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Title: Astounding Stories,  April, 1931
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,  April, 1931" ***

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                              ASTOUNDING

                               STORIES

                                 20¢


              _On Sale the First Thursday of Each Month_


                       W. M. CLAYTON, Publisher
                         HARRY BATES, Editor
                  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
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    _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. VI, No. 1            CONTENTS            APRIL, 1931


COVER DESIGN                  H. W. WESSO
    _Painted in Water-Colors from a Scene in "Monsters of Mars."_

MONSTERS OF MARS              EDMOND HAMILTON             4
    _Three Martian-Duped Earth-Men Swing Open the Gates of Space That for
     So Long Had Barred the Greedy Hordes of the Red Planet._
     (A Complete Novelette.)

THE EXILE OF TIME             RAY CUMMINGS               26
    _From Somewhere Out of Time Come a Swarm of Robots Who Inflict on
     New York the Awful Vengeance of the Diabolical Cripple Tugh._
     (Beginning a Four-Part Novel.)

HELL'S DIMENSION              TOM CURRY                  51
    _Professor Lambert Deliberately Ventures into a Vibrational Dimension
     to Join His Fiancée in Its Magnetic Torture-Fields._

THE WORLD BEHIND THE MOON     PAUL ERNST                 64
    _Two Intrepid Earth-Men Fight It Out with the Horrific Monsters of
     Zeud's Frightful Jungles._

FOUR MILES WITHIN             ANTHONY GILMORE            76
    _Far Down into the Earth Goes a Gleaming Metal Sphere Whose Passengers
     Are Deadly Enemies._  (A Complete Novelette.)

THE LAKE OF LIGHT             JACK WILLIAMSON           100
    _In the Frozen Wastes at the Bottom of the World Two Explorers Find a
     Strange Pool of White Fire--and Have a Strange Adventure._

THE GHOST WORLD               SEWELL PEASLEE WRIGHT     118
    _Commander John Hanson Records Another of His Thrilling Interplanetary
     Adventures with the Special Patrol Service._

THE READERS' CORNER           ALL OF US                 134
    _A Meeting Place for Readers of Astounding Stories._


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

Issued monthly by Readers' Guild, Inc., 80 Lafayette Street, 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. Crowe & Co., Inc., 25 Vanderbilt Ave.,
New York; or 225 North Michigan Ave., Chicago.

       *       *       *       *       *



Monsters of Mars

A COMPLETE NOVELETTE

_By Edmond Hamilton_

[Illustration: _The Martian gestured with a reptilian arm toward the
ladder._]

[Sidenote: Three Martian-duped Earth-men swing open the gates of space
that for so long had barred the greedy hordes of the Red Planet.]


Allan Randall stared at the man before him. "And that's why you sent
for me, Milton?" he finally asked.

The other's face was unsmiling. "That's why I sent for you, Allan," he
said quietly. "To go to Mars with us to-night!"

There was a moment's silence, in which Randall's eyes moved as though
uncomprehendingly from the face of Milton to those of the two men
beside him. The four sat together at the end of a roughly furnished
and electric-lit living-room, and in that momentary silence there came
in to them from the outside night the distant pounding of the Atlantic
upon the beach. It was Randall who first spoke again.

"To Mars!" he repeated. "Have you gone crazy, Milton--or is this some
joke you've put up with Lanier and Nelson here?"

[Illustration]

Milton shook his head gravely. "It is not a joke, Allan. Lanier and I
are actually going to flash out over the gulf to the planet Mars
to-night. Nelson must stay here, and since we wanted three to go I
wired you as the most likely of my friends to make the venture."

"But good God!" Randall exploded, rising. "You, Milton, as a physicist
ought to know better. Space-ships and projectiles and all that are but
fictionists' dreams."

"We are not going in either space-ship or projectile," said Milton
calmly. And then as he saw his friend's bewilderment he rose and led
the way to a door at the room's end, the other three following him
into the room beyond.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a long laboratory of unusual size in which Randall found
himself, one in which every variety of physical and electrical
apparatus seemed represented. Three huge dynamo-motor arrangements
took up the room's far end, and from them a tangle of wiring led
through square black condensers and transformers to a battery of great
tubes. Most remarkable, though, was the object at the room's center.

It was like a great double cube of dull metal, being in effect two
metal cubes each twelve feet square, supported a few feet above the
floor by insulated standards. One side of each cube was open, exposing
the hollow interiors of the two cubical chambers. Other wiring led
from the big electronic tubes and from the dynamos to the sides of the
two cubes.

The four men gazed at the enigmatic thing for a time in silence.
Milton's strong, capable face showed only in its steady eyes what
feelings were his, but Lanier's younger countenance was alight with
excitement; and so too to some degree was that of Nelson. Randall
simply stared at the thing, until Milton nodded toward it.

"That," he said, "is what will flash us out to Mars to-night."

Randall could only turn his stare upon the other, and Lanier chuckled.
"Can't take it in yet, Randall? Well, neither could I when the idea
was first sprung on us."

       *       *       *       *       *

Milton nodded to seats behind them, and as the half-dazed Randall sank
into one the physicist faced him earnestly.

"Randall, there isn't much time now, but I am going to tell you what I
have been doing in the last two years on this God-forsaken Maine
coast. I have been for those two years in unbroken communication by
radio with beings on the planet Mars!

"It was when I still held my physics professorship back at the
university that I got first onto the track of the thing. I was
studying the variation of static vibrations, and in so doing caught
steady signals--not static--at an unprecedentedly high wave-length.
They were dots and dashes of varying length in an entirely
unintelligible code, the same arrangement of them being sent out
apparently every few hours.

"I began to study them and soon ascertained that they could be sent
out by no station on earth. The signals seemed to be growing louder
each day, and it suddenly occurred to me that Mars was approaching
opposition with earth! I was startled, and kept careful watch. On the
day that Mars was closest the earth the signals were loudest.
Thereafter, as the red planet receded, they grew weaker. The signals
were from some being or beings on Mars!

"At first I was going to give the news to the world, but saw in time
that I could not. There was not sufficient proof, and a premature
statement would only wreck my own scientific reputation. So I decided
to study the signals farther until I had irrefutable proof, and to
answer them if possible. I came up here and had this place built, and
the aerial towers and other equipment I wanted set up. Lanier and
Nelson came with me from the university, and we began our work.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Our chief object was to answer those signals, but it proved
heartbreaking work at first. We could not produce a radio wave of
great enough length to pierce out through earth's insulating layer and
across the gulf to Mars. We used all the power of our great
windmill-dynamo hook-ups, but for long could not make it. Every few
hours like clockwork the Martian signals came through. Then at last we
heard them repeating one of our own signals. We had been heard!

"For a time we hardly left our instruments. We began the slow and
almost impossible work of establishing intelligent communication with
the Martians. It was with numbers we began. Earth is the third planet
from the sun and Mars the fourth, so three represented earth and four
stood for Mars. Slowly we felt our way to an exchange of ideas, and
within months were in steady and intelligent communication with them.

"They asked us first concerning earth, its climates and seas and
continents, and concerning ourselves, our races and mechanisms and
weapons. Much information we flashed out to them, the language of our
communication being English, the elements, of which they had learned,
with a mixture of numbers and symbolical dot-dash signals.

"We were as eager to learn about them. They were somewhat reticent, we
found, concerning their planet and themselves. They admitted that
their world was a dying one and that their great canals were to make
life possible on it, and also admitted that they were different in
bodily form from ourselves.

"They told us finally that communication like this was too
ineffective to give us a clear picture of their world, or vice versa.
If we could visit Mars, and then they visit earth, both worlds would
benefit by the knowledge of the other. It seemed impossible to me,
though I was eager enough for it. But the Martians said that while
spaceships and the like were impossible, there was a way by which
living beings could flash from earth to Mars and back by radio waves,
even as our signals flashed!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Randall broke in in amazement. "By radio!" he exclaimed, and Milton
nodded.

"Yes, so they said, nor did the idea of sending matter by radio seem
too insane, after all. We send sound, music by radio waves across half
the world from our broadcasting stations. We send light, pictures,
across the world from our television stations. We do that by changing
the wave length of the light-vibrations to make them radio vibrations,
flashing them out thus over the world, to receivers which alter their
wave-lengths again and change them back into light-vibrations.

"Why then could not matter be sent in the same way? Matter, it has
been long believed, is but another vibration of the ether, like light
and radiant heat and radio vibrations and the like, having a lower
wave-length than any of the others. Suppose we take matter and by
applying electrical force to it change its wave-length, step it up to
the wave-length of radio vibrations? Then those vibrations can be
flashed forth from the sending station to a special receiver that will
step them down again from radio vibrations to matter vibrations. Thus
matter, living or non-living, could be flashed tremendous distances in
a second!

       *       *       *       *       *

"This the Martians told us, and said they would set up a
matter-transmitter and receiver on Mars and would aid and instruct us
so that we could set up a similar transmitter and receiver here. Then
part of us could be flashed out to Mars as radio vibrations by the
transmitter, and in moments would have flashed across the gulf to the
red planet and would be transformed back from radio vibrations to
matter-vibrations by the receiver awaiting us there!

"Naturally we agreed enthusiastically to build such a
matter-transmitter and receiver, and then, with their instructions
signalled to us constantly, started the work. Weeks it took, but at
last, only yesterday, we finished it. The thing's two cubical chambers
are one for the transmitting of matter and the other for its
reception. At a time agreed on yesterday we tested the thing, placing
a guinea pig in the transmitting chamber and turning on the actuating
force. Instantly the animal vanished, and in moments came a signal
from the Martians saying that they had received it unharmed in their
receiving chamber.

"Then we tested it the other way, they sending the same guinea pig to
us, and in moments it flashed into being in our receiving chamber. Of
course the step-down force in the receiving chamber had to be in
operation, since had it not been at that moment the radio-vibrations
of the animal would have simply flashed on endlessly in endless space.
And the same would happen to any of us were we flashed forth and no
receiving chamber turned on to receive us.

"We signalled the Martians that all tests were satisfactory, and told
them that on the next night at exactly midnight by our time we would
flash out ourselves on our first visit to them. They have promised to
have their receiving chamber operating to receive us at that moment,
of course, and it is my plan to stay there twenty-four hours,
gathering ample proofs of our visit, and then flash back to earth.

"Nelson must stay here, not only to flash us forth to-night, but above
all to have the receiving chamber operating to receive us at the
destined moment twenty-four hours later. The force required to
operate it is too great to use for more than a few minutes at a time,
so it is necessary above all that that force be turned on and the
receiving chamber ready for us at the moment we flash back. And since
Nelson must stay, and Lanier and I wanted another, we wired you,
Randall, in the hope that you would want to go with us on this
venture. And do you?"

       *       *       *       *       *

As Milton's question hung, Randall drew a long breath. His eyes were
on the two great cubical chambers, and his brain seemed whirling at
what he had heard. Then he was on his feet with the others.

"Go? Could you keep me from going? Why, man, it's the greatest
adventure in history!"

Milton grasped his hand, as did Lanier, and then the physicist shot a
glance at the square clock on the wall. "Well, there's little enough
time left us," he said, "for we've hardly an hour before midnight, and
at midnight we must be in that transmitting chamber for Nelson to send
us flashing out!"

Randall could never recall but dimly afterward how that tense hour
passed. It was an hour in which Milton and Nelson went with anxious
faces and low-voiced comments from one to another of the pieces of
apparatus in the room, inspecting each carefully, from the great
dynamos to the transmitting and receiving chambers, while Lanier
quickly got out and made ready the rough khaki suits and equipment
they were to take.

It lacked but a quarter-hour of midnight when they had finally donned
those suits, each making sure that he was in possession of the small
personal kit Milton had designated. This included for each a heavy
automatic, a small supply of concentrated foods, and a small case of
drugs chosen to counteract the rarer atmosphere and lesser gravity
which Milton had been warned to expect on the red planet. Each had
also a strong wrist-watch, the three synchronized exactly with the
big laboratory clock.

       *       *       *       *       *

When they had finished checking up on this equipment the clock's
longer hand pointed almost to the figure twelve, and the physicist
gestured expressively toward the transmitting chamber. Lanier, though,
strode for a moment to one of the laboratory's doors and flung it
open. As Randall gazed out with him they could see far out over the
tossing sea, dimly lit by the great canopy of the summer stars
overhead. Right at the zenith among those stars shone brightest a
crimson spark.

"Mars," said Lanier, his voice a half-whisper. "And they're waiting
out there for us now--out there where we'll be in minutes!"

"And if they shouldn't be waiting--their receiving chamber not
ready--"

But Milton's calm voice came across the room to them: "Zero hour," he
said, stepping up into the big transmitting chamber.

Lanier and Randall slowly followed, and despite himself a slight
shudder shook the latter's body as he stepped into the mechanism that
in moments would send him flashing out through the great void as
impalpable ether-vibrations. Milton and Lanier were standing silent
beside him, their eyes on Nelson, who stood watchfully now at the big
switchboard beside the chambers, his own gaze on the clock. They saw
him touch a stud, and another, and the hum of the great dynamos at the
room's end grew loud as the swarming of angry bees.

The clock's longer hand was crawling over the last space to cover the
smaller hand. Nelson turned a knob and the battery of great glass
tubes broke into brilliant white light, a crackling coming from them.
Randall saw the clock's pointer clicking over the last divisions, and
as he saw Nelson grip a great switch there came over him a wild
impulse to bolt from the transmitting chamber. But then as his
thoughts whirled maelstromlike there came a clang from the clock and
Nelson flung down the switch in his grasp. Blinding light seemed to
break from all the chamber onto the three; Randall felt himself hurled
into nothingness by forces titanic, inconceivable, and then knew no
more.

       *       *       *       *       *

Randall came back to consciousness with a humming sound in his ears
and with a sharp pain piercing his lungs at every breath. He felt
himself lying on a smooth hard surface, and heard the humming stop and
be succeeded by a complete silence. He opened his eyes, drawing
himself to his feet as Milton and Lanier were doing, and stared about
him.

He was standing with his two friends inside a cubical metal chamber
almost exactly the same as the one they had occupied in Milton's
laboratory a few moments before. But it was not the same, as their
first astounded glance out through its open side told them.

For it was not the laboratory that lay around them, but a vast
conelike hall that seemed to Randall's dazed eyes of dimensions
illimitable. Its dull-gleaming metal walls slanted up for a thousand
feet over their heads, and through a round aperture at the tip far
above and through great doors in the walls came a thin sunlight. At
the center of the great hall's circular floor stood the two cubical
chambers in one of which the three were, while around the chambers
were grouped masses of unfamiliar-looking apparatus.

       *       *       *       *       *

To Randall's untrained eyes it seemed electrical apparatus of very
strange design, but neither he nor Milton nor Lanier paid it but small
attention in that first breathless moment. They were gazing in
fascinated horror at the scores of creatures who stood silent amid the
apparatus and at its switches, gazing back at them. Those creatures
were erect and roughly man-like in shape, but they were not human
men. They were--the thought blasted to Randall's brain in that
horror-filled moment--crocodile-men.

Crocodile-men! It was only so that he could think of them in that
moment. For they were terribly like great crocodile shapes that had
learned in some way to carry themselves erect upon their hinder limbs.
The bodies were not covered with skin, but with green bony plates. The
limbs, thick and taloned at their paw-ends, seemed greater in size and
stronger, the upper two great arms and the lower two the legs upon
which each walked, while there was but the suggestion of a tail. But
the flat head set on the neckless body was most crocodilian of all,
with great fanged, hinged jaws projecting forward, and with dark
unwinking eyes set back in bony sockets.

Each of the creatures wore on his torso a gleaming garment like a coat
of metal scales, with metal belts in which some had shining tubes.
They were standing in groups here and there about the mechanisms, the
nearest group at a strange big switch-panel not a half-dozen feet from
the three men. Milton and Lanier and Randall returned in a tense
silence the unwinking stare of the monstrous beings around them.

"The Martians!" Lanier's horror-filled exclamation was echoed in the
next instant by Randall's.

"The Martians! God, Milton! They're not like anything we know--they're
reptilian!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Milton's hand clutched his shoulder. "Steady, Randall," he muttered.
"They're terrible enough, God knows--but remember we must seem just as
grotesque to them."

The sound of their voices seemed to break the great hall's spell of
silence, and they saw the crocodilian Martians before them turning and
speaking swiftly to each other in low hissing speech-sounds that were
quite unintelligible to the three. Then from the small group nearest
them one came forward, until he stood just outside the chamber in
which they were.

Randall felt dimly the momentousness of the moment, in which beings of
earth and Mars were confronting each other for the first time in the
solar system's history. The creature before them opened his great jaws
and uttered slowly a succession of sounds that for the moment puzzled
them, so different were they from the hissing speech of the others,
though with the same sibilance of tone. Again the thing repeated the
sounds, and this time Milton uttered an exclamation.

"He's speaking to us!" he cried. "Trying to speak the English that I
taught them in our communication! I caught a word--listen...."

As the creature repeated the sounds, Randall and Lanier started to
hear also vaguely expressed in that hissing voice familiar words:
"You--are Milton and--others from--earth?"

Milton spoke very clearly and slowly to the creature: "We are those
from earth," he said. "And you are the Martians with whom we have
communicated?"

"We are those Martians," said the other's hissing voice slowly.
"These"--he waved a taloned paw toward those behind him--"have charge
of the matter-transmitter and receiver. I am of our ruler's council."

"Ruler?" Milton repeated. "A ruler of all Mars?"

"Of all Mars," the other said. "Our name for him would mean in your
words the Martian Master. I am to take you to him."

       *       *       *       *       *

Milton turned to the other two with face alight with excitement.
"These Martians have some supreme ruler they call the Martian Master,"
he said quickly; "and we're to go before him. As the first visitors
from earth we're of immense importance here."

As he spoke, the Martian official before them had uttered a hissing
call, and in answer to it a long shape of shining metal raced into
the vast hall and halted beside them. It was like a fifty-foot
centipede of metal, its scores of supporting short legs actuated by
some mechanism inside the cylindrical body. There was a
transparent-walled control room at the front end of that body, and in
it a Martian at the controls who snapped open a door from which a
metal ladder automatically descended.

The Martian official gestured with a reptilian arm toward the ladder,
and Milton and Lanier and Randall moved carefully out of the
cube-chamber and across the floor to it, each of their steps being
made a short leap forward by the lesser gravity of the smaller planet.
They climbed up into the centipede-machine's control room, their guide
following, and then as the door snapped shut, the operator of the
thing pulled and turned the knob in his grasp and the long machine
scuttled forward with amazing smoothness and speed.

In a moment it was out of the building and into the feeble sunlight of
a broad metal-paved street. About them lay a Martian city, seen by
their eager eyes for the first time. It was a city whose structures
were giant metal cones like that from which they had just come, though
none seemed as large as that titanic one. Throngs of the hideous
crocodilian Martians were moving busily to and fro in the streets,
while among them there scuttled and flashed numbers of the
centipede-machines.

       *       *       *       *       *

As their strange vehicle raced along, Randall saw that the conelike
structures were for the most part divided into many levels, and that
inside some could be glimpsed ranks of great mechanisms and hurrying
Martians tending them. Away to their right across the vast forest of
cones that was the city the sun's little disk was shining, and he
glimpsed in that direction higher ground covered with a vast tangle of
bright crimson jungle that sloped upward from a great, half-glimpsed
waterway.

The Martian beside them saw the direction of his gaze and leaned
toward him. "No Martians live there," he hissed slowly. "Martians live
only in cities where canals meet."

"Then there's no life in those crimson jungles?" Randall asked,
repeating the question a moment later more slowly.

"No Martians there, but life--living things," the other told him,
searching for words. "But not intelligent, like Martians and you."

He turned to gaze ahead, then pointed. "The Martian Master's cone," he
hissed.

The three saw that at the end of the broad metal street down which
their vehicle was racing there loomed another titanic cone-structure,
fully as large as the mighty one in which they first found themselves.
As the centipede-machine swept up to its great door-opening and
halted, they descended to the metal paving and then followed their
reptilian guide through the opening.

       *       *       *       *       *

They found themselves in a great hall in which scores of the Martians
were coming and going. At the hall's end stood a row of what seemed
guards, Martians grasping shining tubes such as they had already
glimpsed. These gave way to allow their passage when their conductor
uttered a hissing order, and then they were moving down a shorter hall
at whose end also were guards. As these sprang aside before them, a
great door of massive metal they guarded moved softly upward,
disclosing a mighty circular hall or room inside. Their crocodilian
guide turned to them.

"The hall of the Martian Master," he hissed.

They passed inside with him. The great hall seemed to extend upward to
the giant cone's tip, thin light coming down from an opening there.
Upon the dull metal of its looming walls were running friezes of
lighter metal, grotesque representations of reptilian shapes that they
could but vaguely glimpse. Around the walls stood rank after rank of
guards.

At the hall's center was a low dias, and in a semicircle around and
behind it stood a half-hundred great crocodilian shapes. Randall
guessed even at the moment that they were the council of which their
conductor had named himself a member. But like Milton and Lanier, he
had eyes in that first moment only for the dais itself. For on it
was--the Martian Master.

Randall heard Milton and Lanier choke with the horror that shook his
own heart and brain as he gazed. It was not simply another great
crocodilian shape that sat upon that dais. It was a monstrous thing
formed by the joining of three of the great reptilian bodies! Three
distinct crocodile-like bodies sitting close together upon a metal
seat, that had but a single great head. A great, grotesque crocodilian
head that bulged backward and to either side, and that rested on the
three thick short necks that rose from the triple body! And that head,
that triple-bodied thing, was living, its unwinking eyes gazing at the
three men!

       *       *       *       *       *

The Martian Master! Randall felt his brain reel as he gazed at that
mind-shattering thing. The Martian Master--this great head with three
bodies! Reason told Randall, even as he strove for sanity, that the
thing was but logical, that even on earth biologists had formed
multiple-headed creatures by surgery, and that the Martians had done
so to combine in one great head, one great brain, the brains of three
bodies. Reason told him that the great triple brain inside that
bulging head needed the bloodstreams of all three bodies to nourish
it, must be a giant intellect indeed, one fitted to be the supreme
Martian Master. But reason could not overcome the horror that choked
him as he gazed at the awful thing.

A hissing voice sounding before him made him aware that the Martian
Master was speaking.

"You are the Earth-beings with whom we communicated, and whom we
instructed to build a matter-transmitter and receiver on earth?" the
slow voice asked. "You have come safely to Mars by means of that
station?"

"We have come safely." Milton's voice was shaken and he could find no
other words.

"That is well. Long had we desired to have such a station built on
earth, since with it there to flash back and forth between the two
worlds is easy. You have come, then, to learn of this world and to
take back what you learn to your races?"

"That is why we came." Milton said, more steadily. "We want to stay
only hours on this first visit, and then flash back to earth as we
came."

       *       *       *       *       *

The head's awful eyes seemed to consider them. "But when do you intend
to go back?" its strange voice asked. "Unless the one at your earth
station has its receiver operating at the right moment you will simply
flash on endlessly as radio waves--will be annihilated."

Milton found the courage to smile. "We started from earth at our
midnight exactly, and at midnight exactly twenty-four earth hours
later, we are to flash back and the receiver will be awaiting us."

There was silence when he had said that, a silence that seemed to
Randall's strained mind to have become suddenly tense, sinister. The
great triple-bodied creature before them considered them again, its
eyes moving over them, and when it again spoke the hissing words came
very slowly.

"Twenty-four earth hours," it said; "and then your receiver on earth
will be awaiting you. That time we can measure to the moment, and that
is well. For it is not you three Earth-beings who will flash back to
earth when that moment comes! It will be Martians, the first of our
Martian masses who have waited for ages for that moment and who will
begin then our conquest of the earth!

"Yes, Earth-beings, our great plan comes to its end now at last! At
last! Age on age, prisoned on this dying, arid world, we have desired
the earth that by right of power shall be ours, have sought for ages
to communicate with its beings. You finally heard us, you hearkened to
us, you built the matter-transmitting and receiving station on earth
that was the one thing needed for our plan. For when the
matter-receiver of that station is turned on in twenty-four of your
hours, and ready to receive matter flashes from here, it will be the
first of our millions who will flash at last to earth!

"I, the Martian Master, say it. Those first to go shall seize that
matter-receiver on earth when first they appear there, shall build
other and larger receivers, and through them within days all our
Martian hordes shall have been flashed to earth! Shall have poured out
over it and conquered with our weapons your weak races of
Earth-beings, who cannot stand before us, and whose world you have
delivered at last into our hands!"

For a moment, when the great monster's hissing voice had ceased,
Milton and Randall and Lanier gazed toward it as though petrified, the
whole unearthly scene spinning about them. And then, through the thick
silence, the thin sound of Milton's voice:

"Our world--our earth--delivered to the Martians, and by us! God--no!"

With that last cry of agonized comprehension and horror, Milton did
what surely had never any in the great hall expected, leaped onto the
dais with a single spring toward the Martian Master! Randall heard a
hundred wild hissing cries break from about him, saw the crocodilian
forms of guards and council rushing forward even as he and Lanier
sprang after Milton, and then glimpsed shining tubes levelled from
which brilliant shafts of dazzling crimson light or force were
stabbing toward them!

       *       *       *       *       *

To Randall the moment that followed was but a split-second flash and
whirl of action. As his earthly muscles took him forward with Lanier
after Milton in a great leap to the dais, he was aware of the
brilliant red rays stabbing behind him closely, and knew that only the
tremendous size of his leap had taken him past them. In the succeeding
instant he was made aware of what he had escaped, for the
hastily-loosed rays struck squarely a group of three or four Martian
guards rushing to the dais from the opposite side, and they vanished
from view with a sharp detonation as though clicked out of existence!

Randall was not to know then, that the red rays were ones that
annihilated matter by neutralizing or damping the matter-vibrations in
the ether. But he did know that no more rays were loosed, for by then
he and Milton and Lanier were on the dais and were wrapped in a
hurricane combat with the guards that had rushed between them and the
Martian Master.

Gleaming fangs--great scaled forms--reaching talons--it was all a wild
phantasmagoria of grotesque forms spinning around him as he struck
with all the power of his earthly muscles and felt crocodilian forms
staggering and going down beneath his frenzied blows. He heard the
roar of an automatic close beside him in the melee as Milton
remembered at last through the red haze of his fury the weapon he
carried, but before either Randall or Lanier could reach their own
weapons a new wave of crocodilian forms had poured onto them that by
sheer pressing weight held them helpless, to be disarmed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Hissing orders sounded, the arms and legs of the three were tightly
grasped by great taloned paws, and the masses of Martians about them
melted back from the dais. Held each by two great creatures, Milton
and Randall and Lanier faced again the triple-bodied Martian Master,
who in all that wild moment of struggle appeared not to have changed
his position. The big monster's black eyes stared unmovedly down at
them.

"You Earth-beings seem of lower intelligence even than we thought,"
his hissing voice informed them. "And those weapons--crude, very
crude."

Milton, his face set, spoke back: "It may be that you will find human
weapons of some power if your hordes reach earth," he said.

"But what compared with the power of ours?" the other asked coldly.
"And since our scientists even now devise new weapons to annihilate
the earth's races, I think they would be glad of three of those races
to experiment with now. The one use we can make of you, certainly."

The creature turned its bulging head a little towards the guards who
held the three men, and uttered a brief hissing order. Instantly the
six Martians, grasping the three tightly, marched them across the
great hall and through a different door than that by which they had
entered.

They were taken down a narrow corridor that turned sharply twice as
they went on. Randall saw that it was lit by squares inset in the
walls that glowed with crimson light. It came to him as they marched
on that night must be upon the Martian city without, since the sun had
been sinking when they had crossed it in the centipede-machine.

       *       *       *       *       *

Through what seemed an ante-room they were taken, and then into a long
hall instantly recognizable as a laboratory. There were many glowing
squares illuminating it, and narrow windows high in the wall gave them
a glimpse of the city outside, a pattern of crimson lights. Long metal
tables and racks filled the big room's farther end, while along the
walls were ranged shining mechanisms of unfamiliar and grotesque
appearance. Fully a score of the crocodilian Martians were busy in the
room, some intent on their work at the racks and tables, others
operating some of the strange machines.

The guards conducted the three to an open space by the wall, below one
of the high window-openings and between two great cylindrical
mechanisms. Then, while five of their number held the three men
prisoned in that space by the threat of their levelled ray-tubes, the
other moved toward one of the busy Martian scientists and held with
him a brief interchange of hissing speech.

Milton leaned to whisper to the other two: "We've got to get out of
this while we're still living," he whispered. "You heard the Martian
Master--in constructing that matter-receiver on earth, we've opened a
door through which all the Martian millions will pour onto our world!"

"It's useless, Milton," said Randall dully. "Even if we got clear of
this the Martians will be at their matter-transmitter in hordes when
the moment comes to flash back to earth."

"I know that, but we've got to try," the other insisted. "If we or
some of us could get clear of this, we might in some way hide near the
matter-transmitter until the moment came and then fight to it."

"But how to get out of the hands of these, even?" asked Lanier,
nodding toward the alert guards before them.

       *       *       *       *       *

"There's but one way," Milton whispered swiftly. "Our earthly muscles
would enable us, I think, to get through this window-opening above us
in a leap, if we had a moment's chance. Well, whichever of us they
take to experiment with or examine first, must make a struggle or
disturbance that will turn the guards' attention for a moment and give
the other two a chance to make the attempt!"

"One to stay and the other two to get away...." Randall said slowly;
but Milton's tense whisper interrupted:

"It's the only way, and even then a thousand to one chance! But it's
we who have opened this gate for the Martian invasion of our world and
it's we who must--"

Before he could finish, the approach of hissing voices told them that
the leader of the six guards and the Martian who seemed the chief of
the experimenters in the hall were nearing them. The three men stood
silent and tense as the two crocodilian monsters stopped before them.
The scientist, who carried in his metal-belt, instead of a ray-tube a
compact case of instruments, surveyed them as though in curiosity.

He came closer, his quick reptilian eyes taking in with evident
interest every feature of their bodily appearance. Intuitively the
three knew that one of them was to be chosen for a first investigation
by the Martian scientists, and that that one would have not even the
slender hope of escape open to the other two. A strange lottery of
life and death!

       *       *       *       *       *

Randall saw the creature's gaze turn from one to another of them, and
then heard the hiss of his voice as he pointed a taloned paw toward
Milton. Instantly two of the guards had seized Milton and had jerked
him out from the wall, the other guards holding back Randall and
Lanier with threatening tubes. It was upon Milton that the fatal
choice had fallen!

Randall and Lanier made together a half-movement forward, but Milton,
a tense message in his eyes, forced them back. The guards who held the
physicist led him, at the direction of the Martian scientist, toward a
great upright frame at the room's far end, upon which were clustered a
score of dial-indicators. From these flexible cords led; and now the
scientists began attaching these by clips to various spots on Milton's
body. Some mechanical examination of his bodily characteristics were
apparently to be made. Milton shot suddenly a glance at the two by the
wall, and his head nodded in an almost imperceptible signal. The
muscles of Lanier and Randall tensed.

Then abruptly Milton seemed to go mad. He shouted aloud in a terrible
voice, and at the same moment tore from him the cords just attached,
his fists striking out then at the amazed Martians around him. As they
leaped back from that sudden explosion of activity and sound on
Milton's part the guards before Randall and Lanier whirled
instinctively for an instant toward it. And in that instant the two
had leaped.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was upward they leaped, with all the force of their earthly
muscles, toward the big window-opening a half-dozen feet in the wall
above them. Like released steel springs they sat up, and Randall heard
the thump of their feet as they struck the opening's sill, heard wild
cries suddenly coming from beneath them, as the guards turned back
toward them. Crimson rays clove up like light toward them, but the
instant's surprise had been enough, and in it they had leaped on and
through the opening, into the outside night!

As they shot downward and struck the metal paving outside, Randall
heard a wild babble of cries from inside. A moment he and Lanier gazed
frenziedly around them, then were running with great leaps along the
base of the building from which they had just escaped.

In the darkness of night the Martian city stretched away to their
right, its massive dark cone-structures outlined by points of glowing
ruddy light here and there upon them. Beside the city's metal streets
were illuminated by the brilliant field of stars overhead and by the
soft light of the two moons, one much larger than the other, that
moved among those stars.

Along the street crocodilian Martians were coming and going still,
though in small numbers, there being but few in sight in the dim-lit
street's length. Lanier pointed ahead as they leaped onward.

"Straight onward, Randall!" he jerked. "There seem fewer of the
Martians this way!"

"But the great cone of the matter-station is the other way!" Randall
exclaimed.

"We can't risk making for it now!" cried the other. "We've got to keep
clear of them until the alarm is over. Hear them now?"

For even as they leaped forward a rising clamor of hissing cries and
rush of feet was coming from behind as scores of Martians poured out
into the darkness from the great cone-building. The two fugitives had
passed by then from the shadow of the mighty structure, and as they
ran along the broad metal street toward the shadow of the next cone,
through the light of the moons above, they heard higher cries and then
glimpsed narrow shafts of crimson force cleaving the night around
them.

       *       *       *       *       *

Randall, as the deadly rays drove past him, heard the low detonating
sound made by their destruction of the air in their path, and the
inrush of new air. But in the misty and uncertain moonlight the rays
could not be loosed accurately, and before they could be swept
sidewise to annihilate the two fleeing men they had gained, with a
last great leap, the shadow of the next building.

On they ran, the clatter of the Martian pursuit growing more noisy
behind them. Randall heard Lanier gasping with each great leap, and
felt himself at every breath a knife of pain stabbing through his
lungs, the rarified atmosphere of the red planet taking its toll.
Again from the darkness behind them the crimson rays clove, but this
time were wide of their mark.

With every moment the clamor of pursuit seemed growing louder, the
alarm spreading out over the Martian city and arousing it. As they
raced past cone after cone, Randall knew even the increased power of
their muscles could not long aid them against the exhaustion which the
thin air was imposing on them. His thoughts spun for a moment to
Milton, in the laboratory behind, and then back to their own desperate
plight.

Abruptly shapes loomed in the misty light before them! A group of
three great Martians, reptilian shapes that had been coming toward
them and had stopped for an instant in amazement at sight of the
running pair. There was no time to halt themselves, to evade the
three, and with a mutual instinct Lanier and Randall seized together
the last expedient open to them. They ran straight forward toward the
astounded three, and when a half-score feet from them, leaped with all
their force upward and toward them, their tensed bodies flying through
the air with feet outstretched before them.

Then they had struck the group of three with feet-foremost, and with
the impetus of that great leap had knocked them sprawling to this side
and that, while with a supreme effort the two kept their balance and
leaped on. The cries of the three added to the din behind them as they
threw themselves forward.

       *       *       *       *       *

They flung themselves past a last cone building to halt for an instant
in utter amazement despite the nearing pursuit. Before them were no
more streets and structures, but a huge smooth-flowing waterway! It
gleamed in the moonlight and lay at right angles across their path,
seeming to flow along the Martian city's edge.

"A canal!" cried Lanier. "It's one of the canals that meet at this
city and flow around it! We're trapped--we've reached the city's
edge!"

"Not yet!" Randall gasped. "Look!"

As he pointed to the left Lanier shot a glance there; and then both of
them were running in that direction, along the smooth metal paving
that bordered the mighty canal. They came to what Randall had seen, a
mighty metal arch that soared out over the waterway to its opposite
side. A bridge!

They were on it, were racing up the smooth incline of it. Randall
glanced back as they reached the arch's summit. From that height the
city stretched far away behind them, a lace of crimson lights in the
night. He glimpsed the gleam of the giant waterway that encircled the
city completely, one that was fed by other canals from far away that
emptied into it, the great city's vital water-supply brought thus from
this world's melting polar snows.

There were moving lights behind now, too, pouring out onto the metal
paving by the waterway, moving to and fro as though in confusion, with
a babel of hissing cries. It was not until Randall and Lanier were
running down the descending incline of the great arched bridge,
though, that the lights and shouts of their pursuers began to move up
on that bridge after them.

       *       *       *       *       *

Running off the bridge's smooth way, the two found themselves
stumbling on through the darkness over more metal paving, and then
over soft ground. There were no lights or buildings or sounds of any
sort on this farther side of the great waterway. A tall dark wall
seemed suddenly to loom up out of the darkness some distance ahead of
the two.

"The crimson jungle!" Randall cried. "The jungles we glimpsed from the
city! It's a chance to hide!"

They raced toward the protecting blackness of that wall of vegetation.
They reached it, flung themselves inside, just as the pursuing
Martians, a mass of running crocodilian shapes and of great racing
centipede-machines, swept up over the bridge's arch behind. A moment
the two halted in the thick vegetation's shelter, gasping for breath,
then were moving forward through the jungle's denser darkness.

Thick about them and far above them towered the masses of strange
trees and plant life through which they made their way. Randall could
see but dimly the nature of these plant-forms, but could make out that
they were grotesque and unearthly in appearance, all leafless, and
with masses of thin tendrils branching from them instead of leaves. He
realized that it was only beside the arid planet's great canals that
this profusion of plant life had sufficient moisture for existence,
and that it was the broad bands of jungle bordering the canals that
had made the latter visible to earth's astronomers.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lanier and he halted for a moment to listen. The thick jungle about
them seemed quite silent. But from behind there came through it a
vague tumult of hissing calls; and then, as they glimpsed red flashes
far behind, they heard the crashing of great masses of the leafless
trees.

"The rays!" whispered Lanier. "They're beating through the jungle with
them and the centipede-machines after us!"

They paused no more, but pushed on through the thick growths with
renewed urgency. Now and then, as they passed through small clearings,
Randall glimpsed overhead the fast-moving nearer moon and slower
sailing farther moon of Mars, moving across the steady stars. In some
of these clearings they saw, too, strange great openings burrowed in
the ground as though by some strange animal.

The crashing clamor of the Martians beating the jungle behind was
coming close, ever closer, and as they came to still another misty-lit
clearing, Lanier paused, with face white and tense.

"They're closing in on us!" he said. "They're hunting us down by
beating the jungle with those centipede-machines, and even if we
escape them we're getting farther from the city and the matter-station
each moment!"

Randall's eyes roved desperately around the clearing; and then, as
they fell on a group of the great burrowed openings that seemed
present everywhere about them, he uttered an exclamation.

"These holes! We can hide in one until they've passed over us, and
then steal back to the city!"

Lanier's eyes lit. "It's a chance!"

       *       *       *       *       *

They sprang toward the openings. They were each of some four feet
diameter, extending indefinitely downward as though the mouths of
tunnels. In a moment Randall was lowering himself into one, Lanier
after him. The tunnel in which they were, they found, curved to one
side a few feet below the surface. They crawled down this curve until
they were out of sight of the opening above. They crouched silent,
then, listening.

There came down to them the dull, distant clamor of the
centipede-machines crashing through the jungle, cutting a way with
rays, their clamor growing ever louder. Then Randall, who was lowest
in the tunnel, turned suddenly as there came to him a strange rustling
sound from _beneath_ him. It was as though some crawling or creeping
thing was moving in the tunnel below them!

He grasped the arm of Lanier, beside and a little above him, to warn
him, but the words he was about to whisper never were uttered. For at
this moment a big shapeless living thing seemed to flash up toward
them through the darkness from beneath, cold ropelike tentacles
gripped both tightly; and then in an instant they were being dragged
irresistibly down into the lightless tunnel's depths!

       *       *       *       *       *

As they were pulled swiftly downward into the tunnel by the tentacles
that grasped them an involuntary cry of horror came from Randall and
Lanier alike. They twisted frantically in the cold grip that held
them, but found it of the quality of steel. And as Randall twisted in
it to strike frantically down through the darkness at whatever thing
of horror held them, his clenched fist met but the cold smooth skin
of some big, soft-bodied creature!

Down--down--remorselessly they were being drawn farther into the black
depths of the tunnel by the great thing crawling down below them.
Again and again the two twisted and struck, but could not shake its
hold. In sheer exhaustion they ceased to struggle, dragged helplessly
farther down.

Was it minutes or hours, Randall wondered afterward, of that horrible
progress downward, that passed before they glimpsed light beneath? A
feeble glow, hardly discernible, it was, and as they went lower still
he saw that it was caused by the tunnel passing through a strata of
radio-active rock that gave off the faint light. In that light they
glimpsed for the first time the horror dragging them downward.

It was a huge worm creature! A thing like a giant angleworm, three
feet or more in thickness and thrice that in length, its great body
soft and cold and worm-like. From the end nearest them projected two
long tentacles with which it had gripped the two men and was dragging
them down the tunnel after it! Randall glimpsed a mouth-aperture in
the tentacled end of the worm body also, and two scarlike marks above
it, placed like eyes, although eyes the monstrous thing had not.

       *       *       *       *       *

But a moment they glimpsed it and then were in darkness again as the
tunnel passed through the radio-active strata and lower. The horror of
that moment's glimpse, though, made them strike out in blind
repulsion, but relentlessly the creature dragged them after it.

"God!" It was Lanier's panting cry as they were dragged on. "This worm
monster--we're hundreds of feet below the surface!"

Randall sought to reply, but his voice choked. The air about them was
close and damp, with an overpowering earthy smell. He felt
consciousness leaving him.

A gleam of soft light--they were passing more radio-active patches. He
felt the wild convulsive struggles of Lanier against the thing; and
then suddenly the tunnel ended, debouched into a far-stretching,
low-ceilinged cavity. It was feebly illuminated by radio-active
patches here and there in walls and ceiling, and as the monster that
held them halted on entering the cavity, Randall and Lanier lay in its
grip and stared across the weird place with intensified horror.

For it was swarming with countless worm monsters! All were like the
one who held them, thick long worm bodies with projecting tentacles
and with black eyeless faces. They were crawling to and fro in this
cavern far beneath the surface, swarming in hordes around and over
each other, pouring in and out of the awful place from countless
tunnels that led upward and downward from it!

       *       *       *       *       *

A world of worm monsters, beneath the surface of the Martian jungles!
As Randall stared across that swarming, dim-lit cave of horror,
physically sick at sight of it, he remembered the countless tunnel
openings they had glimpsed in their flight through the jungle, and
remembered the remark of the Martian who had first guided them across
the city, that in the jungles were living things, of a sort. These
were the things, worm monsters whose unthinkable networks of tunnels
and burrows formed beneath the surface a veritable worm world!

"Randall!" It was Lanier's thick exclamation. "Randall--those
scar-marks on their--faces--you see--?"

"See?"

"Those marks! These creatures had eyes once but must have been forced
down here by the Martians. These may once have been--ages ago--human!"

At that thought Randall felt horror overcoming his senses. He was
aware that the great worm monster holding them was dragging them
forward through the cavern, that others of the swarms there were
crowding around them, feeling them blindly with their tentacles,
helping to drag them forward.

Half-carried and half-dragged they went, scores of tentacles now
holding them, great worm shapes crawling forward on all sides of them
and accompanying them along the cavern's length. He glimpsed worm
monsters here and there emerging from the upward tunnels with masses
of strange plant stuff in their grasp that others blindly devoured.
His senses reeled from the suffocating air, the great cavity being but
a half-score feet in height, burrowed from the damp earth by these
numberless things.

       *       *       *       *       *

The faint, strange light of the radio-active patches showed him that
they were approaching the cavern's end. Tunnels opened from its end as
from all its walls and floor, and into one Randall was dragged by the
creatures, one before and one behind, grasping him, and Lanier being
brought behind him in the same way. In the close tunnel the heavy air
was deadly, and he was but partly conscious when again, after moments
of crawling along it, he felt himself dragged out into another cavern.

This earth-walled cavity, though, seemed to extend farther than the
first, though of the same height as the first and with a few
radio-active illuminating patches. In it seethed and swarmed literally
hundreds on hundreds of the worm monsters, a sea of great crawling
bodies. Randall and Lanier saw that they were being carried and
dragged now toward the farther end of this larger cavity.

As they approached it, pushing through the swarming creatures who felt
them with inquisitive tentacles as their captors took them forward,
the two men saw that a great shape was looming up in the faint light
at the cave's far end. In moments they were close enough to discern
its nature, and a horror and awe filled them at sight of it more
intense than they had yet felt.

For the looming shape was a huge earthen image or statue of a worm! It
was shaped with a childish crudeness from the solid earth, a giant
earthen worm shape whose body looped across the cave's end, and whose
tentacled head or front end was reared upward to the cavity's roof.
Before this awful earthen shape was a section of the cave's floor
higher than the rest, and on it a great crudely shaped rectangular
earthen block.

"Lanier--that shape!" whispered Randall in his horror. "That earthen
image, made by these creatures--it's the worm god they've made for
themselves!"

"A worm god!" Lanier repeated, staring toward it as they were dragged
nearer. "Then that block...."

"Its altar!" Randall exclaimed. "These things have some dim spark of
intelligence or memory! They're brought us here to--"

       *       *       *       *       *

Before he could finish, the clutching tentacles of the worm monsters
about them had dragged them up onto the raised floor beside the block,
beneath the looming earthen worm shape. There they glimpsed for the
first time in the faint light another who stood there held tightly by
the tentacles of two worm monsters. It was a Martian!

The big crocodilian shape was apparently a prisoner like themselves,
captured and brought down from above. His reptilian eyes surveyed
Lanier and Randall quickly as they were dragged up and held beside
him, but he took no other interest. To the two men, at the moment, it
seemed that his great crocodilian shape was human, almost, so much
more man-like was it than the grotesque worm monsters before them.

With a half-dozen of the creatures holding the two men and the Martian
tightly, another great worm monster crawled to the edge of the raised
earth floor in front of the giant worm god's image, and then reared up
the first third of his thick body into the air. By then the great,
faint-lit cavity stretching before them was filled with countless
numbers of the monsters, pouring into it from all the tunnels that
opened into it from above and below, packing it thick with their
grotesque bodies as far as the eye could reach in the dim light.

They were seething and crawling in that great mass; but as the worm
monster on the elevation upreared, all in the cavity seemed suddenly
to quiet. Then the upreared eyeless thing began to move his long
tentacles. Very slowly at first he waved them back and forth, and
slowly the masses of monsters in the cavity, all turned by some sense
toward him, did likewise, the cavity becoming a forest of upraised
tentacles waving rhythmically back and forth in unison with those of
the leader.

       *       *       *       *       *

Back and forth--back and forth--Randall felt caught in some torturing
nightmare as he watched the countless tentacle-feelers waving thus
from one side to the other. It was a ceremony, he knew--some strange
rite springing perhaps from dim memory alone, that these worm monsters
carried out thus before the looming shape of their worm god. Only the
six that held the three captives never relaxed their grip.

Still on and on went the strange and senseless rite. By then the
close, damp air of that cavity far beneath Mars' surface was sinking
Randall and Lanier deeper into a half-consciousness. The Martian
beside them never moved or spoke. The upstretched tentacles of the
leader and of the great worm horde before him never ceased swaying
rhythmically from side to side.

Randall, half-hypnotized by those swaying tentacles and but
semi-conscious by then, could only estimate afterward how long that
grotesque rite went on. Hours it must have endured, he knew, hours in
which each opening of his eyes revealed only the dimly-illuminated
cavern, the worm monsters that filled it, the forest of tentacles
waving in unison. It was only toward the end of those hours that he
noticed vaguely that the tentacles were waving faster and faster.

And as the tentacles of leader and worm horde waved alike ever more
swiftly an atmosphere of growing excitement and expectation seemed to
hold the horde. At last the upstretched feelers were whipping back and
forth almost too swiftly for the eye to follow. Then abruptly the worm
leader ceased the motion himself, and while the horde before him
continued it, turned and crawled to the three captives.

       *       *       *       *       *

In an instant, at though in answer to a second command, the two worm
monsters who held the Martian dragged him forward toward the great
earthen block before the worm god's image. Two others of the creatures
came from the side, and the four swiftly stretched the Martian flat on
the block's top, each of the four grasping with their tentacles one of
his four taloned limbs. They seemed to hesitate then, the worm leader
beside them, the tentacles of the horde waving swiftly still.

Abruptly the tentacles of the leader flashed up as though in a signal.
There was a dull ripping sound, and in that moment Randall and Lanier
saw the Martian on the block torn literally limb from limb by the four
great worm monsters who had held his four limbs!

The tentacles of the horde waved suddenly with increased, excited
swiftness at that. Randall shrank in horror.

"They've brought us here for that!" he cried. "To sacrifice us on that
altar that way to their worm god!"

But Lanier too had cried out, appalled, as he saw that awful
sacrifice, and both strained madly against the grip of the worm
creatures. Their struggles were in vain, and then in answer to another
unspoken command the two monsters that held Randall were dragging him
also to the earthen altar!

He felt himself gripped by the four great creatures around the block,
felt as he struggled with his last strength that he was being
stretched out on the block, each of the four at one of its corners
grasping one of his limbs. He heard Lanier's mad cries as though from
a great distance, glimpsed as he was held thus on his back the great
shape of the earthen worm god reared over him, and then glimpsed the
leader of the monsters rearing beside him.

       *       *       *       *       *

The dull sound of the swift-waving tentacles of the horde came to him,
there was a tense moment of agony of waiting, and then the tentacles
of the leader flashed up in the signal!

But at the same moment Randall felt his limbs released by the four
monsters that had held them! There seemed sudden wild confusion in the
great cave. The strange rite broke off; the horde of worm monsters
crawled frantically this way and that in it. Randall slipped off the
block; staggered to his feet.

The worm monsters in the cave were swarming toward the downward tunnel
openings! The two captives forgotten, the creatures were pouring in
crawling, fighting swarms toward those openings. And then, as Randall
and Lanier stared stupefied, there came a red flash from one of the
upward tunnels and a brilliant crimson ray stabbed down and mowed a
path of annihilation in the cave's earthen side!

The two heard great thumping sounds from above, saw the tunnels
leading from above becoming suddenly many times greater in size as red
rays flashed down along them to gouge the tunnel's walls. Then down
from those enlarged tunnels there were bursting long shining shapes,
great centipede-machines crawling down the tunnels which their rays
made larger before them! And as the centipede-machines burst down into
the cavern their crimson rays stabbed right and left to cut paths of
annihilation among the worms.

"The Martians!" Lanier cried. "They didn't find us above--they knew we
must have been taken by these things--and they've come down after us!"

       *       *       *       *       *

"Back, Lanier!" Randall shouted. "Quick, before they see us, behind
this--"

As he spoke he was jerking Lanier with him behind the looming earthen
statue of the great worm god. Crouched there between the statue and
the cave's wall they were hidden precariously from the view of those
in the cavern. And now that cavern had become a scene of horror
unthinkable as the centipede-machines pouring down into it blasted the
frantically crawling worm monsters with their rays.

The worm monsters attempted no resistance, but sought only to escape
into their downward tunnels, and in moments those not caught by the
rays had vanished in the openings. But the centipede-machines, after
racing swiftly around the cavity, were following them, were going down
into those downward tunnels also, their rays blasting down ahead of
each to make the tunnel large enough for them to follow.

In a moment all but one had vanished down into the openings, the
remaining one having its front or head jammed in one of the openings
from the failure of its operator to blast a large enough opening
before him. As Lanier and Randall watched tensely they saw the
machine's control room door open and a Martian descend. He inspected
the tunnel opening in which his vehicle was jammed, then with a hand
ray-tube began to disintegrate the earth around that opening to free
his machine.

Randall clutched his companion's arm. "That machine!" he whispered.
"If we could capture it, it would give us a chance to get back to the
city--to Milton and the matter-transmitter!"

Lanier started, then nodded swiftly. "We'll chance it," he whispered.
"For our twenty-four hours here must be almost up."

       *       *       *       *       *

They hesitated a moment, then crept forward from behind the great
earthen statue. The Martian had his back to them, his attention on the
freeing of his mechanism. Across the dim-lit cavern they crept softly,
and were within a dozen feet of the Martian when some sound made him
wheel quickly to confront them with the deadly tube. But even as he
whirled the two had leaped.

The force of their leap sent them flying through that dozen feet of
space to strike the Martian at the moment his tube levelled. One
hissing call he uttered as they struck him, and then with all his
strength Lanier had grasped the crocodilian body and bent it backward.
Something in it snapped, and the Martian collapsed limply. The two
looked wildly around.

Nothing showed that the Martian's call had been heard, and after a
moment's glance that showed the head of the centipede machine already
freed, they were clambering up into its control room, closing the
door. Randall seized the knob with which he had seen the machines
operated. As he pulled it toward him the machine moved across the
tunnel opening and raced smoothly over the cavern's floor. As he
turned the knob the machine turned swiftly in the same direction.

He headed the long mechanism toward one of the upward-curving tunnels
which the Martians had blasted larger in descending. They were almost
to it when there flashed up into the cavity from one of the downward
tunnel openings a centipede-machine, and then another, and another.
The Martians in their transparent-windowed control rooms took in at a
glance the dead crocodilian on the floor, and then the three great
machines were darting toward that of Randall and Lanier.

"The Martian we killed!" Randall cried. "They heard his call and are
coming after us!"

"Turn to the wall!" Lanier shouted to him. "I have the rays--"

       *       *       *       *       *

At that moment there was a clicking beside Randall and he glimpsed
Lanier pulling forth two small grips he had found, then saw that two
crimson rays were stabbing from tubes in their machine's front toward
the others even as their own rays darted back. The beams that had been
loosed toward them grazed past them as Randall whirled their machine
to the wall, and he saw one of the three attacking mechanisms vanish
as Lanier's beams struck it.

Around--back--with instinctive, lightninglike motions he whirled their
centipede-machine in the great dim-lit cave as the two remaining ones
leapt again to the attack. Their rays shot right and left to catch the
two men's vehicle in a trap of death, and as Randall swung their own
mechanism straight ahead he glimpsed at the cavern's far end the great
earthen worm god still upreared.

On either side of them the red beams burned as they leapt forward, but
as though running a gauntlet of death Randall kept the machine racing
forward in the succeeding second until the two others loomed on either
side of it. Then Lanier's beams were driving in turn to right and left
of them and the two vanished as though by magic as they were struck.

"Up to the surface!" Lanier cried, his eyes on the glowing dial of his
wrist-watch. "We've been held hours here--we've but a half-hour or
more before earth midnight!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Randall sent their machine racing again toward one of the upward
tunnels, and as the long mechanism began to climb smoothly up the
darkness he heard Lanier agonizing beside him.

"God, if we have only enough time to get to that matter-transmitter
before the Martians start flashing to earth through it!"

"But Milton?" Randall cried. "We don't know whether he's alive or
dead! We can't leave him!"

"We must!" said Lanier solemnly. "Our duty's to the earth now, man, to
the world that we alone can save from the Martian invasion and
conquest! At the hour of twelve Nelson will have the matter-receiver
turned on and at that hour the Martian will start flashing to
earth--unless we prevent!"

Suddenly Randall grasped the knob in his hands more tightly as light
showed above them. They had been climbing upward through the enlarged
tunnel at their machine's highest speed, and now as the tunnel curved
the light grew stronger. Suddenly they were emerging into the thin
sunlight of the Martian day.

In the crimson jungle about them were many Martians, milling excitedly
to and fro, and other centipede-machines that were blasting their way
down through tunnels to the worm world beneath.

Randall and Lanier, breathless, crouched low in the
transparent-windowed control room as they sent their mechanism racing
through this scene of swarming activity. Both gasped as one of the
centipede-machines clashed against their own in passing, its Martian
driver turning to stare after them. But there came no alarm, and in a
moment they had passed out of the swarm of Martians and machines and
were heading through the jungle in the direction of the city.

       *       *       *       *       *

Through the weird red vegetation their mechanism raced with them,
Randall holding it at its highest speed, and in minutes they came out
of the jungle and were racing over the clear space between it and the
great canal. Beyond that canal loomed into the thin sunlight the
clustering cones of the mighty Martian city, two towering above all
the others--the cone of the Martian Master and the other cone in which
was the matter-transmitter and receiver.

It was toward the latter that Lanier pointed. "Head straight toward
that cone, Randall--we've but minutes left!"

They were racing now up over the great arch of the canal's metal
bridge, and then scuttling smoothly off it and along the broad metal
street through which they had fled in darkness hours before. In it
Martians and centipede-machines were coming and going in great
numbers, but none noticed the human forms of the two crouched low in
their mechanism's control room.

They were rushing then toward the looming cone of the Martian Master.
As they flashed past it Randall saw Lanier's face working, knew the
desire that tore at him even as at himself to burst inside and
ascertain whether or not Milton still lived in the laboratories from
which they had fled. But they were past it, faces white and grim, were
rushing on through the Martian city at reckless speed toward the other
mighty cone.

       *       *       *       *       *

It seemed that all in the great city were heading toward the same
goal, streams of crocodilian Martians and masses of shining
centipede-machines filling the streets as they moved toward it. As
they came closer to the mighty structure, hearts pounding, they saw
that around it surged a mighty mass of Martians and machines. The
hordes waiting to be released through the matter-transmitter inside
upon the unsuspecting earth!

"Try to get the machine inside!" Lanier whispered tensely. "If we can
smash that transmitter yet...."

Randall nodded grimly. "Keep ready at the ray-tubes," he told the
other.

As unobtrusively as possible he sent their long mechanism worming
forward through the vast throng of machines and Martians, toward the
great cone's door. Crouching low, the hands of their watches closing
fast toward the twelfth figure, they edged forward in the long
machine. At last they were moving through the mighty door, into the
cone's interior.

They moved slowly on through the mass of machines and crocodile forms
inside, then halted. For at the great crowd's center was a clear
circle hundreds of feet across, and as Randall gazed across it his
heart seemed to leap once and then stop.

At the center of that clear circle rose the two cubical metal chambers
of the matter-transmitter and receiver. The transmitting chamber, they
saw, was flooded with humming force, with white light pouring from its
inner walls. It was already in operation, and the masses of Martians
in the great cone were only waiting for the moment to sound when the
receiver on earth would be operating also. Then they would pour into
the chamber to be flashed in masses across the gulf to earth! The eyes
of all in the cone seemed turned toward an erect dial-mechanism beside
the chambers which was clocklike in appearance, and that would mark
the moment when the first Martian could enter the transmitting-chamber
and flash out.

       *       *       *       *       *

A little distance from the two metal chambers stood a low dais on
which there sat the hideous triple-bodied form of the Martian Master.
Around him were the massed members of his council, waiting like him
for the start of their age-planned invasion of earth. And beside the
dais was a figure between two crocodilian guards at sight of whom
Randall forgot all else.

"Milton! My God, Lanier, it's Milton!"

"Milton! They've brought him here to torture or kill him if they find
he's lied about the moment they could flash to earth!"

Milton! And at sight of him something snapped in Randall's brain.

With a single motion of the knob he sent their centipede-machine
crashing out into the clear circle at the mighty cone's center. A wild
uproar of hissing cries broke from all the thousands in it as he sent
the mechanism whirling toward the dais of the Martian Master. He saw
the crocodilian forms there scattering blindly before him, and then
as his rays drove out and spun and stabbed in mad figures of crimson
death through the astounded Martian masses he saw Milton looking up
toward them, crying out crazily to them as his two guards loosed him
for the moment.

A high call from the Martian Master ripped across the hall and was
answered by a shattering roar of hissing voices as Martians and
machines surged madly toward them. Randall and Lanier in a single leap
were out of the centipede-machine, and in an instant had half-dragged
Milton with them in a great leap up to the edge of the humming
transmitting chamber.

       *       *       *       *       *

Milton was shouting hoarsely to them over the wild uproar. To enter
that transmitting chamber before the destined moment was annihilation,
to be flashed out with no receiver on earth awaiting them. They
turned, struck with all their strength at the first Martians rushing
up to them. No rays flashed, for a ray loosed would destroy the
chamber behind them that was the one gate for the Martians to the
world they would invade. But as the Martian Master's high call hissed
again all the countless crocodilian forms in the great cone were
rushing toward them.

Braced at the very edge of the humming, light-filled chamber, Randall
and Lanier and Milton struck madly at the Martians surging up toward
them. Randall seemed in a dream. A score of taloned paws clutched him
from beneath; scaled forms collapsed under his insane blows.

The whole vast cone and surging reptilian hordes seemed spinning at
increasing speed around him. As his clenched fists flashed with waning
strength he glimpsed crocodilian forms swarming up on either side of
them, glimpsed Lanier down, talons reaching toward him, Milton
fighting over him like a madman. Another moment would see it
ended--reptilian arms reaching in scores to drag him down--Milton
jerking Lanier half to his feet. The Martian Master's call
sounded--and then came a great clanging sound at which the Martian
hordes seemed to freeze for an instant motionless, at which Milton's
voice reached him in a supreme cry.

_"Randall--the transmitter!"_

For in that instant Milton was leaping back with Lanier, and as
Randall with his last strength threw himself backward with them into
the humming transmitting-chamber's brilliant light, he heard a last
frenzied roar of hissing cries from the Martian hordes about them.
Then as the brilliant light and force from the chamber's walls smote
them, Randall felt himself hurled into blackness inconceivable, that
smashed like a descending curtain across his brain.

The curtain of blackness lifted for a moment. He was lying with Milton
and Lanier in another chamber whose force beat upon them. He saw a
yellow-lit room instead of the great cone--saw the tense, anxious face
of Nelson at the switch beside them. He strove to move, made to Nelson
a gesture with his arm that seemed to drain all strength and life from
him; and then, as in answer to it Nelson drove up the switch and
turned off the force of the matter-receiver in which they lay, the
black curtain descended on Randall's brain once more.

       *       *       *       *       *

Two hours later it was when Milton and Randall and Lanier and Nelson
turned to the laboratory's door. They paused to glance behind them. Of
the great matter-transmitter and receiver, of the apparatus that had
crowded the laboratory, there remained now but wreckage.

For that had been their first thought, their first task, when the
astounded Nelson had brought the three back to consciousness and had
heard their amazing tale. They had wrecked so completely the
matter-station and its actuating apparatus that none could ever have
guessed what a mechanism of wonder the laboratory a short time before
had held.

The cubical chambers had been smashed beyond all recognition, the
dynamos were masses of split metal and fused wiring, the batteries of
tubes were shattered, the condensers and transformers and wiring
demolished. And it had only been when the last written plans and
blue-prints of the mechanism had been burned that Milton and Randall
and Lanier had stopped to allow their exhausted bodies a moment of
rest.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now as they paused at the laboratory's door, Lanier reached and swung
it open. Together, silent, they gazed out.

It all seemed to Randall exactly as upon the night before. The shadowy
masses in the darkness, the heaving, dim-lit sea stretching far away
before them, the curtain of summer stars stretched across the heavens.
And, sinking westward amid those stars, the red spark of Mars toward
which as though toward a magnet all their eyes had turned.

Milton was speaking. "Up there it has shone for centuries--ages--a
crimson spot of light. And up there the Martians have been watching,
watching--until at last we opened to them the gate."

Randall's hand was on his shoulder. "But we closed that gate, too, in
the end."

Milton nodded slowly. "We--or the fate that rules our worlds. But the
gate is closed, and God grant, shall never again be opened by any on
this world."

"God grant it," the other echoed.

And they were all gazing still toward the thing. Gazing up toward the
crimson spot of light that burned there among the stars, toward the
planet that shone red, menacing, terrible, but whose menace and whose
terror had been thrust back even as they had crouched to spring at
last upon the earth.



The Exile of Time

BEGINNING A FOUR-PART NOVEL

_By Ray Cummings_

CHAPTER I

_Mysterious Girl_

[Illustration: _Presently there was not one Robot, but three!_]

[Sidenote: From somewhere out of Time come a swarm of Robots who
inflict on New York the awful vengeance of the diabolical cripple
Tugh.]


The extraordinary incidents began about 1 A.M. in the night of June
8-9, 1935. I was walking through Patton Place, in New York City, with
my friend Larry Gregory. My name is George Rankin. My business--and
Larry's--are details quite unimportant to this narrative. We had been
friends in college. Both of us were working in New York; and with all
our relatives in the middle west we were sharing an apartment on this
Patton Place--a short crooked, little-known street of not particularly
impressive residential buildings lying near the section known as
Greenwich Village, where towering office buildings of the business
districts encroach close upon it.

This night at 1 A. M. it was deserted. A taxi stood at a corner; its
chauffeur had left it there, and evidently gone to a nearby lunch
room. The street lights were, as always, inadequate. The night was
sultry and dark, with a leaden sky and a breathless humidity that
presaged a thunder storm. The houses were mostly unlighted at this
hour. There was an occasional apartment house among them, but mostly
they were low, ramshackle affairs of brick and stone.

We were still three blocks from our apartment when without warning the
incidents began which were to plunge us and all the city into
disaster. We were upon the threshold of a mystery weird and strange,
but we did not know it. Mysterious portals were swinging to engulf
us. And all unknowing, we walked into them.

Larry was saying, "Wish we would get a storm to clear this air--_what
the devil?_ George, did you hear that?"

       *       *       *       *       *

We stood listening. There had sounded a choking, muffled scream. We
were midway in the block. There was not a pedestrian in sight, nor any
vehicle save the abandoned taxi at the corner.

"A woman," he said. "Did it come from this house?"

We were standing before a three-story brick residence. All its windows
were dark. There was a front stoop of several steps, and a basement
entryway. The windows were all closed, and the place had the look of
being unoccupied.

"Not in there, Larry," I answered. "It's closed for the summer--" But
I got no further; we heard it again. And this time it sounded, not
like a scream, but like a woman's voice calling to attract our
attention.

"George! Look there!" Larry cried.

The glow from a street light illumined the basement entryway, and
behind one of the dark windows a girl's face was pressed against the
pane.

Larry stood gripping me, then drew me forward and down the steps of
the entryway. There was a girl in the front basement room. Darkness
was behind her, but we could see her white frightened face close to
the glass. She tapped on the pane, and in the silence we heard her
muffled voice:

"Let me out! Oh, let me get out!"

The basement door had a locked iron gate. I rattled it. "No way of
getting in," I said, then stopped short with surprise. "What the
devil--"

I joined Larry by the window. The girl was only a few inches from us.
She had a pale, frightened face; wide, terrified eyes. Even with that
first glimpse, I was transfixed by her beauty. And startled; there was
something weird about her. A low-necked, white satin dress disclosed
her snowy shoulders; her head was surmounted by a pile of snow-white
hair, with dangling white curls framing her pale ethereal beauty. She
called again.

"What's the matter with you?" Larry demanded. "Are you alone in there?
What is it?"

       *       *       *       *       *

She backed from the window; we could see her only as a white blob in
the darkness of the basement room.

I called, "Can you hear us? What is it?"

Then she screamed again. A low scream; but there was infinite terror
in it. And again she was at the window.

"You will not hurt me? Let me--oh please let me come out!" Her fists
pounded the casement.

What I would have done I don't know. I recall wondering if the
policeman would be at our corner down the block; he very seldom was
there. I heard Larry saying:

"What the hell!--I'll get her out. George, get me that brick.... Now,
get back, girl--I'm going to smash the window."

But the girl kept her face pressed against the pane. I had never seen
such terrified eyes. Terrified at something behind her in the house;
and equally frightened at us.

I call to her: "Come to the door. Can't you come to the door and open
it?" I pointed to the basement gate. "Open it! Can you hear me?"

"Yes--I can hear you, and you speak my language. But you--you will not
hurt me? Where am I? This--this was my house a moment ago. I was
living here."

Demented! It flashed to me. An insane girl, locked in this empty
house. I gripped Larry; said to him: "Take it easy; there's something
queer about this. We can't smash windows. Let's--"

"You open the door," he called to the girl.

"I cannot."

"Why? Is it locked on the inside?"

"I don't know. Because--oh, hurry! If he--if it comes again--!"

       *       *       *       *       *

We could see her turn to look behind her.

Larry demanded, "Are you alone in there?"

"Yes--now. But, oh! a moment ago he was here!"

"Then come to the door."

"I cannot. I don't know where it is. This is so strange and dark a
place. And yet it was my home, just a little time ago."

Demented! And it seemed to me that her accent was very queer. A
foreigner, perhaps.

She went suddenly into frantic fear. Her fists beat the window glass
almost hard enough to shatter it.

"We'd better get her out," I agreed. "Smash it, Larry."

"Yes." He waved at the girl. "Get back. I'll break the glass. Get away
so you won't get hurt."

The girl receded into the dimness.

"Watch your hand," I cautioned. Larry took off his coat and wrapped
his hand and the brick in it. I gazed behind us. The street was still
empty. The slight commotion we had made had attracted no attention.

The girl cried out again as Larry smashed the pane. "Easy," I called
to her. "Take it easy. We won't hurt you."

The splintering glass fell inward, and Larry pounded around the
casement until it was all clear. The rectangular opening was fairly
large. We could see a dim basement room of dilapidated furniture: a
door opening into a back room; the girl; nearby, a white shape
watching us.

There seemed no one else. "Come on," I said. "You can get out here."

But she backed away. I was half in the window so I swung my legs over
the sill. Larry came after me, and together we advanced on the girl,
who shrank before us.

Then suddenly she ran to meet us, and I had the sudden feeling that
she was not insane. Her fear of us was overshadowed by her terror at
something else in this dark, deserted house. The terror communicated
itself to Larry and me. Something eery, here.

"Come on," Larry muttered. "Let's get her out of here."

       *       *       *       *       *

I had indeed no desire to investigate anything further. The girl let
us help her through the window. I stood in the entryway holding her
arms. Her dress was of billowing white satin with a single red rose at
the breast; her snowy arms and shoulders were bare; white hair was
piled high on her small head. Her face, still terrified, showed parted
red lips; a little round black beauty patch adorned one of her
powdered cheeks. The thought flashed to me that this was a girl in a
fancy dress costume. This was a white wig she was wearing!

I stood with the girl in the entryway, at a loss what to do. I held
her soft warm arms; the perfume of her enveloped me.

"What do you want us to do with you?" I demanded softly. McGuire, the
policeman on the block, might at any moment pass. "We might get
arrested! What's the matter with you? Can't you explain? Are you
hurt?"

She was staring as though I were a ghost, or some strange animal. "Oh,
take me away from this place! I will talk--though I do not know what
to say--"

Demented or sane, I had no desire to have her fall into the clutches
of the police. Nor could we very well take her to our apartment. But
there was my friend Dr. Alten, alienist, who lived within a mile of
here.

"We'll take her to Alten's," I said to Larry, "and find out what this
means. She isn't crazy."

A sudden wild emotion swept me, then. Whatever this mystery, more than
anything in the world I did not want the girl to be insane!

Larry said, "There was a taxi down the street."

       *       *       *       *       *

It came, now, slowly along the deserted block. The chauffeur had
perhaps heard us, and was cruising past to see if we were possible
fares. He halted at the curb. The girl had quieted; but when she saw
the taxi her face registered wildest terror, and she shrank against
me.

"No! No! Don't let it kill me!"

Larry and I were pulling her forward. "What the devil's the matter
with you?" Larry demanded again.

She was suddenly wildly fighting with us. "No! That--that mechanism--"

"Get her in it!" Larry panted. "We'll have the neighborhood on us!"

It seemed the only thing to do. We flung her, scrambling and fighting,
into the taxi. To the half-frightened, reluctant driver, Larry said
vigorously:

"It's all right; we're just taking her to a doctor. Hurry and get us
away from here. There's good money in it for you!"

The promise--and the reassurance of the physician's address--convinced
the chauffeur. We whirled off toward Washington Square.

Within the swaying taxi I sat holding the trembling girl. She was
sobbing now, but quieting.

"There," I murmured. "We won't hurt you; we're just taking you to a
doctor. You can explain to him. He's very intelligent."

"Yes," she said softly. "Yes. Thank you. I'm all right now."

She relaxed against me. So beautiful, so dainty a creature.

Larry leaned toward us. "You're better now?"

"Yes."

"That's fine. You'll be all right. Don't think about it."

       *       *       *       *       *

He was convinced she was insane. I breathed again the vague hope that
it might not be so. She was huddled against me. Her face, upturned to
mine, had color in it now; red lips; a faint rose tint in the pale
cheeks.

She murmured, "Is this New York?"

My heart sank. "Yes," I answered. "Of course it is."

"But when?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, what year?"

"Why, 1935!"

She caught her breath. "And your name is--"

"George Rankin."

"And I,"--her laugh had a queer break in it--"I am Mistress Mary
Atwood. But just a few minutes ago--oh, am I dreaming? Surely I'm not
insane!"

Larry again leaned over us. "What are you talking about?"

"You're friendly, you two. Like men; strange, so very strange-looking
young men. This--this carriage without any horses--I know now it won't
hurt me."

She sat up. "Take me to your doctor. And then to the general of your
army. I must see him, and warn him. Warn you all." She was turning
half hysterical again. She laughed wildly. "Your general--he won't be
General Washington, of course. But I must warn him."

She gripped me. "You think I am demented. But I am not. I am Mary
Atwood, daughter of Major Charles Atwood, of General Washington's
staff. That was my home, where you broke the window. But it did not
look like that a few moments ago. You tell me this is the year 1935,
but just a few moments ago I was living in the year 1777!"


CHAPTER II

_From Out of the Past_

"Sane?" said Dr. Alten. "Of course she's sane." He stood gazing down
at Mary Atwood. He was a tall, slim fellow, this famous young
alienist, with dark hair turning slightly grey at the temples and a
neat black mustache that made him look older than he was. Dr. Alten at
this time, in spite of his eminence, had not yet turned forty.

"She's sane," he reiterated. "Though from what you tell me, it's a
wonder that she is." He smiled gently at the girl. "If you don't mind,
my dear, tell us just what happened to you, as calmly as you can."

She sat by an electrolier in Dr. Alten's living room. The yellow light
gleamed on her white satin dress, on her white shoulders, her
beautiful face with its little round black beauty patch, and the curls
of the white wig dangling to her neck. From beneath the billowing,
flounced skirt the two satin points of her slippers showed.

A beauty of the year 1777! This thing so strange! I gazed at her with
quickened pulse. It seemed that I was dreaming; that as I sat before
her in my tweed business suit with its tubular trousers I was the
anachronism! This should have been candle-light illumining us; I
should have been a powdered and bewigged gallant, in gorgeous satin
and frilled shirt to match her dress. How strange, how futuristic we
three men of 1935 must have looked to her! And this city through which
we had whirled her in the throbbing taxi--no wonder she was
overwrought.

Alten fumbled in the pockets of his dressing gown for cigarettes. "Go
ahead, Miss Mary. You are among friends. I promise we will try and
understand."

       *       *       *       *       *

She smiled. "Yes. I--I believe you." Her voice was low. She sat
staring at the floor, choosing her words carefully; and though she
stumbled a little, her story was coherent. Upon the wings of her words
my fancy conjured that other Time-world, more than a hundred and fifty
years ago.

"I was at home to-night," she began. "To-night after dinner. I have no
relatives except my father. He is General Washington's aide. We
live--our home is north of the city. I was alone, except for the
servants.

"Father sent word to-night that he was coming to see me. The
messenger got through the British lines. But the redcoats are
everywhere. They were quartered in our house. For months I have been
little more than a servant to a dozen of My Lord's Howe's officers.
They are gentlemen, though: I have no complaint. Then they left, and
father, knowing it, wanted to come to see me.

"He should not have tried it. Our house is watched. He promised me he
would not wear the British red." She shuddered. "Anything but that--to
have him executed as a spy. He would not risk that, but wear merely a
long black cloak.

"He was to come about ten o'clock. But at midnight there was no sign
of him. The servants were asleep. I sat alone, and every pounding
hoof-beat on the road matched my heart.

"Then I went into the garden. There was a dim moon in and out of the
clouds. It was hot, like to-night. I mean, why it _was_ to-night. It's
so strange--"

       *       *       *       *       *

In the silence of Alten's living room we could hear the hurried
ticking of his little mantle clock, and from the street outside came
the roar of a passing elevated train and the honk of a taxi. This was
New York of 1935. But to me the crowding ghosts of the past were here.
In fancy I saw the white pillars of the moonlit Atwood home. A garden
with a dirt road beside it. Red-coated British soldiers passing....
And to the south the little city of New York extending northward from
crooked Maiden Lane and the Bowling Green....

"Go on, Mistress Mary."

"I sat on a bench in the garden. And suddenly before me there was a
white ghost. A shape. A wraith of something which a moment before had
not been there. I sat too frightened to move. I could not call out. I
tried to, but the sound would not come.

"The shape was like a mist, a little ball of cloud in the center of
the garden lawn. Then in a second or two it was solid--a thing like a
shining cage, with crisscrossing white bars. It was like a room; a
metal cage like a room. I thought that the thing was a phantom or that
I was asleep and dreaming. But it was real."

Alten interrupted. "How big was it?"

"As large as this room; perhaps larger. But it was square, and about
twice as high as a man."

A cage, then, some twenty feet square and twelve feet high.

She went on: "The cage door opened. I think I was standing, then, and
I tried to run but could not. The--the _thing_ came from the door of
the cage and walked toward me. It was about ten feet tall. It
looked--oh, it looked like a man!"

       *       *       *       *       *

She buried her face in her hands. Again the room was silent. Larry was
seated, staring at her; all of us were breathless.

"Like a man?" Alten prompted gently.

"Yes; like a man." She raised her white face. This girl out of the
past! Admiration for her swept me anew--she was bravely trying to
smile.

"Like a man. A thing with legs, a body, a great round head and swaying
arms. A jointed man of metal! You surely must know all about them."

"A Robot!" Larry muttered.

"You have them here, I suppose. Like that rumbling carriage without
horses, this jointed iron man came walking toward me. And it spoke! A
most horrible hollow voice--but it seemed almost human. And what it
said I do not know, for I fainted. I remember falling as it came
walking toward me, with stiff-jointed legs.

"When I came to my senses I was in the cage. Everything was humming and
glowing. There was a glow outside the bars like a moonlit mist. The iron
monster was sitting at a table, with peculiar things--mechanical things--"

"The controls of the cage-mechanisms," said Alten. "How long were you
in the cage?"

"I don't know. Time seemed to stop. Everything was silent except the
humming noises. They were everywhere. I guess I was only half
conscious. The monster sat motionless. In front of him were big round
clock faces with whirling hands. Oh, I suppose you don't find this
strange; but to me--!"

       *       *       *       *       *

"Could you see anything outside the cage?" Alten persisted. "No. Just
a fog. But it was crawling and shifting. Yes!--I remember now--I could
not see anything out there, but I had the thought, the feeling, that
there were tremendous things to see! The monster spoke again and told
me to be careful; that we were going to stop. Its iron hands pulled at
levers. Then the humming grew fainter; died away; and I felt a shock.

"I thought I had fainted again. I could just remember being pulled
through the cage door. The monster left me on the ground. It said,
'Lie there, for I will return very soon.'

"The cage vanished. I saw a great cliff of stone near me; it had
yellow-lighted openings, high up in the air. And big stone fences
hemmed me in. Then I realized I was in an open space between a lot of
stone houses. One towered like a cliff, or the side of a pyramid--"

"The back yard of that house on Patton Place!" Larry exclaimed. He
looked at me. "Has it any back yard, George?"

"How should I know?" I retorted. "Probably has."

"Go on," Alten was prompting.

"That is nearly all. I found a doorway leading to a dark room. I
crawled through it toward a glow of light. I passed through another
room. I thought I was in a nightmare, and that this was my home. I
remembered that the cage had not moved. It had hardly lurched. Just
trembled; vibrated.

"But this was not my home. The rooms were small and dark. Then I
peered through a window on a strange stone street. And saw these
strange-looking young men. And that is all--all I can tell you."

She had evidently held herself calm by a desperate effort. She broke
down now, sobbing without restraint.


CHAPTER III

_Tugh, the Cripple_

The portals of this mystery had swung wide to receive us. The tumbling
events which menaced all our world of 1935 were upon us now. A
maelstrom. A torrent in the midst of which we were caught up like tiny
bits of cork and whirled away.

But we thought we understood the mystery. We believed we were acting
for the best. What we did was no doubt ill-considered; but the human
mind is so far from omniscient! And this thing was so strange!

Alten said, "You have a right to be overwrought, Mistress Mary Atwood.
But this thing is as strange to us as it is to you. I called that iron
monster a Robot. But it does not belong to our age: if it does I have
never seen one such as you describe. And traveling through Time--"

He smiled down at her. "That is not a commonplace everyday occurrence
to us, I assure you. The difference is that in this world of ours we
can understand--or at least explain--these things as being scientific.
And so they have not the terror of the supernatural."

Mary was calmer now. She returned his smile. "I realize that; or at
least I am trying to realize it."

What a level-headed girl was this! I touched her arm. "You are very
wonderful--"

Alten brushed me away. "Let's try and reduce it to rationality. The
cage was--is, I should say, since of course it still exists--that cage
is a Time-traveling vehicle. It is traveling back and forth through
Time, operated by a Robot. Call it that. A pseudo-human monster
fashioned of metal in the guise of a man."

Even Alten had to force himself to speak calmly, as he gazed from one
to the other of us. "It came, no doubt from some future age, where
half-human mechanisms are common, and Time-traveling is known. That
cage probably does not travel in Space, but only in Time. In the
future--somewhere--the Space of that house on Patton Place may be the
laboratory of a famous scientist. And in the past--in the year
1777--that same Space was the garden of Mistress Atwood's home. So
much is obvious. But why--"

"Why," Larry burst out, "did that iron monster stop in 1777 and abduct
this girl?"

"And why," I intercepted, "did it stop here in 1935?" I gazed at Mary.
"And it told you it would return?"

"Yes."

       *       *       *       *       *

Alten was pondering. "There must be some connection, of course....
Mistress Mary, had you never seen this cage before?"

"No."

"Nor anything like it? Was anything like that known to your Time?"

"No. Oh, I cannot truly say that. Some people believe in phantoms,
omens and witchcraft. There was in Salem, in the Massachusetts Colony,
not so many years ago--"

"I don't mean that. I mean Time-traveling."

"There were soothsayers and fortune-tellers, and necromancers with
crystals to gaze into the future."

"We still have them," Alten smiled. "You see, we don't know much more
than you do about this thing."

I said, "Did you have any enemy? Anyone who wished you harm?"

She thought a moment. "No--yes, there was one." She shuddered at the
memory. "A man--a cripple--a horribly repulsive man of about one score
and ten years. He lives down near the Battery." She paused.

"Tell us about him," Larry urged.

She nodded. "But what could he have to do with this? He is horribly
deformed. Thin, bent legs, a body like a cask and a bulging forehead
with goggling eyes. My Lord Howe's officers say he is very intelligent
and very learned. Loyal to the King, too. There was a munitions plot
in the Bermudas, and this cripple and Lord Howe were concerned in it.
But Father likes the fellow and says that in reality he wishes our
cause well. He is rich.

"But you don't want to hear all this. He--he made love to me, and I
repulsed him. There was a scene with Father, and Father had our
lackeys throw him out. That was a year ago. He cursed horribly. He
vowed then that some day he--he would have me; and get revenge on
Father. But he has kept away. I have not seen him for a twelvemonth."

       *       *       *       *       *

We were silent. I chanced to glance at Alten, and a strange look was
on his face.

He said abruptly, "What is this cripple's name, Mistress Mary?"

"Tugh. He is known to all the city as Tugh. Just that. I never heard
any Christian name."

Alten rose sharply to his feet. "A cripple named Tugh?"

"Yes," she affirmed wonderingly. "Does it mean anything to you?"

Alten swung on me. "What is the number of that house on Patton Place?
Did you happen to notice?"

I had, and wondering I told him.

"Just a minute," he said. "I want to use the phone."

He came back to us in a moment: his face was very solemn. "That house
on Patton Place is owned by a man named Tugh! I just called a reporter
friend; he remembers a certain case: he confirmed what I thought.
Mistress Mary, did this Tugh in your Time ever consult doctors, trying
to have his crippled body made whole?"

"Why, of course he did. I have heard that many times. But his
crippled, deformed body cannot be cured."

Alten checked Larry and me when we would have broken in with
astonished questions. He said:

"Don't ask me what it means; I don't know. But I think that this
cripple--this Tugh--has lived both in 1777 and 1935, and is traveling
between them in this Time-traveling cage. And perhaps he is the human
master of that Robot."

Alten made a vehement gesture. "But we'd better not theorize; it's too
fantastic. Here is the story of Tugh in our Time. He came to me some
three years ago; in 1932, I think. He offered any price if I could
cure his crippled body. All the New York medical fraternity knew him.
He seemed sane, but obsessed with the idea that he must have a body
like other men. Like Faust, who, as an old man, paid the price of his
soul to become youthful, he wanted to have the beautiful body of a
young man."

Alten was speaking vehemently. My thoughts ran ahead of his words; I
could imagine with grewsome fancy so many things. A cripple, traveling
to different ages seeking to be cured. Desiring a different body....

       *       *       *       *       *

Alten was saying, "This fellow Tugh lived alone in that house on
Patton Place. He was all you say of him, Mistress Mary. Hideously
repulsive. A sinister personality. About thirty years old.

"And, in 1932, he got mixed up with a girl who had a somewhat dubious
reputation herself. A dancer, a frequenter of night-clubs, as they
used to be called. Her name was Doris Johns--something like that. She
evidently thought she could get money out of Tugh. Whatever it was,
there was a big uproar. The girl had him arrested, saying that he had
assaulted her. The police had quite a time with the cripple."

Larry and I remembered a few of the details of it now, though neither
of us had been in New York at the time.

Alten went on: "Tugh fought with the police. Went berserk. I imagine
they handled him pretty roughly. In the Magistrate's Court he made
another scene, and fought with the court attendants. With ungovernable
rage he screamed vituperatives, and was carried kicking, biting and
snarling from the court-room. He threatened some wild weird revenge
upon all the city officials--even upon the city itself."

"Nice sort of chap," Larry commented.

But Alten did not smile. "The Magistrate could only hold him for
contempt of Court. The girl had absolutely no evidence to support her
accusation of assault. Tugh was finally dismissed. A week later he
murdered the girl.

"The details are unimportant; but he did it. The police had him
trapped in his house; had the house surrounded--this same one on
Patton Place--but when they burst in to take him, he had inexplicably
vanished. He was never heard from again."

Alten continued to regard us with grim, solemn face. "Never heard
from--until to-night. And now we hear of him. How he vanished, with
the police guarding every exit to that house--well, it's obvious,
isn't it? He went into another Time-world. Back to 1777, doubtless."

Mary Atwood gave a little cry. "I had forgotten that I must warn you.
Tugh told me once, before Father and I quarreled with him, that he had
a mysterious power. He was a most wonderful man, he said. And there
was a world in the future--he mentioned 1934 or 1935--which he hated.
A great city whose people had wronged him; and he was going to bring
death to them. Death to them all! I did not heed him. I thought he was
demented, raving...."

       *       *       *       *       *

Alten's little clock ticked with tumultuous heartbeat through another
silence. The great city around us, even though this was two o'clock
in the morning, throbbed with a myriad of blended sounds.

A warning! Was the girl from out of the past giving us a warning of
coming disaster to this great city?

Alten was pacing the floor. "What are we to do--tell the authorities?
Take Mistress Mary Atwood to Police Headquarters and inform them that
she has come from the year 1777? And that, if we are not careful,
there will be an attack upon New York?"

"No!" I burst out. I could fancy how we would be received at Police
Headquarters if we did that! And our pictures in to-morrow's
newspapers. Mary's picture, with a jibing headline ridiculing us.

"No," echoed Alten. "I have no intention of doing it. I'm not so
foolish as that." He stopped before Mary. "What do you want to do?
You're obviously an exceptionally intelligent, level-headed girl.
Heaven knows you need to be."

"I--I want to get back home," she stammered.

A pang shot through me as she said it. A hundred and fifty years to
separate us. A vast gulf. An impassible barrier.

"That mechanism said it would return!"

"Exactly," agreed Alten. An excitement was upon us all. "Exactly what
I mean! Shall we chance it? Try it? There's nothing else I can think
of to do. I have a revolver and two hunting rifles."

"Just what do you mean?" I demanded.

"I mean, we'll take my car and go to Tugh's house on Patton Place.
Right now! And if that mechanical monster returns, we'll seize it!"

Alten, the usually calm, precise man of science, was tensely vehement.
"Seize it! Why not? Three of us, armed, ought to be able to overcome a
Robot! Then we'll seize the Time-traveling cage. Perhaps we can
operate it. If not, with it in our possession we'll at least have
something to show the authorities; there'll be no ridicule then!"

Our inescapable destiny was making us plunge so rashly into this
mystery! With the excitement and the strange fantasy of it upon us, we
thought we were acting for the best.

Within a quarter of an hour, armed and with a long overcoat and a
scarf to hide Mary Atwood's beauty, we took Alten's car and drove to
Patton Place.


CHAPTER IV

_The Fight With the Robot_

Patrolman McGuire quite evidently had not passed through Patton Place
since we left it; or at least he had not noticed the broken window.
The house appeared as before, dark, silent, deserted, and the broken
basement window yawned with its wide black opening.

"I'll leave the car around on the other street," Alten said as slowly
we passed the house. "Quick--no one's in sight; you three get out
here."

We crouched in the dim entryway and in a moment he joined us.

I clung to Mary Atwood's arm. "You're not afraid?" I asked.

"No. Yes; of course I am afraid. But I want to do what we planned. I
want to go back to my own world, to my Father."

"Inside!" Alten whispered. "I'll go first. You two follow with her."

I can say now that we should not have taken her into that house. It is
so easy to look back upon what one might have done!

We climbed through the window, into the dark front basement room.
There was only silence, and our faintly padding footsteps on the
carpeted floor. The furniture was shrouded with cotton covers standing
like ghosts in the gloom. I clutched the loaded rifle which Alten had
given me. Larry was similarly armed; and Alten carried a revolver.

"Which way, Mary?" I whispered. "You're sure it was outdoors?"

"Yes. This way, I think."

We passed through the connecting door. The back room seemed to be a
dismantled kitchen.

"You stay with her here, a moment," Alten whispered to me. "Come on,
Larry. Let's make sure no one--nothing--is down here."

I stood silent with Mary, while they prowled about the lower floor.

"It may have come and gone," I whispered.

"Yes." She was trembling against me.

       *       *       *       *       *

It seemed to me an eternity while we stood there listening to the
faint footfalls of Larry and Alten. Once they must have stood quiet;
then the silence leaped and crowded us. It is horrible to listen to a
pregnant silence which every moment might be split by some weird
unearthly sound.

Larry and Alten returned. "Seems to be all clear," Alten whispered.
"Let's go into the back yard."

The little yard was dim. The big apartment house against its rear wall
loomed with a blank brick face, save that there were windows some
eight stories up. Only a few windows overlooked this dim area with its
high enclosing walls. The space was some forty feet square, and there
was a faded grass plot in the center.

We crouched near the kitchen door, with Mary behind us in the room.
She said she could recall the cage having stood near the center of the
yard, with its door facing this way....

Nearly an hour passed. It seemed that the dawn must be near, but it
was only around four o'clock. The same storm clouds hung overhead--a
threatening storm which would not break. The heat was oppressing.

"It's come and gone," Larry whispered; "or it isn't coming. I guess
that this--"

And then it came! We were just outside the doorway, crouching against
the shadowed wall of the house. I had Mary close behind me, my rifle
ready.

"There!" whispered Alten.

We all saw it--a faint luminous mist out near the center of the
yard--a crawling, shifting ball of fog.

Alten and Larry, one on each side of me, shifted sidewise, away from
me. Mary stood and cast off her dark overcoat. We men were in dark
clothes, but she stood in gleaming white against the dark rectangle of
doorway. It was as we had arranged. A moment only, she stood there;
then she moved back, further behind me in the black kitchen.

And in that moment the cage had materialized. We were hoping its
occupant had seen the girl, and not us. A breathless moment passed
while we stared for the first time at this strange thing from the
Unknown.... A formless, glowing mist, it quickly gathered itself into
solidity. It seemed to shrink. It took form. From a wraith of a cage,
in a second it was solid. And so silently, so swiftly, came this thing
out of Time into what we call the Present! The dim yard a second ago
had been empty.

       *       *       *       *       *

The cage stood there, a thing of gleaming silver bars. It seemed to
enclose a single room. From within its dim interior came a faint glow,
which outlined something standing at the bars, peering out.

The doorway was facing us. There had been utter silence; but suddenly,
as though to prove how solid was this apparition, we heard the clank
of metal, and the door slid open.

I turned to make sure that Mary was hiding well behind me. The way
back to the street, if need for escape arose, was open to her.

I turned again, to face the shining cage. In the doorway something
stood peering out, a light behind it. It was a great jointed thing of
dark metal some ten feet high. For a moment it stood motionless. I
could not see its face clearly, though I knew there was a suggestion
of human features, and two great round glowing spots of eyes.

It stepped forward--toward us. A jointed, stiff-legged step. Its arms
were dangling loosely; I heard one of its mailed hands clank against
its sides.

"Now!" Alten whispered.

I saw Alten's revolver leveling, and my own rifle went up.

"Aim at its face," I murmured.

We pulled our triggers together, and two spurts of flame spat before
us. But the thing had stooped an instant before, and we missed. Then
came Larry's shot. And then chaos.

       *       *       *       *       *

I recall hearing the ping of Larry's bullet against the mailed body of
the Robot. At that it crouched, and from it leaped a dull red-black
beam of light. I heard Mary scream. She had not fled but was clinging
to me. I cast her off.

"Run! Get back! Get away!" I cried.

Larry shouted, as we all stood bathed in the dull light from the
Robot:

"Look out! It sees us!"

He fired again, into the light--and murmured, "Why--why--"

A great surprise and terror was in his tone. Beside me, with
half-leveled revolver, Alten stood transfixed. And he too was
muttering something.

All this happened in an instant. And there I was aware that I was
trying to get my rifle up for firing again; but I could not. My arms
stiffened. I tried to take a step, tried to move a foot, but could
not. I was rooted there; held, as though by some giant magnet, to the
ground!

This horrible dull-red light! It was cold--a frigid, paralyzing blast.
The blood ran like cold water in my veins. My feet were heavy with the
weight of my body pressing them down.

Then the Robot was moving; coming forward; holding the light upon us.
I thought I heard its voice--and a horrible, hollow, rasping laugh.

My brain was chilling. I had confused thoughts; impressions, vague and
dreamlike. As though in a dream I felt myself standing there with
Mary clinging to me. Both of us were frozen inert upon our feet.

I tried to shout, but my tongue was too thick; my throat seemed
swelling inside. I heard Alten's revolver clatter to the stone
pavement of the yard. And saw him fall forward--out.

       *       *       *       *       *

I felt that in another instant I too would fall. This damnable,
chilling light! Then the beam turned partly away, and fell more fully
upon Larry. With his youth and greater strength than Alten's or mine,
he had resisted its first blast. His weapon had fallen; now he stooped
and tried to seize it; but he lost his balance and staggered backward
against the house wall.

And then the Robot was upon him. It sprang--this mechanism!--this
machine in human form! And, with whatever pseudo-human intelligence
actuated its giant metal body, it reached under Larry for his rifle!
Its great mailed hand swept the ground, seized the rifle and flung it
away. And as Larry twisted sidewise, the Robot's arm with a sweep
caught him and rolled him across the yard. When he stopped, he lay
motionless.

I heard myself thickly calling to Mary, and the light flashed again
upon us. And then we fell forward. Clinging together, we fell....

I did not quite lose consciousness. It seemed that I was frozen, and
drifting off half into a nightmare sleep. Great metal arms were
gathering Mary and me from the ground. Lifting us; carrying us....

We were in the cage. I felt myself lying on the grid of a metal floor.
I could vaguely see the crossed bars of the ceiling overhead, and the
latticed walls around me....

       *       *       *       *       *

Then the dull-red light was gone. The chill was gone. I was warming.
The blessed warm blood again was coursing through my veins, reviving
me, bringing back my strength.

I turned over, and found Mary lying beside me. I heard her softly
murmur:

"George! George Rankin!"

The giant mechanism clanked the door closed, and came with stiff,
stilted steps back into the center of the cage. I heard the hollow
rumble of its voice, chuckling, as its hand pulled a switch.

At once the cage-room seemed to reel. It was not a physical movement,
though, but more a reeling of my senses, a wild shock to all my being.

Then, after a nameless interval, I steadied. Around me was a humming,
glowing intensity of tiny sounds and infinitely small, infinitely
rapid vibrations. The whole room grew luminous. The Robot, seated now
at a table, showed for a moment as thin as an apparition. All this
room--Mary lying beside me, the mechanism, myself--all this was
imponderable, intangible, unreal.

And outside the bars stretched a shining mist of movement. Blurred
shifting shapes over a vast illimitable vista. Changing things;
melting landscapes. Silent, tumbling, crowding events blurred by our
movement as we swept past them.

We were traveling through Time!


CHAPTER V

_The Girl from 2930_

I must take up now the sequence of events as Larry saw them. I was
separated from Larry during most of the strange incidents which befell
us later; but from his subsequent account of what happened to him I am
constructing several portions of this history, using my own words
based upon Larry's description of the events in which I personally did
not participate; I think that this method avoids complications in the
narrative and makes more clear my own and Larry's simultaneous
actions.

Larry recovered consciousness in the back yard of the house on Patton
Place probably only a moment or two after Mary and I had been snatched
away in the Time-traveling cage. He found himself bruised and
battered, but apparently without injuries. He got to his feet, weak
and shaken. His head was roaring.

He recalled what had happened to him, but it seemed like a dream. The
back yard was then empty. He remembered vaguely that he had seen the
mechanism carry Mary and me into the cage, and that the cage had
vanished.

Larry knew that only a few moments had passed. The shots had aroused
the neighborhood. As he stood now against the house wall, dizzily
looking around, he was aware of calling voices from the nearby
windows.

Then Larry stumbled over Alten, who was lying on his face near the
kitchen doorway. Still alive, he groaned as Larry fell over him; but
he was unconscious.

Forgetting all about his weapon, Larry's first thought was to rush out
for help. He staggered through the dark kitchen into the front room,
and through the corridor into the street.

Patton Place, as before, was deserted. The houses were dark; the alarm
was all in the rear. There were no pedestrians, no vehicles, and no
sign of a policeman. Dawn was just coming; as Larry turned eastward he
saw, in a patch of clearing sky, stars paling with the coming
daylight.

       *       *       *       *       *

With uncertain steps, out in the middle of the street, Larry ran
eastward through the middle of the street, hoping that at the next
corner he might encounter someone, or find a telephone over which he
might call the police.

But he had not gone more than five hundred feet when suddenly he
stopped; stood there wavering, panting, staring with whirling senses.
Near the middle of the street, with the faint dawn behind it, a ball
of gathering mist had appeared directly in his path. It was a
luminous, shining mist--and it was gathering into form!

In seconds a small, glowing cage of white luminous bars stood there in
the street, where there had just been nothing! It was not the
Time-traveling cage from the house yard he had just left. No--he knew
it was not that one. This one was similar, but much smaller.

The shock of its appearance held Larry for a moment transfixed. It had
so silently, so suddenly appeared in his path that Larry was now
within a foot or two of its doorway.

The doorway slid open, and a man leaped out. Behind him, a girl peered
from the doorway. Larry stood gaping, wholly confused. The cage had
materialized so abruptly that the leaping man collided with him before
either man could avoid the other. Larry gripped the man before him;
struck out with his fists and shouted. The girl in the doorway called
frantically:

"Harl-no noise! Harl-stop him!"

Then, suddenly the two of them were upon Larry and pulling him toward
the doorway of the cage. Inside, he was jerked; he shouted wildly; but
the girl slammed the door. Then in a soft, girlish voice, in English
with a curiously indescribable accent and intonation, the girl said
hastily:

"Hold him, Harl! Hold him! I'll start the traveler!"

The black garbed figure of a slim young man was gripping Larry as the
girl pulled a switch and there was a shock, a reeling of Larry's
senses, as the cage, motionless in Space, sped off into Time....

       *       *       *       *       *

It seems needless to encumber this narrative with prolonged details of
how Larry explained himself to his two captors. Or how they told him
who they were; and from whence they had come; and why. To Larry it was
a fantastic--and confusing at first--series of questions and answers.
An hour? The words have no meaning. They were traveling through Time.
Years were minutes--the words meaning nothing save how they impressed
the vehicle's human occupants. To them all it was an interval of
mutual distrust which was gradually changing into friendship. Larry
found the two strangers singularly direct; singularly forceful in
quiet, calm fashion; singularly keen of perception. They had not meant
to capture him. The encounter had startled them, and Larry's shouts
would have brought others upon the scene.

Almost at once they knew Larry was no enemy, and told him so. And in a
moment Larry was pouring out all that had happened to him; and to
Alten and Mary Atwood and me. This strange thing! But to Larry now,
telling it to these strange new companions, it abruptly seemed not
fantastic, but only sinister. The Robot, an enemy, had captured Mary
Atwood and me, and whirled us off in the other--the larger--cage.

And in this smaller cage Larry was with friends--for he suddenly found
their purpose the same as his! They were chasing this other
Time-traveler, with its semi-human, mechanical operator!

The young man said, "You explain to him, Tina. I will watch."

He was a slim, pale fellow, handsome in a queer, tight-lipped,
stern-faced fashion. His close-fitting black silk jacket had a white
neck ruching and white cuffs; he wore a wide white-silk belt, snug
black-silk knee-length trousers and black stockings.

And the girl was similarly dressed. Her black hair was braided and
coiled upon her head, and ornaments dangled from her ears. Over her
black blouse was a brocaded network jacket; her white belt,
compressing her slim waist, dangled with tassels; and there were other
tassels on the garters at the knees of her trousers.

She was a pale-faced, beautiful girl, with black brows arching in a
thin line, with purple-black eyes like somber pools. She was no more
than five feet tall, and slim and frail. But, like her companion,
there was about her a queer aspect of calm, quiet power and force of
personality--physical vitality merged with an intellect keenly sharp.

She sat with Larry on a little metal bench, listening, almost without
interruption, to his explanation. And then, succinctly she gave her
own. The young man, Harl, sat at his instruments, with his gaze
searching for the other cage, five hundred feet away in Space, but in
Time unknown.

And outside the shining bars Larry could vaguely see the blurred,
shifting, melting vistas of New York City hastening through the
changes Time had brought to it.

       *       *       *       *       *

This young man, Harl, and this girl, Tina, lived in New York City in
the Time-world of 2930 A. D. To Larry it was a thousand years in the
future. Tina was the Princess of the American Nation. It was an
hereditary title, non-political, added several hundred years
previously as a picturesque symbol. A tradition; something to make
less prosaic the political machine of Republican government. Tina was
loved by her people, we afterward came to learn.

Harl was an aristocrat of the New York City of Tina's Time-world, a
scientist. In the Government laboratories, under the same roof where
Tina dwelt, Harl had worked with another, older scientist, and--so
Tina told me--together they had discovered the secret of
Time-traveling. They had built two cages, a large and a small, which
could travel freely through Time.

The smaller vehicle--this one in which Larry now was speeding--was, in
the Time-world of 2930, located in the garden of Tina's palace. The
other, somewhat larger, they had built some five hundred feet distant,
just beyond the palace walls, within a great Government laboratory.

Harl's fellow scientist--the leader in their endeavors, since he was
much older and of wider experience--was not altogether trusted by
Tina. He took the credit for the discovery of Time-traveling; yet,
said Tina, it was Harl's genius which in reality had worked out the
final problems.

And this older scientist was a cripple. A hideously repulsive fellow,
named Tugh!

"Tugh!" exclaimed Larry.

"The same," said Tina in her crisp fashion. "Yes--undoubtedly the
same. So you see why what you have told us was of such interest. Tugh
is a Government leader in our world; and now we find he has lived in
_your_ Time, and in the Time of this Mary Atwood."

From his seat at the instrument table, Harl burst out: "So he murdered
a girl of 1935, and has abducted another of 1777? You would not have
me judge him, Tina--"

"No one," she said, "may judge without full facts. This man here--this
Larry of 1935--tells us that only a mechanism is in the larger
cage--which is what we thought, Harl. And this mechanism, without a
doubt, is the treacherous Migul."

       *       *       *       *       *

There was, in 2930, a vast world of machinery. The god of the machine
had developed them to almost human intricacy. Almost all the work of
the world, particularly in America, and most particularly in the
mechanical center of New York City, was done by machinery. And the
machinery itself was guided, handled, operated--even, in some
instances, constructed--by other, more intricate machines. They were
fashioned in pseudo-human form--thinking, logically acting,
independently acting mechanisms: the Robots. All but human, they
were--a new race. Inferior to humans, yet similar.

And in 2930 the machines, slaves of idle human masters, had been
developed too highly! They were upon the verge of a revolt!

All this Tina briefly sketched now to Larry. And to Larry it seemed a
very distant, very academic danger. Yet so soon all of us were plunged
into the midst of it!

The revolt had not yet come, but it was feared. A great Robot named
Migul seemed fomenting it. The revolt was smouldering; at any moment
it would burst; and then the machines would rise to destroy the
humans.

This was the situation when Harl and Tugh completed the Time-traveling
vehicles in this world. They had been tested, but never used. Then
Tugh had vanished; was gone now; and the larger of the two vehicles
was also gone.

Both Harl and Tina had always distrusted Tugh. They thought him allied
to the Robots. But they had no proof; and suavely he denied it, and
helped always with the Government activities struggling to keep the
mechanical slaves docile and at work.

       *       *       *       *       *

Tugh and the larger vehicle had vanished, and so had Migul, the
insubordinate, giant mechanism--at which, unknown to the Government
officials, Tina and Harl had taken the other cage and started in
pursuit. It was possible that Tugh was loyal; that Migul had abducted
him and stolen the cage.

"Wait!" exclaimed Larry. "I'm trying to figure this out. It seems to
hang together. It almost does, but not quite. When did Tugh vanish
from your world?"

"To our consciousness," Tina answered, "about three hours ago. Perhaps
a little longer than that."

"But look here," Larry protested: "according to my story and that of
Mary Atwood, Tugh lived in 1935 and in 1777 for three years."

Confusing? But in a moment Larry understood it. Tugh could have taken
the cage, gone to 1777 and to 1935, alternated between them for what
was to him, and to those Time-worlds, three years--then have returned
to 2930 _on the same day of his departure_. He would have lived these
three years; grown that much older; but to the Time-world of 2930
neither he nor the cage would have been missed.

"That," said Tina, "is what doubtless he did. The cage is traveling
again. But you, Larry, tell us only Migul is in it."

"I couldn't say that of my own knowledge," said Larry. "Mary Atwood
said so. It held only the mechanism you call Migul. And now Migul has
with him Mary and my friend George Rankin. We must reach them."

"We want that quite as much as you do," said Harl. "And to find Tugh.
If he is a friend we must save him; if a traitor--punish him."

Larry began, "But can you get to the other cage?"

"Only if it stops," said Tina. "_When_ it stops, I should say."

"Come here," said Harl. "I will show you."

       *       *       *       *       *

Larry crossed the glowing room. He had forgotten its aspect--the
ghostly unreality around him. He too--his body, like Harl's and
Tina's--was of the same wraith-like substance.... Then, suddenly,
Larry's viewpoint shifted. The room and its occupants were real and
tangible. And outside the glowing bars--everything out there was the
unreality.

"Here," said Harl. "I will show you. It is not visible yet."

Each of the cages was equipped with an intricate device, strange of
name, which Larry and I have since termed a Time-telespectroscope.
Larry saw it now as a small metal box, with tuning vibration dials,
batteries, coils, a series of tiny prisms and an image-mirror--the
whole surmounted by what appeared the barrel of a small telescope.
Harl had it leveled and was gazing through it.[1]

[Footnote 1: The workings of the Time-telespectroscope involve all the
intricate postulates and mathematical formulae of Time-traveling
itself. As a matter of practicality, however, the results obtained are
simple of understanding. The etheric vibratory rate of the vehicles
while traveling through Time was constantly changing. Through the
telespectroscope one cage was visible to the other across the five
hundred feet of intervening Space when they approached a simultaneous
Time; when they, so to speak, were tuned in unison.

Thus, Harl explained, the other cage would show as a ghost, the
faintest of wraiths, over a Time-distance of some five or ten years.
And the closer in Time they approached it, the more solid it would
appear.]

The enemy cage was not visible, now. But Harl and Tina had glimpsed it
on several occasions. What vast realms Time opens within a single
small segment of Space! The larger vehicle seemed speeding back and
forth. A dash into the year 1777! as Larry learned from Mary Atwood.

And there had been several evidences of the cage halting in 1935.
Larry's account explained two such pauses. But the others? Those
others, which brought to the City of New York such amazing disaster?
We did not learn of then until much later. But Alten lived through
them, and presently I shall reconstruct them from his account.

The larger cage was difficult to trace in its sweep along the
corridors of Time. Never once had Tina and Harl been able to stop
simultaneously with it, for a year has so many separate days and
hours. The nearest they came was the halt in the night of June 8-9,
when they encountered Larry, and, startled, seized him and moved on
again.

       *       *       *       *       *

Harl continued to gaze through the eyepiece of the detecting
instrument. But nothing showed, and the mirror-grid on the table was
dark.

"But--which way are we going?" Larry stammered.

"Back," said Tina. "The retrograde.... Wait! Do not do that!"

Larry had turned toward where the bars, less luminous, showed a dark
rectangle like a window. The desire swept him to gaze out at the
shining, changing scene.

But Tina checked him. "Do not do that! Not yet! It is too great a
shock in the retrograde. It was to me."

"But where are we?"

In answer she gestured toward a series of tiny dials on the table
edge. There were at least two score of them, laid in a triple bank.
Dials to record the passing minutes, hours, days; the years, the
centuries! Larry stared at the small whirring pointers. Some were a
blur of swift whirling movement--the hours and days. Tina showed Larry
how to read them. The cage was passing through the year 1880. In a few
moments of Larry's consciousness it was 1799. Then 1793. The infant
American nation was here now. But with the cage retrograding, soon
they would be in the Revolutionary War.

Tina said. "The other cage may go back to 1777, if Tugh meant ill to
Mary Atwood, or wants revenge upon her father, at you said. We shall
see."

They had reached 1790 when Harl gave a low ejaculation.

"You see it?" Tina murmured.

"Yes. Very faintly."

Larry bent tensely forward. "Will it show on the mirror?"

"Yes; presently. We are about ten years from it. If we get closer, the
mirror will show it."

But the mirror held dark. No--now it was glowing a trifle. A vague
luminosity.

Tina moved toward the instrument controls nearby. "Watch closely,
Harl. I will slow us down."

       *       *       *       *       *

It seemed to Larry that the humming with which everything around him
was endowed, now began descending in pitch. And his head suddenly was
unsteady. A singular, wild, queer feeling was within him. An unrest. A
tugging torment of every tiny cell of his body.

Tina said. "Hold steady, Larry, for when we stop."

"Will it shock me?"

"Yes--at first. But the shock will not harm you: it is nearly all
mental."

The mirror held an image now--the other cage. Larry saw, on the
six-inch square mirror surface, a crawling, melting scene of movement.
And in the midst of it, the image of the other cage, faint and
spectral. In all the mirrored movement, only the apparition of the
cage was still. And this marked it; made it visible.

Over an interval, while Larry stared, the ghostly image grew plainer.
They were approaching its Time-factor!

"It is stopping," Harl murmured. Larry was aware that he had left the
eyepiece and joined Tina at the controls.

"Tina, let us try to get it right this time."

"Yes."

"In 1777; but which month, would you say?"

"It has stopped! See?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Larry heard them clicking switches, and setting the controls for a
stop. Then he felt Tina gently push him.

"Sit here. Standing, you might fall."

He found himself on a bench. He could still see the mirror. The ghost
of the other cage was now lined more plainly upon it.

"This month," said Tina, setting a switch. "Would not you say so? And
this day."

"But the hour, Tina? The minute?"

The vast intricate corridors of Time!

"It would be in the night. Hasten, Harl, or we will pass! Try the
night--around midnight. Even Migul has the mechanical intelligence to
fear a daylight pausing."

The controls were set for the stop. Larry heard Tina murmuring, "Oh, I
pray we may have judged with correctness!"

The vehicle was rapidly coming to a stop. Larry gripped the table,
struggling to hold firm to his reeling senses. This soundless,
grinding halt! His swaying gaze strayed from the mirror. Outside the
glowing bars he could now discern the luminous greyness separating.
Swift, soundless claps of light and dark, alternating. Daylight and
darkness. They had been blended, but now they were separating. The
passing, retrograding days--a dozen to the second of Larry's
consciousness. Then fewer. Vivid daylight. Black night. Daylight
again.

"Not too slowly, Harl; we will be seen!... Oh, it is gone!"

Larry saw the mirror go blank. The image on it had flared to great
distinctness, faded, and was gone. Darkness was around Larry. Then
daylight. Then darkness again.

"Gone!" echoed Harl's disappointed voice. "But it stopped here!...
Shall we stop, Tina?"

"Yes! Leave the control settings as they are. Larry--be careful, now."

A dragging second of grey daylight. A plunge into night. It seemed to
Larry that all the universe was soundlessly reeling. Out of the chaos,
Tina was saying:

"We have stopped. Are you all right, Larry?"

"Yes," he stammered.

       *       *       *       *       *

He stood up. The cage room, with its faint lights, benches and
settles, instrument tables and banks of controls, was flooded with
moonlight from outside the bars. Night, and the moon and stars out
there.

Harl slid the door open. "Come, let us look."

The reeling chaos had fallen swiftly from Larry. With Tina's small
black and white figure beside him, he stood at the threshold of the
cage. A warm gentle night breeze fanned his face.

A moonlit landscape lay somnolent around the cage. Trees were nearby.
The cage stood in a corner of a field by a low picket fence. Behind
the trees, a ribbon of road stretched away toward a distant shining
river. Down the road some five hundred feet, the white columns of a
large square brick house gleamed in the moonlight. And behind the
house was a garden and a group of barns and stables.

The three in the cage doorway stood whispering, planning. Then two of
them stepped to the ground. They were Larry and Tina; Harl remained to
guard the cage.

The two figures on the ground paused a moment and then moved
cautiously along the inside line of the fence toward the home of Major
Atwood. Strange anachronisms, these two prowling figures! A girl from
the year 2930; a man from 1935!

And this was revolutionary New York, now. The little city lay well to
the south. It was open country up here. The New York of 1935 had
melted away and was gone....

This was a night in August of 1777.


CHAPTER VI

_The New York Massacre of 1935_

Dr. Alten recovered consciousness in the back yard of the house on
Patton Place just a few moments after Larry had encountered the
smaller Time-traveling cage and been carried off by Harl and Tina.
Previously to that, of course, the mysterious mechanism in the guise
of a giant man had abducted Mary Atwood and me in the larger
Time-cage.

Alten became aware that people were bending over him. The shots we had
taken at the Robot had aroused the neighborhood. A policeman arrived.

The sleeping neighbors had heard the shots, but it seemed that none
had seen the cage, or the metal man who had come from it. Alten said
nothing. He was taken to the nearest police station where grudgingly,
he told his story. He was laughed at; reprimanded for alcoholism.
Evidently, according to the police sergeant, there had been a fight,
and Alten had drawn the loser's end. The police confiscated the two
rifles and the revolver and decided that no one but Alten had been
hurt. But at best it was a queer affair. Alten had not been shot; he
was just stiff with cold; he said a dull-red ray had fallen upon him
and stiffened him with its frigid blast. Utter nonsense!

Dr. Alten was a man of standing. It was a reprehensible affair, but he
was released upon his own recognizance. He was charged with breaking
into the untenanted home of one Tugh; of illegally possessing
firearms; of disturbing the peace--a variety of offenses all rational
to the year 1935.

       *       *       *       *       *

But Alten's case never reached even its hearing in the Magistrate's
Court. He arrived home just after dawn, that June 9, still cold and
stiff from the effects of the ray, and bruised and battered by the
sweeping blow of Miguel's great iron arm. He recalled vaguely seeing
Larry fall, and the iron monster bearing Mary Atwood and me away. What
had happened to Larry, Alten could not guess, unless the Robot had
returned, ignored him and taken his friend away.

During that day of June 9 Alten summoned several of his scientific
friends, and to them he told fully what had happened to him. They
listened with a keen understanding and a rational knowledge of the
possibility that what he said was true; but credibility they could not
give him.

The noon papers came out.

     NOTED ALIENIST ATTACKED BY GHOST Felled by One of the
     Fantastic Monsters of His Brain

A jocular, jibing account. Then Alten gave it up. He had about decided
to plead guilty in the Magistrate's Court to disorderly conduct and
all the rest of it! That was preferable to being judged a liar, or
insane.

       *       *       *       *       *

And then, at about 9 P.M. on the evening of June 9, the first of the
mechanical monsters came stalking from the house on Patton Place--the
beginning of the revenge which Tugh had threatened when arrested. The
policeman at the corner--one McGuire--turned in the first hysterical
alarm. He rushed into a little candy and stationery store shouting
that he had seen a piece of machinery running wild. His telephone call
brought a squad of his comrades. The Robot at first did no damage.

McGuire later told how he saw it as it emerged from the entryway of
the Tugh house. It came lurching out into the street--a giant thing of
dull grey metal, with tubular, jointed legs; a body with a great
bulging chest; a round head, eight or ten feet above the pavement;
eyes that shot fire.

The policeman took to his heels. There was a commotion in Patton Place
during those next few minutes. Pedestrians saw the thing standing in
the middle of the street, staring stupidly around it. The head
wobbled. Some said that the eyes shot fire; others, that it was not
the eyes, but more like a torch in its mailed hand. The torch shot a
small beam of light around the street--a beam which was dull-red.

The pedestrians fled. Their cries brought people to the nearby house
windows. Women screamed. Presently bottles were thrown from the
windows. One of these crashed against the iron shoulder of the
monster. It turned its head: as though its neck were rubber, some
said. And it gazed upward, with a human gesture as though it were not
angry, but contemptuous.

But still, beyond a step or two in one direction or another, it merely
stood and waved its torch. The little dull-red beam of light carried
no more than twenty or thirty feet. The street in a few moments was
clear of pedestrians; remained littered with glass from the broken
bottles. A taxi came suddenly around the corner, and the driver, with
an almost immediate tire puncture, saw the monster. He hauled up to
the curb, left his cab and ran.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Robot saw the taxicab, and stood gazing. It turned its torch-beam
on it, and seemed surprised that the thing did not move. Then thinking
evidently that this was a less cowardly enemy than the humans, it made
a rush to it. The chauffeur had not turned off his engine when he
fled, so the cab stood throbbing.

The Robot reached it; cuffed it with a huge mailed fist. The
windshield broke; the windows were shattered; but the cab stood
purring, planted upon its four wheels.

Strange encounter! They say that the Robot tried to talk to it. At
last, exasperated, it stepped backward, gathered itself and pounced on
it again. Stooping, it put one of its great arms down under the
wheels, the other over the hood, and with prodigious strength heaved
the cab into the air. It crashed on its side across the street, and in
a moment was covered with flames.

It was about this time that Patrolman McGuire came back to the scene.
He shot at the monster a few times; hit it, he was sure. But the Robot
did not heed him.

The block was now in chaos. People stood at most of the windows,
crowds gathered at the distant street corners, while the blazing
taxicab lighted the block with a lurid glare. No one dared approach
within a hundred feet or so of the monster. But when, after a time, it
showed no disposition to attack, throngs at every distinct point of
vantage tried to gather where they could see it. Those nearest
reported back that its face was iron; that it had a nose, a wide,
yawning mouth, and holes for eyes. There were certainly little lights
in the eye-holes.

A small, fluffy white dog went dashing up to the monster and barked
bravely at its heels. It leaped nimbly away when the Robot stooped to
seize it. Then, from the Robot's chest, the dull-red torch beam leaped
out and down. It caught the little dog, and clung to it for an
instant. The dog stood transfixed; its bark turned to a yelp; then a
gurgle. In a moment it fell on its side; then lay motionless with
stiffened legs sticking out.

       *       *       *       *       *

All this happened within five minutes. McGuire's riot squad arrived,
discreetly ranged itself at the end of the block and fired. The Robot
by then had retreated to the entryway of the Tugh house, where it
stood peering as though with curiosity at all this commotion. There
came a clanging from the distance: someone had turned in a fire alarm.
Through the gathered crowds and vehicles the engines came tearing up.

Presently there was not one Robot, but three: a dozen! More than that,
many reports said. But certain it is that within half an hour of the
first alarm, the block in front of Tugh's home held many of the iron
monsters. And there were many human bodies lying strewn there, by
then. A few policemen had made a stand at the corner, to protect the
crowd against one of the Robots. The thing had made an unexpected
infuriated rush....

There was a panic in the next block, when a thousand people suddenly
tried to run. A score of people were trampled under foot. Two or three
of the Robots ran into that next block--ran impervious to the many
shots which now were fired at them. From what was described as slots
in the sides of their iron bodies they drew swords--long, dark,
burnished blades. They ran, and at each fallen human body they made a
single stroke of decapitation, or, more generally, cut the body in
half.

The Robots did not attack the fire engines. Emboldened by this,
firemen connected a hose and pumped a huge jet of water toward the
Tugh house. The Robots then rushed it. One huge mechanism--some said
it was twelve feet tall--ran heedlessly into the firemen's
high-pressure stream, toppled backward from the force of the water and
very strangely lay still. Killed? Rather, out of order: deranged: it
was not human, to be killed. But it lay motionless, with the fire hose
playing upon it. Then abruptly there was an explosion. The fallen
Robot, with a deafening report and a puff of green flame, burst into
flying metallic fragments like shrapnel. Nearby windows were broken
from the violent explosion, and pieces of the flying metal were hurled
a hundred feet or more. One huge chunk, evidently a plate of the
thing's body, struck into the crowd two blocks away, and felled
several people.

At this smashing of one of the mechanisms, its brother Robots went for
the first time into aggressive action. A hundred or more were pouring
now from the vacant house of the absent Tugh....

       *       *       *       *       *

The alarm by ten o'clock had spread throughout the entire city. Police
reserves were called out, and by midnight soldiers were being
mobilized. Panics were starting everywhere. Millions of people crowded
in on small Manhattan Island, in the heart of which was this strange
enemy.

Panics.... Yet human nature is very strange. Thousands of people
started to leave Manhattan, but there were other thousands during that
first skirmish who did their best to try and get to the neighborhood
of Patton Place to see what was going on. They added greatly to the
confusion. Traffic soon was stalled everywhere. Traffic officers,
confused, frightened by the news which was bubbled at them from every
side, gave wrong orders; accidents began to occur. And then, out of
the growing confusion, came tangles, until, like a dammed stream, all
the city mid-section was paralyzed. Vehicles were abandoned
everywhere.

Reports of what was happening on Patton Place grew more confused. The
gathering nearby crowds impeded the police and firemen. The Robots, by
ten o'clock, were using a single great beam of dull-red light. It was
two or three feet broad. It came from a spluttering, hissing cylinder
mounted on runners which the Robots dragged along the ground, and the
beam was like that of a great red searchlight. It swung the length of
Patton Place in both directions. It hissed against the houses;
penetrated the open windows which now were all deserted; swept the
front cornices of the roofs, where crowds of tenants and others were
trying to hide. The red beam drove back the ones near the edge, except
those who were stricken by its frigid blast and dropped like plummets
into the street, where the Robots with flashing blades pounced upon
them.

Frigid was the blast of this giant light-beam. The street, wet from
the fire-hose, was soon frozen with ice--ice which increased under the
blast of the beam, and melted in the warm air of the night when the
ray turned away.

From every distant point in the city, awed crowds could see that great
shaft when it occasionally shot upward, to stain the sky with blood.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dr. Alten by midnight was with the city officials, telling them what
he could of the origin of this calamity. They were a distracted group
indeed! There were a thousand things to do, and frantically they were
giving orders, struggling to cope with conditions so suddenly
unprecedented. A great city, millions of people, plunged into
conditions unfathomable. And every moment growing worse. One calamity
bringing another, in the city, with its myriad diverse activities so
interwoven. Around Alten the clattering, terrifying reports were
surging. He sat there nearly all that night; and near dawn, an
official plane carried him in a flight over the city.

The panics, by midnight, were causing the most deaths. Thousands,
hundreds of thousands, were trying to leave the island. The tube
trains, the subways, the elevateds were jammed. There were riots
without number in them. Ferryboats and bridges were thronged to their
capacity. Downtown Manhattan, fortunately comparatively empty, gave
space to the crowds plunging down from the crowded foreign quarters
bordering Greenwich Village. By dawn it was estimated that five
thousand people had been trampled to death by the panics in various
parts of the city, in the tubes beneath the rivers and on departing
trains.

And another thousand or more had been killed by the Robots. How many
of these monstrous metal men were now in evidence, no one could
guess. A hundred--or a thousand. The Time-cage made many trips between
that night of June 9 and 10, 1935, and a night in 2930. Always it
gauged its return to this same night.

The Robots poured out into Patton Place. With running, stiff-legged
steps, flashing swords, small light-beams darting before them, they
spread about the city....


CHAPTER VII

The Vengeance of Tugh

A myriad individual scenes of horror were enacted. Metal travesties of
the human form ran along the city streets, overturning stalled
vehicles, climbing into houses, roaming dark hallways, breaking into
rooms.

There was a woman who afterward told that she crouched in a corner,
clutching her child, when the door of her room was burst in. Her
husband, who had kept them there thinking it was the safest thing to
do, fought futilely with the great thing of iron. Its sword slashed
his head from his body with a single stroke. The woman and the little
child screamed, but the monster ignored them. They had a radio, tuned
to a station in New Jersey which was broadcasting the events. The
Robot seized the instrument as though in a frenzy of anger, tore it
apart, then rushed from the room.

No one could give a connected picture of the events of that horrible
night. It was a series of disjointed incidents out of which the
imagination must construct the whole.

The panics were everywhere. The streets were stalled with traffic and
running, shouting, fighting people. And the area around Greenwich
Village brought reports of continued horror.

The Robots were of many different forms; some pseudo-human; others,
great machines running amuck--things more monstrous, more horrible
even, than those which mocked humanity. There was a great pot-bellied
monster which forced its way somehow to a roof. It encountered a
crouching woman and child in a corner of the parapet, seized them, one
in each of its great iron hands, and whirled them out over the
housetops.

       *       *       *       *       *

By dawn it seemed that the Robots had mounted several projectors of
the giant red beam on the roofs of Patton Place. They held a full
square mile, now, around Tugh's house. The police and firemen had long
since given up fighting them. They were needed elsewhere--the police
to try and cope with the panics, and the firemen to fight the
conflagrations which everywhere began springing up. Fires, the natural
outcome of chaos; and fires, incendiary--made by criminals who took
advantage of the disaster to fatten like ghouls upon the dead. They
prowled the streets. They robbed and murdered at will.

The giant beams of the Robots carried a frigid blast for miles. By
dawn of that June 10th, the south wind was carrying from the enemy
area a perceptible wave of cold even as far as Westchester. Allen,
flying over the city, saw the devastated area clearly. Ice in the
streets--smashed vehicles--the gruesome litter of sword-slashed human
bodies. And other human bodies, plucked apart; strewn....

Alten's plane flew at an altitude of some two thousand feet. In the
growing daylight the dark prowling figures of the metal men were
plainly seen. There were no humans left alive in the captured area.
The plane dropped a bomb into Washington Square where a dozen or two
of the Robots were gathered. It missed them. The plane's pilot had not
realized that they were grouped around a projector; its red shaft
sprang up, caught the plane and clung to it. Frigid blast! Even at
that two thousand feet altitude, for a few seconds Alten and the
others were stiffened by the cold. The motor missed; very nearly
stopped. Then an intervening rooftop cut off the beam, and the plane
escaped.

       *       *       *       *       *

All this I have pictured from what Dr. Alten subsequently told me. He
leaves my narrative now, since fate hereafter held him in the New York
City of 1935. But he has described for me three horrible days, and
three still more horrible nights. The whole world now was alarmed.
Every nation offered its forces of air and land and sea to overcome
these gruesome invaders. Warships steamed for New York harbor.
Soldiers were entrained and brought to the city outskirts. Airplanes
flew overhead. On Long Island, Staten Island, and in New Jersey,
infantry, tanks and artillery were massed in readiness.

But they were all very nearly powerless to attack. Manhattan Island
still was thronged with refugees. It was not possible for the millions
to escape; and for the first day there were hundreds of thousands
hiding in their homes. The city could not be shelled. The influx of
troops was hampered by the outrush of civilians.

By the night of the tenth, nevertheless, ten thousand soldiers were
surrounding the enemy area. It embraced now all the mid-section of the
island. The soldiers rushed in. Machine-guns were set up.

But the Robots were difficult to find. With this direct attack they
began fighting with an almost human caution. Their bodies were
impervious to bullets, save perhaps in the orifices of the face which
might or might not be vulnerable. But when attacked, they skulked in
the houses, or crouched like cautious animals under the smashed
vehicles. Then there were times when they would wade forward directly
into machine-gun fire--unharmed--plunging on until the gunners fled
and the Robots wreaked their fury upon the abandoned gun.

The only hand-to-hand conflicts took place on the afternoon of June
10th. A full thousand soldiers were killed--and possibly six or eight
of the Robots. The troops were ordered away after that; they made
lines across the island to the north and to the south, to keep the
enemy from increasing its area. Over Greenwich Village now, the
circling planes--at their highest altitude, to avoid the upflung
crimson beams--dropped bombs. Hundreds of houses there were wrecked.
Tugh's house could not be positively identified, though the attack was
directed at it most particularly. Afterward, it was found by chance to
have escaped.

       *       *       *       *       *

The night of June 10th brought new horrors. The city lights failed.
Against all the efforts of the troops and the artillery fire which now
was shelling the Washington Square area, the giant mechanisms pushed
north and south. By midnight, with their dull-red beams illumining the
darkness of the canyon streets, they had reached the Battery, and
spread northward beyond the northern limits of Central Park.

It is estimated that by then there were still a million people on
Manhattan Island.

The night of the 11th, the Robots made their real attack. Those who
saw it, from planes overhead, say that upon a roof near Washington
Square a machine was mounted from which a red beam sprang. It was not
of parallel rays, like the others; this one spread. And of such power
it was, that it painted the leaden clouds of the threatening, overcast
night. Every plane, at whatever high altitude, felt its frigid blast
and winged hastily away to safety.

Spreading, dull-red beam! It flashed with a range of miles. Its light
seemed to cling to the clouds, staining like blood; and to cling to
the air itself with a dull lurid radiance.

It was a hot night, that June 11th, with a brewing thunderstorm. There
had been occasional rumbles of thunder and lightning flashes. The
temperature was perhaps 90° F.

Then the temperature began falling. A million people were hiding in
the great apartment houses and homes of the northern sections, or
still struggling to escape over the littered bridges or by the
paralyzed transportation systems--and that million people saw the
crimson radiance and felt the falling temperature.

80°. Then 70°. Within half an hour it was at 30°! In unheated houses,
in midsummer, in the midst of panic, the people were swept by chilling
cold. With no adequate clothing available they suffered greatly--and
then abruptly they were freezing. Children wailing with the cold; then
asleep in numbed, last slumber....

Zero weather in midsummer! And below zero! How cold it got, there is
no one to say. The abandoned recording instrument in the Weather
Bureau was found, at 2:16 A.M., the morning of June 12, 1935, to have
touched minus 42° F.

The gathering storm over the city burst with lightning and thunder
claps through the blood-red radiance. And then snow began falling. A
steady white downpour, a winter blizzard with the lightning flashing
above it, and the thunder crashing.

With the lightning and thunder and snow, crazy winds sprang up. They
whirled and tossed the thick white snowflakes; swept in blasts along
the city streets. It piled the snow in great drifts against the
houses; whirled and sucked it upward in white powdery geysers.

       *       *       *       *       *

At 2:30 A.M. there came a change. The dull-red radiance which swept
the city changed in color. Through the shades of the spectrum it swung
up to violet. And no longer was it a blast of cold, but of heat! Of
what inherent temperature the ray of that spreading beam may have
been, no one can say. It caught the houses, and everything inflammable
burst into flame. Conflagrations were everywhere--a thousand spots of
yellow-red flames, like torches, with smoke rolling up from them to
mingle with the violet glow overhead.

The blizzard was gone. The snow ceased. The storm clouds rolled away,
blasted by the pendulum winds which lashed the city.

By 3 A.M. the city temperature was over 100° F--the dry, blistering
heat of a midsummer desert. The northern city streets were littered
with the bodies of people who had rushed from their homes and fallen
in the heat, the wild winds and the suffocating smoke outside.

And then, flung back by the abnormal winds, the storm clouds crashed
together overhead. A terrible storm, born of outraged nature, vent
itself on the city. The fires of the burning metropolis presently died
under the torrent of falling water. Clouds of steam whirled and tossed
and hissed close overhead, and there was a boiling hot rain.

By dawn the radiance of that strange spreading beam died away. The
daylight showed a wrecked, dead city. Few humans indeed were left
alive on Manhattan that dawn. The Robots and their apparatus had
gone....

The vengeance of Tugh against the New York City of 1935 was
accomplished.

(_To be continued._)

[Illustration: Advertisement.]



Hell's Dimension

_By Tom Curry_

[Illustration: _Just as the terrific unknown force reached its apex, she stepped
across the plate._]

[Sidenote: Professor Lambert deliberately ventures into a Vibrational
Dimension to join his fiancee in its magnetic torture-fields.]


"Now, Professor Lambert, tell us what you have done with the body of
your assistant Miss Madge Crawford. Her car is outside your door, has
stood there since early yesterday morning. There are no footprints
leading away from the house and you can't expect us to believe that an
airplane picked her off the roof. It will make it a lot easier if you
tell us where she is. Her parents are greatly worried about her. When
they telephoned, you refused to talk to them, would not allow them to
speak to Miss Crawford. They are alarmed as to her fate. While you are
not the sort of man who would injure a young woman, still, things look
bad for you. You had better explain fully."

John Lambert, a man of about thirty-six, tall, spare, with black hair
which was slightly tinged with gray at the temples in spite of his
youth, turned large eyes which were filled with agony upon his
questioners.

Lambert was already internationally famous for his unique and
astounding experiments in the realm of sound and rhythm. He had been
endowed by one of the great electrical companies to do original work,
and his laboratory, in which he lived, was situated in a large tract
of isolated woodland some forty miles from New York City. It was
necessary for the success of his work that as few disturbing noises as
possible be made in the neighborhood. Many of his experiments with
sound and etheric waves required absolute quiet and freedom from
interrupting noises. The delicate nature of some of the machines he
used would not tolerate so much as the footsteps of a man within a
hundred yards, and a passing car would have disrupted them entirely.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lambert was terribly nervous; he trembled under the gaze of the stern
detective, come with several colleagues from a neighboring town at the
call of Madge Crawford's frightened family. The girl, whose picture
stood on a working table nearby, looked at them from the photograph as
a beautiful young woman of twenty-five, light of hair, with large eyes
and a lovely face.

Detective Phillips pointed dramatically to the likeness of the missing
girl. "Can you," he said, "look at her there, and deny you loved her?
And if she did not love you in return, then we have a motive for what
you have done--jealousy. Come, tell us what you have done with her.
Our men will find her, anyway; they are searching the cellar for her
now. You can't hope to keep her, alive, and if she is dead--"

Lambert uttered a cry of despair, and put his face in his long
fingers. "She--she--don't say she's dead!"

"Then you did love her!" exclaimed Phillips triumphantly, and
exchanged glances with his companions.

"Of course I love her. And she returned my love. We were secretly
engaged, and were to be married when we had finished these extremely
important experiments. It is infamous though, to accuse me of having
killed her; if I have done so, then it was no fault of mine."

"Then you did kill her?"

"No, no. I cannot believe she is really gone."

"Why did you evade her parents' inquiries?"

"Because ... I have been trying to bring her ... to re-materialize
her."

"You mean to bring her back to life?"

"Yes."

"Couldn't a doctor do that better than you, if she is hidden somewhere
about here?" asked Phillips gravely.

"No, no. You do not understand. She cannot be seen, she has
dematerialized. Oh, go away. I'm the only man, save, possibly, my
friend Doctor Morgan, who can help her now. And Morgan--I've thought
of calling him, but I've been working every instant to get the right
combination. Go away, for God's sake!"

"We can't go away until we have found out Miss Crawford's fate," said
Phillips patiently.

       *       *       *       *       *

Another sleuth entered the immense laboratory. He made his way through
the myriad strange machines, a weird collection of xylophones, gongs,
stone slabs cut in peculiar patterns to produce odd rhythmic sounds,
electrical apparatus of all sorts. Near Phillips was a plate some feet
square, of heavy metal, raised from the floor on poles of a different
substance. About the ceiling were studs thickly set of the same sort
of metal as was the big plate.

One of the sleuths tapped his forehead, pointing to Lambert as the
latter nervously lighted a cigarette.

The newcomer reported to Phillips. He held in his hand two or three
sheets of paper on which something was written.

"The only other person here is a deaf mute," said the sleuth to
Phillips, his superior. "I've got his story. He writes that he takes
care of things, cooks their meals and so on. And he writes further
that he thinks the woman and this guy Lambert were in love with each
other. He has no idea where she has gone to. Here, you read it."

Phillips took the sheets and continued: "'Yesterday morning about ten
o'clock I was passing the door of the laboratory on my way to make up
Professor Lambert's bed. Suddenly I noticed a queer, shimmering,
greenish-blue light streaming down from the walls and ceiling of the
laboratory. I was right outside the place and though I cannot hear
anything, I was knocked down and I twisted and wriggled around like a
snake. It felt like something with a thousand little paws but with
great strength was pushing me every way. When there was a lull, and
the light had stopped for a few moments, I staggered to my feet and
ran madly for my own quarters, scared out of my head. As I went by the
kitchen, I saw Miss Crawford at the sink there, filling some vases and
arranging flowers as she usually did every morning.

"'If she called to me, I did not hear her or notice her lips moving. I
believe she came to the door.

"'I was going to quit, when I recovered myself, angry at what had
occurred; but then, I began to feel ashamed for being such a baby, for
Professor Lambert has been very good to me. About fifteen minutes
after I went to my room, I was able to return to the kitchen. Miss
Crawford was not there, though the flowers and vases were. Then, as I
started to work, still a little alarmed, Professor Lambert came
rushing into the kitchen, an expression of terror on his face. His
mouth was open, and I think he was calling. He then ran out, back to
the laboratory, and I have not seen Miss Madge since. Professor
Lambert has been almost continuously in the work-room since then,
and--I kept away from it, because I was afraid.'"

       *       *       *       *       *

Two more members of Phillips' squad broke into the laboratory and came
toward the chief. They had been working at physical labor, for they
were still perspiring and one regarded his hands with a rueful
expression.

"Any luck?" asked Phillips eagerly.

"No, boss. We been all over the place, and we dug every spot we could
get to earth in the cellar. Most of it's three-inch concrete, without
a sign of a break."

"Did you look in the furnace?"

"We looked there the first thing. She ain't there."

There were several closets in the laboratory, and Phillips opened all
of them and inspected them. As he moved near the big plate, Lambert
uttered a cry of warning. "Don't disturb that, don't touch anything
near it!"

"All right, all right," said Phillips testily.

The skeptical sleuths had classified Lambert as a "nut," and were
practically sure he had done away with Madge Crawford because she
would not marry him.

Still, they needed better evidence than their mere beliefs. There was
no corpus delicti, for instance.

"Gentlemen," said Lambert at last, controlling his emotions with a
great effort. "I will admit to you that I am in trepidation and a
state of mental torture as to Miss Crawford's fate. You are delaying
matters, keeping me from my work."

"He thinks about work when the girl he claims he loves has
disappeared," said Doherty, in a loud whisper to Phillips. Doherty was
one of the sleuths who had been digging in the cellar, and the hard
work had made his temper short.

"You must help us find Miss Crawford before we can let you alone,"
said Phillips. "Can't you understand that you are under grave
suspicion of having injured her, hidden her away? This is a serious
matter, Professor Lambert. Your experiments can wait."

"This one cannot," shouted Lambert, shaking his fists. "You are
fools!"

"Steady now," said Doherty.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Perhaps you had better come with us to the district attorney's
office," went on Phillips. "There you may come to your senses and
realize the futility of trying to cover up your crime--if you have
committed one. If you have not, why do you not tell us where Miss
Crawford is?"

"Because I do not know myself," replied Lambert. "But you can't take
me away from here. I beg of you, gentlemen, allow me a little more
time. I must have it."

Phillips shook his head. "Not unless you tell us logically what has
occurred," he said.

"Then I must, though I do not think you will comprehend or even
believe me. Briefly, it is this: yesterday morning I was working on
the final series of experiments with a new type of harmonic overtones
plus a new type of sinusoidal current which I had arranged with a
series of selenium cells. When I finally threw the switch--remember, I
was many weeks preparing the apparatus, and had just put the final
touches on early that morning--there was a sound such as never had
been heard before by human ears, an indescribable sound, terrifying
and mysterious. Also, there was a fierce, devouring verditer blue
light, and this came from the plates and studs you see, but so great
was its strength that it got out of control and leaped about the room
like a live thing. For some moments, while it increased in intensity
as I raised the power of the current by means of the switch I held in
my hand, I watched and listened in fascination. My instruments had
ceased to record, though they are the most delicate ever invented and
can handle almost anything which man can even surmise."

       *       *       *       *       *

The perspiration was pouring from Lambert's face, as he recounted his
story. The detectives listened, comprehending but a little of the
meaning of the scientist's words.

"What has this to do with Miss Crawford?" asked Doherty impatiently.

Phillips held up his hand to silence the other sleuth. "Let him
finish," he ordered. "Go on, professor."

"The sensations which I was undergoing became unendurable," went on
Lambert, in a low, hoarse voice. "I was forced to cry out in pain and
confusion.

"Miss Crawford evidently heard my call, for a few moments later, just
as the terrific unknown force reached its apex, she dashed into the
laboratory, and stepped across the plate you see there.

"I was powerless. Though I shut off the current by a superhuman
effort, she--she was gone!"

Lambert put his face in his hands, a sob shook his broad shoulders.

"Gone?" repeated Phillips. "What do you mean, gone?"

"She disappeared, before my very eyes," said the professor shakily.
"Torn into nothingness by the fierce force of the current or sound.
Since then, I have been trying to reproduce the conditions of the
experiment, for I wish to bring her back. If I cannot do so, then I
want to join her, wherever she has gone. I love her, I know now that I
cannot possibly live without her. Will you please leave me alone, now,
so that I can continue?"

Doherty laughed derisively. "What a story," he jeered.

"Keep quiet, Doherty," ordered Phillips. "Now, Professor Lambert, your
explanation of Miss Crawford's disappearance does not sound logical to
us, but still we are willing to give you every chance to bring her
back, if what you say is true. We cannot leave you entirely alone,
because you might try to escape or you might carry out your threat of
suicide. Therefore, I am going to sit over there in the corner,
quietly, where I can watch you but will not interfere with your work.
We will give you until midnight to prove your story. Then you must go
with us to the district attorney. Do you agree to that?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Lambert nodded, eagerly. "I agree. Let me work in peace, and if I do
not succeed then you may take me anywhere you wish. If you can," he
added, in an undertone.

Doherty and the others, at Phillips' orders, filed from the
laboratory. "One thing more, professor," said Phillips, when they were
alone and the professor was preparing to work. "How do you explain the
fact, if your story is true, that Miss Crawford was killed and made to
disappear, while you yourself, close by, were uninjured?"

"Do you see these garments?" asked Lambert, indicating some black
clothes which lay on a bench nearby. "They insulated me from the
current and partially protected me from the sound. Though the force
was very great, great enough to penetrate my insulation, it was
handicapped in my case because of the garments."

"I see. Well, you may go on."

Phillips moved in the chair he had taken, from time to time. He could
hear the noises of his men, still searching the premises for Madge
Crawford, and Professor Lambert heard them, too.

"Will you tell your men to be quiet?" he cried at last.

There were dark circles under Lambert's eyes. He was working in a
state of feverish anxiety. When the girl he loved had dematerialized
from under his very eyes, panic had seized him; he had ripped away
wires to break the current and lost the thread of his experiment, so
that he could not reproduce it exactly without much labor.

The scientist put on the black robes, and Phillips wished he too had
some protective armor, even though he did believe that Lambert had
told them a parcel of lies. The deaf mute's story was not too
reassuring. Phillips warned his companions to be more quiet, and he
himself sat quite still.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lambert knew that the sleuths thought he was stark mad. He was aware
of the fact that he had but a few hours in which to save the girl who
had come at his cry to help him, who had loved him and whom he loved,
only to be torn into some place unknown by the forces which were
released in his experiment. And he knew he would rather die with her
than live without her.

He labored feverishly, though he tried to keep his brain calm in order
to win. His notes helped him up to a certain point, but when he had
made the final touches he had not had time to bring the data up to the
moment, being eager to test out his apparatus. It was while testing
that the awful event had occurred and he had seen Madge Crawford
disappear before his very eyes.

Her eyes, large and frightened, burned in his mind.

The deaf mute, Felix, a small, spare man of about fifty, sent the
professor some food and coffee through one of the sleuths. Lambert
swallowed the coffee, but waved away the rest, impatiently. Phillips,
watching his suspect constantly, was served a light supper at the end
of the afternoon.

There seemed to be a million wires to be touched, tested, and various
strange apparatus. Several times, later on in the evening. Lambert
threw the big switch with an air of expectancy, but little happened.
Then Lambert would go to work again, testing, testing--adjusting this
and that till Phillips swore under his breath.

"Only an hour more, professor," said Phillips, who was bored to death
and cramped from trying to obey the professor's orders to keep still.
A circle of cigarette-ends surrounded the sleuth.

"Only an hour," agreed Lambert. "Will you please be quiet, my man?
This is a matter of my fiancée's life or death."

Phillips was somewhat disgruntled, for he felt he had done Lambert
quite a favor in allowing him to remain in the laboratory for so long,
to prove his story.

"I wish Doctor Morgan were here; I ought to have sent for him, I
suppose," said Lambert, a few minutes later. "Will you allow me to get
him? I cannot seem to perfect this last stage."

"No time, now," declared Phillips. "I said till midnight."

It was obvious to Lambert that the detective had become certain during
the course of the evening that the scientist was mad. The ceaseless
fiddling and the lack of results or even spectacular sights had
convinced Phillips that he had to do with a crank.

"I think I have it now," said Lambert coolly.

"What?" asked Phillips.

"The original combination. I had forgotten one detail in the
excitement, and this threw me off. Now I believe I will succeed--in
one way or another. I warn you, be careful. I am about to release
forces which may get out of my control."

"Well, now, don't get reckless," begged Phillips nervously. The array
of machines had impressed him, even if Lambert did seem a fool.

"You insist upon remaining, so it is your own risk," said Lambert
coolly.

Lambert, in the strange robes, was a bizarre figure. The hood was
thrown back, exposing his pale, black-bearded face, the wan eyes with
dark circles under them, and the twitching lips.

"If you find yourself leaving this vale of tears," went on the
scientist, ironically, to the sleuth, "you will at least have the
comfort of realizing that as the sound-force disintegrates your mortal
form you are among the first of men to be attuned to the vibrations of
the unknown sound world. All matter is vibration; that has been
proven. A building of bricks, if shaken in the right manner, falls
into its component parts; a bridge, crossed by soldiers in certain
rhythmic time, is torn from its moorings. A tuning fork, receiving the
sound vibrations from one of a similar size and shape begins to
vibrate in turn. These are homely analogies, but applied to the less
familiar sound vibrations, which make up our atomic world, they may
help you to understand how the terrific forces I have discovered can
disintegrate flesh."

The scientist looked inquiringly at Phillips. As the sleuth did not
move, but sat with folded arms, Lambert shrugged and said, "I am
ready."

Lambert raised his hood, and Phillips said, in a spirit of bravado,
"You can't scare me out of here."

"Here goes the switch," cried Lambert.

He made the contact, as he had before. He stood for a moment, and this
time the current gained force. The experimenter pushed his lever all
the way over.

       *       *       *       *       *

A terrible greenish-blue light suddenly illuminated the laboratory,
and through the air there came sound vibrations which seemed to tear
at Phillips' body. He found himself on the floor, knocked from his
chair, and he writhed this way and that, speechless, suffering a
torment of agony. His whole flesh seemed to tremble in unison with the
waves which emanated from the machines which Lambert manipulated.

After what seemed hours to the suffering sleuth, the force diminished,
and soon Phillips was able to rise. Trembling, the detective cursed
and yelled for help in a high-pitched voice.

Lambert had thrown back his hood, and was rocking to and fro in agony.

"Madge, Madge," he cried, "what have I done! Come back to me, come
back!"

Doherty and the others came running in at their chief's shouts.
"Arrest him," ordered Phillips shakily. "I've stood enough of this
nonsense."

The detectives started for Lambert. He saw them coming, and swiftly
threw off the protective garments he wore.

"Stand back!" he cried, and threw the switch all the way over. The
verditer green light smashed through the air, and the queer sound
sensations smacked and tore them; Doherty, who had drawn a revolver
when he was answering Phillips' cries, fired the gun into the air, and
the report seemed to battle with the vibrating ether.

Lambert, as he threw the switch, leaped forward and landed on the
metal plate under the ceiling studs, in the very center of the awful
disturbance and unprotected from its force.

For a few moments, Lambert felt racking pain, as though something were
tearing at his flesh, separating the very atoms. The scientist saw the
wriggling figures of the sleuths, in various strange position, but his
impressions were confused. His head whirled round and round, he swayed
to and fro, and, finally, he thought he fell down, or rather, that he
had melted, as a lump of sugar dissolves in water.

"He's gone--gone--"

In the heart of nothingness was Lambert, his body torn and racked in a
shrieking chaos of sound and a blinding glare of iridescent light
which seemed too much to bear.

His last conscious thought was a prayer, that, having failed to bring
back his sweetheart, Madge Crawford, he was undergoing a step toward
the same destination to which he had sent her.

       *       *       *       *       *

John Lambert came to with a shudder. But it was not a mortal shudder.
He could sense no body; had no sense of being confined by matter. He
was in a strange, chilly place--a twilight region, limitless, without
dimensions.

Yet he could feel something, in an impersonal way, vaguely
indifferent. He had no pain now.

He was moving, somehow. He had one impelling desire, and that was to
discover Madge Crawford. Perhaps it was this thought which directed
his movements.

Intent upon finding the girl, if she was indeed in this same strange
world that he was, he did not notice for some time--how long, he had
no way of telling--that there were other beings which tried to impede
his progress. But as he grew more accustomed to the unfamiliar
sensations he was undergoing, he found his path blocked again and
again by queer beings.

They were living, without doubt, and had intelligence, and evinced
hostility toward him. But they were shapeless, shapeless as amoebas.
He heard them in a sort of soundless whisper, and could see them
without the use of eyes. And he shuddered, though he could feel no
body in which he might be confined. Still, when he pinched viciously
with invisible fingers at the spot where his face should have been, a
twinge of pain registered on the vague consciousness which appeared to
be all there was to him.

He was not sure of his substance, though he could evidently experience
human sensations with his amorphous body. He did not know whether he
could see; yet, he was dodging this way and that, as the beings who
occupied this world tried to stop him.

They gave him the impression of gray shapes, and in coppery shadows
things gleamed and closed in on him.

He seemed to hear a cry, and he knew that he was receiving a call for
help from Madge Crawford. He tried to run, pushed determinedly toward
the spot, impelled by his love for the girl.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now, as he hurried, he occasionally was stopped short by collision
with the formless shapes which were all about him. He was hampered by
them, for they followed him, making a sound like wind heard in a
dream. Whatever medium he was in was evidently thickly inhabited by
the hostile beings who claimed this world as their own. Though he
could not actually feel the medium, he could sense that it was heavy.
He leaped and ran, fighting his way through the increasing hosts, and
the roar of their voice-impressions increased in his consciousness.

Yet there seemed to be nothing, nothing tangible save vagueness. He
felt he was in a blind spot in space, a place of no dimensions, no
time, where beings abhorred by nature, things which had never
developed any dimensional laws, existed.

The cry for help struck him, with more force this time. Lambert,
whatever form he was in, realised that he was close to the end of his
journey to Madge Crawford.

He tried to speak, and had the impression that he said something
reassuring. He then bumped into some vibrational being which he knew
was Madge. His ears could not hear, nor could his flesh feel, but his
whole form or cerebrum sensed he held the woman he loved in his arms.

And she was speaking to him, in accents of fear, begging him to save
her.

"John, John, you have come at last. They have been torturing me
terribly. Save me."

"Darling Madge, I will do everything I can. Now I have found you, and
we are together and will never part. Can you hear me?"

"I know what you are thinking, and what you wish to say. I can't
exactly hear; it all seems vague, and impossible. Yet I can suffer.
They have been hitting me with something which makes me shudder and
shake--there, they are at it again."

       *       *       *       *       *

Lambert felt the sensations, now, which the girl had made known to
him. He felt crowded by gray beings, and his existence was troubled by
spasms of pain-impressions. He knew Madge was crying out, too.

He could not comprehend the attacks, or guess their meaning. But the
situation was unendurable.

Anger shook him, and he began to fight, furiously but vaguely. They
were closely hemmed in, but when Lambert began to strike out with
hands and legs, the beings gave way a little. The scientist tried to
shout, and though he could actually hear nothing, the result was
gratifying. The formless creatures seemed to scatter and draw back in
confusion as he yelled his defiance.

"They hate that," Madge said to him. "I have screamed myself hoarse
and that is why they have not killed me--if I can be killed."

"I do not believe we can. But they can torture us," replied Lambert.
"It is an everlasting half-life or quarter-life, and these creatures
who call this Hell's Dimension home, have nothing but hatred for us in
their consciousness."

The inhabitants of the imperfect world had closed in once again and
the sharp instruments of torture they used were being thrust into the
invisible bodies of the two humans. Each time, Lambert was unable to
restrain his cries, for it seemed that he was being torn to pieces by
vibrations.

He yelled until he could not speak above a whisper, or at least until
the impressions of speech he gave forth did not trouble the beings.
The two humans, still bound to some extent by their mortal beliefs,
were chivvied to and fro, and struck and bullied. The creatures seemed
to delight in this sport.

The two felt they could not die; yet they could suffer terribly. Would
this go on through eternity? Was there no release?

       *       *       *       *       *

They were trying to tear Madge away from him. She was fighting them,
and Lambert, in a frenzy of rage, made a determined effort to get away
with the girl from their tormentors.

They retreated before his onslaughts. Drawing Madge after him, Lambert
put down his head--or believed he was doing so--and ran as fast as he
could at the beings.

He bumped into some invisible forms and was slowed in his rush, but he
shouted and flailed about with his arms, and tried to kick. Madge
helped by screaming and striking out. They made some distance in this
way, or so they thought, and the horrid creatures gave way before
them.

All about them was the coppery sensation of the medium in which they
moved: Lambert as he became more used to the form he was inhabiting,
he began to think he could discern dreadful eyes which stared
unblinkingly at the couple.

He fought on, and believed they had come to a spot where the beings
did not molest them, though they still sensed the things glaring at
them.

Were they on some invisible eminence, above the reach of these queer
creatures?

"We might as well stop here, for if we try to go farther we may come
to a worse place," said Lambert.

They rested there, in temporary peace, together at last.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I seem to be happy now," said Madge, clinging close. "I feared I
would never see you again. John dear. I ran to you when you called out
that day and when I crossed the plate, I was torn and racked and
knocked down. When I next experienced sensation, it was in this
terrible form. I am becoming more used to it, but I kept crying out
for you: the beings, as soon as they discovered my presence, began to
torment me. More and more have been collecting, and I have a sensation
of seeing them as horrible, revolting beasts. Oh, John, I don't think
I could have stood it much longer, if you hadn't come to me. They were
driving me on, on, on, ceaselessly torturing me."

"Curse them," said Lambert. "I wish I could really get hold of some of
them. Perhaps, Madge, I will be able to think of some escape for us
from this Hell's Dimension."

"Yes, darling. I could not bear to think that we are eternally damned
to exist among these beings, hurt by them and unable to get away. How
I wish we were back in the laboratory, at the tea table. How happy we
were there!"

"And we will be again, Madge." Lambert was far from feeling hopeful,
but he tried to encourage the girl into thinking they might get away.

However, he was unable to dissimulate. She felt his anguish for her
safety. "But I know now that you love me. I can feel it stronger than
ever before, John. It seems like a great rock to which I can always
cling, your love. It projects me from the hatred that these beasts
pour out against us."

Since they had no sense of time, they could not tell how long they
were allowed to remain unmolested. But in each other's company they
were happy, though each one was afraid for the safety of the loved
one.

They spoke of the mortal life they had lived, and their love. They
felt no need of food or water, but clung together in a dimensionless
universe, held up by love.

       *       *       *       *       *

The lull came to an end, at last. There was no change in the coppery
vagueness about them which they sensed as the surrounding ether, but
all was changeless, boundless. Lambert, close to Madge Crawford, felt
that they were about to be attacked.

He had swift, temporary impressions of seeing saucerlike, unblinking
eyes, and then hordes of bizarre inhabitants started to climb up to
their perch.

For a short while, Lambert and Madge fought them off, thrusting at
them, seeming to push them backward down the intangible slope; the
cries which the dematerialized humans uttered also helped to hold the
leaders of the attacking army partially in check, but the vast number
of beings swept forward.

The thrusts of the torture-fields they emanated became more and more
racking, as the two unfortunates shuddered in horror and pain.

The power to demonstrate loud noise was evidently impossible to the
creatures, for their only sounds came to Madge Crawford and John
Lambert as long-drawn out, almost unbearable squeaks, mouse-like in
character. Perhaps they had never had the faculty of speech, since
they did not need it to communicate with one another; perhaps they
realized that the racket they could make would hurt them as much as it
did their enemies.

Lambert, Madge clinging to him, was forced backward down the slope,
and the beings had the advantage of height. He could not again reach
the eminence, but the way behind seemed to clear quickly enough,
though thrusts were made at him, innumerable times with the
torture-fields.

The hordes pushed them backward, and ever back.

       *       *       *       *       *

They were forced on for some distance. As they retreated, the way
become easier, and fewer and fewer of the beings impeded the channel
along which they moved, though in front of them and on all sides,
above, beneath, they were pressed by the hordes.

"They are forcing us to some place they want us to go," said Lambert
desperately.

"We can do nothing more," replied the girl.

Lambert felt her quiet confidence in him, and that as long as they
were together, all was well.

"Maybe they can kill us, somehow," he said.

And now, Lambert felt the way was clear to the rear. There was a
sudden rush of the creatures, and needlelike fields were impelled
viciously into the spaces the two humans occupied.

Madge cried out in pain, and Lambert shouted. The throng drew away
from them as suddenly as it had surged forward, and an instant later
the pair, clinging together, felt that they were falling, falling,
falling....

"Are you all right, Madge?"

"Yes, John."

But he knew she was suffering. How long they fell he did not know, but
they stopped at last. No sooner had they come to rest than they were
assailed with sensations of pain which made both cry out in anguish.

There, in the spot where they had been thrust by the hordes, they felt
that there was some terrific vibration which racked and tore at their
invisible forms continuously, sending them into spasms of sharp
misery.

They both were forced to give vent to their feelings by loud cries.
But they could not command their movements any longer. When they tried
to get away, their limbs moved but they felt that they remained in the
same spot.

       *       *       *       *       *

The pain shook every fraction of their souls.

"We--we are in some pit of hell, into which they have thrown us,
John," gasped Madge.

He knew she was shivering with the torture of that great vibration
from which there was no escape, that they were in a prison-pit of
Hell's Dimension.

"I--oh--John--I'm dying!"

But he was powerless to help her. He suffered as much as she. Yet
there was no weakening of his sensations; he was in as much torture as
he had been at the start. He knew that they could not die and could
never escape from this misery of hell.

Their cries seemed to disturb the vacuum about. Lambert, shivering and
shaking with pain, was aware that great eyes, similar to those which
they had thought they saw above, were now upon them. Squeaks were
impressed upon him, squeaks which expressed disapprobation. There were
some of the beings in the pit with them.

Madge knew they were there, too. She cried out in terror, "Will they
add to our misery?"

But the creatures in the vacuum were pinned to the spots they
occupied, as were Madge and Lambert. From their squeaks it was evident
they suffered, too, and were fellow prisoners of the mortals.

"Probably the cries we make disturb them," said Lambert. "Vibrations
to which we and they are not attuned are torture to the form we are
in. Evidently the inhabitants of this hell world punish offenders by
condemning them to this eternal torture."

"Why--why did they treat us so?"

"Perhaps we jarred upon them, hurt them, because we were not of their
kind exactly," said Lambert. "Perhaps it was just their natural hatred
of us as strangers."

       *       *       *       *       *

They did not grow used to the terrible eternity of torments. No, if
anything, it grew worse as it went on. Still, they could visualize no
end to the existence to which they were bound. Throbs of awful
intensity rent them, tore them apart myriad times, yet they still felt
as keenly as before and suffered just as much. There was no death for
them, no release from the intangible world in which they were.

Their fellow prisoners squeaked at them, as though imploring them not
to add to the agony by uttering discordant cries. But it was
impossible for Madge to keep quiet, and Lambert shouted in anguish
from time to time.

There seemed to be no end to it.

And yet, after what was eternity to the sufferers, Madge spoke
hopefully.

"Darling John, I--I fear I am really going to die. I am growing
weaker. I can feel the pain very little now. It is all vague, and is
getting less real to me. Good-by, sweetheart, I love you, and I always
will--"

Lambert uttered a strangled cry, "No, no. Don't leave me, Madge."

He clung to her, yet she was becoming extremely intangible to him. She
was melting away from his embrace, and Lambert felt that he, too, was
weaker, even less real than he had been. He hoped that if it was the
end, they would go together.

Desperately, he tried to hold her with him, but he had little ability
to do so. The torture was still racking his consciousness, but was
becoming more dreamlike.

There was a terrific snap, suddenly, and Lambert lost all
consciousness....

       *       *       *       *       *

"Water, water!"

Lambert, opening his eyes, felt his body writhing about, and
experienced pain that was--mortal. A bluish-green light dazzled his
pupils and made him blink.

Something cut into his flesh, and Lambert rolled about, trying to
escape. He bumped into something, something soft; he clung to this
form, and knew that he was holding on to a human being. Then the light
died out, and in its stead was the yellow, normal glow of the electric
lights. Weak, famished, almost dead of thirst, Lambert looked about
him at the familiar sights of his laboratory. He was lying on the
floor, close by the metal plate, and at his side, unconscious but
still alive to judge by her rising and falling breast, was Madge
Crawford.

Someone bent over him, and pressed a glass of water against his lips.
He drank, watching while a mortal whom Lambert at last realized was
Detective Phillips bathed Madge Crawford's temples with water from a
pitcher and forced a little between her pale, drawn lips.

Lambert tried to rise, but he was weak, and required assistance. He
was dazed, still, and they sat him down in a chair and allowed him to
come to.

He shuddered from time to time, for he still thought he could feel the
torture which he had been undergoing. But he was worried about Madge,
and watched anxiously as Phillips, assisted by another man, worked
over the girl.

At last, Madge stirred and moaned faintly. They lifted her to a bench,
where they gently restored her to full consciousness.

When she could sit up, she at once cried out for Lambert.

The scientist had recovered enough to rise to his feet and stagger
toward her. "Here I am, darling," he said.

"John--we're alive--we're back in the laboratory!"

"Ah, Lambert. Glad to see you." A heavy voice spoke, and Lambert for
the first time noticed the black-clad figure which stood to one side,
near the switchboard, hidden by a large piece of apparatus.

"Dr. Morgan!" cried Lambert.

Althaus Morgan, the renowned physicist, came forward calmly, with
outstretched hand. "So, you realized your great ambition, eh?" he said
curiously. "But where would you be if I had not been able to bring you
back?"

"In Hell--or Hell's Dimension, anyway," said Lambert.

He went to Madge, took her in his arms. "Darling, we are safe. Morgan
has managed to re-materialize us. We will never again be cast into the
void in this way. I shall destroy the apparatus and my notes."

Doherty, who had been out of the room on some errand, came into the
laboratory. He shouted when he saw Lambert standing before him.

"So you got him," he cried. "Where was he hidin'?"

His eyes fell upon Madge Crawford, then, and he exclaimed in
satisfaction. "You found her, eh?"

"No," said Phillips. "They came back. They suddenly appeared out of
nothing, Doherty."

"Don't kid me," growled Doherty. "They were hidin' in a closet
somewhere. Maybe they can fool you guys, but not me."

Lambert spoke to Phillips. "I'm starving to death and I think Miss
Crawford must be, too. Will you tell Felix to bring us some food,
plenty of it?"

One of the sleuths went to the kitchen to give the order. Lambert
turned to Morgan.

"How did you manage to bring us back?" he asked.

       *       *       *       *       *

Morgan shrugged. "It was all guess work at the last. I at first could
check the apparatus by your notes, and this took some time. You know
you have written me in detail about what you were working on, so when
I was summoned by Detective Phillips, who said you had mentioned my
name to him as the only one who could help, I could make a good
conjecture as to what had occurred. I heard the stories of all
concerned, and realized that you must have dematerialized Miss
Crawford by mistake, and then, unable to bring her back, had followed
her yourself.

"I put on your insulation outfit, and went to work. I have not left
here for a moment, but have snatched an hour or two of sleep from time
to time. Detective Phillips has been very good and helpful.

"Finally, I had everything in shape, but I reversed the apparatus in
vital spots, and tried each combination until suddenly, a few minutes
ago, you were re-materialized. It was a desperate chance, but I was
forced to take it in an endeavor to save you."

Lambert held out his hand to his friend. "I can never thank you
enough," he said gratefully. "You saved us from a horrible fate. But
you speak as though we had been gone a long while. Was it many hours?"

"Hours?" repeated Morgan, his lips parting under his black beard.
"Man, it was eight days! You have been gone since a week ago last
night!"

Lambert turned to Phillips. "I must ask you not to release this story
to the newspapers," he begged.

Phillips smiled and turned up his hands in a gesture of frank wonder.
"Professor Lambert," he said, "I can't believe what I have seen
myself. If I told such a yarn to the reporters, they'd never forget
it. They'd kid me out of the department."

"Aw, they were hidin' in a closet," growled Doherty. "Come on, we've
wasted too much time on this job already. Just a couple of nuts, says
I."

       *       *       *       *       *

The sleuths, after Phillips had shaken hands with Lambert, left the
laboratory. Morgan, a large man of middle age, joined them in a meal
which Felix served to the three on a folding table brought in for the
purpose. Felix was terribly glad to see Madge and Lambert again, and
manifested his joy by many bobs and leaps as he waited upon them. A
grin spread across his face from ear to ear.

Morgan asked innumerable questions. They described as best they could
what they could recall of the strange dominion in which they had been,
and the physicist listened intently.

"It is some Hell's Dimension, as you call it," he said at last.

"Where it is, or exactly what, I cannot say," said Lambert. "I surely
have no desire to return to that world of hate."

Madge, happy now, smiled at him and he leaned over and kissed her
tenderly.

"We have come from Hell, together," said Lambert, "and now we are in
Heaven!"

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: Advertisement]



The World Behind the Moon

_By Paul Ernst_

[Illustration: _They fell, for hours, into a deep chasm._]

[Sidenote: Two intrepid Earth-men fight it out with the horrific
monsters of Zeud's frightful jungles.]


Like pitiless jaws, a distant crater opened for their ship.
Helplessly, they hurtled toward it: helplessly, because they were
still in the nothingness of space, with no atmospheric resistance on
which their rudders, or stern or bow tubes, could get a purchase to
steer them.

Professor Dorn Wichter waited anxiously for the slight vibration that
should announce that the projectile-shaped shell had entered the new
planet's atmosphere.

"Have we struck it yet?" asked Joyce, a tall blond young man with the
shoulders of an athlete and the broad brow and square chin of one who
combines dreams with action. He made his way painfully toward
Wichter. It was the first time he had attempted to move since the
shell had passed the neutral point--that belt midway between the moon
and the world behind it, where the pull of gravity of each satellite
was neutralized by the other. They, and all the loose objects in the
shell, had floated uncomfortably about the middle of the chamber for
half an hour or so, gradually settling down again; until now it was
possible, with care, to walk.

"Have we struck it?" he repeated, leaning over the professor's
shoulder and staring at the resistance gauge.

"No." Absently Wichter took off his spectacles and polished them.
"There's not a trace of resistance yet."

They gazed out the bow window toward the vast disc, like a serrated,
pock-marked plate of blue ice, that was the planet Zeud--discovered
and named by them. The same thought was in the mind of each. Suppose
there were no atmosphere surrounding Zeud to cushion their descent
into the hundred-mile crater that yawned to receive them?

"Well," said Joyce after a time, "we're taking no more of a chance
here than we did when we pointed our nose toward the moon. We were
almost sure that was no atmosphere there--which meant we'd nose dive
into the rocks at five thousand miles an hour. On Zeud there might be
anything." His eyes shone. "How wonderful that there should be such a
planet, unsuspected during all the centuries men have been studying
the heavens!"

Wichter nodded agreement. It was indeed wonderful. But what was more
wonderful was its present discovery: for that would never have
transpired had not he and Joyce succeeded in their attempt to fly to
the moon. From there, after following the sun in its slow journey
around to the lost side of the lunar globe--that face which the earth
has never yet observed--they had seen shining in the near distance
the great ball which they had christened Zeud.

       *       *       *       *       *

Astronomical calculations had soon described the mysterious hidden
satellite. It was almost a twin to the moon; a very little smaller,
and less than eighty thousand miles away. Its rotation was nearly
similar, which made its days not quite sixteen of our earthly days. It
was of approximately the weight, per cubic mile, of Earth. And there
it whirled, directly in a line with the earth and the moon, moving as
the moon moved so that it was ever out of sight beyond it, as a dime
would be out of sight if placed in a direct line behind a penny.

Zeud, the new satellite, the world beyond the moon! In their
excitement at its discovery, Joyce and Wichter had left the
moon--which they had found to be as dead and cold as it had been
surmised to be--and returned summarily to Earth. They had replenished
their supplies and their oxygen tanks, and had come back--to circle
around the moon and point the sharp prow of the shell toward Zeud. The
gift of the moon to Earth was a dubious one; but the gift of a
possibly living planet-colony to mankind might be the solution of the
overcrowded conditions of the terrestial sphere!

"Speed, three thousand miles an hour," computed Wichter. "Distance to
Zeud, nine hundred and eighty miles. If we don't strike a few atoms of
hydrogen or something soon we're going to drill this nearest crater a
little deeper!"

Joyce nodded grimly. At two thousand miles from Earth there had still
been enough hydrogen traces in the ether to give purchase to the
explosions of their water-motor. At six hundred miles from the moon
they had run into a sparse gaseous belt that had enabled them to
change direction and slow their speed. They had hoped to find hydrogen
at a thousand or twelve hundred miles from Zeud.

"Eight hundred and thirty miles," commented Wichter, his slender,
bent body tensed. "Eight hundred miles--ah!"

A thrumming sound came to their ears as the shell quivered,
imperceptibly almost, but unmistakeably, at the touch of some faint
resistance outside in space.

"We've struck it, Joyce. And it's much denser than the moon's, even as
we'd hoped. There'll be life on Zeud, my boy, unless I'm vastly
mistaken. You'd better look to the motor now."

       *       *       *       *       *

Joyce went to the water-motor. This was a curious, but extremely
simple affair. There was a glass box, ribbed with polished steel,
about the size and shape of a cigar box, which was full of water.
Leading away from this, to the bow and stern of the shell, were two
small pipes. The pipes were greatly thickened for a period of three
feet or so, directly under the little tank, and were braced by
bed-plates so heavy as to look all out of proportion. Around the
thickened parts of the pipes were coils of heavy, insulated copper
wire. There were no valves nor cylinders, no revolving parts: that was
all there was to the "motor."

Joyce didn't yet understand the device. The water dripped from the
tank, drop by drop, to be abruptly disintegrated, made into an
explosive, by being subjected to a powerful magnetic field induced in
the coils by a generator in the bow of the shell. As each drop of
water passed into the pipes, and was instantaneously broken up, there
was a violent but controlled explosion--and the shell was kicked
another hundred miles ahead on its journey. That was all Joyce knew
about it.

He threw the bow switch. There was a soft shock as the motor exhausted
through the forward tube, slowing their speed.

"Turn on the outside generator propellers," ordered Wichter. "I think
our batteries are getting low."

Joyce slipped the tiny, slim-bladed propellers into gear. They began
to turn, slowly at first in the almost non-existent atmosphere.

"Four hundred miles," announced Wichter. "How's the temperature?"

Joyce stepped to the thermometer that registered the heat of the outer
wall. "Nine hundred degrees," he said.

"Cut down to a thousand miles an hour," commanded Wichter. "Five
hundred as soon as the motor will catch that much. I'll keep our
course straight toward this crater. It's in wells like that, that
we'll find livable air--if we're right in believing there is such a
thing on Zeud."

       *       *       *       *       *

Joyce glanced at the thermometer. It still registered hundreds of
degrees, though their speed had been materially reduced.

"I guess there's livable air, all right," he said. "It's pretty thick
outside already."

The professor smiled. "Another theory vindicated. I was sure that
Zeud, swinging on the outside of the Earth-moon-Zeud chain and hence
traveling at a faster rate, would pick up most of the moon's
atmosphere over a period of millions of years. Also it must have been
shielded by the moon, to some extent, against the constant small
atmospheric leakage most celestial globes are subject to. Just the
same, when we land, we'll test conditions with a rat or two."

At a signal from him, Joyce checked their speed to four hundred miles
an hour, then to two hundred, and then, as they descended below the
highest rim of the circular cliffs of the crater, almost to a full
stop. They floated toward the surface of Zeud, watching with
breathless interest the panorama that unfolded beneath them.

They were nosing toward a spot that was being favored with the Zeudian
sunrise. Sharp and clear the light rays slanted down, illuminating
about half the crater's floor and leaving the cliff protected half in
dim shadow.

The illuminated part of the giant pit was as bizarre as the landscape
of a nightmare. There were purplish trees, immense beyond belief.
There were broad, smooth pools of inky black fluid that was oily and
troubled in spots as though disturbed by some moving things under the
surface. There were bare, rocky patches where the stones, the long
drippings of ancient lava flow, were spread like bleaching gray
skeletons of monsters. And over all, rising from pools and bare ground
and jungle alike, was a thin, miasmic mist.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sustained by the slow, steady exhaust of the motor, rising a little
with each partly muffled explosion and sinking a little further in
each interval, they settled toward a bare, lava strewn spot that
appealed to Wichter as being a good landing place. With a last hiss,
and a grinding jar, they grounded. Joyce opened the switch to cut off
the generator.

"Now let's see what the air's like," said Wichter, lifting down a
small cage in which was penned an active rat.

He opened a double panel in the shell's hull, and freed the little
animal. In an agony of suspense they watched it as it leaped onto the
bare lava and halted a moment....

"Seems to like it," said Joyce, drawing a great breath.

The rat, as though intoxicated by its sudden freedom, raced away out
of sight, covering eight or ten feet at a bound, its legs scurrying
ludicrously in empty air during its short flights.

"That means that we can dispense with oxygen helmets--and that we'd
better take our guns," said Wichter, his voice tense, his eyes
snapping behind his glasses.

He stepped to the gun rack. In this were half a dozen air-guns. Long
and of very small bore, they discharged a tiny steel shell in which
was a liquid of his invention that, about a second after the heat of
its forced passage through the rifle barrel, expanded instantly in
gaseous form to millions of times its liquid bulk. It was the most
powerful explosive yet found, but one that was beautifully safe to
carry inasmuch as it could be exploded only by heat.

"Are we ready?" he said, handing a gun to Joyce. "Then--let's go!"

       *       *       *       *       *

But for a breath or two they hesitated before opening the heavy double
door in the side of the hull, savoring to the full the immensity of
the moment.

The rapture of the explorer who is the first to set foot on a vast new
continent was theirs, magnified a hundredfold. For they were the first
to set foot on a vast new planet! An entire new world, containing
heaven alone knew what forms of life, what monstrous or infinitesimal
creatures, lay before them. Even the profound awe they had experienced
when landing on the moon was dwarfed by the solemnity of this
occasion; just as it is less soul stirring to discover an arctic
continent which is perpetually cased in barren ice, than to discover a
continent which is warmly fruitful and, probably, teeming with life.

Still wordless, too stirred to speak, they opened the vault-like door
and stepped out--into a humid heat which was like that of their own
tropical regions, but not so unendurable.

In their short stay on the moon, during which they had taken several
walks in their insulated suits, they had become somewhat accustomed to
the decreased weight of their bodies due to the lesser gravity, so
that here, where their weight was even less, they did not make any
blunders of stepping twenty feet instead of a yard.

Walking warily, glancing alertly in all directions to guard against
any strange animals that might rush out to destroy them, they moved
toward the nearest stretch of jungle.

       *       *       *       *       *

The first thing that arrested their attention was the size of the
trees they were approaching. They had got some idea of their hugeness
from the shell, but viewed from ground level they loomed even larger.
Eight hundred, a thousand feet they reared their mighty tops, with
trunks hundreds of feet in circumference; living pyramids whose bases
wove together to make an impenetrable ceiling over the jungle floor.
The leaves were thick and bloated like cactus growths, and their color
was a pronounced lavender.

"We must take back several of those leaves," said Wichter, his
scientific soul filled with cold excitement.

"I wish we could take back some of this air, too." Joyce filled his
lungs to capacity. "Isn't it great? Like wine! It almost counteracts
the effects of the heat."

"There's more oxygen in it than in our own," surmised Wichter. "My
God! What's that!"

They halted for an instant. From the depths of the lavender jungle had
come an ear shattering, screaming hiss, as though some monstrous
serpent were in its death agony.

They waited to hear if the noise would be repeated. It wasn't.
Dubiously they started on again.

"We'd better not go in there too far," said Joyce. "If we didn't come
out again it would cost Earth a new planet. No one else knows the
secret of your water-motor."

"Oh, nothing living can stand against these guns of ours," replied
Wichter confidently. "And that noise might not have been caused by
anything living. It might have been steam escaping from some volcanic
crevice."

They started cautiously down a well defined, hard packed trail through
thorny lavender underbrush. As they went, Joyce blazed marks on
various tree trunks marking the direction back to the shell. The tough
fibres exuded a bluish liquid from the cuts that bubbled slowly like
blood.

       *       *       *       *       *

To the right and left of them were cup-shaped bushes that looked like
traps; and that their looks were not deceiving was proved by a
muffled, bleating cry that rose from the compressed leaves of one of
them they passed. Sluggish, blind crawling things like three-foot
slugs flowed across their path and among the tree trunks, leaving
viscous trails of slime behind them. And there were larger things....

"Careful," said Wichter suddenly, coming to a halt and peering into
the gloom at their right.

"What did you see?" whispered Joyce.

Wichter shook his head. The gigantic, two-legged, purplish figure he
had dimly made out in the steamy dark, had moved away. "I don't know.
It looked a little like a giant ape."

They halted and took stock of their situation, mechanically wiping
perspiration from their streaming faces, and pondering as to whether
or not they should turn back. Joyce, who was far from being a coward,
thought they should.

"In this undergrowth," he pointed out, "we might be rushed before we
could even fire our guns. And we're nearly a mile from the shell."

But Wichter was like an eager child.

"We'll press on just a little," he urged. "To that clear spot in front
of us." He pointed along the trail to where sunlight was blazing down
through an opening in the trees. "As soon as we see what's there,
we'll go back."

With a shrug, Joyce followed the eager little man down the weird trail
under the lavender trees. In a few moments they had reached the
clearing which was Wichter's goal. They halted on its edge, gazing at
it with awe and repulsion.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a circular quagmire of festering black mud about a hundred
yards across. Near at hand they could see the mud heaving, very
slowly, as though abysmal forms of life were tunneling along just
under the surface. They glanced toward the center of the bog, which
was occupied by one of the smooth black pools, and cried aloud at
what they saw.

At the brink of the pool was lying a gigantic creature like a great,
thick snake--a snake with a lizard's head, and a series of
many-jointed, scaled legs running down its powerful length. Its mouth
was gaping open to reveal hundreds of needle-sharp, backward pointing
teeth. Its legs and thick, stubbed tail were threshing feebly in the
mud as though it were in distress; and its eyes, so small as to be
invisible in its repulsive head, were glazed and dull.

"Was that what we heard back a ways?" wondered Joyce.

"Probably," said Wichter. His eyes shone as he gazed at the nightmare
shape. Impulsively he took a step toward the stirring mud.

"Don't be entirely insane," snapped Joyce, catching his arm.

"I must see it closer," said Wichter, tugging to be free.

"Then we'll climb a tree and look down on it. We'll probably be safer
up off the ground anyway."

       *       *       *       *       *

They ascended the nearest jungle giant--whose rubbery bark was so
ringed and scored as to be as easy to climb as a staircase--to the
first great bough, about fifty feet from the ground, and edged out
till they hung over the rim of the quagmire. From there, with the aid
of their binoculars, they expected to see the dying monster in every
detail. But when they looked toward the pool it was not in sight!

"Were we seeing things?" exclaimed Wichter, rubbing his glasses. "I'd
have sworn it was lying there!"

"It was," said Joyce grimly. "Look at the pool. That'll tell you where
it went."

The black, secretive surface was bubbling and waving as though, down
in its depths, a terrific fight were taking place.

"Something came up and dragged our ten-legged lizard down to its den.
Then that something's brothers got onto the fact that a feast was
being held, and rushed in. That pool would be no place for a
before-breakfast dip!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Wichter started to say something in reply, then gazed, hypnotized, at
the opposite wall of the jungle.

From the dense screen of lavender foliage stretched a glistening,
scale-armored neck, as thick as a man's body at its thinnest point,
which was just behind a tremendous-jawed crocodilian head. It tapered
back for a distance of at least thirty feet, to merge into a body as
big as that of a terrestial whale, that was supported by four squat,
ponderous legs.

Moving with surprising rapidity, the enormous thing slid into the mud
and began ploughing a way, belly deep, toward the pool. Shapeless,
slow-writhing forms were cast up in its wake, to quiver for a moment
in the sunlight and then melt below the mud again.

One of the bloated, formless mud-crawlers was snapped up in the huge
jaws with an abrupt plunge of the long neck, and the monster began to
feed, hog-like, slobbering over the loathsome carcass.

Wichter shook his head, half in fanatical eagerness, half in despair.
"I'd like to stay and see more," he said with a sigh, "but if that's
the kind of creatures we're apt to encounter in the Zeudian jungle,
we'd better be going at once--"

"Sh-h!" snapped Joyce. Then, in a barely audible whisper: "I think the
thing heard your voice!"

The monster had abruptly ceased its feeding. Its head, thrust high in
the air, was waving inquisitively from side to side. Suddenly it
expelled the air from its vast lungs in a roaring cough--and started
directly for their tree.

"Shoot!" cried Wichter, raising his gun.

       *       *       *       *       *

Moving with the speed of an express train, the monster had almost got
to their overhanging branch before they could pull the triggers. Both
shells imbedded themselves in the enormous chest, just as the long
neck reached up for them. And at once things began to happen with
cataclysmic rapidity.

Almost with their impact the shells exploded. The monster stopped,
with a great hole torn in its body. Then, dying on its feet, it thrust
its great head up and its huge jaws crunched over the branch to which
its two puny destroyers were clinging.

With all its dozens of tons of weight, it jerked in a gargantuan death
agony. The tree, enormous as it was, shook with it, and the branch
itself was tossed as though in a hurricane.

There was a splintering sound. Wichter and Joyce dropped their guns to
cling more tightly to the bole of the drooping branch that was their
only security. The guns glanced off the mountainous body--and, with a
last convulsion of the mighty legs, were swept underneath!

The monster was still at last, its insensate jaws yet gripping the
bough. The two men looked at each other in speechless consternation.
The shell a mile off through the dreadful jungle.... Themselves,
helpless without their guns....

"Well," said Joyce at last. "I guess we'd better be on our way.
Waiting here, thinking it over, won't help any. Lucky there's no
night, for a couple of weeks at least, to come stealing down on us."

       *       *       *       *       *

He started down the great trunk, with Wichter following close behind.
Walking as rapidly as they could, they hurried back along the tunneled
trail toward their shell.

They hadn't covered a hundred yards when they heard a mighty crashing
of underbrush behind them. Glancing back, they saw tooth-studded jaws
gaping cavernously at the end of a thirty-foot neck--little,
dead-looking eyes glaring at them--a hundred-foot body smashing its
way over the trap-bushes and through tangles of vines and
down-drooping branches.

"The mate to the thing we killed back there!" Joyce panted. "Run, for
God's sake!"

Wichter needed no urging. He hadn't an ounce of fear in his spare,
small body. But he had an overwhelming desire to get back to Earth and
deliver his message. He was trembling as he raced after Joyce, thirty
feet to a bound, ducking his head to avoid hitting the thick lavender
foliage that roofed the trail.

"One of us must get through!" he panted over and over. "One of us must
make it!"

It was speedily apparent that they could never outrun their pursuer.
The reaching jaws were only a few yards behind them now.

"You go," called Joyce, sobbing for breath. He slowed his pace
deliberately.

"No--you--" Wichter slowed too. In a frenzy, Joyce shoved him along
the trail.

"I tell you--"

He got no further. In front of them, where there had appeared to be
solid ground, they suddenly saw a yawning pit. Desperately, they tried
to veer aside, but they were too close. Their last long birdlike leap
carried them over the edge. They fell, far down, into a deep chasm,
splashing into a shallow pool of water.

A few clods of earth cascaded after them as the monster above dug its
great splay feet into the ground and checked its rush in time to keep
from falling after them. Then the top of the pit slowly darkened as a
covering of some sort slid across it. They were in a prison as
profoundly quiet and utterly black as a tomb.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Dorn," shouted Joyce. "Are you all right?"

"Yes," came a voice in the near darkness. "And you?"

"I'm still in one piece as far as I can feel." There was a splashing
noise. He waded toward it and in a moment his outstretched hand
touched the professor's shoulder.

"This is a fine mess," he observed shakily. "We got away from those
tooth-lined jaws, all right, but I'm wondering if we're much better
off than we would have been if we hadn't escaped."

"I'm wondering the same thing." Wichter's voice was strained. "Did you
see the way the top of the pit closed above us? That means we're in a
trap. And a most ingenious trap it is, too! The roof of it is
camouflaged until it looks exactly like the rest of the trail floor.
The water in here is just shallow enough to let large animals break
their necks when they fall in and just deep enough to preserve small
animals--like ourselves--alive. We're in the hands of some sort of
reasoning, intelligent beings, Joyce!"

"In that case," said Joyce with a shudder, "we'd better do our best to
get out of here!"

But this was found to be impossible. They couldn't climb up out of the
pit, and nowhere could they feel any openings in the walls. Only
smooth, impenetrable stone met their questing fingers.

"It looks as though we're in to stay," said Joyce finally. "At least
until our Zeudian hosts, whatever kind of creatures they may be, come
and take us out. What'll we do then? Sail in and die fighting? Or go
peaceably along with them--assuming we aren't killed at once--on the
chance that we can make a break later?"

"I'd advise the latter," answered Wichter. "There is a small animal on
our own planet whose example might be a good one for us to follow.
That's the 'possum." He stopped abruptly, and gripped Joyce's arm.

From the opposite side of the pit came a grating sound. A crack of
greenish light appeared, low down near the water. This widened jerkily
as though a door were being hoisted by some sort of pulley
arrangement. The walls of the pit began to glow faintly with
reflected light.

"Down," breathed Wichter.

       *       *       *       *       *

Noiselessly they let themselves sink into the water until they were
floating, eyes closed and motionless, on the surface. Playing dead to
the best of their ability, they waited for what might happen next.

They heard a splashing near the open rock door. The splashing neared them,
and high-pitched hissing syllables came to their ears--variegated sounds
that resembled excited conversation in some unknown language.

Joyce felt himself touched by something, and it was all he could do to
keep from shouting aloud and springing to his feet at the contact.

He'd had no idea, of course, what might be the nature of their
captors, but he had imagined them as man-like, to some extent at
least. And the touch of his hand, or flipper, or whatever it was,
indicated that they were not!

They were cold-blooded, reptilian things, for the flesh that had
touched him was cold; as clammy and repulsive as the belly of a dead
fish. So repulsive was that flesh that, when he presently felt himself
lifted high up and roughly carried, he shuddered in spite of himself
at the contact.

Instantly the thing that bore him stopped. Joyce held his breath. He
felt an excruciating, stabbing pain in his arm, after which the
journey through the water was resumed. Stubbornly he kept up his
pretence of lifelessness.

The splashing ceased, and he heard flat wet feet slapping along on dry
rock, indicating that they had emerged from the pit. Then he sank into
real unconsciousness.

The next thing he knew was that he was lying on smooth, bare rock in a
perfect bedlam of noises. Howls and grunts, snuffling coughs and
snarls beat at his ear-drums. It was as though he had fallen into a
vast cage in which were hundreds of savage, excited animals--animals,
however, that in spite of their excitement and ferocity were
surprisingly motionless, for he heard no scraping of claws, or padding
of feet.

Cautiously he opened his eyes....

       *       *       *       *       *

He was in a large cave, the walls of which were glowing with greenish,
phosphorescent light. Strewn about the floor were seemingly dead
carcasses of animals. And what carcasses there were! Blubber-coated
things that looked like giant tadpoles, gazelle-like creatures with a
single, long slim horn growing from delicate small skulls, four-legged
beasts and six-legged ones, animals with furry hides and crawlers with
scaled coverings--several hundred assorted specimens of the smaller
life of Zeud lay stretched out in seeming lifelessness.

But they were not dead, these bizarre beasts of another world. They
lived, and were animated with the frenzied fear of trapped things.
Joyce could see the tortured heaving of their furred and scaled sides
as they panted with terror. And from their throats issued the
outlandish noises he had heard. They were alive enough--only they
seemed unable to move!

There was nothing in his range of vision that might conceivably be the
beings that had captured them, so Joyce started to lift his head and
look around at the rest of the cavern. He found that he could not
move. He tried again, and his body was as unresponsive as a log. In
fact, he couldn't feel his body at all! In growing terror, he
concentrated all his will on moving his arm. It was as limp as a rag.

He relaxed, momentarily in the grip of stark, blind panic. He was as
helpless as the howling things around him! He was numbed, completely
paralyzed into immobility!

The professor's voice--a weak, uncertain voice--sounded from behind
him. "Joyce! Joyce!"

He found that he could talk, that the paralysis that gripped the rest
of his muscles had not extended to the vocal cords. "Dorn! Thank God
you're alive! I couldn't see you, and I thought--"

"I'm alive, but that's about all," said Wichter. "I--I can't move."

"Neither can I. We've been drugged in some manner--just as all the
other animals in here have been drugged. I must have got my dose in
the pit. I was cut, or stabbed, in the arm."

       *       *       *       *       *

Joyce stopped talking as he suddenly heard steps, like human footsteps
yet weirdly different--flap-flapping sounds as though awkward flippers
were slapping along the rock floor toward them. The steps stopped
within a few feet of them; then, after what seemed hours, they sounded
again, this time in front of him.

He opened his eyes, cautiously, barely moving his eyelids, and saw at
last, in every hideous detail, one of the super-beasts that had
captured Wichter and himself.

It was a horrible cartoon of a man, the thing that stood there in the
greenish glow of the cave. Nine or ten feet high, it loomed; hairless,
with a faintly iridescent, purplish hide. A thick, cylindrical trunk
sloped into a neck only a little smaller than the body itself. Set on
this was a bony, ugly head that was split clear across by lipless
jaws. There was no nose, only slanted holes like the nostrils of an
animal; and over these were set pale, expressionless, pupil-less eyes.
The arms were short and thick and ended in bifurcated lumps of flesh
like swollen hands encased in old-fashioned mittens. The legs were
also grotesquely short, and the feet mere shapeless flaps.

It was standing near one of the smaller animals, apparently regarding
it closely. Observing it himself, Joyce saw that it was moving a
little. As though coming out of a coma, it was raising its bizarre
head and trying to get on its feet.

Leisurely the two-legged monster bent over it. Two long fangs gleamed
in the lipless mouth. These were buried in the neck of the reviving
beast--and instantly it sank back into immobility.

Having reduced it to helplessness--the monster ate it! The lipless
jaws gaped widely. The shapeless hands forced in the head of the
animal. The throat muscles expanded hugely: and in less than a minute
it had swallowed its living prey as a boa-constrictor swallows a
monkey.

       *       *       *       *       *

Joyce closed his eyes, feeling weak and nauseated. He didn't open them
again till long after he had heard the last of the awkward, flapping
footsteps.

"Could you see it?" asked Wichter, who was lying so closely behind him
that he couldn't observe the monstrous Zeudian. "What did it do? What
was it like?"

Joyce told him of the way the creature had fed. "We are evidently in
their provision room," he concluded. "They keep some of their food
alive, it seems.... Well, it's a quick death."

"Tell me more about the way the other animal moved, just before it was
eaten."

"There isn't much to tell," said Joyce wearily. "It didn't move long
after those fangs were sunk into it."

"But don't you see!" There was sudden hope in Wichter's voice. "That
means that the effect of the poison, which is apparently injected by
those fangs, wears off after a time. And in that case--"

"In that case," Joyce interjected, "we'd have only an unknown army of
ten-foot Zeudians, the problem of finding a way to the surface of the
ground again, and the lack of any kind of weapons, to keep us from
escaping!"

"We're not quite weaponless, though," the professor whispered back.
"Over in a corner there's a pile of the long, slender horns that
sprout from the heads of some of these creatures. Evidently the
Zeudians cut them out, or break them off before eating that
particular type of animal. They'd be as good as lances, if we could
get hold of them."

       *       *       *       *       *

Joyce said nothing, but hope began to beat in his own breast. He had
noticed a significant happening during the age-long hours in the
commissary cave. Most of the Zeudians had entered from the direction
of the pit. But one had come in through an opening in the opposite
side. And this one had blinked pale eyes as though dazzled from bright
sunlight--and was bearing some large, woody looking tubers that seemed
to have been freshly uprooted! There was a good chance, thought Joyce,
that that opening led to a tunnel up to the world above!

He drew a deep breath--and felt a dim pain in his back, caused by the
cramping position in which he had lain for so long.

He could have shouted aloud with the thrill of that discovery. This
was the first time he had felt his body at all! Did it mean that the
effect of the poison was wearing off--that it wasn't as lastingly
paralyzing to his earthly nerve centers as to those of Zeudian
creatures around them? He flexed the muscles of his leg. The leg moved
a fraction of an inch.

"Dorn!" he called softly, "I can move a little! Can you?"

"Yes," Wichter answered, "I've been able to wriggle my fingers for
several minutes. I think I could walk in an hour or two."

"Then pray for that hour or two. It might mean our escape!" Joyce told
him of the seldom used entrance that he thought led to the open air.
"I'm sure it goes to the surface, Dorn. Those woody looking tubers had
been freshly picked."

       *       *       *       *       *

Three of the two-legged monsters came in just then. They relapsed into
lifeless silence. There was a horrible moment as the three paused over
them longer than any of the others had. Was it obvious that the
effects of the numbing poison was wearing off? Would they be bitten
again--or eaten?

The Zeudians finally moved on, hissing and clicking to each other.
Eventually the cold-blooded things fed, and dragged lethargically out
of the cave in the direction of the pit.

With every passing minute Joyce could feel life pouring back into his
numbed body. His cramped muscles were in agony now--a pain that gave
him fierce pleasure. At last, risking observation, he lifted his head
and then struggled to a sitting position and looked around.

No Zeudian was in sight. Evidently they were too sure of their poison
glands to post a guard over them. He listened intently, and could hear
no dragging footsteps. He turned to Wichter, who had followed his
example and was sitting up, feebly rubbing his body to restore
circulation.

"Now's our chance," he whispered. "Stand up and walk a little to
steady your legs, while I go over and get us a couple of those sharp
horns. Then we'll see where that entrance of mine goes!"

He walked to the pile of bones and horns in the corner and selected
two of the longest and slimmest of the ivory-like things. Just as he
had rejoined Wichter he heard the sound with which he was now so
grimly familiar--flapping, awkward footsteps. Wildly he signaled the
professor. They dropped in their tracks, just as the approaching
monster stumped into the cave.

       *       *       *       *       *

For an instant he dared hope that their movement had gone unobserved,
but his hope was rudely shattered. He heard a sharp hiss: heard the
Zeudian flap toward them at double-quick time. Abandoning all
pretense, he sprang to his feet just as the thing reached him, its
fangs gleaming wickedly in the greenish light.

He leaped to the side, going twenty feet or more with the press of his
Earth muscles against the reduced gravity. The creature rushed on
toward the professor. That game little man crouched and awaited its
onslaught. But Joyce had sprung back again before the two could clash.

He raised the long horn and plunged it into the smooth, purplish back.
Again and again he drove it home, as the monster writhed under him. It
had enormous vitality. Gashed and dripping, it yet struggled on,
attempting to encircle Joyce with its stubby arms. Once it succeeded,
and he felt his ribs crack as it contracted its powerful body. But a
final stroke finished the savage fight. He got up and, with an
incoherent cry to Wichter, raced toward the opening on which they
pinned their hopes of reaching the upper air.

Hissing cries and the thudding of many feet came to them just as they
reached the arched mouth of the passage. But the cries, and the
constant pandemonium of the paralysed animals died behind them as they
bounded along the tunnel.

       *       *       *       *       *

They emerged at last into the sunlight they had never expected to see
again, beside one of the great lavender trees. They paused an instant
to try to get their bearings.

"This way," panted Joyce as he saw, on a hard-packed path ahead of
them, one of the trail-marks he had blazed.

Down the trail they raced, toward their space shell. Fortunately they
met none of the tremendous animals that infested the jungles; and
their journey to the clearing in which the shell was lying was
accomplished without accident.

"We're safe now," gasped Wichter, as they came in sight of the bare
lava patch. "We can outrun them five feet to their one!"

They burst into the clearing--and halted abruptly. Surrounding the
shell, stumping curiously about it and touching it with their
shapeless hands, were dozens of the Zeudians.

"My God!" groaned Joyce. "There must be at least a hundred of them!
We're lost for certain now!"

They stared with hopeless longing at the vehicle that, if only they
could reach it, could carry them back to Earth. Then they turned to
each other and clasped hands, without a word. The same thought was in
the mind of each--to rush at the swarming monsters and fight till they
were killed. There was absolutely no chance of winning through to the
shell, but it was infinitely better to die fighting than be swallowed
alive.

       *       *       *       *       *

So engrossed were the Zeudians by the strange thing that had fallen
into their province, that Joyce and Wichter got within a hundred feet
of them before they turned their pale eyes in their direction. Then,
baring their fangs, they streamed toward the Earth men, just as the
pursuing Zeudians entered the clearing from the jungle trail.

The two prepared to die as effectively as possible. Each grasped his
lace-like horn tightly. The professor mechanically adjusted his
glasses more firmly on his nose....

With his move, the narrowing circle of Zeudians halted. A violent
clamor broke out among them. They glared at the two, but made no
further step toward them.

"What in the world--" began Wichter bewilderedly.

"Your glasses!" Joyce shouted, gripping his shoulder. "When you moved
them, they all stopped! They must be afraid of them, somehow. Take
them clear off and see what happens."

Wichter removed his spectacles, and swung them in his hand, peering
near-sightedly at the crowding Zeudians.

Their reaction to his simple move was remarkable! Hisses of
consternation came from their lipless mouths. They faced each other
uneasily, waving their stubby arms and covering their own eyes as
though suddenly afraid they would lose them.

Taking advantage of their indecision, Joyce and Wichter walked boldly
toward them. They moved aside, forming a reluctant lane. Some of the
Zeudians in the rear shoved to close in on them, but the ones in front
held them back. It wasn't until the two were nearly through that the
lane began to straggle into a threatening circle around them again.
The Zeudians were evidently becoming reassured by the fact that
Wichter continued to see all right in spite of the little strange
creature's alarming act of removing his eyes.

"Do it again," breathed Joyce, perspiration beading his forehead as
the giants moved closed, their fangs tentatively bared for the numbing
poison stroke.

       *       *       *       *       *

Wichter popped his glasses on, then jerked them off with a cry, as
though he were suffering intensely. Once more the Zeudians faltered
and drew back, feeling at their own eyes.

"Run!" cried Joyce. And they raced for the haven of the shell.

The Zeudians swarmed after them, snarling and hissing. Barely ahead of
the nearest, Joyce and Wichter dove into the open panel. They slammed
it closed just as a powerful, stubby arm reached after them. There was
a screaming hiss, and a cold, cartilagenous lump of flesh dropped to
the floor of the shell--half the monster's hand, sheared off between
the sharp edge of the door and the metal hull.

Joyce threw in the generator switch. With a soft roar the water-motor
exploded into action, sending the shell far into the sky.

"When we return," said Joyce, adding a final thousand miles an hour to
their speed before they should fly free of the atmosphere of Zeud, "I
think we'd better come at the head of an army, equipped with air-guns
and explosive bombs."

"And with glasses," added the professor, taking off his spectacles and
gazing at them as though seeing them for the first time.



Four Miles Within

A COMPLETE NOVELETTE

_By Anthony Gilmore_

CHAPTER I

_The Monster of Metal_

[Illustration: The man hurled the empty gun at the monster.]

[Sidenote: Far down into the earth goes a gleaming metal sphere whose
passengers are deadly enemies.]


A strange spherical monster stood in the moonlight on the silent
Mojave Desert. In the ghostly gray of the sand and sage and joshua
trees its metal hide glimmered dully--an amazing object to be found on
that lonely spot. But there was only pride and anticipation in the
eyes of the three people who stood a little way off, looking at it.
For they had constructed the strange sphere, and were soon going to
entrust their lives to it.

"Professor," said one of them, a young man with a cheerful face and a
likable grin, "let's go down now! There's no use waiting till
to-morrow. It's always dark down there, whether it's day or night up
here. Everything is ready."

The white-haired Professor David Guinness smiled tolerantly at the
speaker, his partner, Phil Holmes. "I'm kind of eager to be off,
myself," he admitted. He turned to the third person in the little
group, a dark-haired girl. "What do you say, Sue?"

"Oh, let's, Father!" came the quick reply. "We'd never be able to
sleep to-night, anyway. As Phil says, everything is ready."

"Well, I guess that settles it," Professor Guinness said to the eager
young man.

Phil Holmes' face went aglow with anticipation. "Good!" he cried.
"Good! I'll skip over and get some water. It's barely possible that
it'll be hot down there, in spite of your eloquent logic to the
contrary!" And with the words he caught up a large jug standing
nearby, waved his hand, said: "I'll be right back!" and set out for
the water-hole, situated nearly a mile away from their little camp.
The heavy hush of the desert night settled down once more after he
left.

       *       *       *       *       *

As his figure merged with the shadows in the distance, the elderly
scientist murmured aloud to his daughter:

"You know, it's good to realize that my dream is about to become a
reality. If it hadn't been for Phil.... Or no--I really ought to thank
you, Sue. You're the one responsible for his participation!" And he
smiled fondly at the slender girl by his side.

"Phil joined us just for the scientific interest, and for the thrill
of going four miles down into the earth," she retorted at once, in
spite of the blush her father saw on her face. But he did not insist.
Once more he turned, as to a magnet, to the machine that was his
handiwork.

The fifteen-foot sphere was an earth-borer--Guinness's own invention.
In it he had utilized for the first time for boring purposes the newly
developed atomic disintegrators. Many holes equally spaced over the
sphere were the outlets for the dissolving ray--most of them on the
bottom and alternating with them on the bottom and sides were the
outlets of powerful rocket propulsion tubes, which would enable it to
rise easily from the hole it would presently blast into the earth. A
small, tight-fitting door gave entrance to the double-walled interior,
where, in spite of the space taken up by batteries and mechanisms and
an enclosed gyroscope for keeping the borer on an even keel, there was
room for several people.

The earth-borer had been designed not so much for scientific
investigation as the specific purpose of reaching a rich store of
radium ore buried four miles below the Guinness desert camp. Many
geologists and mining engineers knew that the radium was there, for
their instruments had proven it often; but no one up to then knew how
to get to it. David Guinness did--first. The borer had been
constructed in his laboratory in San Francisco, then dismantled and
freighted to the little desert town of Palmdale, from whence Holmes
had brought the parts to their isolated camp by truck. Strict secrecy
had been kept. Rather than risk assistants they had done all the work
themselves.

       *       *       *       *       *

Fifteen minutes passed by, while the slight figure of the inventor
puttered about the interior of the sphere, brightly lit by a
detachable searchlight, inspecting all mechanisms in preparation for
their descent. Sue stood by the door watching him, now and then
turning to scan the desert for the returning Phil.

It was then, startlingly sudden, that there cracked through the velvet
night the faint, distant sound of a gun. And it came from the
direction of the water-hole.

Sue's face went white, and she trembled. Without a word her father
stepped out of the borer and looked at her.

"That was a gun!" he said. "Phil didn't have one with him, did he?"

"No," Sue whispered. "And--why, there's nobody within miles of here!"

The two looked at each other with alarm and wonder. Then, from one of
the broken patches of scrub that ringed the space in which the borer
stood, came a mocking voice.

"Ah, you're mistaken, Sue," it affirmed. "But that was a gun."

David Guinness jerked around, as did his daughter. The man who had
spoken stood only ten yards away, clearly outlined in the bright
moonlight--a tall, well-built man, standing quite at ease, surveying
them pleasantly. His smile did not change when old Guinness cried:

"Quade! James Quade!"

The man nodded and came slowly forward. He might have been considered
handsome, had it not been for his thin, mocking lips and a swarthy
complexion.

"What are you doing here?" demanded Guinness angrily. "And what do you
mean--'it was a gun?' Have you--"

"Easy, easy--one thing at a time," said Quade, still smiling. "About
the gun--well, your young friend Holmes said, he'd be right back, but
I--I'm afraid he won't be."

       *       *       *       *       *

Sue Guinness's lips formed a frightened word:

"Why?"

Quade made a short movement with his left hand, as is brushing the
query aside. "Let's talk about something more pleasant," he said, and
looked back at the professor. "The radium, and your borer, for
instance. I hear you're all ready to go down."

David Guinness gasped. "How did you know--?" he began, but a surge of
anger choked him, and his fists clenched. He stepped forward. But
something came to life in James Quade's right hand and pointed
menacingly at him. It was the stubby black shape of an automatic.

"Keep back, you old fool!" Quade said harshly. "I don't want to have
to shoot you!"

Unwillingly, Guinness came to a stop. "What have you done with young
Holmes?" he demanded.

"Never mind about him now," said Quade, smiling again. "Perhaps I'll
explain later. At the moment there's something much more interesting
to do. Possibly you'll be surprised to hear it, but we're all going to
take a little ride in this machine of yours, Professor. Down. About
four miles. I'll have to ask you to do the driving. You will, won't
you--without making a fuss?"

Guinness's face worked furiously. "Why, you're crazy, Quade!" he
sputtered. "I certainly won't!"

"No?" asked Quade softly. The automatic he held veered around, till it
was pointing directly at the girl. "I wouldn't want to have to shoot
Sue--say--through the hand...." His finger tightened perceptibly on
the trigger.

"You're mad, man!" Guinness burst out. "You're crazy! What's the
idea--"

"In due time I'll tell you. But now I'll ask you just once more,"
Quade persisted. "Will you enter that borer, or must I--" He broke off
with an expressive shrug.

David Guinness was powerless. He had not the slightest idea what Quade
might be about; the one thought that broke through his fear and anger
was that the man was mad, and had better be humored. He trembled, and
a tight sensation came to his throat at sight of the steady gun
trained on his daughter. He dared not trifle.

"I'll do it," he said.

       *       *       *       *       *

James Quade laughed. "That's better. You always were essentially
reasonable, though somewhat impulsive for a man of your age. The rash
way you severed our partnership, for instance.... But enough of that.
I think we'd better leave immediately. Into the sphere, please. You
first, Miss Guinness."

"Must she come?"

"I'm afraid so. I can't very well leave her here all unprotected, can
I?"

Quade's voice was soft and suave, but an undercurrent of sarcasm ran
through it. Guinness winced under it; his whole body was trembling
with suppressed rage and indignation. As he stepped to the door of the
earth-borer he turned and asked:

"How did you know our plans? About the radium?--the borer?"

Quade told him. "Have you forgotten," he said, "that you talked the
matter over with me before we split last year? I simply had the
laboratory watched, and when you got new financial backing from young
Holmes, and came here. I followed you. Simple, eh?... Well, enough of
this. Get inside. You first, Sue."

Trembling, the girl obeyed, and when her father hesitated Quade jammed
his gun viciously into his ribs and pushed him to the door. "Inside!"
he hissed, and reluctantly, hatred in his eyes, the professor stepped
into the control compartment after Sue. Quade gave a last quick glance
around and, with gun ever wary, passed inside. The door slammed shut:
there was a click as its lock shot over. The sphere was a sealed ball
of metal.

Inside, David Guinness obeyed the automatic's imperious gesture and
pulled a shiny-handled lever slowly back, and the hush that rested
over the Mojave was shattered by a tremendous bellow, a roar that
shook the very earth. It was the disintegrating blast, hurled out of
the bottom in many fan-shaped rays. The coarse gray sand beneath the
machine stirred and flew wildly; the sphere vibrated madly; and then
the thunder lowered in tone to a mighty humming and the earth-borer
began to drop. Slowly it fell, at first, then more rapidly. The shiny
top came level with the ground: disappeared; and in a moment there was
nothing left but a gaping hole where a short while before a round
monster of metal had stood. The hole was hot and dark, and from it
came a steadily diminishing thunder....

       *       *       *       *       *

For a long time no one in the earth-borer spoke--didn't even try
to--for though the thunder of the disintegrators was muted, inside, to
a steady drone, conversation was almost impossible. The three were
crowded quite close in the spherical inner control compartment. Sue
sat on a little collapsible stool by the bowed, but by no means
subdued, figure of Professor David Guinness, while Quade sat on the
wire guard of the gyroscope, which was in the exact center of the
floor.

The depth gauge showed two hundred feet. Already the three people were
numb from the vibration; they hardly felt any sensation at all, save
one of great weight pressing inwards. The compartment was fairly cool
and the air good--kept so by the automatic air rectifiers and the
insulation, which shut out the heat born of their passage.

Quade had been carefully watching Guinness's manipulation of the
controls, when he was struck by a thought. At once he stood up, and
shouted in the elderly inventor's ear: "Try the rockets! I want to be
sure this thing will go back up!"

Without a word Guinness shoved back the lever controlling the
disintegrators, at the same time whirling a small wheel full over. The
thudding drone died away to a whisper, and was replaced by sharper
thundering, as the stream of the propulsion rockets beneath the sphere
was released. A delicate needle trembled on a gauge, danced at the
figure two hundred, then crept back to one-ninety ... one-sixty ...
one-forty.... Quade's eyes took in everything.

"Excellent, Guinness!" he yelled. "Now--down once more!"

The rockets were slowly cut; the borer jarred at the bottom of its
hole; again the disintegrators droned out. The sphere dug rapidly into
the warm ground, biting lower and lower. At ten miles an hour it
blasted a path to depths hitherto unattainable to man, sweeping away
rock and gravel and sand--everything that stood in its way. The depth
gauge rose to two thousand, then steadily to three and four. So it
went on for nearly half an hour.

At the end of that time, at a depth of nearly four miles, Quade got
stiffly to his feet and once more shouted into the professor's ear.

"We ought to be close to that radium, now," he said. "I think--"

But his words stopped short. The floor of the sphere suddenly fell
away from their feet, and they felt themselves tumbled into a wild
plunge. The drone of the disintegrators, hitherto muffled by the earth
they bit into, rose to a hollow scream. Before the professor quite
knew what was happening, there was a stunning crash, a shriek of
tortured metal--and the earth-borer rocked and lay still....

       *       *       *       *       *

The whole world seemed to be filled with thunder when David Guinness
came back to consciousness. He opened his eyes and stared up into a
darkness to which it took him some time to accustom himself. When he
did, he made out hazily that he was lying on the floor of a vast dark
cavern. He could dimly see its jagged roof, perhaps fifty feet above.
There was the strong smell of damp earth in his nostrils; his head was
splitting from the steady drone in his ear-drums. Suddenly he
remembered what had happened. He groaned slightly and tried to sit up.

But he could not. His arms and legs were tied. Someone had removed him
from the earth-borer and bound him on the floor of the cavern they had
plunged into.

David Guinness strained at the rope. It was futile, but in doing so he
twisted his head around and saw another form, similarly tied, lying
close to him. He gave a little cry of relief. It was Sue. And she was
conscious, her eyes on his face.

She spoke to him, but he could not understand her for the drone in his
ears, and when he spoke to her it was the same. But the professor did
not just then continue his effort to converse with her. His attention
was drawn to the borer, now dimly illuminated by its portable light,
which had been secured to the door. It was right side up, and appeared
to be undamaged. The broad ray of the searchlight fell far away on one
of the cavern's rough walls. He could just make out James Quade
standing there, his back towards them.

He was hacking at the wall with a pick. Presently he dropped the tool
and wrenched at the rock with bare hands. A large chunk came loose. He
hugged it to him and turned and strode back towards the two on the
floor, and as he drew near they could plainly see a gleam of triumph
in his eyes.

"You know what this is?" he shouted. Guinness could only faintly hear
him. "Wealth! Millions! Of course we always knew the radium was here,
but this is the proof. And now we've a way of getting it out--thanks
to your borer! All the credit is yours, Professor Guinness! You shall
have the credit, and I'll have the money."

Guinness tugged furiously at his bonds again. "You--you--" he gasped.
"How dare you tie us this way! Release us at once! What do you mean by
it?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Quade smiled unpleasantly. "You're very stupid, Guinness. Haven't you
guessed by now what I'm going to do?" He paused, as if waiting for an
answer, and the smile on his face gave way to a look of savage menace.
For the first time his bitter feelings came to the surface.

"Have you forgotten how close I came to going to jail over those
charges of yours a year ago?" he said. "Have you forgotten the
disgrace to me that followed?--the stigma that forced me to disappear
for months? You fool, do you think I've forgotten?--or that I'd let
you--"

"Quade," interrupted the older man, "you know very well you were
guilty. I caught you red-handed. You didn't fool anyone--except the
jury that let you go. So save your breath, and, if you've the sense
you were born with, release my daughter and me. Why, you're crazy!" he
cried with mounting anger. "You can't get away with this! I'll have
you in jail within forty-eight hours, once I get back to the surface!"

With an effort Quade controlled his feelings and assumed his oily,
sarcastic manner. "That's just it," he said: "'once you get back!' How
stupid you are! You don't seem to realize that you're not going back
to the surface. You and your daughter."

Sue gasped, and her father's eyes went wide. There was a tense
silence.

"You wouldn't dare!" the inventor cried finally. "You wouldn't dare!"

"It's rather large, this cavern," Quade went on. "You'll have plenty
of room. Perhaps I'll untie you before I go back up, so--"

"You can't get away with it!" shouted the old man, tremendously
excited. "Why, you can't, possibly! Philip Holmes'll track you
down--he'll tell the police--he'll rescue us! And then--"

Quade smiled suavely. "Oh, no, he won't. Perhaps you remember the shot
that sounded from the water-hole? Well, when I and my assistant, Juan,
heard Holmes say he was going for water, I told Juan to follow him to
the water-hole and bind him, to keep him from interfering till I got
back up. But Mr. Holmes is evidently of an impulsive disposition, and
must have caused trouble. Juan, too, is impulsive; he is a Mexican.
And he had a gun. I'm afraid he was forced to use it.... I am quite
sure Philip Holmes will not, as you say, track me down."

David Guinness looked at his daughter's white face and horror-filled
eyes and suddenly crumpled. Humbly, passionately, he begged Quade to
take her back up. "Why, she's never done anything to you, Quade!" he
pleaded. "You can't take her life like that! Please! Leave me, if you
must, but not her! You can't--"

       *       *       *       *       *

But suddenly the old man noticed that Quade was not listening. His
head was tilted to one side as if he was straining to hear something
else. Guinness was held silent for a moment by the puzzled look on the
other's face and the strange way he was acting.

"Do you hear it?" Quade asked at last; and without waiting for an
answer, he knelt down and put his ear to the ground. When he rose his
face was savage, and he cursed under his breath.

"Why, it's a humming!" muttered Professor Guinness. "And it's getting
louder!"

"It sounds like another borer!" ventured Sue.

The humming grew in volume. Then, from the ceiling, a rock dropped.
They were looking at the cavern roof and saw it start, but they did
not hear it strike, for the ever-growing humming echoed loudly through
the cavern. They saw another rock fall; and another.

"For God's sake, what is it?" cried Guinness.

Quade looked at him and slowly drew out his automatic.

"Another earth-borer, I think," he answered. "And I rather expect it
contains your young friend Mr. Holmes. Yes--coming to rescue you."

For a moment Guinness and his daughter were too astounded to do
anything but gape. She finally exclaimed:

"But--but then Phil's alive?"

James Quade smiled. "Probably--for the moment. But don't let your
hopes rise too high. The borer he's in isn't strong enough to survive
a fifty-foot plunge." He was shouting now, so loud was the thunder
from above. "And," he added, "I'm afraid he's not strong enough to
survive it, either!"


CHAPTER II

_The Man-Hunt_

When Phil Holmes started off to the water-hole, his head was full of
the earth-borer and the imminent descent. Now that the long-awaited
time had come, he was at fever-pitch to be off, and it did not take
him long to cover the mile of sandy waste. His thoughts were far
inside the earth as he dipped the jug into the clear cool water and
sloshed it full.

So the rope that snaked softly through the air and dropped in a loop
over his shoulders came as a stark surprise. Before he knew what was
happening it had slithered down over his arms and drawn taut just
above the elbows, and he was yanked powerfully backwards and almost
fell.

But he managed to keep his feet as he staggered backward, and turning
his head he saw the small dark figure of his aggressor some fifteen
feet away, keeping tight the slack.

Phil's surprise turned to sudden fury and he completely lost his head.
What he did was rash; mad; and yet, as it turned out, it was the only
thing that could have saved him. Instinctively, without hesitating
one second, and absolutely ignoring an excited command to stand still,
he squirmed face-on to his aggressor, lowered his head and charged.

The distance was short. Halfway across it, a gun barked, and he heard
the bullet crack into the water jug, which he was still holding in
front of himself. And even before the splintered fragments reached the
ground he had crashed into the firer.

He hit him with all the force of a tackling lineman, and they both
went down. The man grunted as the wind was jarred out of him, but he
wriggled like an eel and managed to worm aside and bring up his gun.

Then there was a desperate flurry of bodies in the coarse sand. Holmes
dived frantically for the gun hand and caught it; but, handicapped as
he was by the rope, he could not hold it. Slowly its muzzle bent
upward to firing position.

Desperately, he wrenched the arm upwards, in the direction it had been
straining to go, and the sudden unexpected jerk doubled the man's arm
and brought the weapon across his chest. For a moment there was a test
of strength as Phil lay chest to chest over his opponent, the gun
blocked between. Then the other grunted; squirmed violently--and there
was a muffled explosion.

A cry of pain cut the midnight air, and with insane strength Holmes'
ambusher fought free from his grip, staggered to his feet and went
reeling away. Phil tore loose from the rope and bounded after him,
never feeling, at the moment, his powder-burned chest.

And then he halted in his tracks.

A great roar came thundering over the desert!

       *       *       *       *       *

At once he knew that it came from the earth-borer's disintegrators.
The sphere had started down without him.

He stood stock still, petrified with surprise, facing the sound, while
his attacker melted farther and farther into the night. And then,
suddenly, Phil Holmes was sprinting desperately back towards the
Guinness camp.

He ran until he was exhausted; walked for a little while his legs
gathered more strength, and his laboring lungs more air; and then ran
again. As the minutes passed, the thunder lessened rapidly into a
muffled drone; and by the time Phil had panted up to the brink of the
hole that gaped where but a little time before the sphere was
standing, it had become but a distant purr. He leaned far over and
peered into the hot blackness below, but could see nothing.

Phil knelt there silently for some minutes, shocked by his strange
attack, bewildered by the unexpected descent of the borer. For a time
his mind would not work; he had no idea what to do. But gradually his
thoughts came to order and made certain things clear.

He had been deliberately ambushed. Only by luck had he escaped, he
told himself. If it hadn't been for the water jug, he'd now be out of
the picture. And on the heels of the ambush had came the surprising
descent of the earth-borer. The two incidents coincided too well: the
same mind had planned them. And two, men, at least, were in on the
plot.... It suddenly became very clear to him that the answer to the
puzzle lay with the man who had ambushed him. He would have to get
that man. Track him down.

Phil acted with decision. He got to his feet and strode rapidly to the
deserted Guinness shack, horribly quiet and lonely now in the bright
moonlight. In a minute he emerged with a flashlight at his belt and a
rifle across his arm.

Once again he went over to the new black hole in the desert and looked
down. From far below still came the purr, now fainter than ever. His
friend, the girl he loved, were down there, he reflected bitterly, and
he was helpless to reach them. Well, there was one thing he could
do--go man-hunting. Turning, he started off at a long lope for the
water-hole.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ten minutes later he was there, and off to the side he found the marks
of their scuffle--and small black blotches that could be nothing but
blood. The other was wounded: could probably not get far. But he might
still have his gun, so Phil kept his rifle handy, and tempered his
impatience with caution as he set out on the trail of the widely
spaced footprints.

They led off towards the nearby hills, and in the bright moonlight
Phil did not use his flashlight at all, except to investigate other
round black blotches that made a line parallel to the prints. As he
went on he found his quarry's steps coming more closely together:
becoming erratic. Soon they showed as painful drags in the sand, a
laborious hauling of one foot after the other.... Phil put away his
light and advanced very cautiously.

He wondered, as he went, who in the devil was behind it all. The
radium-finding project had been kept strictly secret. Not another soul
was supposed to know of the earth-borer and its daring mission into
the heart of the earth. Yet, obviously, someone had found out, and
whoever it was had laid at least part of his scheme cunningly. An old
man and a girl cannot offer much resistance: he, Phil, would have been
well taken care of had it not been for the water jug. So far, there
were at least two in the plot: the man who had ambushed him and the
unknown who had evidently kidnapped both Professor and Sue Guinness.
But there might be still more.

There might be friends, nearby, of the man he was tracking. The fellow
might have reached them, and warned them that the scheme hadn't gone
through, that Phil was loose. They could very easily conceal
themselves alongside their partner's tracks and train their rifles on
the tracker....

The trail was leading up into one of the cañons in the cluster of
hills to the west. For some distance he followed it up through a slash
of black below the steep moonlit heights of the hills to each
side--and then, suddenly, he vaguely made out the forms of two huts
just ahead.

Immediately he stooped low, and went skirting widely off up one side.
He proceeded slowly, with great caution, his rifle at the ready. At
any moment, he knew, the hush might be split by the cracks of
waylaying guns. Warily he advanced along the narrow cañon wall above
the huts. No lights were lit, and the place seemed unoccupied. He was
debating what to do next when his attention was attracted to a large
dark object lying in the cañon trail some twenty yards from the
nearest hut. Straining his eyes in the inadequate moonlight, he saw
that it was the outstretched figure of a man. His quarry--his
ambusher!

       *       *       *       *       *

Phil dropped flat, fearful of being seen. Keeping as best he could in
the shadows, fearing every moment to hear the sharp bark of a gun, he
crawled forward. It took him a long time to approach the sprawled
figure, but he wasn't taking chances. When within twenty feet, he rose
suddenly and darted forward to the man's side.

His rapid glance showed him that the fellow was completely out: and
another quick look around failed to show that anyone else was
watching, so he returned to his examination of the man. It was the
ambusher, all right: a Mexican. He was still breathing, though his
face was drawn and white from the loss of blood from a wound under the
blood-soaked clothing near his upper right arm. A hasty search showed
that he no longer had his gun, so Phil, satisfied that he was
powerless for some time to come, cautiously wormed his way towards the
two shacks.

There was something sinister in the strange silence that hung over
them. One was of queer construction--a windowless, square, high box
of galvanized iron. The other was obviously a dwelling place.
Carefully Phil sneaked up to the latter. Then, rifle ready, he pushed
its door open and sent a beam of light stabbing through the darkness
of the interior.

There was no one there. Only two bunks, a table, chair, a pail of
water and some cooking utensils met his view. He crept out toward the
other building.

Come close, Phil found that a dun-colored canvas had been thrown over
the top of it, making an adequate camouflage in daytime. The place was
about twenty feet high. He prowled around the metal walls and
discovered a rickety door. Again, gun ready, he flung it open. The
beam from his flash speared a path through the blackness--and he
gasped at sight of what stood revealed.

There, inside, was a long, bullet-like tube of metal, the pointed end
upper-most, and the bottom, which was flat, toward the ground. It was
held in a wooden cradle, and was slanted at the floor. In the bottom
were holes of two shapes--rocket tubes and disintegrating projectors.
It was another earth-borer.

       *       *       *       *       *

Phil stood frozen with surprise before this totally unlooked-for
machine. He could easily have been overcome, had the owner been in the
building, for he had forgotten everything but what his eyes were
staring at. He started slowly around the borer, found a long narrow
door slightly ajar, and stepped inside.

This borer, like Guinness's, had a double shell, and much the same
instruments, though the whole job was simpler and cruder. A small
instrument board contained inclination, temperature, depth and
air-purity indicators, and narrow tubes led to the air rectifiers. But
what kept Holmes' attention were the wires running from the magneto to
the mixing chambers of the disintegrating tubes.

"The fools!" he exclaimed, "--they didn't know how to wire the thing!
Or else," he added after a moment, "didn't get around to doing it." He
noticed that the projectile's interior contained no gyroscope: though,
he thought, none would be needed, for the machine, being long and
narrow, could not change keel while in the ground. Here he was
reminded of something. Stepping outside, he estimated the angle the
borer made with the dirt floor. Twenty degrees. "And pointed
southwest!" he exclaimed aloud. "This borer would come close to
meeting the professor's, four miles under our camp!"

       *       *       *       *       *

At once he knew what he would do. First he went back to the other
shack and got the pail of water he had noticed, and took this out
where the Mexican lay outstretched. He bathed the man's face and the
still slightly bleeding bullet wound in his shoulder.

Presently the wounded man came to. His eyes opened, and he stared up
into a steel mask of a face, in which two level black eyes bored into
his. He remembered that face--remembered it all too well. He trembled,
cowered away.

"No!" he gasped, as if he had seen a ghost. "No--no!"

"Yes, I'm the man," Holmes told him firmly, menacingly. "The same one
you tried to ambush." He paused a moment, then said: "Do you want to
live?"

It was a simple question, frightening in its simplicity.

"Because if you don't answer my questions, I'm going to let you lie
here," Phil went on coldly. "And that would probably mean your death.
If you do answer, I'll fix you up so you can have a chance."

The Mexican nodded eagerly. "I talk," he said.

"Good," said Phil. "Then tell me who built that machine?"

"Señor Quade. Señor James Quade."

"Quade!" Phil had heard the name before. "Of course!" he said.
"Guinness's old partner!"

"I not know," the Mexican answered. "He hire me with much money. He
buy thees machine inside, and we put him together. But he could no
make him work--it take too long. We watch, hear old man go down
to-night, and--"

       *       *       *       *       *

The greaser stopped. "And so he sent you to get me, while he kidnapped
the old man and his daughter and forced them under the ground in their
own borer," Holmes supplied, and the other nodded.

"But I only mean to tie you!" he blurted, gesturing weakly. "I no mean
shoot! No, no--"

"All right--forget it," Phil interrupted. "And now tell me what Quade
expects to do down there."

"I not know, Señor," came the hesitant reply, "but...."

"But what?" the young man jerked.

Reluctantly the wounded Mexican continued. "Señor Quade--he--I think
he don' like thees old man. I think he leave heem an' the girl down
below. Then he come up an' say they keeled going down."

Phil nodded grimly. "I see," he said, voicing his thoughts. "Then he
would say that he and Professor Guinness are still partners--and the
radium ore will belong to him. Very nice. Very nice...."

He snapped back to action, and without another word hoisted the
Mexican onto his back and carried him into the shack. There he
cleansed the wound, rigged up a tight bandage for it, and tied the man
to one of the cots. He tied him in such a fashion that he could reach
some food and water he put by the cot.

"You leave me like thees?" the Mexican asked.

"Yes," Phil said, and started for the door.

"But what you going to do?"

Phil smiled grimly as he flung an answer back over his shoulder.

"Me?--I'm going to fix the wiring on those disintegrators in your
friend Quade's borer. Then I'm starting down after him." He stopped
and turned before he closed the door. "And if I don't get back--well,
it's just too bad for you!"

       *       *       *       *       *

And so, a little later, once more the hushed desert night was cleft by
a furious bellow of sound. It came, this time, from a narrow cañon.
The steep sides threw the roar back and back again, and the echoes
swelled to an earth-shaking blast of sound. The oblong hut from which
it came rocked and almost fell; then, as the noise began to lessen,
teetered on its foundations and half-slipped into the ragged hole that
had been bored inside.

The descent was a nightmare that Holmes would never forget. Quade's
machine was much cruder and less efficient than the sphere David
Guinness had designed. Its protecting insulation proved quite
inadequate, and the heat rapidly grew terrific as the borer dug down.
Phil became faint, stifled, and his body oozed streams of sweat. And
the descent was also bumpy and uneven; often he was forced to leave
the controls and work on the mechanism of the disintegrators when they
faltered and threatened to stop. But in spite of everything the needle
on the depth gauge gradually swung over to three thousand, and four,
and five....

After the first mile Holmes improvised a way to change the air more
rapidly, and it grew a little cooler. He watched the story the depth
gauge told with narrowed eyes, and, as it reached three miles,
inspected his rifle. At three and a half miles he stopped the borer,
thinking to try to hear the noise made by the other, but so paralyzed
were his ear-drums from the terrific thunder beneath, it seemed hardly
any quieter when it ceased.

His plans were vague; they would have to be made according to the
conditions he found. There was a coil of rope in the tube-like
interior of the borer, and he hoped to find a cavern or cleft in the
earth for lateral exploring. He would stop at a depth of four
miles--where he should be very near the path of the professor's
sphere.

But Phil never saw the needle on the gauge rise to four miles. At
three and three quarters came sudden catastrophe.

He knew only that there was an awful moment of utter helplessness,
when the borer swooped wildly downwards, and the floor was snatched
sickeningly from under him. He was thrown violently against the
instrument panel; then up toward the pointed top; and at the same
instant came a rending crash that drove his senses from him....


CHAPTER III

"_You Haven't the Guts_"

"Just as I thought," said James Quade in the silence that fell when
the last echoes had died away, and the splinters of steel and rock had
settled. "You see, Professor, this earth-borer belongs to me. Yes, I
built one too. But I couldn't, unfortunately, get it working
properly--that is, in time to get down here first. After all, I'm not
a scientist, and remembered little enough of your borer's plans....
It's probably young Holmes who's dropped in on us. Shall we see?"

David Guinness and his daughter were speechless with dread. Quade had
trained the searchlight on the borer, and by turning their heads they
could see it plainly. It was all too clear that the machine was a
total wreck. It had pitched over onto one side, its shell cracked and
mangled irreparably. Grotesque pieces of crumpled metal lay all around
it. Its slanting course had tumbled it within fifteen yards of the
sphere.

In silence the old man and the girl watched Quade walk deliberately
over to it, his automatic steady in his right hand. He wrenched at the
long, narrow door, but it was so badly bent that for a while he could
not get it open. At last it swung out, however, and Quade peered
inside.

After a moment he reached in and drew out a rifle. He took it over to
a nearby rock, smashed the gun's breech, then flung it, useless,
aside. Returning to the borer, he again peered in.

Sue was about to scream from the torturous suspense when he at last
straightened up and looked around at the white-faced girl and her
father.

"Mr. Holmes is tougher than I'd thought possible," he said, with a
thin smile; "he's still alive." And, as Sue gasped with relief, he
added: "Would you like to see him?"

       *       *       *       *       *

He dragged the young man's unconscious body roughly out on the floor.
There were several bad bruises on his face and head, but otherwise he
was apparently uninjured. As Quade stood over him, playing idly with
the automatic, he stirred, and blinked, and at last, with an effort,
got up on one elbow and looked straight at the thin lips and narrowed
eyes of the man standing above. He shook his head, trying to
comprehend, then muttered hazily:

"You--you're--Quade?"

Quade did not have time to answer, for Sue Guinness cried out:

"Phil! Are you all right?"

Phil stared stupidly around, caught sight of the two who lay bound on
the floor, and staggered to his feet. "Sue!" he cried, relief and
understanding flooding his voice. He started towards her.

"Stand where you are!" Quade snapped harshly, and the automatic in his
hand came up. Holmes peered at it and stopped, but his blood-streaked
face settled into tight lines, and his body tensed.

"You'd better," continued Quade. "Now tell me what happened to Juan."

Phil forced himself to be calm. "Your pal, the greaser?" he said
cuttingly. "He's lying on a bunk in your shack. He shot himself,
playing with a gun."

Quade chose not to notice the way Phil said this, but a little of the
suave self-confidence was gone from his face as he said: "Well, in
that case I'll have to hurry back to the surface to attend to him. But
don't be alarmed," he added, more brightly. "I'll be back for you all
in an hour or so."

At this, David Guinness struggled frantically with his bonds and
yelled:

"Don't believe him, Phil! He's going to leave us here, to starve and
die! He told us so just before you came down!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Quade's face twitched perceptibly. His eyes were nervous.

"Is that true, Quade?" Holmes asked. There was a steely note in his
voice.

"Why--no, of course not," the other said hastily, uncertain whether to
lie or not. "Of course I didn't!"

Phil Holmes looked square into his eyes. He bluffed.

"You couldn't desert us, Quade. You haven't the guts. You haven't the
guts."

His face and eyes burned with the contempt that was in his words. It
cut Quade to the raw. But he could not avoid Phil's eyes. He stared at
them for a full moment, trembling slightly. Slowly, by inches, he
started to back toward the sphere; then suddenly he ran for it with
all his might, Holmes after him. Quade got to it first, and inside, as
he yanked in the searchlight and slammed and locked the door, he
yelled:

"You'll see, you damned pup! You'll see!" And there was the smothered
sound of half-maniacal laughter....

Phil threw all his weight against the metal door, but it was hopeless
and he knew it. He had gathered himself for another rush when he heard
Guinness yell:

"Back, Phil--back! He'll turn on the side disintegrators!"

Mad with rage as the young man was, he at once saw the danger and
leaped away--only to almost fall over the professor's prone body. With
hurrying, trembling fingers he untied the pair's bonds, and they
struggled to their feet, cramped and stiff. Then it was Phil who
warned them.

"Back as far as you can! Hurry!" He grabbed Sue's hand and plunged
toward the uncertain protection of a huge rock far in the rear. At
once he made them lie flat on the ground.

       *       *       *       *       *

As yet the sphere had not stirred nor emitted a whisper of sound,
though they knew the man inside was conning the controls in a fever of
haste to leave the cavern. But they hadn't long to wait. There came a
sputter, a starting cough from the rocket tubes beneath the sphere.
Quickly they warmed into life, and the dully glimmering ball rocked in
the hole it lay in. Then a cataract of noise unleashed itself; a
devastating thunder roared through the echoing cavern as the rockets
burst into full force. A wave of brilliant orange-red splashed out
from under the sphere, licked back up its sides, and seemed literally
to shove the great ball up towards the hole in the ceiling.

Its ascent was very slow. As it gained height it looked--save for its
speed--like a fantastic meteor flaming through the night, for the
orange plumage that streamed from beneath lit the ball with dazzling
color. A glowing sphere, it staggered midway between floor and
ceiling, creeping jerkily upwards.

"He's not going to hit the hole!" shouted Guinness.

The borer had not risen in a perfectly straight line; it jarred
against the rim of the hole, and wavered uncertainly. Every second the
roar of its rockets, swollen by echoes, rose in a savage crescendo;
the faces of the three who watched were painted orange in the glow.

The sphere was blind. The man inside could judge his course only by
the feel. As the three who were deserted watched, hoping ardently that
Quade would not be able to find the opening, the left side-rockets
spouted lances of fire, and they knew he had discovered the way to
maneuver the borer laterally. The new flames welded with the exhaust
of the main tubes into a great fan-shaped tail, so brilliant and shot
through with other colors that their eyes could not stand the sight,
except in winks. The borer jerked to the right, but still it could not
find the hole. Then the flames lessened for a moment, and the borer
sank down, to rise again a moment later. Its ascent was so labored
that Phil shouted to Professor Guinness:

"Why so slow?"

And the inventor told him that which he had not seen for the
intolerable light.

"Only half his rockets are on!"

       *       *       *       *       *

This time the sphere was correctly aimed, however, and it roared
straight into the hole. Immediately the fierce sound of the exhaust
was muffled, and in a few seconds only the fiery plumage, shooting
down from the ceiling, showed where the machine was. Then this
disappeared, and the noise alone was left.

Phil leaped forward, intending to stare up, but Guinness's yell halted
him.

"Not yet! He might still use the disintegrators!"

For many minutes they waited, till the muffled exhaust had died to a
drone. There was a puzzled expression on the professor's face as the
three at last walked over and dared peer up into the hole. Far above,
the splash of orange lit the walls of the tunnel.

"That's funny!" the old man muttered. "He's only using half the
rockets--about ten. I thought he'd turn them all on when he got into
the hole, but he didn't. Either they were damaged in the fall, or
Quade doesn't see fit to use them."

"Half of them are enough," said Phil bitterly, and put his arm around
the quiet girl standing next to him. Together, a silent little group,
they watched the spot of orange die to a pin-point; watched it waver,
twinkle, ever growing smaller.... And then it was gone.

Gone! Back to the surface of the earth, to the normal world of
reality. Only four miles above them--a small enough distance on the
surface itself--and yet it might have been a million miles, so utterly
were they barred from it....

       *       *       *       *       *

The same thought was in their minds, though none of them dared express
it. They were thinking of the serene desert, and the cool wind, and
the buttes and the high hills, placid in the moonlight. Of the hushed
rise of the dawn, the first flush of the sun that was so achingly
lovely on the desert. The sun they would never see again, buried in a
lifeless world of gloom four miles within.... And buried alive--and
not alive for long....

But that way lay madness. Phil Holmes drove the horrible thoughts from
his brain and forced a smile to his face.

"Well, that's that!" he said in a voice meant to be cheerful.

The dim cavern echoed his words mockingly. With the earth-borer
gone--the man-made machine that had dared break a solitude undisturbed
since the earth first cooled--the great cavern seemed to return to its
awful original mood. The three dwarfed humans became wholly conscious
of it. They felt it almost a living thing, stretching vastly around
them, tightening its unheard spell on them. Its smell, of mouldy earth
and rocks down which water slowly dripped, filled their nostrils and
somehow added to their fear.

As they looked about, their eyes became accustomed to the dim, eery,
phosphorescent illumination. They saw little worm-like creatures now
and again appear from tiny holes between stalagmites in the jagged
floor; and, as Phil wondered in his mind how long it would be before
they would be reduced to using them for food, a strange mole-sized
animal scraped from the darkness and pecked at one of them. As it
slithered away, a writhing shape in its mouth, Holmes muttered
bitterly: "A competitor!" Vague, flitting forms haunted the gloom
among the stalactites of the distorted ceiling--hints of the things
that lived in the terrible silence of this nether world. Here Time had
paused, and life had halted in primate form.

A little moan came from Sue Guinness's pale lips. She plucked at her
arm; a sickly white worm, only an inch long, had fallen on it from the
ceiling. "Oh!" she gasped. "Oh!"

Phil drew her closer to him, and walked with her over to Quade's
wrecked borer. "Let's see what we've got here," he suggested
cheerfully.

The machine was over on its side, the metal mangled and crushed beyond
repair. Nevertheless, he squeezed into it. "Stand back!" he warned.
"I'm going to try its rockets!" There was a click of broken machinery,
and that was all. "Rockets gone," Phil muttered.

He pulled another lever over. There was a sputter from within the
borer, then a furious roar that sent great echoes beating through the
cavern. A cloud of dust reared up before the bottom of the machine,
whipped madly for a moment, and sank as the bellow of sound died down.
Sue saw that a rocky rise in the floor directly in front of the
disintegrators had been planed off levelly.

Phil scrambled out. "The disintegrators work," he said, "but a lot of
good they do us. The borer's hopelessly cracked." He shrugged his
shoulders, and with a discouraged gesture cast to the ground a coil of
rope he had found inside.

Then suddenly he swung around. "Professor!" he called to the old
figure standing bowed beneath the hole in the ceiling. "There's a
draft blowing from somewhere! Do you feel it?"

Guinness felt with his hands a moment and nodded slowly. "Yes," he
said.

"It's coming from this way!" Sue said excitedly, pointing into the
darkness on one side of the cavern. "And it goes up the hole we made
in the ceiling!"

Phil turned eagerly to the old inventor. "It must come from
somewhere," he said, "and that somewhere may take us toward the
surface. Let's follow it!"

"We might as well," the other agreed wearily. His was the tone of a
man who has only a certain time to live.

But Phil was more eager. "While there's life, there's hope," he said
cheerfully. "Come on, Sue, Professor!" And he led the way forward
toward the dim, distorted rock shapes in the distance.

       *       *       *       *       *

The roof and sides of the cavern angled down into a rough, tunnel-like
opening, from which the draft swept. It was a heavy air, weighted with
the smell of moist earth and lifeless water and a nameless, flat,
stale gas. They slowly made their way through the impeding
stalagmites, surrounded by a dark blur of shadows, the ghostly
phosphorescent light illuminating well only the few rods around them.
Utter silence brooded over the tunnel.

Phil paused when they had gone about seventy-five feet. "I left that
rope behind," he said, "and we may need it. I'll return and get it,
and you both wait right here." With the words he turned and went back
into the shadows.

He went as fast as he could, not liking to leave the other two alone.
But when he had retrieved the rope and tied it to his waist, he
permitted himself a last look up as he passed under the hole in the
ceiling--and what he saw there tensed every muscle in his body, and
made his heart beat like mad. Again there was a tiny spot of orange in
the blackness above!

"Professor!" he yelled excitedly. "Sue! Come here! The sphere's
coming back!"

There was no doubt about it. The pin-point of light was growing each
second, with the flame of the descending exhausts. Guinness and his
daughter ran from the tunnel, and, guided by Phil's excited
ejaculations, hurried to his side. Their eyes confirmed what his had
seen. The earth-borer was coming down!

"But," Guinness said bewilderedly, "those rockets were enough to lift
him!"

This was a mystery. Even though ten rockets were on--ten tiny spots of
orange flame--the sphere came down swiftly. The same force which some
time before had lifted it slowly up was now insufficient. The roar of
the tubes rose rapidly. "Get back!" Phil ordered, remembering the
danger, and they all retreated to the mouth of the tunnel, ready to
peep cautiously around the edge. Holmes' jaws were locked tight with
grim resolution. Quade was coming back! he told himself exultantly.
This time he must not go up alone! This time--!

But his half-formed resolutions were idle. He could not know what
frightful thing was bringing Quade down--what frightful experience was
in store for them all....


CHAPTER IV

_Spawn of the Cavern_

In a crescendo of noise that stunned their ears, the earth-borer came
down. Tongues of fire flared from the hole, speared to the ground and
were deflected upward, cradling the metal ball in a wave of flame.
Through this fiery curtain the machine slowly lowered to the floor,
where a shower of sparks spattered out, blinding the eyes of the
watchers with their brilliance. For a full minute the orange-glowing
sphere lay there, quivering from the vibration; then the exhausts died
and the wave of flame wavered and sank into nothingness. While their
ear-drums continued the thunder, the three stared at the borer, not
daring to approach, yet striving to solve the mystery of why it had
sunk despite the up-thrust of ten rocket tubes.

As their eyes again became accustomed to the familiar phosphorescent
illumination, pallid and cold after the fierce orange flame, they saw
why--and their eyes went wide with surprise and horror.

A strange mass was covering the top of the earth-borer--something that
looked like a heap of viscid, whitish jelly. It was sprawled
shapelessly over the round upper part of the metal sphere, a
half-transparent, loathsome stuff, several feet thick in places.

And Phil Holmes, striving to understand what it could be, saw an awful
thing. "It's moving!" he whispered, unconsciously drawing Sue closer.
"There's--there's life in it!"

Lazy quiverings were running through the mound of jelly, pulsings that
gave evidence of its low organism. They saw little ripples of even
beat run over it, and under them steady, sluggish convulsions that
told of life; that showed, perhaps, that the thing was hungry and
preparing to move its body in quest of food.

It was alive, unquestionably. The borer lay still, but this thing
moved internally, of itself. It was life in its lowest, most primate
form. The mass was mind, stomach, muscle and body all in one, stark
and raw before their startled eyes.

"Oh, God!" Phil whispered through the long pause. "It can't be
real!..."

"Protoplasm--a monster amoeba," David Guinness's curiously cracked
voice said. "Just as it exists on the surface, only microscopically.
Primate life...."

       *       *       *       *       *

The lock of the earth-borer clicked. Phil gasped. "Quade is coming
out!" he said. A little cry of horror came from Sue. And the metal
door opened.

James Quade stepped through, automatic in hand. He was fresh from the
light inside, and he could not see well. He was quite unconscious of
what was oozing down on him from above, of the flabby heap that was
carefully stretching down for him. He peered into the gloom, looking
for the three he had deserted, and all the time an arm from the mass
above crept nearer. Sue Guinness's nerves suddenly gave, and she
shrieked; but Quade's ears were deaf from the borer's thunder, and he
did not hear her.

It was when he lifted one foot back into the sphere--probably to get
out the searchlight--that he felt the thing's presence. He looked
up--and a strange sound came from him. For seconds he apparently could
not move, stark fear rooting him to the ground, the gun limp in his
hand.

Then a surge ran through the mound of flesh, and the arm, a pseudopod,
reached more rapidly for him.

It stung Quade into action. He leaped back, brought up his automatic,
and fired at the thing once; then three times more. He, and each one
of the others, saw four bullets thud into the heap of pallid matter
and heard them clang on the metal of the sphere beneath. They had gone
right through its flesh--but they showed no slightest effect!

Quade was evidently unwilling to leave the sphere. Jerking his arm up
he brought his trigger finger back again. A burst of three more shots
barked through the cavern, echoing and re-echoing. The man screamed an
inarticulate oath as he saw how useless his bullets were, and hurled
the empty gun at the monster--which was down on the floor now, and
bunching its sluggish body together.

The automatic went right into it. They could all see it there, in the
middle of the amorphous body, while the creature stopped, as if
determining whether or not it was food. Quade screwed his courage
together in the pause, and tried to dodge past to the door of the
sphere; but the monster was alert: another pseudopod sprang out from
its shapeless flesh, sending him back on his heels.

The feeler had all but touched Quade, and with the closeness of his
escape, the remnants of his courage gave. He yelled, and turned and
ran.

       *       *       *       *       *

He ran straight for the three who watched from the tunnel mouth, and
the mound of shapeless jelly came fast on his trail. It came in
surging rolls, like thick fluid oozing forward; it would have been
hard to measure its size, for each moment it changed. The only
impression the four humans had was that of a wave of half-transparent
matter that one instant was a sticky ball of viscid flesh and the next
a rapidly advancing crescent whose horns reached far out on each flank
to cut off retreat.

By instinct Phil jerked Sue around and yelled at the professor to run,
for the old man seemed to be frozen into an attitude of fearful
interest. Bullets would not stop the thing--could anything? Holmes
wondered. He could visualize all too easily the death they would meet
if that shapeless, naked protoplasmic mass overtook and flowed over
them....

But he wasted no time with such thoughts. They ran, all three, into
the dark tunnel.

Quade caught up with them quickly. Personal enmity was suspended
before this common peril. They could not run at full speed, for a
multitude of obstacles hindered them. Tortuous ridges of rock lay
directly across their path, formations that had been whipped in some
mad, eon-old convulsion and then, through the ages, remained frozen
into their present distortion; black pits gaped suddenly before them;
half-seen stalagmites, whose crystalline edges were razor-sharp, tore
through to their flesh. Haste was perilous where every moment they
might stumble into an unseen cleft and go pitching into awful depths
below. They were staking everything on the draft that blew steadily
in their faces; Phil told himself desperately that it must lead to
some opening--it must!

But what if the opening were a vertical, impassable tunnel? He would
not think of that....

Old David Guinness tired fast, and was already lagging in the rear
when Quade gasped hoarsely:

"Hurry! It's close behind!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Surging rapidly at a constant distance behind them, it came on. It was
as fast as they were, and evidently untiring. It was in its own
element; obstacles meant nothing to it. It oozed over the jagged
ridges that took the humans precious moments to scramble past, and the
speed of its weird progress seemed to increase as theirs faltered. It
was a heartless mass driven inexorably by primal instinct towards the
food that lay ahead. The dim phosphorescent illumination tinged its
flabby tissues a weird white.

The passage they stumbled through narrowed. Long irregular spears of
stalactites hung from the unseen ceiling; others, the drippings of
ages, pronged up from the floor, shredding their clothes as they
jarred into them. One moment they were clambering up-hill, slipping on
the damp rock; the next they were sliding down into unprobed darkness,
reckless of where they would land. They were aware only that the
water-odorous draft was still in their faces, and the hungry mound of
flesh behind....

"I can't last much longer!" old Guinness's winded voice gasped. "Best
leave me behind. I--I might delay it!"

For answer, Phil went back, grabbed him by the arm and dragged his
tired body forward. He was snatching a glance behind to see how close
the monster was, when Sue's frightened voice reached him from ahead.

"There's a wall here, Phil--and no way through!"

And then Holmes came to it. It barred the passage, and was apparently
unbroken. Yet the draft still came!

"Search for where the draft enters!" he yelled. "You take that side!"
And he started feeling over the clammy, uneven surface, searching
frantically for a cleft. It seemed to be hopeless. Quade stood staring
back into the gloom, his eyes looking for what he knew was surging
towards them. His face had gone sickly white, he was trembling as if
with fever, and he sucked in air with long, racking gasps.

"Here! I have it!" cried the girl suddenly at her end of the wall. The
other three ran over, and saw, just above her head, a narrow rift in
the rock, barely wide enough to squirm through. "Into it!" Phil
ordered tersely. He grasped her, raised her high, and she wormed
through. Quade scrambled to get in next, but Holmes shoved him aside
and boosted the old man through. Then he helped the other.

A second after he had swung himself up, a wave of whitish matter
rolled up below, hungry pseudopods reaching for the food it knew was
near. It began to trickle up the wall....

       *       *       *       *       *

The crack was narrow and jagged; utterly black. Phil could hear Quade
frantically worming himself ahead, and he wondered achingly if it
would lead anywhere. Then a faint, clear voice from ahead rang out:

"It's opening up!"

Sue's voice! Phil breathed more easily. The next moment Quade
scrambled through; dim light came; and they were in another vast,
ghostly-lit cavern.

The crack came out on its floor-level; Guinness was resting near, and
his daughter had her hands on a large boulder of rock. "Let's shove it
against the hole!" she suggested to Phil. "It might stop it!"

"Good, Sue, good!" he exclaimed, and at once all four of them strained
at the chunk, putting forth every bit of strength they had. The
boulder stirred, rolled over, and thudded neatly in front of the
crack, almost completely sealing it. There was only a cleft of five
inches on one side.

But their expression of relief died in their throats. A tiny trickle
of white appeared through the niche. The amorphous monster was
compressing itself to a single stream, thin enough to squeeze through
even that narrow space.

They could not block it. They had nothing to attack it with. There was
nothing to do but run.... And hope for a chance to double back....

As nearly as they could make out, this second cavern was as large as
the first. They could dimly see the fantastic shapes of hundreds of
stalactites hanging from the ceiling. Clumps of stalagmites made the
floor a maze which they threaded painfully. The strong steady draft
guided them like a radio beacon, leading them to their only faint hope
of escape and life. Guinness, very tired, staggered along
mechanically, a heavy weight on Phil's supporting arm; James Quade ran
here and there in frantic spurts of speed. Sue was silent, but the
hopelessness in her eyes tortured Phil like a wound. His shirt had
long since been ripped to shreds; his face, bruised in the first place
by the borer he had crashed in, now was scratched and bloody from
contact with rough stalagmites.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then, without warning, they suddenly found among the rough walls on
the far side of the cavern, the birthplace of the draft. It lay at the
edge of the floor--a dark hole, very wide. Black, sinister and clammy
from the draft that poured from it, it pierced vertically down into
the very bowels of the earth. It was impassable.

James Quade crumpled at the brink; "It's the end!" he moaned. "We
can't go farther! It's the end of the draft!"

The hole blocked their forward path completely. They could not go
ahead.... In seconds, it seemed, the slithering that told of the
monster's approach sounded from behind. Sue's eyes were already fixed
on the awful, surging mass when a voice off to one side yelled:

"Here! Quick!"

It was Phil Holmes. He had been scouting through the gloom, and had
found something.

The other three ran to him. "There's another draft going through
here," he explained rapidly, pointing to an angled crevice in the
rocky wall. "There's a good chance it goes to the cavern where the
sphere and the hole to the surface are. Anyway, we've got to take it.
I'd better go first, after this--and you, Quade, last. I trust you
less than the monster behind."

He turned and edged into the crack, and the others followed as he had
ordered. Quickly the passageway broadened, and they found the going
much easier than it had been before. For perhaps ten minutes they
scrambled along, with the draft always on their backs and the blessed,
though faint, fire of hope kindling again. In all that time they did
not see their pursuer once, and the hope that they had lost it brought
a measure of much needed optimism to drive their tired bodies onward.
They found but few time-wasting obstacles. If only the tunnel would
continue right into the original cavern! If only their path would stay
clear and unhindered!

But it did not. The sound of Phil's footsteps ahead stopped, and when
Sue and her father came up they saw why.

"A river!" Phil said.

       *       *       *       *       *

They were standing on a narrow ledge that overhung an underground
river. A fetid smell of age-old, lifeless water rose from it. Dimly,
at least fifty feet across, they could see the other side, shrouded in
vague shadows. The inky stream beneath did not seem to move at all,
but remained smooth and hard and thick-looking.

They could not go around it. The ledge was only a few feet wide, and
blocked at each side.

"Got to cross!" Phil said tersely.

Quade, sickly-faced, stared down. "There--there might be other things
in that water!" he gasped. "Monsters!"

"Sure," agreed Phil contemptuously. "You'd better stay here." He
turned to the others. "I'll see how deep it is," he said, and without
the faintest hesitation dove flatly in.

Oily ripples washed back, and they saw his head poke through,
sputtering. "Not deep," he said. "Chest-high. Come on."

He reached for Sue, helped her down, and did the same for her father.
Holding each by the hand, Sue's head barely above the water, he
started across. They had not gone more than twenty feet when they
heard Quade, left on the bank, give a hoarse yell of fear and dive
into the water. Their dread pursuer had caught up with them.

And it followed--on the water! Phil had hoped it would not be able to
cross, but once more the thing's astounding adaptability dashed his
hopes. Without hesitation, the whitish jelly sprawled out over the
water, rolling after them with ghastly, snake-like ripples, its pallid
body standing out gruesomely against the black, odorous tide.

Quade came up thrashing madly, some feet to the side of the other
three. He was swimming--and swimming with such strength that he
quickly left them behind. He would be across before they; and that
meant there was a good chance that the earth-borer would go up again
with only one passenger....

Phil fought against the water, pulling Sue and her father forward as
best he could. From behind came the rippling sound of their shapeless
pursuer. "Ten feet more--" Holmes began--then abruptly stopped.

There had been a swish, a ripple upstream. And as their heads turned
they saw the water part and a black head, long, evil, glistening,
pointing coldly down to where they were struggling towards the shore.
Phil Holmes felt his strength ooze out. He heard Professor Guinness
gasp:

"A water-snake!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Its head was reared above the surface, gliding down on them silently,
leaving a wedge of long, sluggish ripples behind. When thirty feet
away the glistening head dipped under, and a great half-circle of
leg-thick body arched out. It was like an oily stream of curved cable;
then it ended in a pointed tail--and the creature was entirely under
water....

With desperate strength Phil hauled the girl to the bank and, standing
in several feet of water, pushed her up. Then he whirled and yanked
old Guinness past him up into the hands of his daughter. With them
safe, and Sue reaching out her hand for him, he began to scramble up
himself.

But he was too late. There was a swish in the water behind him, and
toothless, hard-gummed jaws clamped tight over one leg and drew him
back and under. And with the touch of the creature's mouth a stiff
shock jolted him; his body went numb; his arms flopped limply down. He
was paralyzed.

Sue Guinness cried out. Her father stared helplessly at the spot where
his young partner had disappeared with so little commotion.

"It was an eel," he muttered dully. "Some kind of electric eel...."

Phil dimly realized the same thing. A moment later his face broke the
surface, but he could not cry out; he could not move his little
finger. Only his involuntary muscles kept working--his heart and his
lungs. He found he could control his breathing a little.... And then
he was wondering why he was remaining motionless on the surface.
Gradually he came to understand.

He had not felt it, but the eel had let go its hold on his leg, and
had disappeared. But only for a moment. Suddenly, from somewhere near,
its gleaming body writhed crazily, and a terrific twist of its tail
hit Phil a glancing blow on the chest. He was swept under, and the
water around him became a maelstrom. When next he bobbed to the
tumultuous surface, he managed to get a much-needed breath of
air--and in the swirling currents glimpsed the long, snake-like head
of the eel go shooting by, with thin trickles of stuff that looked
like white jelly clinging to it.

That explained what was happening. The eel had been challenged by the
ameboid monster, and they were fighting for possession of him--the
common prey.

       *       *       *       *       *

The water became an inferno of whipping and lashing movements, of
whitish fibers and spearing thrusts of a glistening black electric
body. Unquestionably the eel was using its numbing electric shock on
its foe. Time and time again Phil felt the amoeba grasp him,
searingly, only to be wrenched free by the force of the currents the
combat stirred up. Once he thudded into the bottom of the river, and
his lungs seemed about to burst before he was again shot to the top
and managed to get a breath. At last the water quieted somewhat, and
Phil, at the surface, saw the eel bury its head in a now apathetic
mound of flesh.

It tore a portion loose with savage jaws, a portion that still writhed
after it was separated from the parent mass; and then the victor
glided swiftly downstream, and disappeared under the surface....

Holmes floated helplessly on the inky water. He could see the amoeba
plainly; it was still partly paralyzed, for it was very still. But
then a faint tremor ran through it; a wave ran over its surface--and
it moved slowly towards him once again.

Desperately Phil tried to retreat. The will was there, but the body
would not work. Save for a feeble flutter of his hands and feet, he
could not move. He could not even turn around to bid Sue and David
Guinness good-by--with his eyes....

Then a fresh, loved voice sounded just behind him, and he felt
something tighten around his waist.

"It's all right, dear!" the voice called. "Hang on; we'll get you
out!"

Sue had come in after him! She had grasped the rope tied to his belt,
and she and her father were pulling him back to the bank!

He wanted to tell her to go back--the amoeba was only feet away--but
he could only manage a little croak. And then he was safe up on the
ledge at the other side of the river.

       *       *       *       *       *

A surge of strength filled his limbs, and he knew the shock was
rapidly wearing off. But it was also wearing off of the monster in the
water. Its speed increased; the ripplings of its amorphous
body-substance became quicker, more excited. It came on steadily.

While it came, the girl and her father worked desperately over Phil,
massaging his body and pulling him further up the bank. It had all but
reached the bank when Holmes gasped:

"I think I can walk now. Where--where did Quade go to?"

Guinness gestured over to the right, up a dim winding passage through
the rocks.

"Then we must follow--fast!" Phil said, staggering to his feet. "He
may get to the sphere first; he'll go up by himself even yet! I'm all
right!"

Despite his words, he could not run, and could only command an awkward
walk. Sue lifted one of his arms around her shoulder, and her father
took the other, and without a backward glance they labored ahead. But
Phil's strength quickly returned, and they raised the pace until they
had broken once more into a stumbling run.

How far ahead James Quade was, they did not know, but obviously they
could follow where he had gone. Once again the draft was strong on
their backs. They felt sure they were on the last stretch, headed for
the earth-borer. But, unless they could overtake Quade, he would be
there first. They had no illusions about what that would mean....


CHAPTER V

_A Death More Hideous_

Quade was there first.

When they burst out of a narrow crevice, not far from the
funnel-shaped opening they had originally entered, they saw him
standing beside the open door of the sphere as if waiting. The
searchlight inside was still on, and in its shaft of light they could
see that he was smiling thinly, once more his old, confident self. It
would only take him a second to jump in, slam the door and lock it. He
could afford a last gesture....

The three stopped short. They saw something he did not.

"So!" he observed in his familiar, mocking voice. He paused, seeing
that they did not come on. He had plenty of time.

He said something else, but the two men and the girl did not hear what
it was. As if by a magnet their eyes were held by what was hanging
above him, clinging to the lip of the hole the sphere had made in the
ceiling.

It was an amoeba, another of those single-celled, protoplasmic mounds
of flesh. It had evidently come down through the hole; and now it was
stretching, rubber-like, lower and lower, a living, reaching
stalactite of whitish hunger.

Quade was all unconscious of it. His final words reached Phil's
consciousness.

"... And this time, of course, I will keep the top disintegrators on.
No other monster will then be able to weigh me down!"

He shrugged his shoulders and turned to the door. And that movement
was the signal that brought his doom. Without a sound, the poised mass
above dropped.

James Quade never knew what hit him. The heap of whitish jelly fell
squarely. There was a brief moment of frantic lashing, of tortured
struggles--then only tiny ripples running through the monster as it
fed.

Sue Guinness turned her head. But the two men for some reason could
not take their eyes away....

       *       *       *       *       *

It was the girl's voice that jerked them back to reality. "The other!"
she gasped. "It's coming, behind!"

They had completely forgotten the mass in the tunnel. Turning, they
saw that it was only fifteen feet away and approaching fast, and
instinctively they ran out into the cavern, skirting the sphere
widely. When they came to Quade's wrecked borer Phil, who had snatched
a glance behind, dragged them down behind it. For he had seen their
pursuer abandon the chase and go to share in the meal of its fellow.

"We'd best not get too far away," he whispered. "When they leave the
front of the borer, maybe we can make a dash for it."

For minutes that went like hours the young man watched, waiting for
the creatures to be done, hoping that they would go away. Fortunately
the sphere lay between, and he was not forced to see too much. Only
one portion of one of the monsters was visible, lapping out from
behind the machine....

At last his body tensed, and he gripped Sue and her father's arm in
quick warning. The things were leaving the sphere. Or, rather, only
one was. For Phil saw that they had agglutenated--merged into
oneness--and now the monster that remained was the sum of the sizes of
the original two. And more....

They all watched. And they all saw the amoeba stop, hesitate for a
moment--and come straight for the wrecked borer behind which they were
hidden.

"Damn!" Phil whispered hoarsely. "It's still hungry--and it's after
us!"

David Guinness sighed wearily. "It's heavy and sluggish, now," he
said, "so maybe if we run again.... Though I don't know how I can last
any longer...."

Holmes did not answer. His eyes were narrowed; he was casting about
desperately for a plan. He hardly felt Sue's light touch on his arm as
she whispered:

"In case, Phil--in case.... This must be good-by...."

But the young man turned to her with gleaming eyes. "Good-by,
nothing!" he cried. "We've still got a card to play!"

       *       *       *       *       *

She stared at him, wondering if he had cracked from the strain of what
he had passed through. But his next words assured her he had not. "Go
back, Sue," he said levelly. "Go far back. We'll win through this
yet."

She hesitated, then obeyed. She crept back from the wrecked borer,
back into the dim rear, eyes on Phil and the sluggish mass that moved
inexorably towards him. When she had gone fifteen or twenty yards she
paused, and watched the two men anxiously.

Phil was talking swiftly to Professor Guinness. His voice was low and
level, and though she could not hear the words she could catch the
tone of assurance that ran through them. She saw her father nod his
head, and he seemed to make the gesture with vigor. "I will," she
heard him say; and he slapped Phil on the back, adding: "But for God's
sake, be careful!"

And with these words the old man wormed inside Quade's wrecked borer
and was gone from the girl's sight.

She wanted desperately to run forward and learn what Phil intended to
do, but she restrained herself and obeyed his order. She waited, and
watched; and saw the young man stand up, look at the slowly advancing
monster--and deliberately walk right into its path!

Sue could not move from her fright. In a daze she saw Phil advance
cautiously towards the amoeba and pause when within five feet of it.
The thing stopped; remained absolutely motionless. She saw him take
another short step forward. This time a pseudopod emerged, and reached
slowly out for him. Phil avoided it easily, but by so narrow a margin
that the girl's heart stopped beating. Then she saw him step back;
and, snail-like, the creature followed, pausing twice, as if wary and
suspicious. Slowly Phil Holmes drew it after him.

To Sue, who did not know what was his plan, it seemed a deliberate
invitation to death. She forgot about her father, lying inside the
mangled borer, waiting. She did not see that Phil was leading the
monster directly in front of it....

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a grotesque, silent pursuit. The creature appeared to be
unalert; its movements were sloth-like; yet the girl knew that if Phil
once ventured an inch too close, or slipped, or tried to dodge past it
to the sphere, its torpidness would vanish and it would have him. His
maneuvering had to be delicate, judged to a matter of inches. Tense
with the suspense, the strain of the slow-paced seconds, she
watched--and yet hardly dared to watch, fearful of the awful thing she
might see.

It was a fantastic game of tag her lover was playing, with death the
penalty for tardiness. The slow, enticing movements were repeated
again and again, Phil advancing very close, and stepping back in the
nick of time. Always he barely avoided the clutching white arms that
were extended, and little by little he decoyed the thing onward....

Then came the end. As Holmes was almost in front of the wrecked
machine, Sue saw him glance quickly aside--and, as if waiting for that
moment when he would be off guard, the monster whipped forward in a
great, reaching surge.

Sue's ragged nerves cracked: she shrieked. They had him! She started
forward, then halted abruptly. With a tremendous leap, Phil Holmes had
wrenched free and flung himself backwards. She heard his yell:

"Now!"

       *       *       *       *       *

There was a sputter from the bottom of the outstretched borer; then,
like the crack of a whip, came a bellow of awful sound.

A thick cloud of dust reared up, and the ear-numbing thunder rolled
through the cavern in great pulsing echoes. And then Sue Guinness
understood what the young man had been about.

The disintegrators of James Quade's borer had sent a broad beam of
annihilation into the monster. His own machine had destroyed his
destroyer--and given his intended victims their only chance to escape
from the dread fate he had schemed for them.

Sue could see no trace of the creature in its pyre of slow-swirling
dust. Caught squarely, its annihilation had been utter. And then,
through the thunder that still echoed in her ear-drums, she heard a
joyful voice.

"We got 'em!"

Through the dusty haze Phil appeared at her side. He flung his arms up
exultantly, swept her off the ground, hugged her close.

"We got 'em!" he cried again. "We're free--free to go up!"

Professor David Guinness crawled from the borer. His face, for the
first time since the descent, wore a broad smile. Phil ran over to
him, slapped him on the back; and the older man said:

"You did it beautifully, Phil." He turned to Sue. "He had to decoy
them right in front of the disintegrators. It was--well, it was
magnificent!"

"All credit to Sue: she was my inspiration!" Phil said, laughing. "But
now," he added, "let's see if we can fix those dead rocket-tubes. I
have a patient up above--and, anyway, I'm not over-fond of this
place!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The three had won through. They had blasted four miles down from the
surface of the earth. The brain of an elderly scientist, the
quick-witted courage of a young engineer, had achieved the seemingly
impossible--and against obstacles that could not have been predicted.
Death had attended that achievement, as death often does accompany
great forward steps; James Quade had gone to a death more hideous than
that he devised for the others. But, in spite of the justice of it, a
moment of silence fell on the three survivors as they came to the spot
where his fate at last had caught up to him.

But it was only a moment. It was relieved by Professor Guinness's
picking up the chunk of radium ore his former partner had hewn from
the cavern's wall. He held it up for all to see, and smiled.

"Here it is," he said simply.

Then he led the way into his earth-borer, and the little door closed
quietly and firmly into place.

For a few minutes slight tappings came from within, as if a wrench or
a screwdriver were being used. Then the tappings stopped, and all was
silence.

A choke, a starting cough, came from beneath the sphere. A torrent of
rushing sound burst out, and spears of orange flame spurted from the
bottom and splashed up its sides, bathing it in fierce, brilliant
light. It stirred. Then, slowly and smoothly, the great ball of metal
raised up.

It hit the edge of the hole in the ceiling, and hung there,
hesitating. Side-rockets flared, and the sphere angled over. Then it
slid, roaring, through the hole.

Swiftly the spots of orange from its rocket-tube exhausts died to
pin-points. There were now almost twenty of them. And soon these
pin-points wavered, and vanished utterly.

Then there was only blackness in the hole that went up to the surface.
Blackness in the hole, calm night on the desert above--and silence, as
if the cavern were brooding on the puny figures and strange machines
that had for the first time dared invade its solitude, in the realms
four miles within the earth....



The Lake of Light

_By Jack Williamson_

[Illustration: _The monster emanated power, sinister, malevolent
power._]

[Sidenote: In the frozen wastes at the bottom of the world two
explorers find a strange pool of white fire--and have a strange
adventure.]


The roar of the motor rang loud in the frosty air above a desert of
ice. The sky above us was a deep purple-blue; the red sun hung like a
crimson eye low in the north. Three thousand feet below, through a
hazy blue mist of wind-whipped, frozen vapor, was the rugged
wilderness of black ice-peaks and blizzard-carved hummocks of snow--a
grim, undulating waste, black and yellow, splotched with crystal
white. The icy wind howled dismally through the struts. We were flying
above the weird ice-mountains of the Enderby quadrant of Antarctica.

That was a perilous flight, across the blizzard-whipped bottom of the
world. In all the years of polar exploration by air, since Byrd's
memorable flights, this area had never been crossed. The intrepid
Britisher, Major Meriden, with the daring American aviatrix whom the
world had known as Mildred Cross before she married him, had flown
into it nineteen years before--and like many others they had never
returned.

Faintly, above the purring drone of the motor, I heard Ray Summers'
shout. I drew my gaze from the desolate plateau of ice below and
leaned forward. His lean, fur-hooded face was turned back toward me. A
mittened hand was pointing, and thin lips moved in words that I did
not hear above the roar of the engine and the scream of the wind.

I turned and looked out to the right, past the shimmering silver disk
of the propeller. Under the blue haze of ice-crystals in the air, the
ice lay away in a vast undulating plain of black and yellow, broken
with splotches of prismatic whiteness, lying away in frozen desolation
to the rim of the cold violet sky. Rising against that sky I saw a
curious thing.

It was a mountain of fire!

Beyond the desert of ice, a great conical peak pointed straight into
the amethystine gloom of the polar heavens. It was brilliantly white,
a finger of milky fire, a sharp cone of pure light. It shone with
white radiance. It was brighter, far brighter, than is the sacred cone
of Fujiyama in the vivid day of Japan.

       *       *       *       *       *

For many minutes I stared in wonder at it. Far away it was; it looked
very small. It was like a little heap of light poured from the hand of
a fire-god. What it might be, I could not imagine. At first sight, I
imagined it might be a volcano with streams of incandescent lava
flowing down the side. I knew that this continent of mystery boasted
Mt. Erebus and other active craters. But there was none of the smoke
or lurid yellow flame which accompanies volcanic eruptions.

I was still watching it, and wondering, when the catastrophe took
place--the catastrophe which hurled us into a mad extravaganza of
amazing adventure.

Our little two-place amphibian was flying smoothly, through air
unusually good for this continent of storms. The twelve cylinders of
the motor had been firing regularly since we took off from Byrd's old
station at Little America fifteen hours before. We had crossed the
pole in safety. It looked as if we might succeed in this attempt to
penetrate the last white spot on the map. Then it Happened.

A sudden crack of snapping metal rang out sharp as a pistol report. A
bright blade of metal flashed past the wing-struts, to fall in a
flashing arc. The motor broke abruptly into a mad, deep-voiced roar.
Terrific vibration shook the ship, until I feared that it would go to
pieces.

Ray Summers, with his usual quick efficiency, cut the throttle.
Quickly the motor slowed to idling speed; the vibration stopped. A
last cough of the engine, and there was no sound save the shrill
screaming of the wind in the gloomy twilight of this unknown land
beyond the pole.

"What in the devil!" I exclaimed.

"The prop! See!" Ray pointed ahead.

I looked, and the dreadful truth flashed upon me. The steel propeller
was gone, or half of it at least. One blade was broken off at a jagged
line just above the hub.

       *       *       *       *       *

"The propeller! What made it break? I've never heard--"

"Search me!" Ray grinned. "The important thing is that it did. It was
all-metal, of course, tested and guaranteed. The guarantee isn't worth
much here. A flaw in the forging, perhaps, that escaped detection.
And this low temperature. Makes metal as brittle as glass. And the
thing may have been crystallized by the vibration."

The plane was coming down in a shallow glide. I looked out at the grim
expanse of black ice-crags and glistening snow below us, and it was
far from a comforting prospect. But I had a huge amount of confidence
in Ray Summers. I have known him since the day he appeared, from his
father's great Arizona ranch, to be a freshman in the School of Mines
at El Paso, where I was then an instructor in geology. We have knocked
about queer corners of the world together for a good many years. But
he is still but a great boy, with the bluff, simple manners of the
West.

"Do you think we can land?" I asked.

"Looks like we've got to," he said, grimly.

"And what after that?"

"How should I know? We have the sledge, tent, furs. Food, and fuel for
the primus to last a week. There's the rifle, but it must be a
thousand miles to anything to shoot. We can do our best."

"We should have had an extra prop."

"Of course. But it was so many pounds, when every pound counted. And
who knew the thing would break?"

"We'll never get out on a week's provisions."

"Not a shot! Too bad to disappoint Captain Harper." Ray grinned wanly.
"He ought to have the _Albatross_ around there by this time, waiting
for us." The _Albatross_ was the ship which had left us at Little
America a few months before, to steam around and pick us up at our
destination beyond Enderby Land. "We're in the same boat with Major
Meriden and his wife--and all those others. Lost without a trace."

"You've read Scott's diary--that he wrote after he visited the pole in
1912--the one they found with the bodies?"

"Yes. Not altogether cheerful. But we won't be trying to get out. No
use of that." He looked at me suddenly, grinning again. "Say, Jim, why
not try for that shining mountain we saw? It looks queer enough to be
interesting. We ought to make it in a week."

"I'm with you," I said.

       *       *       *       *       *

I did not speak again, for the jagged ice-peaks were coming rather
near. I held my breath as the little plane veered around a slender
black spire and dropped toward a tiny scrap of smooth snow among the
ice-hummocks. I might have spared my anxiety. Under Ray's consumately
skilful piloting, the skids struck the snow with hardly a shock. We
glided swiftly over the ice and came to rest just short of a yawning
crevasse.

"Suppose," said Ray, "that we spend the first night in the plane. We
are tired already. We can keep warm here, and sleep. We've plenty of
ice to melt for water. Then we're off for the shining mountain."

I agreed: Ray Summers is usually right. We got out the sledge, packed
it, took our bearings, and made all preparations for a start to the
luminous mountain, which was about a hundred miles away. The
thermometer stood at twenty below, but we were comfortable enough in
our furs as we ate a scanty supper and went to sleep in the cabin of
the plane.

We started promptly the next morning, after draining the last of the
hot chocolate from our vacuum bottles, which we left behind. We had a
light but powerful sporting rifle, with telescopic sights, and several
hundred rounds of ammunition. Ray put them in the pack, though I
insisted that we would never need them, unless a quick way out of our
predicament.

"No, Jim," he said. "We take 'em along. We don't know what we're going
to find at the shining mountain."

The air was bitterly cold as we set out: it was twenty-five below and
a sharp wind was blowing. Only our toiling at the sledge kept us warm.
We covered eighteen miles that day, and made a good camp in the lee
of a bare stone ridge.

That night there was a slight fall of snow. When we went on it was
nearly thirty-five degrees below zero. The layer of fresh snow
concealed irregularities in the ice, making our pulling very hard.
After an exhausting day we had made hardly fifteen miles.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the following day the sky was covered with gray clouds, and a
bitterly cold wind blew. We should have remained in the tent, but the
shortage of food made it imperative that we keep moving. We felt
immensely better after a reckless, generous fill of hot pemmican stew;
but the next morning my feet were so painful from frost-bite that I
could hardly get on my fur boots.

Walking was very painful to me that day, but we made a good distance,
having come to smoother ice. Ray was very kind in caring for me. I
became discouraged about going on at all: it was very painful, and I
knew there was no hope of getting out. I tried to get some of our
morphine tablets, but Ray had them, and refused to be convinced that
he ought to go on without me.

On the next march we came in sight of the luminous mountain, which
cheered me considerably. It was a curious thing, indeed. A
straight-sided cone of light it was, rather steeper than the average
volcano. Its point was sharp, its sides smooth as if cut with a
mammoth plane. And it shone with a pure white light, with a steady and
unchanging milky radiance. It rose out of the black and dull yellow of
the ice wilderness like a white finger of hope.

The next morning it was a little warmer. Ray had been caring for my
feet very attentively, but it took me nearly two hours to get on my
footgear. Again I tried to get him to leave me, but he refused.

We arrived at the base of the shining mountain in three more marches.
On the last night the fuel for the primus was all gone, having been
used up during the very cold weather, and we were unable to melt water
to drink. We munched the last of our pemmican dry.

       *       *       *       *       *

A few minutes after we had started on the last morning, Ray stopped
suddenly.

"Look at that!" he cried.

I saw what he had seen--the wreck of an airplane, the wings crumpled
up and blackened with fire. We limped up to it.

"A Harley biplane!" Ray exclaimed. "That is Major Meriden's ship! And
look at that wing! It looks like it's been in an electric furnace!"

I examined the metal wing; saw that it had been blackened with heat.
The metal was fused and twisted.

"I've seen a good many wrecks, Jim. I've seen planes that burned as
they fell. But nothing like that. The fuselage and engines were not
even afire. Jim, something struck out from that shining mountain and
brought them down!"

"Are they--" I began.

Ray was poking about in the snow in the cockpits.

"No. Not here. Probably would have been better for them if they had
been killed in the plane. Quick and merciful."

He examined the engines and propellers.

"No. Seems to be nothing wrong. Something struck them down!"

Soon we went on.

The shining mountain rose before us like a great cone of fire. It must
have been three thousand feet high, and about that in diameter at the
bottom. Its walls were as smooth and straight as though turned from
milky rock crystal in a gigantic lathe. It shone with a steady,
brilliantly white radiance.

"That's no natural hill!" Ray grunted beside me as we limped on.

We were less than a mile from the foot of the cone of fire. Soon we
observed another remarkable thing about it. It seemed that a straight
band of silvery metal rose from the snow about its foot.

"Has it a wall around it?" I exclaimed.

"Evidently," said Ray. "Looks as if it's built on a round metal
platform. But by whom? When? Why?"

       *       *       *       *       *

We approached the curious wall. It was of a white metal, apparently
aluminum, or a silvery alloy of that metal. In places it was
twenty-five feet high, but more usually the snow and ice was banked
high against it. The smooth white wall of the gleaming mountain stood
several hundred yards back from the wall.

"Let's have a look over it." Ray suggested. "We can get up on that
hummock, against it. You know, this place must have been built by
men!"

We clambered up over the ice, as he suggested, until our heads came
above the top of the wall.

"A lake of fire!" cried Ray.

Indeed, a lake of liquid fire lay before us. The white aluminum wall
was hardly a foot thick. It formed a great circular tank, nearly a
mile across, with the cone of white fire rising in the center. And the
tank was filled, to within a foot of the top, with shimmeringly
brilliant white fluid, bright and luminous as the cone--liquid light!

Ray dipped a hand into it. The hand came up with fingers of fire,
radiant, gleaming, with shining drops falling from them. With a
spasmodic effort, he flung off the luminous drops, rubbed his hand on
his garments, and got it back into its fur mitten.

"Gee, it's cold!" he muttered. "Freeze the horns off a brass
billy-goat!"

"Cold light!" I exclaimed. "What wouldn't a bottle of that stuff be
worth to a chemist back in the States!"

"That cone must be a factory to make the stuff." Ray suggested,
hugging his hand. "They might pump the liquid up to the top, and then
let it trickle down over the sides: that would explain why the cone is
so bright. The stuff might absorb sunlight, like barium sulphide. And
there could be chemical action with the air, under the actinic rays."

"Well, if somebody's making cold light, where does he use it?"

"I'd like to find out, and strike him for a hot meal," Ray said,
grinning. "It's too cold to live on top of the ground around here.
They must run it down in a cave."

"Then let's find the hole."

"You know it's possible we won't be welcome. This mountain of light
may be connected with the vanishing of all the aviators. We'd better
take along the rifle."

       *       *       *       *       *

We set off around just outside the white metal wall. The snow and ice
was irregularly banked against it, but the wall itself was smooth and
unbroken. We had limped along for some two miles, or more than halfway
around the amazing lake of light. I had begun to doubt that we would
find anything.

Then we came to a square metal tower, ten feet on a side, that rose
just outside the silvery wall, to a level with its top. The ice was
low here; the tower rose twenty feet above its unequal surface. We
found metal flanges riveted to its side, like the steps of a ladder.
They were most inconveniently placed, nearly four feet apart; but we
were able to climb them, and to look down the shaft.

It was a straight-sided pit, evidently some hundreds of feet deep. We
could see a tiny square of light at the bottom, very far away. The
flanges ran down the side forming the rungs of a ladder that gave
access to whatever lay at the bottom.

Without hesitation, Ray climbed over the side and started down. I
followed him, feeling a great relief in getting out of the freezing
wind. Ray had the rifle and ammunition strapped to his back, along
with a few other articles; and I had a small pack. We had abandoned
the sledge, with the useless stove and the most of our instruments.
Our food was all gone.

The metal flanges were fully four feet apart, and it was not easy to
scramble down from one to another; certainly not easy for one who was
cold, hungry, thirsty, worn out with a week of exhausting marches, and
suffering the torture of frozen feet.

"You know, this thing was not built by men," Ray observed.

"Not built by men? What do you mean?"

"Men would have put the steps closer together. Jim, I'm afraid we are
up against something--well--that we aren't used to."

"If men didn't build this, what did?" I was astounded.

"Search me! This continent has been cut off from the rest of the world
for geologic ages. Such life as has been found here is not common to
the rest of the earth. It is not impossible that some form of life,
isolated here, has developed intelligence and acquired the power to
erect that cone of light--and to burn the wing off a metal airplane."

My thoughts whirled madly as we clambered down the shaft.

       *       *       *       *       *

It must have taken us an hour to reach the bottom. I did not count the
steps, but it must have been at least a thousand feet. The air grew
rapidly warmer as we descended. We both took off most of our heavy fur
garments, and left them hanging on the rungs.

I was rather nervous. I felt the nearness of an intelligent, hostile
power. I had a great fear that the owners of those steps would use
them to find us, and then crush us ruthlessly as they had brought down
Meriden's plane.

The little square of white light below grew larger. Finally I saw Ray
swing off and stand on his feet in a flood of white radiance below me.
The air was warm, moist, laden with a subtle unfamiliar fragrance that
suggested growing things. Then I stood beside Ray.

We stood on the bare stone floor of a huge cavern. It must have been
of volcanic origin. The walls glistened with the sparkling smoothness
of volcanic glass. It was a huge space. The black roof was a hundred
feet high, or more; the cave was some hundreds of feet wide. And it
sloped away from us into dim distance as though leading into huger
cavities below.

The light that shone upon us came from an amazing thing--a fall of
liquid fire. From the roof plunged a sheer torrent of white
brilliantly luminous fluid, falling a hundred feet into a shimmering
pool of moon-flame. Shining opalescent mists swirled about it, and the
ceaseless roar of it filled the cave with sound. It seemed that a
stream of the phosphorescent stuff ran off down the cave from the
pool, to light the lower caverns.

"Very clever!" said Ray. "They make the stuff up there at the cone and
run it in here to see by."

"This warm air feels mighty good," I remarked, pulling off another
garment.

Ray sniffed the air. "A curious odor. Smells like something growing.
Where anything is growing there ought to be something to eat. Let's
see what we can find."

Only black obsidian covered the floor about us. Cautiously we skirted
the overflowing pool of white fire, and followed down the stream of it
that flowed toward the inner cavern. We had gone but a few hundred
yards when suddenly Ray stopped me with a hand on my arm.

"Lie flat!" he hissed. "Quick!"

He dived behind a huge mass of fire-born granite. I flung myself down
beside him.

"Something is coming up the trail by the shining river. And it isn't a
man! It's between us and the light; we should be able to see it."

       *       *       *       *       *

Soon I heard a curious scraping sound, and a little tinkle of metal. I
caught a whiff of a powerful odor--a strange, fishy odor--so strong
that it almost knocked me down.

The thing that made the scraping and the tinkle and the smell came
into view. The sight of it sickened me with horror.

It was far larger than a man; its body was heavy as a horse's, but
nearer the ground. In form it suggested a huge crab, though it was not
very much like any crustacean I had ever seen. It was mostly red in
color, and covered with a huge scarlet shell. It had five pairs of
limbs. The two forward pairs had pinchers, seemingly used as hands; it
scraped along on the other three pairs. Yard-long antennae, slender
and luminously green, wavered above a grotesque head. The many facets
of compound eyes stood on the end of foot-long stalks.

The amazing crab-thing wore a metal harness. Bands of silvery aluminum
were fastened about its shell, with little cases of white metal
dangling to them. In one of its uplifted claws it carried what seemed
to be an aluminum bar, two feet long and an inch thick.

It scraped lumberingly past, between us and the racing stream of white
fire. It passed less than a dozen feet from us. The curious fishy
smell of it was overpowering, disgusting.

Sweat of horror chilled my limbs. The monster emanated power,
sinister, malevolent power, power intelligent, alien and hostile to
man.

I trembled with the fear that it would see us, but it scrambled
grotesquely on. When it was twenty yards past, Ray picked up a block
of black lava that lay beneath his hand and hurled it silently and
swiftly. It crashed splinteringly on the rocks far beyond the
creature, on the other side of the stream of light.

In fascination I watched the monster as it paused as if astonished.
The glittering compound eyes twisted about on their stalks, and the
long shining green tentacles wavered questioningly. Then the knobbed
limbs snapped the white metal tube to a level position. A metallic
click came from it.

And a ray of red light, vivid and intense, burst from the tube. It
flashed across the river of fire. With a dull, thudding burst it
struck the rocks where the stone had fallen. It must have been a ray
of concentrated heat. Rocks beneath it flashed into sudden
incandescence, splintered and cracked, flowed in molten streams.

       *       *       *       *       *

In a moment the intensely brilliant ruby ray flashed off. The rocks in
the circle where it had struck faded to a dull red and then to
blackness, still cracking and crumbling.

To my intense relief, the monstrous crab lumbered on.

"That," Ray whispered, "is what got Major Meriden's airplane wing."

When we could hear its scraping progress no longer, we climbed up from
behind our boulder and continued cautiously down the cavern, beside
the rushing luminous river. In half a mile we came to a bend. Rounding
it, we gazed upon a remarkable sight.

We looked into a huge cavity in the heart of the earth. A vast
underground plain lay before us, with the black lava of the roof
arching above it. It must have been miles across, though we had no way
to measure it, and it stretched down into dim hazy distance. Its level
was hundreds of feet below us.

At our feet the glistening river of fire plunged down again in a
magnificent flaming fall. Below, its luminous liquid was spread out in
rivers and lakes and canals, over all the vast plain. The channels ran
through an amazing jungle. It was a forest of fungus, of mushroom
things with great fleshy stalks and spreading circular tops. But they
were not the sickly white and yellow of ordinary mushrooms, but were
of brilliant colors, bright green, flaming scarlet, gold and
purple-blue. Huge brilliant yellow stalks, fringed with crimson and
black, lifted mauve tops thirty feet or more. It was a veritable
forest of flame-bright fungus.

In the center of this weirdly forested subterranean plain was a great
lake, filled, not with the flaming liquid, but with dark crystal
water. And on the bottom of that lake, clearly visible from the
elevation upon which we stood, was a city!

       *       *       *       *       *

A city below the water! The buildings were upright cylinders in groups
of two or three, of dozens, even of hundreds. For miles, the bottom of
the great lake was covered with them. They were all of crystal,
azure-blue, brilliant as cylinders turned from immense sapphires. They
were vividly visible beneath the transparent water. Not one of them
broke the surface.

Through the clear black water we saw moving hundreds, thousands of the
giant crabs. The crawled over the hard, pebbled bottom of the lake, or
swam between the crystal cylinders of the city. They were huge as the
one we had seen, with red shells, great ominous looking stalked eyes,
luminous green tentacular antennae and knobbed claws on forelimbs.

"Looks as if we've run on something to write home about," Ray muttered
in amazement.

"A whole city of them! A whole world! No wonder they could build that
cone-mountain for a lighting plant!"

"When they got to knocking down airplanes with that heat-ray," he
speculated, "they were probably surprised to find that other animals
had developed intelligence."

"Do you suppose those mushroom things are good to eat?"

"We can try and see--if the crabs don't get us first with a heat-ray.
I'm hungry enough to try anything!"

Again we cautiously advanced. The river of light fell over a sheer
precipice, but we found a metal ladder spiked to the rock, with rungs
as inconveniently far apart as those in the shaft. It was five hundred
feet, I suppose, to the bottom; it took us many minutes to descend.

At last we stepped off in a little rocky clearing. The forest of
brilliant mushrooms rose about us, great fleshy stalks of gold and
graceful fringes of black and scarlet about them, with flattened heads
of purple.

We started eagerly across toward the fungoid forest. I had visions of
tearing off great pieces of soft, golden flesh and filling my aching
stomach with it.

We were stopped by a sharp, poignantly eager human cry.

A human being, a girl, darted from among the mushroom stalks and ran
across to us. Sobbing out great incoherent cries, she dropped at Ray's
feet, wrapped her arms about his knees and clung to him, while her
slender body was wracked with sobbing cries.

       *       *       *       *       *

My first impression was that she was very beautiful--and that
impression I was never called upon to revise. About her lithe young
body she had the merest scrap of some curious green fabric--ample in
the warm air of the great cavern. Luxuriant brown hair fell loose
about her white shoulders. She was not quite twenty years old, I
supposed; her body was superbly formed, with the graceful curves and
the free, smooth movements of a wild thing.

Ray stood motionless for a moment, thunder-struck as I was, while the
sobbing girl clung to his knees. Then the astonishment on his face
gave place to pity.

"Poor kid!" he murmured.

He bent, took her tenderly by the shoulder, helped her to her feet.

Her beauty burst upon us like a great light. Smoothly white, her skin
was, perfect. Wide blue eyes, now appealing, even piteous, looked
from beneath a wealth of golden brown hair. White teeth, straight and
even, flashed behind the natural crimson of her lips.

She stood staring at Ray, in a sort of enchantment of wonder. An eager
light of incredible joy flamed in her amazing eyes; red lips were
parted in an unconscious smile of joy. She looked like the troubled
princess in the fairy tale, when the prince of her dreams appeared in
the flesh.

"God, but you're beautiful!" Ray's words slipped out as if he were
hardly conscious of them. He flushed quickly, stepped back a little.

The girl's lips opened. She voiced a curious cry. It was deep toned,
pealing with a wonderful timbre. A happy burst of sound, like a baby
makes. But strong, ringing, musically golden. And pathetically eager,
pitifully glad, so that it brought tears to my eyes, cynical old man
that I am.

I saw Ray wipe his eyes.

"Can you talk?" Ray put the question in a clear, deliberate voice,
with great kindness ringing in it.

"Talk?" The chiming, golden voice was slow, uncertain. "Talk? Yes. I
talked--with mother. But for long--I have had no need to talk."

"Where is your mother?" Ray's voice was gentle.

"She is gone. She was here when I was little." The clear, silvery
voice was more certain now. "Once, when I was almost as big as
she--she was still. She was cold. She did not move when I called her.
The Things took her away. She was dead. She told me that sometime she
would be dead."

       *       *       *       *       *

Bright tears came in the wide blue eyes, trickled down over the
perfect face. A pathetic catch was in the deliberate, halting voice. I
turned away, and Ray put a handkerchief to his face.

"What is your name? Who are you?" Ray spoke kindly.

"I am Mildred. Mildred Meriden."

"Meriden!" Ray turned to me. "I bet this is a daughter of the major
and his wife!"

"Father was the major," the girl said slowly. "He and mother came in a
machine that flew, from a far land. The Things burned the machine with
the red fire. They came here and the Things kept them. They made
mother sing over the water. They killed father. I never saw him."

"I know," Ray, said gently. "We came from the same land. We saw your
father's machine above."

"You came from outside! And you are going back? Oh, take me with you!
Take me!" Piteous pleading was in her voice. "It is so--lonely since
the Things took Mother away. Mother told me that sometime men would
come, and take me away to see the people and the outside that she told
me of. Oh, please take me!"

"Don't worry! You go along whenever we leave--if we can get out."

"Oh, I am so glad! You are very good!"

Impulsively, she threw her arms around Ray's neck. Gently, he
disengaged himself, flushing a little. I noticed, however, that he did
not seem particularly displeased.

"But can we get out?"

"Mother and I tried. We could never get out. The Things watch. They
make me come to the water to sing, when the great bell rings."

"Are these things goods to eat?" I motioned to the brilliant fungal
forest. I had begun to fear that Ray would never get to this very
important topic.

Blue eyes regarded me. "Eat? Oh, you are hungry! Come! I have food."

       *       *       *       *       *

Like a child, she grasped Ray's hand, pulled him toward the mushroom
jungle. I followed, and we slipped in between the brilliantly golden,
fleshy stalks. They rose to the tangle of bright feathery fringes
above, huge and substantial as the trunks of trees.

In a few minutes we came to a wide, shallow canal, metal-walled,
through which a slow current of the opalescent, luminous liquid was
flowing. We crossed this on a narrow metal foot-bridge, and went on
through the brilliant forest.

Suddenly we emerged into a little clearing, with the black waters of
the great lake visible beyond it, across a quarter-mile of rocky
beach. In the middle of the open space, rose three straight cylinders
of azure crystal, side by side. Each must have been twenty feet in
diameter, and forty high. They shone with a clear blue light, like the
cylindrical buildings we had seen in the strange city of the
crab-creatures below the great lake.

Mildred Meriden, the strangely beautiful girl who had known no other
world than this amazing cavern empire where giant crabs reigned,
beckoned us with unconscious queenly grace to enter the arched door in
the blue sapphire wall of her remarkable abode of clustered cylinders.

The crystal of the walls seemed luminous, the lofty cylinders were
filled with a liquid, azure radiance. The high round room we entered
was strangely furnished. There was a silken couch, a bathing pool of
blue crystal filled with sparkling water, a curious chest of drawers
made of bright aluminum with a mirror of polished crystal, its top
bearing odd combs and other articles. The furnishings must have been
done by the giant crabs, under human direction.

Mildred led us quickly across the room, through an arched opening into
another. A round aluminum table stood in the center of the room, with
two curious metal chairs beside it. Odd metal cabinets stood about the
shining blue walls. The girl made us sit down, and put dishes before
us.

She gave us each a bowl of thick, sweetish soup, darkly red; placed
before us a dish piled high with little circular cakes, crisp and
brown, which had a tantalizing fragrance; poured for each of us a
transparent crystal goblet full of clear amber drink.

We fell to with enthusiasm and abandon.

"The Things made this place for father," the girl told us, as she
watched us eat, attentively replenishing the red soup in the great
blue crystal bowl, or the little cakes, or the fragrant amber drink.
"They would give him anything he wanted. But he tried to go away with
mother, and they killed him."

"We must get out of here," Ray declared when at last we had done. "We
must get together a lot of food, and enough clothing for all of us. We
ought to be able to make it to the edge of the ice-pack. We've got to
give these crab-things the slip; we ought to get off before they know
we're here--unless they already do."

Mildred was eagerly attentive: she was so unused to human speech that
it took the best of her efforts to understand us, though it seems that
her mother had given her quite a wide education. She promised that
there would be no difficulty about the food.

"Mother taught me how to fix food," she said. "She always said that
sometime men would come, with weapons of fire and great noise that
would tear and kill the Things. I have food ready, in bags--more than
we can carry. I have, too, the furs that mother and father wore."

She ran into another room and returned with a great pile of fur
garments, which we examined and found to be in good condition.

"Now is the time," Ray said. "I'd like to know more about the big
crabs, but there'll be a chance for that, later. Mildred is the
important thing, now. We must get her out. Then we can tell the world
about this place and come back with a bigger expedition."

"You think we can reach the coast?"

"I think so. It might be hard on Mildred. But we will have food; we
can probably find fuel for the stove in Meriden's plane, if the tanks
were well sealed. And Captain Harper should have a relief party landed
and sent to meet us. We should have only three or four hundred miles
to go alone."

"Three or four hundred miles, over country like we've been crossing in
the last week, with a girl! Ray, we'd never make it!"

"It's the only chance."

I said nothing more. I knew that I could stand no such march on my
frozen feet, but I resolved to say nothing about it. I would help them
as far as I could, and then walk out of camp some night. Men have done
just that.

Mildred brought out sacks of the little cakes, and of a red powder
that seemed to be the dried and ground flesh of a crimson mushroom. We
made a pack for each of us, as heavy as we could carry.

       *       *       *       *       *

Just before we were ready to start Ray took off my footgear and
treated my feet from his medicine kit. I had feared gangrene, but he
assured me that there was no danger if they were well cared for.
Walking was still exquisitely painful to me as we slipped out through
the arched door and into the fungoid forest beyond the three blue
cylinders.

As rapidly and silently as possible we hastened through the brilliant
fungous forest, across the river of opalescent liquid, to the foot of
the fall of fire. A weird and splendid sight was that sheer arc of
shimmering white flame, roaring into a pool of opal light, and
surrounded with a mist of moon-flame.

We reached the foot of the metal ladder spiked to the rocks beside the
fall and started up immediately. The going was not easy. The packs of
food, heavy enough when we were on level ground, were difficult indeed
to lift when one was scrambling up over rungs four feet apart.

Ray climbed ahead, with a piece of rope fastened from his waist to
Mildred's, so that he could help her if she slipped. I was below the
girl. We were halfway up the rock when suddenly a glare of red light
shone upon me, casting my shadow sharply on the cliff. I looked up
and saw the broad, intensely red beam of a heat-ray like that we had
seen the giant crab use.

The ray came, evidently, from the shore of the great lake with its
submerged city of blue cylinders. It fell upon the face of the cliff
just above us. Quickly the ladder was heated to cherry red. The face
of the rock grew incandescent, cracked. Hot sparks rained down upon
us.

Slowly the ray moved down, toward us.

"Guess we'd better call it off," said Ray. "They have the advantage
right now. Better get to climbing down, Jim. This ladder is going to
be burning my hands pretty soon."

       *       *       *       *       *

I climbed down. Mildred and Ray scrambled down behind me.

The ray followed us, keeping the metal at a cherry red just above
Ray's hands.

I looked down and saw a dozen of the giant crabs lumbering up out of
the fungoid jungle from the direction of the great lake. Hideous
things they were, with staring, stalked eyes, shining green antennae,
polished red shells, claw-armed limbs. Like the one that had passed us
in the upper cavern, they wore glistening white metal accoutrements.

We clambered down, with the red ray following.

I dropped to the ground among them, wet with the sweat of horror. I
reeled in nausea from the intolerable odor of the crab-things; it was
indescribable, overpowering.

Curious rasping stridulations came from them, sounds which seemed to
serve as means of communication, and which Mildred evidently
understood.

"They say that you will not be harmed, but that you must not go out,"
she called down.

I was seized by the pincher-like claws, held writhing in an
unbreakable grasp, while the glittering eyes twisted about, looked at
me, and the shining green tentacles wavered questioningly over me. My
stomach revolted at the horrible odor.

The crabs tore off my pack, even my clothing. Ray was similarly
treated as soon as he reached the ground. Though they took Mildred's
pack, they treated her with a curious respect.

In a few minutes they released us. They had taken the packs, the rifle
and ammunition, our medicine kit and the few instruments we had
brought with us down the shaft, even our clothing. They turned us
loose stark naked. Ray's face and neck went beet-red when he saw
Mildred standing by him.

The rasping sound came from one of them again.

"It says you may stay with me," Mildred said. "They will not harm you
unless you try again to get away. If you do, you die--as father did.
They will keep what they took from you."

       *       *       *       *       *

Several of the creatures went scraping off, carrying the articles they
had taken from us either in their claws or in the metal cases they
wore. Several waited, staring at us with the stalked compound eyes,
and waving the green antennae as if they were organs of some special
sense.

Two of the creatures waited at the foot of the metal ladder, holding
the long slender white tubes of the heat-ray in their claws.

"They say we can go now," Mildred said.

She led the way toward the edge of the brilliant jungle. She seemed to
be without false modesty, for I saw her glancing with evident
admiration at Ray's lithe and powerful white-skinned figure. We
followed her into the giant mushrooms, glad to escape the overpowering
stench of the crabs.

In a few minutes we arrived again at the strange building of the three
blue cylinders. Mildred, noticing our discomfort, produced for each of
us a piece of white silken fabric with which we draped ourselves.

She had noticed my difficulty in walking on bare feet. She had me
bathe them, then dressed them with a soothing yellow oil, and bandaged
them skilfully.

"Anyhow," she said later, "it is good to have both of you here with
me. I am sorry indeed for you that you may never see your country
again. But it is good fortune for me. I was so lonely."

"These damned crabs don't know me!" Ray Summers muttered. "They think
I'll play around like a pet kitten, for the rest of my life! They'll
get their eyes opened. We'll spend the winter on Palm Beach yet!"

"It seems to me that we're rather outnumbered." I said. "And it's
rather more pleasant in here than outside."

"I'm going to get that rifle," Ray declared, "and give these big crabs
a little respect for humanity!"

"Let's rest up a while first, anyhow," I urged.

       *       *       *       *       *

Presently Mildred noticed how tired we were. She went into the third
of the connected cylinders of blue crystal, was busy a few minutes and
called us to the couches she had prepared there.

"You may sleep," she told us. "The Things never come here. And they
said they would not harm you, if you did not try to go out."

We lay down on the silken beds. In a few minutes I was sleep. I awoke
to feel a curious unease, a sense of impending catastrophe. Ray was
bending over me, his face drawn with anxiety.

"Something's happened!" he whispered. "She's gone!"

I sat up, staring into the liquid blue vastness of the tall cylinder
above us.

"Listen! What's that?"

A deep bell-note sounded out, brazen, clanging. Sonorous, throbbing,
mighty, it rang through the cylindered rooms. Slowly it died; faded to
silence with a last ringing pulse. Tense minutes of silence passed.
Again it boomed out, throbbed, and died. After more long minutes there
was yet a third.

"Outside, somewhere!"

Ray started; ran to the arched door. We looked out upon the dense
forest of gold and crimson mushrooms that grew below the black cavern
roof. Before us, across a few hundred yards of bare rocky beach, was
the edge of the crystal lake with the city of blue cylinders upon its
floor.

"God! What's that?" Ray gripped my arm crushingly.

A thin wailing scream came across the beach from the black lake. A
piteous sound it was, plaintive, pleading. Higher and higher it rose,
until it was a piercing silver note. Clear and sweet it was, but
inexpressibly lonely, sorrowful, mournful. It sank slowly, died away.
Again it rose and fell, and again.

"It's Mildred!" I gasped. "Didn't she say something about singing to
the crabs?"

"Yes! I think she did. Well, if that's singing, it's wonderful! Had me
feeling like I'd never see another human. But listen--"

       *       *       *       *       *

Liquid, trilling notes were rising, pealing out in a queer, swift
rhythm. It was happy, joyous, carefree. The rippling golden tones made
me think of the caroling of birds on a spring morning. Swiftly it rose
and fell, pure and clear as the tinkle of a mountain brook.

Mildred sang not words but notes of pure music.

The gay song died.

And the strong clear voice rose again with the force and challenge of
bugle notes, with a swift marching time beating through it. It
throbbed to a rhythm strange to me. It set my feet tingling to move;
it set my heart to pulsing faster. It was a challenge to action, to
battle.

Unconsciously obeying the suggestion of the song, Ray whispered,
"Let's get over and see what's going on."

We leaped through the door and ran across four hundred yards of rocky
beach to the edge of the lake. We stepped on a granite bluff a few
yards above the water, to gaze upon as strange a sight as men ever
saw.

The black water lay before us, a transparent crystal sheet. On its
rocky bottom we could see the innumerable clusters of upright azure
cylinders that were the city of the crabs. The blue cylinders seemed
to bend and waver in the water.

A hundred yards away from us, over the dark water, was Mildred. She
stood on a slender azure cylinder that came just to the surface. Tall,
slender, superbly graceful, with only the scant bodice of green silken
stuff about her, she looked like the statue of a goddess in white
marble. Her head was thrown up, golden-brown hair fell behind her
shoulders, and the pure notes of her song rang over the water.

Beyond her, all about her, were thousands upon thousands of the giant
crabs, swimming at the surface of the water. Their green antenna rose
above the water, a curious forest of luminous tentacles, flexing,
wavering. Green coils moved and swung in time to the strange rhythm of
her song.

The last note died. Her white arms fell in a gesture of finality. The
thousands of twisting green antennae vanished below the water, and the
giant red crabs swam swiftly back to the tall blue cylinders of their
submerged city.

       *       *       *       *       *

The white goddess turned and saw us.

Her voice rang out in a golden shout of welcome. With a clean dive she
slipped into the water and came swimming swiftly toward us. Her slim
white body glided through the crystal water as smoothly as a fish.
Reaching the shore she sprang to her feet and ran to meet Ray.

"The Things come together when the giant bell rings, to listen to my
song," she said. "They like my singing, as they liked mother's. But
for that, they would not let us live. That is the reason they would
not let us go."

"I like your singing, too," Ray informed her. "Though at first you
made me cry. It was so lonely."

"The song was lonely because I have been lonely. Did you hear the glad
song I sang because you have come?"

"Sure! Great stuff! Made me feel like a kid at Christmas!"

"Come," she said. "We will eat."

Like a child, she took Ray's hand again, smiling naively up at him as
she led the way toward the three sapphire cylinders.

Back in the blue-vaulted dining room, Ray made Mildred sit with me at
the little metal table while he served the little brown cakes and the
dark-red soup and the fragrant amber drink. Mildred got up and brought
a great metal bowl filled with tiny purple fruits that had a
delicious, piquant tang.

Ray was deeply thoughtful as he ate. Suddenly he sat back and cried
out:

"I've got it!"

"Got what?" I demanded.

"I want that rifle! Mildred can find out where it is. Then, when she
sings, the crabs will all come. I'll get the gun, while she is
singing, and hide it. Then when it comes time to get out, she will
sing while you and I are getting our packs up the cliff. I can cover
them with the rifle while she gets up to us."

"Looks good enough," I agreed, "provided they all come to hear the
singing."

       *       *       *       *       *

He explained the plan at greater length to the girl. She assured him
that the crabs all come when the bell-notes sound. She thought that
she could make them return her furs, and find out where they had put
the gun.

My feet were much better than they had been, and Mildred dressed them
again with the yellow oil. Ray examined them, said that I should be
able to walk as well as ever in a few days.

Considerable time went by. Since the crabs had taken our watches, we
had no very accurate way of counting days; but I think we slept about
a dozen times. Ray and Mildred spent a good deal of time together, and
seemed not altogether to hate each other. By the end of the time my
feet were quite well; I did not even lose a toe.

We went over our plans for escape in great detail. The crabs had
confiscated our clothing. Mildred managed to secure the return of her
furs, and, incidentally, while she was about it, learned where the
rifle was.

Fortunately, perhaps realizing that it would be ruined by water, the
crabs had not taken it to their submerged city. Being amphibious, they
lived above water as easily as below, and much of their industrial
equipment was above the surface. The great pumps which lifted the
white phosphorescent liquid from the canals back to the cone above the
ground were located beyond the great lake. I did not see the place,
but Ray tells me that they had great engines and a wealth of strange
and complex machinery there. It was at these pumps that they had left
our rifle and instruments, as Mildred found when she was recovering
her furs.

They had taken our food, and we prepared as much more as we could
carry, arranged sacks for it, and made quilted garments for ourselves.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then the three brazen notes clanged out, and Mildred ran across the
beach and swam out to the blue cylinder to sing. Ray slipped hurriedly
away, while the green forest of antennae was still growing up from the
water about the girl.

I waited above the beach, enchanted by the haunting, wordless melody
of the gongs. It seemed that only a few minutes had passed, though it
may have been an hour or more, when Ray was by my side again. He
flourished the rifle.

"I've got it! In good shape, too. Hasn't even been fired, though it
looks like they have opened a box of cartridges, and cut open one or
two. Maybe they didn't understand the outfit--or it may be such a
primitive weapon that they aren't interested in it."

We hurried up to the building of blue cylinders and carefully hid the
gun and ammunition, as well as a sun compass, a pair of prism
binoculars, and a few other articles Ray had recovered.

In a few minutes Mildred, having seen Ray's return, finished her song
and ran up to join us. We arranged our packs, and waited the next call
of the throbbing brazen gong to make the attempt for freedom.

We slept twice again before the clang of the great gong. Ray and
Mildred were always together; I could not see that they were at all
impatient.

The bell note came, the awful brazen vibration of it ringing on the
black cavern roof. It came when we were eating, in the liquid
turquoise radiance of the lofty cylinder. We sprang out. Ray gave his
last directions to Mildred.

"Give us time to get to the top of the cliff by the shining fall. Then
swim ashore and run. They may not notice. And if they do, we give 'em
a taste of lead!"

I was not very much surprised when he took the girl in his arms and
put a burning kiss on her red lips. She gasped, but her struggles
subsided very quickly; she clung to him as he freed her.

She paused a moment in the door, before she ran down across the beach.
A radiant light of joy was burning in her great blue eyes, even though
tears were glistening there.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ray and I waited, to give time for the giant crabs that guarded the
ladder to get away. In about ten more minutes the second brazen gong
sounded, and presently the third. We gathered up the heavy packs of
food. Ray took the rifle and I the binoculars, and we slipped out into
the brilliant mushroom forest.

I stepped confidently out of the jungle into the clearing below the
splendid opalescent fall of fire--and threw myself backward in
trembling panic. A flaming crimson ray cut hissing into the towering
mushrooms above my head.

Mildred's confidence that the crabs would all gather at the ringing of
the gong had been mistaken. The two guards had been waiting at the
foot of the ladder, their flaming heat-rays ready for use.

As I dived back into the jungle, I heard two quick reports of the
rifle. I scrambled awkwardly to my feet, beneath the heavy pack. Ray
stood alert beside me, the smoking rifle in his hand. The giant crabs
had collapsed by the foot of the ladder, in grotesque and hideous
metal-bound heaps of red shell and twisted limb. Blood was oozing from
a ragged hole in the head of each.

"Glad they were here," Ray muttered. "I wanted to try the gun out on
'em. They're soft enough beneath the shell; the bullet tears 'em up
inside. Let's get a move on!"

He sprang past the revolting carcasses. I followed, holding my nose
against their nauseating, charnel-house odor. We scrambled up the
metal ladder.

As we climbed, I could hear the haunting melody of Mildred's wordless
song coming faint across the distance. Once I glanced back for a
moment, and glimpsed her tiny white figure above the black water, with
the thousands of green antennae rising in a luminous forest about her.

We reached the top of the cliff, where the opalescent river plunged
down in the flaming fall. Ray chose convenient boulders for shelter
and quickly we flung ourselves flat. Ray replaced the fired cartridges
in the rifle and leveled it across the rock before him. I unslung the
binoculars and focussed them.

"Watch 'em close," Ray muttered. "And tell me when to shoot."

       *       *       *       *       *

The black lake lay below us, with the weird city of sapphire cylinders
on its floor. I got the glasses upon Mildred's white form. Soon she
dived from the turquoise pedestal, swam swiftly ashore and vanished in
the vivid fungous jungle. The wavering green antennae vanished below
the water; I watched the crabs swimming away. Some of them climbed out
of the water and lumbered off in various directions.

In fifteen minutes the slender white form of Mildred appeared at the
foot of the ladder. She sprang over the dead crabs and scrambled
nimbly up. Soon she was halfway up the face of the cliff, and there
had been no sign of discovery. My hopes ran high.

I was sweeping the whole plain with the binoculars, while Ray peered
through the telescopic sights of the rifle. Suddenly I saw a giant
crab pause as he lumbered along the edge of the black lake. He rose
upright; his shining green antennae wavered. Then I saw him reaching
with a knobbed claw for a slender silver tube slung to his harness.

"Quick! The one by the lake! To the right of that canal!"

I pointed quickly. Ray swung his gun about, aimed. A broad red beam
flashed from the tube the thing carried, and fell upon the cliff. The
report of Ray's rifle rang thunderously in my ears. The red ray was
snapped off abruptly, and the giant crab rolled over into the black
water of the lake. Half a dozen of the huge crabs were in sight. They
all took alarm, probably having seen the flash of the red ray. They
raised grotesque heads, twisted stalked eyes and waved green antennae.
Some of them began to raise the metal tubes of the heat-ray.

"Let's get all there are in sight!" Ray muttered.

He began firing regularly, with deliberate precision. A few times he
had to take two shots, but ordinarily one was enough to bring down a
giant crab in a writhing red mass. Three times a red ray flashed out,
once at the girl clambering up the ladder, twice at our position above
the precipice. But the intense color of the ray announced its source,
and Ray stopped each before it could be focussed to do damage.

I looked over at Mildred and saw that she was still climbing bravely,
a little over a hundred feet below.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then the great red crabs began to climb out of the water, heat-ray
tubes grasped in their claws. Ray fired as fast as he could load and
aim. Still he shot with deliberate care, and almost every shot was
effective.

Intense, ruby-red rays flashed up from the lake shore. Twice, one of
them beat scorchingly upon us for a moment. Once a rock beside us was
fused and cracked with the heat. But Ray fired rapidly, and the rays
winked out as fast as they were born.

He was powder-stained, black and grimy. The heat-ray had singed his
clothing. He was dripping perspiration. The gun was so hot that he
could hardly handle it. But still the angry bark of the rifle rang
out, almost with a deliberate rhythm. Ray was a fine shot in his youth
on his father's Arizona ranch, but his best shooting, I think, was
done from above that cascade of liquid fire, at the hordes of monster
scarlet crabs.

Mildred scrambled over the edge, unharmed. Her breast was heaving, but
her face was bright with joy.

"You are wonderful!" she gasped to Ray.

We seized the packs and beat a hurried retreat. A crimson forest of
the heat-rays flashed up behind us, and flamed upon the black walls
and roof of the cavern until glistening lava became incandescent,
cracked and fused.

We were below the line of the rays. Quickly we made the bend in the
cavern and followed at a halting run up the path beside the shimmering
river of opalescent light. Before us the torrent of fire fell in a
magnificent flaming arc from the roof.

We rounded the pool of lambent milk of flame, passed the roaring
torrent of coruscating liquid radiance and reached the ladder in the
square, metal shaft. "If we can get to the top before they can get up
here, we're safe," Ray said. "If we don't, this shaft will be a
chimney of fire."

In the haste of desperation, we attacked the thousand-foot climb. I
went first, Mildred below me, and Ray, with the rifle, in the rear.
Our heavy packs were a terrible impediment, but we dared not attempt
to go on without them. The metal rungs were four feet apart; it was no
easy task to scramble from one to the next, again and again, for
hundreds of times.

       *       *       *       *       *

It must have taken us an hour to make it. We should have been caught
long before we reached the top, but the giant crabs were slow in their
lumbering movements. Despite their evident intelligence, they seemed
to lack anything like our railways and automobiles.

The cold gray light of the polar sky came about us; a dull,
purple-blue square grew larger above. I clambered over the last rung,
flung myself across the top of the metal shaft. Looking down at the
tiny fleck of white light so far below, I saw a bit of red move in it.

"A crab!" I shouted. "Hurry!"

Mildred was just below me. I took her pack and helped her over the
edge.

Red flame flared up the shaft.

We reached over, seized Ray's arms and fairly jerked him out of the
ruby ray.

The bitterly cold wind struck our hot, perspiring bodies as we
scrambled down the rungs outside the square metal shaft. Mildred
shivered in her thin attire.

"Out of the frying pan into the ice box!" Ray jested grimly as we
dropped, to the frozen plain.

Quickly we tore open our packs. Ray and I snatched out clothing and
wrapped up the trembling girl. In a few minutes we had her snugly
dressed in the fur garments that had been Major Meriden's. Then we got
into the quilted garments we had made for ourselves.

The intensely red heat-beam still flared up the shaft. Ray looked at
it in satisfaction.

"They'll have it so hot they can't get up it for some time yet," he
remarked hopefully.

We shouldered our packs and set out over the wilderness of snow,
turning our backs upon the metal-bound lake of fire, with the tall
cone of iridescent flame rising in its center.

The deep, purple-blue sky was clear, and, for a rarity, there was not
much wind. I doubt that the temperature was twenty below. But it was a
violent change from the warm cavern. Mildred was blue and shivering.

       *       *       *       *       *

In two hours the metal rim below the great white cone had vanished
behind the black ice-crags. We passed near the wreck of Major
Meriden's plane and reached our last camp, where we had left the tent
sledge, primus stove, and most of our instruments. The tent was still
stretched, though banked with snow. We got Mildred inside, chafed her
hands, and soon had her comfortable.

Then Ray went out and soon returned with a sealed tin of oil from the
wrecked plane, with which he lit the primus stove. Soon the tent was
warm. We melted snow and cooked thick red soup. After the girl had
made a meal of the scalding soup, with the little golden cakes, she
professed to be feeling as well as ever.

"We can fix our plane!" Ray said. "There's a perfectly good prop on
Meriden's plane!"

We went back to the wreck, found the tools, and removed an undamaged
propeller. This we packed on the sledge, with a good supply of fuel
for the stove.

"I'm sure we're safe now, so far as the crab-things go," he said. "I
don't fancy they'd get around very well in the snow."

In an hour we broke camp, and made ten miles of the distance back to
the plane before we stopped. We were anxious about Mildred, but she
seemed to stand the journey admirably; she is a marvelous physical
specimen. She seemed running over with gay vivacity of spirit; she
asked innumerable questions of the world which she had known only at
second-hand from her mother's words.

       *       *       *       *       *

The weather smiled on us during the march back to the plane as much as
it had frowned on the terrible journey to the cone. We had an
abundance of food and fuel, and we made it in eight easy stages. Once
there was a light fall of snow, but the air was unusually warm and
calm for the season.

We found the plane safe. It was the work of but a short time to remove
the broken propeller and replace it with the one we had brought from
the wrecked ship. We warmed and started the engine, broke the skids
loose from the ice, turned the plane around, and took off safely from
the tiny scrap of smooth ice.

Mildred seemed amazed and immensely delighted at the sensations of her
first trip aloft.

A few hours later we were landing beside the _Albatross_, in the
leaden blue sea beyond the ice barrier. Bluff Captain Harper greeted
us in amazed delight as we climbed to the deck.

"You're just in time!" he said. "The relief expedition we landed came
back a week ago. We had no idea you could still be alive, with only a
week's provisions. We were sailing to-morrow. But tell us! What
happened? Your passenger--"

"We just stopped to pick up my fiancee," Ray grinned. "Captain, may I
present Miss Mildred Meriden? We'll be wanting you to marry us right
away."


THE MENACE OF THE INSECT

It is possible that future study may tell man enough about insects to
enable him to eradicate them. This, however, is more than can be
reasonably expected, for the more we cultivate the earth the better we
make conditions for these enemies. The insect thrives on the work of
man. And having made conditions ideal for the insect, with great
expanses of cultivated food fitted to his needs, it is an optimist who
can believe that at the same time we can make other conditions which
will be so unfavorable as to cause him to disappear completely. The
two things do not go together.

The insect is much better fitted for life than is man. He can survive
long periods of famine, he can survive extremes of heat and cold. The
insect produces great numbers of young which have no long period of
infancy requiring the attention of the parents over a large part of
their life. Every function of the insect is directed toward the
propagation of the race and the use of minimum effort in every other
direction.

It is even possible in some cases, the water flea, for example, for
the female to produce young without the necessity of fertilization by
the male. In order to perform the necessary work to insure food
supplies for the winter other insects have developed highly
specialized workers, especially fitted to do particular kinds of
labor. Ants and termites are in this class.

If we examine the organization of insects closely we shall find but
one point at which they are vulnerable. This is in their lack of
ability to reason. True, there is considerable evidence to support the
belief that some insects are capable of simple reasoning, but the
development in this direction is only of the most elementary nature.
As compared to man it is safe to say that they do not reason. They are
guided by instinct.

This again is the most efficient way to organize their affairs. It
requires no long period of training. They can begin performing all
their useful functions as soon as their bodily development makes it
possible. No one need teach them how to catch their prey, how to build
their nests or shelters. Instinct takes care of this. But this,
obviously the best system in a world wholly governed by instinct, is
not so desirable when the instinctively actuated insect encounters
another form of life, as man, which is capable of reason. The
reasoning individual can play all kinds of tricks on the individual
who is actuated by instinct.



The Ghost World

_By Sewell Peaslee Wright_

[Illustration: _My whole attention was focused upon the strange
beings._]

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


I was asleep when our danger was discovered, but I knew the instant
the attention signal sounded that the situation was serious. Kincaide,
my second officer, had a cool head, and he would not have called me
except in a tremendous emergency.

"Hanson speaking!" I snapped into the microphone. "What's up, Mr.
Kincaide?"

"A field of meteorites sweeping into our path, sir." Kincaide's voice
was tense. "I have altered our course as much as I dared and am
reducing speed at emergency rate, but this is the largest swarm of
meteorites I have ever seen. I am afraid that we must pass through at
least a section of it."

"With you in a moment, Mr. Kincaide!" I dropped the microphone and
snatched up my robe, knotting its cord about me as I hurried out of my
stateroom. In those days, interplanetary ships did not have their
auras of repulsion rays to protect them from meteorites, it must be
remembered. Two skins of metal were all that lay between the _Ertak_
and all the dangers of space.

I took the companionway to the navigating room two steps at a time and
fairly burst into the room.

Kincaide was crouched over the two charts that pictured the space
around us, microphone pressed to his lips. Through the plate glass
partition I could see the men in the operating room tensed over their
wheels and levers and dials. Kincaide glanced up as I entered, and
motioned with his free hand towards the charts.

One glance convinced me that he had not overestimated our danger. The
space to right and left, and above and below, was fairly peppered with
tiny pricks of greenish light that moved slowly across the milky faces
of the charts.

From the position of the ship, represented as a glowing red spark, and
measuring the distances roughly by means of the fine black lines
graved in both directions upon the surface of the chart, it was
evident to any understanding observer that disaster of a most terrible
kind was imminent.

       *       *       *       *       *

Kincaide muttered into his microphone, and out of the tail of my eye I
could see his orders obeyed on the instant by the men in the operating
room. I could feel the peculiar, sickening surge that told of speed
being reduced, and the course being altered, but the cold, brutally
accurate charts before me assured me that no action we dared take
would save us from the meteorites.

"We're in for it, Mr. Kincaide. Continue to reduce speed as much as
possible, and keep bearing away, as at present. I believe we can avoid
the thickest portion of the field, but we shall have to take our
chances with the fringe."

"Yes, sir!" said Kincaide, without lifting his eyes from the chart.
His voice was calm and businesslike, now; with the responsibility on
my shoulders, as commander, he was the efficient, level-headed
thinking machine that had endeared him to me as both fellow-officer
and friend.

Leaving the charts to Kincaide, I sounded the general emergency
signal, calling every man and officer of the _Ertak's_ crew to his
post, and began giving orders through the microphone.

"Mr. Correy,"--Correy was my first officer--"please report at once to
the navigating room. Mr. Hendricks, make the rounds of all duty posts,
please, and give special attention to the disintegrator ray operators.
The ray generators are to be started at once, full speed." Hendricks,
I might say, was a junior officer, and a very good one, although
quick-tempered and excitable--failings of youth. He had only recently
shipped with us to replace Anderson Croy, who--but that has already
been recorded.[2]

[Footnote 2: "The Dark Side of Antri," in the January, 1931, issue of
Astounding Stories.]

These preparations made, I glanced at the twin charts again. The
peppering of tiny green lights, each of which represented a meteoritic
body, had definitely shifted in relation to the position of the
strongly-glowing red spark that was the _Ertak_, but a quick
comparison of the two charts showed that we would be certain to pass
through--again I use land terms to make my meaning clear--the upper
right fringe of the field.

The great cluster of meteorites was moving in the same direction as
ourselves now; Kincaide's change of course had settled that matter
nicely. Naturally, this was the logical course, since should we come
in contact with any of them, the impact would bear a relation to only
the _difference_ in our speeds, instead of the _sum_, as would be the
case if we struck at a wide angle.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was difficult to stand without grasping a support of some kind, and
walking was almost impossible, for the reduction of our tremendous
speed, and even the slightest change of direction, placed terrific
strains upon the ship and everything in it. Space ships, at space
speeds, must travel like the old-fashioned bullets if those within are
to feel at ease.

"I believe, Mr. Kincaide, it might be well to slightly increase the
power in the gravity pads," I suggested. Kincaide nodded and spoke
briefly into his microphone; an instant later I felt my weight
increase perhaps fifty per cent, and despite the inertia of my body,
opposed to both the change in speed and direction of the _Ertak_, I
could now stand without support, and could walk without too much
difficulty.

The door of the navigating room was flung open, and Correy entered,
his face alight with curiosity and eagerness. An emergency meant
danger, and few beings in the universe have loved danger more than
Correy.

"We're in for it, Mr. Correy," I said, with a nod towards the charts.
"Swarm of meteorites, and we can't avoid them."

"Well, we've dodged through them before, sir," smiled Correy. "We can
do it again."

"I hope so, but this is the largest field of them I have ever seen.
Look at the charts: they're thicker than flies."

       *       *       *       *       *

Correy glanced at the charts, slapped Kincaide across his bowed, tense
shoulders, and laughed aloud.

"Trust the old _Ertak_ to worm her way through, sir," he said. "The
ray crews are on duty, I presume?"

"Yes. But I doubt that the rays will be of much assistance to us.
Particularly if these are stony meteorites--and as you know, the odds
are about ten to one against their being of ferrous composition. The
rays, deducting the losses due to the utter lack of a conducting
medium, will be insufficient protection. They will help, of course.
The iron meteorites they will take care of effectively, but the
conglomerate nature of the stony meteorites does not make them
particularly susceptible to the disintegrating rays.

"We shall do what we can, but our success will depend largely upon
good luck--or Divine Providence."

"At any rate, sir," replied Correy, and his voice had lost some of its
lightness, "we are upon routine patrol and not upon special mission.
If we do crack up, there is no emergency call that will remain
unanswered."

"No," I said dryly. "There will be just another 'Lost in Space' report
in the records of the Service, and the _Ertak's_ name will go up on
the tablet of lost ships. In any case, we have done and shall do what
we can. In ten minutes we shall know all there is to know. That about
right, Mr. Kincaide?"

"Ten minutes?" Kincaide studied the charts with narrowed eyes,
mentally balancing distance and speed. "We should be within the danger
area in about that length of time, sir," he answered. "And out of
it--if we come out--three or four minutes later."

"We'll come out of it," said Correy positively.

I walked heavily across the room and studied the charts again. Space
above and below, to the right and the left of us, was powdered with
the green points of light.

       *       *       *       *       *

Correy joined me, his feet thumping with the unaccustomed weight given
him by the increase in gravity. As he bent over the charts, I heard
him draw in his breath sharply.

Kincaide looked up. Correy looked up. I looked up. The glance of each
man swept the faces, read the eyes, of the other two. Then, with one
accord, we all three glanced up at the clocks--more properly, at the
twelve-figured dial of the Earth clock, for none of us had any great
love for the metric Universal system of time-keeping.

Ten minutes.... Less than that, now.

"Mr. Correy," I said, as calmly as I could, "you will relieve Mr.
Kincaide as navigating officer. Mr. Kincaide, present my compliments
to Mr. Hendricks, and ask him to explain the situation to the crew.
You will instruct the disintegrator ray operators in their duties, and
take charge of their activities. Start operation at your discretion;
you understand the necessity."

"Yes, sir!" Kincaide saluted sharply, and I returned his salute. We
did not shake hands, the Earth gesture of--strangely enough--both
greeting and farewell, but we both realized that this might well be a
final parting. The door closed behind him, and Correy and I were left
together to watch the creeping hands of the Earth clock, the twin
charts with their thick spatter of green lights, and the two fiery red
sparks, one on each chart, that represented the _Ertak_ sweeping
recklessly towards the swarming danger ahead.

       *       *       *       *       *

In other accounts of my experiences in the Special Patrol Service I
feel that I have written too much about myself. After all, I have run
my race; a retired commander of the Service, and an old, old man, with
the century mark well behind me, my only use is to record, in this
fashion, some of those things the Service accomplished in the old days
when the worlds of the Universe were strange to each other, and space
travel was still an adventure to many.

The Universe is not interested in old men; it is concerned only with
youth and action. It forgets that once we were young men, strong,
impetuous, daring. It forgets what we did; but that has always been
so. It always will be so. John Hanson, retired Commander of the
Special Patrol Service, is fit only to amuse the present generation
with his tales of bygone days.

Well, so be it. I am content. I have lived greatly; certainly I would
not exchange my memories of those bold, daring days even for youth and
strength again, had I to live that youth and waste that strength in
this softened, gilded age.

But no more of this; it is too easy for an old man to rumble on about
himself. It is only the young John Hanson, Commander of the _Ertak_,
who can interest those who may pick up and read what I am writing
here.

I did not waste the minutes measured by that clock, grouped with our
other instruments in the navigating room of the _Ertak_. I wrote
hastily in the ship's log, stating the facts briefly and without
feeling. If we came through, the log would read better thus; if not,
and by some strange chance it came to human eyes, then the Universe
would know at least that the _Ertak's_ officers did not flinch from
even such a danger.

       *       *       *       *       *

As I finished the entry, Correy spoke:

"Kincaide's estimate was not far off, sir," he said, with a swift
glance at the clock. "Here we go!" It was less than half a minute
short of the ten estimated by Kincaide.

I nodded and bent over the television disc--one of the huge, hooded
affairs we used in those days. Widening the field to the greatest
angle, and with low power, I inspected the space before us on all
sides.

The charts, operated by super-radio reflexes, had not lied about the
danger into which we were passing--had passed. We were in the midst of
a veritable swarm of meteorites of all sizes.

They were not large; I believe the largest I saw had a mass of not
more than three or four times that of the _Ertak_ herself. Some of the
smaller bodies were only fifty or sixty feet in diameter.

They were jagged and irregular in shape, and they seemed to spin at
varying speeds, like tiny worlds.

As I watched, fixing my view now on the space directly in our path, I
saw that our disintegrator ray men were at work. Deep in the bowels of
the _Ertak_, the moan of the ray generators had deepened in note; I
could even feel the slight vibration beneath my feet.

One of the meteorites slowly crumbled on top, the dust of
disintegration hovering in a compact mass about the body. More and
more of it melted away. The spinning motion grew irregular, eccentric,
as the center of gravity was changed by the action of the ray.

Another ray, two more, centered on the wobbling mass. It was directly
in our path, looming up larger and larger every second.

Faster and faster it melted, the rays eating into it from four sides.
But it was perilously near now; I had to reduce power in order to keep
all of it within the field of my disc. If--

The thing vanished before the very nose of the ship, not an instant
too soon. I glanced up at the surface temperature indicator, and saw
the big black hand move slowly for a degree or two, and stop. It was a
very sensitive instrument, and registered even the slight friction of
our passage through the disintegrated dust of the meteorite.

       *       *       *       *       *

Our rays were working desperately, but disintegrator rays are not
nearly so effective in space as in an atmosphere of some kind. Half a
dozen times it seemed that we must crash head on into one of the
flying bodies, but our speed was reduced now to such an extent that we
were going but little faster than the meteorites, and this fact was
all that saved us. We had more time for utilizing our rays.

We nosed upward through the trailing fringe of the swarm in safety.
The great field of meteorites was now below and ahead of us. We had
won through! The _Ertak_ was safe, and--

"There seems to be another directly above us, sir," commented Correy
quietly, speaking for the first time since we had entered the area of
danger. "I believe your disc is not picking it up."

"Thank you, Mr. Correy," I said. While operating on an entirely
different principle, his two charts had certain very definite
advantages: they showed the entire space around us, instead of but a
portion.

I picked up the meteorite he had mentioned without difficulty. It was
a large body, about three times the mass of the _Ertak_, and some
distance above us--a laggard in the group we had just eluded.

"Will it coincide with our path at any point, Mr. Correy?" I asked
doubtfully. The television disc could not, of course, give me this
information.

"I believe so; yes," replied Correy, frowning over his charts. "Are
the rays on it, sir?"

"Yes. All of them, I judge, but they are making slow work of it." I
fell silent, bending lower over the great hooded disc.

There were a dozen, a score of rays playing upon the surface of the
meteorite. A halo of dust hung around the rapidly diminishing body,
but still the mass melted all too slowly.

       *       *       *       *       *

Pressing the attention signal for Kincaide, I spoke sharply into the
microphone:

"Mr. Kincaide, is every ray on that large meteorite above us?"

"Yes, sir," he replied instantly.

"Full power?"

"Yes, sir."

"Very well; carry on, Mr. Kincaide." I turned to Correy; he had just
glanced from his charts to the clock, with its jerking second hand,
and back to his charts.

"They'll have to do it in the next ten seconds, sir," he said.
"Otherwise--" Correy shrugged, and his eyes fixed with a peculiar,
fascinated stare on the charts. He was looking death squarely in the
eyes.

Ten seconds! It was not enough. I had watched the rays working, and I
knew their power to disintegrate this death-dealing stone that was
hurtling along above us while we rose, helplessly, into its path.

I did not ask Correy if it was possible to alter the course enough,
and quickly enough, to avoid that fateful path. Had it been possible
without tearing the _Ertak_ to pieces with the strain of it, Correy
would have done it seconds ago.

I glanced up swiftly at the relentless, jerking second hand. Seven
seconds gone! Three seconds more.

The rays were doing all that could be expected of them. There was only
a tiny fragment of the meteorite left, and it was dwindling swiftly.
But our time was passing even more rapidly.

The bit of rock loomed up at me from the disc. It seemed to fly up
into my face, to meet me.

"Got us, Correy!" I said hoarsely. "Good-by, old-man!"

I think he tried to reply. I saw his lips open; the flash of the
bright light from the ethon tubes on his big white teeth.

Then there was a crash that shook the whole ship. I shot into the air.
I remember falling ... terribly.

A blinding flash of light that emanated from the very center of my
brain, a sickening sense of utter catastrophe, and ... blackness.

       *       *       *       *       *

I think I was conscious several seconds before I finally opened my
eyes. My mind was still wandering; my thoughts kept flying around in
huge circles that kept closing in.

We had hit the meteorite. I remembered the crash. I remembered
falling. I remembered striking my head.

But I was still alive. There was air to breathe and there was firm
material under me. I opened my eyes.

For the first instant, it seemed I was in an utterly strange room.
Nothing was familiar. Everything was--was _inverted_. Then I glanced
upward, and I saw what had happened.

I was lying on the ceiling of the navigating room. Over my head were
the charts, still glowing, the chronometers in their gimballed beds,
and the television disc. Beside me, sprawled out limply, was Correy, a
trickle of dried blood on his cheek. A litter of papers, chairs,
framed licenses and other movable objects were strewn on and around
us.

My first instinctive, foolish thought was that the ship was upside
down. Man has a ground-trained mind, no matter how many years he may
travel space. Then, of course, I realized that in the open void there
is not top nor bottom; the illusion is supplied, in space ships, by
the gravity pads. Somehow, the shock of impact had reversed the
polarity of the leads to the pads, and they had become repulsion pads.
That was why I had dropped from the floor to the ceiling.

All this flashed through my mind in an instant as I dragged myself
toward Correy. Dragged myself because my head was throbbing so that I
dared not stand up, and one shoulder, my left, was numb.

       *       *       *       *       *

For an instant I thought that Correy was dead. Then, as I bent over
him, I saw a pulse leaping just under the angle of his jaw.

"Correy, old man!" I whispered. "Do you hear me?" All the formality of
the Service was forgotten for the time. "Are you hurt badly?"

His eyelids flickered, and he sighed; then, suddenly, he looked up at
me--and smiled!

"We're still here, sir?"

"After a fashion. Look around; see what's happened?"

He glanced about curiously, frowning. His wits were not all with him
yet.

"We're in a mess, aren't we?" he grinned. "What's the matter?"

I told him what I thought, and he nodded slowly, feeling his head
tenderly.

"How long ago did it happen?" he asked. "The blooming clock's upside
down; can you read it?"

I could--with an effort.

"Over twenty minutes," I said. "I wonder how the rest of the men are?"

With an effort, I got to my feet and peered into the operating room.
Several of the men were moving about, dazedly, and as I signalled to
them, reassuringly, a voice hailed us from the doorway:

"Any orders, sir?"

It was Kincaide. He was peering over what had been the top of the
doorway, and he was probably the most disreputable-looking officer who
had ever worn the blue-and-silver uniform of the Service. His nose was
bloody and swollen to twice its normal size. Both eyes were blackened,
and his hair, matted with blood, was plastered in ragged swirls across
his forehead.

"Yes, Mr. Kincaide; plenty of them. Round up enough of the men to
locate the trouble with the gravity pads; there's a reversed
connection somewhere. But don't let them make the repairs until the
signal is given. Otherwise, we'll all fall on our heads again. Mr.
Correy and I will take care of the injured."

       *       *       *       *       *

The next half hour was a trying one. Two men had been killed outright,
and another died before we could do anything to save him. Every man in
the crew was shaken up and bruised, but by the time the check was
completed, we had a good half of our personnel on duty.

Returning at last to the navigating room, I pressed the attention
signal for Kincaide, and got his answer immediately.

"Located the trouble yet, Mr. Kincaide?" I asked anxiously.

"Yes, sir! Mr. Hendricks has been working with a group of men and has
just made his report. They are ready when you are."

"Good!" I drew a sigh of relief. It had been easier than I thought.
Pressing the general attention signal, I broadcasted the warning,
giving particular instructions to the men in charge of the injured.
Then I issued orders to Hendricks:

"Reverse the current in five seconds, Mr. Hendricks, and stand by for
further instructions."

Hastily, then, Correy and I followed the orders we had given the men.
Briefly we stood on our heads against the wall, feeling very foolish,
and dreading the fall we knew was coming.

It came. We slid down the wall and lit heavily on our feet, while the
litter that had been on the ceiling with us fell all around us.
Miraculously, the ship seemed to have righted herself. Correy and I
picked ourselves up and looked around.

"We're still operating smoothly," I commented with a sweeping glance
at the instruments over the operating table. "Everything seems in
order."

"Did you notice the speed indicator, sir?" asked Correy grimly. "When
he fell, one of the men in the operating room must have pulled the
speed lever all the way over. We're at maximum space speed, sir, and
have been for nearly an hour, with no one at the controls."

       *       *       *       *       *

We stared at each other dully. Nearly an hour, at maximum space
speed--a speed seldom used except in case of great emergency. With no
one at the controls, and the ship set at maximum deflection from her
course.

That meant that for nearly an hour we had been sweeping into infinite
space in a great arc, at a speed I disliked to think about.

"I'll work out our position at once," I said, "and in the meantime,
reduce speed to normal as quickly as possible. We must get back on our
course at the earliest possible moment."

We hurried across to the charts that were our most important aides in
proper navigation. By comparing the groups of stars there with our
space charts of the universe, the working out of our position was
ordinarily, a simple matter.

But now, instead of milky rectangles, ruled with fine black lines,
with a fiery red speck in the center and the bodies of the universe
grouped around in green points of light, there were only nearly blank
rectangles, shot through with vague, flickering lights that revealed
nothing except the presence of disaster.

"The meteoric fragment wiped out some of our plates, I imagine," said
Correy slowly. "The thing's useless."

I nodded, staring down at the crawling lights on the charts.

"We'll have to set down for repairs, Mr. Correy. If," I added, "we can
find a place."

Correy glanced up at the attraction meter.

"I'll take a look in the big disc," he suggested. "There's a sizeable
body off to port. Perhaps our luck's changed."

He bent his head under the big hood, adjusting the controls until he
located the source of the registered attraction.

"Right!" he said, after a moment's careful scrutiny. "She's as big as
Earth, I'd venture, and I believe I can detect clouds, so there should
be atmosphere. Shall we try it, sir?"

"Yes. We're helpless until we make repairs. As big as Earth, you said?
Is she familiar?"

Correy studied the image under the hood again, long and carefully.

"No, sir," he said, looking up and shaking his head. "She's a new one
on me."

       *       *       *       *       *

Conning the ship first by means of the television disc, and navigating
visually as we neared the strange sphere, we were soon close enough to
make out the physical characteristics of this unknown world.

Our spectroscopic tests had revealed the presence of atmosphere
suitable for breathing, although strongly laden with mineral fumes
which, while possibly objectionable, would probably not be dangerous.

So far as we could see, there was but one continent, somewhat north of
the equator, roughly triangular in shape, with its northernmost point
reaching nearly to the Pole.

"It's an unexplored world, sir. I'm certain of that," said Correy. "I
am sure I would have remembered that single, triangular continent had
I seen it on any of our charts." In those days, of course, the
Universe was by no means so well mapped as it is today.

"If not unknown, it is at least uncharted," I replied. "Rough looking
country, isn't it? No sign of life, either, that the disc will
reveal."

"That's as well, sir. Better no people than wild natives who might
interfere with our work. Any choice in the matter of a spot on which
to set her down?"

I inspected the great, triangular continent carefully. Towards the
north it was a mass of snow covered mountains, some of them, from
their craters, dead volcanoes. Long spurs of these ranges reached
southward, with green and apparently fertile valleys between. The
southern edge was covered with dense tropical vegetation; a veritable
jungle.

"At the base of that central spur there seems to be a sort of
plateau," I suggested. "I believe that would be a likely spot."

"Very well, sir," replied Correy, and the old _Ertak_, reduced to
atmospheric speed, swiftly swept toward the indicated position, while
Correy kept a wary eye on the surface temperature gauge, and I swept
the terrain for any sign of intelligent life.

       *       *       *       *       *

I found a number of trails, particularly around the base of the
foothills, but they were evidently game trails, for there were no
dwelling places of any kind; no cities, no villages, not even a single
habitation of any kind that the searching eyes of the disc could
detect.

Correy set her down as neatly and as softly as a rose petal drifts to
the ground. Roses, I may add, are a beautiful and delicate flower,
with very soft petals, peculiar to my native Earth.

We opened the main exit immediately. I watched the huge, circular door
back slowly out of its threads, and finally swing aside, swiftly and
silently, in the grip of its mighty gimbals, with the weird,
unearthly feeling I have always had when about to step foot on some
strange star where no man has trod before.

The air was sweet, and delightfully fresh after being cooped up for
weeks in the _Ertak_, with her machine-made air. A little thinner, I
should judge, than the air to which we were accustomed, but strangely
exhilarating, and laden with a faint scent of some unknown
constituent--undoubtedly the mineral element our spectroscope had
revealed but not identified. Gravity, I found upon passing through the
exit, was normal. Altogether an extremely satisfactory repair station.

Correy's guess as to what had happened proved absolutely accurate.
Along the top of the _Ertak_, from amidships to within a few feet of
her pointed stem, was a jagged groove that had destroyed hundreds of
the bright, coppery discs, set into the outer skin of the ship, that
operated our super-radio reflex charts. The groove was so deep, in
places, that it must have bent the outer skin of the _Ertak_ down
against the inner skin. A foot or more--it was best not to think of
what would have happened then.

       *       *       *       *       *

By the time we completed our inspection dusk was upon us--a long,
lingering dusk, due, no doubt, to the afterglow resulting from the
mineral content of the air. I'm no white-skinned, stoop-shouldered
laboratory man, so I'm not sure that was the real reason. It sounds
logical, however.

"Mr. Correy, I think we shall break out our field equipment and give
all men not on watch an opportunity to sleep out in the fresh air," I
said. "Will you give the orders, please?"

"Yes, sir. Mr. Hendricks will stand the eight to twelve watch as
usual?"

I nodded.

"Mr. Kincaide will relieve him at midnight, and you will take over at
four."

"Very well, sir." Correy turned to give the orders, and in a few
minutes an orderly array of shelter tents made a single street in
front of the fat, dully-gleaming side of the _Ertak_. Our tents were
at the head of this short company street, three of them in a little
row.

After the evening meal, cooked over open fires, with the smoke of the
very resinous wood we had collected hanging comfortably in the still
air, the men gave themselves up to boisterous, noisy games, which, I
confess, I should have liked very much to participate in. They raced
and tumbled around the two big fires like schoolboys on a lark. Only
those who have spent most of their days in the metal belly of a space
ship know the sheer joy of utter physical freedom.

Correy, Kincaide and I sat before our tents and watched them, chatting
about this and that--I have long since forgotten what. But I shall
never forget what occurred just before the watch changed that night.
Nor will any man of the _Ertak's_ crew.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was just a few minutes before midnight. The men had quieted down
and were preparing to turn in. I had given orders that this first
night they could suit themselves about retiring; a good officer, and I
tried to be one, is never afraid to give good men a little rein, now
and then.

The fires had died down to great heaps of red coals, filmed with
ashes, and, aside from the brilliant galaxy of stars overhead, there
was no light from above. Either this world had no moons, not even a
single moon, like my native Earth, or it had not yet arisen.

Kincaide rose lazily, stretched himself, and glanced at his watch.

"Seven till twelve, sir," he said. "I believe I'll run along and
relieve--"

He never finished that sentence. From somewhere there came a rushing
sound, and a damp, stringy net, a living, horrible, _something_,
descended upon us out of the night.

In an instant, what had been an orderly encampment became a bedlam. I
tried to fight against the stringy, animated, nearly intangible mass,
or masses, that held me, but my arms, my legs, my whole body, was
bound as with strings and loops of elastic bands.

Strange whispering sounds filled the air, audible above the shouting
of the men. The net about me grew tighter; I felt myself being lifted
from the ground. Others were being treated the same way; one of the
_Ertak's_ crew shot straight up, not a dozen feet away, writhing and
squirming. Then, at an elevation of perhaps twice my height, he was
hurried away.

Hendrick's voice called out my name from the _Ertak's_ exit, and I
shouted a warning:

"Hendrick! Go back! Close the emergency--" Then a gluey mass cut
across my mouth, and, as though carried on huge soft springs, I was
hurried away, with the sibilant, whispering sounds louder and closer
than ever. With me, as nearly as I could judge, went every man who had
not been on duty in the ship.

       *       *       *       *       *

I ceased struggling, and immediately the rubbery network about me
loosened. It seemed to me that the whisperings about me were suddenly
approving. We were in the grip, then, of some sort of intelligent
beings, ghost-like and invisible though they were.

After a time, during which we were all, in a ragged group, being borne
swiftly towards the mountains, all at a common level from the ground,
I managed to turn my head so that I could see, against the star-lit
sky, something of the nature of the things that had made us captive.

As is not infrequently the case, in trying to describe things of an
utterly different world, I find myself at a loss for words. I think of
jellyfish, such as inhabit the seas of most of the inhabited planets,
and yet this is not a good description.

These creatures were pale, and almost completely transparent. What
their forms might be, I could not even guess. I could make out
writhing, tentacle-like arms, and wrinkled, flabby excrudescences and
that was all. That these creatures were huge, was evident from the
fact that they, apparently walking, from the irregular, undulating
motion, held us easily ten or a dozen feet from the ground.

With the release of the pressure about my body I was able to talk
again, and I called out to Correy, who was fighting his way along,
muttering, angrily, just ahead of me.

"Correy! No use fighting them. Save your strength, man!"

"Then? What are they, in God's name? What spawn of hell--"

"The Commander is right, Correy," interrupted Kincaide, who was not
far from my first officer. "Let's get our breaths and try to figure
out what's happened. I'm winded!" His voice gave plentiful evidence of
the struggle he had put up.

"I want to know where I'm going, and why!" growled Correy, ceasing his
struggling, nevertheless. "What have us? Are they fish or flesh or
fowl?"

"I think we shall know before very long, Correy," I replied. "Look
ahead!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The bearers of the men in the fore part of the group had apparently
stopped before a shadowy wall, like the face of a cliff. Rapidly, the
rest of us were brought up, until we were in a compact group, some in
sitting positions, some upside down, the majority reclining on back or
side. The whispering sound now was intense and excited, as though our
strange bearers awaited some momentous happening.

I took advantage of the opportunity to speak very briefly to my
companions.

"Men, I'll admit frankly that I don't know what we're up against," I
said. "But I do know this: we'll come out on top of the heap. Conserve
your strength, keep your eyes open, and be prepared to obey,
instantly, any orders that may be issued: I know that last remark is
not needed. If any of you should see or learn something of interest or
value, report at once to Mr. Correy, Mr. Kincaide or my--"

A simultaneous, involuntary exclamation from the men interrupted me,
and it was not surprising that this was so, for the wall before us had
suddenly opened, and there was a great burst of yellow light in our
faces. A strong odor, like the faint scent we had first noticed in the
air, but infinitely more powerful, struck our nostrils, but I was not
conscious of the fact for several seconds. My whole attention, my
every startled thought, was focused upon the group of strange beings,
silhouetted against the glowing light, that stood in the opening.

       *       *       *       *       *

Imagine, if you can, a huge globe, perhaps eight feet in diameter,
flattened slightly at the bottom, and supported on six short, huge
stumps, like the feet of an elephant, and topped by an excrudescence
like a rounded coning tower, merging into the globular body. From
points slightly below this excrudescence, visualize six long, limp
tentacles, so long that they drop from the equators of these animated
spheres, and trail on the ground. Now you have some conception of the
beings that stood before us.

A sharp, sibilant whispering came from one of these figures, to be
answered in an eager chorus from our bearers. There was a reply like a
command, and the group in the doorway marched forward. One by one
these visible tentacles wrapped themselves around a member of the
_Ertak's_ crew, each one of the globular creatures bearing one of us.

I heard a disappointed whisper go up from the outer darkness where,
but a moment before, we had been. Then there was a grating sound, and
a thud as the stone doorway was rolled back into place.

The entrance was sealed. We were prisoners indeed!

"All right, now what?" gritted Correy. "God! If I ever get a hand
loose!"

Swiftly, each of us held above the head-like excrudescence atop the
globular body of the thing that held us, we were carried down a
widening rocky corridor, towards the source of the yellow light that
beat about us.

       *       *       *       *       *

The passage led to a great cavern, irregular in shape, and apparently
possessed of numerous other outlets which converged here.

I am not certain as to the size of the cavern, save that it was great,
and that the roof was so high in most sections that it was lost in
shadow.

The great cavern was nearly filled with creatures similar to those
which were bearing us, and they fell back in orderly passage to permit
our conductors to pass.

I could see, now, that the hump atop each rounded body was a travesty
of a head, hairless, and without a neck. Their features were
particularly hideous, and I shall pass over a description as rapidly
as possible.

The eyes were round, and apparently lidless; a pale drab or bluff in
color. Instead of a nose, as, we understand the term, they had a
convoluted rosette in the center of the face, not unlike the olfactory
organ of a bat. Their ears were placed as are ours, but were of thin,
pale parchment, and hugged the side of the head tightly. Instead of a
mouth, there was a slightly depressed oval of fluttering skin near the
point where the head melted into the rounded body: the rapid
fluttering or vibration of this skin produced the whispering sound I
have already remarked.

The cavern, as I have said, was flooded with yellow light, which came
from a great column of fire near the center of the clear space. I had
no opportunity to inspect the exact arrangements but from what I did
see, I judged that this flame was fed by some sort of highly
inflammable substance, not unlike crude oil, except that it burned
clearly and without smoke. This substance was conducted to the font
from which the flame leaped by means of a large pipe of hollow reed or
wood.

At the far end of the cavern a procession entered from one of the
passages--nine figures similar to those which bore us, save that by
the greater darkness of their skin, and the wrinkles upon both face
and body, I judged these to be older than the rest. From the respect
with which they were treated, and the dignity of their movements, I
gathered that these were persons of authority, a surmise which quickly
verified itself.

       *       *       *       *       *

These nine elders arranged themselves, standing, in the form of a
semicircle, the center creature standing a pace or two in front of the
others. At a whispered command, we were all dumped unceremoniously on
the floor of the cavern before this august council of nine.

Nine pairs of fish-like, unblinking eyes inspected us, whether with
enmity or otherwise; I could not determine. One of the nine spoke
briefly to one of our conductors, and received an even more brief
reply.

I felt the gaze of the creature in the center fix on me. I had taken
my proper position in front of my men; he apparently recognized me as
the leader of the group.

In a sharp whisper, he addressed me; I gathered from the tone that he
uttered a command, but I could only shake my head in response. No
words could convey thought from his mind to mine--but we did have a
means of communication at hand.

"Mr. Correy," I said, "your menore, please!" I released my own from
the belt which held it, along with the other expeditionary equipment
which we always wore when outside our ship, and placed it in position
upon my head, motioning for one of the nine to do likewise with
Correy's menore.

They watched me suspiciously, despite my attempt to convey, by gestures,
that by means of these instruments we could convey thoughts to each other.
The menores of those days were bulky, heavy things, and undoubtedly they
looked dangerous to these creatures: thought-transference instruments at
that time were complicated affairs.

       *       *       *       *       *

However, I must have made myself partially understood, at least, for
the chief of the nine uttered a whispered command to one of the beings
who had borne us to the large cavern, and motioned with a writhing
gesture of one tentacle that I was to place the menore upon this
creature's head.

"The old boy's playing it safe, sir," muttered Correy, chuckling.
"Wants to try it out on the dog first."

"Right!" I nodded, and, not without difficulty, placed the other
menore upon the rounded dome of the individual selected for the trial.

Both instruments were adjusted to full power, and I concentrated my
mental energy upon the simple pictures that I thought I could convey
to the limited mentality of which I suspected these creatures,
watching his fishy eyes the while.

It was several seconds before he realized what was happening; then he
began talking excitedly to the waiting nine. The words fairly burned
themselves in my consciousness, but of course were utterly
unintelligible to me. Before the creature had finished, a lash-like
tentacle shot out from the chief of the nine and removed the menore; a
moment later it reposed, at a rather rakish slant, on the shining dome
of its new possessor.

"Get anything, sir?" asked Correy in a low voice.

"Not yet. I'm trying to make him see how we came here, and that we're
friends. Then I'll see what I can get out of him; he'll have to get
the idea of coming back at me with pictures instead of words, and it
may take a long time to make him understand."

It did take a long time. I could feel the sweat trickling down my face
as I strove to make him understand. His eyes revealed wonderment and a
little fear, but an almost utter lack of understanding.

I pictured for him the heavens, and our ship sailing along through
space. Then I showed him the _Ertak_ coming to rest on the plateau,
and he made little impatient noises as though to convey that he knew
all about that.

       *       *       *       *       *

After a long time he got the idea. Crudely, dimly, he pictured the
_Ertak_ leaving this strange world, and soaring off into vacant space.
Then his scene faded out, and he pictured the same thing again, as one
might repeat a question not understood. He wanted to know where we
would go if we left this world of his.

I pictured for him other worlds, peopled with men more or less like
myself. I showed him the great cities, and the fleets of ships like
the _Ertak_ that plied between them. Then, as best I could, I asked
him about himself and his people.

It came to me jerkily and poorly pictured, but I managed to piece out
the story. Whether I guess correctly on all points, I am not sure, nor
will I ever be sure. But this is the story as I got it.

These people at one time lived in the open, and all the people of this
world were like those in the cavern, possessed of opaque bodies and
great strength. There were none of the ghost-like creatures who had
captured us.

But after a long time, a ruling class arose. They tried to dominate
the masses, and the masses refused to be dominated. But the ruling
classes were wise, and versed in certain sciences; the masses were
ignorant. So the ruling classes devised a plan.

These creatures did not eat. There was a tradition that at one time
they had had mouths, as I had, but that was not known. Their strength,
their vitality, came from the powerful mineral vapor which came forth
from the bowels of the earth. The ruling classes decided that if they
could control the supply of this vapor, they would have the whip hand,
and they set about realizing this condition.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was quickly done. All the sources of supply, save one, were sealed.
This one source of supply was the cavern in which we stood. These were
members of the ruling class, and outside was the rabble, starved and
unhappy, living on the faint seepage of the vital fumes, without which
they became almost bodiless, and the helpless slaves of those within
the cavern.

These creatures, then, were boneless; as boneless as sponges, and,
like sponges, capable of absorbing huge quantities of a foreign
substance, which distended them and gave them weight. I could see,
now, why the rotund bodies sagged and flattened at the base, and why
six short, stubby legs were needed to support that body. There was
only tissue, unsupported by bone, to bear the weight!

This chief of the nine went on to show me how ruthlessly, how cruelly
those within the cavern ruled those without. The substance that fed
the flame had to be gathered and a great reservoir on the side of the
mountain kept filled. Great masses of dry, sweet grass, often changed,
must be harvested and brought to the entrance of the cavern, for
bedding. A score of other tasks kept the outsiders busy always--and
the driving force was that, did the slaves become disobedient, the
slight supply of mineral vapor available in the outside world would be
cut off utterly, and all outside would surely die, slowly and in
agony.

Those within the cavern were the rulers. They would always remain the
rulers, and those outside would remain the slaves to wait upon them.
And we--how strangely he pictured us, as he saw us!--were not to
return to our queer worlds, that we might bring many other ships like
the _Ertak_ back to interfere. No.

The pupils of his eyes contracted, and the leafy structure of his nose
fluttered as though with strong emotion.

No, we would not go back. He would give a signal to those of his
creatures who stood behind us--a sort of soldiery, I gathered--and our
heads, our legs, our arms, would be torn from our bodies. Then we
would not go back to bring--

       *       *       *       *       *

That was enough for me.

"Men!" I spoke softly, but with an intensity that gave me their
instant attention, "it's going to be a fight for life. When I give the
signal, make a rush for the entrance by which we came in. I'll lead
the way. Use your pistols, and your bombs if necessary. All
right--forward!"

Correy's great shout rang out after mine, and I flung my menore in the
face of the nearest guard. It bounced off as though it had struck a
rubber ball. Behind me, one of the men called out sharply; I heard a
sharp crunch of bone, and with a pang realized that the _Ertak's_ log
would have at least one death to record.

A dozen tentacles lashed out at me, and I sprayed their owners with
pellets from my atomic pistol. The air was filled with the shouts of
my men and the whispers of our enemies. All around me I could hear the
screaming of ricochets from our pistols. Twice atomic bombs exploded
not far away, and the solid rock shook beneath my feet. Something shot
by close to my face; an instant later a limp bundle in the blue and
silver uniform of our Service struck the rock wall of the cavern,
thirty feet away. The strength in those rubbery tentacles was
terrible.

The pistols seemed to have but little effect. They wounded, but they
did not kill unless the pellet struck the head. Then the victim
rolled over, rocking idiotically on its middle.

"In the head, men!" I shouted. "That downs them! And keep the bombs in
action. Throw them against the walls of the cavern. Take a chance!"

A ragged cheer went up, and I heard Correy's voice raised in angry
conversation with the enemy:

"You will, eh? There!... Now!... Ah!--right--through--the--eye.
That's--the place!"

       *       *       *       *       *

A score of times I was grasped and held by the writhing arms of the
angry horde whispering all around me. Each time I literally shot the
tentacle away with my atomic pistol, leaving the severed end to unwrap
itself and drop from my struggling body. The things had no blood in
them.

Steadily, we fought our way toward the doorway, out of the cavern,
down the passageway, pressed into a compact, sweating mass by the
pressure of the eager bodies around us. I have never heard any sound
even remotely like the babel of angry, sibilant whispering that beat
against the walls and roof of that cavern.

I had saved my own bombs for a specific purpose, and now I unslung
them and managed to work them up above my shoulders, one in either
hand.

"I'm going to try to blow the entrance clear, men," I shouted. "The
instant I fling the bombs, drop! The fragments will be stopped by the
enemy crowding around us. One ... two ... three ... _drop_!"

The two bombs exploded almost simultaneously. The ground shook, and
all over the cavern masses of stone came crashing to the floor. Bits
of rock hummed and shrieked over our heads. And--yes! There was a
draft of cooler, purer air on our faces. The bombs had done their
work.

"One more effort and we're outside, men," I called. "The passage is
open, and there are only a few of the enemy before us. Ready?"

"Ready!" went up the hoarse shout.

"Then, forward!"

It was easy to give the command, but hard to execute it. We were
pressed so hard that only the men on the outside of the group could
use their weapons. And our captors were making a terrible, desperate
effort to hold us.

Two more of our men were literally torn to pieces before my eyes, but
I had the satisfaction of ripping holes in the heads of the creatures
whose tentacles had done the beastly work. And in the meantime we were
working our way slowly but surely to the entrance.

       *       *       *       *       *

I glanced up as I dodged out into the open. That soft humming sound
was familiar, and properly so. There, at an elevation of less than
fifty feet, was the _Ertak_, with Hendricks standing in the exit,
leaning forward at a perilous angle.

"Ahoy the _Ertak_!" I hailed. "Descend at once!"

"Right, sir!" Hendricks turned to relay the order, and, as the rest of
the men burst forth from the cavern, the ship struck the ground before
us.

"All hands board ship!" I ordered. "Lively, now." As many years as I
have commanded men, I have never seen an order obeyed with more
alacrity.

I was the last man to enter, and as I did so, I turned for a last
glance at the enemy.

They could not come through the small opening my bombs had driven in
the rock, although they were working desperately to enlarge it.
Leaping back and forth between me and the entrance I could see the
vague, shadowy figures of the outside slaves, eagerly seeping up the
life-giving fumes that escaped from the cavern.

"Your orders, sir?" asked Hendricks anxiously; he was a very young
officer, and he had been through a very trying experience.

"Ascend five hundred feet, Mr. Hendricks," I said thoughtfully.
"Directly over this spot. Then I'll take over.

"It isn't often," I added, "that the Service concerns itself with
economic conditions. This, however, is one of the exceptions."

"Yes, sir," said Hendricks, for the very good reason, I suppose, that
that was about all a third officer could say to his commander, under
the circumstances.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Five hundred feet, sir," said Hendricks.

"Very well," I nodded, and pressed the attention signal of the
non-commissioned officer in charge of the big forward ray projector.

"Ott? Commander Hanson speaking. I have special orders for you."

"Yes, sir!"

"Direct your ray, narrowed to normal beam and at full intensity, on
the spot directly below. Keep the ray motionless, and carry on until
further orders. Is that clear?"

"Perfectly, sir." The disintegrator ray generators deepened their purr
as I turned away.

"I trust, sir, that I did the right thing in following you with the
_Ertak_?" asked Hendricks. "I was absolutely without precedent, and
the circumstances were so mysterious--"

"You handled the situation very well indeed," I told him. "Had you not
been waiting when we fought our way into the open, the nearly
invisible things on the outside might have--but you don't know about
them yet."

Picking up the microphone again, I ordered a pair of searchlights to
follow the disintegrator ray, and made my way forward, where I could
observe activities through a port.

The ray was boring straight down into a shoulder of a rocky hill, and
the bright beams of the searchlights glowed redly with the dust of
disintegration. Here and there I could see the shadowy, transparent
forms of the creatures that the self-constituted rulers of this world
had doomed to a demi-existence, and I smiled grimly to myself. The
tables would soon be turned.

       *       *       *       *       *

For perhaps an hour the ray melted its way into the solid rock, while
I stood beside Ott and his crew, watching. Then, down below us, things
began to happen.

Little fragments of rock flew up from the shaft the ray had drilled.
Jets of black mud leaped into the air. There was a sudden blast from
below that rocked the _Ertak_, and the shaft became a miniature
volcano, throwing rocky fragments and mud high into the air.

"Very good, Ott," I said triumphantly. "Cease action." As I spoke, the
first light of the dawn, unnoticed until now, spread itself over the
scene, and we witnessed then one of the strangest scenes that the
Universe has ever beheld.

Up to the very edge of that life-giving blast of mineral-laden gas the
tenuous creatures came crowding. There were hundreds of them,
thousands of them. And they were still coming, crowding closer and
closer and closer, a mass of crawling, yellowish shadows against the
sombre earth.

Slowly, they began to fill out and darken, as they drew in the fumes
that were more than bread and meat and water to us. Where there had
been formless shadows, rotund creatures such as we had met in the
cavern stood and lashed their tentacles about in a sort of frenzied
gladness, and fell back to make room for their brothers.

       *       *       *       *       *

"It's a sight to make a man doubt his own eyes, sir," said Correy, who
had come to stand beside me. "Look at them! Thousands of them pouring
from every direction. How did it happen?"

"It didn't happen. I used our disintegrator ray as a drill; we simply
sunk a huge shaft down into the bowels of the earth until we struck
the source of the vapor which the self-appointed 'ruling class' has
bottled up. We have emancipated a whole people, Mr. Correy."

"I hate to think of what will happen to those in the cavern," replied
Correy, smiling grimly. "Or rather, since you've told me of the
pleasant little death they had arranged for us. I'm mighty glad of it.
They'll receive rough treatment, I'm afraid!"

"They deserve it. It has been a great sight to watch, but I believe
we've seen enough. It has been a good night's work, but it's daylight,
now, and it will take hours to repair the damage to the _Ertak's_
hull. Take over in the navigating room, if you will, and pick a likely
spot where we will not be disturbed. We should be on our course by
to-night, Mr. Correy."

"Right, sir," said Correy, with a last wondering look at the strange
miracle we had brought to pass on the earth below us. "It will seem
good to be off in space again, away from the troubles of these little
worlds."

"There are troubles in space, too," I said dryly, thinking of the
swarm of meteorites that had come so close to wiping the _Ertak_ off
the records of the Service. "You can't escape trouble even in space."

"No, sir," said Correy from the doorway. "But you can get your sleep
regularly!"

And sleep is, when one comes to think of it, a very precious thing.

Particularly for an old man, whose eyelids are heavy with years.



Readers' Corner

[Illustration: Readers' Corner]


     _Now In Book Form_

     Readers of Astounding Stories will be interested to hear
     that two of the continued novels which appeared in our pages
     during last year are coming out in book form.

     The first of these is "Murder Madness," by Murray Leinster.
     It is due sometime in February, so by the time this issue is
     on the newsstands it will no doubt be already out. The
     publishers are Brewer and Warren, and the price is $2.00.
     Here's your chance, collectors, and those who missed an
     instalment or two.

     The other book is "Brigands of the Moon," by--everyone
     knows--Ray Cummings. It should be coming along in a month or
     so. Watch out for it!


_Mr. Cummings Sits In_

     Dear Editor:

     Thank you for the opportunity to address our Readers on
     certain side-lights of my tale, "The Exile of Time." I
     particularly welcome it, for the theme of Time-traveling is,
     I think, the most interesting of any upon which I have
     written.

     Some of you will no doubt recall my stories "The Man Who
     Mastered Time" and "The Shadow Girl." In "The Exile of
     Time," I present the third of the trilogy. It has no
     fictional connection with the others; it is in no sense a
     sequel, but rather a companion story.

     To write about Time-traveling is for me a difficult but
     fascinating task. The opportunities are endless; and I hope
     you may think I have taken advantage of them with a measure
     of success.

     I wrote those conceptions of Time and Space and the Great
     Cosmos, which you will find in the text of the story,
     because I feel them very deeply. Each occasion upon which
     circumstances allow me to present my theories, I eagerly
     welcome. How much of the conception is original with me, I
     cannot say. It is the product of my groping interpretation
     of the theories of many brilliant scientific minds of
     today--humbly combined with perhaps some originality of my
     own. The mind flings far afield when it starts to grope with
     the Unknown. Try it! Read what I have written and then let
     your mind roam a little further. Probe a little deeper.
     Perhaps we may contribute something. It is only by that
     process--each mind following some other's cleared path and
     pushing forward a little on his own--that the Unknown can be
     pierced.

     When once you admit the basic idea of Time-traveling to be
     plausible, what fascinating vistas are opened to the
     imagination!

     Space is so crowded! The room in which you are now sitting
     as you read these words--just think what that Space around
     you has held in the Past, and will hold in the Future! You
     occupy it now, playing out your little part; but think what
     has happened where you are now sitting so calmly reading!
     What tumultuous, crowding events! Your room is quiet now,
     but its space has rung with war-cries; the ground under you
     has been drenched with blood; and further back it was lush
     with primeval jungle; and in another age it was frozen
     beneath a great ice-cap; and before that it blazed, molten
     with fire. Back to the Beginning.

     And your little Space in the Future? It will be in the heart
     of a great mechanical city, perhaps. A mechanical servant
     may murder his human master in the space which you now call
     your room. The great revolt of the mechanisms may start in
     your room....

     I think that your room will some day again be shrouded under
     a forest growth. The mechanical city will be neglected,
     tumbled into ruins, buried beneath the silt of the passing
     centuries. The sun will slowly rise--a giant dull red ball,
     burning out, cooling. And the Earth will cool. Humans,
     perhaps, will have passed decadence and reverted to
     savagery. Perhaps the polar ice-caps will again come down,
     and ice slowly cover the dying world. All nature will be
     struggling and dying, with the sun a red ball turning dark
     like a cooling ember.

     Millions of centuries, with whatever events--who am I to
     say?--but it will go on to the End. That's a long way from
     the Beginning, isn't it? And yet ours is only a tiny planet
     living briefly in the great cosmos of Time and Space!

     A segment of Everything that ever was and ever will be
     marches through the Space of your room. What an enormously
     thronged little Space! There is only Time, to keep
     consecutive and orderly the myriad events which in your room
     are pushing and jostling one another! I say, then, "Time is
     what keeps everything from happening at once." It seems a
     good definition.

     I do hope you like "The Exile of Time." The writing of it
     made me realize how unimportant I am. A human lifetime is
     really as brief as the flash of an electric spark. The whole
     lifetime of our Earth is not much more than that. Stars,
     worlds, are born, live and die, and the Great Cosmos goes
     majestically on. Yet some people seem to feel that they and
     the Space they occupy in this Time they call the Present are
     the most important things that ever were or ever will be in
     the whole Universe. It is a good thing to realize that that
     isn't so.--Ray Cummings.


_Likes_

     Dear Editor:

     Starting with the August issue, I am going to give my
     opinion of the stories.

     "The Planet of Dread," by R. F. Starzl, couldn't have been
     better. Get more stories by him. "Murder Madness," by Murray
     Leinster, was a good story, but it didn't belong in a
     Science Fiction magazine. "The Terrible Tentacles of L-472,"
     a good story; "The Invisible Death," a very good story;
     "Prisoners on the Electron," very good; "The Ape-Men of
     Xlotli," a good story, but it does not belong in a Science
     Fiction magazine; "The Pirate Planet," very excellent--much
     more so because it is an interplanetary story. "Vagabonds of
     Space," "The Fifth Dimension Catapult," "The Gate of Xoran,"
     "The Dark Side of Antri"--all good.

     Well, I guess I will sign off and give somebody else a
     chance to broadcast.--Wm. McCalvy, 1244 Beech St., St. Paul,
     Minn.


_I Do; I Don't_

     Dear Editor:

     "I like the magazine the way it is," "I want a larger
     magazine," "I want a magazine twice a month," "I want a
     quarterly," and so do I, "There is a terrible flaw in one of
     the stories," "All of the stories are flawless," "I want
     reprints," "I don't," "I like Ray Cummings," "I don't," "I
     want a better grade paper," "The paper's O. K. with me," "I
     want smooth edges on the magazine," "So do I," "And so do
     I!"--these seem to be the most often repeated sentences in
     the letters from Readers.

     However, I have a new one to add: I would like to see an
     answer, by the Editor, to each letter that is printed in
     "The Readers' Corner," like this: "I liked 'An Extra Man,'
     etc.--Mr. Syence Ficshun" (I am very glad to hear that you
     liked this little masterpiece, etc.--Editor). Why not?

     The illustration on the cover of the January issue surely
     shows that you're starting the new year out right by putting
     on an extremely astounding cover. The story "The Gate to
     Xoran" is simply amazing. Let's read many more of Mr. Wells
     stories. It is far surpassed, however, by "The Fifth
     Dimension Catapult," which is the best story (novelette)
     that I have ever read in "our" magazine.

     The Boys' Scientification Club is now a branch of the famous
     Science Correspondence Club. Remember, boys between the ages
     of 10 and 15, if you're interested in reading Science
     Fiction, by all means join the B. S. C. We have many copies
     of Astounding Stories in our library and members are welcome
     to read them. For further details write to me.--Forrest J.
     Ackerman, President-Librarian, B. S. C., 530 Staples Avenue,
     San Francisco, Cal.


_Souls and Integrations_

     Dear Editor:

     You are starting your second year as Editor of Astounding
     Stories. If your standard during 1931 is up to your standard
     of 1930, we shall be satisfied. If possible, give us, the
     Readers, the best in Science Fiction. I have no doubt but
     that the Readers of Astounding Stories would not want
     fantasy unless written by a master; and to my mind there is
     only one whom I will forgive for not making his stories
     Science Fiction, and that writer is A. Merritt. Every other
     writer should and must put plausible science in his stories.
     If he doesn't, he won't go far; not with Science Fiction
     readers, anyway.

     I do not agree to your answer, by letter, to my complaint
     about the science in the story, "An Extra Man," by Jackson
     Gee. You say that two men, each the size and half the weight
     of the original man could have been formed from the
     integrated particles of the original man. In the story, the
     weight of the two men was exactly the same as that of the
     original man. [?] Anyway, I do not believe that these two
     men could have been formed. Most likely, when the
     laboratories began the process of reintegration, the person
     integrated would have been cut in half, provided of course,
     that the laboratories began the process at the same time. If
     not, one laboratory would produce a larger portion of an
     integrated man than the other.

     But to come back to the original question. Can a man be
     disintegrated into his component atoms and then reintegrated
     into two men each half the size, weight, ability and brains?
     I say no. I believe that the component atoms of the man when
     reintegrated would be in exactly the same place as they were
     before the disintegration occurred. If a part and not the
     whole of a man is reintegrated in one place, then the part
     would be one part of that man and not a complete man in
     itself.

     It would be as preposterous and absurd for anything but a
     part of that man to be reintegrated, as it would be for two
     apes, pigs or hens to come from him. I leave out the
     question of what would happen to the soul. Imagine a soul
     divided in half. Mr. Gee might say that he doesn't believe
     in souls. Neither do I, much. I notice that some Readers say
     that they liked that story. One even says that it was
     perfect. Every man to his taste. I've read worse, myself.

     Anyway, Mr. Editor, Astounding Stories is the finest and
     best Science Fiction magazine on the market.

     Many Readers want to keep their magazines and bind them,
     including myself. Why change the size? I'm certain that that
     won't be done. Astounding Stories started small (in size
     only) and it will remain small (also only in size). Let us
     have reprints.--Nathan Greenfeld, 373 Whitlock Ave., New
     York City.


_The Defense Rests_

     Dear Editor:

     I have just read the January issue for 1931 and noticed some
     so-called helpful letters by Readers. Looking over Mr.
     Waite's letter, would like to suggest that he stop to think,
     if possible, that if he wants absolute bone-dry facts, that
     he doesn't want fiction at all. And Mr. Johnson--he seems
     to have the impression that everyone who can take things for
     granted without having a detailed explanation of the facts
     of the story is a moron or a small child. He should go find
     a volume of scientific research if he enjoys that sort of
     stuff. I read fiction stories for the enjoyment I get out of
     them and not to criticize them for lack of explanation. I
     would rather read some of his so-called nonsense than a lot
     of far-flung, intricate, baseless scientific explanations.
     Why doesn't Mr. Johnson use his imagination?--Donald Kahl,
     360 Selby Ave., St. Paul, Minn.


_"High Time"_

     Dear Editor:

     I have been reading the magazine ever since it first came
     out, a year ago, so it is high time for me to write. It
     certainly grows better with every new issue.

     I think that the ten best stories published during 1930 were
     (not in order of merit): "Brigands of the Moon," "Vandals of
     the Stars," "The Atom Smasher," "The Moon Master," "Earth,
     the Marauder," "The Planet of Dread," "Silver Dome," "The
     Second Satellite," "Jetta of the Lowlands" and "The Pirate
     Planet."

     Your ten best authors are: Harl Vincent, Ray Cummings,
     Charles W. Diffin, Victor Rousseau, Capt. S. P. Meek, Murray
     Leinster, Arthur J. Burks, R. F. Starzl, Sewell P. Wright
     and Edmond Hamilton.

     The Commander Hanson stories by S. P. Wright are great.
     Let's have lots more of them.

     And now about reprints. I cast my vote like many other
     readers in favor of them. Many Readers, in fact over half,
     are new Readers of Science Fiction. They, like myself, have
     not read the great masterpieces such as "The Time Machine,"
     "The Moon Pool" and countless other stories. Now, why not
     reprint some of them and give us a chance to read them? A
     few Readers who have read them before do not want them
     reprinted because they do not want anybody else to read
     them.

     A brickbat: Why not cut the edges of the magazine smooth? It
     would be much easier to handle.

     A bouquet: You have a fine magazine. Keep up the good stuff.
     My criticism is exhausted, so good-by until next
     time.--Oswald Train, P. O. Box 94, Barnesboro, Pa.


_Two Dimensions Off?_

     Dear Editor:

     It was just by accident that I came across your magazine,
     and I have read every issue since.

     In the January number there is one story that I don't like,
     "The Fifth Dimension Catapult." As far as the story is
     concerned it is very good, but Professor Denham was not
     marooned in the fifth dimension. If you read the story you
     will find that Professor Denham was marooned on a three
     dimensional world. That is all I can make out.

     Astounding Stories is the best Science Fiction magazine I
     have ever read, and I shall keep on reading it.

     Keep up the good cover illustrations.--Richard Meindle, R.
     1, Box 91, Butternut, Wisconsin.


_To the Colors!_

     Dear Editor:

     Being a passionate admirer of Dr. Breuer and his writings, I
     cannot permit the contumelious, unfounded aggression of one
     George K. Addison to go on unconfuted.

     Perceiving that Dr. Breuer cannot possibly vindicate himself
     against this disparagement I feel obliged to extenuate Dr.
     Breuer in the eyes of the Readers.

     In the first place, Dr. Breuer writes rarely and sparingly
     and does not grind out his stories month after month as do
     some other authors. His stories are highly original and are
     presented in a purely literary style. The story to which Mr.
     Addison refers, "A Problem in Communication," is a fine
     example of his work. Should his story be remonstrated
     against because it is lacking in adventure, because it did
     not delineate mushy love episodes, because it does not cause
     chills to run down one's spine? Positively not! It lives up
     to the standard of the highest Science Fiction. Here is a
     story unbesmirched by the love element, exceedingly
     plausible and interestingly narrated.

     If all stories were thought out and written just half as
     carefully as Dr. Breuer's, Astounding Stories would become a
     periodical justified to be considered on a par with The
     Golden Book.

     In closing, I wish to express my desire that more stories of
     the Breuer quality be bestowed upon the Readers.--Mortimer
     Weisinger, 266 Van Cortland Ave., Bronx, New York.


_And It Wasn't!_

     Dear Editor:

     Having read "The Readers' Corner" since its first appearance
     in Astounding Stories and noted the various criticisms
     offered, may I tell you about a story written by a Science
     Fiction author?

     The author, by the way, is the perfect author; he makes
     absolutely no mistakes in his story, and is in no danger of
     starving if his works aren't accepted and older stories are
     reprinted instead. His science is correct and the story
     contains nothing that cannot be understood.

     The story is of interplanetary adventure. Strange to say,
     there is no war in the story; there is no villain; there is
     no hero to save a world from destruction or his sweetheart
     from the monsters of another planet. Instead, there are
     nothing but characters--if you get what I mean. The persons
     involved in this interplanetary novel reach their goal due
     to the tremendous strides of science in experimenting with
     air and space vehicles.

     When they arrive on the planet they do not meet hostile
     nations. They do not meet monstrosities. They do, however,
     meet people much like themselves who do not welcome the
     travelers with open arms and show them about their city, but
     regard them with curiosity and treat them with all due
     respect for their achievement in conquering space.

     As I said before, there is no hero who falls in love with
     the beautiful girl from the planet visited, and saves her
     and her country from other warring nations. To tell the
     truth, the adventurers have their own loved ones at home.
     They meet no intrigue. When they have learned all they
     can--experiencing many difficulties in mastering the
     language used, for the people of the planet have not
     perfected a brain-copier or other like mechanism--they
     arrange for commerce and travel between the two worlds and
     return to Earth. On their return, they are not met with
     world wide ovations and made heroes of, but receive credit
     for their undertaking and are soon forgotten about.

     To cap the climax, the story is acceptable to the Editors.
     It is not in need of corrections and is published
     immediately. The story is gratefully accepted by the public
     and not one single soul writes a scathing letter to the
     Editor telling why it was not good. In fact, I can hardly
     believe that such a story was written. Possibly it
     wasn't!--Robert R. Young, 86 Third Avenue, Kingston, Penn.


_Ha-ha!_

     Dear Editor:

     Christmas day, and because I'm not acquainted in this city
     I'm writing you a letter.

     I have just finished reading your magazine. I came close to
     not buying it, being not overly prosperous, but decided to
     take a chance when I saw you had a dimensional story by
     Murray Leinster. That story was up to expectations. The
     others were down to expectations.

     If you want me to choose your magazine to spend my reading
     allowance on, have more stories by Leinster, Starzl, Breuer
     and Wells. It may take a little more effort, but it's worth
     it. Sax Rohmer is good on science stuff, too.

     Before you print any more undersea stories have a diver look
     at them. You tell about standing at the bottom of the ocean
     and seeing the submarine "not more than a quarter of a mile
     away." Ha-ha! [No fair, that ha-ha! For the story says,
     quoted exactly: "... there gleamed the reassuring LIGHTS of
     the Nereid, not a quarter of a mile away." Probably, intense
     searchlight beams could be seen that far.--Ed.] You couldn't
     see it if you stood more than ten feet away. I'm not trying
     to be critical, but you should be more careful.--Myron
     Higgins, 524 West 100th St., New York City.


_We Never Will_

     Dear Editor:

     I have been an enthusiastic reader of Astounding Stories
     since it was founded, and I think it about time that I
     voiced my opinion of your great magazine.

     Taking all in all it's a vow, but of course it could be
     made better by having a quarterly, which I am sure would go
     over big.

     Wesso is great, so why not have all the illustrations by
     him?

     Your authors are also great. Nearly every story I have read
     was perfect, and whatever you do don't lose R. F. Starzl.
     His ideas are very good, as illustrated in "The Planet of
     Dread."

     There is only one more thing I would like to ask of you, and
     that is the reason why I write. Please don't spoil the
     magazine by endeavoring to please a very small minority by
     putting in unnecessary scientific explanations. The reason
     why I like your magazine so much is because of the fact that
     it is unique in that respect. I have read a few stories in
     other scientific magazines and found that they contained too
     much explanation. I hope for the benefit of other Readers
     and myself that you will not change the stories by adding
     too much explanation.

     In the coming year I wish you all possible success.--John
     Sheehan, 32 Elm St., Cambridge, Mass.


_This and That_

     Dear Editor:

     In the October issue of Astounding Stories Mr. Woodrow
     Gelman cast vote number 1 for reprints. In the February,
     1931, issue, Mr. Forgaris throws in number 2 and here goes
     number 3. I really don't see why, even after the arguments
     you printed, you don't print at least one a year. I have
     been reading your magazine ever since it came out and have
     found that at least one-half of your Readers want reprints.
     Can't you print at least one for an experiment?

     Ray Cummings, S. P. Meek, Dr. Miles J. Breuer, Sewell P.
     Wright and Harl Vincent are your best authors. Wesso is your
     best artist by far.

     There were several stories I did not like. They are:
     "Monsters of Moyen," "Earth, the Marauder," and I guess
     those are all.

     How about giving us some short short stories? And how about
     cutting the edges of the paper smooth? And giving us a
     quarterly? But all in all I think your magazine is one of
     the best in the field.--Vernon H. Jones, 1603 Sixth Ave.,
     Des Moines, Iowa.


_It's Your Imagination_

     Dear Editor:

     Well, well! Astounding Stories was two days early this
     month. See that this happens more often.

     Of course, "The Pirate Planet" took first place in the
     February number. The story was very well written and the
     characters very realistic. It deserves to be put in book
     form, also in the talkies. It would be much better than
     "Just Imagine."

     I welcome Anthony Gilmore, D. W. Hall and F. V. W. Mason to
     Astounding Stories. Their stories proved to be very
     interesting and I hope to read more.

     Do you know how to write editorials? Yes? Then prove it. I
     have to be shown. Write on some scientific subject each
     month, and every so often write on Astounding Stories itself
     and of its stories and authors.

     Is it my imagination or have you been using a better grade
     of paper in the past two issues? it seems to be much
     smoother and a little thinner than that used previously.

     I notice that you are giving more room to some of the
     illustrations, as in "Werewolves of War" and "The Pirate
     Planet." The larger the illustrations are the more there can
     be put in them.--Jack Darrow, 4225 No. Spaulding Ave.,
     Chicago, Illinois.


_If He But Could!_

     Dear Editor:

     Astounding Stories is without doubt the most preeminent in
     its field.

     With such versatile authors as Burks (When does his next
     story appear?), Starzl, Cummings, Leinster, Vincent and all
     the rest, how can it help but to overshadow all periodicals!

     The illustrations are superfine. Wesso is a marvel! If he
     could only write his own stories and illustrate them!

     Now, a suggestion. I am positive that every Reader of your
     magazine wants you to start a department in which
     biographies of the authors and their photographs are given.
     Why not start one?--Julius Schwartz, 407 East 183rd St.,
     Bronx, New York.


_"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!

       *       *       *       *       *





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