressed air rushing past the vessel told him they had entered the
receiving tube at their destination and were being retarded in speed for
the landing. This much he had gathered from the explanations of the now
silenced dwarf.

Laro, the other Moon man, remained mute at the controls. His companion
evidently had talked too much.

       *       *       *       *       *

The vessel had stopped and a section of the padded rear wall of the
compartment moved back to reveal a second chamber. There were three
other occupants of the ship and Karl knew now at whose hands the
talkative Moon man had met his death. One of the three--all wearers of
the purple--still held the generator of the dazzling ray in his hands.
He decided wisely that resistance was useless and followed meekly when
he was led from the ship.

Endlessly they rode upward in a high-speed lift, dismounting finally at
a pneumatic tube entrance. A special car whisked them roaring into the
blackness. Then they were shot forth into the open and Karl saw the
light of the sun for the first time in many years. They were on the
upper surface of a great city, Dorn, the capital the Continental
Empire.

The air was filled with darting ships of all sorts and sizes, most of
them being pleasure craft of the wearers of the purple. To Karl it was
the sudden realization of his dreams. He was one of them. He, too,
should be wearing the purple. Then his heart sank as one of his guards
prodded him into action. His dream already was shattered for they stood
at the entrance to a great crystal pyramid that rose from the flat
expanse of the roofs of Dorn. It was the palace of the Zar.

It seemed then that fairyland had opened its gates to the young man in
gray denim. He immediately fell under its influence when they traversed
a long lane between rows of brightly colored growing things which filled
the air with sweet odors. Feathered creatures fluttered about and
twittered and caroled in the sheer joy of being alive. It was sweeter
music than he had ever believed possible or even imagined as existing.
Again he forgot the menace of the imperial edict which had brought him
from the other side of the world.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then rudely, he was brought back to earth. He was in the presence of the
mighty Zar and his three escorts were bowing themselves from the huge
room in which the wizened monarch sat enthroned. They had finished their
duties.

A shriveled face; beady eyes; trembling hands with abnormally large
knuckles; a cruel and determined mouth--these were the features that
most impressed Karl as he stared wordlessly at this Zar of the Eastern
Hemisphere. The magnificence of the royal robe was lost on the young
wearer of the gray.

"Well, well, so this is Peter Van Dorn, my beloved nephew." The Zar was
speaking and the chilly sarcasm in which the words were uttered belied
the friendliness they otherwise might have implied.

"That's what I'm told," replied Karl, "though I didn't know I'm supposed
to be the nephew of so great a figure as yourself."

Not bad that, for an humble wearer of the gray.

"Oh, yes, yes, indeed. Why else should I have sent for you?"

"I have wondered why--and still wonder."

"Oh, you wonder, eh?" The Zar inspected him carefully and then broke
into a cackle of horrible laughter. "A Van Dorn in gray denim!" he
chortled. "A mole of the Americas! And to think that even the Zar has
been unable to find him in all these years!"

"Stop!" bellowed Karl. "I'll not have your ridicule. Come to the point
now and have it over with. Kill me if you will, but tell me the story!"
He had seen the slender tube in the Zar's hand.

       *       *       *       *       *

An expression of surprise, almost of admiration, flickered in the beady
eyes of the Zar and was gone. He spoke coldly.

"Very well, I shall explain. You, Peter, are actually my nephew. Your
father, Derek Van Dorn, was my brother; he a king of Belravia and I a
poor but experienced scientist. He scorned me and he paid, for I learned
of the ancient race of the other side of the Moon, the side we can not
see from the earth. I went to them and enlisted their aid in warring
upon my brother. When we returned to carry on this war I learned that I
had a son. So, too, did Derek. But my son was born in obscurity and
Derek's son--you, Peter--in the lap of luxury. The war was short and, to
me, sweet. Belravia was first to fall, and I had your father removed
from this life by the vibrating death."

"You monster!" cried Karl. But the slender rod menaced him.

"A moment, my hot-headed nephew. I vowed I'd have your life, Peter, but
your father had a few friends and one of these spirited you away. So
temporarily you escaped. But now I have you where I can keep that vow.
You, too, shall die. By the vibration. But first--ha! ha!--I'll give you
a taste of the purple. Just so the going will be harder."

Karl kept his temper as best he could. He thought, conscience-stricken,
of old Rudolph, that good friend of his father. Then he thought of that
youth he had taken from the Square.

"Your son?" he asked gently. "Has he the triangular brand?"

The Zar was taken aback. "He has, yes. Why?" he asked.

"I have seen him in the Americas. He now lies wounded and in peril of
his life. What do you think of that?"

Karl was triumphant as the Zar paled.

"You lie, Peter Van Dorn!"

       *       *       *       *       *

But the beady eyes saw that the young man was truthful. Sudden fury
assailed the monarch of the East. A bell pealed its mellow summons and
three Moon men entered the Presence.

"Quick, Taru--the radiovision! Our ambassador in the Americas!" The Zar
was on his feet, his hard features terrible in fear and anger. "By God!"
he vowed, "I'll lay waste the Americas if harm has come to my son. And
you"--turning to Karl--"I'll reserve for you an even more terrible fate
than the vibrating death!"

The radiovision was wheeled in and in operation. A frightened face
appeared in its disc: the Zar's ambassador across the sea.

"Moreau--my son!" snapped the Zar. "Where is he?"

"Majesty! Have mercy!" gasped Moreau. "Paul has eluded us. He was
skylarking--in the lower levels of New York. But our secret agents are
combing the passages. We'll have him in twenty-four hours. I promise!"

The rage of the Zar was terrible to see. Karl expected momentarily that
the white flame would lay him low, for the anger of the mad ruler was
directed first at Moreau, then at himself. But a quick, evil calm
succeeded the storm.

"You, Peter," he stated, in tones suddenly silky, "shall have that
twenty-four hours--no more. If Moreau has not produced my son in that
time you shall be dismembered slowly. A finger; an ear; your tongue; a
hand--until you reveal the whereabouts of the heir to my throne!"

"Never! You scum!" Karl was on the dais in a single bound. He had the
Zar by the throat, his fingers twisting in the flabby flesh. Might as
well have it over at once. "Fratricide--murderer of my father, I'll take
you with me!"

       *       *       *       *       *

But it was not to be. The throne room was filled with retainers of the
mad emperor. Strong hands tore him away and he was borne, struggling and
fighting, to the floor. A sharp pain in his forearm. A deadening of the
muscles. He was powerless, save for the painful ability to crawl to his
knees, swaying drunkenly. A delicious languor overcame him. Nothing
mattered now. He saw that a tall man in the purple had withdrawn the
needle of the hypodermic and was replacing the instrument in its case.
Ever so slowly, it seemed.

The Zar was laughing. That horrible cackle. But Karl didn't care. They'd
have their sport with him. Let 'em! Then it'd be over. Lord! If only he
had been a little quicker. He'd have torn the old Zar's windpipe from
its place!

"My word," laughed the Zar. "The sacred word of a Van Dorn. I gave it.
He'll wear the purple for a day. Take him from my sight!"

Karl was walking, quite willingly now. The effects of the drug were
altering. His muscular strength returned but his mental state underwent
a complete change. Always he'd wanted a taste of the purple. For years
he'd listened to the orators of the Square, to the conflicting
statements of old Krassin. But now he'd see. He'd know the joys of the
upper levels; the pleasure cities, perhaps. For one day. But what did it
matter? He found himself laughing and joking with his companion, a
heavy-set wearer of the purple. They were in a luxurious apartment.
Servants! Moon men all of them, but so efficient. They stripped him of
his gray denim; discarded it contemptuously. Karl kicked the heap into a
corner and laughed delightedly. His bath was waiting.

       *       *       *       *       *

Much can happen in a day. Clothed in the purple, Karl--Peter Van Dorn,
he was, now--expanded. Turgid emotions surged through his new being. He
was a new man. In his rightful place. He was delighted with the
companionship of his new friend of the purple, Leon Lemaire. An
euphonious name! A fine fellow! Fool that the Zar must be, to leave him
in the care of so amiable a man. Why, Leon couldn't hold him! None of
them could. He'd escape them all--if he wished. Twenty-four hours,
indeed!

They were in the midst of a gay company. Wine flowed freely, and Leon
had attached to their party a pair of beautiful damsels, young, and easy
to know. There was music and dancing. Lights of marvelous color played
over the assemblage in the huge hall, swaying their senses at the will
of some expert manipulator. Peter was a different person now. He was
exhilarated to the point of intoxication, but not by the wine. Somehow
he couldn't bear the taste of the amber fluid the others were imbibing
with such gusto. The effects of the drug had left a coppery taste in his
mouth. But no matter! Rhoda, his lovely companion at the table leaned
close. Her breath was hot at his throat. He swept her into his arms.
Leon and the other girl laughed approvingly.

There were many such places in the upper levels of Dorn and they
traveled from one to another. Now their party was larger, it having
been augmented by the appearance of other of Leon's friends. Fine
companions, these men of the purple, and the women were incomparable.
Especially Rhoda. They understood one another perfectly now. It was all
as he had pictured it.

Someone proposed that they visit the intermediate levels. It would be
such a lark to watch the mechanicals. They made the drop in a lift. A
laughing, riotous party. And Peter was one of them! He felt that he had
known them for years. Rhoda clung to his arm, and the languorous glances
from under her long lashes set the blood racing madly in his veins.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the levels of the mechanicals they romped boisterously. To them the
strange robots--creatures of steel and glass and copper--were objects of
ridicule. Poor, senseless mechanisms that performed the tasks that made
the wearers of the purple independent of labor. Here they saw the
preparation of their synthetic food, untouched by human hands. In one
chamber a group of mechanicals, soulless and brainless, engaged in the
delicate chemical compounding of raw materials that went into the making
of their clothing. Here was a nursery, where tiny tots born to the
purple were reared to adolescence by unfeeling but efficient mechanical
nurses. The mothers of the purple could not be bothered with their
offspring until they had reached the age of reason. The whirring
machinery of a huge power plant provided much amusement for the feminine
members of the party. It was all so massive; throbbing with energy. But
dirty! Ugh! Lucky the attendants could be mechanicals.

"We have visited the lower levels," whispered Rhoda in his ear, "but not
often. It isn't pleasant. Ignorant fools in the gray denim--too many of
them. I don't know why we permit their existence. Fools who will not
learn. Education made us as we are, and they won't take it. Sullen
looks and evil leers are all that they have for us. Hope nobody suggests
going down there now."

"Me, too," said Peter. He had forgotten that once he was Karl Krassin, a
wearer of the despised gray.

Someone in the party was becoming restless. They must move on.

"Where to?" asked Peter.

"Sans Dolor, sweet boy. A pleasure city within a hundred kilometers of
Dorn. You'll love it, Peter."

A pleasure city! Fondest dream of the wearers of the gray! In the dim
past, when he was Karl, he had dreamed it often. Now he was to visit
one!

       *       *       *       *       *

They were atop the city now and the crystal palace of the Zar shimmered
in the sunlight off there across the flat upper surface of Dorn. But it
seemed so far away that Peter did not give it a second thought. He was
living in the present.

A swift aero took them into the skies and they roared out above the
wilderness that was everywhere between the great cities of earth. Funny
nobody thought of leaving the cities and exploring the jungles of the
outside. But, of course, it wasn't necessary. They had everything they
needed within the cities. All of their wants were supplied by the
mechanicals and by the few toilers in the gray who still persisted in
ignorance and in some perverse ideas that they must work in order to
live. Besides, the jungle was dangerous.

Sans Dolor loomed into view, a great island floating in the air a
thousand meters above the tossing waters of the ocean. Peter gave not a
thought to the forces that kept it suspended. Dimly he recalled certain
words of old Rudolph, words regarding the artificial emanations that had
been discovered as capable of counteracting the force of gravity. But
his mind was intent on the pleasures to come.

They were over the city. Carefully tended foliage lined its streets and
a smooth lagoon glistened in its center. Its towers and spires were
decorated with gay colors. The streets were filled with wearers of the
purple and the nude bodies of bathers in the lagoon gleamed white in the
strong sunlight.

He sensed anew the nearness of Rhoda. Her soft warm hand nestled in his
and she responded instantly to his sudden embrace.

There came a shock and the party was stilled in dismay. The aero
careened violently and the pilot struggled with controls that were dead.
Sans Dolor dropped rapidly away beneath them. They were shooting
skyward, drawn by some inexplicable and invisible energy from above.

       *       *       *       *       *

Rhoda screamed and held him close, trembling violently. All of the women
screamed and the men cursed. Leon arose to his feet and stared at Peter.
The friendliness was gone from his features and he spat forth an
accusation. A glistening mechanism appeared in his hand as if by magic.
A ray generator! He had been appointed by the Zar to guard this upstart
and, whatever happened, he'd not let him escape with his life. The girl
shuddered at sight of the weapon and extricated herself from his arms.
Her affection too had been a pose.

Peter's mind was clearing from the effects of the drug. He had not the
slightest idea of what might have caused the quick change in the
situation but he resolved he would die fighting, if die he must. Leon
fumbled with the catch of the generator. It refused to operate. The
force that was drawing them upward had paralyzed all mechanisms aboard
the little aero. Flinging it from him in disgust he sprang for Peter.

Their minds befuddled, the rest of the men watched dully. The women
huddled together in a corner, whimpering. They were a sorry lot after
all, thought Karl. He was no longer Peter Van Dorn, and he thrilled to
the joy of battle.

       *       *       *       *       *

Leon Lemaire was no mean antagonist. His flailing arms were everywhere
and a huge fist caught Karl on the side of his head and sent him
reeling. But this only served to clear his mind further and to fill him
with a cold rage. He bored in unmercifully and Lemaire soon was on the
defensive. A blow to his midsection had him puffing and Karl hammered in
rights and lefts to the now sinister face that rocked his opponent to
his heels. But the minion of the Zar was crafty. He slid to the floor as
if groggy, then with catlike agility, dove for Karl's knees, bringing
him down with a crash.

The air whistled by them as the ship was drawn upward with ever-increasing
speed. The other passengers cowered in fright as the two men rolled over
and over on the floor, banging at each other indiscriminately. Both
were hurt. Karl's lip was split, and bleeding profusely. One eye was
closing. But now he was on top and he pummeled his opponent to a pulp.
Long after he ceased resisting them, the blows continued until the
features of Leon Lemaire were unrecognizable. The infuriated Karl did not
see that one of the members of the party was creeping up on him from
behind. Neither was he aware that the upward motion of the aero had
ceased and that they now hung motionless in space. A terrific blow at
the base of his skull sent him sprawling. Must have been struck by a
rocket, one of those funny ships that crossed the ocean so quickly. A
million lights danced before his aching eyeballs.

Lying prone across the inert body of his foe, dimly conscious and
fingers clutching weakly, he knew that the cabin was filled with people.
Alien voices bellowed commands. There was the screaming of women; the
sound of blows; curses ... then all was silence and darkness.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a far cry to the little book shop off Cooper Square, but Karl was
calling for Rudolph when he next awoke to the realization that he was
still in the land of the living. His head was bandaged and his tongue
furry. A terrible hangover. Then he heard voices and they were
discussing Peter Van Dorn. He opened one eye as an experiment. The other
refused to open. But it might have been worse. At least he was alive; he
could see well enough with the one good optic.

"Sh-h!" whispered one of the voices. "He's recovering!"

He looked solemnly into the eyes of an old man; a pair of wise and
gentle eyes that reminded him somehow of Rudolph's.

"Quiet now, Peter," said the old man. "You'll be all right in a few
minutes. Banged up a bit, you are, but nothing serious."

"Don't call me Peter," objected Karl. He loathed the sound of the name;
loathed himself for his recent thoughts and actions. "I am Karl
Krassin," he continued, "and as such will remain until I die."

There were others in the room and he saw glances of satisfaction pass
between them. This was a strange situation. These men were not of the
purple. Neither were they of the gray. Their garments shone with the
whiteness of pure silver. And that's what they were; of finely woven
metallic cloth. Was he in another world?

"Very well, Karl." The kind old man was speaking once more. "I merely
want you to know that you are among friends--your father's friends."

       *       *       *       *       *

Surprised into complete wakefulness, Karl struggled to a seated position
and surveyed the group that faced him. They were a fine looking lot,
mostly older men, but there was a refreshing wholesomeness about them.

"My father?" he faltered. "He's not alive."

"No, my poor boy. Derek Van Dorn left this life at the hands of your
uncle, Zar Boris. But we, his friends, are here to avenge him and to
restore to you his throne."

"But--but--I still do not understand."

"Of course not, because we've kept ourselves hidden from the world for
more than twenty-two years, waiting for this very moment. There are
forty-one of us, including Rudolph, my brother. We have lived in the
jungle since Boris conquered the Eastern Hemisphere. But amongst our
numbers were several scientists, two greater than was Boris, even in his
heyday. They have done wonderful things and we are now prepared to take
back what was taken from Derek--and more. His life we can not
restore--Heaven rest him--but his kingdom we can. And to his son it
shall be returned.

"You were given into Rudolph's care when little more than a babe in arms
and he has cared for you well. We've watched, you know, in the
detectoscopes--long range radiovision mechanisms that can penetrate
solid walls, the earth itself, to bring to us the images and voices of
persons who may be on the other side of the world. We've followed your
every move, my boy, and the first time we feared for you was yesterday
when the drug of the Zar's physician stole away your sense of right and
wrong. But we were in time to save you, and now we are ready to kneel at
your feet and proclaim you our king. First there is the Zar to be dealt
with and then we shall set up the new regime. Are you with us?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Karl gazed at the speaker in wonder. He a king? Always to live amongst
the wearers of the purple? To be responsible for the welfare of half the
world? It was unthinkable! But Zar Boris, the murderer of his own
father--he must be punished, and at the hands of the son!

"I'll do it," he said simply. "That is, I'll do whatever you have
planned in the way of exterminating the Zar. Then we'll talk of the new
empire. But how is the Zar to be overcome? I thought he was invincible,
with his Moon men and terrible weapons."

"Ah! That, my boy, is where our scientists have triumphed. True, his
rays were terrible. They could not be combatted when he first returned.
The strange chemicals and gases of the Moon men defied analysis or
duplication. His citadel atop the city of Dorn is proof against them
all; proof against explosives and rays of all kinds known to him. The
disintegration and decomposition rays have no effect on the crystal of
its walls. It is hermetically sealed from the outer air so can not be
gassed. The vibration impulses have no effect upon its reinforced
structure. But there is a ray, a powerful destructive agent, against
which it is not proof. And our scientists have developed this agency.
You shall have the privilege of pressing the release of the energy that
destroys the arch-fiend in his lair. His dominance over, the empire will
fall. We shall take it--for you."

A strange exaltation shone from the faces of those in the room, and Karl
found that it was contagious. His bosom swelled and he itched to handle
the controls of this wonderful ray.

"This ray," continued the brother of old Rudolph, "carries the longest
vibrations ever measured, the vibrations of infra-red, the heat-ray. We
have succeeded in concentrating a terrific amount of power in its
production, and with it are able to produce temperatures in excess of
that of the interior of the earth, where all substances are molten or
gaseous. The Zar's crystal palace cannot withstand it for a second. He
cannot escape!"

"How'll you know he's there at the time?" Karl was greatly excited, but
he was curious too.

"Come with me, my boy. I'll show you." The old man led him from the room
and the others followed respectfully.

       *       *       *       *       *

They stopped at a circular port and Karl saw that they were high above
the earth in a vessel that hovered motionless, quivering with what
seemed like human eagerness to be off.

"This vessel?" he asked.

"It's a huge sphere; the base of our operations. To it we drew the aero
on which you were fighting. A magnetic force discovered by our
scientists and differing only slightly from that used in counteracting
gravity. We let the rest of them go; foolishly I think. But it's done
now and we have no fear. From this larger vessel we shall send forth
smaller ones, armed with the heat-ray. The flagship of the fleet is to
be yours and you'll lead the attack on Dorn. Here--I'll show you the
Zar."

They had reached the room of the detectoscopes--a mass of mechanisms
that reminded Karl of nothing so much as the vitals of the intermediate
levels which he had visited with Leon--and Rhoda. He knew that he
flushed when he thought of her. What a fool he had been!

A disc glowed as one of the silver-robed strangers manipulated the
controls. The upper surface of Dorn swung into view. Rapidly the image
drew nearer and they were looking at the crystal pyramid that was the
Zar's palace. Down, down to its very tip they passed. Karl recoiled from
the image as it seemed they were falling to its glistening sides. The
sensation passed. They were through, penetrating solid crystal, masonry,
steel and duralumin girders. Room after room was opened to their view.
It was magic--the magic of the upper levels.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now they were in the throne room. A group of purple-clad men and women
stood before the dais. Leon, Rhoda--all of his wild companions were
there, facing the dais. The Zar was raging and the words of his speech
came raucously to their ears through the sound-producing mechanism.

"You've failed miserably, all of you," he screamed. "He's gotten away
and you know the penalty. Taru--the vibrating ray!"

The Moon man already was fussing with a gleaming machine, a machine with
bristling appendages having metallic spheres on their ends, a machine in
which dozens of vacuum tubes glowed suddenly.

Rhoda screamed. It was a familiar sound to Karl. He noted with
satisfaction that Leon could hardly stand on his feet and that his face
was covered with plasters. Then, startled, he saw that Leon was
shivering as with the ague. His outline on the screen grew dim and
indistinct as the rate of vibration increased. Then the body bloated and
became misty. He could see through it. The vibrating death! His father
had gone the same way!

Karl groaned at the thought. The whine of the distant machine rose in
pitch until it passed the limit of audibility. Tiny pin-points of
incandescence glowed here and there from the Zar's victims as periods of
vibration were reached that coincided with the natural periods of
certain of the molecules of their structure. They were no longer
recognizable as human beings. Shimmering auras surrounded them. Suddenly
they were torches of cold fire, weaving, oscillating with inconceivable
rapidity. Then they were gone; vanished utterly.

The Zar laughed--that horrible cackle again.

"Great God!" exclaimed Karl, "let's go! The fiend must not live a moment
longer than necessary. Are you ready?"

Rudolph's brother smiled. "We're ready Karl," he said.

       *       *       *       *       *

The great vessel hummed with activity. The five torpedo-shaped aeros of
the battle fleet were ready to take off from the cavities in the hull.
In the flagship Karl was stationed at the control of the heat-ray. His
instructions in its operation had been simple. A telescopic sight with
crosshairs for the centering of the object to be attacked; a small
lever. That was all. He burned with impatience.

Then they were dropping; falling clear of the mother ship. The pilot
pressed a button and the electronic motors started. A burst of roaring
energy streamed from the tapered stern of their vessel and the earth
lurched violently to meet them. Down, down they dived until the rocking
surface of Dorn was just beneath them. Then they flattened out and
circled the vast upper surface. From the corner of his eye Karl saw that
the other four vessels of his fleet were just behind. There was a flurry
among the wasplike clouds of pleasure craft over the city. They scurried
for cover. Something was amiss!

"Hurry!" shouted Karl. "The warning is out! There is no time to lose!"

He pressed his face to the eye-piece of his sight, his finger on the
release lever of the ray. The crystal pyramid crossed his view and was
gone. Again it crossed, more slowly this time. And now his sight was
dead on it, the gleaming wall rushing toward him. Pressure on the tiny
button. They'd crash into the palace in another second! But no, a
brilliant flash obscured his vision, a blinding light that made the sun
seem dark by comparison. They roared on and upward. He took his eye from
the telescope and stared ahead, down. The city was dropping away, and,
where the crystal palace had stood, there was a spreading blob of molten
material from which searing vapors were drifting. The roofs of the city
were sagging all around and great streams of the sparkling, sputtering
liquid dripped into the openings that suddenly appeared. Derek Van Dorn
was avenged.

"Destroy! Destroy!" yelled Karl madly. A microphone hung before him and
his words rang through every vessel of his convoy.

       *       *       *       *       *

The lust of battle was upon him. A fleet of the Zar's aeros had risen
from below; twenty of them at least. These would be manned by Moon
creatures, he knew, and would carry all of the dreadful weapons which
had originated on that strange body. But he did not know that his own
ships were insulated against most of the rays used by the Zar's forces.
He knew only that he must fight; fight and kill; exterminate every last
one of the Zar's adherents or be exterminated in the attempt.

Kill! Kill! The madness was contagious. His pilot was a marvel and drove
his ship straight for the massed ships of the foe. The air was vivid
with light-streamers. A ray from an enemy vessel struck the thick glass
of the port through which he looked and the outer surface was shattered
and pock-marked. But a cloud of vapor and a dripping stream of fiery
liquid told him his own ray had taken effect on a vessel of the enemy.
One! They wheeled about and spiraled, coming up under another of the
Zar's aeros. It vanished in a puff of steam and they narrowly missed
being covered by the falling remnants of incandescent liquid. Two!
Karl's aim was good and he gloated in the fact. Three! They climbed and
turned over, dropping again into the fray. Four!

The air grew stifling, for the expended energy of the enemies' rays must
needs be absorbed. It could not disintegrate them nor decompose their
bodies, but the contacts were many and the liberation of heat enormous.
They were suffocating! But Karl would not desist. They drove on, now
beneath, now above an enemy ship. He lost count.

One of his own vessels was in trouble. The report came to him from the
little speaker at his ear. He looked around in alarm. A glowing object
reeled uncertainly over there between two of the aeros of the Zar. The
concentration of beams of vibrations was too much for the sturdy craft.
It was red hot and its occupants burned alive where they sat. Suddenly
it slipped into a spin and went slithering down into the city, leaving a
gaping opening where it fell. This sobered him somewhat, but he went
into the battle with renewed fury.

       *       *       *       *       *

How many had they brought down? Fifteen? Sixteen? He tore his purple
jacket from his body. The perspiration rolled from his pores. His own
ship would be next. But what did it matter? Kill! Kill! He shouted once
more into the microphone, then dived into battle. Another and another!
In Heaven's name, how many were there? It was maddening. If only he
could breathe. His lungs were seared; his eyes smarting from the heat.
And then it was over.

Three of the Zar's aeros remained, and these turned tail to run for it.
No! They were falling, nose down, under full power; diving into the city
from which they had come. Suicide? Yes. They couldn't face the
recriminations that must come to them. And anything was better than
facing that burning death from the strange little fighters which had
come from out the skies. Dorn was a mass of wreckage.

Karl tore at the fastenings of the ports, searing his fingers on the
heated metal. His pilot had collapsed, the little aero heading madly
skyward with no guiding hand. Air! They must have air! He loosened the
pilot's jacket; slapped frantically at his wrists in the effort to bring
him to consciousness. Then he was at the controls of the vessel, tugging
on first one, then the other. The aero circled and spun, executing the
most dangerous of sideslips and dives. A little voice was speaking to
him--the voice of the radio--instructing him. In a daze he followed
instructions as best he could. The whirlings of the earth stabilized
after a time and he found he was flying the vessel; climbing rapidly.

       *       *       *       *       *

A sense of power came to him as the little voice of the radio continued
to instruct. Here were the controls of the electronic motor; there the
gravity-energy. He was proceeding in the wrong direction. But what did
it matter? He learned the meaning of the tiny figures of the altimeter;
the difference between the points of the compass. Still he drove on.

"East! Turn East!" begged the little voice from the radio. "You're
heading west. Your speed--a thousand kilometers an hour--it's too fast.
Turn back, Zar Peter!"

He tore the loud speaker of the radio from its fastenings. West! He
wanted to go west! On and on he sped, becoming more and more familiar
with the workings of the little vessel as he progressed. A cooling
breeze whistled from the opened ports, a breeze that smelled of the sea.
His heart sang with the wonder of it all. He could fly. And fly he did.
Zar Peter? Never! He knew now where he belonged; knew what he wanted.
He'd find the coast of North America. Follow it until he located New
York. A landing would be easy, for had not the voice instructed him in
the use of the gravity-energy? He'd make his way to the lower levels, to
the little book shop of Rudolph Krassin. A suit of gray denim awaited
him there and he'd never discard it.

       *       *       *       *       *

Onward he sped into the night, which was falling fast. He held to his
westward course like a veteran of the air lanes. The pilot had ceased to
breathe and Karl was sorry. Game little devil, that pilot. Have to shove
his body overboard. Too bad.

Rudolph's brother would understand. He'd be watching in the detectoscope.
And the others--those who had wished to seat him on a throne--they'd
understand, too. They'd have to!

Rudolph would forgive him, he knew. Paul Van Dorn--his own cousin--the
secret agents of the Zar would never locate him! Too many friends of
Rudolph's were of the red police.

He gave himself over to happy thoughts as the little aero sped on in the
darkness. Home! He was going home! Back to the gray denim, where he
belonged and where now he would remain content.



The Ape-Men of Xlotli

_By David R. Sparks_

  A beautiful face in the depths of a geyser--and Kirby plunges into
  a desperate mid-Earth conflict with the dreadful Feathered
  Serpent.

CHAPTER I


Kirby did not know what mountains they were. He did know that the
Mannlicher bullets of eleven bad Mexicans were whining over his head and
whizzing past the hoofs of his galloping, stolen horse. The shots were
mingled with yelps which pretty well curdled his spine. In the
circumstances, the unknown range of snow mountains towering blue and
white beyond the arid, windy plateau, offering he could not tell what
dangers, seemed a paradise. Looking at them, Kirby laughed harshly to
himself.

As he dug the heels of his aviator's boots into the stallion's flanks,
the animal galloped even faster than before, and Kirby took hope. Then
more bullets and more yelps made him think that his advantage might
prove only temporary. Nevertheless, he laughed again, and as he became
accustomed to the feel of a stallion under him, he even essayed a few
pistol shots back at the pack of frantic, swarthy devils he had fooled.

[Illustration: _His head wavered back and forth and his hiss filled the
night._]

Three hours ago he had been eating a peaceful breakfast with his friend
and commandant, Colonel Miguel de Castanar, in the sunlit patio of the
commandant's hacienda. Castanar, chief of the air patrol for the
district, had waxed enthusiastic over the suppression of last spring's
revolutionists and the cowed state of up-country bandits. Captain
Freddie Kirby, American instructor of flying to Mexican pilots in the
making, had agreed with him and asked for one of the Wasps and three
days' leave with which to go visiting in Laredo. The simple matter of a
broken fuel line, a forced landing two hundred kilometres from nowhere,
and the unlucky proximity of the not-so-cowed horsemen, were the things
which had changed the day from what it had been to what it was.

The one piece of good fortune which had befallen him since the bandits
had surrounded the wrecked Wasp, looted it, and taken its lone pilot
prisoner, was the break he was getting now. During the squadron's first
halt to feed, he had knocked down his guards and made a bolt for the
grazing stallion. So far, the attempt was proving worth while.

       *       *       *       *       *

On and on the stallion lunged toward the white mountains. Kirby's eyes
became red rimmed now from fatigue and the glare of the sun and the dust
of the pitilessly bare plateau. A negligible scalp wound under his mop
of straw-colored hair, slight as it was, did not add to his comfort. But
still he would not give up, for the horse, as if it sensed what its
rider needed most, was making directly for a narrow ravine which
debouched on the plateau from the nearest mountain flank.

It was the promise of cover afforded by the jagged rocks and jungle
growth of that ravine which kept hope alive in Kirby's throbbing brain.

The stallion was blown and staggering. Foam from the heavily bitted
mouth flashed back in great yellow flakes against Kirby's dust-caked
aviator's tunic. But just the same, the five mile gallop had carried
both horse and rider beyond range of any but the most expert rifle shot.
And Kirby knew that if his own splendid mount was almost ready to crash,
the horses of his pursuers must be in worse shape still. So for the
third time since the fight had begun, he laughed. This time there was no
harshness, but only relief, in the sound which came from his dry lips.

Ten minutes later, he flung himself out of his saddle. Like the caress
of a vast, soothing hand, the shadowed coolness of the ravine lay upon
him. As his feet struck ground, they splashed in the water overflowing
from a spring at the base of an immense rock. At once Kirby dropped the
reins on the stallion's neck, giving him his freedom, and as the horse
lowered his head to drink, Kirby stooped also.

There was cover everywhere. Kirby's first move after pulling both
himself and the horse away from the spring, was to glance up the long,
deeply shaded canyon which he had entered--a gash hacked into the breast
of the steep mountain as by a titanic ax. Then, reassured as to the
possibilities for a defensive retreat, he glanced back toward the
dazzling, bare plateau.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was what he saw taking place amongst the sombreroed bandits out there
which made the grin of satisfaction fade from his broad mouth. His last
glance backward, before bolting into the canyon mouth, had showed him a
ragged squadron of men left far behind, yet galloping after him still.
But now--

Presently a puzzled frown made wrinkles in Freddie Kirby's wide
sunburned forehead. He relaxed his grip upon the heavy Luger, which, in
his big hands, looked like a cap pistol, and rubbed his eyes.

But he was not mistaken. The horsemen had halted! Out there on the
glaring, alkali-arid plateau, they were standing as still as so many
statues. Looking toward the canyon mouth which had swallowed their
quarry, they certainly were, but they were halted as completely as men
struck dead.

"Huh," Kirby grunted, and scratched behind his ear.

The next second he swung around to look at his horse, uncertain what he
was going to do next, but aware of the fact that right now, with a lot
of unknown country between himself and Castanar's sunlit patio, the
stallion was going to be a friend in need.

As he turned, however, prepared to take up the loose reins, something
else happened. The stallion let out a neigh as shrill as a trumpet
blast. As Kirby jumped, grabbed for the bridle, his fingers found empty
air. Like a crazy animal the stallion leaped past him, barely missing
him. Out toward the plain the horse jumped, out and away from the shaded
canyon mouth, out toward the spot where other horses waited. And despite
the animal's blown condition, the speed he put into his retreat left
Kirby dazed.

       *       *       *       *       *

After a helpless, profanity-filled second, Kirby scratched behind his
ear again. As certain as the fact that almost his sole hope of getting
back to civilization depended upon the stallion, was the fact that the
brute did not intend to stop running until he dropped.

"Now what in the hell ever got into his crazy head?" Kirby muttered
grimly.

Then he turned around to glance up the shadow-filled slash of a canyon,
and sniffed.

"Huh!"

Faintly in the air had risen an odor the like of which he had never
encountered in his life. A combination, it was, of the unforgetable
stench which hangs over a battlefield when the dead are long unburied,
and of a fragrance more rare, more heady, more poignantly sweet than any
essence ever concocted by Parisian perfumer.

With the drifting scent came a sound. Faint, carrying from a distance,
the rumble which Kirby heard was almost certainly that of a geyser.

There was no telling what had brought the troop of horsemen to a halt,
but after a time Kirby knew that the cause of his horse's sudden
departure must have been a whiff of the strange perfume.

       *       *       *       *       *

For a long time he stood still, watching the crazy stallion dwindle in
size, watching the line of unexpectedly timid bandits. Then, when it
became apparent that the horsemen were going to stay put either until he
came out, or showed that he never was coming out, he shrugged, and swung
on his heel so that he faced up the canyon.

The odor was dying away now, and the geyser rumble was gone. In Kirby's
heart came a mingled feeling of tense uneasiness and fascinated
curiosity. Momentarily he was almost glad that his horse _had_ bolted,
and that his pursuers _were_ blocking any lane of retreat except that
offered by the canyon. If things had been different, the queer behavior
of the Mexicans, the unaccountable actions of his horse and the equally
strange growth of his own uneasiness might have made him uncertain
whether he would go up the canyon or not. Now it was the only thing to
do, and Kirby was glad because, fear or no fear, he wanted to go on.

"I wonder," he said out loud as he started, "just what the denizens of
First Street in Kansas would say to a layout like this!"


CHAPTER II

At the end of an hour he was still wondering.

At midday the canyon was chill and dank, lit only by a half light which
at times dwindled to a deep dusk as the rock walls beetled together
hundreds of feet above his head. Always when he stumbled through one of
the darkest passages, he heard and half saw immense gray bats flapping
above him. In the half-lit reaches, he hardly took a step without seeing
great rats with gray coats, yellow teeth, and evil pink eyes. But rats
and bats combined were not as bad as the snakes. They were almost white,
and nowhere had he seen rattlers of such size. If his caution relaxed
for a second, they struck at him with fangs as long and sharp as
needles.

The tortured, twisted cedars, the paloverdi, occatilla, cholla, opunti,
through which he edged his laborious way, all offered an almost animate,
armed hostility.

Altogether this journey was the least sweet he had taken anywhere. Yet
he went on.

Why had eleven Mexican bandits refused to advance even to within decent
rifle range of the canyon's mouth? What was there about the putrid yet
gorgeous perfume that had made the stallion go off his nut, so to
speak?

After a time, Kirby veered away from a fourteen-foot rattler which
flashed in a loathsome coil on his left hand. Hungry, weakened by all he
had been through since breakfast time, he plodded doggedly on.

But a moment later he stumbled past a twisted cedar, and then stopped,
forgetting even the snakes.

At his feet lay the bleached skeleton of a man.

       *       *       *       *       *

Beside the right hand, in a position which indicated that only the final
relaxation of death had loosened his grip upon a precious object, lay a
cylinder, carefully carved, of rich, yellow gold.

Of the science of anthropology Kirby knew enough to make him sure that
the dolicocephalic skull and characteristically shaped pelvic and thigh
bones of the skeleton had belonged to a white man.

As for the cylinder--But he was not so sure what that was.

Regardless of the dry swish of a rattler's body on the rocks behind
him, he lifted the object from the spot in which it had lain for no man
knew how long. Of much the size and shape of an old-time cylindrical wax
phonograph record, the softly gleaming thing weighed, he judged, almost
two pounds.

Two pounds of soft, virgin gold of a quality as fine as any he had seen
amongst all the treasures brought out of Mexico, Yucatan, and Peru
combined!

But the gold was not the only thing. If Kirby was human enough to think
in terms of treasure, he was also enough of an amateur anthropologist to
hold his breath over the carvings on the yellow surface.

First he recognized the ancient symbols of Sun and Moon. And then a
representation, semi-realistic, semi-conventionalized, of Quetzalcoatl,
the Feathered Serpent, known in all the annals of primitive Mexican
religions.

Good enough.

But the mere symbols by no means told the whole story of the cylinder.
The workmanship was archaic, older than any Aztec art Kirby knew, older
than Toltec, older far, he ventured to guess, than even earliest archaic
Mayan carvings.

God, what a find!

       *       *       *       *       *

For a moment it seemed almost impossible that he, Freddie Kirby, native
of Kansas, unromantic aviator, should have been the one to discover this
relic of an unknown, lost race. Yet the cylinder of gold was there, in
his hand.

After a long minute Kirby looked around him, then listened.

From up the canyon came the provocative rumble of the geyser. It was
closer now, and Kirby, glancing at his watch which had been spared to
him in the Wasp's crash, noted that just forty-four minutes had passed
since the last eruption. There was nothing to be done about the bleached
skeleton. So, tucking the precious cylinder into his tunic, Kirby
headed on up the gash of a canyon.

Far away indeed seemed the neat, maple-shaded asphalt street, the rows
of parked cars and farm wagons, the telephone office and drug store and
bank, of the Kansas town where he had grown up.

Time passed until again he heard the geyser, and again was dizzied by
the perfume. As the fragrance--close and powerful now--died away, he
flailed with one arm at a two-foot bat which flapped close to his head.

And then he trudged his dogged way around a deeply shadowed bend, and
found the chasm not only almost wholly dark, but narrower than it had
been at any previous point.

"Holy mackerel," Kirby groaned. "Phew! If this keeps up, I--"

He stopped. His jaw dropped.

"Oh, hell!"

The beetling walls narrowed in until the gash was scarcely fifteen feet
wide. Further progress was barred by a smooth wall which rose sheer in
front of him.

       *       *       *       *       *

Kirby did not know how many seconds passed before he made out through
the gloom that the wall was man-made and carved with the same symbols of
Sun, Moon, and Feathered Serpent, which ornamented the cylinder of gold.
But when he did realize at last, the shout with which he expressed his
feeling was anything but a groan.

It simply meant that the skeleton which once had been a man, had almost
surely found the golden cylinder beyond the wall and not in the canyon.
And if the dead man had passed that smooth, carved barrier, another man
could do it!

Kirby jumped forward, began to search in the darkness for some hidden
entrance.

Minute after minute passed. He gave another cry. He saw a long, upright
crack in the stone surface, and a quick push of his hands made the
stones in front of him give almost an inch.

All at once his shoulder was planted, and behind that square shoulder
was straining all the muscle of his two hundred pound body. The result
was all that he desired. When he ceased pushing, a slab of rock gaped
wide before him, giving entrance to a pitch dark tunnel.

For a moment he held the portal back, then, releasing his pressure, he
stepped into the dark passage. By the time a ponderous grating of rocks
assured him that the door had swung shut of its own weight, he had
produced matches and struck a light.

       *       *       *       *       *

The puny flame showed him a curving passage hewn smoothly through the
heart of bedrock. Before the flare died he walked twenty feet, and as
another match burned to his fingers, he found the right hand curve of
the passage giving way to a left hand twist. After that he dared use no
more of his precious matches. But just when the darkness was beginning
to wear badly on his nerves, he uttered a low cry.

As he increased his rapid walk to a run, the faint light he had suddenly
seen ahead of him grew until it became a circular flare of daylight
which marked the tunnel's end.

Out of the passage Kirby strode with shoulders square and head up, his
cool, level, practical blue eyes wide with wonder. Out of the tunnel he
strode into the valley of the perfumed geyser.

"God above!"

The words were vibrant with hoarse reverence. He saw the sunlight of a
cliff-surrounded diminutive Garden of Eden. He saw a vale of flowering
grass, of palms and live oaks, saw patches of lilies so huge as to
transcend belief, and dizzying clumps of tree cactus almost as tall as
the palms themselves.

What was more, he saw in the center of this upland, cliff-guarded
valley, a gaping black orifice which every faculty of judgment told him
was the mouth of the geyser of perfume. And beside it, outstretched on a
smooth sheet of rock which glistened as though coated with a layer of
clear, sparkling glass, he saw--

       *       *       *       *       *

Kirby blinked his eyes rapidly, hardly believing what he saw.

On the glistening rock lay the perfectly preserved figure of a Spanish
Conquistadore in full armor. Morion and breast-plate were in place, and
glistened as though they had been burnished this morning. And the
Spaniard's dark, handsome, bearded face! Kirby saw instantly that no
decay had touched it, that even the hairs of the beard were perfect. The
whole armor-clad corpse gleamed softly with a covering of the same
glassy substance which covered the rock.

Kirby glanced at his watch, saw that twelve minutes must elapse before
the geyser spouted again. Then his eyes narrowed. He remained standing
where he was, hard by the mouth of the tunnel, knowing that a wise man
would conduct cautiously his exploration of this valley of wonders.

Arsenic! Silicon!

The two words stood out sharply in his thought. In Africa existed plenty
of springs whose waters contained enough arsenic to bring death to those
who drank. Might not the Spaniard's presence here be explained, then, by
assuming that the geyser water was charged with a strong arsenic
content, and, in addition, with some sort of silicon solution which,
left to dry in the air, hardened to glass?

Lord, what a discovery to take back with him to Kansas! Almost it made
the discovery of the golden cylinder pale by comparison. Why, the
commercial uses to which this silicon water might be put were almost
without limit, and the owner of the concession might confidently expect
to make millions!

It was while Kirby stood there, breathless and jubilant, waiting for
the geyser to spout, that he began to feel that _he was being watched_.

Suddenly, with a start, he shot a sweeping glance over the whole grove.
But that did no good. He saw nothing save sunlight and waving green
leaves.

Eleven days were to pass before he discovered all that was to be
involved in that sensation of being gazed at by unseen eyes.


CHAPTER III

At the beginning of the eleventh morning in the valley, Kirby had again
posted himself close to the mouth of the black tunnel, and again felt
that hidden eyes were observing him.

But this morning differed from the first morning, because now, for the
first time, he was ready to do something about the watcher or watchers.
Exploration of the whole valley had not helped. Therefore, there lay at
his feet a considerable coil of rope, the manufacture of which from
plaited strands of the tough grass in his Eden had taken him whole days.
With what patience he could find, he was waiting for the gigantic spout
of milky-colored, perfumed water which would mean that the geyser had
gone off and would erupt no more for exactly forty-four minutes.

Eleven days in the valley!

While he waited, Kirby considered them. Who had made the beautiful
footprints beside him, when he had slept at last after his arrival here?
Why had so many of the queer, fuzzy topped shrubs with immense
yam-shaped roots, which grew here been taken away during that first
sleep, and during all his other periods of sleep? Who had taken them?
Early in his stay, he had learned that the tuberlike roots were good to
eat and would sustain life, and he supposed that the unseen people of
the valley took them for food. But who were these people of the valley?

Who had laid beside him during his first sleep the immense lily with
perfume like that which came with the milky geyser spray--that spray of
death and delight mingled? Why had someone scratched a line in the earth
from him directly to the distant orifice of the geyser? Was this, as he
believed, a signal to come not only to the edge of the orifice, _but to
lower himself down into its depths_? And if the line were intended as a
signal, did the persons who came to the valley while he slept, always
eluding him, wish him well or mean to do him harm?

Last question of all: had the beautiful girl's face he believed he had
seen just once, been real or an hallucination? It had been while he was
kneeling at the very edge of the geyser cone, staring down its many
colored throat, that the vision had appeared. Misty white amidst the
green gloom, the face had been turned up to him, smiling, its lips
forming a kiss, and its great eyes beckoning. Had the face been real or
a dream?

Eleven days in the valley! Now, with his braided rope ready at last, he
was going to do something which might help to answer his questions.

       *       *       *       *       *

Kirby reached out and began to run his grass rope, yard by yard, through
his hands, searching carefully for any flaw. A canyon wren made the air
sweet above him, while the morning sun began to wink and blink against
the shadows which still lay against the face of the guardian cliffs.
Kirby glanced at his watch and got up.

Crossing beyond the mouth of the geyser, he grinned good morning at his
friend the Conquistadore, and marched on into the shade of the live oak
which grew nearest the geyser. Here he made one end of his rope fast to
the gnarled trunk, inspected his pistol, patted his tunic to make sure
that the cylinder of gold was safe, then stood by to await the geyser.

With the passing of three minutes there came from the still empty
orifice a sonorous rumbling. Kirby grinned.

From deep in the earth issued a sound of fizzing and bubbling, and
then, to the accompaniment of subterranean thunder, burst loose the
milky, upward column which had never ceased to awe the man who watched
so eagerly this morning. As the titanic jet leaped skyward now, the
slanting rays of the sun caught it, and turned the water, fanning out,
into a fire opal, into a sheet of living color.

Kirby, hard headed to the last, drew from the supply in one pocket of
his tunic, a strip of one of the tuberlike roots, and munched it.

The thunder ceased. The waters receded.

After that Kirby hesitated not a second. Promptly he moved forward,
flung his coil of line down into the geyser tunnel, and swung on to the
line. By the time he had swallowed the last bite of his breakfast, the
world he knew had been left behind, and he was climbing down to a new.

       *       *       *       *       *

It became at once apparent that the gorgeously colored, glassy-smooth
throat glowed with tints which were unfamiliar to him. He could perceive
these new shades of color, yet had no name for them.

As he stopped after fifty feet to breathe, the color phenomenon made him
wonder if the tuber roots he had been eating had affected his vision;
then decided they had not. In addition to food value, the roots had some
power to stimulate courage and a slight mental exhilaration. But the
drug had proved non-habit forming, and Kirby knew that his powers of
perception were not now, and never had been, affected.

He swung down further.

Just a moment after he begin that progress was when things began to
happen to him. First he heard what seemed to be the low titter of a
human voice laughing sweetly. Next came a far off, unutterably lovely
strumming of music. And then he realized that, at a depth of about a
hundred feet, he was hanging level with a hole which marked the mouth
of another tunnel.

This new tunnel sloped down into the earth on his right hand. The floor
and walls were glassy smooth, and the angle of descent was steep, but by
no means as steep as the drop of the vertical geyser shaft in which he
now hung.

Laughter, music, the new tunnel suddenly aroused an excitement which
made him quiver.

"When I saw _her_," he gasped, "she was standing here, in the mouth of
this tunnel, looking up at me!"

Violently, Freddie Kirby forgot the maple-shaded street of his Kansas
town, forgot everything but desire to reach the mouth of the new tunnel,
where the girl of the exquisite face and beckoning lips had stood.
Tightening his grip on the rope, he began to swing himself back and
forth like a pendulum.

It seemed probable that when the geyser water shot up past the
horizontal tunnel, its force was so great that no water at all entered.
He redoubled his efforts to widen his swing.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then his feet scraped on the floor, and in a second he had alighted
there. He still hung stoutly to his line, however, for the tunnel sloped
down sharply enough, and was slippery enough, to prohibit the
maintenance of footing unaided.

The music which issued from the depths of that stunningly mysterious
passage swelled to a crescendo--and stopped. Kirby clung there to his
precarious perch, his feet slipping on the glass under them with every
move he made, and feelings stirred in his heart which had never been
there before.

Then, as silence reigned where the music had been, something prompted
him to look up. The next instant he stifled a cry.

With widening eyes he saw the flash of a white arm and the gleam of a
knife hovering over the spot where his taut rope passed out of the
geyser opening into the sunshine of the outer world. Again he stifled a
cry. For crying out would do no good. While the suppressed sound was
still on his lips, the knife flickered.

Then Kirby was shooting downward, the severed line whipping out after
him. The first plunge flung him off his feet. A long swoop which he took
on his back dizzied him. But as the fall continued, he was able to slow
it a little by bracing arms and legs against the tunnel walls.

"Holy Jeehosophat!" he gurgled.

But there seemed to be no particular danger. The slide was as smooth as
most of the chutes he had ever encountered at summer swimming pools. If
ever the confounded spiral passage came to an end, he might find that he
was still all right. As seconds passed and he fell and fell, it seemed
that he was bound for the center of the earth. It seemed that--

       *       *       *       *       *

He swished around a multiple bend, and eyes which had been accustomed to
darkness were blinded by light.

It was light which radiated in all colors--blue, yellow, browns,
purples, reds, pinks, and then all the new colors for which he had no
name. Somehow Kirby knew that he had shot out of the tunnel, which
emerged high up in the face of a cliff, and that he was dropping through
perfumed, brilliant air resonant with the sound of birds and insects and
human cries. The funny thing was that the pull of gravity was not right,
somehow, and he was dropping fairly slowly. From far below, a body of
what looked like water was sweeping up to meet him. Kirby closed his
eyes.

When he opened them again, his whole body was stinging with the slap of
his impact, and he found that it was water which he had struck. The
proof of it lay in the fact that he was swimming, and was approaching a
shore.

But such water! It was milky white and perfumed as the geyser flow had
been, and it seemed luminous as with a radium fire. Had he not realized
presently that the fluid probably contained enough arsenic to finish a
thousand like him, he would have thought of himself as bathing in the
waters of Paradise.

But then he began to forget about the poison which might already be at
work upon him.

Ahead of him, stretched out in the gorgeous, colored light, ran a beach
which was backed by heavy jungle. And on the beach stood the lovely
creatures, all clad in shimmering, glistening garments, whose flutelike
cries had come to him as he fell.

       *       *       *       *       *

Kirby looked, and became almost powerless to continue his swim. The
beauty of those frail women was like the reputed beauty of bright
angels. That paralyzing effect of wonder, however, did not last long.

The girls moved forward to the water's edge, and, laughing amongst
themselves, beckoned to him with lovely slender hands whose every motion
was a caress.

"Be not afraid," called one in a curious patois dialect, about
five-sixths of which seemed made up of Spanish words, distorted but
recognizable.

"The water would kill you," called another, "as it killed the Spaniard
in armor. But we are here to save you. I will give you a draught to
drink which will defeat the poison. Come on to us!"

Kirby's heart was almost literally in his mouth now, because the girl
who promised him salvation was she whose lips had formed a kiss at him
from the green-gloomy throat of the geyser.

His feet struck a shale bottom. Panting, he stood up and was conscious
of the fact that despite his forlornly dripping and dishevelled
condition, he was tall and straight and big, and that for some reason
all of the girls on the gleaming sand, and one girl in particular, were
anxious to receive him here.

The one girl had drawn a small, gleaming flask of gold from the misty
bodice of her gown, and was holding it out while she laughed with red
lips and great, dazzling dark eyes.

"_Pronto!_" she called in pure Spanish, and other girls echoed the word.
"Oh," went on the bright owner of the flask, "we thought you would
_never_ have done with your work on the rope. It took you so long!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Kirby left the smooth lake behind him and stood dripping on the sand.
The moment the air touched his clothes, he felt that they were
stiffening slightly. Yet the sensation brought no terror. He could not
feel terror as he faced the girls.

"Give him the flask, Naida!" someone exclaimed.

"Ah, but the Gods _have_ been kind to us!" echoed another.

The girl with the flask made a gesture for silence.

"Is it Naida you are called?" Kirby put in quickly, and as he spoke the
Spanish words, the roll of them on his tongue did much to make him know
that he was sane and awake, and not dreaming, that this was still the
Twentieth Century, and that he was Freddie Kirby.

Answering his question, Naida nodded, and gave him the flask.

"A single draught will act as antidote to the poison," she said.

"I drink," said Kirby as he raised the flask, "to the many of you who
have been so gracious as to save me!"

A flashing smile, a blush was his answer. And then he had wetted his
lips with, and was swallowing, a limpid liquid which tasted of some
drug.

"Enough!" Naida ordered in a second.

As she reached for the flask, her companions closed in as though a
ceremony of some sort had been completed.

"Is it time to tell him yet, Naida?" piped one of the girls, younger
than the rest, whom someone had called Elana.

"Oh, _do_ begin, Naida," chorused two more. "We can't wait _much_ longer
to find out if he is going to help us!"

Kirby turned to Naida, while a soothing sensation crept through him from
the draught he had taken.

"Pray tell me what it is that I am to be permitted to do for you. I
can promise you that the whole of my life and strength, and such
intelligence as I possess, is yours to command."

       *       *       *       *       *

Excited small cries and a clapping of hands answered him. As for Naida,
her face lighted with glowing joy.

"Oh, one who could say that, _must_ be the friend and protector of whom
we have stood in such bitter need!"

"What," asked Kirby, "is this need which made one of you cut my rope, so
that I should come here?"

A momentary silence was broken only by the hum of insects in the
perfumed air, and by the golden thrilling of a bird back in the jungle.
Then Kirby beheld Naida bowing to him.

"So be it," she said in a voice low and flutelike. "I will speak now
since you request it. Already you have seen that you are here in our
world because we conspired amongst ourselves to bring you here. Our
reason--"

She paused, looked deep into his eyes.

"Amigo," she continued slowly, "we whom you see here are the People of
the Temple. For more centuries than even our sages can tell, our
progenitors have dwelt here, where you find us, knowing always of your
outer world, but remaining always unknown by it. But now the time has
come when those of us who are left amongst our race need the help of one
from the outer races we have shunned. Dangers of various orders confront
us who have waited here for your coming. When we first discovered you in
the Valley of the Geyser, the idea came to me that we must make you
understand our troubles, and ask of you--"

But then she stopped.

As Kirby stared at her, the gentleness of her expression was replaced by
a swift strength which made her majestic.

The next moment bedlam reigned upon the beach.

"_They are after us!_" gasped one of the girls in terror. "Quick, Naida!
Quick! Quick!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Whatever it was that threatened, Naida did not need to be told that the
need for action was pressing. She shouted at her companions some order
which Kirby did not understand. From a pouch at her side, she snatched
out a greyish, spherical vegetable substance which looked almost like a
tennis ball. Then she braced herself as if to withstand an assault.

"Stand back!" she cried to Kirby.

He had long ago ceased to wonder at anything that might happen here.
Disappointed that Naida's story had been interrupted, wondering what was
wrong, he obeyed Naida's order to keep clear.

As he fell back and stood motionless, there came from behind a dense
screen of shrubs which would have resembled aloe and prickly pear
bushes, save that they were as big as oak trees, a ghastly howling. The
next second, hopped and hurtled across the beach toward the girls, a
group of hair-covered, shaggy creatures which were neither apes nor men.
The faces, contorted with lust, were hideously leathery and brown, the
foreheads small and beetling, and the mouths enormous, with immense
yellow teeth.

Helpless, Kirby realized that Naida and all the others had clapped over
their faces curious masks which seemed to be made of some crystalline
substance, and that now others had armed themselves with the tennis
balls. And that was the last observation he made before the battle
opened furiously.

With a cry muffled behind her mask, Naida leaped out in front of her
squadron and cut loose her queer vegetable ball with whizzing aim and
force.

Full into the snarling face of one of the ape-men the thing smashed,
filling the air all about the creature with a yellow, mistlike powder.
Kirby was half deafened by the yells of rage and terror which went up
from the entire attacking band. The creature who had been hit fell to
his knees the while he made agonized tearing movements at his face and
uttered shrill, jabbering yelps.

Other balls flashed instantly from Naida's ranks, and each brought about
the same ghastly result as the first. But then Kirby saw that the whole
jungle seethed with the hairy, awful men.

"Keep back!" Naida shrieked at him through her mask. "We have no mask
for you. If the powder from our fungi touches you, it will be the end!"

       *       *       *       *       *

With gaps in the advancing line filled as soon as each screeching ape
went down, the attackers leaped on until Kirby knew they would be upon
the girls in a matter of seconds. A sweat broke out on his neck.

But then an idea gripped him, and suddenly, without even a last glance
at Naida, he leaped away even as she had commanded.

A great boulder lay on the shore fifty yards away. Toward it Kirby
streaked as though he had become coward. But he had not turned coward.

By the time he reached the shelter which would protect him from the
fungus mist, a turning point had come in the battle. The ape-men had
closed in on the girls, were swarming about them, and the mist balls had
almost ceased to fly. But the thing which gave Kirby hope was that the
apes were not attempting to harm the girls. They seemed victors, but
they were not committing atrocities.

It was the sharp intuition that something like this might happen which
had sent Kirby fleeing from the fight. He believed he might yet prove
useful.

The thickest group of attackers were jostling about Naida. As the
screams and sobs of the girls quivered out, mingled with the guttural
roaring of the men, Naida was shut off by a solid wall of aggressors.

Then Kirby saw her again. But now two of the most powerful of the
ape-men had caught her up and was carrying her. Her kicking and writhing
and biting accomplished nothing. The apes were headed directly back to
the jungle.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now, however, most of the yellow mist had disappeared, and that was all
Kirby had been waiting for. With a growling shout, he tore out from
behind his boulder, his Luger ready. Naida's captors were in full
retreat, and other pairs of men were snatching up other girls and
hopping after them. Toward Naida Kirby ran madly but not blindly.

"Naida! Naida!" he bellowed.

He got in two strides for every one the apes made.

"Naida!" he shouted, and at last saw her look at him.

Her face was pallid with loathing and terror. As her glimmering dark
eyes met his, they flashed a plea which made his heart thrash against
his lungs.

With a final roar of encouragement Kirby closed in on the hair-covered
men, and fired instantly a shot which caught one full in the heart. The
creature wavered on its legs, looked at the unexpected enemy with
dismayed, swinish little red eyes, and relaxing his hold upon Naida,
dropped without making a sound.

After that--

But suddenly Kirby found himself unable to comprehend fully the other
terrific results of his intervention. Before the echoes of his shot
died, there came to him the rumble of what seemed to be tons of falling
rock. In the bright air a slight mist was precipitated. To all of which
was added the effect upon the ape-men of fear of a weapon and a type of
fighter utterly new to them.

Kirby had fired believing that he would have to fight other ape-men
when the first fell. But not so. Instead of that--

       *       *       *       *       *

He blinked rapidly as he took in the scene.

Naida had been released. Lying on the sand beside the dead ape-man, she
was looking up at him in stupefied wonder. And her other captor, instead
of remaining to fight, had clapped shaggy hands over his ears, and was
leaping headlong for the protection of the jungle!

Moreover, the soprano cries of the girls and the deep howls of the men
were rising everywhere, and everywhere the ape-men were dropping their
captives and plunging away after their leader.

"Huh," Kirby muttered aloud, and wondered what the citizens of Kansas
would have to say about _this_.

Naida looked at the dead and bleeding ape-man and shuddered, and then at
the score or so of others brought down by the puff balls. Then she
looked up at Kirby, raised her arms for his support, and smiled up into
his brown face.

Kirby forgot Kansas, lifted her, warm and alive, radiantly beautiful, in
his arms.

"Our friends the enemies," she whispered as she remained for a second in
his embrace and then drew away, "will attack no more this day--thanks to
you."

There was no possible need for another shot, Kirby saw. In terrified
silence, the first of the apes had already floundered behind the prickly
pear and aloe bushes, and the last stragglers were using all the power
in their legs to catch up. On the beach, Naida's followers were picking
themselves up, and already a few of them had burst into ringing
laughter.

"Come on, all of you," Naida said to them, and, including Kirby in her
glance, added, "We may as well go to the caciques now, and have it over
with."


CHAPTER IV

It was with Naida at his side and the other girls grouped about them,
that they started their journey to the "caciques," whoever they might
be, "to have it over with," whatever that might mean. As they strode
along in silence, Kirby did what he could to straighten out in his mind
the many curious things which had happened since he sat testing his rope
in the upper world this morning.

In final analysis, it seemed to him that, extraordinary as his
experience had been, there was nothing so much out of the way about it,
after all. The only unusual thing was the existence of this inhabited
pocket in the earth. For the rest, the strange colors to which he could
not put a name, were simply some manifestation of infra-reds and
ultra-violets. And then the startling effect of his single shot at the
ape-men--that was simply the old story of savage creatures running from
a new weapon and a new enemy; naturally the shot had sounded loud in
this enclosed cavern. Lastly, the pull of gravity down here seemed upset
somehow. But why should it not seem so, at this distance within the
earth? The American was no scientist; the conclusions he reached seemed
very reasonable to him.

All told, the last thing Kirby found he needed to do was pinch himself
to see if he was awake.

A place of indefinite extent, the cavern seemed to be exactly what he
had already judged it--a giant pocket within the earth. The ceiling, or
the sky, was of some kind of natural glass--no doubt the same kind which
was crackling on his clothes now--and from it emanated the brilliant,
many colored glow which lighted the cavern. Radium? Perhaps it was that.
Perhaps the rays were cast off from some other element even less
understood than mysterious radium. As for the plant and animal life with
which the cavern teemed, it was amazing.

       *       *       *       *       *

But Kirby did not give himself up to silent observation any longer.

"Will you finish telling me," he asked of Naida, "about the task I am to
perform for you here?"

Naida, walking with lithe strides along a path jungle-hemmed on both
sides, smiled at him.

"You are to be our leader."

"Yes?"

Now both Naida and the other girls became sober.

"You will lead us in a revolt."

"Ah!" Kirby whistled softly.

"In a revolt against the caciques--the wise men--whose kind have
governed the People of the Temple since the beginning."

Her statement was received with acclaim by the whole troop, who crowded
close around, the while they smiled at Kirby.

"You mean I am to lead a revolt," he asked, "against these same caciques
whom we are going now to face?"

Naida nodded emphatically.

"Yes, if revolt proves necessary. And it probably will."

"Hum." Kirby scratched behind his ear. "You'd better tell me what you
can about it."

       *       *       *       *       *

Then, as they hurried on, Naida spoke rapidly.

The situation before the People of the Temple was that for a long time
now, the only children to be born had been girls. Worse still, not even
a girl had been born during a period equal to sixteen upper-world years.
The only remaining members of a race which had flourished in this
underground land for countless thousands of years, consisted of the
caciques, a handful of aged people, and the thirty-four girls, including
Naida, who accompanied Kirby now.

On one hand was promised extinction through lack of reproduction. On the
other, even swifter and more terrible extinction at the hands of the
ape-men, whom Naida called the Worshippers of Xlotli, the Rabbit God,
the God of all bestiality and drunkenness.

It was the menace of the ape-men, rather than the less appalling one of
lack of reproduction, which was making the most trouble now. Ages ago,
when the People of the Temple had flourished as a race, they had been
untroubled by the Worshippers of Xlotli. But now the ape-men were by far
the stronger; and they desired the girls who had been born as the last
generation of an ancient race. The battle of this morning had been only
one of many.

Dissension between the caciques, who ruled the People of the Temple, and
their girl subjects, had arisen on the subject of the best way of
dealing with the ape-man menace.

       *       *       *       *       *

Some time ago, Naida, heading a council of all the girls, had proposed
to the caciques that support be sought amongst the people of the upper
world. This would be done judiciously, by bringing to the lower realm a
few men who were wise and strong, men who would make good husbands, and
who could fight the ape-men.

This proposal the priests had promptly quashed. They would never
receive, they said, any members of the teeming outer races from whom the
People of the Temple had so long been hidden. Those few who had
blundered into the Valley of the Geyser during the centuries, and who
had never escaped, were enough. Better, said the caciques, that a
compromise be arranged with the subjects of the Rabbit God.

Flatly then, the priests had proposed that some of the girls, the number
to be specified later, should be given to the ape-men, and peace won.
During the time of reprieve which would thus be afforded, prayers and
sacrifices could be offered the Lords of the Sun and Moon, and to
Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent. In answer to these prayers, the
Gods would surely send the aged people who alone were left as
prospective parents, a generation of sons.

Once the priests' program of giving up some of the girls to the ape-men
had been made definite, it had not taken Naida and the others long to
decide that they would never submit. And then, while matters were at an
acute stage, a tall, blond white man had come to the Valley of the
Geyser--Kirby.

       *       *       *       *       *

As Naida had finished her story, Kirby mustered a smile despite the
soberness which had come upon him.

"So the white man came," he repeated after her, "and all of you decided
forthwith to stage your revolt."

"Why not?" Naida answered. "We observed you until we were sure you
possessed the qualities of leadership we wanted. After that, we did what
we could to coax you to come here."

Kirby grinned at that.

"Now," Naida ended simply, "we will go to the caciques. If they accept
you, and grant our requests to them, there will be peace. If they rage,
it will be war."

Suddenly she drew closer to Kirby as they swung along, and slipped her
hand into his, looking up at him in silent entreaty.

"How much farther," he asked in a voice which became sharp, "until we
reach the headquarters of these caciques?"

"They live in a castle which our ancestors built ages ago on a protected
plateau," Naida answered tensely. "It is a good distance still, but we
will cover it soon enough."

They crossed now one edge of a shadow-filled forest composed principally
of immense, pallid palmlike trees. Farther on, the path wound through a
belt of swampy land covered by gigantic reeds which rustled above their
heads with a glassy sound, and by things which looked like the cat-tails
of the upper world, but were a hundred times larger. Everywhere hovered
odd little creatures like birds, but with teeth in their long snouts and
small frondlike growths on each side of their tails. About some swamp
plants with very large blooms resembling passion flowers, flitted dragon
flies of jeweled hues and enormous size, and under the flowers hopped
strange toadlike creatures equipped with two pair of gauzy wings.

       *       *       *       *       *

Finally, through a tunnel composed of ferns a hundred feet high, they
emerged to a still densely overgrown but higher country which Naida said
was a part of the Rorroh forest.

In the forest, Kirby gained a hazy impression of bronzy, immense cycads
and what appeared to be tree chrysophilums with gorgeous blossoms. Then
he received a much clearer impression of other trees with blossoms of
bright orange yellow and very thick petals, each tipped with a glassy
sharp point. The disconcerting thing about the tree was that, as they
approached, the scaly limbs began to tremble and wave, and suddenly
lashed out as though making a human effort to snatch at the bright
travelers.

Naida and all the others hurried along without offering comment, and
Kirby asked no questions.

Once he thought he saw a group of gorilla creatures parallelling their
course back amongst the forest growth, but if Naida observed the
animals, she paid no attention. The one thing which had any effect upon
the company was the appearance, presently, of two vast, birdlike
creatures. As these things approached, Naida signaled to all to crouch
beneath the shelter of a tall rock beside the path.

Enormous, the birds had bat wings, and carried with them, as they
approached, the stink of putrid flesh. The long beaks were overfull of
sharp teeth. The heads, set upon bodies of glistening white-grey, were
black. Reddish grey eyes searched the jungle as the creatures flapped
along. But, the Pterodactyls--if they were that--passed above Naida's
band without offering attack, and presently Naida gave the command to
advance again.

       *       *       *       *       *

In time, they came to a chasmlike gorge across which was suspended
a slender long thread of a bridge. Not far above the bridge, a
considerable river emptied itself into the gorge in a mirrorlike
ribbon. Kirby could not hear the torrent fall--or rather could not
hear it strike any solid bottom. But from somewhere in the unlighted,
unfathomed depths of the abyss rose strange bubbling and whistling
sounds.

At the bridge, Naida paused and pointed to the land across the river.
And as Kirby looked in the direction indicated, he beheld a rocky
eminence rising for several hundred feet straight up from the expanse of
a level, tree and grass covered plain. Atop of the plateau, glimmered
the complex towers and turrets, the crenellated walls of a castle which,
in its grey antiquity, seemed as old as the race of men.

"It is behind those walls that the caciques dwell," Naida said quickly.
"It is behind the castle, in a series of separate houses, that the older
members of the race dwell. We shall go and look upon them presently. But
first we will force an interview with the caciques."

In silence Kirby took her hand, and, with the others following, they
moved out upon the swaying, perilous causeway which hung above the
chasm. After that, the trip across the plain to the foot of the plateau
cliffs was quickly accomplished.

Here, however, Kirby thought they must face trouble, for he found that
the great walls, of a sparkling, almost glassy smoothness, shot up to a
height of at least three hundred feet, and that no path of any sort was
visible.

"We're here," he said, "but how can we get up?"

       *       *       *       *       *

But understanding began to dawn as Naida laughed, and produced from the
pouch at the side of her gauzy dress four pliable discs of a substance
which resembled rubber.

"You are very strong, are you not?" she asked.

"Yes."

"Then you will have no trouble in following us up the cliff. Our Serpent
God, Quetzalcoatl, taught us how to climb long ago."

With that she handed Kirby the set of vacuum discs, and producing
another for herself, moistened them in a pool of water close at hand.
Then, as all of the girls followed her action, she strapped them to her
hands and feet, and in a moment they had begun the ascent.

"Why," Kirby said presently, "with these things you could hang by your
feet and walk on a smooth ceiling!"

Naida laughed, and they worked their way upward.

When the climb was accomplished and the discs were put away, Kirby found
himself standing on the outer edge of a mediaeval paradise, of a
magnificent plateau partly fortified by nature, partly by the hand of
man.

"Ah!" he cried in deep admiration, then followed Naida.

The building--the castle--in the near distance, resembled a castle of
Spain, save that there was greater beauty and subtlety of architecture.
Turreted on all four corners, constructed of material which looked like
blocks of natural glass, the fairylike structure was crowned by a
gigantic tower of something which resembled obsidian. Up and up this
tower soared until its gleaming black tip seemed almost to touch the
glassy-radiant sky of the cavern.

No people showed themselves, and Kirby saw that the bronze-studded
portals set in the front of the castle were closed.

Admiringly, he glanced at the surrounding land laid out in checkerboard
patches of gardens and orchards where grew a bewildering variety of
unknown fruits and blooms. Butterflies drifted past, and the air was
freighted with the scent of flowers. Inside a walled enclosure, Kirby
saw a good-sized plot heavily grown with the plant on which he had been
subsisting. As they passed this ground, each of the girls, Naida
leading, made a strange little bowing, gliding genuflection, and Kirby
wondered.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now, however, new sights distracted him as they crossed a port
drawbridge above a deep moat which was a fairyland of aquatic plants.
Although not a sound had come from the castle, the great entrance doors
were swinging back.

"Be ready," Naida whispered, "for almost anything. The doors are being
opened by some of the palace guard. I have little doubt that word was
long ago rushed to the caciques that we are come to them with an
upper-world man!"

Kirby answered with a nod. Then they passed the outer doors, passed
inside, and Kirby blinked at what he saw.

In a long hall decorated bewilderingly with a carven frieze in which
appeared all of the symbols common to early Mexican religions, and many
new ones, stood a row of bright suits of armor of the Sixteenth Century.
From each suit peered the glassy face and shovel beard of a dead
Conquistadore.

So this was what happened to intruders from the upper world! The
Conquistadore who kept his long watch beside the geyser was not the only
one! Kirby felt an involuntary chill prickle up his back. But he was not
given long to think before Naida, ignoring the gruesome array, clasped
his arm.

"Look! Behold!"

And Kirby saw that with almost magical silence the whole wall at the end
of the corridor was sliding back to reveal an enormous amphitheatre in
the center of which stood a vast circular table. Ranged in a semicircle
about that table, stood fifteen incredibly ancient men clad in long,
glistening grey robes. Blanched beards trailed down the front of the
garments until they all but touched the floor.

The caciques!

Kirby, on the threshold of the amphitheatre, squared his shoulders and
held his head high. Then with Naida on his right, his own eyes boring
unyieldingly into the smouldering, narrowed eyes which stared at him, he
advanced.

But in front of him the priests moved suddenly. From Naida burst a
shriek. In the radiant glare of the council room flashed the long, thin,
cruel blade of a sacrificial knife.

The cacique who had whipped it from his robe flew at Kirby with a condor
swoop, talon-hands outstretched, his wrinkled, bearded face contorted
with fury.


CHAPTER V

Before Kirby was more than half set to fight, the priest was clawing at
his throat, and a gnarled old fist was poised to drive the knife in a
death stroke.

Kirby did the only thing he could do quickly--sprang to one side. The
move saved him. The knife whipped past his shoulder, and the cacique
nearly fell. But it had been a close enough squeak for all that.

Nor was it over. After Kirby the priest sprang with unexpected agility,
and before Kirby could snatch at his pistol the talon-hands were lunging
at his throat once more.

With the gasps of the girls ringing in his ears, Kirby bunched himself
for another side leap only to find the cacique all over him like an
octopus. Momentarily the knife hung above his chest, and Kirby, dismayed
at the powers of his opponent, almost felt that the thing must plunge
before he could break the octopus hold.

But he had no intention of being defeated, and now he was getting used
to the fight. The priest's left arm swiftly clenched about his neck and
shoulders, and the right arm, with the knife, attempted a drive through
to the heart. Suddenly, however, Kirby lurched sideways and backward,
and as the octopus grip slackened for a flash, he himself got a
wrestler's grip that left him ready to do business. As the priest broke
free, he slid around in an attempt to fasten himself on Kirby's back.
Quickly, tensely Kirby doubled, and knew that he had done enough. The
cacique shot over his shoulders, described a somersault in midair, and
landed with a sharp crack of head and shoulders against unyielding
stone.

       *       *       *       *       *

From the semicircle of other priests went up a gasp. From Naida came a
strangled cry of joy. Kirby made one leap for the knife which had fallen
from the cacique's hand as he slumped into unconsciousness, and then he
straightened up with the weapon safe in his possession.

"There, you old billygoat," he croaked in English, "maybe you won't try
any more fast ones for awhile."

A second later he stepped over the sprawled body to stand beside Naida.

Upon the wrinkled countenances of the remaining caciques was stamped a
look of dismay and hatred which boded no good. It was plain to Kirby
that in battering up the man detailed to kill him, he had committed a
desecration of first order.

"Is there anyone else who cares to fight?" he flung at them in Spanish,
showing a contempt as great as their rage.

The response he got was instant. From one old gullet, then from others,
came choking, snarling sounds which presently became words. By those
words Kirby heard himself cursed with a vituperation which made him,
even in his temporary triumph, feel grave.

But he did not let that soberness trouble him long. For the main point
now was that no one made a move to fight further, which was what he had
expected. He had flung them the challenge, knowing that he was possessed
of their knife, and suspecting that it was their only weapon. The belief
that no one would care to try a barehanded conflict, no matter what
insult was waiting to be avenged, seemed justified as none of the
caciques advanced, and as even the cursing presently ceased.

"No?" Kirby asked. "There is to be no more fighting?"

       *       *       *       *       *

One of the caciques now came forward a few steps.

"No," he answered with a lameness which was not to be denied. "But you,
a criminal interloper in our realm, have been marked as a victim for
sacrifice, and from this there is no power in the universe which can
save you."

Kirby, after a reassuring glance at Naida, looked at the floored priest
who was sitting up now, looking stupidly about, and feeling himself all
over, and Kirby suppressed a grin.

"Ah, I am to be sacrificed, eh? But what happens until that time comes?
Listen my Wise Ones--"

He stabbed a finger at them, and his eyes flashed.

"Listen! What you mean to say is that I have defeated you, and you must
lay off me until you can launch another attack. But I have a few things
to say to that. One is that I am not going to permit myself to _be_
sacrificed. Another is that I demand, right here and now, that you begin
to discuss with me certain agreements which are going to regulate the
future conduct of affairs in this world to which I have come."

A low exclamation answered that, but it came from no priest. They
remained sullen and staggered. It was Naida who murmured, and there was
excitement and pleasure in her voice. Suddenly she placed her lips
against Kirby's ear.

"You must not treat with them," she said. "Tell them you want to see the
Duca, and will destroy them all unless he comes!"

Understanding burst over Kirby. The Duca! Then these men were only the
representatives of a High Priest, the Duca!

"Yes," he repeated resolutely to the assembled greybeards, "a meeting is
going to be held in this chamber of council at once. But I will not
deal with you! Do you understand me? I must see the Duca. I leave it to
you to decide whether you will summon him, or force me to fight my way
through to wherever he is staying."

"The Duca!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The words burst in dismay from the gimlet-eyed cacique who had said
there would be no more fighting. He looked at Naida, well aware of the
fact that it was her interference which had made Kirby extend his
demand. And his look was black.

Kirby slid between Naida and the cacique.

"Yes," he spat out, "the Duca! Will you summon him, or--"

He did not repeat what he would do as an alternative. A second passed in
silence. It seemed as if the cacique who had been speaking was ready to
burst.

"Answer me!" Kirby thundered.

And then the priest obeyed.

"Very well," he growled in a voice which quaked with rage. "I obey. But
you will wish you had never made the demand!"

The next second he swung on his heel, and leaving his company behind as
a guard, headed toward a stair which led upward from one side of the
amphitheatre, and which was protected by a door of heavy, grilled metal
work. The stairway seemed to be spiral, and was all enclosed. Kirby
realized that it must lead into the tall and beautiful tower of obsidion
which he had seen outside.

"Oh," Naida whispered as looks and smiles of approval came from all of
the girls, "you have been magnificent! Mark now, what we must do. You
must be the one to state our terms, because you have already won a
victory for us. Tell the Duca that we will not submit to any compromise
with the ape-men, and least of all will we let any of our number go to
the ape-men."

A deep flush crept into Kirby's cheeks at thought of what he would like
to do to the man who had proposed that sacrifice.

"Then tell him," Naida continued, "that we want men brought to our world
from the world above. And finally tell him we will live under his
dictatorship no longer, and hereafter demand a voice in all councils
affecting temporal affairs."

"All right," Kirby spoke grimly. "I'll tell him. Naida, is this high
priest we're waiting for, the one who proposed sacrifice of some of you
to the apes?"

Naida nodded.

       *       *       *       *       *

Next moment, she, Kirby, and all the others, including the row of
glowering caciques, became silent. At sounds from above, all looked
toward the grilled doorway to the tower. Then Kirby realized that all of
the girls, as well as the caciques, were dropping to their knees.

"No!" he commanded quickly. "Get up! You must not abase--"

He had not finished, and Naida had scarcely risen, when the heavy door
swung on noiseless hinges.

The light in the amphitheatre seemed to become more intense. Then,
against the great glow, Kirby beheld majesty, beheld one who represented
the apotheosis of priestly rank and power.

Clad in robes of filmy material which glimmered white beside the gray
robes of his underlings, the Duca wore about his waist the living flame
of a girdle composed of alternate cut diamonds and blood red rubies each
larger than a golf ball. And Kirby, searching for comparisons, realized
that the Duca's face, upheld to others, would be as remarkable as his
jewels must be when compared to ordinary gems. It was a chiseled face,
seamed by a thousand wrinkles, which a god might have carved from ivory
before endowing it with the flush and glow of life. A mane of snow white
hair cascaded back from a tremendous forehead to fall about thin but
square shoulders and mingle with the downward sweep of pure white
beard. The eyes, black as polished jet, flamed now with the glare of
baleful fires.

As Naida, stealing close to Kirby, trembled, and even the abased
caciques trembled, Kirby himself felt as if icy water was trickling over
him.

He fought the sensation off. For suddenly he knew that in spite of first
impressions which made the man seem a living god, the old Duca was
human. And what was more, he was in the wrong. All of which being true,
the thing to do was keep a level head and fight.

       *       *       *       *       *

All at once Kirby spoke across the silence in the great room.

"I have sent for you," he said, weighing words carefully.

"And I,"--the Duca's voice was mellow and deep--"have come. But I am not
here because you summoned me."

"Oh!" Kirby let sarcasm edge his words. "Well, I won't quibble about
your motives for coming. Did my messenger tell you why we are here and
demand your presence?"

"Your messenger," the old man said calmly, "told me."

"Very well. Do you consent to listen to Naida's and my terms? If you
_will_ listen--"

"But wait a moment," the Duca interrupted, still calmly, but with a look
in his eyes which Kirby did not like. "Are you asking _me_, to my face,
whether I will listen to terms which you offer as self-styled victor of
a battle with my caciques?"

Kirby nodded. His apprehension increased.

"Ah," said the Duca softly. And then, amazingly, a smile deepened every
wrinkle of his parchment face. "But do you not remember that I said I
had _not_ come here because you summoned me?"

"Yes," Kirby said solidly. "I remember very well."

"The thing which brought me here was the failure of my followers to
accomplish an assignment which I had given them--namely, that of ending
your life."

"Hum." Kirby scratched behind his ear. "You are _not_ interested in
arranging terms of peace, then."

"I am here,"--suddenly the Duca's voice filled the room--"to do that
which my priests were unable to do. And the moment has come when the
Gods will no longer trifle with you. You dog! You thieving intruder!
You--"

Swiftly the Duca plunged one withered but still powerful hand into the
folds of his robe above the flaming girdle. Then his hand flashed out,
and in it he held--

       *       *       *       *       *

But Kirby did not get to see.

A strangled cry of terror smote his ears. Naida leaped toward him from
one side, while Elana, the lovely youngest girl, sprang from another
direction, hurled Naida aside, and stopped in front of Kirby.

Through the glaring room flickered a tiny red serpentine creature which
the Duca hurled from a crystalline tube in his hand. As the minute snake
struck Elana's breast, she gave a choked cough, and then, as she half
turned to smile at both Naida and Kirby over her shoulder, her eyes went
blank, and she collapsed gently to the polished stones of the
floor--dead.

A second later came squirming out from under her the ghastly, glimmering
little snake which had struck.

Slowly, while every mortal in the room stood paralyzed, Kirby stepped
forward and set his heel upon the writhing thing. When he raised his
boot, the snake was only a blotch on the floor.

The Duca was standing as still as girls and caciques. The laughter with
which he had started to greet what he had thought would be Kirby's
extermination had faded to a look of wonder--and fear. He was an easy
mark.

Up to him Kirby rolled, and with all the force of soul and muscular
body, drove his fist into the Duca's face.

"By God," he roared, "you want war, and you shall have it!"

The Duca was simply out--not dead. Since Kirby did not want him dead, he
did not strike again, but swung back from the sprawled body, faced
Naida, and pointed to the tower door.

"Up there!" he snapped. "Seize the tower. I have a reason!"

At the Duca's crashing downfall, had come to the caciques a tension
which made Kirby know they would not be dummy figures much longer. His
eyes never left them.

"Quick, Naida!" he snapped again. "We must hold the tower!"

Naida, all of the girls, were staring dazedly at Elana, dead.

"The tower!" she choked. "But we cannot go there. It is the Duca's!"

"Because it is the Duca's," Kirby said firmly, "is exactly why we must
hold it. Come, Naida, please--"

       *       *       *       *       *

And then he saw comprehension begin to dawn at last.

He also saw two of the caciques glide from the wooden line, and slink
toward him past the unconscious Duca, stealthily.

As Naida suddenly cried out to her companions, pushed at two of them,
and then darted like rainbow nymph toward the silent and forbidding
upward spiral of steps, Kirby faced the gliding caciques.

One he clutched with viselike hands, and lifted him. As the other
shrieked and sprang, he was mowed down by the hurtling body of his
fellow priest which Kirby flung forward mightily.

The rest of the caciques were howling. While Naida waited beside the
tower door, the other girls flashed up the steps. The Duca still lay
where he had fallen, a thread of blood oozing from his mouth. Kirby,
after his last look over all, solemnly stooped and gathered in his arms
the limp, radiant little body of the girl who had given her life that
her friends might be left with a leader.

A moment later, he was standing on the steps. Naida, unopposed by the
still stupefied caciques, swung shut the tower door and shot a double
bolt.

"Naida--" Kirby whispered as he held Elana closer to him, "oh, I am so
sorry that we could have won only at such a price."

As Naida stooped to kiss the pale little forehead with its halo of
golden hair, sobs came. But then she raised her eyes, and they were, for
Kirby, alight with the message that she could and would accept Elana's
sacrifice, because she would gladly have made it herself.

"We will not forget," she whispered. "Carry her tenderly, and come."

For better, for worse, the Duca's tower was theirs.


CHAPTER VI

At the end of an hour, Kirby was taking a turn of guard duty at the foot
of the steps, while the others remained with Elana in a chamber above.
To Kirby, with things thus far along, it seemed that the seizure of the
tower had proved a shrewd stroke.

It seemed that the tower was to the Duca what hair was to Sampson. From
Naida had come the information that the Duca lived hidden within the
great shaft of obsidion, and appeared but seldom even before his
caciques. Apparently a large part of his hold upon his subjects was
maintained by the mystery with which he kept himself surrounded. And now
his retreat was lost to him! Such had been the moral effect of the loss
upon both Duca and caciques, that his whole first hour had gone by
without their doing anything.

Kirby, standing just around the first turn of the winding stairway,
presently cocked his ears to listen to the conclave being held in the
amphitheatre.

"Why not starve them out, O Holy One?" he heard one of the caciques ask
of the Duca, only to be answered by a growl of negation.

The Duca, Kirby had gathered before this, wanted to fight.

"But there is no food in the tower, is there?" the cacique still pressed
on, and this time he was supported by other voices.

"No," the Duca rumbled back. "But am I to be deprived of my retreat,
left here like a common dog amongst other dogs, while these accursed
fiends starve slowly to death? No! I tell you, you must fight for me!"

       *       *       *       *       *

But he had told them so several times before and nothing had happened.
Kirby grinned at the thought of the caste the Duca was losing by being
driven to this belittling parley.

"Holy One," exclaimed a new priest in answer to the urge to fight, "what
can we do against the golden haired fiend? The stairs are so narrow that
he could defend them alone. And then there are the gates of bronze. If
we could shatter the first, at the foot of the steps, we should only
encounter others. The Duca must remember that his tower was built to
withstand attack."

"Even so," the Duca snapped back, "it must be attacked! I--"

But then he fell silent, having been made so by the sounds of dissension
which arose amongst his caciques. Kirby, laughing to himself, turned
away from his listening post, and tip-toed up the steps.

After he had closed and bolted behind him three of the bronze portals so
feared by the caciques, he turned to the entrance of the chamber in
which he had left Naida and the others. Here all was silent, and he
found his friends grouped about a couch on which lay Elana. Feeling the
solemnity of the moment, he would have taken his place quietly amongst
the mourners.

Naida, however, came to him at once, and in a low voice asked for news
from the amphitheatre, and when Kirby answered that the caciques were
unanimously in favor of leaving them alone until they starved, she
exclaimed:

"Oh, then it is good news!"

After that, however, a shadow of doubt flickered in her great eyes.

"And yet, is it? It means temporary immunity, of coarse.
But--starvation!"

Kirby assured her with a grin.

"If we had to starve we might worry. But there is more food here than
the Duca thinks. Look!"

       *       *       *       *       *

From a bulging pocket of his tunic he fished a strip of the roots on
which he had subsisted so comfortably. Naida's eyes widened, and several
of the girls gave low cries.

"Yes," Naida exclaimed, "but such food! Why--why, do you know what you
are offering us? Why, this is the sacred Peyote! Only the Duca eats it,
and, at rare intervals, his priests."

Kirby was really startled now.

"But surely you and the others have taken quantities of the stuff away
from the Valley of the Geyser. Do you mean--"

"Because we gathered the Peyote does not mean that we have ever tasted
it. We gather it for the Duca. To taste would be complete, utter
sacrilege. Have _you_ been eating it?"

Inwardly Kirby was chuckling at this added proof of the buncumbe with
which the Duca--and other Ducas--had fooled all.

"Of course I've been eating the Peyote."

"And--and nothing has happened to you?" Naida asked.

"Hardly. I certainly haven't been blasted by the Lords of the Sun and
Moon, or the Serpent either!"

Naida and all the others were silent. The conflict between their
reverence for the food and their clear desire to eat it, now that it was
become the food of their leader, was pathetic.

Kirby put one of the strips in Naida's hand.

"Why not?" he asked. "We have bested the Duca in fair fight. We have
seized his tower. Why not eat his food?"

As he had hoped it would, the suggestion at last settled the matter. A
moment later, as Naida nibbled her first bite, she smiled.

"Why, it--it's good!"

With the question of provisions settled at least for a time, Kirby's
next thought was of the tower. The present lull of peace seemed made for
exploration.

"Come along," he said to Naida, "we've plenty to do," and then, when he
explained, they set out, accompanied by Nini, a cousin of Naida's, and
Ivana, a younger sister.

All of the others remained with little Elana.

       *       *       *       *       *

While they climbed spiral stairs, Naida explained that the chamber they
had just left was used by the Duca as a place in which he prayed before
and after contacts with caciques or subjects. A sort of halfway station
between earth and heaven, as it were, where the Duca might be purged of
any sullying influence gained from human relationships.

At thought of the rank, egotistical hypocrisy implied by the story,
Kirby smiled grimly. Then they came to a new door, heavier than that
which barricaded the prayer chamber. Unlocked, the thing swung
ponderously at Kirby's push, and with the three girls pressing close
beside him, he entered--and stopped.

"Naida!" he gasped.

"Oh, _oh_!" she cried, and while Nini and Ivana gasped, she clapped her
hands in an instinctive, feminine reaction of joy. "But there are things
here which I believe none but the Ducas of our race have ever seen! Oh!
Why, the sacred girdle is as nothing compared to this display!"

By "display" she meant a treasure which took Kirby's breath away, which
made his heart act queerly.

The walls of the chamber were fashioned of polished blocks of obsidion
on which stood out in heavy bas-relief a maze of decorative figures
fashioned of pure, beaten gold--the same kind of gold which had gone
into the making of the cylinder of gold. With his first glance at the
gorgeously wrought motifs of Feathered Serpent and Sun and Moon symbols,
Kirby knew to a certainty whence the golden cylinder had come
originally.

But even the gold--literally tons of it there must have been--was
nothing compared to the gems.

       *       *       *       *       *

They were spread out in blinding array upon a great table in the center
of the room. There were pearls as big as turkey eggs and whiter, softer
than the light of a June morning growing in the East. There were rubies.
One amongst the many was the size of a baseball and glowed like the
heart of a red star. The least of the two or three hundred gems would
have outclassed the greatest treasures of the Crown jewels of England
and Russia combined.

Most overwhelming of all, however, was the jewel which rested against a
square of black cloth all its own in the center of the table. While his
heart still acted queerly, while Naida, Nini, and Ivana hung back,
delighted, but still too bewildered to move, Kirby advanced and took
gingerly in his hands a single white diamond about eighteen inches long,
and almost as wide and deep as it was long.

The thing was carved with exquisite cunning to a likeness of the living
head of Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent.

Kirby dared not guess how many pounds the carven hunk of flashing,
blue-white carbon weighed. He knew only that like it there was no other
diamond in the world, and that the thing was real. Naida and the two
girls were silent now, and suddenly Kirby realized that to their awe of
the gem was added awe of deepest religious nature. Slowly he put the
diamond head of the Serpent back upon its square of cloth.

"We--we had heard that this thing existed," Naida said presently, voice
hushed, "but no one except the holy men of our race has ever beheld
it."

"But, what is it?" Kirby asked. "Whence came it?"

However, when Naida would have answered, he interrupted.

"But wait! Tell me as we go. We could stay here for the rest of our
lives without much trouble, but we've got to cover the rest of the tower
and get back to the others."

       *       *       *       *       *

It was after they had closed the door to the treasure room that Naida
told him the story.

"There is not so much to tell," she began. "The diamond itself is so
gorgeous that it is hard to talk about. But here is the story. A great
many ages ago one of the Ducas of our race found the diamond, decided to
carve it into a perfect likeness of the head of the Serpent God. All of
the craftsmen of the race helped him and when they were done, they took
their image to Quetzalcoatl himself, and showed him what they had done.

"Quetzalcoatl was pleased. So pleased, that he promised all of the wise
men that he would cease to prey upon them as he had in the past, and
henceforward would take his toll of sacrifice from the ape-men alone.
Them he hated and would continue to hate because they worshipped not him
but Xlotli.

"And so it came about," Naida went on slowly, looking up at Kirby as
they still mounted wide steps to the upper reaches of the tower, "that
our people gained immunity from a God which had always before harmed and
destroyed them. Our race presently began to build this castle here on
the high plateau, and Quetzalcoatl kept his compact with them. He still
comes out of his chasm at intervals and preys upon the ape-men, but no
one of our race has seen him for thousands of years, and he has always
let us alone. And there is the whole myth and explanation of why the
great diamond is revered among us as a holy of holies."

       *       *       *       *       *

They had mounted to a new door which Kirby guessed might give entrance
to the Duca's living quarters. But he was in no mood to open it at
once.

"Wait a minute," he said as they all paused. "You say that, although
none of your race has seen Quetzalcoatl since the diamond head was
carved, he still comes out of his chasm and makes trouble for the
ape-men. Just what does that mean?"

"Why--" Naida looked at him wonderingly. "I mean what I have said. The
Serpent comes out of his chasm and--"

"What chasm?" Kirby asked sharply.

"Why, the one we crossed this morning. It extends to the far reaches of
our country, beyond the Rorroh forest, where the ape-men dwell but which
our people never visit. It is in that distant part of the chasm that the
Serpent dwells."

"But--but--Oh, good Lord!" Kirby whistled softly. "Naida, do you mean to
tell me that Quetzalcoatl was not simply a mythical monster, but an
actual, living serpent which is alive _now_?"

Naida and the others shrugged.

"Why not?" she answered. "Sometimes we have captured a few ape-men, and
they tell us stories of how Quetzalcoatl kills them. _They_ say he is
very much alive."

"But," Kirby mumbled in increasing wonder, "is this living creature the
same which your ancestors worshipped first as long ago, perhaps, as a
million years?"

"That," Naida answered unhesitatingly, "I'm not sure of. Our caciques
believe that the Serpent, although it lives longer than any other
sentient thing, finally dies and is succeeded by a new Serpent which is
reproduced by itself, within its own body."

So overwhelming did Kirby find this unexpected sequel to their discovery
of the great diamond head, so staggered was he by the fact that
Quetzalcoatl, of Aztecan myth, might exist as a sentient creature here
in this cavern world, that he had little heart left for exploring other
wonders.

       *       *       *       *       *

Nevertheless, he presently pushed open the new door before which they
had paused, and behind it found, as he had expected, the Duca's living
quarters.

These were as severe as the jewel chamber had been gorgeous. A thin
pallet spread upon a frame of wood formed the bed, and beside it stood a
single stiff chair. That was all. The walls of glistening obsidion were
bare.

There was, however, a door in one circular wall, and as Kirby flung this
open, his previous disappointment changed to delight. For shelves along
the walls of the small chamber held roll after roll of parchment covered
with script. And in one corner lay six undamaged, almost new Mannlichers
and several hundred rounds of ammunition!

"Naida," he exclaimed, "do you know what those are?"

"I suppose that they are weapons of the sort you used against the
ape-men this morning?"

Kirby grinned.

"They are the same kind I used, and then some. With these weapons we can
do what we never could with the smaller one. How did they get here?"

"They came when I was much younger," Naida answered with a shade of
sadness in her voice. "The men who had them penetrated the Valley of the
Geyser, coming by a different route from the one you followed. When the
Duca learned they were there, he sent such men of the race as were still
able to fight to kill them. That order of the Duca's was one of the
first things to turn me against him. The men were not harming us, and
they should have been permitted to go away. But the Duca insisted that
they be killed, and in the fight were lost eight of our youngest and
strongest men."

       *       *       *       *       *

Kirby stooped to inspect the rifles.

"Has no one learned to use these weapons?"

"No," Naida answered. "The Duca kept them for himself."

"We think," put in Ivana, "that he hoped to learn to use them, and was
afraid for us to have the knowledge."

Kirby filled one of the magazines, and felt the heft of the gun with
pleasure.

"Very well," he said. "It looks to me as though your time to learn the
art of shooting has come at last. Come, I think we had better be getting
back downstairs."

Kirby took three guns himself, and with the others lugging the rest,
they started back. The parchment rolls, he decided, must be left for
examination later on.

They were all elated when they rejoined the girls in the prayer chamber,
and high spirits were still further increased by the report, promptly
given, that all had remained quiet in the amphitheatre. Save only for
the presence of Elana, radiant and calm in death, the give and take of
questions would have been accompanied by actual gaiety.

But the time of peace did not last much longer. While Naida was in the
midst of answering incessant questions about the wonders of the jewel
chamber, Kirby heard a sound from below, and suddenly went over to the
downward-winding steps.

"Listen," he called sharply back to the others.

He had not been mistaken. Many footsteps echoed from the amphitheatre,
and he made out that the caciques were coming toward the bolted gate at
the foot of the steps. While he listened, and Naida came eagerly to his
side, silence fell.

But then clear words came up to them.

"Let the upper-world man come to the foot of the steps," called the
Duca. "I have an offer to make him!"


CHAPTER VII

To himself Kirby chuckled. Such real entreaty filled the Duca's voice
that there seemed no danger of further treachery from him at the
moment.

With a grin, Kirby took Naida's hand and led her down the steps,
unbolting each bronze gate but the last.

"What do you want?" he asked in a cool voice a moment later, when he
stopped on the final step and faced the Duca from behind the protection
of the final gate.

Clearly the parley was going to be a blunt one.

"I want you to leave our world," the Duca rumbled promptly.

He was drawn up in a posture intended to display dignity. But his left
cheek, where Kirby had hammered him, was pulpy and discolored, and
somehow he seemed to Kirby more than ever merely human.

"Under what conditions am I to leave?"

"If you will vacate my tower at once," the Duca said with a flush of
eagerness which he could not conceal, "I will permit Naida and one of my
caciques to escort you back to the Valley of the Geyser. I will also
give you directions by which you may travel in safety from there to the
outer world."

Kirby, wanting more details, made himself seem thoughtful.

"And what will happen to me, and to the girls, if I decline?"

Encouraged, the Duca made an impressive gesture.

"You will be left in the tower to die of starvation. Mine is not a
complicated offer. It should require no complicated decision. What is
your answer?"

Kirby dropped his carefully assumed mask of thought.

"My answer is this," he lashed out. "I will not leave! The tower is
ours, and we will hold it until you have accepted Naida's peace terms on
your priestly oath!"

"But if you stay in the tower you will starve!" thundered the Duca.

"No, we won't starve! We won't starve because we eat the food of
Ducas!"

       *       *       *       *       *

In silence, Kirby took from his pocket a strip of the sacred Peyote and
bit off one end of it. Suddenly the hush in the amphitheatre became
complete. As he watched Kirby chewing, the Duca gasped and choked.

"Moreover," Kirby announced with slow emphasis, "I have taken possession
of the weapons which you took from men of the upper world, and which
have already sent men of your race to their death. I have no wish to
kill either you or your caciques, but if you do not presently discuss
peace with me, you will certainly find yourself embroiled in a struggle
more bitter than the mild one of this morning."

With that said, he swung on his heel, and taking Naida's hand again,
started with her up the steps.

"I have nothing more to say," he called over his shoulder to a Duca
whose white haired majesty had been stripped from him.

"We're getting on," he whispered to Naida a moment later. "The best
thing for us is just to sit still now, and wait."

With the questions he wanted to ask Naida about her world becoming
insistent, he found himself, as a matter of fact, glad for the prospect
of further respite. As both of them rejoined the girls in the Duca's
prayer chamber, the first thing he did was to take from his tunic the
cylinder of gold which he had found in the canyon.

"What is this, Naida?" he asked, hoping to start talk that would make
all of them forget the Duca and politics, and at the same time help him
to learn much that he wished to know.

But a queer thing happened. Naida's reaction to the carven gold was as
unexpected as it was marked.

"_Oh!_" she cried in a voice which suddenly trembled with surprise, with
blank dismay. Somehow, the cylinder of gold brought to her face things
which not even the Serpent's head of the diamond had evoked.

       *       *       *       *       *

The prospect of a long session of talk began to fade out in Kirby's
mind.

"But Naida, whatever is there about this fragment of gold to startle you
as it does?"

By this time all of the thirty-odd other girls had come flocking about
them, and all were staring at the cylinder as fascinatedly as Naida.

"Do you see what he has there?" Naida finally asked, ignoring Kirby in
her continued excitement.

"Do we _see_?" answered the girl she had addressed. "Naida, surely it is
the carving which was lost!"

Naida was quivering with feeling now.

"Do you realize what it means to our cause that it should have been
returned to us in this way?"

The girl to whom she had spoken, and the others, simply looked at her,
but in one face after another presently dawned awe and joy.

Kirby stood still, puzzled and interested, until at last Naida was
recovered enough to speak to him.

"Where did you get this thing which you call 'a fragment of gold'?" she
asked in a hushed voice.

"I found it," Kirby answered, "lying beside the skeleton of an
upper-world man, while I was ascending the canyon which brought me to
the Valley of the Geyser."

"And you do not know what the cylinder is? But no, of course you could
not."

"_What_ is it, Naida?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Naida glanced at her friends, then laid her hand on Kirby's.

"Next to the great diamond, it is the most cherished possession of our
race. In some respects it is even more holy than the Serpent's head. The
cylinder happens to be the first work in gold which was ever produced by
our people. It was made when the race was new. It was because our first
wise men had found they could create things of beauty like this
cylinder, that they decided to attempt the creation of the Serpent's
head, which is supposed to have brought all of our blessings upon us."

Kirby thought he was beginning to understand the excitement which his
introduction of the cylinder had created. He also thought he could see
what Naida had meant by implying that the cylinder could be made to aid
their cause.

"Tell me," he asked in a mood approaching reverence, "how the cylinder
came to be lying beside a dead man's bones."

"It was stolen," Naida answered in the breathless silence which the
others were keeping. "When I was very young, an upper-world man found
his way here, and the Duca captured and meant to sacrifice him. But
while they were leading him to the temple where such special ceremonies
are held--the building stands on another plateau, beyond this--the man
broke away. Some of the priests in the procession were carrying the
cylinder, for it was an occasion of great importance. The prisoner
knocked them down, got the cylinder away from them, and finally escaped
by the same route over which you came."

"And he escaped," said Kirby wonderingly, "only to be killed by a
rattlesnake before he ever reached the civilized world. But do you mean
that you never knew your sacred cylinder was so close to you all these
years?"

Naida shook her head.

"We never got to the canyon of which you speak, for a special reason
which I shall explain some day. And besides that, I think the Duca was
afraid of this man who fought so bravely. So he counted the cylinder as
lost. And that is one of the reasons why he killed the men with the
rifles, who appeared in the Valley a few years later."

       *       *       *       *       *

Kirby looked at her thoughtfully. The mood for discussing all the
wonders of this lower world, which had made him bring out the cylinder
originally, had quite vanished.

"I suppose," he said, "that anyone who was responsible for the return of
the cylinder to its rightful owners, would be held in some respect?"

Naida nodded vigorously, while little lightnings of excitement flickered
in her eyes.

"He might be held in more than respect."

"What, then, do you suggest that we do next?"

Again the small lightnings darted, and Naida reached for the cylinder.

"Do you mind if I take it for a moment?"

"Of course not."

Promptly then she faced around.

"Wait here, everyone," she ordered.

And with that she waved the cylinder in a flashing little arc before
their eyes, and darted to the door.

It was all so unexpected that she was gone before Kirby could speak.
Slowly, with all of the suddenly gay company of girls following after
him, he went to the doorway, and stood on the steps leading to the
amphitheatre.

       *       *       *       *       *

A minute passed. He heard voices downstairs. He heard Naida's voice
ringing clearly, though he could not distinguish her words. He heard a
great cry from a score of male throats. More minutes passed. Words that
were low and tense poured out in a rumbling volume. Above the rumble,
Naida's voice presently sounded again, clear and sweet, but incisive.
Then, when no more than five or six minutes had gone, Kirby heard the
clang of the bronze gate at the foot of the steps, heard light, swift
footsteps ascending.

"Naida!" he called softly.

She flashed upward toward him around the last curve in the stairway.
Straight to his outstretched arms she went.

"It is done! It is done!" she whispered.

"Tell us!" cried first one girl and then others.

Naida drew away from Kirby at last.

"I told the Duca," she said to all of them, "that our leader would keep
the cylinder for a period of time equal to one upper-world year. If the
Duca grants all the terms of peace which we will ask of him, and if he
accepts the upper-world man as our temporal ruler, and all goes well for
a year, then we will consider replacing the cylinder where it belongs."

"And what," Kirby asked exultantly, "does the Duca say?"

Suddenly, without warning, Naida dropped before him on one knee, and
from that position gazed up at him laughing.

"He says he will make you our King, to govern all temporal affairs
within our realm! He is waiting for you to come and hold a conclave
now."

"_What?_"

Still kneeling half in fun, half in sincere reverence, Naida held out
the precious, potent cylinder of gold.

"Guard it carefully!" she exclaimed. "So long as you keep it away from
the Duca, making him hope to win it back, he will consent to almost
anything. Yes, he is waiting with the caciques in the amphitheatre now;
waiting to draw up terms of peace."


CHAPTER VIII

To be King amongst these people! A queer sensation tugged at Kirby's
heart as he descended the steps with Naida at his right, and all of
her--and his--dainty and gracious friends following after. Yet, intense
as his emotion was, never for a second was he able to doubt the evidence
of his senses which told him that all of this was real. As they
descended the black steps of the tower, Naida's sweetness, her grace,
the warm humanity of her, made him humble with gratitude for the
extraordinary fortune which had come to him, an unromantic aviator born
in Kansas.

Then they were standing in the brilliant light of the amphitheatre, and
the Duca, surrounded by his caciques, was advancing to meet them.

It was not a long conference which followed. Kirby saw from the start
that the Duca was indeed ready to come to terms. So treasured an object,
it seemed, was the cylinder of gold, that the mere fact that Kirby
possessed it made the Duca respect the possessor, whether he would or
no. With this initial advantage, it did not take long to make demands
and win acceptance.

It was agreed that some systematic campaign of extermination should be
planned and carried out against the ape-men. Further, the project for
eventually bringing other upper-world men to the realm was accepted.
Most notable of all, it was agreed that while the Duca should retain a
voice in the regulation of temporal affairs, Kirby should possess an
absolute veto over his word.

Naida said there must be some formal ceremony to celebrate Kirby's
ascendency to power. To this the Duca consented, and established the
date as a fortnight hence, and the place as the temple on the plateau
beyond the plateau of the castle, where the Ducas had been invested with
their robes of state from time immemorial. At the end, it was decided
that little Elana should be left in the prayer chamber until a burial
ceremony could be held on the morrow.

       *       *       *       *       *

In less than an hour, Kirby, Naida, and the others withdrew from the
amphitheatre to return to the regular dwelling places of the girls. Deep
in his mind, Kirby did not know how sincere the Duca was, and fear
lingered, somehow, but he put it aside for the present.

As they came out of the castle, proceeding in a gay procession across
the drawbridge above the moat of beautiful aquatic plants, Kirby saw
that the light from the glass sky was fading to a glow like that of
spring twilight in the upper world. Naida answered his question about
the phenomenon by saying that day and night in the cavern corresponded
to the same period above. What quality of the glass sky gave out light,
she did not know, but it seemed definite that the element was sensitive
to the presence of light in the upper world, and when the sun sank
there, the glow faded here.

A flower embroidered path led them around the castle to a group of
little crystalline houses all overgrown with bougainvillea vines and
honeysuckle. In front of the first, Naida paused, and while the others
went on to the other houses, she looked at Kirby.

"It is Elana's dwelling," she said simply, "and it will be vacant now.
Elana would want you to take it. Will you, please?"

The twilight was deepening swiftly. Kirby nodded reverently, then drew
close to Naida.

"Naida?"

"Yes?"

He took her hand.

"I can stay here, I can consent to become, after a fashion, a King, only
if you will reign with me as Queen. Will you, Naida? Will you love me as
I have learned to love you during this single day in Paradise?"

She did not answer. But presently Kirby's mind went blank for sheer joy.
For then Naida raised her face, and he kissed her lips.

It made no difference then that, despite the day's victory, Kirby could
see trouble ahead, and feared, rather than rejoiced at, the Duca's too
easy acceptance of terms. The future could take care of itself. This
moment in the dusk belonged to him and Naida.

       *       *       *       *       *

The two weeks which passed for Kirby after that particular twilight sped
quickly. During the first morning, all attended the ceremony which was
held for Elana's burial in the plot of gardened ground where lay her
ancestors. Ensuing mornings were devoted to conferences in the
amphitheatre with Duca and caciques.

After the fourth day Kirby, at Naida's insistence, moved into splendid
quarters in the castle--a suite of chambers across the amphitheatre from
those in which the caciques dwelt. In practically forcing the move on
Kirby, Naida won his consent finally by agreeing to have their wedding
ceremony performed on the day of his coronation; then she would come to
the castle with him.

The afternoons of that first fortnight before the wedding and coronation
were spent in hunting and fishing. Also Kirby and Naida visited often
the aged people of the race, who dwelt in crystalline, vine covered
houses like those of the girls, but removed from them. Naida's relatives
were dead, but she had relatives there, and to all these aged ones, who
sat living in the past, she did what she could to explain present
developments in the affairs of the younger generation.

Last but not least, Kirby set aside certain hours each afternoon which
he devoted to the formation of a rifle squad amongst the girls. Six
rifles he had, and in turn he trained each of the girls in their use,
having set up a range at the foot of the plateau cliffs. The results he
gained made him feel that the day would come soon enough when he would
dare launch an offensive against the ape-people; and especially pleasing
was the sense of power over the Duca which he gained. The Duca showed no
sign of treachery. Yet Kirby did not trust him. Never did he quite
forget the misgivings which had lingered in his mind after the first
conclave.

       *       *       *       *       *

As for his relationship with Naida, that grew with every moment they
could steal to spend with each other. And side by side with their
growing knowledge of each other grew, for Kirby, an increasing store of
knowledge of the realm.

He learned, amongst other things, what seemed the origin of the worship
of the Serpent, Quetzalcoatl, amongst primitive Mexican races. The time
had been when the People of the Temple had mingled freely with the races
above them; and, that they might have ready means of egress to the
world, they had built the tunnel through which Kirby had entered the
Valley of the Geyser. Thus, going and coming as they did, they had
spread their cult of the worship of Quetzalcoatl; and when, eventually,
strife arose between the peoples of upper world and lower, and the
People of the Temple withdrew to their realm, they left behind them the
Serpent myth which was to live through countless centuries.

The tunnel, Naida said, had been abandoned when her people left the
upper world once and for all, and its use for any reason prohibited.
This, Naida gave as the reason why none of them went near the tunnel
now, and why the cylinder of gold had lain in the canyon undiscovered.
It was the explanation she had promised on the day in the tower, when
first she saw the cylinder.

So the days passed, until the day set aside for wedding and coronation
dawned. On that morning, Kirby, having concluded a long conference with
the Duca, was walking with Naida in the gardens outside the castle.

"Tell me," he said to her: "do you yourself believe that this Serpent
has the powers of a God?"

Naida looked at him quickly, a sudden fright in her eyes.

"I believe the Serpent exists to-day, somewhere in the distant reaches
of the chasm, beyond the Rorroh forest."

"Yes, but do you believe the Serpent is God?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Actually frightened now, she looked swiftly about. But when she saw that
they were alone, confidence returned.

"No!" she exclaimed. "I do not believe Quetzalcoatl is a god. I believe
he is the most terrible creature anywhere in our realm, and that men
first worshipped him through fear. I believe our race would be better a
hundred times if they had never made him their God."

Kirby whistled.

"Then you do _not_ believe that the Ducas of past ages talked with him.
You do not believe it was Quetzalcoatl's pleasure over the great diamond
which made him cease preying on your people?"

"No! Long habit makes me show respect for these myths, and adhere to the
customs of our cult, but I do not believe. I think our race gained
immunity for the Serpent's ravages, not through a compact with
Quetzalcoatl, but because our builders were intelligent enough to erect
the castle up here on the plateau, where Quetzalcoatl could not reach
them. To tell the truth, I think the whole cult is false and wrong, and
I wish Quetzalcoatl were dead and gone from the world!"

Kirby smiled. In spite of Naida's reverence for certain features of the
cult, he had long suspected that her true feelings were those she had
just expressed. And he was glad for this new bond of understanding
between them. He glanced at her with understanding and perfect trust.

"Naida, since we have talked so frankly, there is one more thing which I
must bring out."

She looked up at him.

"What is it?"

"The Duca."

       *       *       *       *       *

She drew closer, her perfumed body brushing his, her great eyes
caressing him.

"Naida, I am afraid of the man."

"And so am I!" she confessed suddenly.

"It has all been too easy," Kirby said in a slow voice. "There is no
doubt whatever that our possession of the cylinder of gold has had great
influence on the Duca, and yet--"

He paused, taking her hand.

"And yet," she went on for him, "you do not believe he would have
conceded what he has, unless he intends to make trouble?"

Kirby nodded twice, emphatically.

"Well, you have trained all of us to use the rifles."

He smiled gravely at her understanding.

"Yes, I have. And your skill, and that of the others, with the rifles,
will always help us. Yet even so--"

Closer still she drew now, and there was sadness in her eyes.

"I think I see," she said in a voice which choked. "When do you think he
will make a move to start trouble?"

Kirby hesitated, then drew a long breath.

"To-day!"

"On--on the day of our union?" Naida echoed in dismay. "Can you tell
where or how he will strike at us?"

Kirby shook his head.

"There are a hundred things he could do. Naida, I--I--Well, somehow I am
afraid of the ceremony this afternoon--the wedding ceremony!"

       *       *       *       *       *

He felt a little shiver go through her, and would have taken her in his
arms, save that a gay cry rang in the garden then.

"Naida, Naida!" It was her cousin, Nini, a bronze-haired youngster as
elfin and Pucklike as her name. "I thought we should never find you! Do
you realize this is your _wedding_ day, and that you're acting as if
there was nothing to be done?"

Nini darted a mocking glance at Kirby, who grinned.

"Do come, Naida!" cried another girl. "Your gown is ready, and we want
you to ourselves for awhile."

Other girls joined them, some singing and some carrying an obligato on
the sweet, flutelike instruments which Kirby had first heard as he hung
in the throat of the geyser. In front of them all, Kirby laughed and
kissed Naida on the forehead. But as he took leave of her thus, he
whispered:

"We must not let our guard relax for a second this afternoon. And I
think there is a more definite precaution which I will take, besides."


CHAPTER IX

Some hours later, Kirby smiled with tight-lipped satisfaction at thought
of that precaution which he had taken. What it was only he, Nini, Ivana,
and three other girls knew, which secrecy pleased him as much as the
precautionary measure itself.

Seated alone in a dimly-lighted, thick-walled cell of the ancient temple
in which the dual ceremony of wedding and coronation would take place,
he was waiting for the moment when the festivities would begin. Thus far
the Duca had done nothing. Yet Kirby's uneasiness would not leave him,
and he continued to be thankful that, if trouble should start, the Duca
might not find as many trumps in his hand as he expected.

A couple of hours after Kirby had left Naida and the other girls in the
garden, all had begun the two-mile journey from the castle to the small
plateau on which stood this temple, where the ceremony would be held.
Now, while Kirby waited alone, the Duca and his caciques had gone to
another wing of the temple. Naida, attended by her bridesmaids, had been
assigned to a cell of their own, and the rest of the girls were waiting
in the nave of the temple. Unable to attend the walk from their plateau
to this, the old people of the race had remained in their crystal
houses.

With ten minutes more to wait, Kirby rose from a bench on which he had
been seated, and began to pace his cell. It was this archaic pile of
stone, he finally decided, which was causing his depression. Unlike the
bright and cheerful castle, this place, older than any other building in
the realm, was squat, thick-walled, and gloomy. Here, in the dusky cells
which lined labyrinthine corridors, the early generations of the race
had found protection from outside dangers. All of which was all right,
Kirby thought, but just the same he wished he had insisted upon being
wedded in the brilliant and cheerful amphitheatre.

       *       *       *       *       *

But presently he stopped pacing and faced the door of his cell. Then he
breathed a sigh of relief.

From down the twisting corridors which wound out to the central nave,
stole the high sweetness of soprano voices, the whisper of flutes, and
the mellow resonance of little gongs of jade and gold. It was the signal
for which he had waited.

It had been the Duca's instructions that he should come out into the
temple when the music began, and meet Naida there. Both would advance to
the altar, and when they were in place, the Duca would come to them.
Kirby, therefore, after a glance at the blue trousers and tunic of
tanager scarlet which the girls had made for him, opened the door of his
cell, and stepped out.

In a moment he traversed the windings of the corridor, and halted under
a flat arch at one side of the temple nave.

As he paused so, to await the appearance of Naida and her bridesmaids
under a similar arch directly across the temple, he held his breath. Not
even nymphs could be as graceful as were the twenty-six girls who were
performing the dance of Life Immortal, which tradition decreed should be
given before the ceremony by which, in this realm, two souls were
wedded. The flash of rainbow gowns was like the swirling of light in a
sky at dawning. The music of voices, flutes, and the little gongs of
jade, would have stirred the souls of the dead.

If only the confounded sense of approaching disaster would leave him,
Kirby thought grimly, this would be a magnificent moment. As it was, he
turned his eyes away from the girls, and began to examine the temple.

Just as Naida had told him the case would be, he found both sides of the
nave surrounded by arches similar to the one under which he was
standing. Everywhere, dim and tortuous corridors led to cells like the
one he had just left. Then, in one end of the nave, loomed a closed door
from behind which the Duca and caciques would appear when the couple to
be wedded were in place, before the altar.

The altar itself, a rectangular mass of some jadelike stone, stood at a
distance of perhaps twenty paces in front of the closed door. On top of
the greenish stones, resting on a cushion of some crimson material,
flashed the crown which would be used at the coronation. Kirby's eyes
widened as he beheld a single rose-cut diamond two inches in diameter,
mounted in an exquisitely simple bandeau of wrought gold. But, a moment
later, even the crown which would be his--if nothing happened--seemed
only a bauble compared to the other prize which he had won in this world
beneath the world.

Naida!

       *       *       *       *       *

He realized that the dance was ended, the music stilled, and that the
rainbow garbed girls had formed a double line in the center of the
temple. Suddenly his heart beat fast, and for just a moment, as he dared
look full and deeply at Naida, and she smiled back at him across the
distance, he even forgot to be depressed.

But even as he advanced to meet her, his uneasiness returned.

Now the girls were singing again, their voices raised in a triumphant
chorale as beautiful as Naida's face with its warm red lips and smiling
eyes, as beautiful as her wedding gown that might have been woven, in
its filminess, of mist from the sea. The bridesmaids, silent, their
lovely faces alight, paused. But Naida came on.

From her floated to Kirby a fragrance more overwhelming than even the
perfume of the geyser. Presently he felt her hand on his arm, and at
last they stood side by side. Now again, his premonition of evil left
him for a flash; but again it returned.

"I love you," he whispered.

"I love _you_."

"But I am still afraid."

Naida's smile faded.

"And I too. Oh, I've been terribly afraid! We will keep our guard!"

"Yes."

       *       *       *       *       *

In front of them, on the altar, the crown diamond winked and shimmered
in a dim light. The swelling chorus of triumph, in which the bridesmaids
had joined now, made the whole temple ring. Slowly, while Naida moved
easily beside him, Kirby began to march to the altar.

Then it was done, and they were halted. After both of them had given a
lingering glance at the crown whose diamond shimmered now within their
reach, they raised their eyes to the closed door behind the altar.

The thing was swinging open. An inch it moved, two inches.

Kirby waited, never taking his eyes away from the widening crack. With a
crashing final volume of sound, the chorus swept magnificently to its
climax. Then the door was flung wide.

Still Kirby stood stiffly before the altar, with Naida drawn up
splendidly beside him. After two seconds, however, he moved.

Duca and caciques were not standing in the corridor.

In the semi-darkness, the only figures visible there were squatting,
grotesque things whose bodies were covered with whitish hair and whose
leathery faces were disfigured by gashes of mouths filled with enormous
teeth.

A feeling of standing face to face with final disaster, turned Kirby
sick. As he jerked back from the altar, sweeping a paralyzed Naida with
him, the ape-men let out gibbering howls, half-human. With gigantic,
hopping strides, the foremost rank of the creatures swung forward,
straight into the temple.


CHAPTER X

Kirby, already falling back toward the other girls, caught Naida up in
his arms, and ran.

"Nini!" he bellowed. "Ivana! Get the rifles!"

While the two whom he had ordered sprang to a corridor, and four others
followed, Kirby fell in with the others and dropped Naida on her feet.
Sick as he was, there was still a ray of hope, because the hard-headed
precaution he had taken against treachery this morning was to have Nini
and Ivana bring the rifles here and hide them.

The first of the ape-men, snarling, laughing, had hopped beyond the
altar, and the yellow foam of madness was slavering from his jaws. Over
his shoulder he howled some jargon which made his hairy legion struggle
to catch up with him.

"Have you got any puff balls?" Kirby snapped at Naida.

She shook her head numbly, just as Nini and Ivana swung forward with the
Mannlichers.

"No. But you had sense enough to bring the rifles! Oh, what does it
mean?"

"The Duca has sold himself out to the ape-man! He was helpless against
us, and has brought them to destroy us for him. Here, Ivana, give me a
rifle! Everyone for herself!"

The next moment he had a Mannlicher at his shoulder.

       *       *       *       *       *

As the thing kicked, an ape who would have reached him in two more jumps
crashed over with his heart torn out, the temple echoed with sound which
threatened to rip its solid walls apart, and bright flashes at Kirby's
right and left told him that other rifles were getting under way.

He fired again, twice more, slaughtering an ape with each shot. The five
other rifles were creating havoc.

Blocked by a dozen torn and bleeding bodies on the floor, the
reenforcements which still poured from the corridor, began to mill
around amongst themselves, and the forward charge slowed down. All the
panic which had sent the ape-men scuttling from the beach at their first
experience of gunfire, seemed ready to break loose again now.

Kirby felt it was good enough for the work of a minute.

"Get into line as I showed you how!" he shouted. "Rifles in the front
rank, the others behind them. We're all right now! Keep firing!"

"Keep behind me!" he ordered Naida, still unarmed.

Then he placed a shell in the chest of one brute who was broader and
heavier than the others--a leader--and saw that he had increased the
demoralization; and from the hastily-formed front rank a volley leaped
hot and jagged.

Then the rout which had threatened broke loose. As eight ape-men slumped
into blubbering, bleeding heaps, the milling remainder of the horde
turned, and in a fighting, scrambling frenzy attempted to get back to
the corridor.

Kirby let his triumph take the form of thoughts about what he would do
to the Duca when that personage could be rounded up.

"Follow after them!" he ordered. "Don't stop until we have located the
Duca. He is the one we must settle--"

       *       *       *       *       *

But he never finished.

As he himself, holding fire for a second, prepared to follow up the
retreat, he found himself confronted by the utterly unexpected.

A voice unquestionably the Duca's began to shout orders at the ape-men
from somewhere down the corridor! And, riot or no riot, the tones of
that voice seemed to inspire the creatures with more fear than the rifle
fire.

So suddenly the change came, that by the time Kirby flung his rifle
again to his shoulder, the crazy retreat had been halted, and as he
fired again, the ape-men swung in their tracks and began to charge!

There was no time to guess by what power the Duca had turned the tables.
There was not even time for orders. Kirby fired twice, knowing that the
ape-men had been infused with some spirit which would bring them on in
spite of rifle fire.

Naida, unarmed, cried out behind him, and he shoved his gun at her.

"Take it!"

He had just inserted a new clip. He handed her others.

"Fire for your lives!" he shouted to the girls.

"But you!" Naida gasped. "You are unarmed!"

"I'll be all right."

On the floor lay a jagged, hand-chipped knife of obsidion which had
fallen as some ape died. Kirby grabbed it.

       *       *       *       *       *

In another second the flood of ape-men had burst in all its fury over
him. Crashing, thundering shots were dinning in his ears, animal death
screams and the Valkyrie battle cries of the girls filled the temple. He
could not tell how many of the apes were fighting him. As a cave-man's
club whizzed past his head, he drove his knife once, and yanked it
dripping from hairy, yielding flesh to plunge it again. A sudden
side-step carried him away from another assailant. He dropped the knife
to snatch the gigantic club of one of the creatures he had killed.

Quicker in every movement than the ape-men, he laid on, right and left,
with such power that blood spurted in a dozen places, and heads were
split open on every side. And because of his speed, the frantic, clumsy
blows and knife thrusts which were directed at him proved harmless.

A terrific drive which smashed a snarling face into pulp, left Kirby
free for a second, and he emerged from the first round of battle ready
to cut in and help the girls. But then he saw that he had gotten
separated from the main body.

"Naida!" he called. "Naida!"

A series of shots answered him, and as several apes fell, a gap was
opened through which he saw her conducting a well ordered retreat of all
the girls toward the dark corridors surrounding the temple. Again Kirby
fell to with his club, swinging, hacking, fighting with his whole
strength to catch up. He made headway, and hope began to come again. The
ape-men would not kill, or even harm, the girls. What they wanted was to
carry them off. If he and Naida together could get their party rounded
up in the corridors, the chances were good.

"Naida!" he shouted again. "Coming!"

Battering down an ape in front of him, he jumped up on the corpse, and
saw that already the vanguard of girls had reached the first sheltering
corridor. Naida had been cut off from the others by eight or ten apes.
But even so her fire made her mistress of the situation, and she seemed
all right.

It was just as Kirby started to jump down from the corpse that he saw
something which put another complexion on the matter, and left him
frozen where he was.

       *       *       *       *       *

Behind Naida, directly in the path in which her slavering aggressors
were slowly forcing her, a huge stone slab in the temple floor had begun
to tilt up as if it were a trapdoor raised by an invisible hand. Within
the yawning opening, Kirby caught a glimpse of stone steps winding down
into blackness.

In a flash he saw that it was Naida, and her alone, that the ape-men
were after. The Duca's determination was to capture her, and it was the
presence of this trapdoor, making capture possible, which had brought on
the second charge of the apes.

A scream, high and wild, from Naida released Kirby from his trance of
horror. He leaped off the corpse, and smashed a suddenly presented skull
like an egg shell. Momentarily he saw Naida, too terrified to fire,
staring at the open trapdoor. Kirby felled two apes and felt their blood
on his arms.

"Ivana!" he yelled. "Help Naida, for God's sake!"

An answering shout, not from Ivana alone but from many girls, encouraged
him, and he swung his club with a speed and force which would let
nothing stand before him. But then another scream from Naida rang in his
ears.

"Naida!" he shouted. "It's all right! We're coming!"

He knew, though, that it _wasn't_ all right. Fighting like a maniac, he
opened another lane down which he glimpsed her. Fighting still, in a
last terrific effort to force his way down the lane to her side, he saw
the black opening gape at her feet; and, as Naida screamed again, a
dozen hairy arms reached it at once, twisted the empty rifle out of her
hands, and lifted her shining body as if it had been a feather.

Shouts and murderous fire were coming from the other girls, and Kirby
swung his club as never before. But even as he fell upon the last two or
three apes which kept him away from Naida, those who had snatched her,
bolted down the steps.

Kirby was left with the memory of Naida's great eyes fixed upon his,
fear-filled, beseeching his protection. In a second, the ponderous
trapdoor crashed into place, and she was gone.


CHAPTER XI

Dazed and grief-stricken, Kirby stood in the bloody, corpse-filled nave
of the temple, surrounded by thirty-two girls whose faces were blanched
and most of whose eyes were tear-bright. The fight was over, and they
were assembled to decide what must be done, but for a time no one
spoke.

Gaining the trapdoor just as it was pinioned from beneath, Kirby had
torn at it with bare hands. But that had been hopeless. Then he had
begun to fight again. But that had been hopeless also. With howls and
screams they started to retreat, and it had not taken Kirby long to find
out that every part of their raid had been carefully planned, even to
this retreat under fire. Straight into the damp black tunnel which led
away from the corridor behind the altar, the ape-men had leaped. And
Kirby, in hot pursuit, had heard the Duca's voice driving them on. Too
much the soldier to follow in that darkness where the Duca knew every
foot of the way, and he knew nothing, Kirby had seen that he must go
back to the girls and take stock.

Now he looked at the strewn ape corpses, smelled the corrosive reek of
burned powder, and tried to put aside his grief.

"The Duca," he said at last, "must have been planning this with the apes
ever since the first morning in the castle."

Ivana, Naida's sister, nodded.

"The Duca brought the ape-people here, kept them in the tunnel, and then
herded them back when their work was done. I suppose it was one of the
caciques who opened the door when the time was right."

"Does anyone think we ought to try the tunnels now?" Kirby asked.

       *       *       *       *       *

Several girls shook their heads. He knew that already they felt he had
been wise in giving up the pursuit. Ivana spoke.

"If the Duca and his horde stay underground, we shouldn't have a chance
against them. And if they don't, we're better here."

Kirby shot a searching glance at her, somehow sure that her thoughts
were running parallel with his.

"You don't think they're going to stay here, do you?"

"No, and you don't either," Ivana answered.

"It seems to me that they will retreat into the Rorroh as fast as they
can," Kirby then observed.

"And do you think the Duca and all the caciques will go with the apes?"
This time it was Nini who spoke, and with the council so well launched,
Kirby began to feel better.

"I think," he answered Nini, "that the Duca has gone over to Xlotli
altogether. We fooled him to-day. Instead of killing or capturing us
all, he--he only got Naida. But he won't give up. I think he is taking
the apes off to some place from which he can launch a new attack. And
we've got to stop him before he is ready to deliver another blow."

"What do you mean?" Ivana now asked.

"Do you know where the villages of the ape-people are?"

"Yes. None of us has been very far into the Rorroh, but I could guess
where some of the villages may stand."

       *       *       *       *       *

Silence fell after that, but Kirby knew from the glint in Ivana's eyes,
and the quick breaths which other girls drew, that they understood.

"Ivana," he said suddenly, "will you go with me into the Rorroh jungle,
and stay with me, facing down every danger it may conceal, until we have
found Naida and brought her back?"

A flush of life crept into Ivana's pallid cheeks.

"Yes!"

Kirby faced the other girls, all of them keyed up now.

"Nini, will you go?"

Nini, bronze-haired, dainty nymph of a girl, who had yet the stamina of
a man, looked at him with brave eyes. Then her hands tightened on her
rifle, and she stepped forward.

"When will you have us start?" Ivana asked in a low voice.

"Now!" Kirby answered, and, taking up the rifle which lay beside
him--the same with which Naida had fought--he looked at the other
girls.

"There is not one of you," he said slowly, "who would not go willingly
on this quest. But the pursuit party must be small and mobile. And
there is another duty. To all of you I leave the care of the castle and
the plateau. Take the three rifles I shall leave behind, do what you can
to reassure the old people, and hold the plateau safe until we return."

A murmur of girls' voices sounded in the temple. Kirby motioned to Nini
and Ivana, and followed by a low cheer, they moved off together.

       *       *       *       *       *

The night was on them, where they crouched in a cave above a swiftly
flowing river. Kirby, rifle across his knees, sat peering out across the
black, invisible stretches of the forest. His nostrils quivered to this
mingled smells of fresh growth and fetid decay of the grotesque land. In
his ears shrilled the creaking and scraping of insects, the flap of
unseen wings, the distant bellowing grunt of some unseen, unknown
animal.

"I cannot sleep," Ivana said presently, from back in the cave.

"Hush," he whispered, "you will wake Nini."

"But I am already awake!" came her answer. "I--I cannot forget the white
snakes which slid from that tree when you tried to cut firewood."

"Hush," Kirby murmured again. "Presently the moon will rise on the earth
above, and light will come here. Even if the jungle is terrible, were
you not born with courage? Go to sleep now, both of you, because you
must relieve me soon."

As silence fell again, he knew that the real thing behind their
nervousness was their ghastly doubt about what the night was bringing to
Naida. But none of them spoke of Naida. So sickening were the
possibilities that Kirby would not permit conjecture to occupy even his
mind when, at length, the sound of even breathing told him that Nini and
Ivana slept.

After dreary passing of an hour, a faint light grew over the jungle,
silver and clear, and Kirby let his mind run back to the two deserted
ape-men communities which they had found and searched before dusk sent
them to the cave. From the signs of hasty departure, it looked as though
a far-reaching order had taken the brutes away from their dwellings, and
sent them--somewhere.

That somewhere seemed likely to be the great central community which
Ivana said was rumored to exist in the far reaches of the Rorroh. The
problem was how to locate the community through the hideous country. But
Kirby presently drove the question from his head. To-morrow's evils
could best be faced when morrow dawned.

       *       *       *       *       *

Enough light had grown now so that the swirling bosom of the river, and
a strip of sand directly below the cliff in which their cave was set,
were visible. As Kirby let his eyes wander to the lush growth beyond the
sand, he heard something which made him stir uneasily. Some creature
which suggested power and hugeness immeasurable was moving there.

The brush parted, and he saw plainly an animal with the bulk of a
two-story house. On two feet the nightmare thing stood, as lightly as a
cat, and then came down on all four feet as it ambled out on the sand
and extended into the lapping river a tremendous beak studded with
teeth. A smell of crushed weeds and the musty odor like that of a lion
house filled the night. The tyranosaur--it was more like a tyranosaur
than anything else--breathed heavily and guzzled in great mouthfuls of
water.

Kirby sat perfectly still. He hoped the thing would go away. But the
tyranosaur did not go away. All at once it hissed loudly and stood up,
its eyes glowing green and baleful, and Kirby leaned forward.

From the water was slithering another creature with a gigantic,
quivering, jelly body. Kirby saw to his horror that, in addition to four
short legs with webbed, claw-tipped feet, there sprouted from the body a
number of octopus tentacles. From the scabrous mottle of the head,
cruel, unintelligent, bestial eyes glared at the rearing tyranosaur.

       *       *       *       *       *

One of the serpentine tentacles whipped out, slapped against the
tyranosaur's fore-shoulder to call forth a hiss and a short bellow. Then
other tentacles waved in the moonlight, and in a flash the tyranosaur
was enmeshed as by a score of slimy cables. He was not altogether
helpless. Suddenly the steam shovel of a beak buried itself in the jelly
body of the water animal, and there spurted out a flood of inky liquid.
The water animal emitted a sickening gurgle. But the tyranosaur's
advantage was only temporary. Closer and closer drew the ugly, scabrous
tentacles. The tyranosaur never had a chance. Its green eyes flared, the
shovel beak plunged and slashed, but never for a second did the
tentacles relax. As Kirby stared, he saw the water animal begin to back
up, dragging its gigantic enemy with it. For a second the whole night
was hideous with the sound of hisses, gurgles, dashing water. Then the
river boiled once and for all, and both animals sank in its depths.

Kirby chafed cold hands together and shivered a little, then turned to
see if Nini and Ivana had heard the struggle.

Fortunately, however, they still slept. And as if this peace which was
upon them were an omen of good, the jungle continued quiet for the next
hour. Kirby wakened them at last, and after a snatched nap, was in turn
awakened.

The three of them started again when the first glimmerings of dawn came
to the forest. Of food there was plenty--fruits which grew in profusion,
and some roots which Nini grubbed out of the earth. Having started along
the first trail which they encountered beside the river bank, they ate
as they walked.

       *       *       *       *       *

Kirby judged they had kept their steady gait for more than two hours
before a slight widening of the trail roused him from the preoccupation
into which he had fallen.

"See there," he exclaimed to both girls, and pointed at a grove of trees
with fanlike leaves which towered up to the right of the trail. "What
are those big bundles fastened to the lower limbs?"

Ivana glanced at Nini, who nodded as if in answer to a question.

"This must be one of the places where the ape-people leave their dead,"
Nini answered. "The bundles--But come over to them."

Kirby forced his way ahead until he stood beneath a huge, unsavory
bundle wrapped in roughly woven brown fibre, and wedged in a fork
between two limbs. Judging from the ugly odor which overhung the grove,
there could be no question about what the bundle contained. Nini and
Ivana, glancing at the scores of similar bundles which burdened the
trees of the whole grove, made wry faces. Kirby slung his rifle in the
crook of his arm, and nodded toward the trail.

"There must be a village somewhere near," he said.

A mile farther on they found what they were seeking, a colony of seventy
or eighty conical dwellings of mud and thatch, which were ranged in a
double circle about a central common of bare, well-trodden earth. It
took no long reconnaissance to discover that the town was deserted
completely of all inhabitants.

Ivana beckoned and darted to one of the nearest huts, and Kirby,
following her, found lying on the uneven earth floor within, a
half-skinned animal which resembled a small antelope. An obsidion knife
beside the carcass, the disordered condition of a couch of grass, the
sour odor of recent animal occupancy, all told their story.

"The owner left in a hurry," Kirby observed aloud.

Nini, who had gone beyond, to a larger hut which might have belonged to
a king ape, called out excitedly to them.

"A great number of apes have eaten a hurried meal here!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Kirby entered the shadowed, foul-smelling interior of the central hut to
find her statement true. Broken meats, some raw, some cooked, lay on the
dirt floor, and scattered bits of fruit were mingled with them. The
ashes of a burned out fire at the hut entrance were cold, but had not
been for long.

"Do you think--" Ivana began.

"I think the whole of the Duca's horde came this way, fed, and went on,
taking everyone with them," Kirby finished.

"But which direction did they take?" asked Nini, who was standing at the
door of the big hut and had already begun to examine the crowding,
green, inscrutable walls of jungle which foamed up to the clearing on
all sides.

No less than seven trails wound away into the dark country beyond, and
Kirby saw that the question would not be an easy one.

Having hastily circled the clearing and peered down one trail after
another without finding a clue, he knew that it was the Duca's
intelligence which had made the ape-people depart without leaving even
tracks behind them. He did not like the situation.

"Well," he rumbled to his companions, "we may as well take our choice.
One chance in seven of coming out right!"

But the words were hardly out of his mouth before he pulled himself up
with a jerk, and cursed himself for having given in.

"Ivana! Nini!" Sharpness, a sudden ring of hope edged his voice. "Am I
seeing things, or is that--"

       *       *       *       *       *

As he pointed to a huge aloe bush down one of the trails to their left,
they started to run. Then Kirby knew that he was not seeing things. What
his first inspection of the trails had failed to show, he saw plainly
now.

Tied loosely to one branch of the aloe bush, almost concealed amidst the
deep green of foliage, was a bit of white cloth! In a second Kirby was
holding out to his companions a tiny strip of Naida's wedding gown.

"She knew we would come!" He stared down the trail with narrowed, keen
eyes.

How Naida had contrived to leave her signal was more than they knew. The
fact that she _had_ done so, sent all three of them down the trail at
driving speed.

An hour passed, then another, and the morning which had been barely born
when they first took the trail, wore on to the sultriness and vast,
colored light of a tropical noon. Twice the main trail forked, and twice
they found an unobtrusive bit of cloth to guide them beyond the works.
When the hands of Kirby's still useful watch pointed to twelve, they
paused to eat and rest. Then they pushed on.

Meanwhile, the country through which they passed left Kirby with a clear
understanding of why Naida and her people had shunned the Rorroh forest
down the centuries of time.

Just one thing which stuck in his head was the sight of a small creature
like a marmoset, sticking an inquisitive nose into the heart of a
sickly-sweet plant which resembled a terrestrial nepenthe. No sooner had
the little pink snout touched the green and maroon splotched petals,
than the plant writhed, closed its leaves, and swallowed the monkey
whole. Little squeaks of agony and terror sounded for a moment, and
ceased.

       *       *       *       *       *

At midafternoon they paused in a spot where a forest of trees with
whorled tops were slowly being strangled to death by immense orchids of
every conceivable shape and color, and by a kind of creeping mistletoe
which grew almost as they watched. Here also, the ground was covered
with fluffy, grey-green moss which seethed constantly as if it were a
carpet of maggots. Both Ivana and Nini warned Kirby on his life not to
touch or go near the moss, and a moment later he knew why.

From the forest came the flash of a small, five-toed horse being pursued
by some animal with a hyena head that barked. At the edge of the mossy
glade the hyena swerved aside, but the terrified horse plunged straight
out on the carpet of moss. Instantly the air was filled with the sound
of animal screams, and a series of tiny, muffled explosions. A cloud of
greenish-red mist swirled about the horse. Quivering, still screaming,
the animal went down on its knees, and as the reddish green smoke fell
on him and settled, it became a mass of growing moss spores.

Before Kirby's eyes, the pitiful animal was covered by a shroud of green
that spread over him and cloaked him, licking over all with tiny sounds
like far off muffled drums as fresh spore cases developed and burst. The
screams died. Even as Kirby drew the girls to him and they passed on,
the horse's nostrils, eyes, mouth were filled with choking green moss;
and he lay still.

       *       *       *       *       *

On and on, deeper into the jungle Kirby pushed, and never for a moment
did his companions falter. But the way was not so easy now, for nerves
were jaded, muscles sore, and no human will could have been powerful
enough to cast aside the growing fear for Naida.

Fear came finally to a head when, toward dusk, Kirby sighted a fork
ahead of them, approached it confidently to look for Naida's sign, and
found nothing.

"Oh Lord!" he muttered, and realized that it was the first time any of
them had spoken for long.

"There must be something to guide us!" Ivana exclaimed as she searched
with questing eyes through the swiftly deepening gloom of evening.

Nini, making an effort to keep up hope in spite of the paleness which
came to her lovely face, darted down both paths, glancing as she went at
every bush and shrub. But she returned in a moment, and as she shook
her head, her great eyes were somber.

Kirby grunted, scratched behind his ear. Then, however, he stifled an
exclamation, and clutched at the hands of both girls.

On one of the two trails appeared suddenly in the dusk an ape-creature.
Kirby saw at once that the thing was small--a female undoubtedly--and
that it had spied them and was moving toward them with all speed. And
borne in upon him most certainly was the fact that the ape-woman was
making signals of peace. In her outstretched hand flickered through the
gloom a strip of cloth that was gauzy and white.

Again--a strip of Naida's gown.

"If you know any words of her tongue, call to her," Kirby said sharply.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ivana obeyed. All three of them started forward. The ape-woman, after
returning the hail in creaking gutturals, came up to them, and with an
unexpected look of pathos and entreaty in her face, began to address the
girls with a flood of talk.

Word after creaking word she poured out while Nini and Ivana listened in
silence. Finally Kirby could stand the suspense no longer.

"What is it, Ivana? What does she say? Your eyes are lighting up with
hope! Tell me--"

Ivana smiled and turned toward him, while the ape-woman still looked her
entreaty.

"She says," Ivana announced bluntly, "that she and the other women
amongst their people, do not want any of the girls of our race to be
taken by their males. Already the men are quarreling about Naida. They
will not look at their own women. Naida told this woman that we would be
following, and sent her to lead us to the place where the ape-people are
assembling!"

Kirby felt his lips tightening in a grim smile at the thought that
jealousy was not unknown even to the semi-human creatures of this
neither world. He looked at Nini and Ivana during a stretched out
second. Then he moved.

"Good," he snapped. "We go on at once."

That was his only recognition of what was surely one of the important
happenings of a lifetime. But for all that, his tired brain, which so
lately had felt the chill of black depression, was suddenly set on fire
with triumph and thanksgiving.


CHAPTER XII

As they marched rapidly, the ape-woman, who called herself Gori,
succeeded in making them understand that most of the ape-tribes,
commanded by the Duca and his caciques, were assembled in the central
community toward which they were heading, that grave danger of some sort
threatened Naida, and that the need for haste was great. But what the
danger was, the two girls could not understand.

"We can't make out what is going to happen--what they plan to do
to-night," Ivana whispered at last to Kirby. "All Gori says is that we
must rescue Naida and take her away, and must take the Duca away so that
he cannot influence the men any more. And she keeps repeating that we
must hurry."

"And you can't find out what we must rescue Naida _from_?"

Ivana shook her head.

"I'm afraid we're facing something of an appalling nature, as dangerous
to ourselves as to Naida. But I know nothing more."

By the time the silver glow which corresponded to moonlight flooded the
jungle, Gori had left the open trail, and was leading them across
country which humans could not have negotiated without the guidance she
offered. Advancing cautiously always, she stopped for long seconds at a
time to reconnoitre, shifting her huge ears about and changing their
shape, twitching her nostrils, and glancing hither and thither with
bright little eyes. Sometimes they passed immense spike-tipped flowers
ten feet in diameter, with fleshy yellow leaves which gave out a
nauseating stench. Vines with long, recurved thorns and blossoms of deep
scarlet, laced the undergrowth together and made passing dangerous.
Fire-flies drifted past, and all above and about them flapped moths as
big as bats.

Kirby, his clothes almost torn from his body, sweat pouring from every
pore, heard the labored breathing of the girls, and wondered how they
could hang on. But they did, and after a long time, Gori, halting in the
midst of a slight clearing, held up a warning hand.

       *       *       *       *       *

A queer sensation came over Kirby. As he stared and listened, he
realized that the twinkles he saw far ahead were not fire-flies, as he
had thought, but lights. In the frosted moon glow, Nini and Ivana drew
close, and Kirby clasped their hands and pressed them for a second. Too
tired to exult further he was, even though they seemed close to their
goal of goals.

Gori swung her hairy arm in a signal, and with rifles clasped carefully,
they began to advance. When, five minutes later, they stood in the heart
of a rank glade beyond which they could see nothing, Gori spoke to the
two girls in her creaking whisper, and Nini laid a restraining hand on
Kirby's.

"We have gone as far as Gori dares! She says we must climb a tree here,
and watch what will go on in a clearing just beyond this thicket."

"And we still don't know what we're getting into," Kirby muttered.

But at any rate they had reached the end of their march.

Exultation did come to Kirby now, but still he was too completely
fagged, as were both girls, to give much sign. Gori pointed to a tree
some fifty feet away, which shot up to a great, foliage-crowned height.
They moved toward it, and in a moment were climbing, Gori first, the
girls after her, and Kirby last.

"Here we are," Ivana presently whispered, at the same time drawing
herself out on a limb just beneath one on which Gori and Nini had
crawled.

Kirby found himself hedged in by tasselated leaves through which he
could not see. The foliage thinned, however, and soon Ivana halted,
perched herself in a comfortable position. Kirby, making himself at ease
beside her, and seeing that Nini and Gori were in place, turned his eyes
slowly, expectantly downward.

       *       *       *       *       *

At first, all that he saw from his bird's-eye perch, was a circular
clearing two hundred yards across, which was surrounded on all sides by
lowering jungle. In the exact center of the circle, like a splotch of
ink on gray paper, there gaped a deep hole which might have measured six
feet in diameter. Around this hole, eight poles as tall and stout as
telephone poles stood up in bristling array. The moonlight showed that
the whitish earth of the clearing was tamped smooth as though thousands
of creatures had danced or walked about there for centuries. But not a
living form was visible.

A grunt of disappointment escaped Kirby after that one look. When he
looked beyond the clearing, however, a change came to his feelings.

A quarter of a mile away, lights were twinkling--the same ones which had
been visible on the last stretch of the journey. And the moonlight
touched the little conical roofs of fully two hundred huts of the
ape-people. No sound was audible save the soughing of night wind in the
trees, the shrilling of insects. Nevertheless, there stole over Kirby
all at once a feeling that the great ape-village was crowded to
overflowing. What was more, he felt himself touched by an eery
sensation--familiar these days--of evil to come.

Ivana, seated with her rifle across her knees, stirred on the limb
beside him.

"Oh," she whispered suddenly, "I am afraid of this place!"

Kirby took her hand.

"I know. Maybe it is the sensation of all the legions of the apes herded
together so silently in their village. I wish we knew what to expect
from them. I wish--"

       *       *       *       *       *

But he broke off, and called softly to Nini on the limb above. She
looked down with a drawn expression about her mouth.

"Are you all right?" Kirby whispered.

"Yes. But--Well, are both of _you_ all right? Gori says we have reached
here in time, but I--" A gasp of uneasiness escaped her, and Kirby heard
Ivana echo it. "There is something about that black, silent hole out
there in the clearing, and about those poles sticking up like fangs,
that makes me terribly, terribly afraid. Oh, what are they planning?
Where is Naida? What are they going to do to her?"

Kirby whistled in a low key. He had not thought about the black hole in
the clearing.

"Hum," he muttered, "that's interesting. Ivana, Nini, what do you
suppose--"

But he got no answer. Gori's twitching lips grimaced them to silence.

The next instant, the stillness of the night was hurled aside by a
howling, gurgling shout from a hundred, a thousand hysterically
distended ape throats. With the sickening sound came from the village
the sullen roaring of drums.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ten minutes later, a Kirby who was cold with apprehension and wonder
looked down from his leaf-crowned height at such a spectacle as he knew
human eyes had never before seen. The shouting had died away, the drums
were silenced. Crammed into the clearing, their foul, hairy bodies
packed close together, the silver light glinting against rolling red
eyes and grinning white teeth, stood fully a thousand apes!

Once the first tumult of shouting in the village had died, they had come
on in silence, and in orderly procession. Those who bore the
drums--huge gourds with heads of stretched skin--had formed a line
entirely around the outer diameter of the circular clearing. Then
others, lugging vats of a dark, heady-smelling liquor, had deposited
their burden beside the drums, and formed a second circle. The balance
of the thousand had crowded itself together as best it might, leaving
bare the center of the clearing with its black hole and fangs of poles.
Kirby, looking down at these legions, did not wonder that cold sweat
wetted his back.

Capable of thinking about only one thing--Naida--he was trying with all
his strength not to think. Ivana, her face blanched in the light which
filtered their camouflage of leaves, sat rigid, her hands locked about
her cold rifle. On the branch above, Nini and Gori were as still as
mummies. No one had spoken since the vanguard of apes had appeared.

But at last Nini leaned close to Kirby.

"Have you any idea of what all this means?"

A draught of hot night air carried up a stench of drunkenness, and the
goaty odor of massed animal bodies.

"No," Kirby whispered. "I suppose, from Gori's having brought us here,
that Naida is going to appear somehow. We've simply got to trust that
Gori knows what she is about."

"But listen--" Ivana suppressed a shudder. "Suppose they should bring
Naida here presently to force her to take part in some ceremony at which
we can only guess. Gori, who thinks we can work miracles, supposes we
can rescue Naida. But I--I'm not so certain. Is there _anything_ we can
do?"

       *       *       *       *       *

It was exactly that question which had made Kirby fight to keep himself
from thinking. His face turned gray before he answered. But answer he
did, finally.

"Yes, there is one thing we can do, Ivana. We've got to be frank with
each other, and so far, this is the _only_ thing I've been able to
figure out. If Naida is brought here, and they make any move to harm her
or torture her, we can, and we will, shoot her quickly, before harm or
pain comes."

A grim silence settled once more. During the last miles of march in the
jungle, there had persisted in Kirby's heart the hope that there would
be at least _something_ favorable in whatever situation they might
encounter. His spirits were so low now that he dared not speak again.

Amongst the noiseless sea of ape-men below them came, every now and
again, a little ripple of motion as some anthropoid shadow fell out of
his place, approached the liquor vats, and swilled down the black brew,
a quart at a gulp. But mostly there was little commotion. Ivana drew a
sibilant breath and said that she wished something would happen.

"I wish," Kirby answered tensely, "that we knew _what_ is going to
happen."

But the nightmare waiting was not to go on forever. Kirby leaned forward
and pointed.

It was only instinct that had made him know action must come. For a
second, no change in the expression of the ape-men, no movement in their
crammed ranks, was visible. Then, however, a queer, subdued grunting
rumbled deep down in many throats, and those who had faced the
hundred-foot space in the center of the clearing squatted down on their
hams.

In the back of the crowd necks were craned. The stronger shoved the
weaker in an effort to get a better view of the cleared stage, and a few
ape-men who had been drinking hurried on unsteady legs to their places.

"The drums!" Kirby whispered then.

       *       *       *       *       *

With almost military precision, the scores of leather-faced creatures
who had led the procession into the clearing, clasped the skin-headed
gourds to their shaggy bellies, and stood with free arm raised as
though awaiting a signal. Nini moved in her position, and Kirby felt
Ivana shiver and edge close to him.

From the front rank of the crowd, there sprang up a great male creature
with the face of a gargoyle and the body of a jungle giant. Just once he
reeled on his feet, as though black alcohol had befuddled him, then he
steadied himself, flung both arms above his head, and rolled out a
command which burst upon Kirby's ears like thunder.

It was as if the whole cavern of the lower world, and the whole of the
round earth itself, had been rocked uneasily, dreadfully by the
bellowing, crashing explosion of the drums. Maddened by the turmoil he
had let loose, the gargoyle-faced giant ape-man leered about him with
blood-shot, drunken eyes, and beat on his cicatrized chest with massive
fists. Suddenly he let out a bellow. Straight up into the air he sprang
in a wild leap. When he came down, he was dancing, and the portentious,
the sickeningly mysterious ceremony for which such solemn preparation
had been made, was begun.

Kirby drew a rasping breath. Knowing that there must be some definite
reason for the dance having begun just when and as it had, he looked
beyond the solitary dancing giant, on beyond the crowded legions of the
apes, toward the village. There, where the main trail from the community
approached the clearing, he saw precisely the thing which he had both
hoped desperately and dreaded terribly to find.

       *       *       *       *       *

Headed directly toward the clearing, moving down the trail with slow,
majestic pace, came a procession headed by a bodyguard of ape-men and
augmented by other men whose nakedness was covered by unmistakable,
unforgetable priestly robes of gray.

All at once the ape-people in the clearing began to scuffle apart,
opening a lane down which the procession might pass to the central
stage with its dancer, its ink spot orifice, and its fangs of tall
poles. Kirby, watching the congregation, watching the majestic approach
of gray robes through the night, wiped away from his forehead a sweat of
fear.

"I think," Nini called in a voice pitched high to outsound the drums,
"that the--the Duca is with them!"

"Yes." Kirby pointed jerkily. "In the middle of the procession, there,
surrounded by his caciques!"

The Duca!

Yet his approach did not hold Kirby. Directly behind the priests were
emerging now from the jungle a new company of ape-men. Squinting his
eyes, Kirby saw that two of them were lugging on a pole across their
shoulders a curious burden--a sort of monstrous bird cage of barked
withes. Crouched on the floor of the cage in a little motionless, white
heap--

But Kirby closed his eyes. Ivana, cowering against him, gulped as though
she were going to be sick. Nini leaned down from above and looked at
them with dilated eyes. Although none of them spoke, all knew that they
had found Naida at last.

Kirby was the first to pull himself up. Opening his eyes, he stared long
at the white gowned, motionless shape within the cage. Next summing up
the whole situation--the cage surrounded by an armed band, the clearing
crammed with a thousand ape-men--he shook his head. Afterward, he made a
quick movement with his hands.

Ivana, seeing that movement, seeing the expression on his face, started
out of her daze.

"No! No! Oh, there must be some other way out for her! There must--"

       *       *       *       *       *

Her cry, half a shriek, did not change Kirby's look. What he had done
with his hands was to throw a shell into the chamber of his rifle. Now
he held the rifle grimly, ready to carry it to his shoulder.

The procession with the bodyguard of ape-men at its head, the renegade
Duca and his caciques following next, and the cage bringing up the rear,
advanced relentlessly down the lane to the central stage. The
gargoyle-faced ape-man who held the stage alone danced with increasing
wildness, writhing, twisting, with weird suppleness. Upon the dancing
giant the procession bore down, and before him it finally halted.

The halt left the Duca and the king ape facing each other, and the ape
ended his dance. After each had given a salute made by raising their
arms, both Duca and the king ape turned to face the creatures who were
standing with the cage slung across their shoulders. Whereupon the
bearers of the cage advanced with it until they stood between two of the
tall poles. There, facing the ominous hole in the center of the
clearing, with a pole on either side of them, the ape-men lowered the
cage to the ground.

Kirby felt his last hope and courage ebbing. Now he noticed that each
pole was equipped with a rope which passed through a hole near its top,
like a thread through the eye of a needle. And while he stared at the
dangling ropes, the ape-men made one end of each fast to a ring in the
top of the cage. The next instant they leaped back, and began to heave
at the other end of the lines.

From the drums came a quicker pounding, a more head-splitting volume of
thunder. Over all the ape-people who watched the show, passed a shiver
of what seemed to be whole-souled, ecstatic satisfaction. Slowly, as the
two ape-men heaved hard, the cage swung off the ground, and slowly rose
higher and higher into the moonlit air.

       *       *       *       *       *

When finally the thing hung high above the heads of the multitude,
swaying midway between its tall supports, the ape-men who had done the
hoisting fastened their lines to cleats on the poles. Then they turned
to the Duca and the giant king who stood behind them, executed a queer,
lumbering bow, and fell back to the rear.

The next moment it seemed as though every creature in the clearing--men
and those who were only half men--had gone crazy. The king flung himself
into the air as if he were a mass of bounding rubber. Following his
lead, the whole assembly let out howls that drowned even the drums, and
then began to sway, to squirm, to leap, even as their king was doing
before them.

The caciques and the Duca joined in the madness of foul dancing as
heartily as any there. Their eyes were flaming, their long robes
flapping, their beards streaming.

On his perch in the tree Kirby muttered an oath which was lost, swept
away like a breath, in the shrieking turmoil of sound. Then he turned to
Ivana.

"They've brought Naida here to sacrifice her."

"But _why_?" Ivana's sweet face was frozen in lines of horror. "I've
been able to guess what was going to happen to her. But--_sacrifice_.
Why will it be that?"

"Don't you see?" Looking up to include Nini, Kirby found his hands
quivering against his rifle. "It is easy to understand. In the temple
yesterday, what the Duca hoped to do was to kidnap most, or all, of the
girls for the ape-people. But he was able to get only Naida. The first
result was that the ape-men started to quarrel over the one girl. From
what Gori says, trouble started on all sides at once. It became
inadvisable to let Naida live. So the Duca, in his shrewdness, planned a
sacrifice. By sacrificing Naida, he rids himself of a source of
contention amongst the ape-men. He also hopes his act will win favor
from his Gods, and make them help him when he is ready to launch a new
attempt to capture _all_ the girls."

       *       *       *       *       *

Ivana and Nini looked at each other, then at Kirby, and horror was
etched deeper into their faces.

"I think," gulped Ivana, "that you--are right. I--begin to understand."

Nini leaned close to them.

"Tell us, then, _how_ this sacrifice is to be made."

Silent at that, Kirby presently made a heavy gesture toward the
maelstrom of howling, leaping animals below them.

"I couldn't guess at first. Now I think I can. They have placed her in
that cage and swung it high above the black hole you were afraid of.
What can that mean except that she is to be offered to--to--"

It was a monstrous theory which had stunned his hope and courage, and to
voice the thing in words was too gruesome.

His bare suggestion, however, made Ivana pass a hand limply over her
forehead and look at him with blank, stricken eyes. Nini tottered so
uncertainly that Gori, who had remained motionless and silent
throughout, had to steady her with muscular arms. If it was impossible
for Kirby to utter his fears aloud, he had no need to speak to make them
understood.

"And--and we can do nothing?" Nini choked at last.

"You can see for yourself how she is surrounded. If we had been able to
get here sooner, we might have done something. Now--"

Kirby's voice trailed off, and he gave an agonized look at his rifle.

       *       *       *       *       *

The terrific dance in the clearing was going forward with madness which
increased second by second. It had been a general debauch at first, with
the whole thousand of the apes bellowing and squirming. Now a change was
becoming apparent. Red eyes which had caught the glare of ultimate
madness, focused upon the caciques, the Duca, and the great king, all of
whom were swaying together on the central stage. As they looked, the
horde of ape-men broke loose with a heightened frenzy of noise and
movement too overwhelming for Kirby to follow. He leaned forward, making
an effort to see what actions of Duca and king could be so influencing
the congregation. And then he saw.

Both of those central figures, the one with hair-covered giant's body
and evilly grimacing face, the other with white robes and whipping
silver hair, were definitely emulating the motions of a serpent!

It was as if the angles and joints had disappeared from their bodies.
They were become gliding lengths of muscle as swift, as loathsome in
their supple dartings and coilings as any snake lashing across the
expanses of primeval jungle. Lost in what they did, unconscious of the
nightmare, demoniac legion before which they danced, they had eyes only
for the empty, ominous hole beneath Naida's cage. As they circled the
hole, drawing ever and ever closer to it, they opened and closed their
arms with the motion of great serpent jaws biting and striking.

"God in Heaven!" Kirby cried in a voice which shrilled with horror and
then broke.

It was not alone the Duca's dance which had wrung the shout from him. As
Nina and Ivana shrieked and cowered, as Gori twitched, gasped, buried
her head in trembling arms, Kirby knew that Naida was fully aware of
what was going on--had been, perhaps, from the beginning.

Slowly, numbly she raised herself from her huddled position, rose to her
knees, and clutching with despairing hands at the sides of her cage,
looked out from between the bars.

       *       *       *       *       *

The king and Duca edged closer to the hole until they were dancing upon
its very brink. From that position, they stared down into the depths,
their faces tense and strained. And then their look became radiant,
exalted, joyous. Suddenly the Duca leaped back. He shrieked something
at the gargoyle ape, and they flung their arms high in a commanding,
mighty signal which was directed across the nightmare legion of ape-men,
to the drums.

As Kirby winced in expectancy, the drums ceased to roar. Over the night
smashed a hideous concussion of silence, deafening, absolute. And the
ape-men--all of them--and the Duca, his caciques, and the king, ceased
to dance. As if a whirlwind had hurled them, the caciques scattered in
all directions. The Duca, having already leaped back from the gaping
orifice, suddenly turned and ran with blurred speed over to the
slobbering, deadly still front rank of the congregation. An instant
later the king crouched down beside him, and the whole stage was left
bare and deserted.

Kirby gave one look at Naida, found her staring down, deeper and deeper
down, into the hole which yawned beneath her so blackly. Then Kirby
lowered his eyes until he, too, stared at the opening.

Amidst the pressing silence there stole from the earth an uneasy sound
as of some immense thing waking and stirring. Came a hissing note as of
escaping steam. The tribes of the ape-men waited in silent rapture.
Kirby saw Naida still looking down, and felt Ivana crouch against him,
fainting. He held his rifle tighter, and continued to stare.

Something red, like two small flames, licked up above the edge of the
pit. Then Kirby gasped and all but went limp. Up and out into the
moonlight slid a glistening white lump that moved from side to side and
licked at the night with flickering black and red tipped forked tongue.

The glistening white lump was the head of Quetzalcoatl, buried God of
the People of the Temple. It was wider and bigger than an elephant's,
and the round snake body could not have been encircled by a man's two
arms. Kirby guessed at the probable length of the Serpent in terms of
hundreds of feet.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sick, numb, he glanced at Naida, who was still staring silently, and
hitched his rifle half up to his shoulder. But he did not look down the
sights yet. Although it was time, and more than time, that he fired, he
would not do it until the last possible second, when nothing else
remained.

Slowly from the hole slid a fifteen or twenty-foot column of the body,
and Quetzalcoatl, thus reared, looked about him with a pair of eyes
immense and not like snake's eyes, but heavily lidded and lashed; eyes
that stared in a wise, evil way; eyes glittering and round and black as
ink. After a time the mouth opened in a silent snarl, showing great
white fangs and recurved simitars of teeth. The head was snow white,
leperous in its scabby, scaly roughness, with here and there a patch of
what looked like greenish fungus. From the rounded body trailed a short,
unnatural, sickening growth of--feathers. Old and evil and very wise the
Feathered Serpent seemed as his forked tongue flickered in and out and
he stared at the ape horde, who stared back silently.

He seemed in no hurry to devote his attention to the cage set forth for
his delectation. The black eyes rolled beneath their lashes, staring now
at the Duca in his robes, and again at the huddled ape-people. But after
ghastly seconds, Quetzalcoatl at last had seen enough.

Again the moonlight glinted against simitar teeth as the great, white,
puffy mouth yawned in its silent snarl. Quetzalcoatl reared his head a
little higher, slid further from his hole, and then looked up at the
dangling cage of barked withes.

In Kirby's mind stirred cloudily a remembrance of moments in the past:
the feel of Naida's first kiss, her look as they advanced to the altar
in the temple. Then he saw things as they were now, with Naida
surrounded by all the tribes of the apes, and with Quetzalcoatl staring
from beneath heavily lidded lashes at the whiteness of her.

Suddenly Kirby stirred to free his shoulder of Ivana's supine weight
against it, and he made himself look down his rifle. He let the breath
half out of his lungs, and nursed the trigger.

       *       *       *       *       *

But he did not fire.

All at once he started so violently that he almost hurtled from the
tree. Suddenly, trembling, he lowered his rifle.

"Oh, thank God!" he yelped in the silence of the night.

The idea which had transformed him was perhaps the conception of a
lunatic. But it was still an idea, and offered a chance.

Again Kirby peered down his rifle. But he no longer aimed at Naida. As
Quetzalcoatl lifted white fangs, Kirby aimed deliberately at him, and
turned loose his fire.

With the first shot, the Serpent lurched back from the cage, snapped his
jaws, and closed evil, black eyes. From one lidded socket squirted dark
blood. As a second and third shot crashed into the cavernous fanged
mouth, and others ripped into the flat skull, Quetzalcoatl seemed dazed.
His head wavered back and forth and his hiss filled the night, but he
did nothing.

But all at once Kirby felt that he was _going_ to do something in a
second, and a great calm came upon him. He quickly jammed home a fresh
clip of shells.

"Nini! Ivana! Fire at the Serpent. Give him everything you've got! Do
you understand? Fire! He thinks that the ape-people have hurt him, and
he will be after them in a second. If we have any luck, he will do to
them what we never could have done, and maybe destroy himself at the
same time! Me, I'm going down there and get Naida now!"


CHAPTER XIII

No sooner did Kirby see comprehension in the girls' faces than he swung
around and let go of his perch. As he crashed, caught the next limb
below him, and let go to crash to another, he had all he could do to
suppress a yelp of joy. For all at once every voice in the ape
congregation was raised in howls and screams of devastated terror.

He did not care how he got down from the tree. Seconds and half seconds
were what counted. From the last limb above the ground he swung into
space, and a split second later staggered to his feet, clutched his
rifle, and started for the clearing. His lungs seemed collapsed and both
ankles shattered. He did not care. Not when the ape screams were growing
louder with every step he took. Not when he heard Nini and Ivana pouring
down from their tree a continuation of the scorching fire he had
started.

Panting, his breath only half regained, but steeled to make the fight of
his life, he tore from the jungle into the clearing just in time to see
a twisting, pain-convulsed seventy-foot coil of white muscle lash up and
strike Naida's cage a blow which knocked it like a ball in the air.
Naida screamed and hung to the bars.

But she was all right. It was not against her that Quetzalcoatl was
venting his wrath: the blow had been blind accident. As Kirby stood at
the clearing's edge, he knew to a certainty that Quetzalcoatl's reaction
to sudden pain had been all he had dared hope.

In front of him forty or fifty ape-bodies lay in a crushed heap. While
yard after yard of the Serpent's bleached length streamed out of the
hole, the hundreds of feet of coils already in the clearing suddenly
whipped about a whole squadron of ape-men, and with a few constrictions
annihilated them as if they had been ants. Across the clearing, the
leperous head reared up as high as the trees and swooped down, fangs
gleaming. The howls of the ape-men trying to flee, the screams of those
who had been caught, rose until they became all one scream.

       *       *       *       *       *

But Kirby had not left the safety of the tree merely to get a ringside
view of carnage. He faced his next, his final task unhesitatingly.
Straight out he leaped from the shadows of the jungle into the clearing,
out into the presence of the beleagured, screaming ape-men. Well enough
he knew that those creatures, despite their frenzy, might sight him and
fall upon him at any second; well enough he knew that a single flick of
the white coils all over the clearing could crush him instantly. But the
time to worry about those hazards would be when they beset him. With a
yell as piercing as any in the whole bedlam, Kirby rushed forward.

High up in the moonlit vault of the night, swaying between the two poles
which supported it, hung the white cage which was Naida's prison. By the
time Kirby had sprinted fifty yards, he knew that his yells had reached
Naida. For she staggered to her knees and looked straight at him. A
second later, though, he realized that the almost inevitable recognition
of him by ape-men had come to pass.

Eight or ten of the creatures, left unmolested for a second by the
Serpent, halted in the mad run they were making for the sheltering
jungle, and while one pointed with hairy arm, the others let out
shrieks. Kirby gritted his teeth in something like despair. Then he
realized that the worst danger--Quetzalcoatl's blurred coils--was not
threatening him so far. And he went on, straight toward the ape-men.

He did not look where, how, or at whom he struck. All he knew was that
his rifle blazed, and as he clubbed at soft flesh with the butt, blood
spurted, and new screams filled the night. He felt and half saw big,
stinking bodies going down, and clawed his way forward, around them,
over them. Then he felt no more bodies, and knew that he was through. A
little farther he ran over the trampled earth, and stopped and looked
up.

The howls of the living, the shrieks of the dying deafened him. Renewed
shots from the rifles in the tree, made the Serpent lash about in a
dazzling white blur, smashing trees, apes, everything in its path. But
Kirby, finding himself still safe, scarcely heard or saw. His eyes,
turned upward, saw one thing only.

"Naida!"

       *       *       *       *       *

She had snapped two of the withes of the cage and was leaning forward
through the opening. Her face was livid with horror and exhaustion, but
she was able to look at him with eyes that glowed.

"You--you came!" she gasped. "You came to me!"

In a flash Kirby jumped over to the poles and began to cast off one of
the lines which held the cage aloft.

"Get ready for a bump!" he shouted, as he lowered away, arms straining.

Paying out the one line left the cage suspended from the second, but let
it sweep from its position between the poles, down toward one pole. As
the thing struck the tall support, Kirby bounded over to stand beneath
it, only too sharply aware of the death waiting for him on every side,
but ignoring it. Naida still hung suspended a good twenty feet above
him, but there was no time to let go the other line. He braced himself
and held up his arms.

"Jump!" he yelled.

Then he saw the white gown sweeping down toward him, felt the crash of a
soft body against his, and staggered back. Recovered in a tenth of a
second, he drew a deep breath, and looked at Naida beside him, tall and
brave, unhurt.

"Are you able to run?" he snapped, and then, the moment she nodded,
motioned toward the jungle.

Behind them, in front, on all sides, rose screams so horrible that he
wondered even then if he would ever forget. As he started to run, he
realized that when Naida had finally landed in his arms, the nearest
squirming loop of the Serpent had been no more than four yards away, and
that, right now, if their luck failed, a single unfortunate twist of the
incredible hundreds of feet of white muscle could still end things for
them.

       *       *       *       *       *

But luck was not going to fail. Somehow Kirby knew it as they sprinted
side by side, and the sheltering jungle loomed closer every second. And
a moment later, something beside his own inner faith made him know it,
too.

"Look, Naida! Look!" he screeched all at once.

At the upper end of the clearing, where an unthinkable slaughter was
going on, there leaped out from amongst a surging mass of apes, leaped
out from almost directly beneath a downward smashing blur of white snake
folds, a figure which Kirby had not seen or thought about for many
seconds.

The Duca's robe hung in tatters from his body. Blood had smeared his
white hair. His eyes were those of a man gone mad from fear. And as he
escaped the tons of muscle which so nearly had engulfed him, he began to
run even as Kirby felt himself running.

Straight toward him and Naida, Kirby saw the man spurt, but whether the
mad eyes recognized them or not, he could not tell, nor did he care. All
at once his feeling that they would escape the clearing, became
conviction.

For suddenly the same single twitch of Quetzalcoatl's vast folds which
might have finished them, if luck had not held, put an end to the Duca's
retreat. At one moment the man's path was clear. The next--

Kirby, running for dear life, gasped, and heard Naida cry out beside
him.

The great loops flashed, twisted, and where had been an open way for
the Duca, loomed a wall of scaly white flesh. The living wall twitched,
closed in; and as the Duca dodged and leaped to no avail, a cry shrilled
across the night--a cry that cut like a knife.

       *       *       *       *       *

Kirby saw no more. But it was likely that most, if not all, of the
caciques had gone with the Duca.

Somehow, anyhow, in but a few seconds more, Kirby dove into the spot
from which he had left the jungle to enter the clearing. As Naida
pressed against him, winded but still strong, he found his best hopes
for immediate retreat realized, for Gori, Nini, and Ivana, down from
their tree, ran toward them.

"She is all right," he said with a gesture which cut short the outbursts
ready to come. "But we've got to keep going. Ivana, tell Gori that her
people are gone, wiped out, but that if she will cast her lot with us,
we will not forget what she has done. Come on!"

With Gori leading them they ran, stumbling, recovering themselves,
stumbling again. To breathe became an agony. But not until many minutes
later, when they plowed into the cover of a fern belt whose blackness
not even the moonlight had pierced, did Kirby call a halt.

Here he swept a final glance behind him, listened long for sounds of
pursuit, and relaxed a little only when none came to disturb the night
stillness. However, that relaxation, now that he permitted it at last,
meant something.

The complete silence gave him final conviction that what he had said
about the whole ape-people being destroyed was true. As for the
Serpent--well, perhaps he was destroyed even as they were. Perhaps not.
In any case the grip which Quetzalcoatl held upon the imagination of the
People of the Temple had been destroyed by this night's work, and that
was what counted most. The Serpent would be worshipped no longer.

       *       *       *       *       *

Kirby reached out in the darkness and found Naida's hand.

"Come along," he said to all of the party. "I think the past is--the
past. And with Gori to guide us out of the jungle, and our own brains to
guide us through the jungle of self-government after that, I think the
future ought to be bright enough."

Ivana and Nini both chuckled as they moved again, and Gori, hearing her
name spoken in a kindly voice, twitched her ears appreciatively. Naida
drew very close to Kirby.

"What are you thinking about?" she asked presently.

"The--temple," he answered.

"About the crown which probably is still lying on the altar there?"

Kirby looked up in surprise.

"Why, I had forgotten about that!"

"What was it, then?"

"But what could I have been thinking about except how you looked when we
came together in that gloomy place, and walked forward, side by side?
_Now_ have I told you enough?"

Naida laughed.

"There is so much to be done!" Kirby exclaimed then. "As soon as
possible, we must climb to the Valley of the Geyser, go on into the
outer world, and there seek carefully for men who are willing, and fit,
to come here. And that is only one task. Others come crowding to me
every second. But first--"

"What?" Naida asked softly.

"The temple. Naida, we will reach the plateau sometime to-morrow. All of
the girls who kept watch there will be waiting for us, and it will be a
time of happiness. May we not, then, go to the temple? There will be no
priests. But we will make our pledges without them. Tell me, may I hope
that it will be so--to-morrow?"

Naida did not answer at once. She did not even nod. But presently her
shoulder, still fragrant with faint perfume, brushed his. She clasped
his hand then, and as they walked on in silence, Kirby knew.



The Reader's Corner

[Illustration: The Readers' Corner

A Meeting Place for Readers of
Astounding Stories]


"Literature"

Dear Editor:

After comparison with various other magazines which specialize in the
publication of Science Fiction, we--The Scientific Fiction Library
Ass'n, of 1457 First Ave., New York City--have found that your magazine,
Amazing Stories, publishes stories to which the term "literature" may be
applied in its real sense. A fine example of this is the story "Murder
Madness," by Murray Leinster. Others of the finer novels are: "The
Beetle Horde," by Victor Rousseau, and, up to the present installment,
"Earth, the Marauder," by Arthur J. Burks. "Brigands of the Moon," by
Ray Cummings, was interesting and well-written, but it was not
literature (not a story which you will remember and read over again). Of
the shorter stories, the novelettes, the best are: "Spawn of the Stars,"
by Charles W. Diffin, "Monsters of Moyen," by Arthur J. Burks, and "The
Atom Smasher," by Victor Rousseau.

Since the magazine started, there are only three stories that did not
belong in the magazine, and were not even interesting. These are: "The
Corpse on the Grating," by Hugh B. Cave; "The Stolen Mind," by M.
Staley, and the last (I wonder that the editors who used such good sense
in picking the other finer stories, let it pass), "Vampires of Venus,"
by Anthony Pelcher. May you keep up the high standard of fiction you are
publishing at present.--Nathan Greenfeld, 873 Whitlock Ave., New York
City.


You See--It Didn't!

Dear Editor:

Firstly, let me say that I am sending a year's subscription to
Astounding Stories, which will tell you that they are good.

On the average, the stories are of good literary merit and plot.
However, there is one thing that seems to be getting rather pushed
into the background and that is the second part of your title,
"Super-Science." If this is to be a Science Fiction magazine let us have
it so. I am kicking against stories like "Murder Madness" and the like.
They are really excellent in every way but just need that tincture of
a little scientific background to make them super-excellent. "Brigands
of the Moon" and "The Moon Master" seem to me more the type of story
"our mag" should publish, from its name.

No doubt this criticism will leave you cold and this effusion find its
way into the nearest waste paper basket, but I find that a number of
your readers in Australia think somewhat the same as I do.

More brickbats--I hope not! and more bouquets--I hope so! the next time
I write.--N.W. Alcock, 5 Gaza Rd., Naremburn, N.S.W., Australia.


Not in de Head!!

Dear Editor:

I shall be glad to take advantage of your cordial invitation to come
over to "The Readers' Corner." In the first place, I find your magazine
the best of its kind on the market, and you are to be congratulated on
having such excellent authors as Ray Cummings, Murray Leinster and
Captain S. P. Meek. Nevertheless, there are so many things to be
criticized that I hardly know where to begin.

Let's start of with stories of future warfare. Although this class is
potentially one of the most interesting, it is at the same time one of
the most abused. Ray Cummings can write classics in this field, but the
efforts of most the others are atrocities. I'll wager that their
favorite childhood sport was mowing down whole regiments of lead
soldiers with oxy-acetylene torches. It shows in their writings. Why
can't they think of something original? Why can't they make their
stories logical? The merits of a story are not dependent on the number
of people wiped out by one blast of a death ray! But they all stick to
the same old plot. A merciless but well-meaning scientist, or hordes
from a foreign planet, wipe out thousands of American citizens at one
blow. Hundreds of airplanes are disintegrated before they discover that
the enemy is invulnerable. An ultimatum in domineering tones gives the
terror-stricken populace forty-eight hours in which to surrender. But,
all unknown to the dastardly villains, an obscure young scientist labors
to save his country and the girl he loves. Fifteen minutes before the
time set in the ultimatum he perfects a new weapon that soon sends the
invaders to their well merited fate.

Surely you realize how ridiculous the whole affair is. It is only
slightly less nauseating than the plot used in the stories of advanced
civilizations where the hero is conducted on a sight-seeing tour by the
individual in whose path he popped upon entering this new world. I can't
believe that more than a handful of my fellow beings are of such low
intelligence that they can find enjoyment in such trash. You will notice
that although every reader has a different list of favorite authors, Ray
Cummings has his name in practically every list. He is easily your
favorite author. Ray Cummings does not wipe out whole cities at one
time. His heroes do not save the world by inventing a new weapon at a
moment's notice. His wars are not of forty-eight hours' duration. His
conquerors do not attempt to win the war by one great attack on New York
City. Do try to have your authors write logical stories.

I would now like to criticize the love element in your stories. I do not
claim that there should be none whatever from cover to cover of your
magazine, but I do claim that there should be none unless it really
helps the plot. Most of your authors seem to think that a girl is
necessary in every plot and so they bring her in, disregarding the fact
that they do not know how to handle such material. The way it stands
now, the heroine is introduced in a lame, routine fashion; is rescued
once or twice; and accepts the hero as a husband in an altogether lame
fashion.

There are many other points but they can wait. Logical war stories, no
Utopias or sight-seeing tours, sensible love element, plus your present
policy will make a corking magazine.--Philip Waite, 3400 Wayne Ave., New
York, N.Y.


No Present Plans

Dear Editor:

Thanks for the new color cover. It certainly is a big improvement. The
picture on the front of "our" magazine was just as astounding as the
story by R. F. Starzl from which it was drawn. Let's have more stories
from the pen of Mr. Starzl.

In my opinion "Beyond the Heaviside Layer" is the best story I have read
in Astounding Stories to date. I am very pleased that you intend to
print a sequel to it.

Now I would like to ask you a question. Do you intend to print an Annual
or Quarterly, or do think you will ever enlarge the size of this
magazine? I don't care so much whether you enlarge the magazine or not,
but I certainly would like to read an Annual or Quarterly.

Even though this letter meets the fate of thousands of other such
letters and sees the inside of your wastebasket, I will at least have
had the pleasure of writing to you and wishing "our" magazine success to
the nth degree.--Forrest J. Ackerman, 236-½ N. New Hampshire, Los
Angeles, Calif.


"Excellent" to "So-So"

Dear Editor:

I notice a large number of subscribers are giving their opinions of
Astounding Stories. I hate to be with the crowd, but I have to side with
the majority in this case and say it's just about right.

My favorite writers are R. F. Starzl (that "Planet of Dread" was a
peach). Chas. W. Diffin, A. Merritt, Ralph Milne Farley, Murray Leinster
and Ray Cummings.

Now as to the August issue, here is how I rate them:

"Planet of Dread"--more than 20c. worth at the first crack. A real
story.

"Lord of Space"--excellent. I meant to include Victor Rousseau in my
list of favorites above.

"The Second Satellite"--so-so.

"Silver Dome"--so.

"Earth the Marauder"--too deep for me. And that Beryl stuff is sheer
bunk.

"Murder Madness"--a real story. Get more like this.

"The Flying City"--too much explanation and description and not enough
action.

Perhaps it looks like I'm sort of critical after all, but I didn't mean
it just that way. What I'm driving at is that Astounding Stories is by
far superior to its competitors, and I'm telling you so because it might
make you feel better to know it. If you want to print this testimonial,
go to it. To tell the truth, I'll be looking for it.--Leslie P. Mann,
1227 Ogden Ave., Chicago, Illinois.


"Too Many Serials"

Dear Editor:

I have just finished the August issue, and I would like to tell you my
opinion of it and the magazine as a whole.

The stories in order of merit were:

1--"The Second Satellite"; 2--"The Flying City"; 3--"Silver Dome";
4--"The Lord of Space"; 5--"The Planet of Dread."

I won't pass judgment upon the serials, as I have not read all the
parts.

In "The Flying City" there are a number of points I am hazy about. How
could Cor speak English? However, this could be cleared up by saying
that Cor sent out men to get the language, etc.

As a whole, Astounding Stories is a good magazine. There are too many
serials, however, but since other readers like them I won't complain.

You have a fine array of Science Fiction authors. With such writers as
Vincent, Meek, Hamilton, Starzl and Ernst, your magazine can't be
anything but a success.

The September layouts look good to me. I hope it is.--E. Anderson, 1765
Southern Blvd., New York, N.Y.


Thanks, Mr. Glasser

Dear Editor:

Somewhat belatedly I am writing to commend you most heartily on the
August issue of Astounding Stories, which I consider by far the finest
number since the inception of the magazine last January. The authors
whose work appeared in this issue are among the greatest modern writers
of fantasy and scientific fiction. Leinster, Burks, Hamilton,
Rousseau--what a brilliant galaxy! And Starzl, Vincent, Rich; all
writers of note. If ever a magazine merited the designation "all-star
number," your August issue filled the bill.

However, I am confident that even this superb achievement will be
surpassed by some future edition of Astounding Stories, for each
succeeding number to date has improved on the one before. And with a new
Cummings novel in the offing, it seems the August issue, despite its
excellence, will speedily be eclipsed.--Allen Glasser, 1510 University
Ave., New York, N.Y.


Are Our Covers Too "Gaudy"?

Dear Editor:

This is the first time that I have ventured to air my views to any
magazine, but as yours interests me greatly I hereby shed my reticence.

I believe, of all magazine of your type, you have come nearest
perfection. But there are just a few things that bother me, and, no
doubt, others like me. In the first place, must you make your covers as
lurid and as contradictory to good design as they are? Really, I blush
when my newsdealer hands me the gaudy thing. People interested in
science do not usually succumb to circus poster advertising.

Then there are the stories. I realize that you must cater to all tastes,
but some of them are very childish, slightly camouflaged fairy tales.
Science Fiction can be written very convincingly, as is testified by the
stories of H. G. Wells, Ray Cummings, Jules Verne, and others. These
writers attain their effects by the proper use of the English language,
without silly and obviously tacked-on romance, the use of known
scientific facts elaborated sensibly and by not trying to make a novel
out of a short story.

The stimulation of the imagination from Science Fiction is most
enjoyable and I shall continue to read your magazine even though my
fault finding is not considered, for, as I said before, you certainly
have come nearer my ideal than any of the others.--Hector D. Spear, 867
W. 181st St., The Tri-Sigma Fraternity, New York City.


Nossir--Our Astronomy Is O. K.

Dear Editor:

I am taking advantage of your invitation to write to you. Since
Astounding Stories is available you have given me a lot of pleasure, and
I hope you may get a little pleasure out of reading this.

First, I want to say that you're hitting the ball as far as I'm
concerned. I could hardly suggest an improvement.

In the August issue I liked "Planet of Dread," by R. F. Starzl, best.
When that thing in the "pipe" grabbed me, I mean Gunga, wow! And it gave
me a lot of satisfaction to see the Master in "Murder Madness," by
Murray Leinster, get it in the neck. "Lord of Space" was good, too. In
fact all the stories were good. I have only read two or three I really
did not like since you started.

Say, I never heard of a planet named Inra. Don't you think your author
ought to brush up on his astronomy? I also noticed some other authors
are a little weak on astronomy; not that I'm complaining. The stories
are O. K. with me.--Harry Johnson, 237 E. 128th St., New York City.


Mr. Yetter Checks Up on Us

Dear Editor:

As I am a constant reader of Astounding Stories I wish to say that
though S. P. Meek is one of my favorite authors his story, "Cold Light,"
was a little wrong when he called the "Silver Range" by the name of
"Stillwater Range." I also think it would have been better if he had had
a car take Dr. Bird and Carnes out to the hills, became even in Fallon a
burro is a strange sight.

But Meek, Cummings, Burks and all the rest of our famous authors'
stories should be in the magazine often. If Verrill, Wells, Nathenson
and Hamilton would also write, the magazine would be perfect.

I like all the stories, though some seem to be copies, and others lack
science.

Here is for a long life for Astounding Stories!--Frank Yetter, 369
Railroad Ave., Fallon, Nevada.


"Charm All Its Own"

Dear Editor:

Let me congratulate you. I have just read "The Planet of Dread," by R.
F. Starzl, in your August issue of Astounding Stories.

Real science, you know, is pretty rigidly limited, but super-science of
the kind you seem to run has a freshness and charm all its own.

I came upon your magazine quite by accident, and from now on no doubt
will look for it as I stand before the racks of magazines, trying to
decide upon something to read--Anton J. Sartori, 1330 W. 6th St., Los
Angeles, Calif.


Inra Could Exist

Dear Editor:

You will have to excuse this old telegraph office typewriter. It is all
I have to express my appreciation to you for the tremendously
interesting magazine you put out. I have only read the last three
issues, but those are enough to convince me that Astounding Stories
fills a long-felt want. I read all the others too, but from now on I'm
going to look over their offerings at the stand before I buy. They have
to go some to come up to the standard set by you, especially in the
August copy.

That story, "The Planet of Dread," was the most weird, exciting,
thrilling, satisfying--in short, the most "astounding" story I have ever
read. Nothing has seemed so real since I first read Wells' stories. I
liked the characters. Poor Gunga. I could just see him, trying to
sacrifice the man he obviously worshipped to stop that horrible noise.
The picture of Gunga on the cover was just exactly what I would expect
the Martian to look like. You have a good artist. I liked Mark
Forepaugh, too. He didn't lose his nerve for one minute--not Mark. Who
says civilization is going down, when the future holds men like that?

Next to "The Planet of Dread" I liked "The Lord of Space." That was a
vivid and well-drawn story, too. Those two, I think, were the
outstanding stories for August. But I must not forget "Murder Madness,"
the serial; it was thrilling and convincing. That's the only kick I
have: so many stories sound thin. I don't believe them when I read them.
I also want to mention "The Forgotten Planet" and "From An Amber Block."
Good, exciting, and you can believe them without too much strain.

Oh, by the way, the author of "The Planet of Dread" made a mistake when
he chose a mythical planet for his terrific adventures. Why not Venus or
Mercury? If they have water the conditions on them would be similar to
what he described for Inra. There ain't no such planet. But why expect
perfection! I'm satisfied.

I wish you success. That's a late wish. You're a success already.--Tom
P. Fitzgerald, Newcastle, Nebraska.


Thus Ended the Quest

Dear Editor:

This is my first letter to your magazine, and right away I'm asking for
a pair of sequels. One of these is to "The Moon Master," by Charles W.
Diffin. These sad endings depress me greatly, but if I looked at the
ending first to see whether or not it was sad it would ruin the story;
and besides sad endings usually have good stories in front of them. The
other sequel I want is to "From The Ocean's Depths," by Sewell P.
Wright, and its sequel "Into The Ocean's Depths."

In looking over my back copies of the magazine I find that I have not
disliked a single story. Thus endeth my quest for a brickbat.

Are you going to put out a quarterly? Both the other Science Fiction
magazines that I get do so, and I observe that it gives opportunity for
a story of full novel length all in one piece. Not that I object to
serials, but I like once in a while to sit down to a long story without
having to dig out three or four magazines. However, please continue the
long serials, for what is life without the element of suspense?--Hugh M.
Gilmore, 920 N. Vista St., Hollywood, Cal.


"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._

       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber Notes

Typographical and hyphenation inconsistencies have been standardized.

Otherwise, archaic and variable spelling is preserved, including
'obsidion' and 'tyranosaur'.

Passages in italics indicated by _underscores_.





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Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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