Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

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

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                              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
           the Authors' League of America;

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

    _That_ each newsdealer and agent is insured a fair profit;

    _That_ an intelligent censorship guards their advertising pages.


_The other Clayton magazines are:_

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

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

       *       *       *       *       *



VOL. V. No. 2            CONTENTS            FEBRUARY, 1931

COVER DESIGN                    H. W. WESSO

    _Painted in Water-Colors from a Scene in "The Tentacles from Below."_

WEREWOLVES OF WAR               D. W. HALL                153

    _The Story of the "Torpedo Plan" and of Capt. Lance's Heroic Part in
     America's Last Mighty Battle with the United Slavs._

THE TENTACLES FROM BELOW        ANTHONY GILMORE           172

    _Down to Tremendous Ocean Depths Goes Commander Keith Wells in His
     Blind Duel with the Marauding "Machine-Fish."_
     (A Complete Novelette.)

THE BLACK LAMP                  CAPTAIN S. P. MEEK        212

    _Dr. Bird and His Friend Carnes Unravel Another Criminal Web of
     Scientific Mystery._

PHALANXES OF ATLANS             F. V. W. MASON            228

    _Only in Dim Legends Did Mankind Remember Atlantis and the
     Lost Tribes--Until Victor Nelson's Extraordinary Adventure
     in the Unknown Arctic._ (Beginning a Two-Part Novel.)

THE PIRATE PLANET               CHARLES W. DIFFIN         261

    _From Earth and Sub-Venus Converge a Titanic Offensive of Justice
     on the Unspeakable Man-Things of Torg._ (Conclusion.)

THE READERS' CORNER             ALL OF US                 277

    _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.

       *       *       *       *       *



Werewolves of War

_By D. W. Hall_

[Illustration: _"Hay crosses the gulf, taking with him the cord which
controls the electro-magnet."_ ]

PART I

[Sidenote: The story of the "Torpedo Plan" and of Capt. Lance's heroic
part in America's last mighty battle with the United Slavs.]


Trapped again!

But this time, Lance swore, they'd not get away without paying dearly
for it!

Under the mesh of his gas-mask the lean lines of his jaw went taut.
Tense, steely fingers flipped to the knobbed control instruments; the
gleaming single-seater scout plane catapulted in a screaming
somersault. Lance's ever-wary sixth sense told him the tongues of
disintegrating flame had licked the plane's protected belly, and for
the fact that it was protected he thanked again his stupendous luck.
He pulled savagely at the squat control stick; the four Rahl-Diesels
unleashed a torrent of power; and the slim scout rose like a comet,
and hurtled, the altitude dial's nervous finger proclaimed, to ten
thousand feet. Lance eased off the power, relaxed slightly, and
glanced below.

They'd started off a squadron of fifteen planes. Thirteen had crumpled
beneath that treacherous, stabbing curtain of disintegrating flame.
Only two of them were left--he and Praed.

Praed, of course!

The fellow's plane was pirouetting nearby. Lance was the squadron
leader. He jammed his thin-lipped mouth close to the "mike" and
rasped:

"They trapped us again! There's some damn spy at our base. Stand by,
Praed! They'll send up a few men to wipe us out, too ... and we're
goin' to square the account!"

He listened for Praed's answer. Presently it came.

"I can't! They got two of my motors. I'm limping badly. We'd better
beat it while we can."

Lance's mouth curled. He roared:

"Go on, then, beat it! But I'm goin' to take a couple of 'em, anyway."
Disgusted, filled with red anger, he flung the phones from his head,
watched Praed's plane whirl its stubby nose for home, settled himself
alertly in the low, padded seat and concentrated his attention on the
ground below.

He'd been right. Tiny, gray-clad figures were pouring from their
barracks, rushing madly towards the dozen or so planes neatly drawn up
on the field. Lance's mouth twitched. They probably wondered, down
there, why the devil he didn't beat it--like Praed! He stroked the
lever which controlled his five gas bombs, centered his battery of
incendiary-bullet machine-guns and ruthlessly shoved the control stick
full over.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Rahl-Diesels pumped at full power; his plane plummetted downwards
with the speed of light, a hurtling shell of steel. His unexpected
move took the men below by surprise. Lance knew they needed at least
ten minutes to prepare another salvo of disintegrating flame; he had
about four minutes left.

There was a restless, thudding chatter, and his bullets began to mow
them down.

Lance could see the horrified expressions of the men beneath, and
chuckled grimly as they sought to escape the wrath of his hot guns. He
flung bursts of spouting, acid-filled lead at the defenseless planes,
and saw two of them collapse in shrouds of acrid white smoke. And
still he dove.

At a bare one hundred feet he tugged the control stick back, and the
tiny scout groaned under the pull of her motors. Then her snout jolted
upwards. Lance pounded the gas bomb lever, and smiled a tight smile as
he sensed the five pills sloping down from their compartment in the
scout's belly.

A second later came a rolling, ear-numbing crash. Lance, safe at a
perch of a few thousand feet, grinned as his narrowed eyes beheld the
sticky curtain of death-crammed gas hug over the enemy base.

"That'll quiet 'em for a few minutes!" he muttered savagely.

A few minutes--but not more. And he had no more bombs; his ammunition
belts were nearly depleted. "I guess," he murmured, "I'd better follow
that quitter, Praed. I've paid 'em for the boys they got, anyway!"

He levelled the plane out, threw a last glance at the carpet of gas he
had laid, and spurred the purring Rahl-Diesels to their limit. His
speed dial flashed round to five hundred, five-fifty--seventy--and
finally rested, quivering, at the scout's full six hundred miles per
hour.

Under the streamlined plane's speeding body the gnarled, bomb-torn
terrain of Nevada hurtled by. A rather sad frown creased Lance's
prematurely old brow as he glimpsed it. Thousands of lives had been
thrown into that ground; the hot, tumbled waste was doused with
freely-sacrificed blood, the blood of whole regiments of America's
heroic First Home Army. Martyred men! Lance couldn't help swearing to
himself at the bitter thought of that terrible reckoning day. It was
the price his country had paid for her continued ignoring of the
festering peril overseas. Slaughtered like sheep, those glorious
regiments had been! Helpless, almost, before the ultra-modern war
weapons of the United Slav hordes, they'd stopped the numbingly quick
advance merely by the weight of their bodies. Like little Belgium, in
1914. They'd held the Slavs to California, ravished, war-desolated
California.

       *       *       *       *       *

The thin front-line trenches far behind, Lance began a slanting dive
that raised his speed well over six hundred. Through the front
magnifying mirror he spied the squat khaki buildings of his base.
Werewolves of War, the batch of planes he belonged to had been
christened, and it was a richly deserved title. In front of the front
they fought, detailed to desperate, harrying missions, losing an
average of ten men a day. The ordeal of gas and fire and acid bullets
added five years to a man's brow overnight--if he served with the
Werewolves of War.

Lance was only twenty-four, but his hair was splotched with dead gray
strands; his eyes were hard and weary; his face lined with new
wrinkles. Ah, well, it was war--and a losing war, he had to admit,
that they fought. If a miracle didn't come, America would crumble even
as old Europe had, before the overwhelming Slavish troops.

Even now, as Lance knew through various rumors, the Slavs were massed
for a grand attack. And with what could America hold them back?

His helicopter props spun, and the scout nestled down lightly on the
tarmac. Lance switched off the faithful Rahl-Diesels, swung open the
tiny door and leaped from the enclosed cockpit.

"Sir," he rapped to thin, stern-browed Colonel Douglas, "there's no
longer any doubt in my mind. This is the fifth time we've been
anticipated--trapped! The enemy is informed directly of the attacking
plans of our scout details. There's a spy at this base!" He lowered
his eyes for a second and said in a queer tone of voice: "Thirteen of
'em went down to-day."

Colonel Douglas' tired face showed the never-ceasing strain he was
under. He clasped hands behind his back, took a few nervous turns up
and down the small office and finally, with a somewhat hopeless sigh,
muttered:

"I know, Lance, I know. The devils! They seem to be aware of
everything we plan. Yet what can we do? Look at the territory our
front lines cover! More than two thousand miles of loosely held
ground. And we're so damnably organized, man! Look here!"

       *       *       *       *       *

He strode to the huge map which covered entirely one wall of the
little room and ran his forefinger down the long red line, signifying
the American front, which stretched crookedly from the Canadian border
to the Gulf of California. Parallel to it was another line, of
black--the United Slavs.

"It's so damned easy," Colonel Douglas said, "for a spy to slip over."
He sighed again. "I fought in the scrap of 1917 as a kid of twenty; it
was different then. But this is 1938, and it's a scientific war we're
trying to fight." He sat down in his swivel chair. "How--how did they
wipe you out to-day?"

"That blasted disintegrating flame again," Lance told him swiftly.
"It's obvious, Colonel: how did the Slavs know we were going to raid
that comparatively unimportant base of theirs at such and such a time?
They had the flame shooters all ready for us--and at a place where
they've never had them before! We came up at twenty-five thousand
feet, dropped down in a full power dive, and"--he gestured
widely--"biff! The flames caught us neatly at the regulation thousand
feet. They got thirteen men. Only two got away, Praed and myself."
His keen eyes were inquiring, and the colonel interpreted their look
correctly.

"Praed," he murmured. "Yes, I saw him come back, by himself. He said
you were following. Two of his motors were shot. He seems to bear a
charmed life, doesn't he?"

Lance nodded. He didn't like to hint at the thought he had in mind. It
seemed a cowardly, stab-in-the-back thing to do. Yet it was duty, and
there was no questioning duty.

"I've never seen Praed shoot down an enemy plane," he said slowly.
"This is the fifth time we've been ambushed--and Praed's never been
caught. Somehow, he's always seemed to be aware of what was coming."

"You mean--?" the colonel questioned.

Lance shook his head. "I don't want to commit myself, Colonel Douglas,
but--I'm suggesting that we--well--keep our eyes peeled, and perhaps
watch certain members of the outfit more closely."

       *       *       *       *       *

Douglas rose as his orderly, Ranth, came into the room. "Find
Lieutenant Praed for me," the colonel ordered crisply. Then, turning
to Lance, he said: "You'd better knock off a few hours' sleep. You are
worn out."

Lance watched the orderly, Ranth, salute and leave. Ranth was heavy,
thick-built, with closely set eyes. The young squadron leader was
suddenly conscious that he was, as the colonel said, worn out; his
limbs seemed leaden, his eyelids heavy. "I think you're right, sir,"
he murmured, and walked out onto the field.

Seeing Praed's machine drawn up with the overall-clad figure of a
mechanic fussing at its motors, he wandered over to survey it. The
scout was an exact replica of his, a model of the famous Goshawk type.
It was all motor--everything being sacrificed to speed. On either side
of the stubby brow of the fuselage, which held the death-dealing
battery of three machine-guns, were set the four Rahl-Diesel motors,
back to back. The pilot's tiny enclosed cockpit was thus surrounded by
engines. In the V-shaped, smooth-lined wings were the two helicopter
props; further back, inside the steel-sheathed, bullet-like fuselage,
the radio outfit and fuel tanks. The craft's rounded belly covered the
gas bomb compartment.

The mechanic was a little cockney Englishman, a fugitive, like all his
countrymen, from the horror which had stricken England suddenly and
left her wallowing in her life blood. He looked up at Lance, and a
smile broke forth on his wizened, sharp little face.

"It's got me beat, sir," he said in his curious, twanging voice.
"Lieutenant Praed, 'e sez to me, 'Somethin' wrong with two of me
motors,' 'e sez. 'They quit on me quite sudden like. Look 'em over,
will you?' 'e sez. So I been lookin' 'em over. But they ain't nothin'
wrong with the bloody things, sir--nothin' at all!"

"It does seem funny, doesn't it, Wells?" Lance said levelly. He'd
known it all along. Praed was a quitter--a yellow-belly--besides
being--But he stopped there. He had no definite proof. It was unjust
to accuse a man of _that_ without definite, positive proof.

The little mechanic muttered some mysterious cockney curse, and then
said, in an admiring tone:

"'Ow many of the swines' planes 'ave you shot down now, sir?"

"About twenty, I think," Lance told him gruffly. The cockney shot his
breath out with a whistle.

"Cripes! You'll be up to that there Captain Hay soon if you keeps it
up, sir!"

Lance laughed. Hay, the almost legendary hero of the American Air
Force--who had shot down, so latest rumors said, fifty Slav
planes--was far above him. "I'll never reach Hay's record, Wells. I'll
be doing pretty well if I bag half as many!" Then, seeing Ranth, the
orderly, followed by Praed, he strode quickly away and came face to
face with the latter.

       *       *       *       *       *

For a moment the two men eyed each other, a taut silence between them.
Praed's thin, sun-blackened countenance was immovable, masklike. His
blue-green eyes met Lance's steadily. Finally Lance snorted and burst
out:

"Why the hell did you run away, Praed? Scared stiff?"

Praed's low voice, devoid of all trace of emotion, asked: "What makes
you think I was scared, Lance?"

"You know damn well what makes me think it! That lousy crack about
your motors being shot!"

"Two of my motors were limping."

Lance gave a sarcastic chuckle. "Ask Wells about that, why don't you?
He's got a few ideas on the subject."

Praed repeated: "Two of my motors were limping," and abruptly he
turned away, leaving Lance fuming, and went into Colonel Douglas'
office.

What would Douglas say to him? Accuse him outright of his suspicions?
Put him under arrest as a spy? But he couldn't do that: there was,
after all, no proof. Lance swore to himself; then, feeling a wave of
weariness surge over him, went to the shack he was quartered in,
kicked off his battered boots, stripped away his Sam Browne, and flung
his lean body out on the hard, gray-sheeted cot. Seconds later he was
lost in the sleep that comes to the physically exhausted. The
desperate situation America was in, the whole savage war--everything,
faded from his mind.

But to right and left of that cot stretched others--empty. The brave
squadron Lance had led into the blue sky that morning now lay charred
skeletons around the flame-throwers that had struck them down.

And in a dozen other aircraft bases behind the hard pressed lines were
other empty cots. Time and time again the Slav planes shot down two to
the Americans' one; time and time again the treacherous
disintegrating flames--the weapon which baffled America's
scientists--had struck down whole squadrons that had been lured into
traps, even as Lance's had been lured.

And even the Slav forces pushed forward....


PART II

"You're wanted by Colonel Douglas, sir."

Lance felt a hand jarring his shoulder; he turned sleepily over,
yawned, and stared up into the dark, full-cheeked face of Ranth, the
orderly.

"Huh?"

"Colonel Douglas wants you," repeated Ranth. "It's five o'clock, sir."

Wearily Lance pulled on his boots and adjusted the military belt. The
night was hot and sticky; somewhere, miles to the rear of the base,
the batteries of long-distance guns were beginning their nightly
serenade. Lance followed the orderly's broad, chunky back to the
colonel's office.

The colonel gazed up with tired eyes from the welter of maps on his
desk.

"Lance," he said, "I'm changing the routine of the night patrol. A
fresh batch of youngsters came in this afternoon to fill the empty
files; two dozen new planes arrived by transport, too. I'm sending ten
of them over for the night patrol; Stephens will take your place. I've
got another errand for you--and Praed."

Lance was conscious that Ranth was standing quietly behind the
colonel's chair. Douglas ordered him to attend to some errand and the
orderly left.

"I had an interview with Praed," the colonel went on. "I didn't
exactly accuse him of anything definite, but I think I threw a bit of
a scare into him. To-night we'll give him the acid test.

"You and he will fly over to-night to investigate Hill 333. There have
been rumors that the Slavs are massing there, and we want positive
information. There's sure to be a fight. Watch Praed carefully. If he
steers clear of any scrapping, well have enough to court-martial him
on. Understand?"

Lance nodded.

"Right. It's a dangerous errand, Lance, but I'm confident you'll come
through, as always. There's no one else who could handle the job. God,
man, you're getting close to Hay's record! You'll be the top-notcher
of the service soon!"

The young man laughed briefly. "No danger of that. When do we take
off, sir?"

Douglas consulted his watch. "Seven-fifteen. Come and get the dope
from these maps. Hill 333's rather difficult to find."

"Anything been happening at the front, sir?"

The colonel passed both fine-fingered hands over his lined face. He
said quietly: "Yes. The Slavs took twenty-five miles from us down in
the lower sector. Just wiped our boys out. Those damnable
flame-throwers and bullet-proof tanks, supported by God knows how many
hundreds of planes. It's hell, Lance! Headquarters thinks they're
going to unleash a general attack all along the line in the next few
days. And our resources--well, our back's against the wall. We're
coming to death grips, man."

       *       *       *       *       *

Seven-fifteen....

Lance pressed the starting button. His four motors choked, sputtered,
then burst into a sweet, full-throated roar. He glanced over at
Praed's plane, spun the small helicopter props over and pushed down
the accelerator. The plane quivered, stuck its snout up and leaped
like an arrow into the clean, darkening air. Lance gunned it to ten
thousand feet, Praed following him neatly. Praed was a good pilot, no
doubt about that. The two fighting machines hung for a second side by
side; Lance eased off his helicopters and streaked away into the gloom
at a breath-taking five hundred.

"I hope," muttered Colonel Douglas as the two tiny scouts sped from
sight, "that everything goes smoothly. They're the men to do it,
anyway. No better pilots in the whole service."

"Wot abaht that there Captain Hay, sir?" put in Wells, the mechanic,
standing nearby. Colonel Douglas smiled.

"Oh, of course!" he amended. "I'd forgotten Hay!"

Once more they were anticipated! Lance, at thirty thousand feet--the
Rahl-Diesels, with their perfected superchargers, were easily capable
of a ceiling of sixty--had hovered above the position of Hill 333,
pulled on his gas-mask and said through the microphone to Praed:

"Power dive to three thousand feet. Release your flares and take in
all you can before they send up planes. We'll take 'em by surprise,
but there's bound to be a fight. Got it?"

The steady reply came back: "Okay."

Whereat Lance set his teeth in his customary fighting grin, jockied up
his ammunition belts, glanced at the flare-parachutes folded alongside
the cabin and plunged the scout in a dive that tipped six hundred and
fifty miles and threatened to crack the speed dial.

       *       *       *       *       *

But surprise? Nothing doing! Like angry hornets five Slav planes
pounced on them at ten thousand feet. They'd been waiting there! Lance
cursed savagely. He flung off his flares, Immelmanned up, and in less
than two seconds had sent one Slav shrieking to the ground in flames.
For the moment forgetting Praed, Lance followed after his flares,
three Slavs attempting to sight their guns on the twisting, writhing,
corkscrewing body of his Goshawk. He knew there were disintegrating
flame-throwers below, but gambled on their not shooting because of the
enemy scouts diving with him.

Flattening out at perhaps a thousand feet, Lance threw a rapid stare
at the bulk of Hill 333. He drew his breath in sharply.

Lit dazzlingly by the bleaching white of the slow-floating flares,
huge rows of the dreaded Slav tanks were clustered all around the
hill!

As he looked, ten more Slav planes came soaring up from the ground.
This was too hot! The thought of Praed stabbed through Lance's
whirling brain; he pulled the scout around, doubled over the three
closing in on his tail, and belched lead for an instant at one he'd
caught off guard. It collapsed like a punctured paper bag. Lance
grinned and bounded to the upper regions. The two other Slavs let the
crazy Yank go for the instant, joining forces with the ten brothers
coming to help them out.

Lance, again at ten thousand, looked for Praed. Far above, he glimpsed
two planes, circling and diving. Praed seemed to be fighting, at any
rate! As he watched, the two scouts catapulted still higher; became
tiny, almost imperceptible dots, visible only in the reflected light
of the flares. Then Lance felt a shaft of ice along his spine.

The two planes had practically hugged each other for a second. Then
one of them fell away, somersaulted, tumbled down wildly--out of
control.

It passed Lance like a falling rock.

And it was Praed's scout!

"My God!" muttered Lance. "He's been shot down!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The next moment the twelve Slavs were on him like a hurricane. Motors
roaring, Lance stood them off--flinging a burst of lead here, dropping
out of range here, looping, catapulting, zooming--fazing them with
every trick he knew. A dozen times he sensed the zinging wrath of
storms of bullets, a dozen times he escaped death by the breadth of a
hair. Not for nothing was he called one of the best pilots in the
service, second only to Hay.

He bagged another of the Slavs, and began to think of getting away.
Praed had proved himself, but had been killed in doing so. He's got
the dope on Hill 333. Now for the getaway.

As he whirled, another Slav plane--the one that had got Praed--dove
down from above. And, in the last second of the ghostly light of the
flares, Lance's bewildered eyes saw the face of the man inside it.

_That face was Praed's!_

Praed, inside an enemy scout! Praed firing at him! Praed, not dead!

Lance was dumbfounded. He almost died, just then, for he felt his
senses stagger, and relaxed his maneuvering. Praed! What--how--He
couldn't begin to reckon it out.

If the flares hadn't died at that instant, Lance must have been shot
down. Luckily, they expired; pitch darkness washed over everything.
The lights on the Slav planes switched on, their prying beams
fingering the sky for Lance's plane. But Lance was somewhat himself
again. He jammed the accelerator down, dove headlong, flattened out
and streaked for home. The speed of the Goshawk snatched him
faithfully from the jaws of the Slavs. He left then milling behind.
Left Praed with them!

       *       *       *       *       *

Colonel Douglas was waiting for him. Lance's face must have been a
study, for the elder man laughed shortly. "You need a drink!" he
decided, and poured out a stiff tot of rum. Lance downed it with a
nervous gulp and sprawled in a chair, the glass held weakly in
quivering fingers.

Dead silence brooded over the whole base. Even the muttering guns were
still. One green-shaded light threw the maps on Douglas' desk into
glaring prominence; besides that, there was no illumination anywhere
in the 'drome. Lance knew he had a thumping headache and that his eyes
were lumps of pain. The glass fell from his hand and crashed on the
floor. It seemed to stir the young captain, for at last he looked up
and met the colonel's inquiring gaze.

"Well?" The colonel was terse.

"I saw Praed shot down," Lance mumbled, as if to himself, "and then I
saw him--"

"Wait!" Douglas strode rapidly to the door which led to the other
rooms of the building. After glancing to right and left, with an
explanatory "Walls sometimes have ears, you know!" he locked the door
carefully again, came back, and said:

"Talk in a whisper! How about Hill 333?"

"Tanks massed there," Lance said slowly. "Yeh, I saw that, all right.
They must be intending an attack on that sector. But--but--Praed--"

"What happened?"

Lance told him of the scrap, how Praed's plane had apparently rubbed
wings with a Slav and then tumbled down, out of control. He concluded:
"I figured that Praed was all right, that he'd proved himself, that he
wasn't a spy, as we'd thought. _But the next moment I saw him in the
Slav plane that had bagged his!"_

His wondering eyes sought the colonel's lean face. Lance expected to
see it express amazement, incredulity. It didn't, though. He laughed!

       *       *       *       *       *

While Lance gaped, the older man went to the delicate machinery of the
radiophone in one corner of the trim office. He clasped the earphones
over his head, and spoke into the mike: "Headquarters, Air Force,
Washington, Douglas, Base 5, speaking."

A tense moment passed while his radio call was put through. Presently
a green light flashed on the board. Douglas said swiftly:
"Headquarters? Base 5, Colonel Douglas. Tanks massed around Hill 333;
enemy evidently contemplates full attack on corresponding sector of
our line. They know a scout of ours observed it, however; perhaps that
will induce them to change their plans. This next is extremely
important: _The first step of the Torpedo Plan has been successful!"_

For awhile he listened intently, replying with short-clipped
affirmatives. Then he hung the headphones up and turned to the
bewildered Lance. Colonel Douglas laughed again and rubbed his hands
exultantly.

"What the hell--" Lance began. The other pulled out a drawer of his
desk and took from it a small placard.

"Do you recognize the photo?" he asked smilingly.

Lance looked at it. It was the picture of a man in the uniform of a
captain of the Air Force, a row of battle ribbons on his straight,
khaki-clad chest. But it was the figure's face that Lance stared at.

"Sure," he said finally. "It's a picture of Praed. But what--"

"Not Praed," corrected the colonel. "Not Praed. Captain Basil Hay."


PART III

"Good Lord!" Lance exclaimed without knowing he did so. Praed--Hay!
The same man! Then that was the secret; that explained things! Hay,
the hero of the force!

"You're entitled to a few explanations," Douglas said. "I'll give you
the core of the whole scheme. There's no need to tell you that it must
be guarded with your life." He drew his chair closer to Lance's.

"Yes, it's true. The man you knew as Praed in reality is Captain Hay.
You see, Lance, headquarters was taking no chances with what I just
called the Torpedo Plan. Every move had to be conducted with the
utmost secrecy. Had to be! For the Torpedo Plan is, in some ways,
America's last hope.

"Our base, No. 5, was chosen as the center of activity, the base from
which the steps paving the way for the plan would be taken. The two
best pilots in the service were needed. You and Hay were chosen.

"It was decided it would be best to mask Hay's real identity. So,
officially, he was sent to the hospital; in reality he came here,
under the name of Praed. Why? Because there's a spy somewhere--we
don't seem to be able to track him; he's infernally clever--and if the
famous Captain Hay was switched to Base 5, putting the two best
pilots in the service together, that spy'd know something was in the
air. Understand?"

Lance nodded dumbly. A great light was beginning to shower him.

"To more completely mask our true purpose," the colonel continued,
"Hay was instructed to make it appear as if he were a spy. And it was
a damned hard job! The real spy, whoever he is, and wherever he is,
would thus be additionally fooled; for all he'd know, the Slavs might
have sent another over to back him up. That's why Hay never shot down
an enemy plane. Says something about his skill as a pilot, doesn't it?
Never able to defend himself, save by maneuvering. He's a great
flyer!"

Lance could only nod dumbly again.

"After a couple of weeks at this base," Douglas went on, "Hay was to
cross the lines one night with you accompanying him. You,
unintentionally, would thus occupy the enemy planes while Hay attended
to the real business of the evening. And you did splendidly!"

"The real business?" Lance questioned. "What the devil was that? I
thought the real business was to get the dope on Hill 333."

"So it was--partially. But also to take the first step of the Torpedo
Plan, which was for Hay to switch over to a Slav plane."

_"What?"_

       *       *       *       *       *

The colonel repeated his statement, somewhat dryly. Lance's square jaw
dropped abruptly. "But--but--" he exclaimed, "how the devil could he
do that?"

Colonel Douglas grinned.

"By a very neat contraption from the brain of one of our most valuable
scientists," he explained. "Hay's scout was specially fitted up before
you left; while you were sleeping, in fact. Two experts from
Washington arrived with that batch of new recruits this afternoon. A
tiny sliding door was cut in the fuselage of the scout and a sort of
folding ladder put inside. It was motivated by some rather complex
spring-work; but the really ingenious thing about it was the powerful
electro-magnet at its base.

"It's rather over my head," he smiled. "I'm a plain fighting man, and
sometimes it seems that scientists and not fighting men are going to
win this war.... But, at any rate, it worked like this:

"Hay lures, or maneuvers, a Slav plane away from its fellows, and
while you're down below entertaining the others, flies wing to wing
with it. He touches the spring of his ladder and it shoots out,
powerfully magnetized, and clamps onto the steel fuselage of the Slav.
The automatic control keeps Hay's scout steady, and the ladder is so
highly attractive that the Slav simply can't get away. Hay crosses the
gulf, taking with him the cord which controls the electro-magnet. He
forces his way into the Slav, shoots down its pilot, releases the pull
of the magnet, and--there you are! Our best pilot in possession of a
Slav plane, and clad in a Slav officer's uniform! Do you get the idea
now?"

Lance strove for appropriate words. "Gee!" he spluttered. "It's--it's
wonderful! And to think I tried to start a fight with Hay! I wish I'd
known before. But I suppose," he added, "it was best to let not even
me in on it, to keep it absolutely secret."

"Exactly!"

"And now what's Hay's mission?" Lance asked eagerly.

       *       *       *       *       *

Colonel Douglas' face became sober. "A damnably dangerous one, and a
mighty desperate one. As I said, the Torpedo Plan, which Hay is
striving to carry out, seems to be America's last chance. We're
holding the United Slavs, but only just. We simply can't break their
line or make any headway against them; and when they do unleash their
big push, there's nothing to stop them! So we're gambling everything
on this slim hope.

"American science," he continued, "has perfected a weapon which is
called the 'flying torpedo.' It's a ghastly thing, too. Damn it, I
actually feel sorry for the poor devils it bursts on! It's a sort of
riposte to their disintegrating flame.

"Picture a huge tanklike affair of steel, one hundred feet long.
Picture a few dozen of them! Picture them crammed to overflowing with
tons of glyco-scarzite, the most destructive explosive the mind of man
has yet conceived. An explosive that can't be hurled in a shell and
can't be dropped in a bomb from a plane. A pound or so of it, man,
lays waste a square mile of anything! Even our scientists are a bit
afraid of it. They've been trying to think up a way of unleashing it
at the Slavs. And these flying torpedoes seem to be the answer.

"The torpedoes are purely mechanical. Therefore, they can soar to any
height whatsoever. Twenty, thirty, even forty miles. All right. Now,
picture a dozen or so of these torpedoes soaring over the most
important Slav bases and headquarters, thirty miles above the earth,
at night, of course, and absolutely invisible to the most powerful
search-rays. They fly without the slightest sounds. Get that? Well,
when this squadron of awful death arrives at the exact point over the
place to be demolished, the motive force switches off and down they
crash. Imagine what will happen when they collide with the ground!"
Douglas, with Lance's tense eyes on him, struck a clenched fist into
an open palm.

"Tons of glyco-scarzite, Lance! Unleashed, without warning, from miles
above! Thirty of these torpedoes, each a hundred feet long, dropping
down on the very heart of the Slav invasion! Killing, blowing to bits,
rather, every living thing, every fortification, every tree, every
tank, every gun, every flame thrower, every plane in a radius of
hundreds of miles!"

"God!" came from Lance's numb lips. "God!"

"_But_"--and the colonel held up a straight forefinger--"these
torpedoes must be guided from the place they raid!"

Into the silence Lance whispered: "And that--that is Hay's job?"

"That," Douglas confirmed levelly, "is Hay's job--and yours."

       *       *       *       *       *

Their eyes met; held. And then Lance's clean young face smiled.

"Thank God, sir," he cried, "that I'm to help strike the blow that'll
free our country!"

Colonel Douglas answered his smile with a smile. "Lance," he said,
"it's because Washington has put this job into Hay's and your hands
that I know--_I know_--it will succeed."

"It will!"

Douglas lowered his voice again. "This is why those flying torpedoes
must be guided from the Slav's innermost base.

"In the first place, they fly too high for an accompanying plane to
guide them. In the second, the power that releases them to hurtle
downwards must come from the enemy base itself, to permit of no
possible error. This must not fail!"

"But," put in Lance, "how do the torpedoes fly? What motivates them?"

"A closely guarded secret, of course," he was told. "I merely possess
a slight comprehension of it. I know that it is an adaptation of that
discovery of Professor Singe, two years ago--cosmic attraction.
Eventually, perhaps, it will permit interplanetary travel. This use of
it is simply the beginning. But it is to America's everlasting glory
that a scientist of hers developed it.

"You know how a sliver of wood is propelled by the ripples of a pond?
Vibrations of the water, really. Well, evidently there are somewhat
similar vibrations in the ether, cosmic force. Each one of these
flying torpedoes contains a highly expensive, intricate mechanism
which transforms this invisible vibration-power into material
propulsion. The mechanism is adjusted to propel the torpedo at such an
altitude in such a direction. We possess no means of setting the
machines to _stop_ at a certain place and so tumble earthwards. That's
where you and Hay come in.

"Hay is now, with forged documents, passing himself off as a regular
Slav pilot. He speaks the tongue. Two nights from now, you, Lance,
keep a rendezvous with Hay at an isolated ranch in the Lake Tahoe
country--the Sola Ranch, where we staged that big fight a few months
back."

       *       *       *       *       *

Lance nodded.

"In your plane is an instrument which is the kernel of the scheme. It
arrives here to-morrow. It's a device which shoots an invisible beam
fifty miles into the air, a negative beam, in sympathy with the
machinery on the torpedoes. Hay sets this device near the Slav
headquarters. The torpedo squadron takes off from a few hundred miles
behind here, flying in the direction of the heart of the Slav forces.
When they run into the beam, their motive power is nullified, and down
they fall. Crash! The Slavs are wiped out. Our troops charge forward
in a grand attack; the Slavs, with no armament, no reinforcing troops,
no supply of tanks and flame throwers, crumple. The invasion of
America is put to an end!"

Lance rose. His face was alight, his eyes burning with strong,
unquenchable fire.

"It's great, sir, great! It can't fail! By God, if it takes every last
drop of my blood, I'll help Hay put this through!"

Colonel Douglas extended his right hand and Lance's met it in a firm
shake. In the thick silence they stood thus for some minutes. Then,
without moving so much as a cheek muscle, the colonel whispered, his
eyes tense:

"_The door! Fling it open! I think someone's been listening!_"

Lance switched his alarmed gaze to it. His muscles went taut. The next
moment he had leaped half across the room, jammed back the lock, and
ripped the door wide.

At the other end of the dim passageway he glimpsed a scurrying figure!

Lance sprang after it with a shout to Douglas. Tearing out his
automatic, he flung a burst of lead at the figure, but that instant it
wheeled and sped from sight down another passage. And when Lance got
there, no one was in sight.

       *       *       *       *       *

For awhile he probed around, desperately, but could find no sign of
anything. The base slept. Sorely troubled, he returned to find the
colonel just coming back from an equally barren search:

"Don't think he heard much," said Douglas grimly. "It must have been
that damned spy who's been getting information of our movements. I'll
have the guards redoubled to prevent him from getting anything
through." He smiled at sight of Lance's anxious face. "No need for too
much worry, Lance! He couldn't have heard much--the walls are
sound-proof and the door fairly tight. Now, you go and rip off some
sleep! You need it! No more work for you till Wednesday night--you're
too important!"

Sleep! Lance only wished he could. But the thrill of what he'd just
heard was too fresh, too new; the blood pumped surgingly through his
veins; his brain whirled with the thought of the glorious enterprise
he and Hay were aiding so vitally.

Then, too, the night was humid and sweaty. For a while Lance lay on
his cot, other sleeping figures to left and right of him, but his own
eyes simply would not stay closed. Finally, after perhaps an hour of
trying to doze off, he arose and, clad only in breeches and
undershirt, wandered outside again with a cigarette glowing in his
mouth.

The war might not have been, the night was so silent. Lance strolled
lazily around the plane hangars, revelling in what little breeze there
was. He seemed to be the only living thing abroad in the night.

Then, suddenly, he flung down his cigarette and ground the butt out
quickly. For he saw he was not the only living thing abroad in the
night. Sliding rapidly away from the end hangar was a dark form!

Lance crouched instinctively and crept forward. Who was the other
wanderer? Not a sentry: they paced a regular beat closer to Douglas'
office. Not another, who, like himself, could not sleep and had sought
the open. This figure was going somewhere! It had a definite object in
mind!

Sheltering himself behind the hangars' bulk, Lance advanced as
stealthily as he could. Coming to the end one, he peered round its
blunt corner. Fifty yards ahead, crossing a stubbly stretch of open
ground, the mysterious prowler hurried onward.

       *       *       *       *       *

The night was dark, the moon troubled by ragged bursts of listless,
heavy clouds. Lance bent almost double and left the shelter of the
black hangar. Feeling his way carefully, he followed the other.

Was this the unknown spy? The spy, going to transmit the news he had
overheard?

Lance muttered a curse. He had no weapon with him; the spy, if he were
a spy, would certainly be armed. But that didn't matter; it was merely
unfortunate. He must track the other down, at all cost.

For some minutes he crept on in this manner. The other kept hurrying
forward. Lance noted a clump of brush far ahead; the figure was
evidently making for this. And sure enough, as if acting directly on
Lance's thought, the dark form entered the patch of growth--and did
not come out on the other side.

Lance broke into a trot, eyes wary and alert for sign of his prey. At
any second he might be greeted by a salvo of bullets, and every fiber
of his lean body was taut.

As he approached the clump of brush he dropped to the ground, and came
finally to it on his belly. From a distance of about ten feet, he rose
and charged.

Expecting each moment to hear the spit of a revolver, he was more
alarmed by what actually did greet him.

Nothing. The patch of brush was empty!

"Well I'll be damned!" Lance murmured. "Where did he get to?"

He gazed around, bewildered. The growth of bush was about ten feet
wide. On either side the flat Nevada plain stretched away--empty. No
figure was visible.

Lance was utterly baffled. The fellow had vanished as if by magic.
Flown away into thin air!

       *       *       *       *       *

The young captain stood quite still, listening, probing his puzzled
brain.

Then, like a cat, he dropped to the ground again, and pressed an ear
to it. For his ears had caught a tiny betraying hum.

A hum! There was a machine of some type near him. He listened
intently. The hum came from the ground on which he lay. There had to
be a trap-door.

Lance's fingers scrabbled around, and presently found what they looked
for.

He seized the ring which enabled one to pull the trap-door back, and
was just about to pull when he heard, from below, a voice speaking in
Russian. It was, then, the spy!

Lance grasped the ring anew, and, exerting all his strength, hauled
the trap-door back.

A narrow passageway was revealed, lit by a lamp. The hum burst with
doubled force on his ears. He plunged down, fists clenched, and half
tumbled into a tiny room gouged from the soil.

At one end was a mass of machinery, and a microphone hung suspended
before it. And speaking into the microphone was the heavy-set form of
a man in American uniform, his back to Lance. As the latter charged
down, he rose with an alarmed shout, and wheeled around.

"My God!" breathed Lance.

It was Ranth, Colonel Douglas' orderly!

       *       *       *       *       *

Ranth!

His dark face flushed with fury, he came leaping from his seat. The
wicked little revolver hung at his belt sprang out, but Lance's right
fist shot forward, knocked Ranth's hand high and sent the gun
clattering to the ground. Then, for a moment, they faced each other,
the hum of the radiophone droning an ominous accompaniment.

"You!" Lance muttered. "So you were the spy!"

Ranth answered him with a choked oath and leaped forward again.

There were no niceties to that combat. It was a matter of life and
death, and each knew it. Ranth would kill him, Lance knew, if he
possibly could; and he, he had to kill or capture Ranth. Otherwise the
news of the Torpedo Plan would go through, Ranth would return to the
base, and the secret of the hidden radio never be known. Another would
be put in Lance's place; and when Hay kept his rendezvous at Sola
Ranch....

He had to win.

No effort was made at defense, for those first few furious minutes. A
veritable fusillade of hurtling fists stormed through the air. They
each gave and took equally. Then Ranth's heavy shoulders bunched;
cunningly he feinted, then, whirling, swung a vicious right hand smash
to Lance's chin.

Lance reeled, fell, seeing Ranth's hate-contorted visage dance queerly
in the close air before him. The orderly clutched for his revolver,
and Lance bounded up as if spring-impelled, nailed the other with two
lightninglike jabs and unleashed all his strength in an uppercut
which sprawled Ranth in a limp, quivering heap.

       *       *       *       *       *

Panting, Lance surveyed him, then turned to get the gun. He felt the
shock of thudding flesh in his legs, and fell again with Ranth
scrambling on top of him. Steel-ribbed hands pounced on his throat,
gouged savagely, while the man above grunted thick curses from his
slavering mouth. Lance struggled fiercely; saw a curtain of black rush
down. Desperately he hooked a booted leg up, craned it over Ranth's
back, tugged. The terrible fingers loosened. Lance shook them off,
rolled the other over and leaped once more to his feet, right hand
clenched and ready.

Ranth staggered up. The young man measured him, pivoted, and smashed
his beefy jaw with a clean swing that had every ounce of Lance's hard
young body behind it.

The orderly shot back as if struck by a locomotive. He crashed into
the radiophone, splintered the delicate instruments and slumped, eyes
glazed, to the ground.

He was out. Dead out.

But how much bad he got through on the radiophone before being
stopped?

Had he told where the rendezvous, was to be? Told the time and place,
and warned the Slavs to look for Hay?

Lance sighed, and was conscious that his left eye was rapidly closing,
that a lip was split and his whole body sore. He slung Ranth over his
shoulders and trudged wearily back to the base.

He told his story to Colonel Douglas' amazed ears. Ranth, come back to
life, was slapped in handcuffs, and for some time the colonel put him
through a stern inquisition.

But his lips were sealed. He would not divulge how much he had
succeeded in passing on to the Slavs.

"A brave man," Douglas observed grimly when Ranth was carried off to
the brig, "but it's death for him, the same as it would be death for
Hay were he caught."

"I don't think he had a chance to get much across, sir," Lance said.
"I was right on him almost as soon as he got there. You won't let this
cancel our rendezvous?"

Douglas' thin lips smiled narrowly. "No. You'll be taking a greater
chance, Lance, but we must gamble on how much the Slavs know. You're
game, aren't you?"

"Yes, sir!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Wednesday night came. Thunderstorms muttered to each other on the
lowering horizons; gusts of fierce, wind-driven rain slanted down on
the dripping base; occasionally a crooked finger of lightning probed
the black sky and lit the whole sopping countryside with a searing,
flashing glare.

The night patrol had taken off. A single plane, wet and gleaming under
the sobbing heavens, stood on the tarmac, two heavily coated figures
before it. Presently three more figures, carrying some bulky black
object carefully between them, emerged from one of the buildings.
Tenderly they placed this object in the lone plane, which had been
stripped of radio outfit and gas bomb compartment to provide room.
Then the two original figures were left alone once more before the
fighting machine. Far to the rear, the heavy American guns barked in
their regular nightly bombardment.

"A good night for it," Colonel Douglas, scanning the sky, said, "and
also a bad one. If only that damned lightning would stop!"

Lance, pulling on thick gloves, did not reply. The colonel consulted
his watch.

"What time do you make it?" he asked.

"Exactly eight," the other answered.

"Right. At eight-six, you leave. At nine, on the dot, you meet Hay at
Sola Ranch. At nine-ten, the torpedoes take off. At quarter to ten,
they arrive over their destination--San Francisco and the surrounding
territory. And quarter to ten, if things go correctly--which they
must!--is the minute that ends the Slavish invasion of America. At ten
minutes to ten, five minutes after the torpedoes strike, our troops
charge forward in general attack. God be with you, Lance! The fate of
America is resting on your shoulders to-night, remember!"

"I'm remembering."

       *       *       *       *       *

Colonel Douglas looked at the young man's grim, set face, looked at
his lithe, clean-limbed figure and his steady black eyes which burned
with a purposeful fire. And the colonel smiled.

"We'll win!" he said.

An orderly sped from his office, saluted, and rapped crisply:

"Order just received from Washington, sir, to proceed."

Lance clasped Douglas' hand, and leaped into the snug, enclosed
cockpit. The four motors bellowed as the thin-sprayed oil cascaded to
them. The helicopter props spun around.

"Go to it, kid!" cried Douglas. "Spy or no spy, you're coming out on
top! And give Hay a last handshake for me!"

And he swung to the salute.

Lance extended his hand. Then he gave his ship the gun, and the tiny,
streamlined scout teetered, roared, and rose with a scream into the
dripping darkness high above.

The Torpedo Plan had started.


PART IV

Lance hung for a moment at one thousand feet. A crack of lightning lit
the base below for a second, and he perceived the colonel's straight
figure with hand outstretched. Lance grinned, and gunned to forty
thousand--an easy flying height, with his superchargers pumping and
air-rectifiers normalizing the enclosed pilot's seat.

"But what," he wondered, as he stopped the helicopters, "did he mean
by 'give a _last_ handshake'?"

He was soon to find out.

Behind him, in the fuselage, nestled the weird cluster of machinery
which was the Singe beacon. It certainly did not look imposing--a mass
of spidery tubes mazing round a bulky black box, which was, Lance
guessed, some new type of generator. Out of the top of the device
sprouted a funnel-like horn, from which, on the adjustment of the
beacon's control studs, shot the nullifying ray. Lance could not
suppress a shiver as he thought of the earth-shaking cataclysm that
ray would conjure from the infinitely high heavens.

At forty thousand feet he was above the storm clouds, whose pitchy,
vapor-drenched blackness effectively blanked out all sign of the
earth. He might have been flying in outer space. Keeping a careful eye
on his instruments, he set a course for Sola Ranch. He kept his speed
around three hundred, wishing to meet Hay exactly at nine.

But--would Hay be there?

How much did the Slavs know? How much had Ranth got through before he
stopped him?

A frown creased his brow. It was best not to puzzle over that
question. Best just to go ahead, and keep going.

       *       *       *       *       *

At about three minutes to nine he set the plane's nose down through
veils of clammy cloud. This was mountainous country, sparsely
patrolled by Slav ships. Lance hovered cautiously over the firred
mountain tops, getting his directions, shooting wary eyes through the
magnifying mirrors in search of enemy scouts. He saw none. Satisfied,
he cut the Rahl-Diesels, gunned the helicopter props and dropped
lightly down on the stubbly field of Sola Ranch.

To left and right loomed the dim outlines of the lonely mountains.
Before the war, the owner of Sola Ranch had grown apples; this field
had housed a few horses. It made a perfect meeting place--secluded,
misty with the clinging mountain vapors, far apart from the war.

Lance felt like a prowling werewolf there, waiting for its ghostly
mate.

Rain was still splattering in desultory bursts, but distance muted the
rumbling salvos' of thunder. His watch told him it was one minute to
nine.

Now--what?

Hay, or a swooping squadron of Slav planes?

Lance stepped out of the cockpit into the rain, though holding himself
tensely ready to leap back again and soar away. He stared around, and
peered above.

Was that a shadow?--a nightmare flying bird?--or a plane?

He grasped a hand-flash, and rapidly signalled his identity. The next
instant, it seemed, the shadow wavered, then fell earthward with great
speed.

Out of the gloom and rain it came--an enemy plane.

It dropped down beside his scout. From its cockpit came a few swift
flashes of light.

Hay!

       *       *       *       *       *

Lance ran eagerly over to the other plane, and out from its enclosed
cabin stepped the man he had known as Praed.

Wordlessly, they gripped hands. Hay's thin, straight face wore a
smile, and he met Lance's eyes keenly. Lance stammered:

"S-sorry, Captain Hay, about--about the way I treated you at the base.
You see, I had no idea who you were."

Hay cut short his apologies with a laugh. "Rot! I'd've been the same
way myself." He glanced rapidly at Lance's plane. "Got it?" he
questioned. "I'm a bit late; had a hell of a time getting here without
arousing suspicion. We'd best hurry."

Lance nodded. They hurried to the Goshawk. As they worked, carefully
lifting out the Singe beacon, Lance, in crisp, short-clipped
sentences, told his companion of Ranth, the spy.

"You don't know how much he got through?"

"No," said Lance. "No."

"Hm-m. Well, we'll have to trust to luck."

"You know the working of the beacon?" Lance asked. On the other's nod
of affirmation he continued: "What's your plan?"

"Light about five miles this side of Frisco itself, just near the main
Slav military base. Anywhere in that territory would do, though. The
beacon doesn't go up in a narrow ray; it spreads, diffuses. The
squadron of torpedoes will cover some fifty or sixty miles of ground,
I believe. They'll utterly demolish the city, and every damned Slav in
it." His face, in the darkness, went grim and hard. "And it'll damn
well pay them back," he rasped, "for the horrible way they massacred
San Francisco's population...."

       *       *       *       *       *

The Singe beacon was in his plane. Hay turned to Lance, stretching out
his hand for a farewell clasp. Then Lance asked the question that had
been worrying him.

"Colonel Douglas told me to give you a last handshake for him. _Last._
Why did he say that?"

"Because," Hay said smilingly, "I'm staying by the beacon to make sure
that nothing goes wrong. I guess that's why he said it, old
fellow...."

Lance gasped: "You're sacrificing your life?"

"Of course. To save seventy-five million others."

Then suddenly they both stared above.

A roar of sound--of purring motors, of props, mixed with the chatter
of a dozen machine-guns--had belched with numbing suddenness from the
low-hanging clouds.

Enemy planes! A patrol of them!

"God!" jerked Lance. "Ranth's warning got through! Part of it,
anyway!"

He leaped for his plane, shouting: "I'll hold 'em off! You get away
_quick_!" and, through a veritable hail of lead, sprang into the
cockpit.

Then, a cold pang at his heart, he sprang out again.

A bullet had caught Hay!

       *       *       *       *       *

For a moment, the Slav fire ceased, while their planes zoomed up to
start another death-dealing dive. And in that moment Lance was at
Hay's side, where he had fallen.

"They--got me," whispered Hay, a stream of blood welling from his
gasping mouth. "I'm--I'm going. C-carry me to--to your plane. I've
still a--a little strength left. You take the beacon. I--I'll hold
them--as--as long as--I can. Put through that beacon, boy! _Put it
though!_"

His brain a maelstrom, Lance stared at the crumpled figure. It was the
only way! He heard the motors above come roaring down again;
desperately he carried the blood-choking Hay to his own plane; propped
him limply at the controls. Bullets spat through a frenzy of noise.
Weakly Hay started the Goshawk's Diesels, and weakly, into Lance's
face, smiled, and beckoned him to leave.

And, as Lance, a grim resolve at his heart, turned, Hay's
blood-frothed lips formed the words: "Carry on!"

Through the raining lead, seeming to bear a charmed life, Lance leaped
to Hay's plane, hearing as he did so his own, with a stricken pilot at
its controls, hurtle upwards.

Carry on! For the life of America!

Carry on!

       *       *       *       *       *

Ten minutes past the hour of nine. A full thousand miles behind the
lines, on the wide black field of America's major war base, a small
group of men stood, surveying the awesome weapons assembled there.

Row upon row of huge, dully-gleaming cigar-shaped things stretched
away into the darkness before them. There were only one or two faint
lights to give illumination, and the night choked in on them, making
them terrifying.

They resembled, more than anything else, half-sized dirigibles, being
roughly about one hundred feet long and perhaps as much as thirty
feet high. At first sight, they seemed to be numberless; then, as the
bewildered eye became more sane, one could count them and see that
there were, in reality, about thirty. Their prows were stubby; in the
port side of each a tiny trap-door yawned, and standing by every
trap-door was the overall-clad figure of a mechanic, waiting for the
signal.

The Commander of the American Air Force looked up from his
wrist-watch. At his side was a peculiar gnomelike figure, a figure
with hunched, twisted back and huge, over-heavy head. This was
Professor Singe, and from that ridiculous head had come the germ which
had finally expanded into the torpedoes arrayed before him.

His eyes were nervous; his crooked face twitched ceaselessly. "Time?"
he kept asking. "Time? Is it yet time?" And finally the tall figure of
the Commanding Officer turned and rapped: "Time!"

       *       *       *       *       *

An aide-de-camp raised a hand. As if working by some mechanical
device, the figure which stood by each torpedo climbed through the
trap-doors, jumped out a second later, and came running to the head of
the field.

"About thirty seconds," muttered Singe nervously, eyes alight. "Thirty
seconds for their motors to catch the stream. Thirty--ah!"

For the squadron of man-made horrors had stirred.

"God pity San Francisco!" murmured the Commanding Officer, and stepped
back involuntarily as the whole fleet lifted their glyco-scarzite
crammed bellies from the field and, as if moved by some magical,
unseen, unheard force, shot up into the darkness with ever gathering
speed.

"God pity it, indeed!" chuckled Singe exultantly. "It'll need it!"

The C. O. sighed and shook his head slowly. "War!" he mused. "And yet,
it's our only chance." For a moment he paused, seemingly unconscious
of the macabre little form next to him, still gazing aloft at the now
invisible torpedoes, and then muttered:

"And God pity Basil Hay, who's giving his life to America--a glorious,
unselfish hero. God pity Basil Hay!"

       *       *       *       *       *

American flyers never knew of Basil Hay's last fight. Had they, it
would have become legendary.

For Hay fought a grim battle against two foes. One, he could face and
conquer, as he had conquered often before. But the other lurked next
to his dauntless heart, and it Hay could not subdue.

It was death.

Truly, Hay's fight there in the wet clouds above Sola Ranch was an
inspired one. He fought almost by instinct alone, instinct twenty
years of piloting had planted deep in his veins. He fought for
Lance--for America. His eyes, glazing rapidly, could not distinguish
the roaring phantoms that laced around his lone plane, but uncannily
his bursts of fire went home again and again, while theirs ripped
aimlessly over the Goshawk's hell-driven snout.

Of course it could not last. Gallant spirit alone kept Basil Hay taut
at his controls. Spirit alone thrust back the ever-increasing surge of
black oblivion that pounded at his heart and brain. Spirit alone sent
the pitifully outnumbered plane corkscrewing in peerless maneuverings
that baffled the on-passing Slavs and thrust four of them to the
sodden ground in flame. Spirit that would not surrender--but had to.

They could never have conquered Basil Hay in a plane. An ambushing
bullet that caught him off guard did that. And finally Hay fell.

But he had kept them for ten full minutes. Ten minutes--each one a
lasting, mute testimony to his unquenchable, unyielding spirit.

He flung a last salvo from his hot machine-guns, then, heart numbing,
jerked back the control-stick and careened high. He slumped down. The
plane paused, wallowed crazily for a moment, and then roared
earthward, "Carry on!" formed faintly on its dead pilot's bloody lips.

Basil Hay had fought his last fight.

Ten minutes....

Lance hadn't expected that long. He'd thought Hay would die in a few
seconds. The man was mortally wounded; could not last.

Nevertheless, minutes or seconds, he was entrusted with the Singe
beacon, and it was his job and his will to put it through.

He'd climbed the Slav plane up to its ceiling, driven it till it
simply refused to go higher, and then roared on towards San Francisco.
Each second he expected to see others come hurtling after him. When
they did not, he knew how really great Hay's will was. It was an
inspiring example.

But his brain was tortured by a multitude of conflicting doubts. A
patrol of Slav scouts had ambushed them. Just how much did the Slavs
know, then, about the torpedoes?

He, Lance, had to guide the Singe beacon. Quickly he reviewed what Hay
had told him.

"Light about five miles this side of Frisco. Anywhere in that
territory would do, though. The beacon doesn't go up in a narrow ray;
it spreads, diffuses."

_Spreads, diffuses._

Hay had been clad in Slav uniform, and thus could, with a certain
measure of safety, put the beacon machinery on the ground itself. But
Lance was in American uniform; if he landed, he ran great risk of
being noticed and attacked at once.

Lance saw immediately that there was only one way out. It was sure
death, but Hay had expected death, and so must he.

His lips set in stern resolve. It meant good-by--farewell to the girl
he'd left behind, farewell to life, farewell to everything--but not
for a second did he debate the course he would take.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lance glanced at his watch. Nine-thirty. The torpedoes were even now
on their way, hurtling along miles above the earth. In fifteen minutes
they would be over San Francisco. In fifteen minutes the Singe beacon
had to meet them.

He was not familiar with the Slav plane's instruments, but he judged
he'd traveled some hundred and twenty-five miles; was nearing the
outskirts of San Francisco. The air below would be thick, probably,
with enemy scouts, but his appearance should pass unchallenged as long
as they didn't glimpse his betraying uniform.

He set the plane's nose down in a long slanting dive.

Whipping through the clouds, the guarding search-rays of San Francisco
were soon visible. Lance saw a few patrols of enemy scouts; he clung
to the clouds, decreased his speed, and began circling over the heart
of the metropolis itself.

Twenty to ten.

Occasionally a Slav plane flashed by him. Thank God, they didn't
challenge! Lance went still lower. Finally, at a thousand feet, he set
the helicopter props in motion and hung in mid-air--directly above the
very center of the city.

Sixteen minutes to ten.

Now!

       *       *       *       *       *

In the American front-line trenches, massed troops crouched
expectantly. Clustered on every air base were flights of planes, each
one crammed with bombs. Far behind, the Yank gun-crews edged nervously
up to their mighty charges, and fingered anxiously the stubby gas
shells which soon would be flung through the dripping night.

And at Base No. 5 a very uneasy Colonel Douglas paced back and forth
in his office, muttering: "No news from Lance! No news from Lance!
God! He can't have failed! But why doesn't he show up?"

He had not failed.

Hovering in the plane over San Francisco Lance squirmed round in his
seat, reached back into the fuselage, and pressed rapidly the studs on
the Singe beacon. A high whining noise pierced instantly through the
plane. And up stabbed the beacon, invisible, deadly--up, up, up to a
thin realm miles above, where it flashed into an awesome squadron of
terrible shells of steel!

Shells that, a second later, wavered, staggered, and plunged
earthward!

And Lance tensed in his seat. From above, he caught a tiny whistling
noise--a whistling that hurtled into a terrific shriek--that roared
ever closer.

"Carry on!" he muttered. "Carry on!"

The words froze on his lips, for the world was suddenly consumed, it
seemed, by flame and splitting, bellowing thunder.

       *       *       *       *       *

The American guns spoke.

From every aerodrome long flights of scouts and bombers and transport
planes roared upward.

In the front trenches the troops, still somewhat dazed by the
earth-shaking explosion that had just tumbled from the far horizon--a
horizon still lit by leaping tongues of awful flame--poured over the
top, gas-masks on, repeaters and portable machine-guns at the ready,
with a fierce cry on their lips.

Before that avenging attack the Slavs, their very spine broken,
bewildered and confused, already turning in panic, could not stand.

America swept to the Pacific, and left death in her wake. And when she
came to San Francisco, not even the sternest fighting men, still hot
from battle, could repress a shudder, so awful was the devastation.

The Slav invasion was over!

       *       *       *       *       *

In the rebuilt city of San Francisco there is a statue that stands
proudly before the magnificent, gleaming city hall.

It represents two slim, straight-standing figures, clad in the uniform
of the American Air Force. Their outstretched arms support a tiny
one-seater Goshawk fighting plane.

Below, as you know, there is a plaque. Men touch their hats as they
walk by it; flowers are always fresh at its base. On the plaque are
the words:

                To The Everlasting
                    Memory Of

             Captain Basil Hay, A.A.F.
             Captain Derek Lance, A.A.F.

           Who, In The War Of 1938, Gave
           Their Lives In Destroying And
             Devastating San Francisco
           That San Francisco And America
                     Might Live


[Illustration: Advertisement.]



The Tentacles From Below

A COMPLETE NOVELETTE

_By Anthony Gilmore_

CHAPTER I

"_Machine-Fish_"

[Illustration: _Bowman hooked it on the hawser arm above._]

[Sidenote: Down to tremendous ocean depths goes Commander Keith Wells
in his blind duel with the marauding "machine-fish."]


"Full stop. Rest ready."

These words glowed in vivid red against the black background of the
_NX-1's_ control order-board. A wheel was spun over, a lever pulled
back, and in the hull of the submarine descended the peculiar silence
found only in mile-deep waters. Men rested at their posts, eyes alert.

Above, in the control room, Hemingway Bowman, youthful first officer,
glanced at the teleview screen and swore softly.

"Keith," he said, "between you and me, I'll be damned glad when this
monotonous job's over. I joined the Navy to see the world, but this
charting job's giving me entirely too many close-ups of the deadest
parts of it!"

Commander Keith Wells. U. S. N., grinned broadly. "Well," he remarked,
"in a few minutes we can call it a day--or night, rather--and then
it's back to the _Falcon_ while the day shift 'sees the world.'" He
turned again to his dials as Hemmy Bowman, with a sigh, resumed work.

"Depth, six thousand feet. Visibility poor. Bottom eight thousand," he
said into the phone hung before his lips, and fifty feet aft, in a
small cubby, a blue-clad figure monotonously repeated the observations
and noted them down in an official geographical survey report.

       *       *       *       *       *

Such had been their routine for two tiring weeks, all part of the
_NX-l's_ present work of re-charting the Newfoundland banks.

As early as 1929 slight cataclysms had begun to tear up the sea-floor
of this region, and of late--1935--seismographs and cable companies
had reported titanic upheavals and sinkings of the ocean bed, changing
hundreds of miles of underwater territory. Finally Washington decided
to chart the alterations this series of sub-sea earthquakes had
wrought.

And for this job the _NX-1_ was detailed. A super-submarine fresh from
the yards, small, but modern to the last degree, she contained such
exclusive features as a sheathing of the tough new glycosteel,
automatic air rectifiers, a location chart for showing positions of
nearby submarines, the newly developed Edsel electric motors, and
automatic teleview screen. When below surface she was a sealed tube of
metal one hundred feet long, and possessed of an enormous cruising
radius. From the flower of the Navy some thirty men were picked, and
in company with the mother-ship _Falcon_ she put out to combine an
exhaustive trial trip with the practical charting of the newly changed
ocean floor.

Now this work was almost over. Keith Wells told himself that he, like
Bowman, would be glad to set foot on land again. This surveying was
important, of course, but too dry for him--no action. He smiled at the
lines of boredom on Hemmy's brow as the younger man stared gloomily
into the teleview screen.

And then the smile left his lips. The radio operator, in a cubby
adjoining the control room, had spoken into the communication tube:

"Urgent call for you, sir! From Captain Knapp!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Wells reached out and clipped a pair of extension phones over his
ears. The deep voice of Robert Knapp, captain of the mother-ship
_Falcon_, came ringing in. It was strained with an excitement unusual
to him.

"Wells? Knapp speaking. Something damned funny's just happened near
here. You know the fishing fleet that was near us yesterday morning?"

"Yes?"

"Well, the whole thing's gone down! Destroyed, absolutely! The sea's
been like glass, the weather perfect--yet from the wreckage, what
there is of it, you'd think a typhoon had struck! I can't begin to
explain it. No survivors, either, so far, though we're hunting for
them."

"You say the boats are completely destroyed?"

"Smashed like driftwood. I tell you it's preposterous--and yet it's
the fact. I think you'd better return at once, old man; you're only
half an hour off. And come on the surface; it's getting light now, and
you might pick up something. God knows what this means, Keith, but
it's up to us to find out. It's--it's got me...."

His tones were oddly disturbed--almost scared--and this from a man who
didn't know what fear was.

"But Bob," Keith asked, "how did you--"

"Stand by a minute! The lookout reports survivors!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Wells turned to meet Bowman's inquisitive face. He quickly repeated
the gist of Knapp's weird story. "We saw them at dusk, last
evening--remember? And now they're gone, destroyed. What can have done
it?"

For some minutes the two surprised men speculated on the strange
occurrence. Then Knapp's voice again rang in the headphones.

"Wells? My God, man, this is getting downright fantastic! We've just
taken two survivors on board; one's barely alive and the other crazy.
I can't get an intelligible thing from him; he keeps shrieking about
writhing arms and awful eyes--and monsters he calls 'machine-fish'!"

"You're sure he's insane?"

Robert Knapp's voice hesitated queerly.

"Well, he's shrieking about 'machine-fish'--fish with machines over
them!... I--I'm going to broadcast the whole story to the land
stations. 'Machine-fish'! I don't know.... I don't know.... You'd
better hurry back, Wells!"

He rang off.

       *       *       *       *       *

Keith slipped off the headphones and told Bowman what he had learned.
Hardy, staunchly built craft, those fishing boats were; born in the
teeth of gales. What horror could have ripped them--all of them--to
driftwood, with the weather perfect? And a half-mad survivor, raving
about "machine-fish"!

"Such things are preposterous," Bowman commented scornfully.

"But--the fleet's gone, Hemmy," Keith replied. "Anyway, we'll speed
back, and see what it's all about."

He punched swift commands on the control studs. "Empty Tanks, Zoom to
Surface, Full Speed," the crimson words glared down below, and the
_NX-1_ at once shoved her snout up, trembling as her great electric
motors began their pulsing whine. The delicate fingers of the massed
dials before Keith danced exultantly. The depth-levels tolled out:

"Seven thousand ... six thousand ... five thousand--"

"Keith! Look there!"

Hemmy Bowman was pointing with amazement at the location chart, a
black mesh screen that showed the position of other submarines within
a radius of two miles. In one corner, a spot of vivid red was shining.

"But it can't be a submarine!" Wells objected. "Our reports would have
mentioned it!"

The two officers stared at each other.

"'Machine-fish!'" Bowman whispered softly. "If there were machines,
the metal would register on the chart."

"It must be them!" the commander roared, coming out of his daze. "And,
by God, we're going after them!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Rapidly he brought the _NX-1_ out of her zoom to the surface, and left
her at four thousand feet, in perfect trim, while he read the
instruments closely.

A green spot in the center of the location chart denoted the _NX-1's_
exact position. A distance of perhaps forty inches separated it from
the red light on the meshed screen--which represented, roughly, a mile
and a half. Below the chart was a thick dial, over which a black hand,
indicating the mysterious submersible's approximate depth, was slowly
moving.

"He's sinking--whatever he is," Keith muttered to Hemmy. "Hey, Sparks!
Get me Captain Knapp."

A moment later the connection was put through.

"Bob? This is Wells again. Bob, our location chart shows the presence
of some strange undersea metallic body. It can't be a submarine, for
my maritime reports would show its presence. We think it has some
connection with the 'machine-fish' that survivor raved about. At any
rate, I'm going after it. The world has a right to know what destroyed
that fishing fleet, and since the _NX-1_ is right on the spot it's my
duty to track it down. Re-broadcast this news to land stations, will
you? I'll keep in touch with you."

Knapp's voice came soberly back. "I guess you're right, Keith; it's up
to you.... So long, old man. Good luck!"

       *       *       *       *       *

In Wells' veins throbbed the lust for action. With control studs at
hand, location chart and teleview screen before his eyes and fifteen
men waiting below for his commands, he had no fear of any monster the
underseas might spew up. He glanced swiftly at the location chart and
depth indicator again.

The mysterious red spot was slowly coming across the _NX-1's_ bows at
a distance of about one mile. Keith punched a stud, and, as his craft
filled her tank and slipped down further into deep water, he spoke to
Hemmy Bowman.

"Take control for a minute. Keep on all speed, and follow 'em like a
bloodhound. I'm going below."

He strode down the connecting ramp to the lower deck, where he found
fifteen men standing vigilantly at posts. At once Keith plunged into a
full explanation of what he had learned up in the control room. He
concluded:

"A great moral burden rests on us--every one of us--as we will soon
come face to face with a possible world menace. Anything may happen. A
state of war exists on this submarine. You will be prepared for any
wartime eventuality!"

Sobered faces greeted this announcement, and perceptibly the men
straightened and held themselves more alertly. Wells at once returned
to the control room. A glance at the location chart and its two tiny
lights told him that the intervening distance had been decreased to
about half a mile.

The depth dial showed them both to be two miles below, and steadily
diving lower. Charts showed the sea-floor to be three miles deep in
this position, and that meant--

"Look there!" exclaimed the first officer suddenly. "It's changing
course!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The crimson stud had suddenly shifted its course, and now was fleeing
directly before them. For a moment the distance between the green and
red lights remained constant--and then Keith Wells stared
unbelievingly at the chart, wiped a hand across his eyes and stared
again.

"Why--why, the devils are as fast as we!" he exclaimed in amazement.
"I think they're even gaining on us!"

"And there's no other submarine in the world that can do more than
thirty under water!" Hemmy Bowman added. "We're hitting a full
forty-one!"

A call came through the communication tube from Sparks. "Report from
Consolidated Radio News-Broadcasters, sir, aimed especially at us."

"Well?" asked Keith, motioning Hemmy to listen in. Sparks read it.

"'A week ago Atlantic City reported that seven men were snatched off
fishing boat by unidentified tentacled monsters. Testimony of
witnesses was discredited, but was later corroborated by the almost
identical testimony of other witnesses at Brighton Beach, England, who
saw man and woman taken by mysterious monsters whilst bathing.'
Perhaps these same creatures destroyed the Newfoundland fishing
fleet." His level voice ceased.

"Tentacled monsters ... 'machine-fish,'" Wells murmured slowly.
"'Machine-fish.'..."

Their eyes met, the same wonder in each. "Well," Keith rapped at
last, "we're seeing this through!"

       *       *       *       *       *

He turned again to the location chart. The green spot as always was in
the center, and at a constant distance was the red, showing that the
_NX-1_ was hot on the other's trail. The depth dials indicated that
both were diving deeper every moment.

"Where in hell's it going?" the commander rasped. "We'll be on the
floor in a few minutes!"

Here the teleview showed the world to be one of fantasy, one to which
the sun did not exist. It was not an utter, pitchy blackness that
pervaded the water, but rather a peculiar, dark blueness. No fish
schools, Keith noted, scurried from them. They had already left these
waters; aware, perhaps, of the passing Terror....

They plunged lower yet. Wells was conscious of Hemmy Bowman's quick,
uneven breathing. Conscious of the tautness of his own nerves, strung
like quivering violin strings. Conscious of the terrific walls of
water pressing in on them. And conscious of the men below, their lives
bound implicitly in his will and brain....

A thought came to him, and quickly he reached into a rack for the
chart of the local sea-floor. His brow creased with puzzlement as he
studied it.

"Here's more mystery, Hemmy," he muttered. "Look--there's an
underwater cliff about half a mile dead ahead. It rises to within four
thousand feet of the surface. And that thing out there is charging
straight into its base!"

"They must be aware of it," jerked the other. "See?--they've stopped!"

       *       *       *       *       *

It was true. The gulf between the two colored spots was rapidly being
swallowed up. At a pulsing forty-one knots the _NX-1_ was closing in
on the motionless mystery craft.

"They're sinking to the floor itself," observed Wells. "Perhaps
waiting to attack."

The invisible beams from their ultra-violet light-beacons streamed
through the silent gloom outside, yet still the teleview screen was
empty. Keith punched a stud, and the _NX-1's_ whining motors dulled to
a scarcely audible purr.

"What is the thing?" muttered Hemmy Bowman. "God, Keith, what _is_
it?"

For answer, the commander dropped them the last five hundred feet. The
sea-floor rose like a gray ghost. More control studs were pushed; the
order-board below read: "All Power Off, Rest in Trim." The location
chart told a tale that wrung a gasp from Bowman's throat. The red and
green lights were practically touching....

The hands of Petty Officer Brown, the helmsman, were quivering on the
helm. Wells' fists kept tensing and relaxing as he peered for a sight
of the enemy in the teleview. Nothing showed but the moving fingers of
spectral kelp. Then both he and Bowman cried out as one:

"_There!_"


CHAPTER II

_The Silent Ray_

A strange shape had suddenly materialized on the screen--an immense,
oval-shaped thing of dull metal, with great curving cuts of glass-like
substance in its blunt bow, like staring eyes; a lifeless, staring
thing, stretching far into the curtain of gloom behind. How long it
was, Keith could not tell; at first his numb brain refused to grasp it
and reduce it to definite, sane standards of size and length. The cold
weeds of the sea-floor kelp beds swayed eerily over and around it.
From its bow, he saw, peculiar knobs jutted, the function of which he
guessed with dread.

Was it waiting with a purpose? Was it waiting--and inviting attack?

A frightened whisper from Hemmy Bowman broke the hush:

"Keith, the thing has ports, but shows no lights! What kind of
creatures can they be?"

As he spoke, the three men in the control room felt the unmistakable,
jarring tingle of an electric shock. And while their nerves still
jumped, it came again; and again. They were conscious of a slight
feeling of drowsiness.

Keith gaped at Bowman and Brown, and then a flash on the teleview
screen drew his eyes. There, against the blackness of its otherwise
inanimate hulk, one of the jutting knobs on the bow of the mysterious
submarine was glowing and pulsing with orange life! With it came the
tingling shock again. It flicked off as they watched, then returned
and went once more.

"They're attacking, but thank God the shock was harmless!" Wells said
grimly. "All right; they've asked for it: I'm going to see how they
like the taste of a torpedo!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The two submarines were resting on the ocean floor with perhaps two
hundred feet between them. The _NX-1's_ bow tubes were not exactly in
line to score a direct hit; she would have to be maneuvered slightly
to port. The range was short; the explosion from the torpedoes would
be titanic.

Keith punched the control studs, ordering the men below to assume
firing stations. Then, while waiting for the _NX-1_ to shift, he
studied the teleview screen to sight the range exactly. The black dot
which represented the enemy craft was not directly on the crossed
hair-lines of the dial-like range-finder, but shifting the _NX-1_ a
few feet would bring it to the perfect firing point.

But the _NX-1_ did not budge.

Surprised, her commander swung and looked at Bowman. "What the devil?"
he cried. "Did that shock--?" He left the dread thought unfinished and
leaped to the speaking tubes.

"Craig! Jones! Wetherby!" he yelled. "Men! Don't you hear me? Aren't
you--"

He broke off, wordless, waiting for an answer that did not come, then
sprang to the connecting ramp and ran to the deck below.

The scene he found halted him abruptly in his tracks. Every member of
the crew was sprawled on the deck, in grotesque, limp postures. They
had been standing rigidly at posts, he saw, when the thing, whatever
it was, had struck. Without a sound, without a single cry of alarm,
the _NX-1's_ crew had been laid low!

       *       *       *       *       *

The commander slowly advanced to the deck and stared more closely at
the upturned faces around him. He saw that every man's eyes were open.

Bending over one still form, he pressed his hand on the heart. It was
beating! The man was alive! Amazed, he moved to another and another:
they were all breathing, slowly and regularly--were all alive! A
curious look in their eyes staggered him for a moment. He could swear
that they recognized him, knew he was staring at them--for every
single pair was alight with intelligence, and Keith fancied he saw
gleams of recognition.

"It must have been a paralyzing ray!" he gasped. "A thing our
scientists've been trying to develop for years.... And that monster
outside knows the secret...." He lifted an arm of the inert figure at
his feet; when he released the grip, it flopped limply back to the
deck again.

"_Keith! Come back, quick!_"

Startled, the commander turned to find Hemingway Bowman at the top of
the connecting ramp, his face distorted with alarm.

"For God's sake, come back quick!" he yelled again. "Down there the
ray might get you!"

With the words, Wells leaped to the ramp and raced to the control
room. He had no sooner made it than he felt again the queer tingle of
the electric charge. He found himself trembling. Bowman's face was
white. His words came stuttering.

"One second later and they'd have got you.... They got Sparks in his
cubby.... You see, the ray doesn't affect us in the control room
because--"

"Because the Gibson insulation that protects the instruments keeps it
out!" Keith finished grimly. "I see!"

Just then a slight jar ran through the submarine. Coincident with it
came a cry from Brown, the helmsman. His arm was pointed at the
teleview.

There they saw the enemy's mighty dirigible of metal was now within
thirty feet of the _NX-1._ It had crept up silently, without warning.
And, spanning the short gulf between them, an arm of webbed metal
craned from the other's huge bow, hooking tightly into the American
submarine's forward hawser holes!

As they took this in, the enemy ship moved away and the arm of metal
tightened. The _NX-1_ shuddered. And, at first slowly, but with ever
increasing speed, she got under way and slid after her captor. They
were being towed away. Kidnaped! Men, submarine and all!

       *       *       *       *       *

Keith Wells mopped sweat from a hot brow and rapidly reviewed his
weapons. He was sorely restricted. Through an emergency system the
_NX-1_ could be propelled and maneuvered from her control room; but
the torpedo tubes needed local attendance.

"Hemmy, reverse engines," he jerked, himself spinning over a small
wheel. "Let's see if we can out-pull the devil!"

At once they felt the shock of the paralyzing ray, and then the
surging whine of the Edsel electrics pulsed up and in the teleview
screen they watched the grim struggle of ship against ship.

Imperceptibly, almost, as her screws cut in and churned, the forward
progress of the _NX-1_ was slowing, the speed of the other being cut
down, until finally they but barely forged ahead. Slowly, ever so
slowly they were out-pulled; inch by inch they were dragged ahead.
Their motors could not hold even.

"She's more powerful than we!" Wells' bitter voice spoke. "Damn!" He
thought desperately, while Bowman and Brown stared at the fantastic
tale the teleview spelled out.

Again the paralyzing shock tingled, an intangible jailer that bound
them, more surely than steel bars, to the control room. To dare that
streaming barrage meant instant impotence, and perhaps, later,
death....

"Our two bow torpedoes," Keith mused slowly. "We're a bit close, but
it's our only chance. The ray comes at intervals of about a minute;
the torps are ready for firing. If one of us could dash forward and
discharge 'em.... Brown, that's you!"

The petty officer met his commander's gaze levelly. He smiled. "Yes,
sir, I'm ready!" he said.

"Good! It'll have to be quick work, though; I'll try and keep the sub
pointed straight. Wait for the ray, then run like hell!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The first officer took over the helm and Brown stepped to the forward
ladder, waiting for the periodic ray to be discharged.

The odd tingle came and vanished. "Now!" Wells roared, and Brown
leaped down the thin steel rungs.

He staggered at the bottom from the force of his impact, then
straightened and raced madly forward. Through the drone of the motors
the two officers could hear the staccato beat of his feet.

But their eyes were glued to the teleview. Through clutching beds of
seaweed the enemy submarine was ploughing. Her great, smooth bow lay
straight ahead, metal hawser arm spanning the thirty feet between
them. In another second, Keith thought grimly, two dynamite packed
tubes of sudden death would thunderbolt into that hull, and--

Brown pulled the lever.

The tubes spat out compressed air; a scream ran through the submarine;
and the two steel fish leaped from their sheaths, their tiny props
roaring. Over the narrow gulf they shot; the range was short, their
target dead ahead--and yet by bare inches they missed!

No answering roar bellowed back. Keith had watched their course; had
seen them flash by the enemy's bow, flicking it with their rudders,
but nothing more. "Why?" he cried. And, as Bowman moved his hands in a
hopeless gesture, he saw in the teleview the reason.

It was a jagged pinnacle of rock, which, just before Brown had fired,
had been straight ahead. The towing monster had seen it and veered
sharply to avoid crashing. The barest change of course, yet sufficient
to avoid the torpedoes....

       *       *       *       *       *

Wells and Bowman were cursing savagely when the sound of Brown, racing
desperately aft, jerked the commander to the ladder. He saw the petty
officer at its foot. "Hurry!" Wells shouted. "The ray!"

Brown grasped the steel rungs and scrambled upward, but he was too
late. The fatal charge tingled. A peculiar, surprised expression
washed over his face; his hands loosened their grip. For a second his
eyes looked questioningly at his commander; a faint sigh escaped him;
and then his arms flung out, his body relaxed, and he slumped like a
slab of meat to the deck below....

Keith Wells saw red. Blind to everything, he was just about to charge
down the ladder to himself re-load the forward tubes when the grip of
Hemmy Bowman's hand stayed him. The thing Hemmy was staring at in the
teleview screen sobered him completely.

The wall of rock to which the enemy submarine had first been charging
had become visible, soaring vastly from the gloom of the sea-floor.
And the monster was towing them straight into a dark, jagged cleft at
its base.

"It's a cavern!" Keith breathed. "A split in the rock--the lair of
that devil. And we're being dragged into it!"


CHAPTER III

_Sacrifice_

At that moment Keith Wells knew fear. Each second they were being
hauled closer to the monster's dim lair. It lay there, dark,
mysterious, fingered by gently swaying, clammy kelp. A hushed solitude
seemed to reign over it, aweing all undersea life from the
vicinity.... Wells turned his head to meet Bowman's eyes, and read in
them a silent question.

What now?

He groaned in the agony of his mind. In a few minutes, all would be
over. Once the _NX-1_ was dragged into that dark cavern there'd be no
chance of escaping to warn the world above, of saving the submarine.
What now? The question brought beads of sweat to his tormented brow.
He, Keith Wells, standing impotently by while his ship, the pride of
the service, was hauled inch by inch to some strange doom!

Racked by these thoughts, he murmured tortured, jerky phrases,
unconscious he was giving voice to the things that flogged his brain.

"What can I do? I've got to save my ship--I've got to get back to
break the news--I've got to tell the world! But how? How--" His
expression changed suddenly. "That's it! That hawser arm between us
must be broken!"

"Yes."

First Officer Hemingway Bowman's clear voice broke in on the older
man's thoughts with that one crisp word. Keith swung to find the
other's eyes fixed levelly on his.

"You're right, Keith. The hawser arm must be broken; with a depth
charge, of course. It's the only way.

"To attach a depth charge," he continued evenly, "a man must leave the
ship. You can't, Keith. It will be me."

       *       *       *       *       *

The commander did not speak. "I'll put on a sea-suit," Hemmy went on
quickly, eyes lighting. "You tip the submarine and I'll slide out the
conning tower exit port on the lee side, so they can't see me, and
worm forward through the kelp. We're almost holding them even; that'll
be easy. I'll be protected from the paralyzing shock until the last
second, and it may not get me outside; that'll have to be chanced. The
hawser arm's only some ten feet above the sea-floor; I can reach it
with a hook on the charge." He paused.

"I'll attach it; and when it bursts I'll try to get back and grab that
ring on the midships exit port, and you can let me in when we get to
the surface. But if I take too long, Keith--if I miss--you beat it
without me. You understand? Beat it!"

He gazed straight at his friend. "Understand, Keith?"

Commander Keith Wells bowed his head in acquiescence. He was afraid
that if he met Hemmy Bowman's steady eyes he'd make a fool of
himself....

Hemmy glanced at the screen once more, shivering as he saw how near
the black cavern was. Then he moved rapidly, playing the cards
carefully for his gamble with death. He had to: the trumps were in the
other hand.

From the locker where their sea-suits were stowed he grabbed his own,
and with quick fingers ripped the slides and fitted it on. A sheath of
yellow Lestofabrik, its weighted feet and gleaming casque transformed
his slim figure into a giant such as might stalk through a nightmare.
Built cunningly into the helmet was a tiny radio transmitter and
receiver, with a range of a quarter-mile; hugging to the shoulders,
inside nestled the air-making mechanism, its tiny generators already
in motion. Around the helmet was fastened a small removable
undersea-light. The wrists of the suit were very flexible, permitting
the freest motion.

Once in the suit, Hemmy smiled through the still-opened face-shield.

"Got the depth charge ready, Keith? Make it fast--that cavern's
near!... Good!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Silently the commander fitted the black bomb to his friend's
shoulders. It was timed to fire a minute after being set. A long wire
hook craned from its top, and this hook Bowman would fasten on the
hawser arm.

"Without Sparks, I guess I'll have to communicate with you through
portable," Keith said, and quickly donned one of the tiny portable
sets.

"Right. Ready, Keith."

Bowman started his awkward, crawling progress up the ladder into the
conning tower just above, Keith helping from behind. When they stood
before the exit port on the lee side, Wells shot back its bolts and
the door swung open, revealing the black emptiness of the water
chamber. The commander gazed for a second into Bowman's eyes. The
moment had come.

Keith turned his head away, felt a hand grip his. He wrung it
tightly....

Bowman clumped into the chamber.

The commander closed and locked the door, and he heard the streaming
water pour in as Hemmy turned the valve. Then Wells sped down the
ladder and tilted the diving and course rudders of the submarine.

She swayed daintily over to port; held there. A moment later the
recurring electric tingle brushed him. Had the enemy seen Bowman
leave? Had the ray struck him down?

He glared into the teleview. "Thank God!" he breathed. For Hemmy had
already slid down the _NX-1's_ smooth hull and was safe on the
sea-floor beside her.

"Everything right?" Wells asked, speaking into the microphone of his
portable.

"All O.K.," came the answer. "Going forward now. Kelp thick as hell."

       *       *       *       *       *

Keith's eyes bored at the screen. This misshapen monster who was his
friend! Almost obscured by bands of thick-leaved kelp the yellow form
moved, hands clearing a pathway through the weeds. Slowly but surely
he made for the bow of the submersible.

"Hard going, Keith. God--the cavern's right ahead!"

It was ghostly to hear Hemmy's warm voice from the lifeless solitude
outside. Breath coming quickly, Wells watched the silent scene--the
cleft in the wall of rock overshadowing everything now. The diver
fought ahead, gaining inch by inch.

Now, save for occasional clumps of weed, he was exposed to the
enemy.... Now the last desperate gauntlet was reached.... Keith felt
his blood pound hotly.

"I'm gaining, Keith. Gaining...."

Bowman had little breath for speech. His tiny form battled on, now
sinking from sight as he dropped into some masked gully, now wrestling
slowly with great swaying strands of kelp, but always struggling
ahead.

"I'm at the bow, Keith! The hawser arm's right in our mooring holes.
I'll go halfway before fastening the charge. Any signs of life from
the devil?"

"None yet, Hemmy. But go slow. Hide all you can, old man, for God's
sake!..."

Right beneath the metal arm, Bowman's dwarfed figure crept doggedly
ahead. Forward, inch by breathless inch. Kelp thickened, washed away;
the two hulking submersibles, captor and captive, surged onward--but
just a little faster went the valiant figure with the black charge on
its back.

The towing monster had its snout in the cavern. The darkness
thickened. Bowman was quarter way!

He plunged desperately. Half way!

"I'm there, Keith! Now for it!"

"Oh, God!" Wells cried. "They see you; they're coming!"

For he had seen strange shapes leaving the enemy submarine.

And at that same moment, Bowman saw them, too.

       *       *       *       *       *

They came like the blink of a dark eye from a door that had quickly
slid open in the mysterious ship's bow. As tall as a man they were,
and there were two of them, though at first the nature of their
bodies merged with the wreathing kelp made them seem like a dozen.
Bowman stared at them, hypnotized with fear. His legs and arms went
dead, and his whole gallant spirit seemed to slump into lifeless clay.
Now he knew why the fishermen had shrieked "machine-fish." Each one of
them had eight tapering arms, eight restless tentacles. These were
octopi, most hideous scavengers of the ocean floor! And not only
octopi--but octopi sheathed in metal-scaled armor!

As they came closer, he realized this preposterous fact. The dark
substance of their writhing tentacles was not flesh: it was a coat of
metal scales. And the fat central mass which held their eyes and vital
organs and beaked jaw--this mass was completely enveloped by a globe
of glass. From inside, he could see great eyes staring at him. The
monsters came towards him quite slowly, obviously wary, advancing over
the sea-floor in what was a hideous mockery of walking, their forward
tentacles outstretched.

With a sob, Hemmy Bowman pulled himself from his trance. He glanced
back at the _NX-1_. He still had time to retreat. He might be able to
get back inside before these monsters seized him.

But that meant abandoning his job. And already his own submarine was
nosing into the cavern. The choice between the octopi and retreat
stared him in the face. He pulled himself together and jerked his arms
back to action.

       *       *       *       *       *

Eyes bulging, Keith Wells peered at the dim teleview screen. He saw
the creatures approaching Hemmy. And then, suddenly, he remembered his
radiophone.

"Hemmy! Come back, for God's sake!" he cried. "Come back while you
can--it's hopeless!"

But Bowman had already seized the depth charge from his back and
hooked it on the hawser arm above.

Immediately, with that action, all caution fled from the approaching
monsters. Their tentacles whipped furiously; and in a great arc they
sprang for the tiny figure of the diver.

With a deep breath, Hemmy staggered forward to meet them. "Keith!" he
gasped. "I'll try to hold 'em away from the charge! When it bursts,
zoom! Zoom like hell to the surface!" And then the tentacles had him.

Keith watched, cursing his impotence to help. Hemmy had no weapon; he
was trying to hold them back by the weight of his body; he reached out
and grasped a tentacle and hugged it to him, shoving forward with all
his puny strength. But all his effort was as nothing. One of the
octopi writhed past him and darted onto the depth charge. Its
tentacles tugged at the bomb; pulled furiously.

The time charge exploded. The _NX-1_ rocked like a quivering reed;
Wells was knocked violently to the floor; a vast roar smote his
ear-drums. When he staggered to his feet he found that the octopus
that was pulling at the charge had disappeared--blown into fragments
of flesh and metal. But the hawser arm was broken! The _NX-1_, free,
shot back a full fifty feet under the pull of her reversed screws. A
cry echoed in her commander's ears:

"Go back, Keith! Go like hell!"

He saw the remaining octopus lift Bowman and whip to the exit port of
its submarine. The lid slid into place, closing on the monster and his
friend, and the enemy ship vanished into the black cavern....

       *       *       *       *       *

Once clear of the opening, Keith set his motors full forward and
brought the diving rudders up. Quickly the ship sped from the haunted
sea-floor to the sun-warmed surface. A last thin call rang in his
radiophone:

"They've got me inside, Keith. It's dark, and filled with water. I
can't see anything, but I--I guess we're going through the cavern....
Forget about me, old boy. So long! So--"

The voice was abruptly cut off.

Keith ripped the instrument from his head. Then, face white and drawn,
he ran to the radio cubby. Standing over Sparks' inert body, he put
through a call to Robert Knapp, on the _Falcon_.

"Knapp?" he said harshly. "This is Wells. I'll be with you in a few
minutes. Yes--yes--I'll tell you the whole story later. But get this
now: Have the day shift all ready to take over the submarine by the
time I pull alongside."

He said no more just then; but rang off, and, looking back, he
muttered savagely:

"But I'll be back, Hemmy--I'll be back!"


CHAPTER IV

_In the Cavern_

"That's the story, Knapp. They got Bowman, and I had to run away.
Their ship disappeared into the cavern. I've got a hunch, though, that
it's not just a cavern, but a tunnel, leading through to some
underwater world. That series of sub-sea earthquakes probably opened
it up; and now these devil-octopi are free to pour out. I've _got_ to
find out what's what, and that's why I'm going down again as soon as
the torpedo system's ready!"

Keith and Robert Knapp were in the _Falcon's_ chart room. On the table
before them lay a broad white map with a cross-mark indicating the
position of the mysterious dark cavern.

Wells was striding up and down like a caged tiger in his impatience to
be off. Every other minute he glared down to where the _NX-1_ lay
alongside. On her conning tower stood the tall blond-haired figure of
Graham, the first officer of the day shift, supervising the final
details of the work of installing a system of jury controls whereby
the submarine's torpedoes could be fired from her control room.

Keith stopped short and faced Knapp. "It won't be so one-sided this
time, Bob," he promised. "You see: when the location chart shows the
enemy ship, I'll rush all men into the control room, where the
paralyzing ray can't harm them. I don't know but what they have in
other weapons, but I'm gambling on getting my torps in first. They've
killed Bowman; they've ravaged a whole fishing fleet; they're free to
emerge from their hole and maraud every ocean on the globe! They've
got to be stopped! And since I'm armed and have the only submarine on
the spot, I've got to do it! I know how to fight them now!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Captain Robert Knapp's sense of things was badly disordered. He had
just heard a story which his common sense told him couldn't be true,
but which the evidence of his eyes had grimly authenticated. He had
seen fifteen men slung aboard his ship from the _NX-1's_ silent hull;
men stretched in grotesque, limp attitudes; men struck down by a
paralyzing ray. Why, no nation on earth had developed rays for
warfare! Yet--a crew of helpless men was even then in the sick bay,
receiving attention in the hope that they might recover.

"You're going right through that cavern, then, Wells?" he asked
incredulously. "You're going to investigate what lies beyond?"

"Nothing else! And I won't come out till I've blown that octopi ship
to pieces!"

"It sounds preposterous," Knapp murmured, shaking his head. "Octopi,
you say--and clad in metal suits! Running a submarine more powerful
than the _NX-1_! Armed with a ray--a paralyzing ray! I can't
believe--I can't conceive--"

"You've seen the men!... Knapp, if I were you I'd swing my
eight-inchers out, bring up the plane catapult and keep the deck
torpedo tubes loaded and ready. It's best to be prepared; God knows
what's going on underseas these days!"

First Officer Graham appeared at the door. "Work finished, sir," he
said. "Ready to cast off."

"Thank heaven!" Wells muttered, and stretched out his hand to Robert
Knapp. "Broadcast what I've told you, Bob, and say that the _NX-1_
won't be back till everything's under control. I'll keep in touch with
you. So long!" And he was gone before the captain could even wish him
good luck.

       *       *       *       *       *

Orders raced from her commander's fingers on the stud board in the
control room. "Crash Dive" filled her tanks and put her nose
perilously down, so that in thirty seconds only a swirling patch of
water was left to show where once she'd lain. A brief command to the
helmsman and she pointed straight for the dark cavern marked on the
chart.

When well under way, Keith descended with Graham to inspect the new
torpedo firing system, and found it in good working order. "Graham,"
he ordered tersely, "instruct the crew fully about rushing to the
control room on one ring of the general alarm. And send the cook up to
me in a minute or so. I'll be in Sparks' cubby."

Above again, he instructed the radio man to rig a remote control
sender and receiver in the insulated control room. The need for
centering the whole crew there during engagements would crowd the room
awkwardly, but at other times, while proceeding on their inspection of
the cavern lair, they could remain at their regular posts.

That, at least, was Wells' plan.

He looked up and found the cook, McKegnie, grinning at him from the
door of the control room. Keith smiled, running his eyes over the
portly magnificence of his gently perspiring figure. "Keg," he said
cheerfully, "I want you to move your hot plate and culinary apparatus
up here; you see, we're all likely to be crowded in here for some
time, and your coffee's going to be an absolute necessity." He
couldn't resist a crack at McKegnie's well-known and passionate
curiosity as to what made the thigmajigs of the control board work:
"And besides, it'll give you a chance to observe the instruments and
perfect yourself for your future career as a naval officer. Much
better than a correspondence course in 'How to Be a Submarine
Commander,' eh?"

Cook McKegnie grinned sheepishly, and left. He was well used to such
jests, but he never would admit that his extraordinary interest in
watching the ship's wheels go round was accompanied by a miraculous
inability to comprehend why they went round....

       *       *       *       *       *

Fifteen minutes later the helmsman's cry, "Cavern showing, sir!" swung
the commander to the teleview screen. The dark, kelp-shrouded opening
he knew so well was already looming on it. And he was prepared.

"Enter," he said, while his punched studs ordered, "Quarter Speed,
Ready at Posts, Tanks in Trim." The _NX-1_ slackened her gait,
balanced cautiously, and struck a straight, even course as she crept
closer to the cleft entrance through which, some two hours earlier,
the octopi ship had nosed.

Screws turning slowly, she edged through the jagged cavern. Shades of
inky blackness grew on the teleview and danced in fantastic blotches;
the screen turned to a welter of black, threatening shadows; became a
useless maze of ever-changing forms. Keith mouthed curses as he stared
at it; he now had nothing by which to judge his progress, to maneuver
the submarine, save directional instruments and, perhaps, chance
scrapings of the tunnel's ragged walls against the outer hull. The
_NX-1_ was running a gauntlet of immeasurable danger, her only
assurance of success being the fact that a larger craft had preceded
her.

But how far, Keith wondered, had that ship preceded her? How was he to
know that it had gone straight through? There might be a dozen
different turnings in this tunnel: the submarine could easily tilt
head-on against a jagged rock and puncture her hull. There might be
mines planted directly in their course; he might be swimming straight
into some hideous ambuscade.

He drove these thoughts from his mind. The passage had to be made on
the fickle authority of the senses; and, realizing this, Wells took
the helm into his own hands. Graham was posted at the location chart,
with instructions to report the red light if it showed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Down below, the Edsel electrics were humming very softly; the men
stood vigilantly at posts. On their brows were little beads of sweat,
and here and there a hand clenched nervously. All knew they were in a
tight place; otherwise they were ignorant of where their commander was
leading them. Occasionally a long, shivering rasp ran through the ship
as her hull nudged the rough tunnel wall. Then the course rudders
would swing gently over; and perhaps, almost immediately, another
grinding cry of rock and steel would come from the other side. Then
would come quickly indrawn breaths as the rudders swung again and the
humming silence droned on.

The scrapings came quite often. Often, too, the motors would go silent
altogether, and the _NX-1_ would rest almost motionless as her
commander felt for an opening. It was a tense, nerve-wringing ordeal.
The silence, the waiting, the dainty scrapings were maddening.

Keith Wells' skin was prickling. He kept only fingertips on the tiny
helm: he was playing that uncanny sixth sense of the submarine
commander. When it misled him, the rasping rock groaned out, scarring
the submarine's smooth skin. Generally, the tunnel was straight; but
each time he heard his ship rub against some exterior obstruction, his
teeth went tight--for who knew but what it might be a mine?

They had penetrated perhaps a half-mile when Graham, eyes steady on
the teleview, reported: "Light growing, sir!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Wells saw that the screen was filling with a soft, faintly glowing
bluish color. The walls of the tunnel became visible, and he noted
that they were widening out, funnel-like. He dared to increase speed
slightly. Three minutes later he saw that the blue illumination was
seeping from the end of the tunnel. They continued out.

"Thank God, we're through!" he muttered to Graham. "You see, I was
right! It's an underground sea--and we're at the top of it." For the
instruments indicated a depth beneath them of roughly three miles.
They were in, evidently, a large cavern, of vast length and depth.

The _NX-1_ continued slowly forward, two pairs of eyes intent on her
teleview screen. Keith jotted down the tunnel's position, and the
funnel-shaped hole sank away behind their slow screws. And then, upon
the location chart, a faint red dot suddenly glowed!

It was upon them in a flash. A small tube of metal, shaped somewhat in
the form of the big octopi submarine, had darted up from below,
hovered a second close to them, and then, almost before they realized
they were being surveyed, sped back into the mysterious depths from
which it had come.

"A lookout, I suppose," Keith muttered, breathing more easily.
"Couldn't have held more than two of those creatures.... Well, the
alarm's out, I guess, Graham, but it can't be helped. Let's see what
it's like down below."

       *       *       *       *       *

They plunged steadily down, then ahead. And presently there grew on
the teleview vague forms which widened their eyes and made their
breath come quicker. Keith had guessed the tunnel led to a
civilization of some kind, but he was not prepared for the sight that
loomed hazily through the soft blue water.

Strange, moundlike shapes appeared far below, mounds grouped in
orderly rows and clusters, with streets running between them, thronged
with tiny, spidery dots. Octopi! It was, the commander realized, a
city of the monsters--a complete city like those of surface peoples!
For several miles in every direction the water-city spread out,
farther than the teleview could pierce. Wells marveled at this
separately developed civilization, this deep-buried realm of octopi
whose unexpected intellectual powers had permitted such development.
Perhaps, he pondered, this city was only one of many; perhaps only a
village. He could but vaguely glimpse the queer mound buildings, but
saw that they were of varying height and were filled with dark round
entrance holes, through which the creatures streamed on their
different errands....

He saw no schools of fish around. "I guess they're been all killed
off, or eaten," he commented to the wonder-struck Graham. "Probably
the octopi have separate hatcheries where they raise them for food."

"But--good Lord!" the first officer exclaimed. "A city--a city like
ours! Down here, filled with octopi!..."

"Yes," answered Wells grimly, "and this 'city' may only be a small
settlement; there may be scores of these places. We'd better continue
ahead now that we're here; for we've got to get all the information we
can. I only hope these monsters haven't more than one big submarine.
We can expect an attack any minute...."

       *       *       *       *       *

The _NX-1_ pressed on. The city dropped behind. A breathless tenseness
had settled down over the submarine; she was proceeding with utmost
caution, her anxious officers alert at the location chart. The great
fear that tormented them was that they might be attacked, not by one,
but by a fleet of the octopi ships....

Then, at the rim of the chart, a red dot appeared! It grew rapidly,
charging down on them at great speed. The spot was large; this was no
small sentry boat! At once the alarm bell shrilled its warning; the
crew below left their posts and raced to the control room. With sure
mechanical fingers the emergency system gripped the valve handles and
motor levers; Keith swung the _NX-1_ onto a level keel, straightened
her out, and decreased speed still more. Giving the rods of the motor
and rudder controls to Graham, he moved to the small lever which would
unleash his bow torpedoes, and fingered it lightly. The _NX-1_ was
ready for action.

Scarcely had the men reached the small control room than the familiar
electric charge tingled. They stared wonderingly at each other, half
afraid. No one seemed hurt. One hand on the torpedo lever, Wells
watched his charts and instruments. He thanked God that there was only
one of the enemy.

The ray's shock came again--and stronger. The red dot was practically
upon them. The screen was still empty. Coolly, Keith slowed the
submarine to a dead stop. The crimson stud came closer....

       *       *       *       *       *

And then he saw it. It was the same fearsome, hulking form. The same
curving windows, dark and lifeless. The same knobs on its bow, one now
leaping and pulsing with the paralyzing glow. At a distance of a few
hundred feet the octopi ship swerved to a halt, dousing the NX-1 with
its ray unceasingly. Again those two underwater craft, so oddly
contrasted, were face to face. And again the weapon that had once
struck the American ship's crew down at their posts was directed full
onto the _NX-1_.

But it was harmless! It merely tingled, and did not paralyze! The
control room sheathing held it out stoutly. The men's faces showed
overwhelming relief.

Keith smiled grimly. Now, at least, he had the devils where he wanted
them; now it was his turn to strike with a--to them--terrible,
mysterious weapon. They had attacked; had failed--and now he could
square up for Hemmy and send a pair of torpedoes into that ship of
hideous tentacles.

"Port five!" The ship swerved slightly. "Hold even!" The enemy craft
was very close. The _NX-1's_ bow tubes were sighted in direct line.
Her torpedoes could not possibly miss. This time, destruction for the
octopi ship was inevitable....

Keith Wells gripped the lever that held the torps in leash.

"_Wait!_"

Sparks, a bare foot from him, yelled out the word. Wells, alarmed,
released his grip on the knob. The radio operator was listening
intently, a circle of taut faces around his crouched back. He swung
excitedly around.

"For God's sake, don't fire!" he cried. "Hemingway Bowman's on that
submarine! He's alive--and calling for you!"


CHAPTER V

_The Other Weapon_

Bowman--alive!

Keith Wells let go the torpedo lever. His whole orderly plan of action
was crashed in a second.--For an instant he stood gaping at the radio
man, forgetful of the peril outside, striving desperately to hit on
some way of surmounting this unlooked-for obstacle. The idea of firing
on his friend--killing Hemmy Bowman with his own hand--paralyzed his
brain.

And in that unguarded instant the octopi struck.

From the bow of the enemy submarine, slanting from another of its
peculiar knobs, a narrow beam of violet light poured, cutting a vivid
swathe across the teleview. The huddled men stared at it, not
comprehending what it was. They felt no shock of electricity, nor
could they discern any other harmful effect. The ray held steadily on
their bow, not varying in the slightest, for a full thirty seconds.
And still none of them could feel or see any damage.

Wells, however, gradually became aware that he was bathed in
perspiration, that great streams of sweat were coursing down his
face. A quick glance told him that every member of the crew was the
same way; and then, suddenly, he was conscious of a wave of intense
heat--heat which quickly became terrific. The control room was
stifling!

Before he could act, the _NX-1_ slipped sharply to one side. A sharp
hissing sound grew at her bow, climbing steadily to a shriek. Long
streamers of white steam crept along the lower deck and seeped up into
the control room. And then rose the fatal sound of rushing
water--water pouring into the submarine from outside!

For the violet beam was a heat ray--a weapon surface civilizations had
not yet developed. While the _NX-1's_ crew had stared at it in the
teleview, it had melted a hole in their bow.

Immediately the submarine lost trim, and the deck tilted ominously. In
the face of material danger--danger from a source he understood--the
commander became cool and methodical.

"Sea-suits on!" he snapped. "Then forward and break out steel
collision-mat and weld it in place! Every man! You, too, Sparks and
McKegnie!"

"But--but, sir!" stammered Graham. "Do you want them to get us with
their paralyzing ray?"

"You'd rather drown?" Wells flung back. Silenced, the first officer
donned his sea-suit, and in thirty seconds the rest of the crew had
theirs on and were cluttering clumsily forward.

       *       *       *       *       *

Alone in the control room, Keith battled with the unbalancing flow of
water, maneuvering with all his skill in a futile attempt to keep the
_NX-1_ on even keel. The men forward worked with great speed, spurred
on by the realization that they were fighting death itself, but even
as they labored the submarine swung in ever increasing rolls and dips;
the great weight of water she had shipped slopped back and forth; her
bow went steadily down. Keith swept her forward tanks clean of water,
always conscious of the immobile, staring octopi submarine in the
teleview, watching them, it seemed, curiously, and not driving home
their advantage with additional bolts of the violet heat ray.

Despite her commander's frantic efforts, the _NX-1_ fluttered down
remorselessly; the cavern floor rose, and, sinking with them, came the
octopi craft, in slow mockery of a fighting plane pursuing its
stricken foe to the very ground....

She struck bottom with a soft, thudding jar, and settled on even keel.
At once Wells released the helm, jumped into his own sea-suit and
stumbled down to take command.

He found the steel collision-mat in place, and the welding of it
nearly completed. A few feathery trickles of water still seeped
through on each side, but under his terse directions the pumps were
soon draining it out. The weird figures of the crew in their sea-suits
looked like creatures from another planet as they rapidly finished the
job.

"All right--up to the control room, everybody! Fast!" Wells roared.

The men stumbled aft as rapidly as they could in their cumbersome
suits. Several were already on the ladder. A few feet further--

But at that moment the paralyzing ray again stabbed into the ship--and
Keith Wells slumped helplessly to the deck. And as he crumpled, he
glimpsed the grotesque, falling figures of his men, and saw one come
tumbling down the ladder from the control room, where he had almost
reached safety....

       *       *       *       *       *

Peculiar sensations, unendurable thoughts raced through the commander
as he lay there limply. He knew his predicament. He wanted desperately
to rise, to rush to the control room. Time and time again in those
first few moments of impotence he strove mightily to pull his limbs
back to life. But his greatest efforts were barren of result, save to
leave him feeling still weaker. The fate that he had seen strike down
Brown now enmeshed him. He was paralyzed. Helpless. In the midst of
his crew.

After a moment all sensation left his body. His limbs might not have
existed. Sensation, pain, lived only in his brain--and there it was
terrible, because self-created.

He found himself sprawled flat on his back, his eyes directed stiffly
upward. He could not move them, but out of the corners he vaguely
sensed the other figures around him. Helpless, every one! And who knew
if they would ever come out of the spell! Victory had gone to the
octopi....

Minutes that seemed like hours passed. And then a well-remembered
voice sounded in the radio earphones in his helmet. It was Hemmy
Bowman, speaking from the enemy ship.

"Keith! Keith Wells! Are you there?" the voice cried. "Keith! What
have they done to you?"

And Keith, he could not answer! He could not answer that troubled
voice of his friend--that voice from a friend he had thought dead.

Again Bowman spoke. "Keith! Can't you hear me? What are they doing to
you? Oh--" For a moment it stopped, then came once more, thick with
anguish. "Oh, God, what's happened?" Then lower: "If only there were
light, so I could see what they're doing...." The voice tapered into
silence. Keith could picture Hemmy, probably bound, giving him up for
dead....

       *       *       *       *       *

Then, quite distinctly, he heard a clank at the _NX-1's_ bow! The
submarine jerked, her bow tilted up--and with increasing speed she
moved forward, silently as a ghost.

Keith thought he knew what that meant. The octopi ship had grasped
them with another of its hawser arms, and was pulling them away. But
where to? One of those mound cities? His brain was a turmoil as he
tried to imagine what was before them. But all he could do was lie
there and wait.

The American craft was towed for perhaps ten minutes--ten ages to her
commander--then coasted slowly to a pause, and with a sharp jar
settled into rest. As she did so, every light in her hull went
suddenly out.

It had been bad enough with the lights on, but the darkness was far
worse. The submarine was a tomb--as silent as one, and full of men who
lived and yet were dead. Hemmy Bowman's voice came no more to Wells.
He was alone with his moiling doubts and fears and unanswerable
questions, and he knew that every other man there was alone with them,
too....

As his eyes became partially accustomed to the darkness, he could
distinguish vaguely the forms of the familiar mechanisms above him. A
slight noise grew suddenly and resolved itself into a prolonged
scraping along the outer hull of the submarine. At intervals it paused
and gave way to a series of sharp, definite taps.

Keith realized what those sounds signified: the octopi were striving
to find some entrance to the _NX-1_! This, he told himself, was the
end. The creatures would break through; water would rush in, and every
man would drown. For the face-shields of their sea-suits were open!

The dull scrapings ran completely around the motionless submarine,
punctuated with the same staccato tappings. By the movement of the
sound, Wells realized the octopi were approaching the lower starboard
exit port. And as they neared that port, the noise abruptly stopped.

Then for some minutes silence fell. Next, the commander heard what was
unmistakably the exit port's water chamber being filled--and a moment
later emptied again. The devilish creatures had solved the puzzle of
the means of entrance!

       *       *       *       *       *

In the awful darkness the inner door of the port swung open. A slow,
slithering sound came to Wells' ears. He sensed, though he could not
see, the presence of alien creature. An odor struck his nostrils--that
of fish....

A deliberate something crawled directly across one outstretched arm,
and another across his legs. And above him loomed a monstrous,
complicated shadow, which, after a moment, slowly melted from his line
of vision. Panicky, he strove again to bring his limbs back to life,
but still could not....

Keith knew that in the darkness which their huge unblinking eyes could
penetrate they were inspecting the _NX-1's_ interior, examining the
men stretched on its deck, feeling them with their cold metal-scaled
tentacles. Another complicated shadow crept back over the commander's
line of sight, and from all around rose the slithering, shuffling
tread of the octopi's many tentacles, rasping on the steel flooring.

Sweat from Wells' forehead trickled down and stung his eyes as he lay
in that dark agony. There seemed to be countless investigating
tentacles feeling through the entire submarine. One of them,
iron-hard, suddenly coiled under his armpit and lifted him lightly as
a feather from the deck. Another snaked up and clicked his face-shield
securely shut. Keith heard other clicks, and knew that the shields of
his men were likewise being closed.

The commander was held straight out from the octopus' revolting body,
and as he swung, helpless, he could see that more men were grasped
similarly in other mighty arms. Dangling in the shadow-filled darkness
he was carried slowly to the exit port, and he heard the inner door
swing open, then close again. Water streamed through the valves; it
encompassed him with a feeling of lightness, a feeling of floating, as
he swung at the end of the long metal-sheathed tentacles. A moment
later a soft bluish glow burst on his vision, and he saw that he was
outside. There was a long wait, and when the current next swung him
around he was dismayed to see that every one of the monstrous
creatures near him was dangling on high two or three men of his
helpless crew. The whole outfit was in the power of the devil-fish!

And then their captors moved forward with them on a ghastly march of
triumph....

But Keith Wells did not know that, crouched behind the instrument
panel in the control room, shivering and sick with fear, was the plump
form of Cook Angus McKegnie, who had just gained it just before the
paralyzing ray had struck.


CHAPTER VI

_The Monster with the Armlets of Gold_

Hemingway Bowman's ardent wish, after he was whipped quickly through
the round exit port of the octopi submarine, was for a quick, clean
death. The horror and mystery of his situation had left him with one
conscious emotion, that he was afraid. The worst had been when he was
hauled through the port; when, expecting anything, he had been able to
see nothing in the dark, water-filled mystery ship.

Deliberate tentacles had stroked over every inch of his
body--tentacles that were not metal-scaled, as had been the arms of
the creature that captured him. It was then that he guessed the true
purpose of the metal suits the octopi wore--to protect their bodies
against the lesser pressure near the surface of the sea. Inside the
submarine they did not need them. He decided that the ship was used
for rapidly transporting large numbers of the octopi to distant
regions, and also for a weapon of offense and defense. The
intelligence of the cuttlefish astounded him.

Keith had got away. At least he knew that, and he thanked God for it.
His bold stroke had not been in vain, his sacrifice not useless.

After the inspection of the tentacles, Hemmy had been shoved to a
corner of the octopi submarine. He had felt cords wrapped around his
body. After being thus secured, he was left to himself. He was utterly
alone, except for strange, vague shadows that floated through the
darkness--shadows that heated his brain as he realized how many of
the devil-fish there were.

Hours that seemed like endless days passed.

Bowman concluded that the submarine had gone straight through the
cavern and emerged finally into what seemed to be another sea. Dead
silence filled the ship. What was happening, he could only guess. The
craft seemed to run on forever. Never once did tentacles brush or
inspect him again.

       *       *       *       *       *

Finally the ship stopped, and a great round door opened in one wall.
By the soft bluish glow that seeped in Hemmy caught a glimpse of his
surroundings, and his gorge rose at the sight. The ship was literally
filled with a slowly waving forest of long black tentacles. Weird
instruments, unlike anything he had ever seen, were grouped around the
walls, and before them attendant octopi poised, their hideous eyes
fixed and steady. There were no dividing decks as in the _NX-1_; the
craft was one huge shell.

Then came furious activity. The door fell shut again, and the ship
shot off at great speed. Hemmy felt sure that they were advancing to
again attack the _NX-1_, and at once began to try to reach his
comrades through radiophone. He knew that Wells would come back.

Finally he caught a human voice, and heard the _NX-1's_ radio operator
shout to the commander that he, Bowman, was alive and calling. But
when he tried to speak further, the American craft's radio was silent.

And then, in the octopi submarine, had come a soft glow of violet....

Was it a more deadly weapon than the paralyzing ray? In great suspense
the prisoner waited. Silence--silence! Horrible doubts beset his mind.
Was Keith refraining from firing his torpedoes because he, Bowman, was
on board the enemy boat? The thought stung him. He tried desperately
again to reach Wells; but there was no answer. Were the Americans
dead?

Age-long minutes passed. Then the exit port opened and several
metal-clad octopi swam out. Hemmy had a glimpse of the _NX-1_ lying
silent and apparently lifeless on the sea-floor, a gaping hole in her
bow!

As if to taunt him with the sight, the creatures left the round door
open, and presently Bowman beheld the octopi open the _NX-1's_
starboard exit port and enter. Later the port swung open again, and he
saw the monsters emerge, each gripping several men clad in yellow
sea-suits! That they were dead, or victims of the ray, was obvious
from the way they limply dangled.

The exit port closed, and darkness filled the octopi ship. Hemmy
Bowman panted with the futile effort to break his bonds.

"You devils!" he yelled in blind rage, exhausted. "Why don't you take
me with them? Take me! Take me, damn your stinking hides!"

       *       *       *       *       *

When Keith Wells was taken from the silent _NX-1_, a host of
astounding impressions swarmed his brain. Swinging lightly at the end
of his captor's tentacle, he strove as best he could, with eyes
rigidly fixed straight ahead, to grasp his new surroundings. He had,
first, one flash of the octopi ship lying quite close to them, its
hulk, as always, immobile and apparently lifeless. And inside it, he
was sure, was his friend and first officer, Hemmy Bowman--a captive.

He saw that the octopi submarine had towed the _NX-1_ into one of the
weird mound cities. His own ship was lying in what seemed a kind of
public square, and crowds of black octopi were swarming around it as
he and his crew were brought out. Shooting straight off the square ran
one of the wide streets he had previously seen from above, and on each
side the brown mound-buildings rose. Their details were hazy, because
of the cuttlefish inhabitants who swam thickly in front of them.

His captors started their march down this broad street. Great crowds
of reddish-colored octopi clustered on each side of it; other swarms
hung almost motionless--except for their constantly writhing
tentacles--above, so that their line of progress was through what
resembled a restless, living tunnel of repulsive black flesh, snaky
arms and huge, unblinking eyes. Keith felt faint from the horror of
it. Thousands of the monsters were there, all hanging in the soft,
blue-glowing water; and occasionally, as he floated almost
horizontally in his captor's firm grip, his legs would brush the wall
of clammy flesh; or perhaps one of the tentacles would reach out as if
to touch him.

The octopus that held him swam some five feet off the street bed
itself; at intervals the thick swarm on either side would part for a
second, and Keith could glimpse the huge mound-buildings, ever growing
larger, with round entrance holes dotted all over their smooth
surface, above as well as the sides.

The march was ghastly. Their captors were taking them through the
heart of the water-metropolis; displaying their human captives as did
the Caesars in Roman triumphs of old!

       *       *       *       *       *

The swarming crowds of tentacled monsters grew thicker as they
progressed, and their tentacles began to whip more quickly, as if
anger was burning in their loathsome bodies. Keith noted the menace of
their sharp-beaked jaws, and the sickening sucker-discs on the livid
under-side of the tentacles. As far as he could see, the swarms fell
in behind the procession after it had passed. Following them--where?

Just as Wells felt himself on the verge of fainting, the procession
turned to the right and entered the largest mound-building of all, a
vast dome rising in the very center of the octopi metropolis. They
continued through a corridor perhaps twenty feet high, from which at
intervals other corridors branched. Held by one arm, and ever and
again turning helplessly over in his horizontal transit, Keith caught
glimpses of walls covered with intricate designs on a basic
eight-armed motif--designs of artistic value, that gave evidence of
culture and civilization.

The passage ended as suddenly as it had begun, and they came into the
main body of a gigantic building.

The commander could hardly credit his eyes. The place resembled a
stadium, and was so vast that he felt dwarfed to nothingness. The
domed roof soared far above in misty bluish light. On the floor,
exactly beneath the center of the great dome, was a raised platform,
and on it a dais resembling a very wide throne. Around the dais a
score or more of octopi--officials, Keith supposed--were grouped.

Rapidly the creatures following the procession swam into the chamber.
Monstrously large as the place was, the floor soon was filled with the
thick flood of cuttlefish which swarmed in from many doors. Keith,
held with the other captives just to one side of the hole he had
entered by, began to think that they must soon refuse to let any more
in--when, to his surprise, he saw the latest arrivals begin to form a
gallery twenty feet above those on the ground floor, and, when this
was extended far back and completely filled, start yet another above
it--and another, and another.... In ten minutes the mighty hall was
crowded with countless layers of the cold-eyed monsters, each layer
angling up from the central dais so that all could see.

"God!" the commander thought. "Nothing but solidly-packed devil-fish
all the way to the dome! A slaughter pit! And we, of course, are to be
the cattle!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Minutes passed. The throne was still empty, and the thousands in the
amphitheater seemed waiting for an occupant. Keith wished he was able
to close his eyes. The restless, never-ceasing weaving of the
countless tentacles in the levels above made the scene a nightmare.
Some waved slowly, others whipped excitedly, but never for an instant
did one pause. The movements were like the never-ceasing shifting and
swaying of the trunks and feet of elephants; in the dim glow the huge
chamber seemed to be filled with one fantastic, million-tentacled
monster that stared with its thousand eyes down on the forlorn group
of puny human beings....

As if at a command the arms of the octopi on the platform suddenly
began to weave in perfect unison in some weird ceremony. First they
swayed out towards the waiting captives, then they swerved slowly to
the empty throne. Then came a few quick, excited whippings; and once
more the long arms reached out at the small group at the entrance.
This went on for some minutes. Then, very suddenly, a creature swam up
from what must have been an opening in the floor onto the dais-throne.

Keith saw it well.

It was an octopus, a giant amongst octopi, and Wells knew at once it
was the ruler of the realm, the lord and master of the swarming
galleries and the cities of mound-buildings.

It was larger than its fellows by a full three feet. And, encircling
each great tentacle just where it joined the central mass of flesh,
was a broad, glittering band of polished gold--eight thick armlets
that ringed the creature's revolting head-body with a circle of
gleaming pagan splendor. Keith could almost fancy that a certain royal
air hung over the monster.

The huge, unblinking eyes of the king stared at the horror-frozen
captives. One long tentacle lifted slowly upward, and their captors at
once started towards the throne with them. The score of octopi on each
side stilled their weaving arms. A battery of emotionless eyes drilled
into Wells' paralyzed body. He felt faint. Unquestionably the horrible
ceremony was leading up to some form of cold-blooded sacrifice....

       *       *       *       *       *

The monarch stretched a mighty arm towards Keith, and, as in a dream,
he felt himself lifted out of his guard's grasp. The snakelike
tentacle gripped him about the waist, and held him dangling like a
puppet twenty feet in the water while the two deadly eyes stared
steadily at him. He was brought closer, until the hideous central
mass, with its cruel beaked jaw and ink sac hanging behind, was no
more than a foot away.

Then another arm stroked slowly along the commander's helpless body.
Once or twice it prodded sharply, and Wells felt a surge of fear, for
his sea-suit might break. Deliberately the prying tentacle moved over
him, delicately feeling his helmet, his weighted feet, his legs.

Keith Wells grew angry. He was being inspected like a trapped monkey!
He, commander of the _NX-1_, representative of one of the world's
mightiest nations--prodded and stared at by this fish, this octopus! A
great rage suffused him, and with a terrific effort he tried to jab
his arms into one of those devilish eyes. But try as he might, his
body would not respond. He could not move a finger.

For a long time the loathsome inspection continued, until the
monstrous king seemed satisfied. Wells was handed back. There followed
an interminable period in which nothing whatever was done, as far as
he could see. He was sure that they must be talking, debating, but no
sound reached his ears through the tight helmet. All the time the
endless motion in the swarming levels above went on. It became hazy,
dreamlike, and in spite of himself the commander began to feel drowsy.
The weaving and swaying was producing a hypnotic effect. At last the
desire to sleep grew overpowering.

Wells and his men were more than half unconscious when their original
captors finally pulled them back from the royal presence and began a
humble retreat from the throne room. Slowly they backed to the
entrance. Keith's last drowsy glimpse was of a grotesque, gold-ringed
monster on a throne, with a score of smaller tentacled creatures
around him, and a vast haze of weaving tentacles and unblinking eyes
above.

They passed from the huge chamber. The commander felt delirious, as in
a nightmare, but he knew that they were again in the long corridor,
and that their captors were taking them further into the mighty
building, further from the street outside. He glimpsed great rooms
branching off the corridor, and swarms of black octopi inside them.
The light became fainter; and at last the procession turned into a
separate, rough-walled chamber, dimly lit and empty.

Wells felt the grip around his arm loosen, and he floated limply to
the floor among his men. He slept....


CHAPTER VII

_The Glass Bell Jar_

Keith awoke hours later.

Slowly he became conscious of a cramped, stiff body, of a dull pain
racking his head. He stretched out his limbs--and, suddenly, realized
he could move.

Remembering the paralyzing ray that had struck him down, and half
afraid that his senses were tricking him, he kicked his left leg out.
It moved with its old vigor. He quickly found that his strength had
returned, that he could feel and move. The effect of the ray had worn
off!

With a glow of new hope he rose to his feet and exercised numb
muscles. Looking around, he saw the other men still stretched out on
the floor of their rough-walled, watery prison. He called into his
radiophone mouthpiece:

"Graham! Graham, wake up!" A grotesque figure stirred among its
fellows; turned over. "It's Wells, Graham," Keith continued. "Get up;
you can, now!" And he watched the form of his big first officer
stretch out and finally rise, while stupid, sleepy sounds came to his
radio receiver.

"Why--why; the paralysis is gone!" Graham said at length.

"Yes, but maybe the octopi don't know it. Rouse the other men at once,
and we'll see what we can do."

It was weird, the sight of the lifeless figures of the men stirring to
life in the dim-lit water as Graham shook each one's shoulder. The
radiophones buzzed and clicked with their excited comments and
ejaculations. Keith felt much better. With his men restored to
strength, and clustered in a determined, hard-fighting mass, he saw a
hope of breaking out and regaining the _NX-1_.

He let them exercise as he had for some minutes, then proceeded to a
brisk roll-call. There should be fifteen men and two officers. Rapidly
Graham ran over the names, and each time a voice rang back in
reply--until he came to the cook.

"McKegnie?... Cook McKegnie?"

There was no answer. Wells stared around the group of dim figures and
himself called the name again. But McKegnie was not present. And as
the commander and his men realized it the numbing spell of their
desperate position settled down on them again like a shroud.

Keith shook off the mood. "Well," he muttered, "I guess the devils got
him. Poor McKegnie's seen the wheels go round for the last time....
All right: take command, Graham. I'm going to do a little
reconnoitering."

       *       *       *       *       *

The round entrance hole was some fifteen feet from him, at the far end
of the cell. Keith advanced cautiously to it, the peculiar light
feeling the water gave him making his steps uncertain. The dim blue
illumination made the details of the corridor outside hazy, shadowy,
but it seemed to be empty. Peering out, Wells could sight no guarding
octopi. He edged closer and stared down to the left. Twenty feet away
the vague light tapered into darker gloom, filled with thick, wavering
shadows; but it was apparently devoid of tentacles. He wondered if
the octopi were unaware that the effects of their ray had worn off,
and peeped cautiously around the edge to the right.

Immediately a long arm whipped out, grasped him around the waist and
flung him twisting and turning back into the chamber. Graham
laboriously made his way to the commander and helped him to his feet.
"Hurt, sir?" he asked anxiously.

"No," Keith gasped. "But that devil--"

He stopped short. The first officer turned and followed his
commander's stare.

The entrance hole of the cell had filled with a monstrous shape. A
huge octopus was resting there, its unblinking eyes coldly surveying
the crew of the _NX-1_. On each of its thick tentacles was a broad
band of polished gold. It was the king, the same creature that had
inspected them from the throne-dais a few hours before. And behind him
in the corridor the men glimpsed another octopus.

Slowly the ruler of the octopi swam into the chamber. Its great eyes
centered icily on Keith Wells, standing at the head of his cowering
men; and its mighty tentacles waved slowly, gracefully, as if the
creature stood in doubt. One of them tentatively reached out and
hovered over their heads, moving uncertainly back and forth. Then,
like a monstrous water snake, the tentacle poised, flicked out and
plucked a man from his comrades.

His shriek of terror rasped in their earphones. "Steady, men!" Keith
cried. "It's hopeless to try and fight them! The monster just wants to
look him over!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The man--Williams, a petty officer--was dangled by the armpit in
mid-water and made to slowly revolve. The tip of another huge arm
snaked out and for some seconds stroked his body, probing curiously.
He panted with fright, and in their earphones his friends could hear
his every tortured exhalation. Anxiously, Keith watched. Then,
without warning, another tentacle darted up, fastened its tip on the
breast of the captive's sea-suit, and deliberately ripped it open.

The doomed man's last scream rang in their helmets as the water poured
into his suit. They saw him writhe and struggle desperately in the
remorseless grip which held him. The two huge eyes of the cuttlefish
surveyed his death throes minutely; watched his agonized struggles
gradually weaken; watched his legs and arms relax, his head sink
lower.... And then the tentacle let a lifeless body float to the
floor.

Jennerby, a huge engineer, went completely mad. "I'll get him, the
devil!" he yelled, and before Keith could command him to stay back,
had flung himself onto the giant king.

Death came as a mere matter of course. Without apparent effort, the
monarch ripped off Jennerby's helmet and sent him spinning back. The
man's body writhed and shuddered, and in a moment another stark white
face showed where death had struck....

Trembling, sick at heart, the commander yet had to think of his men.
"For God's sake," he cautioned them, "keep back. Don't try to fight
now; we've got to wait our chance! Steady. Steady...."

The king's deliberate tentacle again began its slow weaving. It was
choosing another victim. And this time it darted straight out at Keith
Wells and gripped him with a mighty clutch about the waist.

The commander did not cry out. As he was brought close to the staring
eyes, and felt their sinister gaze run over him, it flashed through
him for some obscure reason that the monster knew him for what he was,
the leader, from the tiny bars on each shoulder of his sea-suit.... He
waited for the tentacles to rip it open.

But they did not. Instead, the creature turned and swiftly swam with
him out through the entrance hole.

       *       *       *       *       *

They went to the left in the corridor, further into the heart of the
building. The bluish light became stronger. As Keith twisted in the
giant monarch's grip he glimpsed the other octopus following with the
two dead men. He saved his strength knowing it was hopeless just then
to try and struggle free.

Quick as was his passage, he noticed that the walls of the corridor
were covered with intricate designs, in bas-relief, and colored. He
passed row after row of mural paintings of octopi in various
activities, and guessed that they represented the race's history. One
was obviously a scene of battle, with a tentacled army locked in
combat with another strange horde of fishlike creatures; a second
showed the construction of the queer mound-buildings on the sea-floor,
with scores of monsters hauling great chunks of material into place,
and another pictured the huge audience chamber, with a gold-banded
king motionless on his throne.

As the king drew him rapidly along, he had a glimpse through a
circular doorway of a large room, inside which were clustered the
black shapes of thousands of baby octopi, tended by what were
evidently nurses. Other such rooms were passed, and the young
commander's brain whirled as he tried to measure the size and progress
of this undersea civilization. Perhaps the race of octopi was growing,
reaching out; needed new room to colonize. That would explain why
their submarine had been sent through the tunnel....

A voice sounded in his ears:

"Keith? Are you all right?" It was Graham, calling from the cell
behind.

"So far," Wells assured him. "I'll keep in touch, and let you know
what happens."

At that moment, his captor carried him into a large chamber at the end
of the corridor. He looked around, and decided it was a laboratory. He
beheld strange instruments, anatomical charts of octopi on the walls
and, in one corner, a small jar of glass, in which a dull flame was
burning. Many-shaped keen-bladed knives lay on various low tables, and
thin, wicked-looking prongs and pincers.

"I'm in their experimental laboratory, Graham," Wells spoke into the
mouthpiece of his tiny radio. And then his roving eyes saw something
that made him audibly gasp.

"What's the matter, Keith?" came the first officer's anxious voice.

After a moment the commander answered. "It's--it's a pile of human
bodies. The bodies of those fishermen. They--they've been
experimenting on them...."

       *       *       *       *       *

Was he, too, Wells wondered, to be experimented on? The sight of that
stacked pile of bodies chilled him with horror. He kept his eyes from
them, till the octopus with the golden bands swung him through a
hinged door in the farther wall.

He found himself in a side room, smaller than the outer chamber, the
whole center of which was occupied by a huge glass bell jar, some
thirty feet in diameter. Inside it was much strange-looking apparatus
on tables, and trays of operating instruments--knives like those in
the outer room, and the same thin prongs. The great jar was empty of
water, and on one side was an entrance port.

The king tossed Keith into a corner and quickly donned a metal-scaled
water-suit. When he had it all on, and the glass body-container
fastened into place, he picked up his captive again and advanced
through the bell jar's entrance port into a small water chamber. A
moment later Wells felt his body grow heavy as the water of the
compartment ran out, and then there was a click and he found himself
inside the jar, still held in the merciless grip of a tentacle.

He twisted around to find the cold eyes of the octopus staring at him
only a foot away. And as he wondered what was going to happen next,
the king unfastened the glass face-shield of the commander's sea-suit
with a quick flip of the tip of a tentacle.

Keith's arms were pinned to his sides; he could not move to try to
refasten the face-shield. Fearful, he held his breath; held it until
his face was purple and his lungs were near to bursting. But at last
the limit was reached, and with a great wrench he sucked in a full
breath.

It was clean, fresh air!

       *       *       *       *       *

The air was like a breath of his own world brought down to this cold
realm of octopi. Once he had caught up with his breathing it poured
new life into his limbs, jaded from the artificial air of the
sea-suit. Keith felt his muscles respond, felt his whole body glow
with new strength and life. Twelve inches away the king was watching
his every reaction closely through the huge helmet of glass. The
thought passed through the commander's mind that he was not only king,
but chief scientist of this strange water civilization.

Then, while his lungs swallowed hungrily the good, fresh air, several
tentacles began to feel around him in an attempt to unfasten the rest
of his sea-suit.

Wells blanched at the sudden realization of how helpless he would be
if the suit were taken from him. He would then not only be a prisoner
of the octopi, but a prisoner of the glass jar, unable ever to leave
it, and more than ever at the mercy of his captor's least whim. Not
that he had any delusion that he would live long in any case: it was
just the simple strong instinct of self-preservation that made him
grab at every chance for life.

This thought flashed through his mind, even while the octopus was
fumbling with the catches of his suit. And along with it was born a
desperate plan of escape. He was in his own element, air; the octopus
out of his. If he could crack the glass of the king's helmet, and let
the water out and air in!... The glass was only twelve inches away.

The commander stopped his resistance, and at the same time felt about
with his legs until he had them well braced against a lower tentacle.
He pushed gently, and came a few inches nearer the glass; a little
more. Then, with a quick, strong jerk of his body he crashed the steel
frame of his helmet square against the cuttlefish's sheathing of
glass.

The creature was taken wholly by surprise. Tentacles whipped out to
tear the rash human quickly away--but not before Keith had pounded
again, and heard the splinter of smashed glass! He had jabbed a hole
in the glass body-piece, and already the life-giving water was pouring
out!

Panic seized the king, and he became a nightmare of tortured
tentacles. Wells was flung wildly away and fetched up against the side
of the jar with a crash that for a second stunned him. More and more
water poured from the octopus' suit, and air at once rushed in to take
its place. The creature's great eyes became filmy, while the revolting
spidery body slewed here and there across the jar, all the time
whipping and thrashing at the strangling air. Keith scurried from side
to side, trying to keep out of reach of the crazy, writhing tentacles.
Once a glancing blow knocked him flat, but the monster was altogether
unconscious of him and he got away.

Little by little the terrific whipping and coiling of the tentacles
quieted down. The drowning king lay in one place now; its loathsome
red body, no longer protected by glass, turned bluish. Keith thrilled
with elation at his victory.

And then, for the first time, he noticed that there was a full three
inches of water on the floor--far too much to spill from the king's
suit. A quick look around showed him where it came from. There was a
long crack in the side of the glass jar, at the place where he had
been crashed against it--and water was pouring in!

Keith flung himself against the crack, jammed his arm into the
broadest part of the leak. But still the water rushed in. The octopus
was in its death throes, weakening steadily--but just as steadily the
water poured in and rose up the sides of its body. In a flash Wells
saw that the liquid would win the race to cover it and allow the
monster to resume breathing.

"Oh, damn it!" he cursed fervently. "Now I've got to run for it!"

       *       *       *       *       *

He stumbled to the port, snapping shut his face-shield as he went. In
a moment he had solved the working of the mechanism and was in the
water chamber, then outside in the room itself. Fortunately his
sea-suit was unhurt. He thanked heaven for that as he tore away a
boardlike piece of apparatus and jammed it over the leak in the jar.

Keith paused a moment to plan. The king of the octopi was still
writhing in ever weakening struggles, but the water was halfway up his
body. "It'll cover him soon," thought the commander, "and then it's a
question how long it'll take him to come to. I've got to move
fast--slip out into the corridor and run the gauntlet back to the
men." His eyes rested on a large knife, and he appropriated it, since
he saw nothing else he might use.

For the first time since the beginning of the fight he answered the
questions and exclamations that had constantly sounded in his ears
from the distant crew. Tersely he told them what had happened, and of
the gauntlet he had to run.

"Make ready for a dash to the _NX-1_," he finished. "It's now or
never. Wait three minutes for me, and if I don't make it, go ahead
anyway. Remember--three minutes. This is an order. So long, fellows!"

He shut his ears to the bedlam of comment that followed. His knife
ready, he took a few steps to the door and pushed out--right into the
tentacles of a waiting octopus.

       *       *       *       *       *

His knife was useless. While locked motionless by three arms of his
captor, another streaked out and wrenched it from his hand. Once again
Keith was absolutely helpless.

Great confusion resulted in the laboratory. The commander heard no
sound, but the guard must have called, for five more octopi darted
rapidly out of an adjoining room. Their tentacles writhing in great
excitement, they swam past and into the inner chamber to the rescue of
their nearly drowned king.

The devil-fish that held Wells almost crushed him to death in its
excitement. It was obviously undecided what to do; but finally it sped
him down the passageway and cast him back inside the cell with his
men. Then it quickly retreated.

The commander staggered to his feet and faced Graham and the others.
"A miracle!" he gasped; "I'll tell you later. But now we've got to
make our break. The king's out, and we've got to get away before they
bring him to. There's nothing to do but rush the door. It means sure
death for half of us, and probably for all--but God help us if the
king catches us!"

He paused and surveyed them keenly. "Everybody with me?" he asked. And
not one man held back his answer.

Wells smiled a little. "Good!" he said.

       *       *       *       *       *

There were twelve men and two officers. There were thousands of
octopi. On the face of it, their chances seemed hopeless. Not for a
second did Keith count on getting many men to the _NX-1._ But he knew
where the submarine was, and he had to try.

Tersely he gave them final instructions.

"This corridor leads to the main entrance. That is, to the
right--understand? Then straight down the street outside, to the left,
is the square where they towed the _NX-1._ I'd say it was a hundred
yards.

"There's one guard outside. Graham, you and half the men to the right
of the door. I'll take the rest to the left. Our only chance is to try
and destroy the octopus' eyes."

His mind cast about desperately for some form of weapon. The only
detachable thing on their sea-suits was the small helmet-light, a
thing, Keith told himself, without possible offensive use. Still, the
beams would enable them to more clearly see their path and keep
together, so he ordered them in hand.

The men were grouped and alert. The moment had come.

"Remember," he said, "--its eyes. Then stick together and run like
hell. All right--good luck--and let's go!"

Awkwardly, stumbling clumsily in the retarding water, the small group
surged through the door. Immediately a black shape pounced upon them
from the clustered shadows--the guarding octopus.

Its tentacles seemed to be everywhere. In seconds five men were
clutched in its awful grip, their fists rising and falling impotently
as the hideous arms constricted and crushed them inward. Keith, free
of the clasp, yelled: "The eyes! The eyes! Put out its eyes!"

       *       *       *       *       *

For answer, a yellow arm clutching a helmet-light broke through the
grotesquely milling mass and struck at the cuttlefish's great pools of
eyes. It missed, but the switch flicked on, and there stabbed through
the gloom a broad, glaringly white ray.

Its effect was astounding. The beam smote the octopus squarely in its
huge eyes, and immediately the creature shuddered; writhed with pain.
The tentacles released the men--and the monster fled back into the
protecting shadows!

A shout from the men roared in the commander's earphones. "They can't
stand the light!" he cried. "Thank God! Beams on, everyone! Flash 'em
in their eyes! Forward!"

Fourteen shafts of eye-dazzling light forked through the corridor.
The tiny company, beating their path with criss-crossing shafts of
white, forged ahead. They thrashed the shadows with their beams,
probing each inch of water--clearing their way even as a tank hoses
machine-gun bullets before its clumsy body. Their former slender
chance grew; they filled with hope.

Another swarm of devil-fish, long arms whipping before them, raced
from branching corridors and bore down on the company of humans. The
men were ready, and fourteen tongues of white met them squarely. They
faltered; the weight of their fellows behind shoved them on; but the
rays steadied, and the front row of octopi broke in panic. The others
at once followed in wild retreat.

"Keep together, men!" Keith ordered sharply. "One beam to each
octopus--straight in its eyes till it retreats! Forward!"

       *       *       *       *       *

They pressed on. The octopi, with eyes used only to the soft blue glow
of the cavern, could not stand against the brilliant rays. Keith
leading, the _NX-1's_ crew stumbled out into the street.

They faltered a moment when they saw each entrance hole of the
mound-buildings shooting out streams of octopi. Hundreds were in sight
already. The whole city was evidently alarmed. Wells at once formed
his men in a circle, so their beams would guard them on every side and
above. Apparently the octopi could not approach within thirty feet of
them, and even at that distance they turned and fled, writhing with
pain, whenever a shaft of light struck full in their eyes.

"The square's just ahead!" the commander roared. "One last rush, now,
and we'll reach the submarine! Stick close; keep your arms locked; and
watch out above!"

The circle of men narrowed. The rays gave their tiny cluster the
appearance of a monster even more fantastic than those moiling around
them--a monster with long straight tentacles of glaring white. They
stumbled forward through the magically parting ranks of black octopi.
The beams kept the creatures back; they were helpless before them.

Foot by foot under the inverted bowl of threshing tentacles the
_NX-1's_ crew lumbered ahead. The street at last ceased; the wide
square opened before them.

"We're here!" Wells yelled exultantly. "This is the--"

His voice fell into abrupt silence. He stared around the square, and
his heart went cold indeed. They had reached the right place, but it
was empty.

The _NX-1_ was not there!


CHAPTER VIII

_Cook, the Navigator_

Through all these hours, one man had remained on the _NX-1_, and that
man was, to put it mildly, scared to death.

Cook Angus McKegnie had been nearest the connecting ladder when Keith
Wells roared out the command to retreat above, and his desire to
regain a place of safety was so earnest that he made the control room
in record time. At once he had felt the tingle of the paralyzing ray.
Struck by a horrible thought, he ventured to peer down the ladder--and
groaned to see the figures of his comrades, all lying limply on the
deck. His portly frame quivered like jelly as realization came to him
that he was the only one who had escaped the ray.

Heroic ideas of saving the submarine, of rescuing the men below,
flashed wildly through his head. But only for a moment. On second
thought, he felt he ought to hide. So, in the tomblike silence that
had fallen, the two-hundred-and-twenty-pound McKegnie wormed a way
behind an instrument panel, effecting the journey by vigorous shoves
of his stomach. It was minutes later that he first noticed that some
sharp jutting object was jutting deep into his ample paunch, but he
could do nothing to remedy it. He was hidden, anyway, and he was going
to stay hidden!

The cook felt the _NX-1_ being towed forward. Then, after a dreadful
wait, he heard queer noises down below, and was positive the exit
ports had opened. The snakelike slithering and shuffling which
followed would mean that the enemy was inside the _NX-1._ The thought
brought St. Vitus' dance to his limbs, and, try as he might, he
couldn't still them. Then again the ports opened, the gloomy silence
returned, and Angus McKegnie was alone with his reflections.

       *       *       *       *       *

After the first hour he gave voice to them in one simple, bitter
sentence. "Just why the hell," he muttered, "did I ever join the
Navy?" The silence offered no reply, and McKegnie, desperate from his
cramped position, ventured to poke his head around the instrument
panel. The faint emergency lights showed the control room to be empty.
He decided to come out, and did so, worming his way back with great
difficulty.

Once out, the first thing his eyes fell on was the teleview screen.
Now the cook had never seen one of the octopi, and the screen showed
hundreds of monsters clustering around the _NX-1._ So with unusual
promptness he acted, jamming himself once again into his hiding place.
Maybe, he thought, they had some way in which they could see into the
control room and discover him!

Hours passed. The cook was sopping with sweat. Finally his thoughts
emerged into words.

"I got to get out of here!" he said intensely. "I _got_ to! And I got
to run this submarine!"

The sound of his voice somehow emboldened him. Once more he backed out
of his cranny, and with cautious, trembling steps explored the control
room. He kept his eyes from the teleview, though it had a terrible
fascination for him, and surveyed the _NX-1's_ array of control
instruments. The prospective navigator groaned at the sight.

There were dozens of mysterious wheels, jutting from every possible
angle, squads of black and red-handled levers, whole armies of queer
little stud-buttons and dials. His knowledge of cooking helped him not
at all in the presence of that maze of devices. Timidly he touched one
of the levers, but immediately snatched his hand away as if afraid it
would bite. His boldly announced purpose of running the craft went
glimmering.

       *       *       *       *       *

An accidental glimpse of the monsters in the teleview suddenly decided
him that he needed a weapon. He hunted frantically through the lockers
and found three service revolvers, which he fastened at his waist,
adding his own carving knife to the arsenal. But he didn't feel much
better. Then, remembering for the first time his sea-suit radio, he
yelled: "Mr. Wells! Mr. Wells! Oh, Mr. Wells, where are you? Can you
hear me?" There was, of course, no answer.

He tried to bring his muddled thoughts and fears to order. "I got to
run this thing," he said doggedly. "_Got_ to! Now, let's see: what the
hell's this thing for?... What the--"

He broke off short, and his eyes went wide. He had heard a noise!

Yes--there it was again! The same peculiar scraping at one of the exit
ports! He glanced fearfully at the teleview. "Oh, Lord!" he yelped.
"They're comin' in to get me!"

He started to dive back behind the instrument panel, but stopped, drew
two guns, and in an agonized muddle trotted back and forth for a
moment, waving them. Another look at the screen showed that an exit
port was open, admitting two metal-scaled octopi. McKegnie couldn't
stand it any longer: he wedged himself behind his panel again. Soon
sounds of the metal tentacles on the deck below told him that one of
the creatures was coming up the ramp--then slithering into the control
room itself. The cook was a lather of cold perspiration.

For a few minutes there was silence. The octopus was apparently
surveying this new part of the submarine. Then, without warning, the
tip of a metal-scaled tentacle felt around the panel and crept,
exploring, up Angus McKegnie's leg--which leg was again suddenly
afflicted with St. Vitus' dance. The tentacles coiled, pulled
hard--and the cook with a yowl was yanked out into the room.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dangling upside down, high in the air, he submitted to the fishy stare
of the great eyes under the sheathing of glass. But soon he started to
squirm, and his violent contortions brought a rush of blood to his
head, making him quite dizzy. It was while he was in that state that
things started to happen.

First, a great roar rolled through the _NX-1_, and McKegnie found
himself flat on the floor with his breath knocked out. Then, while
this was registering on his mind, he discovered himself the center of
a madly milling set of tentacles, and instinctively scrambled out of
the way. From a distance he saw that the tentacles belonged to the
octopus that had held him, and that their coilings and threshings were
gradually dying down, until only a quiver ran through them from time
to time. While McKegnie was trying to figure this all out he noticed
that the monster's glass sheeting was shattered, that it lay in a pool
of water, and that the odor of burnt powder was in the air. Looking
down he found that he had a gun in his hand. A thin wisp of smoke was
curling from the barrel.

"Gee whiz!" he ejaculated. "Gee _whiz_!"

As he stood there recovering from his surprise, he heard the other
octopus crawling up the connecting ramp, coming to see what had
befallen its fellow. Preceded by two trembling guns, McKegnie tiptoed
to the ramp and peered down.

From the darkness he saw another complicated mass of metal tentacles
and glass advancing up towards him. Fear smote the cook, and almost
without volition be pointed his guns and pulled the triggers. As
before, a bullet crashed into the great dome of glass, and he watched
a short but terrible death struggle. He had, by himself, slain two
octopi!

A tremendous elation filled McKegnie--until it occurred to him that
his shots might have been heard outside. At once he ran and looked at
the teleview view screen, and what he saw on its silver surface took
all the triumph abruptly out of him. The octopi outside were darting
about with alarming activity; a whole cluster of them was centered at
the exit port, and, even as the cook stared, the preliminary sounds of
opening it came to his ears.

"Now I _got_ to run this ship!" he groaned.

       *       *       *       *       *

He peered at the mass of levers and wheels, put out a hand, closed his
eyes, hesitated, and pulled one of them back. Nothing happened.

He tried another. The noise below grew, but still the _NX-1_ remained
motionless. Desperate, the cook jerked several other levers. The whine
of electric motors surged through the silence; the submarine shuddered
and slewed off to the right, as if trying to dig into the sea-floor.

"I got it started!" he cried. He did something else. The _NX-1_ stuck
her bow dizzily up and sped into the misty-blue realm above in a
grand, sweeping circle. The sea-floor with its mound-buildings and
swarming octopi fell away behind with a rush.

"There!" muttered the triumphant cook. "But--how did I do it?"

The submarine was rising like a sky-rocket. McKegnie remembered
suddenly that Wells had said the cavern was only a few miles high; he
must now be very near the top. He held his breath while he pushed a
likely looking lever the other way.

He was lucky. The _NX-1_ capered like a two-year-old, kicked up her
stern and bolted eagerly for the depths once more. Again the floor of
the cavern rushed up at him, again he pulled the potent lever back,
and again the submarine meteored upward.

This procedure went on for some time. McKegnie was only running an
elevator. Was he doomed to dash up and down between floor and ceiling
forever? He gave forth pints of sweat, now and then groaning as the
submarine grazed horribly close to top or bottom. The dead octopus at
his feet slithered limply around on the crazy-angling deck.

"I can't keep this up forever!" the cook said peevishly. "Now, what
the hell's this thing for?"

       *       *       *       *       *

He turned it, and the _NX-1_ tilted in one of her dives and raced
forward, midway between ceiling and floor. Her navigator relaxed
slightly. He had found the major controls; at least he had been able
to stop his dizzy game of plunging up and down. Then, just as he was
beginning to wonder where he could go, a large red spot glowed at the
edge of the location chart.

"Oh, Lord!" he cried. "That's the other submarine--an' it's comin'
after me!"

Evidently it was, for the red spot rapidly approached the green one.
The paralyzing ray tingled, and a moment later the enemy's huge bulk
loomed on the teleview screen, a band of violet light spearing from
one of her jutting knobs.

Frantically McKegnie juggled his levers, and then it was that the
_NX-1_ really showed what was in her. She emulated, on a grand scale,
a bucking bronco: she stood almost on her nose, and threatened to
describe somersaults; she tried it the other way, on her stern; she
rolled dizzily; she all but looped the loop, and went staggering
around the cavern in great erratic bounds that must have made the
octopi think she was in the hands of a mad-man--which she practically
was. Her designer would have had heart failure.

In the teleview screen the frantic McKegnie would see the octopi
submarine rush erratically by with a flash of its violet heat ray; the
location chart showed the red spot zigzagging drunkenly around the
green one. Each boat made occasional short, crazy darts at the other;
sometimes they would stand approximately still. It was a riotous game
of tag, and McKegnie knew too well that he was "it."

During one brief pause the anguished cook found himself groaning
aloud: "Oh, Mr. Wells, where are you? I can't keep this up! I can't! I
can't!"

       *       *       *       *       *

There were still several important-looking controls that were
mysteries to him. But what if he should pull one and open all the exit
ports? He shuddered at the thought.

Things had become nightmarish. The ship was pitted scores of places by
the heat ray. The control room had grown stifling. McKegnie was losing
pounds of flesh, and literally stood in a pool of his own
perspiration. The octopi craft kept doggedly after the _NX-1_, no
matter how often and effectually the sweating cook's reckless hands
prevented her getting the heat ray home.

For a long time the two ships continued to race up and down. The
_NX-1_ would plunge, pirouette around the other, and scamper away
towards the ceiling as if enjoying it all hugely, abruptly to forsake
her course and come zooming down once more. She would weave in romping
circles and seem to go utterly crazy as her jumbled navigator pulled
his levers and turned his wheels in a frantic effort to get somewhere.

To get somewhere! Yes--but where?

"Oh, Mr. Wells, where are you?" the harried cook would bleat at
intervals.

Or, plaintively: "Now, what the hell's _this_ thing for?"


CHAPTER IX

_At Bay_

Fourteen humans stood at bay on the cold sea-floor, dazed by the
ruthless stroke of ill-luck which had taken the _NX-1_ from where they
had left it.

"It's gone," whispered Graham over and over in a hopeless tone. Keith
tried to pull himself together. He had to think of his men.

In a second, his whole plan, which had seemed to be approaching
success so rapidly, was smashed by the disappearance of the submarine.
Mechanically he kept his helmet-light playing into the ever-thickening
eyes and tentacles around him, while he scanned the sea-floor nearby.
It was filling more closely than ever with the black, writhing forms
of the cuttlefish. The rays still held them back, but their great bulk
loomed over the small party of humans like a sinister storm cloud.
Soon, in their overwhelming mass, they would crush down, and the
submarine's crew be conquered by sheer force of numbers.

"Look!" Keith cried. "There's where she was lying!"

He pointed out on the floor of the square a deep groove, obviously
made by the hull of the _NX-1_. Its length and jaggedness seemed to
denote that the submarine had tried to bore into the bed of the cavern
itself. Wells was mystified. If the octopi-ship had towed her away,
she would certainly not have gouged that deep scar on the sea
bottom....

But he dismissed the strange disappearance from his mind. He had to
work out a plan of action.

"Keep together, men, and follow that scar!" he ordered tersely.
"There's a chance that the _NX-1's_ somewhere further along!"

It was a futile hope, he knew--but there was nothing else. The tiny
group, centered in the inverted bowl of black, writhing tentacles,
lumbered onward.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then the octopi struck with another weapon, in an effort to dull the
spearing beams of white. Here and there from the mass of black an even
blacker cloud began to emerge. It quickly settled over the whole
scene, pervading it with a pitchy, clinging darkness that obscured
each man from his neighbor.

"Ink!" cried one of them. It was sepia from the cuttlefish's ink
sacs--the weapon with which these monsters of the underseas blind and
confuse their victims.

"Faster!" the commander roared in answer. "And for heaven's sake, keep
together!"

They huddled closer. Under the protecting cloud of ink the mass of
octopi pressed nearer. The struggle became fantastic, unreal, as the
brilliant beams of white bored through the utter blackness searching
for eyes which the men knew were there, yet could not see until their
rays chanced upon them. Snaky shadows milled horribly close to the
little group of bulging yellow figures. Blacker and blacker grew the
water; they could not always see the monsters as they drove them back
on each side. Now and then a bold tentacle actually touched one of
them for a moment before its owner was thrust, blinded, away.

Suddenly the dark cloud cleared a little as the fight moved into an
unseen current. Their range of vision lengthened to ten or twelve
feet; they could dimly sense the looming mass of cuttlefish: and it
was less often that one of the monsters darted forward, daring the
rays of white, and became altogether visible. When this did happen,
half a dozen dazzling beams converged on the octopus' eyes and drove
it back in writhing agony.

The men were the hub of a grotesque cartwheel, whose spokes were
inter-crossing rays of white. They still forged onward along the
groove, but moved more slowly now, and Keith Wells, tired to death,
realized the combat could not go on much longer. Their advance was
useless; a mere jest. The _NX-1_ had vanished. It would only be a
question of time before their batteries gave out, or the swarms of
octopi crushed in on the struggling crew. Their overwhelming numbers
would tell in the end.... The men were silent, except for the
occasional gasps which came from their laboring lungs.

       *       *       *       *       *

And then the king of the octopi appeared.

Keith had been wondering, in the aching turmoil that was his brain,
where the gold-banded monarch was. He knew the monster had been
rescued, and he dreaded coming face to face once more with that huge
form. Now, armlets of glittering yellow suddenly flashed in the thick
of the besieging tentacles, and two great evil eyes glared for a
second at Keith Wells. The commander flung a burst of light at them
and laughed crazily as the monster scurried back. For a few moments
the king was not visible.

"Well, fellows," Wells said, "it won't be long now. His Majesty's back
on the field." He grinned a little through his weary face. "I wonder
what he'll hatch up to combat our helmet-lights? Watch close: he's
damn clever!"

The commander did not have long to wonder. The vague wall of tentacles
began retreating deeper into the ink. Keith could not imagine the
reason for it, but held himself taut and ready. His men, likewise
noting the move, unconsciously grouped closer, waiting tensely for
they knew not what.

The king of the octopi had indeed hatched a plan of attack. After a
moment the mass of creatures again became slowly visible, but this
time when the rays shot out they did not hold them back. Could
not--for their eyes were not visible.

"My God!" Wells cried. "They're coming backwards!"

       *       *       *       *       *

It was so. The octopi--no doubt under their ruler's orders--had turned
themselves around, and now, with eyes directly away from the dazzling
shafts of white, were closing slowly in on the humans from all sides.
The helmet-lights were useless. They could not reach the creatures'
eyes.

Tentacles coiling, whipping, interweaving, the wall of flesh pressed
in. Death stared the helpless crew of the _NX-1_ in the face. First
Officer Graham shrugged his shoulders and said tiredly:

"Well, I guess it's all over.... Unless," he added with a feeble
smile, "somebody figures a way to melt us through the sea-floor...."

Keith Wells' face suddenly lit up with an idea. He swung around and
roared:

"The hell it's over! We can go _up_!"

His crew understood at once. "What fools we--" Graham began, but Keith
cut him short.

"Listen," he rapped quickly. "Jam together in one bunch and lock arms
tight. When I give the word, flood your suits with air. We'll go up
like comets; crash right through the devils.... Hurry!... All ready?"

He saw that they were. "Then, together--go!" he commanded.

As one man the crew adjusted their air-controls, bulging the sea-suits
with air. Their weighted feet left the cavern floor at once, and,
locked tightly together, the whole fourteen of them shot like a bullet
to the living ceiling of unsuspecting cuttlefish above.

They hit with a terrific crash. Keith was momentarily stunned by the
force of impact. He felt himself torn away from his men, felt a dozen
tentacles snake over him, and mechanically stabbed out with his
helmet-light. For a moment he was held; then the air and his light
pulled him through, and he broke out through the top.

In his rocketing upward progress the extra oxygen rapidly cleared his
mind. Glancing below he saw a great, dark, many-fingered cloud
dropping rapidly away, and was glad to know that the octopi could not
follow him into the lesser pressures above without their suits. Over
the dark cloud he glimpsed a few scattered pin-points of light--the
helmet-beams of the other men. They were rising as swiftly as he.

"Thank God!" he murmured reverently. "We broke through! We broke
through!"


CHAPTER X

_The Return of the Wanderer_

Wells watched the several helmet-lights shooting upwards and wondered
if they represented all the men that had got safely through the net of
tentacles. Remembering the rocky ceiling they were rapidly
approaching, he ordered the others to reduce speed by discharging air
from their sea-suits. He received no articulate answer.

Although he cut down the rush of his own progress, it was with a jar
that he bounded into the top of the cavern. As he dangled there, he
beheld four light beams hurtling upward; his earphones registered
crash after crash: and then he saw the beams go spinning down into the
gloom again, weaving and crossing fantastically, the shock having
jerked them from their owner's hands. Keith had lost his own
helmet-light below, but peering around he could make out a few vague
forms, bumping and twisting in the current.

"Graham!" the commander called. "Graham, you there?" After a moment
his first officer's voice came thickly back.

"Yes--here. A bit groggy. That crash...." Wells swam clumsily towards
him.

"I guess only a few of us broke through," the commander said slowly.
As the two officers hung at the roof, swinging grotesquely, one by one
the other men came to their senses and reported their presence in the
radiophone. Keith ordered them to cluster around him, and soon eight
weird figures had grouped nearby. After a while they located two
others, which brought their total to ten men and two officers. They
looked a long time, but could not find any more. Two were gone.

       *       *       *       *       *

Deep silence fell over the tiny group. The dark mass of the rocky
ceiling scraped their helmets; below, the bluish waters tapered into a
thick gloom, hiding, miles beneath, the mound-buildings and swarming
octopi.

One of the men spoke. His words were audible to everyone, and they
voiced the thought in every brain:

"What're we going to do now?"

Keith had no answer. They had escaped the immediate danger, but it was
only a temporary respite. The commander knew it was hopeless to try
and locate the tunnel leading to the outer sea, for they were very
tired, and in their clumsy suits they would be able to swim only a few
rods. Their helmet-lights were gone; they had played their last card.

"They're goin' to find us after a while," the pessimistic voice
continued. "They'll send that submarine of theirs after us--or maybe
they'll come up in their metal suits...."

"Well," Keith replied with forced cheerfulness, "then we'll have to
fight 'em off."

"Why not rip our suits an' end it now--" began another, but Graham's
voice cut in sharply.

"Quiet!" he said. "I heard something!"

The men stilled abruptly. In tense silence their ears strained at the
headphones. Wells asked: "What did you hear?"

"Wait!" Graham interrupted, listening intently. "There it is again!
Listen! Can't you hear it? Why, it sounded like--like--"

Keith concentrated his whole mind on listening, but could catch
nothing at all. He was just about to give up when he caught a faint,
jumbled murmur--the murmur of a human voice.

"My God!" he whispered. The voice, little by little, grew, and Wells
could distinguish words. They formed into a complete sentence. Keith
heard it plainly. It was:

"Now, what the hell's this thing for?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Unmistakably, it was the voice of Cook Angus McKegnie, whom they all
had thought dead.

Amazed, the men of the crew started to jabber. "Quiet!" Wells ordered
sharply. He listened again. McKegnie's voice was growing quickly and
steadily louder.

"McKegnie!" the commander cried excitedly. "McKegnie, can you hear
me?" There was no answer. Patiently Wells waited a minute, every
second of which increased the volume of his long-lost cook's
bewildered tones. Again he tried.

"McKegnie! Can you hear me? This is Commander Wells. McKegnie!"

The cook's stammering voice came back:

"Why--why--is that you, Mr. Wells? Did I hear you, Mr. Wells?"

"Yes!" Keith shouted impatiently. "This is Commander Wells! For
heaven's sake, McKegnie, where are you?"

"I don't know, sir!" the cook responded. "Where are you?"

Keith was for the moment perplexed. "But--but, are you a prisoner?" he
questioned. And he could have sworn he heard a distinct note of pride
as the invisible McKegnie replied: "Oh, no, sir! Not yet! These devils
been tryin' their best to get me, but they couldn't! No, sir!"

Wells became more and more puzzled. "Then--but--you're not running the
_NX-1_, are you?"

McKegnie's voice was much louder now, and growing every second. The
note of pride persisted. "Of course, sir!" he confirmed. "It was kind
of hard at first, with these octopises botherin' me, but I got onto it
pretty quick. That octopis ship chased me with them heat rays for a
long time, but I ain't seen them lately. I guess I kinda tired them
out."

       *       *       *       *       *

His last words grew louder with a rush, and from the dark depths
beneath a long shape suddenly appeared, hurtling up at the group of
astounded men in a zoom that bade fair to take it straight through the
ceiling. It was the _NX-1_.

"Dive, man, dive!" Keith yelled. "Cook, pull that black-handled lever
towards you! Yank it back! Yank it back! Quick!" He sighed with relief
as he saw his madly-driven submarine pause, whip its nose downward,
and crash back for the depths from which it had come.

The commander spoke rapidly. "McKegnie, listen: Leave the black lever
halfway, so you'll level out. Straighten your helm. We're only a
little above you; come round in a circle till I tell you to stop."

The _NX-1_ came out of her dive, and, as the cook evidently shoved her
helm over, went skirting around in a wide, drunken circle, some
thousand feet below her regular crew.

"All right!" Keith shouted. The fear that the octopi submarine would
dart back before he could get aboard his ship was looming in his mind.
"You're at the helm, Cook; there's a wheel right over your head. Spin
it around--oh, my God, there you go again!" He groaned while the
_NX-1_ went swooping off on a repetition of her crazy circle.

"Sorry, sir," the culinary navigator said thickly. "I guess I got the
wrong thing."

"Now!" Wells roared. "Spin that wheel above your head.... That's
right--right--there! Don't touch a thing, Cook! We're coming down."

The submarine had paused directly beneath them, listing slightly to
port. Then began the cautious business of the descent. Under Wells'
rapid orders the men linked arms again and discharged more air from
their sea-suits. Slowly, thin chains of bubbles rising behind them,
they sank towards the dim shape of the _NX-1_ below. Wells' eyes kept
probing the thick gloom far beneath. Every moment he expected to see
it disgorge a swarm of octopi.

They neared the submarine, and saw numberless pitted spots in her
body, where the heat ray had stabbed for a moment. In their excitement
they missed their level by some feet, but clutching together they
admitted more air and soon rose even with the starboard exit port.

"Swim forward," Keith ordered. "Hurry!" The weird figures groped
clumsily, and very slowly neared the port. The commander, in the van,
at last reached out and gripped its jutting external controls. He
could not work them at first: his hands were numb and awkward.

As he tugged and struggled with them a shout rang in his headphone. It
was McKegnie, scared to death.

"Oh, hurry, Mr. Wells!" he yelled. "Quick! Quick, please! The octopis
ship's comin', sir! The red light's back!"


CHAPTER XI

_To the Death_

The emergency steadied Keith's fingers. He got the door open and
motioned Graham and six men inside the water chamber. The passage took
but a minute. Then he sent the rest of the crew in, being himself the
last to enter. When the chamber was finally empty, and Wells had
stepped through the inner door onto the lower deck of the _NX-1_, a
great sigh of relief broke from him. Never before had anything looked
so good as that brilliantly lit deck with its familiar maze of
machinery and bulkheads.

"Thank God," he said simply, and his joy was shared by the whole crew.
A new feeling had come over them. Back home--in their own submarine,
their own element--they had at least a fighting chance with the
octopi. But Keith let them waste no time. He knew that a final,
desperate duel to the death with their foe still was ahead. "Above to
the control room," he ordered. "Fast!"

They lumbered up the connecting ramp. A disheveled, wild-eyed form met
them. Keith couldn't help chuckling as he passed the now much thinner
and paler cook, with the arsenal handy at his waist. On the deck of
the control room lay a huge tentacled body, metal-scaled, with its
dome of glass shattered and its great cold eyes staring unseeingly
away. "I killed him," stammered McKegnie pridefully; "but Mr.
Wells--look at that red light, sir!"

Keith glanced rapidly at the location chart, ripping off his sea-suit
as he did. The fateful red stud was moving swiftly down on the
motionless green one. The men had surrounded McKegnie, laughing and
slapping him on the back, but the commander's terse orders jerked them
abruptly back to action.

"The rectifiers, Graham: clean out this stale air. Sea-suits off; at
emergency posts. Take the helm, Craig; you, Wetherby, trim the ship.
No, no, Cook--keep away from the controls!"

The _NX-1_ balanced herself; fresh air came rushing in, sweeping out
the stale. Keith stared at the location chart, waiting for the
submarine to be ready. The red light was almost upon them.

"Right!" he roared at last. "Diving rudder controls, Graham! Full
speed for the tunnel!"

       *       *       *       *       *

At that moment the octopi ship swept into view, its full battery of
offensive weapons flaring forth. The paralyzing ray tingled again and
again over the control room. Someone laughed at its uselessness. The
violet heat ray leveled full at them, but the commander avoided it
with "Port ten, starboard ten! Maintain zigzag course to the tunnel."
He understood the enemy's weapons now; he was throbbing with the
fierce thrill of action. This duel was to be the climax of their whole
adventure. "And, by heaven," he promised, "it's going to be a fight!"

The other craft seemed to realize the _NX-1_ was now in expert hands.
She raced along to starboard for some minutes, her heat ray trying
vainly to steady on the American's weaving form. Wells wondered if the
king of the octopi was aboard her, in command; he thought perhaps the
ship had postponed her chase of McKegnie to pick him up. "I hope he
is!" the commander breathed, and fingered the torpedo lever. He had
some debts to pay.

The _NX-1_, engines working smoothly, proceeded on a desperate dash
for the tunnel that led to the outer sea. But the octopi ship
apparently knew what Keith intended, for she abandoned her offensive
rays, changed course a few degrees and slowly but steadily pulled
ahead. "Damn!" Keith exclaimed. "She'll get there before us!"

The dim shape dwindled on the screen, and before long her bulk had
disappeared entirely. Wells then could watch her swift, straight
progress only on the location chart.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ten minutes later the funnel-like opening of the tunnel loomed on the
teleview, and squarely in front, blocking it, was the waiting form of
the octopi submarine.

"Quarter speed!" Keith snapped. "Hold her steady, Graham; I'm going to
try a bow torpedo. I think we're beyond their ray."

Sighting his range on the telescopic range-finder, he worked the
_NX-1_ slowly into position. He noticed that his first officer was
staring oddly at him. He was bothered by the queer look. "What's
wrong?" he asked impatiently.

"But--what about Hemmy Bowman?"

Bowman! In the rush of action and suspense, Keith Wells had completely
forgotten his officer in the enemy submarine. "Oh, God!" he groaned.
The cruel situation that had stayed his hand once before had again
come to falter his course of action. The men were watching him; Graham
had a question in his eyes. They all knew what had to be decided....

Keith shrugged his shoulders hopelessly. It was his greater duty to
destroy the octopi submarine. And yet--

"Fish for Hemmy, Sparks," he ordered. "Craig, keep present distance
from enemy. Full stop."

A moment later the radio operator looked up. "Mr. Bowman on the
phones, sir." With a heavy weight on his heart the commander clipped
on the extension headphones.

"Hemmy?"

"Keith? Keith? Thank God you're alive!" Bowman's voice shook with
gladness. "You're all back on the _NX-1_, Keith? The whole crew's with
you? Oh, Lord, it's good to hear you again!"

"Yes. We got back all right, Hemmy--a miracle. They've still got you
prisoner?"

"Yes.... Keith--you're trying to dodge out of the tunnel, aren't you?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Wells smiled bitterly, and as he paused to frame an answer Bowman
spoke again.

"I want you to blow up this submarine, Keith," he said quickly. "A
favor to me."

He cut Wells short when the commander started to interrupt. "Wait! Let
me finish," he pleaded. "I want to explain. I'd been hoping--but never
mind that.... Keith, a while ago I managed to work loose. I lost my
head completely and tackled these devils. It was a foolish thing to
do; they overcame me, naturally. But, in the struggle, they tore my
sea-suit."

"What!"

"Oh, just a tiny tear, or I wouldn't have lasted till now. But a leak
all the same--in the right leg. Since then I've been gripping the
edges of the fabric as tightly as I can--but I couldn't keep the water
inside this ship from seeping through. It came in slowly at first,
then faster as my hands grew numb. It's up to my neck now, Keith ...
and--it won't be long! I've just a few minutes left...."

The faint words tapered into silence.

"No!" roared Keith in a great rush of emotion. But Hemmy's eager
voice came right back:

"Oh yes, you must! It would be a mercy to kill me, Keith."

There were tears in the commander's eyes. "Are you sure, Hemmy?" he
asked. "Are you sure?"

"Oh, yes. It would be a mercy."

Wells' lips formed a straight grim line. His words squeezed through it
tightly. "All right, Hemmy. Thanks. Thanks. I--I'll go after them now,
old man. I'll try and keep in touch with you through the duel, but
I--I can't promise--"

He could almost see Hemingway Bowman give his old familiar smile as he
answered:

"Then so long, Keith!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Commander Keith Wells studied the teleview screen. The men were half
afraid to look at his strained blanched face.

Repeatedly the violet beam speared through the water, reaching for the
_NX-1's_ bow.

"Turn ship. Line up for stern torpedoes," the commander ordered
harshly. He realized he could not hold his submarine steady to obtain
a perfect sight, for the heat ray needed only thirty seconds to melt
through their shell. He would have to swing the ship slowly about;
and, as the shape of the enemy crossed the hair-lines on the
range-finder, unleash his torpedoes and gamble on hitting the moving
target.

The _NX-1_ swung around, always maintaining a slight forward motion
and zigzagging constantly to nullify the heat beam. Wells watched the
range-finder closely. The octopi ship slanted downwards, the deadly
violet ray stabbing from her bow. Slowly the black dot that
represented her appeared on the dial, and slowly it dropped towards
the crossed lines that showed the perfect firing point.

Keith grasped the torpedo lever. The _NX-1's_ stern was towards her
target. Dead silence hung in the control room. The _NX-1_ swung
slightly. The octopi craft appeared directly in the middle of the
dial.

Wells pulled back the lever.

The hiss of compressed air sprang from her stern. He had fired two
tubes, his whole stock of stern torpedoes. The pair of dreadful
weapons leaped out and settled on their course. Keith shot his gaze to
the teleview.

The torpedoes missed. Only by feet, but a miss all the same. They
raced on past the octopi submarine and, with a tremendous, ear-numbing
explosion, burst on the wall of the cavern beyond. Both ships reeled
from the shock. Graham swore viciously, but Wells' masklike face
showed no slightest change of expression....

A voice rang in Keith's headphones. "Tough, Keith! Better luck next
time!" Then the commander winced. He simply could not answer Hemmy
Bowman; could not answer that fine, brave voice....

       *       *       *       *       *

The stern torpedoes were gone. The tubes could not be reloaded, for
the paralyzing ray bound the men to the control room. That left them
two torpedoes in the bow.

The violet heat ray kept fingering hungrily on their outer hull, and
every man knew that the plates were weakening under the steady strain,
which was only lessened by the _NX-1's_ constant zigzagging. The
control room was very hot. Both ships were now a full mile from the
tunnel entrance. Keith plunged the _NX-1_ down, swung her around, to
bring his bow tubes to bear, and zigzagged upwards.

It was obvious that the octopi craft had been alarmed by the terrific
explosion. They now adopted tactics similar to the American ship's,
and for awhile both submarines circled cautiously, maneuvering for an
opening.

"If only we could keep the ship steady!" Graham muttered. "But then
that heat ray'd get us!"

The commander kept his eyes on the teleview. Again and again the
violet shaft pronged at them. The heat grew stifling. Sweat was
pouring from all the men's bodies. Every face was strained and taut.

"Starboard full!" Wells said suddenly. "A little up, Graham!" He had
seen a chance; the octopi craft was slightly above, and in a moment
would pass directly in the line of the bow tubes. The _NX-1_ stuck her
nose up, swung rapidly to the right. Keith pulled back the firing
lever, releasing one torpedo.

The long messenger of death hurtled straight for the enemy's hull.
They watched its course breathlessly....

"My God!" the first officer groaned. "Could they see it coming?" For
the octopi submarine had swung to one side, neatly dodging the
speeding tube of dynamite.

"One left!" he added bitterly. "One left!"

       *       *       *       *       *

A desperate plan formed in Keith Wells' mind. His last torpedo simply
had to strike the mark; he could take no chances with it. He motioned
the haggard-faced Graham to him.

"There's only one thing left to do," he said quietly. "We've got to
deliberately face that heat ray; chance its puncturing our plates."

"How do you mean, sir?"

"Get in very close, so as to make our last torpedo sure to hit. We've
got to approach the enemy head-on at full speed. We'll corkscrew up to
them until we get within two hundred yards, then go straight forward
for ten or fifteen seconds, giving us the opportunity to sight the
remaining torpedo directly on them. The heat ray may break through
before I fire--but when I do fire it's a sure hit."

The men had heard every word. Quietly Wells ordered:

"Take the torpedo control, Graham. I'll take the helm."

The first officer obeyed without a word. Keith grasped the helm. The
plans were made for their last desperate attempt.

"Right," the commander said shortly. "Here we go."

       *       *       *       *       *

There had been a taut silence before, but now, knowing that they were
deliberately offering themselves a perfect target for the heat ray in
order to get their last torpedo home, the intensity was almost
unbearable. The men felt like shrieking, jumping--doing anything to
break the awful hush. The air was charged with the same unnameable
something that heralds a typhoon.

Keith Wells was like a white statue at the helm, save for the
betraying trickles of sweat that coursed down his drawn cheeks. His
hands moved the wheel slowly from port to starboard; his eyes bored at
the screen before him. The ship was in command of a man of steel, a
man with but one purpose....

"Up--up," he ordered. "Hold--in trim--full speed forward!"

He had brought the _NX-1_ directly in line with the octopi ship. And
now the craft leaped forward under full power, while he shot the helm
back and forth ceaselessly. His ship was describing a corkscrewing
motion, weaving straight at the enemy. Grasping her opportunity, the
octopi submarine remained motionless, steadily dousing the approaching
American craft with her silent violet ray and driving the temperature
in the control room to even greater heights.

The distance between them rapidly lessened. Would the plates stand it?
Would the ray melt through the weakened steel before he could fire?
With an effort Keith drove these doubts from his mind ... but he could
not banish a certain dull, steady ache from his consciousness....

       *       *       *       *       *

The range dwindled. The heat became intolerable. Everyone's clothing
was sopping wet. A man ripped off his shirt, gasping for air. Wells
kept his eyes on the screen, though half-blinded by smarting sweat.
The plates had to give soon, he knew.

The octopi submarine, beam on and dead ahead, began to move to port at
quickly increasing speed. At once Keith stopped swinging the helm, and
the _NX-1's_ corkscrewing motion of protection ceased. And then came
the real test, the gauntlet of seconds.

Right straight into the retreating violet beam they went, at top
speed. They gained rapidly. The heat was furnace-like. The commander,
watching the range-finder, kept moving the helm slightly over. A shaft
of violet heat spanned the two shells of metal. For ten seconds it had
held on the _NX-1_. The black dot of the enemy craft moved slowly to
exact center on the dial. Fifteen seconds ... twenty ...
twenty-three--

"Fire!"

Graham jammed the torpedo lever back.

"Crash dive!"

The deck tilted downward. And Wells' white lips formed the words, "So
long, Hemmy!"--and he tore the phones from his head.

Seconds later a titanic explosion sounded through the cavern; echoed
and re-echoed in vasty roars. The American craft's lights went
off--but not before her men had seen, in the teleview, a fire-shot
maelstrom where a moment before the octopi submarine had been.

"We got them!" yelled Graham.

       *       *       *       *       *

A roar of exultation burst from every throat. The men flung their arms
out, jumped, yelled crazily. Faint emergency lights lit the scene.

"Below, at regular posts," Wells ordered. "Reload bow and stern tubes.
Graham, see to the lights." He himself remained at the helm. In a few
moments the submarine had climbed back to the level of the tunnel. At
quarter speed she nosed into the wide entrance, and slowly forged into
the dense, deceptive shadows.

The commander acted mechanically. Again by touch he steered his ship
through the black, ragged cleft. Fifteen minutes after leaving the
cavern of the octopi her bow poked through the weaving kelp into the
free, salty depths of the Atlantic Ocean.

There was one more task to perform, and Wells lost no time in doing
it. When two hundred yards away he halted the _NX-1_, steadied her and
sighted the stern tubes just above the dark tunnel hole. Quickly he
sent forth two torpedoes.

A huge roar rumbled through the water, whipping the beds of kelp to
mad convulsions. "Turn around," the commander ordered harshly. He
sighted his bow tubes and again let loose a bolt of two torpedoes.
Then he sent the submarine forward, and, through the teleview,
examined what his four weapons had done.

Huge chunks of rock had been tumbled down, completely closing the
tunnel.

"Well," said Graham, "it's over! Finished! They'll never get through
that!"

       *       *       *       *       *

A full-throated cheer burst from the men below, a cheer that rang for
minutes as they realized they were free forever of the octopi, of the
cold underwater city, of the clutching tentacles. Graham grinned
broadly.

"Sound happy--eh?" he chuckled. "Say, Keith, it's good we've got those
two octopi our fighting cook killed. Knapp would never believe our
story without them!"

He stared curiously at his commander. Wells was standing quite still,
facing the teleview screen. A strange, far-away look was in his eyes.

"What's the matter, old man?" the first officer asked, smiling
straight at him. "Aren't you glad we won through?"

"Of course," answered Keith with a tired smile in return.

"But why did you look that way?" Graham persisted. And Keith Wells
told him:

"I was just wondering if Hemmy told the truth."



The Black Lamp

_By Captain S. P. Meek_

[Illustration: _"Look out!" He leaped to one side as he spoke._]

[Sidenote: Dr. Bird and his friend Carnes unravel another criminal web
of scientific mystery.]


"The clue, Carnes," said Dr. Bird slowly, "lies in those windows."

Operative Carnes of the United States Secret Service shook his head
before he glanced at the windows of the famous scientist's private
laboratory on the top floor of the Bureau of Standards.

"I usually defer to your knowledge, Doctor," he said, "but this time I
think you are off on the wrong foot. If the thieves came in through
the windows, what was their object in cutting that hole through the
roof? The marks are very plain and they indicate that the hole was cut
in some manner from the inside."

Dr. Bird smiled enigmatically.

"That is too evident for discussion," he replied. "I grant you that
the thieves entered from the roof through that hole. After they had
secured their booty they left by the same route. I presume that you
have noticed the marks on the roof where an aircraft of some sort,
probably a helicopter, landed and took off. A question of much greater
moment is that of what they did before they landed and cut the hole."

"I don't follow your reasoning, Doctor."

"Carnes, that hole was cut through the roof with a heavy saw. In
cutting it, the workers dislodged quite a little plaster which fell to
the floor and must have made a great deal of noise. Why wasn't that
noise heard?"

"It was heard. The watchman heard it, but knew that Lieutenant Breslau
was working here and he thought that he made the noise."

"Surely, but why didn't Breslau hear it?"

"How do we know that he didn't? He was taken to Walter Reed Hospital
this morning with his mind an absolute blank and with his tongue
paralyzed. He must have seen the thieves and they treated him in some
way to ensure his silence. When he is able to talk, if he ever is,
he'll probably give us a good description of them."

       *       *       *       *       *

Dr. Bird shook his head.

"Too thin, Carney, old dear," he said. "Breslau is a very intelligent
young man. He was perfectly normal when I left him shortly after
midnight last night. He was working alone in here on a device of the
utmost military importance. On the desk is a push button which sets
ringing a dozen gongs in the building. Surely a man of that type would
have had sense enough when he heard and saw intruders cutting a hole
through the roof to sound an alarm which would have brought every
watchman on the grounds to his assistance. He must have been knocked
out before the hole was started, probably before the helicopter's
landing."

"How? Gas of some sort?"

"The windows were all closed and locked and I have already ascertained
that the gas and water lines have not been tampered with. Gas won't
penetrate through a solid roof in sufficient concentration to knock
out a man like that. It was something more subtle than gas."

"What was it?"

"I don't know yet. The clue to what it was lies, as I told you, in
those windows."

Carnes moved over and surveyed the windows closely.

"I see nothing unusual about them except that they need washing rather
badly."

"They were washed last Friday, but they do look rather dirty, don't
they? Suppose you take a rag and some scouring soap and clean up a
pane."

The detective took the proffered articles and started his task. He wet
a pane of glass, rubbed up a thick lather of scouring soap and applied
it and rubbed vigorously. With clear water he washed the glass and
then gave an exclamation of astonishment and examined it more closely.

"That isn't dirt, Doctor," he cried. "The glass seems to be fogged."

Dr. Bird chuckled.

"So it seems," he admitted. "Now look at the rest of the glass around
the laboratory."

Carnes looked around and then walked to a table littered with
apparatus and examined a dozen pieces carefully.

"It's all fogged in exactly the same way, Doctor," he said. "The only
piece of clear glass in the room is that piece of plate glass on your
desk."

       *       *       *       *       *

Dr. Bird picked up a hammer and struck the plate on his desk a sharp
blow. Carnes ducked instinctively, but the hammer rebounded harmlessly
from the plate.

"That isn't glass, Carnes," said the doctor. "That plate is made of
vitrilene, a new product which I have developed. It looks like glass,
but it has entirely different properties. It is of enormous strength
and is quite insensitive to shock. It has one most peculiar property.
While ultra-violet and longer rays will penetrate it quite readily, it
is a perfect screen for X-rays and other rays of shorter wave length.
It appears to be the only piece of transparent substance in my
laboratory which has not been fogged, as you call it."

"Do short waves fog glass, Doctor?"

"Not so far as I know at present, but you must remember that very
little work has been done with the short wave-lengths. In the vast
range of waves whose lengths lie between zero and that of the X-ray,
only a few points have been investigated and definitely plotted. There
may be in that range a wave-length which will fog glass."

"Then your theory is that some sort of a ray machine was put in
operation before the helicopter landed?"

"It is too early to attempt any theorizing, Carnes. Let us confine
ourselves to the known facts. Lieutenant Breslau was normal at
midnight and was working in this room. Some time between then and
seven this morning he underwent certain mental and physical changes
which prevent him from telling us what he observed. During the same
period, a hole was cut in the roof and things of great importance
stolen. At the same time, all the glass in the laboratory became
semi-opaque. The problem is to determine what connection there is
between the three events. I will handle the scientific end here, but
there is some outside work to be done, and that will be your share."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Give your orders, Doctor," said the detective briefly.

"To understand what I am driving at, I will have to tell you what has
been stolen. Naturally this is highly confidential. Some rumors have
leaked out as to my experiments with 'radite,' as I have named the
new radium-containing disintegrating explosive on which I have been
working, but no one short of the Secretary of War and the Chief of
Ordnance and certain of their selected subordinates knows that my
experiments have been successful and that the United States is in a
position to manufacture radite in almost unlimited quantities from the
pitchblende ore deposits of Wyoming and Nevada. The effects of radite
will be catastrophic on the unfortunate victim on whom it is first
used. The only thing left to do was to develop a gun from which radite
shells could be fired with safety and precision.

"Ordinary propellant powders are too variable for this purpose, but I
found that radite B, one form of my new explosive, can be used for
propelling the shells from a gun. The ordinary gun will last only two
or three rounds, due to the erosive action of the radite charge on the
barrel, and ordinary ordnance is heavier and more cumbersome than is
necessary. When this was found to be the case, the Chief of Ordnance
detailed Lieutenant Breslau, the army's greatest expert on gun design,
to work with me in an attempt to develop a suitable weapon. Breslau is
a wizard at that sort of work and he has made a miniature working
model of a gun with a vitrilene-lined barrel which is capable of being
fired with a miniature shell. The gun will stand up under the repeated
firing of radite charges and is very light and compact and gives an
accuracy of fire control heretofore deemed impossible. From this he
planned to construct a larger weapon which would fire a shell
containing an explosive charge of two and one-half ounces of radite at
a rate of fire of two hundred shots per minute. The destructive effect
of each shell will be greater than that of the ordinary high-explosive
shell fired from a sixteen-inch mortar, and all of the shells can be
landed inside a two-hundred foot circle at a range of fifteen miles.
The weight of the completed gun will be less than half a ton,
exclusive of the firing platform. It is Breslau's working model which
has been stolen."

       *       *       *       *       *

Carnes whistled softly between his teeth.

"The matter will have to be handled pretty delicately to avoid
international complications," he said. "It's hard to tell just where
to look. There are a great many nations who would give any amount for
a model of such a weapon."

"The matter must be handled delicately and also in absolute secrecy,
Carnes. We are not yet ready to announce to the world the fact that we
have such a weapon in our armory. It is the plan of the President to
have a half dozen of these weapons manufactured and give a
demonstration of their terrible effectiveness to representatives of
the powers of the world. Think what an argument the existence of such
a weapon will be for the furtherance of his plans for disarmament and
universal peace! Public sentiment will force disarmament on the world,
for even the worst jingoist could no longer defend armaments in the
face of America's offer to scrap these super-engines of destruction
and to destroy the plans from which they were made. If the model has
fallen into the hands of any civilized power the damage is not
irreparable, for public opinion would force its surrender and return.
It is among the uncivilized powers that our search must first be
made."

"That makes the problem of where to start more complicated."

"On the contrary, it simplifies it immensely. At the head of the
uncivilized powers stands one which has the brains, the scientific
knowledge and the manufacturing facilities to make terrible use of
such a weapon. In addition, the aim of that power is to overthrow all
world governments and set up in their stead its own tyrannical
disorder. Need I name it?"

"You refer to Russia."

"Not to Russia, the great slumbering giant who will some day take her
place in the sun in fellowship with the other nations, but to
Bolsheviki, that empire within an empire, that horrible power which it
holding sleeping Russia in chains of steel and blood. It is there that
our search must first be made."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Of course, they have no official representative in America."

"No, but the Young Labor Party is as much their accredited
representative as the British Ambassador is of imperial Britain. Your
first task will be to trail down and locate every leader of that group
and to investigate his present activities."

"I can tell you where most of them are without investigation. Denberg,
Semensky and Karuska are in Atlanta; Fedorovitch and Caspar are in
Leavenworth; Saranoff is dead--"

"Presumably."

"Why, Doctor, I saw with my own eyes the destruction of the submarine
in which he was riding!"

"Did you see his dead body?"

"No."

"Neither did I, and I will never be sure until I do. Once before we
were certain of his death, and he bobbed up with a new fiendish
device. We cannot eliminate Saranoff."

"I will include him in my plans."

"Do so. Besides a hypothetical Saranoff, there are a half dozen or
more of the old leaders of the gang who are alive and at liberty, so
far as we know. They fled the country after the Coast Guard broke up
their alien smuggling scheme, but some of them may have returned.
There are also thirty or forty underlings who should be located and
checked up on, and, in addition, we must not lose sight of the fact
that new heads of the organization may have been smuggled into the
United States. It is no simple task that I am setting you, Carnes, but
I know that you and Bolton will see it through if anyone can."

"Thanks, Doctor, we'll do our best. If I am not speaking out of turn,
what are you planning to do in the mean time?"

       *       *       *       *       *

"I am going to start Taylor off on an ultra-short wave generator and
try a few experiments along that line. Breslau is at Walter Reed and
they are doing all they can for him, but until I can get some definite
information as to the underlying cause of his condition, they are more
or less shooting in the dark."

"How are they treating him?"

"By electric stimulations and vibratory treatments and by keeping him
in a darkened room. By the way, Carnes, if I am correct in my line of
thought, it would be well to have an extra guard put over Karuska. He
was the only real expert in ordnance that the Young Labor party had,
and if they have Breslau's model they'll need him to supervise the
construction of a gun."

"I'll attend to that at once, Doctor. Is there anything else?"

"Not that I know of. I am going out to Takoma Park this afternoon and
have another look at Breslau, but it is too soon to hope for any
change in his condition. Aside from the time I will be out there, you
can find me either here or at my home, in case anything develops."

"I'll get on the job at once, Doctor."

"Thanks, old dear. Remember that speed must be the keynote of your
work."

       *       *       *       *       *

The telephone bell at the head of Dr. Bird's bed woke into noisy
activity. The doctor roused himself and took down the instrument
sleepily. A glance at the clock showed him that it was four in the
morning and he muttered a malediction on the one who had called him.

"Hello," he said into the receiver. "Dr. Bird speaking."

"Doctor," came a crisp voice over the wire, "wake up! This is Carnes
talking. Something has broken loose!"

All trace of sleep vanished from Dr. Bird's face and his eyes glowed
momentarily with a peculiar glitter which Carnes would at once have
recognized as indicative of the keenest interest.

"What has happened, Carnes?" he demanded.

"I telephoned Atlanta this morning and arranged to have an extra guard
put over Karuska as you suggested. The matter was simplified by the
fact that he and nine others were confined in the prison infirmary.
The warden agreed to do as I told him, and, in addition to the regular
guards, a special man was placed in the ward near Karuska's bed. At 2
A. M. the lights in the ward went out."

"Accidentally, or were they put out?"

"They haven't found out yet. At any rate they are all right now, but
Karuska and all of the other inmates and all the guards of that
particular ward have gone crazy."

"The dickens you say!"

"Not only that, they are also partially paralyzed. The description I
got over the telephone corresponds exactly with the condition of
Lieutenant Breslau as you described it to me. Here is the most
interesting part of the whole affair. The special guard over Karuska
was only lightly affected and has already recovered and is in a
position to tell you exactly what happened. I got a garbled account of
the affair from the warden, something about a goldfish bowl or
something like that, the warden wouldn't take it seriously enough to
give me details. I didn't press for them much for I knew that you
would rather get them at first hand."

"I certainly would. I'll be ready to leave for Atlanta in less than
ten minutes."

"I expected that, Doctor, and a car is already on its way to pick you
up. I'll meet you at Langley Field where a plane is already being
tuned up and will be ready to take off by the time we get there."

"Good work, Carnes. I'll see you at the field."

       *       *       *       *       *

A car was waiting for Carnes and Dr. Bird when the Langley Field plane
slid down to a landing at Atlanta. At the penitentiary, Dr. Bird went
direct to the infirmary where Karuska had been confined. As he
entered, he shot a keen glance around and gave an exclamation of
satisfaction.

"Look at the windows, Carnes," he cried.

Carnes went over to the nearest window and moistened his finger tip
and applied it experimentally to the glass. The moisture produced no
effect, for the glass of the windows was permanently clouded as was
that of the doctor's laboratory.

"Whatever happened in my laboratory the night before last was repeated
here last night with a similar object," said the doctor. "The object
there was to steal a gun model; here it was to steal a man who could
construct a full-sized gun from the model. I understand that one of
the guards escaped the fate which overtook the rest of the persons in
the infirmary?"

"Not altogether, Doctor," replied the warden. "I think that his mind
is somewhat affected, for he tells a wild yarn and insists on trying
to wear a goldfish bowl on his head. I have him under observation in
the psychopathic ward."

Dr. Bird shot a scornful glance at the warden.

"'There are none so blind as those who will not see'," he murmured.

"By all means, I wish to see him," he went on aloud. "Will you have
him brought here at once, please?"

       *       *       *       *       *

The warden nodded and spoke to one of the attendants. In a few moments
a tall, fair-haired young giant stood before the doctor. Dr. Bird
pushed back his unruly shock of black hair with his fingers, those
long slim mobile fingers which alone betrayed the artist in his
make-up, and shot a piercing glance from his black eyes into the blue
ones, which returned the gaze unabashed.

"What is your name?" he asked.

"Bailley, sir."

"You were on guard here last night?"

"Yes, sir. I was detailed as a special guard over No. 9764."

"Tell me in your own words just what happened. Don't be afraid to
speak out; I'm not going to disbelieve you; and above all, tell me
everything, no matter how unimportant it may seem to you. I'll judge
the importance of things for myself. I'm Dr. Bird of the Bureau of
Standards."

The guard's face lighted up at the doctor's words.

"I've heard of you, Doctor," he said in a relieved tone, "and I'll be
glad to tell you everything. At ten o'clock last night, I relieved
Carragher as special guard over No. 9764. Carragher reported that the
prisoner was somewhat restless and hadn't been asleep as yet. I sat
down about fifteen feet from his bed and prepared to keep an eye on
him until I was relieved at six o'clock this morning.

"Nothing happened until about two o'clock. No. 9764 was restless as
Carragher had said, but toward midnight he quieted down and apparently
went to sleep. I was sleepy myself, and I got up and took a turn
around the room every five minutes to be sure that I kept awake.
That's how I am so sure of the time, sir."

       *       *       *       *       *

Dr. Bird nodded.

"At five minutes to two, just as I got up, I heard a noise outside
like a big electric fan. It sounded like it came from directly
overhead and I went to the window and looked out. I couldn't see
anything, although I could hear it pretty plainly, and then I heard a
noise like something had fallen on the roof. Almost at the same time
there came a sort of high-pitched whine, a good deal like the noise an
electric motor makes when it is running at high speed.

"I thought of giving an alarm, but I didn't want to stir things up
unless I was sure that there was some necessity for it, so I started
for the door to ask one of the outside guards if he had heard
anything. As I turned toward No. 9764 I saw that he had been sitting
up in bed while my back was turned. As soon as he saw that I noticed
him, he lay back real quick and pulled the covers over his head. He
moved pretty quick, but not so quick that I couldn't see that he had
something that glittered like glass before his face. I started over
toward his bed to see what he was doing and then it was that the
lights started to get dim!"

"Go on!" said the doctor as Bailley paused. His eyes were glittering
brightly now.

"Well, sir, Doctor, I don't hardly know how to describe what happened
next. The lights were getting dim, but not as they ordinarily do when
the current starts to go off. The filaments were shining as bright as
they ever did, but the light didn't seem to be able to penetrate the
air. The whole room seemed to be filled with a blackness that stopped
the light. No, sir, it wasn't like fog; it was more like something
more powerful than the lights was in the room and was killing them.

       *       *       *       *       *

"It wasn't only the lights which were affected, it was me as well.
This blackness, whatever it was, was getting into me as well as into
the room, and I couldn't seem to make myself think like I wanted to. I
tried to yell to give an alarm, and I found that I could hardly
whisper. I went toward the bed and then I saw No. 9764 sit up again.
He had a goldfish bowl pulled down over his head and it was evident
that it was keeping the blackness away, for I could see him plainly
and his eyes were as bright as ever.

"The nearer I got to him, the funnier I felt, and I began to be afraid
that I would go out. No. 9764 got up out of bed, and I could see him
grinning at me through the bowl. He reached up and adjusted that bowl,
and all of a sudden I realized that whatever was knocking me out was
not affecting him because he had that thing on. I jumped for him with
the idea of taking the bowl off and putting it on my own head. He saw
what I was up to and he fought like a cornered rat, but the blackness
hadn't affected my muscles. I'm a pretty big man, sir, and No. 9764 is
a little runt, and it didn't take me long to get the bowl off his head
and pulled on over mine. As soon as I did that, I seemed to be able to
think clearer. I was sitting on No. 9764 and was ready to tap him with
a persuader if he started anything, but I didn't have to. In a few
minutes he stopped struggling and lay perfectly quiet.

"The lights kept getting dimmer and dimmer until they went out
altogether and the room became pitch dark. It wasn't exactly as if the
lights had gone out, sir; I seemed to know that they were still there
and were burning as bright as ever, but they couldn't penetrate the
blackness in the room, if you understand what I mean."

       *       *       *       *       *

"I think I do," said Dr. Bird slowly. "It was a good deal as if you
had seen a glass filled with a pale red liquid and someone had dumped
black ink into the fluid and hid the red color. You would know that
the red was still there, but you wouldn't be able to see it through
the black."

"That's exactly what it was like, Doctor; you have described it better
than I can. At any rate, after it got real dark I heard a low whistle
from the roof. No. 9764 made a struggle to get up for a moment and
then lay quiet again. The whistle sounded again and then I heard some
one call 'Caruso.' Everything was quiet for a while and then the same
voice called again and said some stuff in a foreign language that I
couldn't understand. I kept perfectly quiet to see what would happen.

"For about ten minutes the room remained perfectly dark, as I have
said, and all the while I could hear that whining noise. All of a
sudden it began to sound in a lower note and then I could see the
lights again, very dimly and like the black ink you spoke of was
fading out. The note got lower until it stopped altogether, and the
lights came on brighter until they were normal again. Then I heard a
scraping noise on the roof and the noise I had heard at first like a
big electric fan. I looked at the clock. It was two-twenty.

"For a few minutes I wasn't able to collect my wits. When I got up off
of No. 9764 at last he stared at me as though he didn't know a thing,
and I heaved him back into his bed and ran to the door to summon an
outside guard. I could still talk in a husky whisper, but not loud,
and I wasn't surprised when no one heard me. My orders were not to let
No. 9764 out of my sight, but this was an emergency, so I left the
ward and found a guard. It was Madigan and he was standing on his beat
staring at nothing. When I touched him he looked at me and there was
the same vacant look in his eyes that I had seen in the prisoner's. I
talked to him in a whisper, but he didn't seem to understand, so I
left him and went to a telephone and called for help. Mr. Lawson, the
warden, got here with guards in a couple of minutes and I tried to
tell him what had happened, but I couldn't talk loud, and I was afraid
to take the fish bowl off my head."

       *       *       *       *       *

"What happened next?"

"Mr. Lawson took me to his office, and on the way we passed under an
arc light. As soon as I got under it I begin to feel better, and my
voice came stronger. I saw that it was doing me some good and I
stopped under it for an hour before my voice got back to normal. It
seemed to clear the fog from my brain, too, and I was able, about four
o'clock, to tell everything that had happened. Mr. Lawson seemed to
think that my brain was affected as well as the others' and he sent me
to the hospital. That's all, Doctor."

"Do you feel perfectly normal now?"

"Yes, sir."

"There is no need for confining this man longer, Mr. Lawson. He is as
well as he ever was. Carnes, get the Walter Reed Hospital on the
telephone and tell them that I said to treat Lieutenant Breslau with
light rays, rich in ultra-violet. Tell them to give him an overdose of
them and not to put goggles on him. Keep him in the sun all day and
under sun-ray arcs at night until further orders. Mr. Lawson, give the
same treatment to the men who were disabled last night. If you haven't
enough sun-ray arcs in your hospital, put them under an ordinary arc
light in the yard. Bailley, have you still got that goldfish bowl?"

"It is in my office, Doctor," said the warden.

"Good enough! Send for it at once. By the way, you have two more
communists here, Denberg and Semensky, haven't you?"

"I think so, although I will have to consult the records before I can
be positive."

"I am sure that you have. Look the matter up and let me know."

       *       *       *       *       *

The warden hurried away to carry out the doctor's orders, and an
orderly appeared in a few moments with a hollow globe made of some
crystalline transparent substance. Despite its presence in the
infirmary the evening before, there was no trace of clouding apparent.
Dr. Bird took it and examined it critically. He rapped it with his
knuckles and then stepped to the door and hurled it violently down on
the concrete floor of the yard. The globe rebounded without injury and
he caught it.

"Vitrilene, or a good imitation of it," he remarked to Carnes. "After
you get through talking to the hospital, get Taylor on the wire. There
is plenty of loose vitrilene in the Bureau, and I want him to send
down about fifty square feet of it by a special plane at once."

As Carnes left the room, the warden reappeared.

"The men are all lying in the sun now, Doctor," he said. "I find that
we have the two men you mentioned confined here. They are both in Tier
A, Building 6."

"Is that an isolated building?"

"No, it is one wing of the old main building."

"On which floor?"

"The second floor. It is a six-story building."

"Have they been moved there recently?"

"They have been there for nearly a year."

       *       *       *       *       *

"In that case there will be little chance of another attack of this
sort to-night. At the same time, I would advise you to station extra
guards there to-night and every night until I notify you otherwise.
Caution them to watch the lights carefully and to give an alarm at
once if they appear to get dim. In such a case, send men to the roof
with rifles with orders to shoot to kill anyone they find there. I am
going back to Washington and I am going to take Karuska, your No. 9764
with me. You had better have one of the guards in the corridor, where
Denberg and Semensky are, wear this goldfish bowl, as you call it. A
lot of plate glass--at least it will look like that--will come from
Washington by plane. Cut it into sheets a foot square and use
surgeon's plaster to make some temporary glass helmets for your men. I
want all your guards to wear them until I either settle this matter or
else send you some better helmets. Do you understand?"

"I understand all right, but I'm afraid that I can't do it. The
wearing of such appliances would interfere with the efficiency of my
men as guards."

"Brain and tongue paralysis would interfere rather more seriously, it
seems to me. In any event, I have sufficient authority to enforce my
request. If you are at all doubtful, call up the Attorney General and
ask him."

The warden hesitated.

"If you don't mind, I think I will call Washington, Doctor," he said.
"I will have to get authority to turn No. 9764 over to you in any
event."

"Call all you wish, Mr. Lawson. Mr. Carnes is talking to Washington
now and we'll have a clear line through for you in a few minutes.
Meanwhile, get a set of shackles on Karuska and get him ready to
travel by plane. He appears to be suffering from mental paralysis, but
I don't know how his case will develope. He may go violently insane at
any moment and I don't care to be aloft in a plane with an unbound
maniac."

       *       *       *       *       *

Major Martin looked up from the prone figure of Karuska.

"His condition duplicates that of Lieutenant Breslau, Dr. Bird," he
said. "We received your telephoned message this afternoon and we kept
Breslau in a flood of sunlight until dusk, and then put him under
sun-ray lamps. I don't know how you got on to that treatment, but it
is having a very beneficial effect. He can already make inarticulate
sounds, and his eyes are not quite as vacant at they were. If he keeps
on improving as he has, he should be able to talk intelligently in a
few days. If you wish to question this man, why not give him the same
treatment?"

"I haven't time, Major. I must make him talk to-night if it is humanly
possible. I called you in because you are the most eminent authority
on the brain in the government service. Is there any way of
artificially stimulating this man's brain so that we can force the
secrets of his subconscious mind from him?"

The major sat for a moment in profound thought.

"There _is_ a way, Doctor," he said at length, "but it is a method
which I would not dare to use. By applying high frequency electrical
stimulations to the medulla oblongata, at the same time bathing the
cerebellum with ultra-violet, it might be done, but the chances are
that either death or insanity would result. I would not do it."

"Major Martin, this man is a reckless and dangerous international
criminal. If his gang carries out the plan which I fear they have
formed, the lives of thousands, yes, of millions, may pay for your
hesitation. I will assume full responsibility for the test if you will
make it, and I have the authority of the President of the United
States behind me."

"In that case, Doctor, I have no choice. The President is the
Commander-in-chief of the army, and if those are his orders the
experiment will be carried out. As a matter of form, I will ask that
your orders be reduced to writing."

"I will write them gladly, Major. Please proceed with the experiment
without delay."

       *       *       *       *       *

Major Martin bowed and spoke to a waiting orderly. The prostrate
figure of Karuska was wheeled down a corridor into the electrical
laboratory, and with the aid of the laboratory technician the surgeon
made his preparations. The Moss lamp was arranged to throw a flood of
ultra-violet over the Russian's cranium while the leads from a deep
therapy X-ray tube was connected, one to the front of Karuska's throat
and the other to the base of his brain. At a signal from the major, a
nurse began to administer ether.

"I guarantee nothing, Dr. Bird," said the major. "The paralysis of the
vocal cords may be physical, in which case the victim will still be
unable to speak, regardless of the brain stimulation. If, however, the
evident paralysis is due to some obscure influence on the brain, it
may work."

"In any, event I will hold you blameless and thank you for your help,"
replied the doctor. "Please start the stimulation."

Major Martin closed a switch, and the hum of a high tension alternator
filled the laboratory. The Russian quivered for a moment and then lay
still. Major Martin nodded and Dr. Bird stepped to the side of the
operating table.

"Ivan Karuska," he said slowly and distinctly, "do you hear me?"

The Russian's lips quivered and an unintelligible murmur came from
them.

"Ivan Karuska," repeated Dr. Bird, "do you hear me?"

       *       *       *       *       *

There was a momentary struggle on the part of the Russian and then a
surprisingly clear voice came from his lips.

"I do."

"Who is the present head of the Young Labor party?"

Again there was a pause before the name "Saranoff" came from the lips
of the insensible figure. Carnes gave a sharp exclamation but a
gesture from the doctor silenced him.

"Is Saranoff alive?"

"Yes."

"Is he in the United States?"

"No, he is in London."

"Is he coming to the United States?"

"Yes."

"When?"

"I don't know. Soon. As soon as we are ready for him."

"Where is he living in London?"

"I don't know."

"How did you get word that you were to be rescued from Atlanta?"

"A message was smuggled in to me by O'Grady, a guard in our pay."

"What was that vitrilene helmet for?"

"To protect me from the effects of the black lamp."

"What is the black lamp?"

"I don't know exactly. Saranoff invented it. It gives a black light
and it kills all other light except sunlight, and it paralyses the
brain."

"Did you know that the model of the Breslau gun had been stolen?"

"Yes."

"What were you going to do after you were rescued from jail?"

"I was going to make a full-sized gun. We have a disappearing gun
platform built in the swamps at the juncture of the Potomac and
Piscataway Creek. The gun was to be mounted there and we would shell
Washington and institute a reign of terror. It would be a signal for
uprisings all over the country."

"Is there a black lamp at that gun platform?"

"Yes. The black lamp will kill both the flash and the report."

"Where did you get the formula for radite?"

"We got it from one of Dr. Bird's assistants. His name--"

       *       *       *       *       *

As he spoke the last few sentences, Karuska's voice had steadily risen
almost to a shriek. As he endeavored to give the name of the doctor's
treacherous helper his voice changed to an unintelligible screech and
then died away into silence. Major Martin stepped forward and bent
over the prone figure. Hurriedly he tore away the electrical
connections and placed a stethoscope over the Russian's heart. He
listened for a moment and then straightened up, his face pale.

"I hope that the information you obtained is worth a life, Dr. Bird,"
he said, his voice trembling slightly, "because it has cost one."

"It may easily save thousands of lives. I thank you, Major, and I will
see that no blame attaches to you for your actions. I only wish that
he had lived long enough to tell me the name of my assistant who has
sold me to Saranoff. However, we'll get that information in other
ways. Carnes, telephone Lawson at Atlanta to slam O'Grady into a cell
pending investigation while I get Camp Meade on the wire and order up
a couple of tanks. We are going to attack that gun emplacement at
daybreak."

The telephone bell in the laboratory jangled sharply. Major Martin
answered it and turned to Carnes.

"You're wanted on the telephone, Mr. Carnes."

The detective stepped forward and took the transmitter.

"Carnes speaking," he said. "Yes. Oh, hello, Bolton. Yes, we have
Karuska here, or rather his body. Yes, Dr. Bird is here right now.
You've what? Great Scott, wait a minute."

"Dr. Bird," he cried eagerly turning from the telephone, "Bolton has
located the Washington headquarters of the Young Labor party."

Dr. Bird sprang to the instrument.

"Bird speaking, Bolton," he cried. "You've located their headquarters?
Who's running it? Stanesky, eh? You're on the right track; he used to
be Saranoff's right hand man. Where is the place located? I don't seem
to recollect the spot. You have it well surrounded? Where are you
speaking from? All right, we'll join you as quickly as we can. Keep
your patrols out and don't let anyone get away."

He hung up the receiver and turned to Carnes.

"Did you have the car wait?" he asked. "Good enough; we'll jump for
the Bureau and pick up all the vitrilene laying around loose and then
join Bolton. He thinks that he has the whole outfit bottled up."

       *       *       *       *       *

Bolton was waiting as the car rolled up and Dr. Bird leaped out.

"Where are they?" demanded the doctor eagerly.

"In an abandoned factory building about three hundred yards from
here," replied the Chief of the Secret Service. "I traced them through
New York. We have been watching the place ever since yesterday noon,
and I know that Stanesky is in there with half a dozen others. No one
has tried to leave since we set our watch. One funny thing has
happened. About an hour ago a peculiar red glow suffused the whole
building. It has died down a good deal since, but we can still see it
through the windows. Could you tell us what it means?"

"No. I couldn't, Bolton, but we'll find out. How many men have you?"

"I have sixteen stationed around."

"That's more than we'll need. I have only vitrilene shields and
helmets enough to equip six men. Pick out your three best men to go
with us and we'll make a try at entering."

Bolton strode off into the darkness and returned in a few moments with
three men at his heels. Dr. Bird spoke briefly to the operatives, all
of them men who had been his companions on other adventures. He
explained the need for the vitrilene helmets and shields, and without
comment the six donned their armor and followed Bolton as he strode
toward the building. As they approached, a dull red glow could be
plainly seen through the windows, and Dr. Bird paused and studied the
phenomenon for a moment.

"I don't know what that means, Bolton," he said softly, "but I don't
like the looks of it. Stanesky is up to some devilment or other. I
wouldn't be a bit surprised to find out that he knows all about your
pickets and is ready for a raid."

"We'd better rush the place, then," muttered Bolton.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dr. Bird nodded agreement and with a sharp command to his men Bolton
broke into a run. Not a shot was fired as they approached, and the
front door gave readily to Bolton's touch. At it opened there came a
grating sound from the roof followed by the whir of a propeller. Dr.
Bird ran out of the building and glanced up.

"A helicopter!" he cried. "They were expecting us and have escaped!"

He drew his pistol and fired ineffectually at the great bird-like ship
which was rising almost noiselessly into the air. He cursed and turned
again to the building.

Bolton still stood in the room which they had first entered. His
flashlight showed it to be empty, but from under a door on the
opposite side a line of dull red light glowed evilly. With his pistol
ready in his hand, Bolton approached the door on hands and knees.
When he reached it he threw his shoulder against it and dropped flat
to the floor as the door swung open. No shot greeted him, and he
stared for a moment and then rose to his feet.

"Nothing in here but some glass statues," he announced.

Dr. Bird followed him into the room. As he looked at what Bolton had
called glass statues he gasped and shielded his eyes.

"God in Heaven!" he ejaculated. "Those were living men!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Before them were three men or what had been three men. All stood in
strained attitudes with a look of horror frozen on their faces. The
thing that made the spectators shudder was that their bodies had, by
some diabolical method, been rendered semi-transparent. The dull red
light which suffused the room emanated from the three bodies. Dr. Bird
examined them closely, being careful not to touch them.

"The identity of my treacherous assistant is known," he said grimly as
he pointed at the middle figure. "It was Gerond. What is this?"

He took an envelope from the hand of the middle figure and opened it.
A sheet of paper fell out and he picked it up and read it.

"My dear Mr. Bolton," ran the note. "Your methods of tracing and
picketing my headquarters are so crude as to be almost laughable. This
base has served its purpose and we were ready to abandon it in any
event, but I couldn't resist the temptation to let you almost nab us.
The three men whom you will find here are agents who failed in their
duty. If you are interested in learning the method of their execution,
you might take to heart the words of your colleague, Dr. Bird: 'The
clue lies in those windows.'"

Carnes glanced at the windows and gave a cry of surprise. The glass
was opaque, as had been the glass in the doctor's laboratory and the
glass in the infirmary at Atlanta. The fogging however, was much more
pronounced, and the opaque glass gave faintly the same red effulgence
which came from the three bodies.

"What does it mean, Doctor?" he asked.

"I don't know, Carnes," said Dr. Bird slowly. "I foresee that I am
going to have to do a great deal of work on short wave-lengths soon.
It is doubtless the effect of some modification of the black lamp
which has done it. Look out!"

       *       *       *       *       *

He leaped to one side as he spoke, drawing Bolton and Carnes with him.
A panel in the side of the wall opposite the doorway had slid silently
open and through the opening poured out a beam of fiery red. Full on
the three bodies it fell, and then spread out to fill the room. Dr.
Bird had drawn the two nearest men out of the direct beam, but one of
the secret service men stood full in its path. In the excitement of
entering he had dropped his vitrilene shield and the livid ray fell
full on his defenceless body. As they watched an expression of horror
spread over his face and he strove to move to one side, but he was
held helpless. Slowly he stiffened; and, as the ray bored through him,
his body became semi-transparent and the same dull red glow which
emanated from the three bodies they had found began to shine forth
from him. Bolton strove to break from the doctor's grasp and rush to
the rescue but Dr. Bird held him with a grip of iron.

"Too late," he said grimly. "Chalk up another murder to the arch fiend
who has committed the others. I don't know the nature of that ray and
vitrilene may not be an adequate defence against its full force. We
had better get out of here and attack the place from the rear."

Carefully edging their way around the sides of the room, the five men
made their way out through the door. Dr. Bird slammed the door shut
behind him and led the way out of the building and around to the
rear. A door loomed before them and he cautiously tried it. It gave to
his touch and he entered. As he set his foot on the threshold a
terrific explosion came from the interior of the building.

"Run!" he shouted as he led the way in retreat. "If that is a radite
explosion it will act for several seconds!"

From a safe distance they watched. One corner of the building had been
torn off by the force of the explosion, and as they watched the rest
of the building gradually collapsed and sank into a pile of ruins.

"They had planned on a visit from us all right," said Dr. Bolton
grimly. "They had a surprise for us any way we jumped. If we went in
the front door, that devil's ray was to finish us, and if we went in
the back door the whole place was arranged to blow up as we entered. I
only hope that Stanesky thinks that he has got us all and doesn't
expect an attack on his next base in the morning. If he doesn't, I
think we may give him a rather unpleasant surprise. Of course, that
lamp is smashed into atoms and buried under the debris, but I don't
know what other devil's contraptions that ruin holds. Bolton, have
your men picket it and allow no one near until I get back. I've got to
get to a telephone and get a couple of tanks from Meade and a plane or
two from Langley Field."

       *       *       *       *       *

Two tanks made their way slowly across country. The front of each tank
was protected by a heavy sheet of vitrilene, while from the turrets of
the tanks projected the wicked looking muzzles of thirty-seven
millimeter guns. Overhead two airplanes from Langley Field soared,
scouting the country. Dr. Bird and Carnes rode in the leading tank.

"It ought to be somewhere near here, unless Karuska lied," said Carnes
as he swept the country with a pair of binoculars.

"He didn't lie," returned Dr. Bird. "It was his subconscious mind
that spoke and it never lies. He spoke of the gun emplacement as being
in a swamp and I have a strong idea that it is submersible. Of course,
it is bound to be well camouflaged, both from land and from air
observation."

The planes circled around again and again, quartering the air like a
pair of well-trained bird dogs will quarter a hunting field. First
high and then low they swooped back and forth, the tanks lumbering
slowly along in the same direction. Presently the occupants of the
leading tank saw one of the planes bank sharply and swing around. It
dropped to an altitude of only a few hundred feet and turned and went
back over the ground it had just crossed.

"I believe that fellow sees something!" exclaimed Carnes.

As he spoke, three green Very lights came from the cockpit of the
plane. The tank driver gave a grunt of satisfaction and turned the
nose of his vehicle in that direction. The second tank followed.

Hardly had they turned in the new direction before the ground began to
get soft under their tracks and the heavy vehicles began to sink. The
driver of the Doctor's tank forced it ahead, but the tank sank deeper
in the mire until water flowed in around the feet of the occupants.

"I reckon we'll have to get out and walk pretty soon, Doctor," said
the driver.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dr. Bird grunted in acquiescence. The tank made its way forward a few
yards before the engine sputtered and died. The second tank stopped
when the first one did, fifty yards behind it. Donning vitrilene
helmets and taking vitrilene shields in their hands, the crews of both
tanks climbed out into the waist-deep water and gathered around the
Doctor for orders.

"Form a skirmish line at ten-pace intervals and cross the swamp," he
directed. "We may meet with no opposition, but if there is, the more
scattered we are, the safer we will be. You all have hand grenades as
well as your rifles?"

A murmur of assent answered him and the line formed and started across
the swamp. They had gone perhaps a hundred yards when three red lights
came from one of the planes circling overhead.

"Down!" cried the doctor, dropping to his knees in the muck.

Four hundred yards ahead of them a concrete platform emerged from the
marsh and rose slowly into the air. It was roofed with a dome of what
looked like plate glass, but which the doctor shrewdly suspected was
vitrilene. When the base of the platform was two-feet above the level
of the water the dome slid silently aside disclosing two men bending
over a tiny gun. Dr. Bird leveled his binoculars.

"That's the Breslau gun model that was stolen as sure as I'm a foot
high!" he cried. "They must have made some miniature shells and be
planning to fire it."

Slowly a pall of intense blackness rose from the marsh and enveloped
the platform and hid it from view. A whining noise came from overhead,
and then a crash like a thunderbolt. The blast of the explosion threw
the attackers face down in the swamp, and when they arose and looked
back there was merely a gaping hole where the leading tank had been.
The second tank suddenly seemed to rise in the air and fly into
millions of tiny fragments, and a second thunderous blast sent them
again to their knees.

"Radite!" bellowed Dr. Bird to Carnes. "Imagine the effect if that had
been a full charge fired from a completed Breslau gun! Watch the
planes, now. I think they are going to drop a few eggs on them."

       *       *       *       *       *

The black mist cleared as if by magic and the platform was in plain
view. The big glass dome rolled back into place as the two planes
swept over at an elevation of two thousand feet. From each one a
small black cigar-shaped object was released and fell in a long
parabola toward the earth. The glass dome which had been closing over
the gun platform rolled quickly back and a long beam of intense
blackness pierced the heavens. First one and then the other of the
falling bombs disappeared from view into it, and then the black column
faded from view. The two bombs fell with increasing speed but the dome
closed over the platform before they struck. The two hit the dome at
almost the same instant and instead of the blinding crash they
expected, the watchers saw the bombs rebound from the dome and fall
harmlessly into the water.

"Stymied!" muttered the doctor. "I wonder what other properties that
confounded lamp has."

He resumed his advance, Carnes and the soldiers keeping abreast of
him. When they were within two hundred yards of the platform it rose
again and the transparent dome rolled back. A beam of black shot forth
over the swamp, searching them out and hiding them from view. First
one and then another felt the effects of the black beam; but the
vitrilene which the Doctor had provided stood them in good stead, and,
aside from a slight shortening of their breath, none of the attackers
felt any the worse.

"Come on, men!" cried the Doctor as his athletic figure plowed forward
through the breast-deep water. "That is their worst weapon and it is
harmless against us!"

Cheering, they fought their way toward the platform. It sunk for a
moment and then rose again. As the dome swung back a sharp crackle of
machine-gun fire sounded and the water before them was whipped into
foam by the plunging bullets. One of the soldiers gave a sharp cry and
slumped forward into the water.

"Fire at will!" shouted the lieutenant in command.

       *       *       *       *       *

A crackle of rifle fire answered the tattoo of the machine-gun, and
the sharp ping of bullets striking on the dome could be plainly heard.
An occasional shot kicked up a spurt of white dust from the concrete,
but the machine-gun kept up a steady rattle of fire and the soldiers
kept their heads almost at the level of the water. There came the roar
of an airplane motor, and one of the planes swept over the platform, a
hundred yards in the air, with two machine-guns spraying streams of
bullets onto the platform. Two men abandoned their machine-gun and
crouched under the partially folded-back dome as the second plane
swept over, and Dr. Bird took advantage of the lull to advance his
party a few yards nearer. Again the defenders of the platform rushed
to their gun, but the first plane had turned and swooped down with
both guns going, and again they were forced to take shelter while the
Doctor and his force made another advance.

The second plane had turned and followed the first, but the defenders
had had enough. The transparent dome closed over them and the platform
sank into the marsh. With a shout, Dr. Bird led the way forward again.

The attackers were within a hundred yards of the platform when it
again rose above the surface of the water. The guns had disappeared,
but in their place stood an airship. It was a small affair with stubby
wings above which were two helicopter blades revolving at high speed.
No sound of a motor could be heard.

The transparent dome rolled back and like a bullet the little craft
shot into the air, followed by a futile volley from the soldiers.
Hardly had it appeared than the two airplanes bore down on it with
machine-guns going. The helicopter paid no attention to them for a
moment, and then came a puff of smoke from its side. The leading plane
swerved sharply and the helicopter fired again. The leading plane
maneuvered about, trying to get a machine-gun to bear, while the
second plane climbed swiftly to get above the helicopter and pour a
deadly stream of fire down into it. It gained position and swooped
down to the attack, but another puff of smoke came from the side of
the helicopter and there was a thunderous report and a blinding flash
in the sky. As the smoke cleared away, no trace of the ill-fated plane
could be seen. The helicopter hung motionless in the air as though
daring the remaining plane to attack.

       *       *       *       *       *

The plane accepted the challenge and bore down at full speed on the
stranger. Again came a puff of smoke, but the plane swerved and an
answering shot came from its side. It was above the helicopter, and
the shell which missed its mark plunged to the ground. When it struck
there came a roar and a flash and the whole earth seemed to shake. The
helicopter shot upward into the air and forward, both its elevating
fans and its propellers whirling blurs of light. The airplane followed
at its sharpest climbing angle, but was helpless to compete with its
swifter climbing rival.

"He's got away!" groaned Carnes.

"Not yet, old dear!" cried the Doctor hopping with excitement. "He
isn't safe yet. I never told you, but one Breslau gun had been made
and it is on that plane. It has deadly accuracy and is good for
fifteen miles. That's Lieutenant Dreen at the controls and Mason at
the gun."

As he spoke the plane swung around and made a half loop. For a few
yards it flew upside down and then whirled swiftly. As it turned there
came a sharp report and a puff of smoke from its rear cockpit. High
above, the helicopter had ceased climbing and hovered motionless. As
the plane fired, the helicopter shot forward like an arrow from a bow,
and thereby spelled its doom. Not for nothing did Captain Mason bear
the title of the best aerial gunner in the Air Corps. He had foreseen
what the action of his opponent would be and had allowed for just such
a move. Far up in the sky came a blinding flash and a cloud of smoke.
When the smoke cleared the sky was empty, except for a little
scattered debris falling slowly to the ground.

       *       *       *       *       *

"And that's that!" exclaimed Dr. Bird as he finished his examination
of the underground laboratory with which the gun platform connected.
"The lamp has gone to glory with Breslau's gun model and two of the
best brains of the Young Labor party. I am sure that Stanesky was one
of those two men. I wish the whole gang had been on board."

"Don't you think that this is the end of it, Doctor?" asked Carnes.

"No, Carnes, I don't. We know that the real brains of this outfit is
Saranoff, and Saranoff is still alive. He probably won't try to use
his black lamp again, because I will have a defence against it in a
short time, now that I have seen it in action, but he'll try something
else. The whole object of life to a loyal citizen of Bolshevikia is to
reduce the whole world to the barbarous level in which they hold
Russia, and they will spare no pains or effort to accomplish it. The
greatest obstacle to their success at present is the President of the
United States. He is loved and respected by the whole world, and if he
is spared he will forge the world into a great machine for the
preservation of peace and universal good will. That would be fatal to
Bolshevikia's plans, and they will spare no effort to remove him. By
the grace of God, we have saved him from harm so far, but until we
remove Saranoff permanently from the scene, I will never feel safe for
him."

"What do you suppose they'll try next, Doctor?"

"That, Carnes, time alone will tell."



Phalanxes of Atlans

BEGINNING A TWO-PART NOVEL

_By F. V. W. Mason_

[Illustration: _Agile as grasshoppers, those fierce war dogs ripped
and worried their prey._]

[Sidenote: Only in dim legends did mankind remember Atlantis and the
Lost Tribes--until Victor Nelson's extraordinary adventure in the
unknown arctic.]

CHAPTER I


The ice suddenly gave way under his foot, hurling Victor Nelson
violently forward to lie in the deep snow at the bottom of a tiny
crevasse, down which the merciless gale moaned like an anguished
demon.

"It's no use," he muttered bitterly. "We've fought hard, but we're
done for."

He lay still, stupidly watching his breath form tiny beads of ice on
the ends of the fur which lined his parka. Until that moment he had
not realized how thoroughly exhausted he was. Every muscle of his
starved, bruised body ached unbearably. It wasn't so bad lying there
in the soft snow. He could rest, then look later for the ice hummock
behind which the plane lay sheltered. Rest! That's what he needed, a
good long rest.

But deep within him, a primal instinct stabbed his waning
consciousness. "No," he gasped, and blinked his reddened eyes behind
smoked goggles which dulled the shimmer of the aurora. "If I stop,
I'll never get up."

Shaken by the terrific velocity of the arctic gale he numbly clambered
to his feet, then stooped with a stiff awkward motion to retrieve a
Winchester rifle which lay half buried in the snow beside the blurred
imprint of his body.

"Wonder if Alden had any better luck?" The question burned dully in
his brain. "Don't suppose so; there can't be anything alive in this
God-awful wilderness." As he stumbled on he found no answer in an
unbroken vista of wind-scored ice and drifting snow that, swirling
high into the air, momentarily cut off the view of that black line of
ice-capped mountains barely visible on the horizon.

"Yes, if he hasn't found anything, we'll be dead or frozen stiff
before to-morrow."

       *       *       *       *       *

His soul--that of a true explorer--revolted, not at the thought of
death, but that his and Alden's courageously won discovery of a
majestic mountain range towering high over a polar region marked
"unexplored" on the maps would now never be made public.

Leaning forward against the merciless icy blast he painfully picked
his way over a treacherous ice ridge, to be faintly encouraged by the
fact that the towerlike hummock of ice marking the position of the
plane now lay but a few hundred yards ahead.

Bitterly he cursed that demon of ill-fortune who had sent the blinding
snow storm which had forced down the plane ten long days ago at the
very beginning of its triumphant return flight to the base at Cape
Richards. Since that hour the storm gods had emptied the vials of
their wrath upon the luckless explorers. Day after day, cyclonic winds
made all thought of a take-off suicidal in the extreme. Three days
ago the last of their food had given out, and, he mused, starvation is
an ill companion for despair.

Slip, slide and fall! On he fought until the final barrier was reached
and he stood staring hopelessly down into a small natural amphitheater
which sheltered the great monoplane. The ship was still there, its
engine snugged in a canvas shroud and with the soft, dry snow banked
up high in the lee of its silver gray fuselage. Numbly, like a man in
the grip of a painful coma, Nelson shielded his face with a furry hand
to scan the surrounding terrain. "Hell!" The door block of the igloo
they had built was still snowed up; Alden was not there!

"He's not back," he muttered, while his body swayed beneath the gale
which smote him with fierce, unseen fists. "Poor devil, I hope he
hasn't lost the way."

All the bitterness of undeserved defeat stung his soul as he started
down the incline into the hollow.

       *       *       *       *       *

Suddenly he paused. The rifle flew into the ready position and his
chilled thumb drew back the hammer. "What's this?" On the snow at his
feet was a bright, scarlet splash, dreadfully distinct against the
white background. While his dazed brain struggled to register what his
eyes saw, he looked to the right and left and discovered several more
of the hideous spots. Then an object that gleamed dully in the polar
twilight attracted his attention. He lumbered forward, stooped stiffly
and caught up a long, half round strip of bronze.

"What? Why? Oh--I'm crazy. I'm seeing things!" The pain in his empty
stomach was now becoming excruciating. To steady himself he shut his
eyes, shook his head as though to clear it, then looked again at that
strip of metal in his hand. Attached to it were two slender strips of
leather like straps, ending in small, bronze buckles.

"Why, it's not from the plane," he stammered aloud. "Damned if it
doesn't look like a greave the old Greek warriors used to wear to
protect their shins."

Suddenly alarmed and mystified beyond words, he shuffled forward over
the snow, the greave yet clutched in a fur gloved hand. Presently two
more objects, already half buried by the stinging, swirling drifts,
caught his attention. One was the stock of Alden's rifle, protruding
starkly brown from the unrelieved whiteness, and the other was a
broken wooden shaft that ended a graceful but wickedly sharp bronze
spear head.

"I've either gone crazy," he said, "or I'm delirious. Yes, I must be
clean nutty! There _couldn't_ be a human settlement within a thousand
miles. Let's see what's happened."

       *       *       *       *       *

On the snow of a little wind-sheltered space behind the igloo he
discovered the unmistakable and ominous signs of a struggle. An
indefinite number of footprints, blurred but enormous in size, were
marked in the snow. Here and there deep furrows mutely testified how
Alden and the enemies against whom he struggled had reeled back and
forth in vicious combat over a considerable area. Then, shaken by a
new fear, he discovered Alden's left glove and a rag of some peculiar
thick material that seemed to have a metallic finish. But what aroused
his gravest fears were the numerous splashes of blood that here and
there streaked the snow in gruesome relief.

Only a moment Nelson stood, shaken by the merciless wind, scanning the
piece of bronzed armor between his gloved hands with a fresh interest.
It was beautifully fashioned, and decorated at the knee point with the
wonderfully wrought figure of a dolphin.

If he could only think clearly! But his brain seemed to lie in a
red-hot skull. "Whatever's happened," he muttered, "I'd better not
waste time; they couldn't have been here so long ago. Poor Alden! I
wonder what kind of devils caught him?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Even before he had finished the sentence the aviator had taken up the
partially obliterated trail of spattered blood drops. That what he
sought appeared to be a maraudering party of giants restrained him not
at all. The one clear thought burning in his weary brain was that
Richard Alden, his best friend--the man with whom he had traveled over
half the world, by whose side he had faced many a perilous
situation--must at that moment lie in peril, the extent of which he
could only surmise.

"Must have been about a dozen of them," he said thickly. And, holding
the Winchester ready, he commenced once more to plod on through the
stinging sheets of wind-driven ice particles. More than once he had
great difficulty in not losing that crimson trail, for here and there
the restless, white crystals completely blotted out the splashes.

All at once Nelson checked his pathetically slow progress, finding
himself on the top of an eminence, looking down in what appeared to be
a vastly deep natural amphitheater of snow and ice. At the bottom, and
perhaps a hundred yards distant, was a curious black oval from which
appeared to rise a dense, wind-whipped column of whitish vapor.

"My eyes must be going back on me," muttered Nelson through stiffened
lips. How intolerably heavy his fur suit seemed! His strength was
about gone and that curious black mouthlike circle seemed infinitely
far away. But, spurred by fears for his friend, he started downward
for the precipitious trail leading directly towards it.

Once he stepped inside the crater, he became conscious of a terrific
side pressure which gripped him as a whirlpool seizes a luckless
swimmer. The wind buffetted him from all angles, dealing him powerful
blows on face and body, which, too strong for his weary body, sent him
reeling weakly, drunkenly across the hard, glare ice towards the
vortex. Twice he slipped, each time finding it harder to arise. But
at last he approached what on closer inspection proved to be a
subterranean vent of black rock.

"Steam!" he gasped. "It's steam coming out of there!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Swayed by a dozen conflicting emotions, he paused, the Winchester
barrel wavering like a reed in his enfeebled grasp.

"The whole thing's crazy," he decided. "I must be frozen and lying
somewhere, delirious. Poor Dick! Can't help him much now."

Like a man in a nightmare who advances but feels nothing under his
feet, Nelson staggered on towards that huge, gaping aperture of black
rock. On the threshold a pool of melted snow water made him stare.

"Hell!" he said. "It's only a volcanic vent of some kind." Then dimly
came the recollection of Eskimo legends concerning thermal springs
beyond the desolate and unknown reaches of Grant Land.

His mind in an indescribable turmoil, Nelson splashed across a hundred
yards of sodden snow, then shivered on wading knee deep through a pool
of melted ice. Now he stood on the very threshold of that awful
opening, dense clouds of vapor beating warmly against his chilled
features.

His goggles fogged at once, blinding him effectively as, with reason
staggering under the accumulated stress of starvation and the
circumstances of Alden's disappearance, he groped his way a few feet
into the vent. With his left hand he pulled up the glasses from his
sunken, blood-shot eyes.

"It's warm, by God!" he cried in astonishment as the skin exposed by
lifting the goggles came in contact with the air. "Must be some kind
of earth-warmed cave."

       *       *       *       *       *

Increasingly mystified, he caught up his rifle and strode on down the
passage, at that moment illuminated by the last unearthly rays of the
aurora borealis. A single, dazzling beam played before him like a
powerful searchlight, to light a high vaulted tunnel of basalt rocks
which were distorted by some long-gone convulsion of the earth into a
hundred weird cleavages and faults. For that brief instant he found he
could see perhaps a hundred feet down into a high roofed passage,
along the top of which poured a tremendous stream of billowing,
writhing steam.

"If this doesn't beat all," he murmured; but for all of his
apprehension he did not pause. Those bloody splashes bespeaking
Alden's pressing need urged him on. "Looks like I'm taking a one way
trip into Hell itself. Well, we'll soon see."

Slipping and sliding over an almost impassable array of black rocks
and boulders, Nelson fought his way forward, conscious that with every
stride the air grew damper and warmer. Soon trickles of sweat were
pouring down over his chest, tickling unbearably.

Then all at once the ray of light faded, leaving him immersed in a
blackness equalled only by the gloom of a subterranean vault. He
stopped and, resting his rifle against a nearby invisible rock, threw
back the parka hood and pulled off his gloves. He was amazed to feel
how warm the strong air current was on his hands.

"Beats all," he muttered heavily. "I wonder where they've taken
Alden?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile his hands groped through fur garments now wet with
melted-snow and ice particles, searching for the catch to open that
pocket in which lay a small but powerful electric flashlight, an
instrument without which no far-flying aviator finds himself. After a
moment's fumbling, his yet stiffened fingers encountered the
cylindrical flash and, with a low cry of satisfaction, he drew it
forth to press the button.

"Mighty useful. I--" The words stopped, frozen on his lips. Before the
parka edge his close cropped hair seemed to rise, and his breath
stopped midway in his lungs. Sharp electric shocks shook him, for
there, half revealed in the feeble flashlight's glare, was a sight
which shook his sanity to the snapping point. Not fifty feet away two
eyes, large as dinner plates, with narrow vertical red irises, were
trained on him. Rooted to the ground by the paralysis of utter horror,
Nelson saw that their color was a weird, unhealthy, greenish white,
rather like the color of a radio-light watch dial.

Strangely intense, these huge orbs wavered not at all, filling him
with an unnameable dread, while the strong odor of musk assailed his
nostrils. The flashlight slipped from between Nelson's fingers and, no
longer having his thumb on the button, flickered out.

Helpless, Nelson stood transfixed against a boulder, aware that the
strange, musky scent was becoming stronger. Then to his ears came a
dry scrabbling as of some large body stealthily advancing. Those
horrible, unearthly eyes were coming nearer! Fierce, terrible shocks
of fear gripped the exhausted aviator. Then the impulse of
self-preservation, that most elementary of all instincts, forced him
to snatch up the rifle, to sight hastily, blindly, between those two,
great greenish eyes. Choking out a strangled sob of desperation,
Nelson made his trembling finger close over the cold strip of steel
that must be the trigger.

       *       *       *       *       *

Like a stage trick, the cavern was momentarily lit by a strong, orange
yellow glare. Then the Winchester's report thundered and roared
deafeningly; coincidentally arose a nerve-shattering scream. An
exhalation, foul as a corpse long unburied, fanned his face.
Terrified, he flattened to the rock wall as a huge, though dangerously
agile body hurtled by with the speed of a runaway horse. Presently
followed the sound of a ponderous fall, then a series of shrill,
ear-piercing gibberings and squeakings, like those of a titanic
rat--squeaks that rang like the chorus of Hell itself. Gradually they
grew fainter, while in the darkness the heavy air of the tunnel became
rank with the odor of clotting blood.

Nelson remained where he was, shaking like a frightened horse and
bathed with a cold sweat.

"Wonder what it was?" he muttered numbly.

He broke off, for in the terrible darkness sounded a low but perfectly
audible _thud! thud! thud! thud!_--and also the subtle noise of some
rough surface rasping gently over the stone. His nerves crisped and
shrieked for relief.

"It's coming again!" he told himself, and ejected the spent cartridge
from the Winchester. "No use--it'll get me, but I may as well fight as
long as I can."

Even stronger grew the musty smell of blood while that uncanny _thud!
thud!_ sound continued at regular intervals. Nelson waited, breath
halted and finger on trigger, but still the darkness yielded no
glimpse of those awful saucer-like eyes.

       *       *       *       *       *

Emboldened, he stooped and, jerking off his left glove, commenced to
grope among the boulders. Somewhere near at his feet the flashlight
must be lying. Hoping against hope that its fall had not shattered the
bulb, he ran his fingers over the cold, damp stones, every instant
expecting to feel the clutch of the unseen monster. How tiny, how puny
he was! All at once his fingers encountered the smooth familiar shape
of the flash and he raised it cautiously through the darkness.
Patiently he shifted the Winchester to his left hand in order to set
the flashlight on the top of a flat rock, pointing it as nearly as he
could determine in the direction from whence came those ominous,
stealthy sounds.

"Guess I'll switch on the light," he decided, "and trust to drop
whatever it is before it reaches me."

Taking a fresh grip on his quivering nerves, Nelson cautiously cocked
the .38-55, cuddled the familiar stock to his shoulder. He sighted,
then with his right hand pushed down the catch lever of the
flashlight.

Instantly a dazzling white beam shot forth to shatter the gloom. The
hair on the back of Nelson's hands itched unbearably, while the cold
fingers of madness clutched at his brain, for the sight which met his
eyes all but bereft him of his wavering sanity. There, belly up,
across a low ridge of basalt, lay a hideous reptile, which in form
faintly resembled an enormous and fantastic kangaroo. Its scabby belly
was of the unhealthy yellow of a grub, a hue which gave way to a
leaden gray as the wart-covered skin reached the back. Two enormous
hind legs, each thick as a man's torso and each equipped with three
dagger-like talons, struck out in helpless fury at the air, while a
long, lizard-like tail threshed powerfully back and forth, scattering
ponderous boulders right and left as though they had been marbles. The
flashlight being trained as it was, the monster's head and
forequarters were invisible, all save two very much smaller and
shorter front legs which, like the hinder ones, clawed spasmodically.

"The D. T's!" gasped Nelson, conscious that he was trembling like an
aspen. He suppressed a wild desire to laugh. "Yes, I've gone crazy!"

       *       *       *       *       *

He glanced downwards and leaped swiftly back, for, creeping over the
stones towards his fur outer boots, meandered a wide rivulet of bright
scarlet blood. From its surface rose small curling feathers of steam
which, drifting towards the tunnel's roof, merged with that gray,
vaporous current flowing steadily towards the sunless Arctic expanse
outside.

It took Nelson a long five minutes to sufficiently recover his
equilibrium for action. All he could do was to stare at that
grotesque, gargoyle-like creature as it writhed in leisurely and
persistent death throes.

"Guess I winged it all right! My God, what a nasty beast! Looks like
one of those allosaurs I read about in college. It couldn't be,
though--that tribe of dinosaurs died out five million years ago."

Cautiously he scrambled around among the high black stones, casting
the search light beams before him and holding the Winchester always
ready in his hand while trying to recall snatches of palaeontology
studied at college long years ago.

"Yes, it must be a survival of one of the carnivorous dinosaurs," he
decided, then paused, increasingly conscious of that steady thudding
noise. What caused it?

       *       *       *       *       *

At last he found himself before the creature's gigantic and repulsive
head which lay limp over a blood bathed stone, huge jaws partially
open, and serrated rows of wicked, stiletto-sharp teeth gleaming
yellowly in the flashlight's rays. The head in shape was bullet-like,
ending in a blunt nose as big as a bushel basket and in two prominent
nostrils. The green, lidless eyes were still open, shining faintly,
and seemed to follow his movements, but the steaming blood poured with
the force of a small hose from between triple row of bayonetlike teeth
that curved inward like those of a shark, to splash and bubble freely
to the rock floor and to dribble horribly over the warty, gray hide.

Then Nelson discovered an amazing fact. About the great scaly neck,
thick as a boy's waist, was fastened a ponderous collar, set with
short, sharp spikes.

Nelson gasped. "What in hell!" he cried. "This damn thing's somebody's
property!" His mind, staggered at the thought of dealing with a race
that could and would domesticate such a hideous monster. "Well, it's
no use standing here," he muttered, wiping the sweat from his eyes.
"This isn't getting poor Alden away from those devils."

_Thud! thud!_ In the act of turning he paused, listened once more.
Then he discovered to his amazement that the heart of the apparently
dead reptile was still beating strongly. He could even see the yellow
skin of its belly rise and fall. The effect was grotesque, uncanny.

"Of course," muttered the shaken aviator, "I'd forgotten a reptile's
ganglions will keep on beating for hours, like that shark we killed
off Paumotu. Its heart didn't stop for five hours."

       *       *       *       *       *

Leaving the slain allosaurus behind, the aviator limped onwards,
doggedly following a trail which wound down, ever onwards, into the
depths of the earth. Gradually the air became so filled with steam
that he stripped off his fur jumper and trousers. Clad in a khaki
flannel shirt, serge trousers and shoepacks, he paused long enough to
count his cartridges, and found there were just fourteen. Hell! Not
very many with which to venture into an unknown abyss. He distributed
them in his pockets, and, somewhat relieved of the weight of the fur
suit, took up his advance, playing the flashlight ahead of him as he
went.

"Poor Alden," he thought. "I wonder if he's still alive?"

Every moment expecting to stumble over the mangled corpse of his
friend he hurried on, making better time over the cavern floor, but
soon even the lighter clothing commenced to feel oppressive.

"Must be the earth's heat," he muttered, while the steam clouds rolled
by him like ghostly serpents. "Guess the crust is very thin
here--something like Yellowstone. Probably I'll find some thermal
springs ahead."

Just as he spoke the tunnel took a sharp turn to the right. He
scrambled around the bend to stand petrified, for with the suddenness
of lightning a flood of dazzling orange-red light sprang into being.
Momentarily it blinded him, then revealed strange, incomprehensible
scenes. It appeared that two short shafts of incandescent flame
roared through transparent columns of glass on either side of the
passage some fifty yards distant. Subconsciously Nelson realized that
these columns began and ended in stonework that was smooth and well
joined.

       *       *       *       *       *

As his eyes became accustomed to the glare he distinguished beside
each light pillar two bronze doors, some eight feet high and
semicircular in shape. These had been evidently pulled back to expose
the lights. Then his breath stopped in his throat, for there, standing
beside them, was a gleaming group of six or eight of the strangest
creatures Nelson could ever have imagined. They were men--there was no
mistaking that--men of normal size, but they were so helmeted and
incased in a curious type of armor that for a moment he believed them
gargoyles.

Quite motionless he stood, clutching the cold barrel of the Winchester
in a spasmodic grip and staring up at those two watch-towers, built
like gigantic swallows' nests into sheer rock wall. He could see the
warriors stationed there, peering curiously down at him from the
depths of heavy, bronze helmets--helmets which in shape much resembled
those of an ancient Grecian hoplite, for the nose guards and cheek
pieces descended so low as to completely mask the features of those
strange guards. For crests these helmets bore exquisitely wrought
bronze dolphins, with brilliant blue eyes of sapphire. But what
fascinated Nelson most was the curious armor they wore. Beneath breast
plates of polished bronze, these strange warriors wore what seemed to
be a kind of chain mail--yet it was not that, for the texture had more
the appearance of some heavy but pliant leather, finished with a
metallic surfacing.

Suddenly the spell of mutual amazement was broken, for a tall warrior
in a breast plate that glittered with diamonds and seemed altogether
more ornate than the rest, clapped a short brass horn to his lips and
blew a single piercing note. At once there appeared on the tunnel's
floor, not a hundred yards from the startled aviator, a rank of
perhaps twenty soldiers, accoutred exactly like those he beheld by the
light boxes. They came scrambling over the boulders, their shadows
grotesquely preceding them. In their hands were long shafted spears,
and on their left arms rectangular shields, charged with a lively
dolphin in the act of swimming. Some of them, however, held short
hoses in their hands, hoses that sprouted from tight brass coils
strapped to their broad shoulders.

       *       *       *       *       *

Again the commanding figure aloft raised the horn. From the tail of
his eye Nelson caught the gleam of metal in the orange glare. While a
blast, harsh as the scream of a fire siren, echoed and re-echoed
eerily through the passage, there appeared a fresh detachment. Nelson
shrank back in horror, for these bronze-armored warriors led, at the
end of a powerful chain, two more of those huge, ferocious allosaurs,
exactly like the one he had slain but a short while back.

Like well regulated automatons the hoplite rank opened to permit the
passage of those repulsive, eager monsters, then closed up again and
halted, spears levelled before them in the precise manner of an
ancient Grecian phalanx, while the men with those curious hose-like
contrivances ran out to guard the flanks.

"I'm done for now," thought Nelson as he threw off the Winchester's
safety catch. "I suppose they'll turn those nightmares loose on me."

He was right. For all the world as though they led war dogs, the
keepers in brazen armor advanced, the dull metallic clank of their
accoutrement clearly discernible above the sibilant hiss of their
hideous charges, which hopped along grotesquely like kangaroos, using
their long and powerful tails as a counterpoise.

Then the officer watching from the left hand swallow's nest shouted a
hoarse, unintelligible command, whereupon one of the keepers raised
his right hand in a sharp gesture that instantly flattened the
incredible monster to earth, exactly like an obedient bird dog.

As in a fantastic dream Nelson watched one of the armored guardians
unsnap the hook of the powerful chain by which his allosaurus was
secured. Then, whistling sharply, he clapped his hands and pointed
straight at the motionless aviator. The creature's green white eyes
flickered back and forth, and a chill, colder than the outer Arctic,
invaded Nelson's breast as those unearthly eyes came to rest upon him.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile the other allosaurus remained crouched, whining impatiently
for its keepers to cast it loose.

Fixing burning eyes upon the American, the foremost keeper threw back
his head. "Ahre-e-e!" he shouted. Instantly the freed allosaurus
arose, balanced its enormous bulk, then commenced to leap forward at
tremendous speed, clearing fifteen or twenty feet with each jump and
uttering a curious, whistling scream as it bore down, a terrifying
vision of gleaming teeth and talons.

Shaking off the paralysis of despair, Nelson whipped up the Winchester
and, as before, sighted squarely between those blazing, gemlike eyes.
When the huge monster was but twenty feet away he fired, and the
report thundered and banged in the cavern like the crash of a summer
storm. In mid-air the ghastly carnivore teemed to stagger. Its tail
twitched sharply as in an effort to recover its balance. Then, quite
like any normal creature that is shot through the head, it lost all
sense of direction and made great convulsive leaps, around and around,
clawing madly at the air, bumping into the rock walls and uttering
soul-shaking shrieks of agony. Like a gargoyle gone mad it reeled back
towards the startled rank of spearmen. As it came, Nelson saw the
second allosaurus rear itself backwards and, balanced on its tail,
strike out with powerful hind legs as its maddened fellow drew near.

Like razors the great talons ripped through the dying allosaurus'
belly, exposing the gray-red intestines as the stricken creature raced
by, snapping crazily at the empty air.

A single mighty sweep of the monster's tail crushed five or six of the
panic-stricken keepers and guards, strewing them like broken and
abandoned marionettes among the stones. Hissing and obviously
terrified, the second dinosaur watched the dying struggles of its
mate; then, obedient to a terrified shout from its keepers, wheeled
about to join in a frantic rout of the spearmen, who, casting aside
shield, spear and brass coil, fled for dear life in the direction of
those invisible passages through which they had appeared.


CHAPTER II

No less amazed and alarmed than those vanished soldiers, Nelson
remained rooted to the ground, conscious that in the swallow's nest
overhead there remained only the officer--a tall, broad shouldered man
with golden beard showing from under the cheek pieces of his helmet.
Across the body of the still writhing monster their glances met.
Nelson could see by the light of those strange pillars of fire that
the other's eyes were blue as any Norseman's. Leaning far out over the
stone parapet the other stared down upon the aviator from the depths
of his jewelled helmet in a strange mixture of curiosity and awe.

Suddenly Nelson's nerves snapped and he shook a trembling fist at the
martial figure above.

"Go away!" he shrieked, and reeled back on the edge of collapse. "Go
away, you damn phantom! You're driving me crazy--crazy, I tell you!"

The other stiffened, then turned and, uttering a hoarse shout,
vanished, leaving the noiseless and apparently heatless pillar of fire
flaring steadily.

Recovering somewhat, Nelson set his teeth, advanced to the nearest
corpse, stooped and regarded him who lay there, with bronze helmet
fallen off.

"It's a man and not a ghost," he murmured as his finger encountered
flesh that was still warm. "Red headed too, or I'm a liar. Now what in
hell is all this?"

For all his bewilderment he began to feel better and his swaying
reason became steadier. "Bronze, bronze--nothing but bronze," the
aviator told himself as he further examined the scattered equipment.
"Evidently these fellows don't know the use of iron or steel."

       *       *       *       *       *

With increased curiosity he bent over another splendidly built dead
man who lay with back broken and sightless eyes staring fixedly onto
the steam current meandering silently along the cavern's roof. From
the fallen man's belt were slung half a dozen curious weapons that
looked not unlike potato mashers, except that they were bronze headed
and had wooden handles.

"Hum," he commented, "kind of like the grenades the Boche used in the
late lamented. Wonder what the devil these are?"

Suddenly his ear detected the sound of a footstep and, on looking
swiftly up, he beheld that same yellow bearded officer who had
directed the attack. This strange being had taken off his ponderous
helmet to carry it in his left hand, while his right was held
vertically in the immemorial sign of peace. On he came with powerful
martial strides, a brilliant green cloak flapping gently behind him
and the jewels in his brazen armor glinting like so many tiny colored
eyes. The stranger was indeed handsome, Nelson noticed--and then he
received perhaps the greatest shock of the whole chimerical adventure.
The gold bearded man halted some twenty feet away, smiled and spoke in
a curiously inflected but perfectly recognizable voice.

"Welcome to the Empire of the Atlans. Prithee, Wanderer, what be thy
name?"

For a long moment Nelson was entirely too taken back to make a reply.
Desperately his already perplexed brain tried to comprehend. Here was
a handsome six-footer, dressed in the arms of an ancient race,
speaking English of the seventeenth century!

       *       *       *       *       *

As at a phantom, he regarded the stalwart, faintly ominous figure,
from heavy leather sandals to bronze greaves, thence to wide belt from
which dangled more of those curious grenadelike objects. His glance
paused on the officer's beautifully wrought bronze cuirasse or breast
plate which showed in relief an emerald scaled dolphin and trident.
These, Nelson decided, must be the national emblems of this
incomprehensible nation.

Then their eyes met, held each other a long moment until the tall
officer's features, disfigured by a long red scar across the jaw,
broke into a hard smile.

"Hero Giles Hudson begs thy pardon," he said, "but methought thou
spoke in the language of Sir Henry Hudson, my ancestor?"

"Sir Henry Hudson!" stammered Nelson incredulously. "The old explorer
whose men turned him adrift? So that's why you're talking embalmed
English!" In desperation his weary brain strove to understand.

"I know naught," replied the other with a grave smile, "save that the
founder of our royal line spoke what he called English. He came from
the Ice World to rule wisely over Atlans. He was the greatest
Atlantean of history."

"Atlantean?" echoed Nelson, while his mind groped frantically in the
recess of his memory. "Atlans, Atlantis!" A great light broke upon
him. "The lost Atlantis! Great God!" Had he stumbled upon a remnant of
that powerful people whose fabled empire had been drowned ten
centuries ago in the cold waves of the Atlantic?

       *       *       *       *       *

"Aye," the yellow haired warrior continued as though reading his
thoughts, "long centuries ago this valley was peopled by those who
escaped the great cataclysm which ended the mother country. Later came
another race, barbarian wanderers like thyself." He bowed for all the
world like a courtly English gentleman. "But methinks thou art in need
of food and sustenance?"

"You bet I'm hungry," was Nelson's emphatic reply. "I'm one short jump
of starvation and the D. T.'s. But hold on a minute," he cried. "I'm
looking for a friend of mine. He went by here, didn't he?"

"Aye." A crafty expression Nelson did not like crept into Hero Giles
Hudson's face as he solemnly inclined his head.

"For the nonce, fair sir, thy companion is hale and sound. I beg your
patience."

With a quick gesture the Atlantean raised his dolphin-shaped horn and
blew three short blasts while Nelson, in sudden alarm, cocked his
rifle and brought it in line with the other's chest. The glittering
officer saw the motion, but made no effort to move from the line of
sights.

"Thy gesture avails naught," said he with stiff courtesy. "When Hero
Giles gives his word, it stands good though Heliopolis and the Empire
of the Atlans fall."

One by one half a dozen spearmen appeared, all obviously very
frightened and only moved by an apparently Spartan discipline.
Promptly they saluted, whereupon the Hero--as his title appeared to
be--uttered a number of brief commands in some guttural language
entirely unintelligible to the dazed aviator.

       *       *       *       *       *

Presently a strange column appeared, composed of some fifteen or
twenty disarmed men marching between a double rank of heavily equipped
hoplites. As they drew near, they clasped imploring hands and
evidently begged for mercy from the stern, tight jawed figure at
Nelson's side. Contemptuous and unhearing the prisoners' piteous
pleadings and lamentations, Hero Giles scowled upon them and
deliberately turned his back.

"What are they?" inquired Nelson, vaguely alarmed. "Enemies?"

"Yes." There was a certain bitter savagery in the speaker's voice.
"These are the dauntless defenders of Atlans who ran at the report of
thy weapon. Presently they die."

It was useless to interfere. The horrified aviator knew it and watched
with compassionate eyes while the condemned soldiers were ranged in a
single, white faced line. They remained silent now, seeming to have
found courage now that hope was dead.

Upon brief command from a subaltern, the guards wheeled about and
retreated perhaps twenty yards down the passage. There they halted,
glittering eyes peering through the slots in their helmets to fix
themselves upon the rigid prisoners who stood numbly resigned to
death.

With surprising speed each member of that weird firing squad detached
a brazen grenade from his belt, then threw back his arm in exactly the
same attitude as a bomb-throwing doughboy. Then there came a short,
sharp command and some fifteen or twenty grenades bobbed through the
air to crash on the stones at the feet of the victims.

       *       *       *       *       *

His head swimming with repulsion at the slaughter, Nelson beheld a
curious sight. It seemed that from the broken grenades appeared a
yellowish green vapor which sprung _of its own accord_ upon the silent
upright rank! In an instant it settled like falling snow upon the
doomed soldiers. For a breathless fraction of a second they stood,
eyes wide with horror, then collapsed, kicking and struggling as men
do under the influence of gas.

"Horrible!" gasped Nelson. "What was in the bombs?"

"A vapor," explained Hero Giles shortly. "A fungus vapor which,
falling upon exposed flesh, instantly invades the blood and multiplies
by millions. See--" He pointed to the nearest dead man and Nelson,
with starting eyes, watched a yellowish growth commencing to sprout
from the dead man's nostrils. Swiftly the poisonous mould threw out
tiny branches, spreading with astounding rapidity over the skin until,
in less than a minute after the grenades had exploded, the whole
tumbled heap of dead were covered with a horrible yellow green fungus
growth.

"Thou seest?" Hero Giles demanded. "Powerful, is it not? It is against
the fungus vapor we wear this body armor made from the skin of a small
lizard which inhabits our mountains."

Shocked and appalled, Nelson watched the retreat of the solemn, silent
execution party.

Other soldiers fell to unconcernedly stripping their fallen comrades
of equipment; then, to Nelson's horrified surprise, two hideous
allosauri reappeared, shepherded by some six or eight keepers. Once
the horrible creatures were released, they pounced upon the dead and,
snarling horribly, commenced to rend and devour the corpses.

       *       *       *       *       *

Too shaken to comment or to make the protest he knew to be futile,
Nelson followed the stalwart English-speaking officer into a bronze
door set in the cavern wall and up a short flight of stairs into what
appeared to be a guard room, where food and wine were immediately set
before the famished aviator.

"Yea," Hero Giles was saying as he set down a beautiful goblet and
wiped the last traces of wine from his beard, "we will soon o'ertake
thy friend. He was but little hurt, and thou wilt assuredly join him
in judgment before our great Emperor, Altorius XXII, at Heliopolis,
our capital."

"Heliopolis?" mumbled Nelson, his mouth full of delicious stew that
seemed to be made of veal. "Heliopolis? How far away is it?"

"A hundred leagues more or less," the other smiled. "Almost a third of
the distance up this great valley."

"One hundred leagues! Three hundred miles! Then we won't be there for
several days."

The Hero's deep, rather ominous laughter rang out in the little rock
hewn chamber. "Days?" he jeered. "Days? Art thou mad? In two hours
from the time we board the tube-road thou shalt learn thy fate from
his Serene Highness."

"What!" Nelson's sunken and blood-shot gray eyes widened, while his
jaw dropped incredulously. "One hundred leagues in two hours? As I
remember there are about three miles to a league, so a hundred leagues
in two hours means one hundred and fifty miles an hour! Why, that's
utterly impossible! The Twentieth Century Limited doesn't go half so
fast."

Several enormous emeralds set into the other's bronze cuirasse
glittered softly and the Hero's cold blue eyes hardened as his hand
sought the grenade belt.

"Impossible? Dost doubt my words, sirrah?" With an effort he
controlled himself. "Nay, thou shalt see for thyself ere long. The
tube-road runs from Heracles to Heliopolis. Thou canst trace its
course on this map here on the wall."

"The dog-born devils of Jarmuth have no such means of travel,"
continued the Atlantean, with a touch of smug pride that reminded
Nelson of a small town Middle Westerner speaking of the "rightest,
tightest little town west of the Mississippi."

Nelson found it extremely weird to be sitting there in a heavy arm
chair, drinking good red wine with a fierce armor-clad warrior who
wore sandals, sword and a war cloak such as might have graced the
limbs of Alexander of Macedon. But with the food and rich warm wine,
he felt blood, strength and self-confidence pouring back into his
weary body. "Jarmuth?" he inquired. "What is Jarmuth?"

At his question the domineering, predatory face across the table
darkened and the scar on his cheek flamed red as a scowl of hatred
gripped Hero Giles' visage.

"Jarmuth!" snarled the Hero, and his great hand closed like a vise.
"Jarmuth! A nation of treacherous, gold-adoring cannibals, whose
countless hordes, spawned in the hot lowlands, ever threaten our
frontiers. I tell thee, Friend Nelson, the dog-sired Jereboam will not
rest until mighty Heliopolis lies in a heap of smoking ashes."

"Evidently," thought Nelson, taken aback at the other's vehemence,
"this lad's English only in speech. I guess he's all Atlantean outside
of that."

       *       *       *       *       *

Warming to a fiercer pitch, the other fixed his guest with a
smoldering gaze. "Jarmuth lies beyond Apidanus, the boiling river, and
is the home of a savage horde whose horrid rites in Jezreel, the
capital, stink as an offense to Saturn and the High Gods! Why, mark
you," the warrior prince continued, interrupting his tirade to gulp a
goblet of wine, "five years ago, by treachery, they seized the
beauteous Altara, sister of our gracious Emperor, and upon the annual
feast of Beelzebub, that vile demon they worship, the dark dogs would
have sacrificed and devoured her, according to their rites, had not
our Emperor dispatched a ransom of six fair maidens to take her place.

"Every year since then Jereboam has exacted that same tribute. Every
year their princes and priests gorge themselves on the tender white
flesh of our fairest and noblest maidens. But this tribute must end!
The augurs have told us so. Help will come from the Ice World." Hero
Giles brought crashing down on the table a brawny fist, on whose
wrist was fixed a bright, gem-studded bracelet.

Horror-stricken, Nelson nodded.

"It is for this alone," continued the Hero somberly, "that thy life
and that of thy friend have been spared."

"So? I didn't notice," broke in Nelson, "that you particularly went
out of your way to preserve my health a while back."

The heavy golden head shook slowly and a grim smile played about those
thin cruel lips. "Nay, but I could have had thee slain. Come, as we go
to the tube-road I'll show thee how much thou liest in the hollow of
this, my hand." He thrust out a broad, powerful palm. "Forget not,
fair sir. At any moment I or my Imperial Master may choose to close
that hand."

"Perhaps!" stated Nelson, feeling it imperative to keep up his pose of
independence. "But it might just happen that your hand would close on
a porcupine, and so far from hurting the porcupine it would be your
hand that would be hurt."

"Sirrah!" The Atlantean sprang to his feet and one hand shot to the
grip of his ponderous, bronze sword; but even more quickly Nelson
snatched up his rifle, a thin smile playing on his lips.

"Drop it," he snapped. "Control yourself, or I'll plug you like that
allosaur. Be reasonable, can't you? We both want something, and
perhaps can help each other gain it."

       *       *       *       *       *

The taut, menacing figure in armor relaxed and, with a gentle clank of
accoutrement, Hero Giles resumed his seat.

"Prithee pardon me," he apologized ungraciously. "I was ever a
hot-head and there is much in what thou sayest. We wish to force an
end to this annual tribute--if not to regain our beloved Altara. And
thou"--his heavy, golden eyebrows shot up--"and thou, what dost thou
wish?"

Nelson lowered the menacing barrel. "I want the return of Richard
Alden, free passage back to that spot where he was captured and plenty
of food and help should we need it. If I aid you in one, you must
promise me in the other."

"Aye," returned the other doubtfully. "But I myself can pledge naught
save thy immediate safety. 'Tis for our Imperial Majesty to say
whether both thou and thy friend shall live, or whether ye shall feed
our war dogs. Come now, we must go to Heliopolis."

[Illustration: _Map of Jarmuth and Atlans_]

Picking up his heavy, bronze helmet the Atlantean prince set it on his
yellow head and waited impatiently for Nelson to drain the last of his
wine. Then, with a swirl of his green cloak, he vanished through the
rock wall, closely followed by a singularly distracted and alarmed
aviator.


CHAPTER III

A bright yellow glare steadily increased to mark the end of the tunnel
down which the two had progressed; then, with the sharp abruptness of
a hand-clap, there resounded a loud challenge in that unintelligible
Atlantean language, above which the hiss of steam could be loudly
heard.

Instantly the Atlantean prince strode forward, a commanding figure.
Momentarily his helmet and the dangling grenadelike bombs were sharply
outlined against that unearthly yellow light. He raised his hand and
dropped it, palm outward, to his chin in what must have been a salute.
The hissing sound of steam then faded into silence.

Followed at a respectful distance by a pair of silent, bronze-helmeted
hoplites, Nelson and his guide descended a narrow stair, which
broadened at the base. It was a very long staircase composed of
perhaps two or three hundred steps which were occasionally interrupted
by wide stone terraces. On these level spaces were fixed what appeared
to be enormous field guns of glittering brass. They were similar, yet
somehow oddly dissimilar, to the great guns Nelson had seen in
France.

"Behold, oh Wanderer," Hero Giles declaimed impressively, "the lands
of Atlans and Jarmuth!"

It was a weird landscape that met Nelson's half-unbelieving gaze, a
landscape green with that brilliance peculiar to spring meadows, lying
beneath the same deep blue sky that overarched the surrounding barren
ice fields which hemmed in this astounding valley.

       *       *       *       *       *

A slight smile played over Hero Giles' thin lips as he watched the
amazed aviator.

"The splendor of our country must indeed astound thee," he observed,
"having come from the dreary fastness of the outer Ice World. But
come; we are now to pass the great retortii guarding the entrance into
the valley."

Nelson's eyes turned again to the weapons that so oddly resembled
field guns. He examined them closely, inspecting them narrowly for the
differences he knew must exist between them and the artillery that had
thundered during the War of the Nations.

The chief difference lay in the mounting of these starkly beautiful
weapons. They seemed to be fixed on a movable pivot set into the coal
black rock itself. Like modern artillery, these curious pieces of
ordnance bore a bronze shield to protect their crews, through which
projected the long and very narrow barrels of the guns. Grouped like
cannoneers about their piece stood various red-crested Atlantean
artillerymen. At a glance Nelson recognized the difference in their
equipment from that of the spearmen behind them. These former bore no
shields, no swords or bombs, but wore that same kind of leather
body-armor which graced the powerful limbs of Hero Giles. Their
helmets, too, were different: only the dolphin crest with a tuft of
red feathers spouting from it bore any resemblance to those of the
infantry, and, moreover, the artillerymen's eyes were shielded by
goggles with thick blue lenses.

       *       *       *       *       *

As the Hero approached, officers among them saluted, then sank on one
knee with head humbly bent.

"Rather odd looking guns," commented Nelson. "I'm not much of an
artilleryman, but I'm wondering how you take up the recoil?"

The Atlantean's laugh, which always reminded his guest of the purr of
a tiger, rang out. "Why, marry, good sir, there is no recoil! These
guns do not use that powder which Sir Henry, founder of our line, did
speak of. Thou wouldst see one fired?"

His curiosity immeasurably piqued, Nelson nodded, whereupon the
Atlantean wheeled about and barked a brief command. With truly
Prussian precision, the artillerymen sprang to their posts, some to a
series of levers which sprouted from the rock platform without any
apparent connection, and some to wheels and gauges of varying size
that clustered in bewildering intricacy about the breech of the great
brass gun.

"Markest thou that tree yonder, on the ledge of the valley?" The
Atlantean's blunt outstretched finger indicated a towering pine
sprouting from among a mass of reddish volcanic rock at the rim of
that new world.

"Yes, I see it, but--" Nelson was astounded. A pine tree in the upper
Arctic! That alone was sufficient cause for amazement. From a stiff
red-plumed gun captain issued a brief series of commands which set the
wonderfully drilled crew to silently adjusting their training and
elevating mechanism. Click! Clack! Sis-s-s-s!

       *       *       *       *       *

All up and down the vast staircase other gun crews stood watching.
Nelson saw their weird, bluish goggles raised to that platform where,
for all the world like a coast defense howitzer, the great cannon
swung majestically about on the ponderous, brazen column which seemed
to support it. Gradually the muzzle was elevated, then traversed a few
feet, to finally come to a halt.

"Jakul, a Hero!" shouted the gun captain, his hand raised to Hero
Giles.

"Thou art ready, Friend Nelson?" he inquired in tolerant amusement.
"Mark well yon pine tree!

"Storr!"

Nelson saw one of the armored cannoneers bend forward, firmly grasp a
short lever with both hands. In anticipation of a terrific report, the
aviator pressed finger tips to his ears. There followed not a
thundering crash, but a curious, eery, high-pitched scream, rather
like that of a fire siren. There was no smoke! Nelson's incredulous
eyes sought the muzzle of the gun and detected issuing from it what
appeared to be a thin, white rod. This shimmering stream of silver
shot straight towards the pine tree, gradually widening and giving off
feathery billows of steam. In a fraction of a moment the target was
completely veiled from sight in a furious pall of clouds which, to
Nelson's great astonishment, did not dissipate nor condense with the
speed of ordinary steam.

"Nava!"

With impressive suddenness the screaming sound faded, leaving a sort
of stunned silence on the gun platform. The gunners stalked back to
their original stations.

       *       *       *       *       *

Slowly, reluctantly, the mist enveloping the pine tree cleared away
and Nelson felt a chill creeping up his spine. The pine was a good
three hundred yards away, yet now it sagged limp to earth, stripped of
bark, twigs and needles, only the bright yellow trunk and major
branches remaining.

"That tree was a good two feet thick," mused the astounded aviator,
"yet the steam gun bent it like a sapling. My God! What would it do to
a man?"

"What thinkest thou of our retortii?" The Atlantean's beard glinted
like metal as he shook with a grim, silent laughter. "These great
retortii can shoot half a league and will blast any living thing in
their path. I tell thee, friend Nelson, the discharge of even a small
retortii will strip the flesh from a man's bones as a peasant strips
the husk from an ear of corn!"

"Fearful, terrible!" was Nelson's awed comment. "Is there no defence
against them?"

"Of course." The Hero's green feather-crested helmet gleamed with a
nod. "Was there ever an instrument of war that had not its defence?
Yea, we have the blue vapor to shatter steam particles--it is called
the blue maxima. Thou wilt presently see some of our troops armed with
it."

"But where does this steam come from? How is it generated?" These two
were the first of a host of questions which trembled on Nelson's lips.

"The steam," replied the Atlantean, "comes from the earth. We compress
it many times, then feed it into our retortii. Without the heat of
Mother Earth and our flame suns we would all perish. Steam is our
motive power, our defence and our enemy!"

He flung his hand towards the vast valley stretched before them. It
was hemmed in on either side by colossal breath-taking mountain
ranges, whose caps shone and glittered with an eternal snow.

"Some foothills! They must rise all of 25,000 feet from the valley
floor," decided the aviator, "and I should imagine this valley is a
good mile below sea level. Yes! That must be it: this nightmare
country lies in a huge geographical fault--something like the Dead
Sea."

       *       *       *       *       *

Mile after mile he could see fertile green land stretching away toward
some low undulating hills on the horizon. Atlans was very thickly
settled--that he recognized at once--for the terrain was divided and
sub-divided into a vast checker-board, such as he had seen in France
and Germany, while terraces, green with produce, had been laboriously
gouged out of the frowning mountain sides.

Then his eye encountered the source of that curious amber light which
pervaded the whole valley. A titanic flaming gas vent spouted like a
cyclopean torch from the peak of a nearby mountain. Its steady,
subdued roar struck Nelson's ear as he turned away his eyes, for the
glare was too intense to be long endured. Further down the valley were
two more such incandescent vents, shooting their flaming tongues
boldly into the sky, warming the air and casting that rich, amber
radiance over all.

"That is Mount Ossa nearest us," the Atlantean's voice came as though
from a long distance. Victor Nelson was too staggered, too unspeakably
amazed to register the fact of the Hero's proximity. "Below are Pelion
and Jilboa, which, with Jabor, the greatest of all the flames,
illuminate and warm the valley."

Nelson's eye, trained to be all observant, ranged far and wide, noting
the presence of many lacy, frothing geysers which spouted at varying
intervals. There were, also, many steaming ponds and waterfalls which
sprang in smoky confusion from the rock palisades to either side.

       *       *       *       *       *

Nearer at hand he could distinguish a number of huge stone structures,
evidently forts and public buildings. Strategically placed all about
were more of those terrible brass retortii, gleaming dully under the
incandescent glare of the flame sun.

"Come," cried Hero Giles with an impatient gesture of his hand, "we
must e'en hasten to the tube-road terminal. Word has long since been
sent to Heliopolis of thy arrival."

Downwards into the valley, which grew ever warmer and more fertile,
the Atlantean led on, explaining a thousand and one details to the
astounded aviator. Presently they approached the nearest of the great
stone structures and Nelson received yet another shock. In a courtyard
was drilling what would correspond to a troop of cavalry in the outer
world. In orderly ranks the troopers wheeled, marched and
counter-marched, their brazen armor twinkling and clashing softly as
they carried out their evolutions with an amazing precision. But what
astonished Nelson was the fact that each of these strange troopers
bestrode a lithe, long-limbed variety of dinosaur, a good half smaller
than the allosauri he had encountered in the tunnel. These agile
creatures ran about on their hind legs with astonishing speed, using a
long reptilian tail as a balance.

On the back of each trooper was fastened a compact circular copper
tank, from which sprouted a flexible metal hose that ended in what
looked like a ponderous type of pistol.

In distinction to the red of the artillerymen and the blue of the
Hoplites, these curious cavalrymen wore brilliant crests of yellow
feathers, and from their lance tips fluttered tiny pennons of that
same color.

"They must travel at least as fast as a race horse," decided the
aviator after studying the swift evolutions of the scaly chargers. To
his ears came the curious dry scrape and rattle of their horny claws
on the stone pavement of the drill yard.

He would have lingered to see more, for those grotesque, lizard-like
chargers interested him immensely, but Hero Giles beckoned
imperiously. So, dropping the Winchester to the hollow of his arm,
Nelson followed him into the brilliantly gas-lit depths of the great
structure.

       *       *       *       *       *

Everywhere were red bearded, white skinned soldiers, staring at him
with the frank curiosity of children. Powerful, magnificently built
fellows they were, all in uniforms of different designs.

The walls about him, Nelson noticed, were covered with really
beautiful friezes depicting various warlike scenes in that pure beauty
of proportion found only in ancient Grecian temples.

On and on through resounding tunnels, past busy markets and barracks,
hurried the two travelers. Then the Atlantean halted before a
gracefully arched doorway where stood two hoplites, who immediately
lowered spears to bar the passage. At a word from Hero Giles, however,
they saluted and fell back in position--immovable, grim guardians.

Inside was a short staircase, beautifully wrought of bronze. Up this
flashed the Atlantean's mail-clad body; then he came to a halt under
the direct rays of a blinding light.

Nelson, on arriving above, discovered that the chamber was lined with
jointless brass about ten feet high and circular in shape. "What's
this?" he demanded curiously.

"The terminal of the tube-road. In a moment thou shalt see the great
cylinder arrive."

The words were hardly by the Hero's lips when there appeared,
noiselessly and amid a great rush of air, a huge metal cylinder that
ran upon a sort of truck. It rumbled up to the edge of the platform
and from its end a small door was opened.

       *       *       *       *       *

Hero Giles exchanged a few sentences with an elderly man who appeared
to act as control master, then he indicated the glowing doorway of the
cylinder.

Firmly clutching his Winchester, Nelson bowed his head and stepped
inside, there to discover a luxury he had never anticipated. The
interior of the cylinder was brilliantly lit and on both sides were
ranged wide divans, strewn with many silken cushions. In a rack nearby
were several graceful glass amphora, filled with red and tawny wine.

"The cylinder must be about thirty feet long," the marvelling American
told himself, "and about ten feet in diameter. Guess it works on the
same principle as the compressed air tubes the department stores use
to send change with."

Gingerly he tested the nearest divan and marvelled at the curious
softness of what appeared to be a gigantic tiger skin. Meanwhile Hero
Giles entered, his stern features even more serious, but with him was
a younger man who resembled him not a little.

"Fair brother," said the Atlantean to his companion, "this is he of
whom I spoke. Friend Nelson, this is Hero John, my next youngest
brother--he, too, speaks the language of the great Sir Henry Hudson."

The metallic clang of the door being shut brought a sharp qualm to
Nelson's heart. "What are they doing?" he demanded quickly.

"The menials bolt the door beyond," explained Hero Giles with amused
gravity. "In a moment our cylinder will be placed in the dispatching
chamber, where steam pressure will be exerted. We shall then be hurled
through this vacuum tube-road to Heliopolis, greatest city of Atlans.
In an hour we will be there."

Outside sounded the sudden insistent clangor of a gong, and
immediately the hiss of steam grew louder. The car shuddered as the
hissing rose to an eery scream, then all at once the cylinder leaped
forward, nearly hurling Nelson from his seat. He struggled as best he
might to gain his equilibrium, for the eyes of the others were on him.

Then, more smoothly, the great cylinder gathered speed and hurtled on
through the darkness of the tube-road towards Heliopolis, where Victor
Nelson would read the book of Fate.


CHAPTER IV

On the arrival platform at Heliopolis reigned a fierce excitement.
Nelson noted countless armed and unarmed warriors hurrying to and fro,
desperately intent on reaching their various posts, and snarling
ill-temperedly as they elbowed their fellows aside. As soon as they
appeared, Hero Giles and his brother became the center of an excited
press of gorgeously armored officers.

"Hum!" murmured the aviator under his breath. "Something's happened.
Must be a revolution, an earthquake or a Democratic convention in
town; these boys seem all steamed up."

Intently he studied the ring of fierce, red bearded faces surrounding
his late hosts and gathered that indeed some event of overwhelming
importance had taken place. Presently a splendid falcon-eyed old man
in a yellow cloak strode up, struggling to control himself. His
resemblance to the two Heroes struck Nelson immediately.

"Harken ye," he cried, in that Elizabethan English which appeared to
be the hieratic language of the New Atlantis' rulers. "Have ye heard?
The dog-conceived sons of Semites have broken the truce! But three
measures gone by, a brigade of their mounted podokesons swooped down
on this very suburb of Tricca, yea, to the very gates of Heliopolis!
The foul man-eating dogs slaughtered royal serfs and burnt two
quarters of the suburb to the ground! Moreover, they seized that
prisoner"--Nelson's heart gave a great leap at the word--"whom thou
sentest from the mountain passes."

"What!" In two swift strides Nelson was before the gray beard, his
blood-shot eyes blazing with a strange light. "What did you say about
that prisoner?"

       *       *       *       *       *

The old man, who had obviously not noticed Nelson's presence, was
thunderstruck to hear him speak in English until Hero Giles briefly
explained his presence.

"Yea!" continued the elder, flinging lamentations furiously over his
shoulder, "these swine of the Lost Tribes captured him and slew his
escort. They have retreated towards the Apidanus, slaying, burning and
pillaging as they go."

A sickening, deadly fear gripped the weary aviator. This was too much!
Bad as it was to have Richard Alden captured by these weird
descendants of a long vanished race, it was far worse to have him
fall into the hands of their deadly enemies, the Jarmuthians, decadent
survivors of Israel's Five Lost Tribes. The possibility of a rescue
now seemed hopelessly and crushingly vague and distant. What could he
do now?

In dread despair he glanced about, amazed at the prodigious numbers of
scowling men who hurried by, obviously intent upon the commencement of
a campaign for revenge.

Then Hero Giles turned his scarred, warlike face, now set in granite
lines. "Come, Friend Nelson, my uncle Anthony bids me take thee direct
to the presence of His Serene Splendor, where he lies encamped at
Cierum, by the shores of Lake Copias. There he marshals the army of
Atlans for a march through the hot country on Jezreel. I tell thee,
thou hast come in stirring times. From Heraclea, Thebes, Ys and Mayda
will come the Phalanxes. Once and forever we will deal the dogs of
Jarmuth a final blow."

       *       *       *       *       *

Victor Nelson never forgot the hours that followed. Issuing at a fast
trot from the tube-road terminal, the two Heroes led the way to a vast
structure, in which were stabled both the terrific allosauri and the
podokesauri, those swift dinosaurs which seemed to serve the
Atlanteans as horses. The dreadful hiss and snarl of these monsters
resounded in his ears long before the stables came in sight, and that
curious musky odor he had noted in the tunnel was sickeningly strong.

Everywhere he read signs of hurried preparations for war. Savage,
surly allosauri were led from their stables, one by one, long necks
writhing snakelike backwards and forwards. Then their keepers would,
after a moment's tussle, secure huge leather muzzles over their gaping
jaws, and the huge reptiles would be led waddling along on their hind
legs out into a vast courtyard, there to hiss and strike at their
nearest fellows.

"Thinkest thou couldst ride a podoko?" inquired Hero John, an anxious
look on his handsome, friendly features. "They are difficult to
manage--but swift in flight as the birds themselves!"

"I don't know," replied the aviator, "but I'm damn well going to try.
If your Emperor can help me rescue Alden, the sooner we get started,
the better."

For all his brave resolutions, his heart sank, as the green kilted
keeper led forth three podokesauri. Nelson stared curiously at them
as, hopping along, they drew near, to bare needle-sharp teeth at him
while, brazen stirrups on either side jangled softly against their
rough, scaly hides.

In evident high spirits the beasts snuffed the air and pawed with
their tiny front legs excitedly, making their sharp talons glisten
like polished steel. A bridle dangled from the mouth of each and a
ring set in the thick upper lip served as a further means of control.

       *       *       *       *       *

At a sharp "_Oya_!" from an old and toothless keeper, the first podoko
sank flat to the stone floor like a kneeling camel.

"A sturdy beast," commented Hero Giles, tightening his belt and
securing the clasps to the emerald-green war cloak. "Here, Friend
Nelson, thou hadst best don a helmet; the podokos on occasion throw
back their heads and so might wound thee." So saying, he set foot in
stirrup and swung up into a saddle which was built up high in the
cantle to correct the sharp downward slope of the reptile's muscular
back.

At a signal, Hero Giles' ugly mount rose to its height and shuffled
awkwardly sidewise, as the old keeper, his eyes very wide and curious,
led forward Nelson's charger.

"Look," said Hero John with a reassuring smile. "The chin strap
buckles so--be sure it fits snug, else it will pound on thy head to
the podoko's stride. If thou wouldst turn to the left, pull the rein
so, to the right so, and if thou wouldst stop, pull strongly on the
nose ring; 'tis not so difficult." He laid a friendly hand on Nelson's
flannel clad shoulder. "How wilt thou manage thy curious weapon?" he
inquired doubtfully. "Perhaps thou hadst best leave it behind."

There was a grim smile on Nelson's weary and wind burned features.
"Not on your life, old son! This Winchester and I stick closer
together than the Siamese twins."

Nelson thrust his foot into a heavy stirrup, eased his weight into the
high peaked saddle and gripped the pommel, for though an excellent
horseman, he had no clue as to what motion would ensue. It was wise he
did so, for the podoko reared suddenly, almost flinging his rider from
the saddle.

       *       *       *       *       *

Immediately Hero John mounted, raised his right hand and dealt his
podoko a stinging slap on the fore-shoulder. The great reptile hissed
in protest, but commenced to walk off with an awkward, hopping step.
Nelson's mount followed suit.

Faster and faster ran the podokos, their long and scale-covered necks
stretched far out ahead while their tails lifted correspondingly, much
like that of an airplane about to take off.

"Whew! He must be doing all of forty-five," gasped Nelson, while the
wind whistled about his ears and snapped madly at the yellow crest of
his brazen helmet.

The ride which ensued remained forever fixed in the aviator's memory.
Like so many shots from a gun the three podokos darted off out of the
stables, past a gate guarded by a battery of retortii, whose red
plumed cannoneers sprang to attention as the three strangely assorted
riders sped out into the amber, perpetual light of Atlans.

Nelson, on finding his balance, looked about him to receive
impressions of immensely tall structures, of pyramids which, like the
ziggurats of Sumaria, and Babylon, were surmounted with beautifully
proportioned temples.

"Must be at least a million people in this burg of Heliopolis,"
thought Nelson, easing his Winchester.

Hour after hour they sped along, frequently overtaking detachments of
troops. Twice they halted to change mounts, though the podokos seemed
quite tireless.

At the end of five hours' furious riding, Nelson beheld a dense white
cloud low on the horizon.

"What's that?" he demanded. "Fog?"

"No," Hero John informed him. "Yonder flows the Apidanus, the boiling
river. Not far away to the left lies the frontier fortress of Cierum,
where is encamped the Emperor, who will sit in judgment upon thee."

Nelson's heart sank. He had been so occupied with his fears for Alden
that he had not dwelt upon his own precarious position.

       *       *       *       *       *

Scarcely half an hour elapsed, if Nelson's wrist watch were running
correctly, before he reached the tremendous, swarming camp of Altorius
XXII, Emperor of Atlans. Hero Giles proved to be a powerful talisman,
for everywhere officers and men alike saluted respectfully and sank on
one knee as he passed.

"Wait here," he snapped, as the podokos sank obediently to the dust.
"Brother John, do thou guard Friend Nelson while I seek permission of
His Serene Splendor to bring the Wanderer into the Presence."

Almost immediately the elder Atlantean returned, a frown on his
scarred, rather brutal visage. "Come," he muttered, "but I fear for
thee, Friend Nelson; His Splendor is in a savage mood--this raid hath
stirred his ire beyond all bounds."

"Nothing like cheering up a patient before he goes into the operating
room," thought Nelson, and quietly threw off the safety on his
Winchester. "Six shots," he reflected. "Well, if I go, I reckon I'll
take some damn good company along."

The aviator was led down a long passage, at every ten feet of which
was posted an enormous scowling guard, whose spears, retortii and
armor were painted a brilliant jade-green. Then a musical, deep-toned
gong boomed twice, and Hero Giles halted before an exquisitely wrought
door, which, without any apparent propulsion, silently slid back into
the massive stone walls, revealing a huge, brilliantly lit circular
chamber that was hung with emerald-green hangings. In the center,
surrounded by a royal guard of nobles in splendidly jeweled armor, was
reared a dais, upon which stood a throne that blazed with the most
varied collection of diamonds that Nelson could ever have imagined.

"Down on your face," rasped Hero Giles as, in common with his brother,
he knelt and then fell prostrate on the cool black marble floor.

"Damned if I will," murmured Nelson, and remained erect.

       *       *       *       *       *

Bolt upright, he looked across the interval and found himself staring
into the furious eyes of one of the handsomest men he had ever beheld.
Gripping his Winchester in a kind of "port arms" position, he stood to
attention--by some curious kink of the brain reverting to his military
days. And so the two men, different as day and night, faced each
other. Altorius XXII clad in robes of scarlet, and a glittering
cuirasse that glowed like the evening sun. His yellow head was truly
splendid, reminiscent of that of a young Roman Emperor. The hair, like
that of the Hudsonian Heroes, was blond, curly and close cropped. Yes,
thought the awed but self-contained American, there was something
genuinely imperial about the Emperor's aquiline visage, for a high
intelligent forehead and piercing blue eyes dominated a strong mouth,
which was marred by a decidedly cruel twist at the corners. On him,
also, was set the stamp of Sir Henry Hudson's dauntless race.

"Put him is a business suit and a soft gray hat," mused Nelson, "and
you would find a dozen like him in any of London's best clubs."

"Down on thy face, sirrah!" Outraged, the Emperor's voice rang like
the peal of a brazen trumpet through the great pillared audience
chamber. The nearest guardsmen held themselves ready, hand on sword
hilt.

"No." Nelson's shaggy black head went back as he found his tongue at
last. "No, Your Majesty. In America we have our own way of showing
respect for authority. I'm an American and, with all respect, I'll
salute you as one."

So saying, his hand flicked up in a sharp military salute to the visor
of that Atlantean helmet which he still wore.

"All damn foolishness," he silently told himself. "I feel like the
lead in a ten, twenty, thirty melodrama. But I suppose it's got to be
done."

       *       *       *       *       *

The Emperor's teeth gleamed in a half snarl as he sprang with Jovian
wrath to his feet.

"Dog! How darest thou bandy words with us?"

"Have mercy!" hoarsely pleaded Hero John as he lay on the floor. "Have
mercy, oh Splendor! He is but an ignorant wanderer from the Ice
World."

It appeared that the young Hero was something of a favorite, for the
masterful, thunder-browed Emperor checked himself and, still
glowering, settled back on the diamond throne.

"Ye have my permission to enter and approach."

Whereupon, Hero Giles arose and, with many black looks at his guest,
strode forward to briefly explain his presence.

Nelson felt Altorius' blazing blue eyes search his face.

"Then he whom the dog-born Jereboam captured was thy friend?"

"Yes," replied Nelson with dignity, "my best friend. Alden and I have
traveled and wandered all over the world together."

"Over the world? The Ice World?" Altorius seemed interested, for he
leaned forward, muscle corded arms very brown against the frosty
brilliance of the stones studding his throne. He flipped back a
scarlet cloak and bent a searching look on the straight, unafraid
figure below.

Impatient to reach a decision, Nelson forebore to amplify the
Emperor's assumption that the outside world was all ice and snow.

"Yes," he said, "from the land of America. I've spoken with Hero
Giles, Your Majesty's Captain-General."

"So, then, no doubt, he has told you of the law of our country?"
Altorius' white teeth shown again in the depths of his short, curling
beard.

"Perhaps." Nelson was vague, wishing no further amplification.

"The law of Atlans," pronounced the Emperor with a frown, "states that
a stranger must prove his worth to the State, else he must be put to
death. Thank thou thy gods that thou hast not fallen into the hands of
the Lost Tribes, for assuredly thou would perish miserably, as must
thy comrade."

       *       *       *       *       *

"What is the law of Jarmuth?" inquired Nelson, his mind furiously at
work.

"Their law states that the stranger within their gates must perish on
the altar of Beelzebub, Jarmuth's blood-hungry demon god." A momentary
expression of sadness crept into the Emperor's blue eyes and he beat a
square, powerful hand on the arm of his throne. "Aye, blood-hungry!
Lack-a-day! But yesterday, six of our fairest maidens crossed the
boiling river, never to return."

Nelson was about to speak when from outside came the blast of a
trumpet. The assembled Atlanteans started, paused, and remained
silent, listening intently.

Hero Giles looked up, a light kindling in his deep-set eyes. "Yon was
an Israelite trumpet."

As the words left his lips there came a hurried rapping at the portal,
whereupon the guards sprang forward.

"Bid them enter." Altorius seemed strangely tense and uneasy.

Quietly the door rolled back as before, revealing an Atlantean whose
eyes rolled with alarm. He hurried forward and flung himself on the
floor at the Emperor's sandaled feet.

"Harken, oh Serene Splendor! Waiting without is an embassy from his
Majesty of Jarmuth. They bear words for thine Imperial Highness."

"Now, by Saturn! Here's insolence--at an hour such as this!" With a
furious swirl of his scarlet cloak Altorius leaped to his feet, hand
on the ivory handle of his sword, which, to Nelson's amusement was not
of bronze, but of good, blue-gray steel.

"I'll bet it's old Sir Henry's original pet sticker," he thought.

"Bring on these dogs of Israel," growled Altorius. "They shall die!"

"Gently, gently, oh Splendor," murmured Hero John. "Our full force is
not yet camped on the Plains of Poseidon."

"Nay! Have the rogues flayed alive!" was the advice of the hot-headed
elder brother. He, like the Emperor, was scowling and livid with fury.

       *       *       *       *       *

Presently there appeared four men, stalwart warriors as totally
different in aspect from the Atlanteans as humans might be. The two
races were alike only in splendid physical proportions and human
figures. They, the Jarmuthians, were black haired and dark skinned,
whereas the Atlanteans, with the exception of Sir Henry's progeny,
were red headed. Truculently the half naked ambassadors strode over
the polished floor, which reflected their rude images. Their hairy
chests, arms and legs afforded a sharp contrast to the neat Atlantean
nobles, who drew back with expressions of disgust.

"Good God!" gasped Nelson in lively surprise. "A bunch of the boys
from Seventh Avenue!"

It was true: each Jarmuthian clearly betrayed his Hebraic origin in
huge, fleshy nose and pendulous lower lip, so characteristic of the
Semitic race. They were fierce, shaggy fellows, naked from the waist
up save for a kind of jointed body armor, reminiscent of a Roman
legionnaire's. Their long abundant blue-black hair was either plaited
or flowed uncut over splendidly muscled shoulders. Their beards on the
other hand were short and frizzed into tight curls, in the Assyrian
manner. On each man's head was set a highly polished, pointed casque
of copper, surmounted in each instance by the six-pointed star of
Solomon. Otherwise the brutal looking emissaries wore nothing but
dirty, food-spotted kilts and rough hide sandals secured by thongs.

       *       *       *       *       *

With all the insolence and self assurance of conquerors in the
presence of slaves the four jet-eyed ambassadors swaggered up to the
diamond throne. Then the foremost briefly inclined his head towards
Altorius in a grudging salute and began to speak in deep, resonant
tones.

From that point Nelson could understand nothing of the conversation as
it was carried on in the guttural and unintelligible language of that
lost realm, but, from time to time Hero John found opportunity to
translate an occasional phrase.

Darker and darker grew the brows of the gorgeously attired Emperor and
his eagle-visaged Captain-General as they listened to the pompous
oratory of the foremost Jarmuthian, and in dark fury more than one
Atlantean noble half drew his sword when the speaker fell silent at
last.

"He said," the younger Atlantean whispered, "that Jereboam is no
longer satisfied with six maidens. Beelzebub demands a further
offering of six more damsels to be delivered before the third division
of time on the morrow. By Saturn! The insolence of these besotted
swine passes all tolerance!"

From the Atlantean Emperor's outraged negative gestures, Nelson
surmised that Altorius was making an emphatic refusal and even adding
some vicious threat. The foremost Jarmuthian slapped huge dirty hands
on armored hips and fell to laughing with an insolence that would have
provoked a rabbit.

       *       *       *       *       *

Forgetting dignity and self-control, Altorius, in a single tigerish
leap sprang from his throne and knocked the mocker senseless with a
powerful blow to the jaw. Then, spurning the fallen Jarmuthian with a
sandaled foot, the Atlantean fixed blazing eyes upon the three other
ambassadors who, nothing daunted, closed up, muttering savagely in
their frizzed black beards, while their hands sought the spot where
swords would normally have hung.

"Nice right to the jaw," commented Nelson with a grin. "He's still
English enough to use his fists." He turned to Hero John, who stood
with an expression of horror on his comely features. "What caused the
row?"

"Verily, our plight is grave indeed. That braggart dog threatened to
march on Heliopolis in the first division of morning, and,"--Hero
John's lips compressed into a hopeless, taut expression--"our
reinforcing phalanxes can never arrive in time to defend Cierum at
that hour. Should the defense fail, as it must--since they outnumber
us three to one for the nonce--it would cost us many thousands of men
to stay the blood-hungry hordes of Jereboam once freed on the great
plain."

Like a star shell bursting on a cloudy night came the inception of an
idea.

"Here," cried Nelson, "I've an idea! Maybe I can fix a stall until the
rest of your boys do a General Phil Sheridan and get here."

Hero John's blue eyes widened uncomprehendingly. "What?" he demanded.
"What dost thou propose?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Nelson's hand crept to his head, for the unaccustomed weight and heat
of the helmet made it itch. "You say these bright boys from over the
border want to chow six more girls? Am I right?"

"Yea, oh Friend Nelson, they demand the victims to-morrow morn, else
they advance."

"All right." Nelson was thinking fast now, a dreadful vision of
Richard Alden stretched for sacrifice on the brass altar of Beelzebub
ever floating before his aching eyes. "Tell those Semites that they
can have those six girls _if_ they can take them away from me."

A puzzled frown creased the younger Hero's brow and he tugged
thoughtfully at his scant yellow beard. "Prithee pardon me, but I do
not comprehend."

"All right, get this now! Tell the Jarmuthians that they can send six
of their biggest and best scrappers, one for each girl. If they can
take any one of those girls away from me, they take them all--taking
me as well--and we'll all get the works in Jezreel together. But, on
the other hand, if I kill their six champions, then Alden is returned
unharmed, the six girls come home and the six other girls come back
too--and there'll be no more hostages. I don't think they'll agree to
or even consider surrendering Your Princess, Altara. I'm sorry I can't
accomplish that, too. But if I can stop this annual tribute, it won't
be so bad, will it?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Rounder and rounder grew the Atlantean's eyes, and he gaped like a
school boy in a side show.

"What sayest thou? Thou alone to overcome six of their best warriors?
Nay, but this is folly! Moonshine! What knowest thou of their
weapons?"

"Nothing," admitted Nelson, "but I do know Brother Winchester here."
He patted the smooth stock. "He's mighty persuasive, properly
handled."

"But they are armored! They have the fungus bombs, the light retortii
and the javelin!"

"Righto!" agreed Nelson a trifle carelessly, "but you don't know what
this old boy can do when he's put to it. Well?"

"By Saturn!" An uncertain ring crept into the Atlantean Prince's
voice. "A moment, while I address His Splendor."

"I'm a fool, a damn fool!" thought Nelson. "Still, it's Alden's only
chance--unless the Jarmuthians've got some trick I'm not on to, I
ought to stand a fighting chance." Meanwhile Emperor and
Captain-General drew to one side, listening to Hero John's impassioned
oratory. That the idea met with disapproval, Nelson quietly recognized
from the incredulous, even contemptuous, glances Altorius shot at him.
Leaving the four sneering Jarmuthians under guard of the nobles, the
Emperor came striding impatiently over the inlaid floor.

"What madness is this?" he demanded harshly. "Dost thou realize what
would hang upon thy skill? If thou shouldst fail, our annual hostage
for the divine Altara would be twelve instead of six of our maidens.
Further, the dog-conceived Jereboam would wax unbearably overweening
and insolent. Nay, there is too much at hazard! Though outnumbered we
will give battle in the morning."

"Yes?" demanded Nelson, in turn impatient. "A fine chance you'd stand!
Why, less than half of your army is here at Cerium and Hero John tells
me that the enemy have massed their entire forces on the salient of
Poseidon. Isn't that so?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Altorius' handsome brow darkened. "Aye," he admitted, "but our
reinforcing corps will come up before the third hour of the third
division."

Here Hero Giles broke in and, speaking with the quick, impassioned
tones of one whose reactions are violent, pled for confidence in the
American. "Nay, fair cousin," he replied, casting a sidewise look at
the Jarmuthians standing in muttered colloquy with their leader, who
had now gotten to his feet and was angrily dabbing the blood from his
chin with the hem of his yellow kiltlike garment. "I saw with mine own
eyes what miracles Friend Nelson doth perform with his curious
noise-making retortii. If Jereboam falls upon us ere our regiments are
marshaled, then, verily, are we doomed. We have no choice but to play
for time. Harken to the counsel of Hero John! Methinks this stranger
from the Ice World is no braggart. He will fight well. If he loses he
dies horribly--that he knows. The thought will strengthen his arms,
and if he wins--!"

Then broke in Nelson firmly. "If I win I must have the word of Your
Majesty that Alden and I are to be afforded all help and free passage
to that place where your soldiers captured my friend. It that
understood?"

Altorius' blue eyes shifted and there was a slight hesitation in his
manner. Then, coming to a decision, he whirled and extended his hand.

"Good, 'tis agreed," he said. "On my head be it. Have patience while
Hero Giles confers with these outlandish dogs."

It was with intense interest that the anxious aviator watched the
ensuing conference. He could see the four Jarmuthians listening, dark
eyes restlessly flitting back and forth, and their mouths twisted into
contemptuous half snarls. Then, as Nelson's offer was made clear, a
look of cunning seemed to creep into the eyes of the leader. He asked
for clarification of several points, then, being informed of the
details, his thick lips parted in an evil, crafty grin.

       *       *       *       *       *

Taken aback at the suspiciously ready acquiescence of the enemy, Hero
Giles turned about. "They agree," he translated, "that, should Friend
Nelson win, they will return to their own land, they will forfeit the
annual tribute forever and return the other stranger unharmed. They
speak fair, but I fear--" He bit his lips in perplexity. "These dogs,
who talk with the forked tongues of serpents, plan some snare, some
cunning trickery."

"Repeat the terms." Altorius seemed gripped with apprehension too.
"Let all be clearly understood: at the third division of morning will
the wanderer fight six warriors. No more and no less."

This was agreed and reaffirmed. Then, with an insolent, triumphant
laugh, the Jarmuthian delegation whirled about and stalked from the
room, their dark greaved legs flashing in military unison over the
polished floor.

"'Tis done," quoth Hero Giles gloomily. "The encounter will take place
on the plain of Gilboa at the third hour of the third division. And
may Saturn help us if thy might fails. Friend Nelson! For then surely
will the hordes of Jarmuth despoil us and there will come a desolation
and a darkness upon the Empire of Atlans."


CHAPTER V

It seemed incredibly soon that Victor Nelson found himself striding
out from the serrated ranks of the Atlantean army which, drawn up in a
rough diamond formation, looked discouragingly small in comparison to
that vast sea of helmets twinkling ominously across the plain of
Poseidon amid a haze of bright yellow dust which climbed lazily into
the breathless heavens. The Jarmuthian army, numbering perhaps sixty
or seventy thousand effective troops, lay encamped in a great salient
formed by a convolution of the Apidanus and formed the only Jarmuthian
tract of the great valley lying south of the boiling river.

Like low-lying snow drifts, the sheen of the enemy tents struck
Nelson's eye as he strode over the bright green turf to battle for
Richard Alden's life.

"There was something back of those nasty grins of the ambassadors," he
reflected. "I wonder what deviltry they're cooking up?"

He glanced at a stalwart Atlantean herald who, nervous in the extreme,
clutched his brazen, dolphin-shaped horn and followed in the
American's wake together with a sad little company. Weeping, moaning
and dressed in plain black robes marched six really lovely girls--they
who would perish on Beelzebub's altar if Nelson failed. Bitter were
the looks of the guards as they secured the hands of the victims and
many the hopeful look cast at the impassive American when they turned
back, leaving the helpless girls to their fate.

The ground where the one-sided duel was to take place was marked off
by means of little yellow flags on a level plain perhaps a quarter of
a mile long and wide. Arriving on the nearest border Nelson briefly
motioned the herald to halt.

"Might as well start shooting at the best range possible, and beat
their steam throwers," he decided. "Wish to the devil I'd a few more
cartridges. Only thirteen shots between me and Beelzeebub's altar in
Jezreel, so I'd better not miss. All right, son, toot your horn."

       *       *       *       *       *

With his thumb be gestured the command, whereupon the Atlantean nodded
eagerly and, filling his chest, set horn to lips to blow a long,
strident note that rang harshly, boldly out over the great plain.

While the note of the challenge rang out, Nelson's eyes turned back to
regard the Atlantean array and detected, far in the rear, a huge
pillar of dust which must mark the progress of the Atlantean
reinforcements. Would they arrive at Cierum in time? Then his eyes
sought that spot where Altorius and his staff sat anxiously on their
podokos, watching intently the impending struggle. Very clearly the
flash of their armor came to him.

"I guess, like the girls back there, they're kind of nervous and
jumpy," thought Nelson. "Well, I don't blame them. I've had quieter
moments myself."

Having blown three blasts, the Atlantean herald saluted; then, with
disconcerting haste, made his way back to the ranks of his fellows
some two hundred yards away.

From the Jarmuthian army came an answering blast. Nelson cast a last
look on the Atlantean army, breathlessly awaiting the impending duel.
There was the allosauri corps on the far left; he could see the
chimeric monsters' long, repulsive necks writhing endlessly back and
forth through the air as they squealed and tugged strongly at their
restraining chains. On the right were stationed perhaps ten thousand
podokesons, their slender, yellow-shafted lances swaying like a
sapling forest in the distance. In the center were eleven thousand
protection infantry, green-crested and armed with compact tanks of
blue-maxima vapor, fungus bombs and swords. Behind them, and
corresponding to heavy infantry, were ranged some twenty thousand
blue-plumed hoplites, eagerly fingering the brazen hoses of their
death dealing portable retortii.

       *       *       *       *       *

Nelson had no time to further study the array, for he whirled about as
from the Atlantean army arose a deep, horrified shout. He stood
paralyzed, his jaw slack. For there, waddling slowly forward, came the
most fantastic huge creature imaginable. Unspeakably repellent and
horrible, it stood on short legs thick as mature trees, to tower at
least thirty-five feet above the ground at the fore-shoulders! An
immense reptilian neck some twenty-five feet long weaved continuously
back and forth, while a surprisingly small, bullet-shaped head emitted
rumbling grunts.

"Great God!" gasped the horrified aviator, and felt the ground sway
under him. "It must be ninety feet long!"

Paralyzed by a dreadful fascination he watched the ungainly, hill-like
reptile shuffle ponderously forward and realized that, high on its
back, was fixed a small fort, rather like those howdahs or boxes which
are fastened to the backs of elephants. Chilled with the nearness of
death, Nelson counted six mail-clad warriors in the howdah. Then the
true import of the Jarmuthians evil jest struck him with full force.

"Six men, they said. And six men there are--but the treacherous devils
mounted them on that walking hill-side! Guess Altorius can kiss his
six girls good-by right now. Poor Alden! Well, I did my best--a rotten
trick."

       *       *       *       *       *

At that moment he felt as an ant must feel on beholding the approach
of a human. It was terrifying, the inexorable advance of that
colossal, fantastic monster. From behind he could hear the infuriated
shouts of the Atlantean army. They knew even he could not hope to
withstand the murderous onslaught of the beast now entering the
duelling space.

On came the diplodocus, its vast warty tail trailing over the ground
and raising a heavy column of dust, while its mud smeared sides bore
out Hero Giles' statement that here was one of those semi-aquatic
titans from the steaming swamps of Jarmuth.

"Hell! Poor Alden's as good as finished now! What a fool I was to
think I could save him!"

Obedient to an overwhelming fear, Nelson whirled to flee, then
stopped, as, from the depths of his being, a stronger power forbade
him to desert his friend to certain death.

"Range two hundred and fifty yards," he estimated, and, whipping up
the Winchester, sighted full at the ponderous creature's slimy
snakelike head. When the recoil jarred his shoulder, Nelson dropped
the barrel an inch or so to watch. Nothing happened. The great beast
was advancing as before, its incredibly long neck weaving steadily
back and forth as though to sniff the air.

"Hell!"

Struck by a sudden thought, he snatched a cartridge from his pocket
and, with that strength which comes to men in their hour of mortal
peril, wrenched out the metal-jacketed bullet, to reinsert it
backwards into the brass cartridge case.

Meanwhile the vast brute had drawn nearer, crushing flat a young oak
in its path as easily as though it had been a wheat stalk.

"Maybe this dum-dum will do some good," panted Nelson. "If it doesn't,
nothing will stop it!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Again he sighted until, finding those small, orange red eyes in line
with his sight, he fired. This time the gray-brown monster uttered a
titantic bellow of rage, halted, and began shaking its clumsy blunt
head.

"Hit it, by God!" exulted Nelson, and seized the momentary respite to
slip two fresh cartridges into the Winchester's magazine.

But, to his inexpressible dismay, the monster presently resumed its
ponderous progress while the Jarmuthians in the howdah uttered
taunting yells that reached him faintly, while the sun flares glinted
on their brandished swords and lances. One of them plucked a fungus
grenade from his belt and flung it with all his might in Nelson's
direction. The missile fell to the earth far short of its destination
and seemed to break rather than explode, at the same time expelling
that deadly, greenish-yellow vapor which, blown away by a strong wind,
fortunately came nowhere near the doomed aviator.

"Oh! You will?"

Nelson sighted swiftly at the grenade-thrower and fired, whereupon the
Jarmuthian, some hundred and fifty yards distant, spun crazily about,
flung both arms towards the amber-yellow sky and toppled from the
howdah, for all the world like a diver in quest of pearls.

From both breathless armies rose a terrific shout. Accustomed as they
were to the visible destruction of the retortii, this noisy yet
invisible death was appalling.

But Nelson's agonized attention was not on the assembled armies, for
nearer came the mountainous diplodocus, its lumbering strides making
the howdah sway like a ship in a gale and preventing use of the
portable retortii.

       *       *       *       *       *

Nelson planted both feet, took fresh grip on his waning courage and
shot again, this time aiming at a gigantic, black bearded warrior who
seemed to be training one of those portable retortii upon him.

Again the Winchester cracked and this time the black bearded man sank
from sight back into the howdah, while his companions, uttering
vengeful shouts, tossed more fungus bombs at the lone heroic figure
barring their progress towards the six bound and shrieking maidens.

Towering thrice as high as the largest African elephant, the
diplodocus was now but seventy-five yards away. He had hit it, that
Nelson could tell, for a large shower of blood sprayed from the
monster's neck. Then, uttering a despairing curse, he sent a shot
smacking squarely into the left shoulder, at the base of that mastlike
neck with fervent hope of finding the heart. But the heavy bullet
bothered the cyclopean reptile no more than a sting of a mosquito.

On, on it came. In another minute it must stamp out Victor Nelson's
life beneath feet as large as hogsheads.

"Damn!"

Nelson snapped the ejector lever, throwing out the spent cartridge.

"No use," he whispered, "can't faze that hill of meat! But I might as
well kill all of those bloody cannibals I can."

With amazing speed and accuracy he picked off two of the remaining
Jarmuthians, whose shining, bronze armor could nowise withstand the
wicked impact of modern nickel-jacketed bullets. One of the stricken
men for a moment dangled with the last of his strength from one of the
chains securing the howdah to the enormous creature's back, then
tumbled heavily some forty feet to the earth.

Only two shots more in the magazine--! Nelson suddenly found himself
very cool. "Two shots and then--"

He was conscious of that great, snakelike head darting viciously in
his direction. A huge, slobbering mouth, studded with teeth a foot
long, yawned redly before him like a nightmare incarnate, blotting out
consciousness of all else. Then Victor Nelson, fighting to control his
strumming nerves, deliberately sighted into a great, orange colored
eye, saw the narrow black iris over the Winchester's front sight and
knew the huge warty head was not ten feet away.

       *       *       *       *       *

He pressed the trigger and never heard the report, but felt the blast
of a furnace-hot breath in his face--a breath that stank like the foul
reek of burning rubber.

With a detached sense of surprise he saw the eye miraculously and
dreadfully disintegrate; then, as the bitter smell of burned cordite
stung his nostrils, he sprang violently sidewise to find himself
staring up at the howdah, now towering at least forty feet above.

The next few moments were indescribable. Horrible roars and bellows,
loud as those of a thousand angered bulls, shattered the air. The
diplodocus halted, stunned by pain and the partial loss of eyesight;
then, its infinitesimal brain becoming gripped with fear, it plunged
and lumbered sidewise, nearly shaking the warriors from the howdah,
where they clung for dear life. Nelson was barely able to avoid the
sweep of the powerful tail as the diplodocus wheeled about on hind
legs, reeled and started blindly back towards the Jarmuthian ranks.
Suddenly it stood stock still, shaking with super-elephantine motions.
Then, for all the world like a balky mule, it sank to the earth and
cowered there, despite the frantic efforts of the surviving
Jarmuthians to stir it to obedience.

By the strong amber light of the sun flare Nelson had a vision of the
last two warriors swinging in apelike agility to the ground. They were
giants, those two men of Jarmuth, and their conical helmets added
additional stature. One of them, shouting an unintelligible taunt,
reached for his belt to snatch out a fungus bomb, but Nelson, dropping
on one knee, sent a bullet crashing between the Jarmuthian's scowling
eyes. Even as he fell, the last of the six champions unwisely ignored
his retortii and frantically sprang forward, razor-edged sword
upraised.

Nelson frantically worked the ejector lever but only an empty click
resulted! His heart sank. "Hell! the magazine's empty!"

       *       *       *       *       *

He had just time to swing the Winchester about and grasp its barrel as
the Jarmuthian, with a loud shout, sprang in, slashing viciously at
Nelson's unprotected neck. Using the clubbed rifle like a baseball
bat, the American struck out with the strength of despair. There came
a resonant clang as blade and barrel encountered each other. Steel is
ever stronger than bronze, so Nelson had the satisfaction of seeing
the Jarmuthian's sword blade break squarely in two near the hilt.

Horrified, the black bearded warrior glanced at the empty hilt in his
hand but, courageous to the end, sprang in like a tiger to grapple
with that small, agile man in khaki and serge.

"You would--eh?" gasped Nelson.

Putting all his strength behind a blow he whirled up the heavy
Winchester, struck out and felt the solid walnut stock smash fair and
square on the conical helmet. Like an eggshell the bronze helm broke
and the six-pointed star above went spinning off into the dust. As a
tree sways before it falls beneath a forester's ax, so the dark
Jarmuthian giant tottered, while the wide dusty plain of Poseidon
echoed with a rumbling, incredulous shout.

"There," choked Nelson, incredulous to be still alive, "I guess
that'll be about all for to-day."

But he was wrong. From the ranks of Jarmuth rose a terrible, ominous
cry and at the same time there broke out the sibilant hiss of a
thousand retortii. From the Atlantean army came an answering yell and
Nelson turned to race back to the shelter of Altorius' body-guard,
pausing but to arouse the terrified hostages. Swiftly he cast loose
their bonds and pointed to the nearest detachment of Atlanteans.
Sobbing with joy the six girls fled for dear life just as the first of
the allosauri went racing over the plains. Screaming, all-powerful and
uncanny war dogs, they bounded grotesquely high in the air, plunging
straight towards the Jarmuthian ranks which greeted them with a
searing, billowing blast of their retortii. Though dozens of the
terrible creatures fell kicking and writhing beneath the scalding
discharge of the retortii, the main body, perhaps forty or fifty in
number, sprang like rending fiends into the dense packed masses of
Jarmuthian infantry.

       *       *       *       *       *

Of the ensuing battle, Nelson had but the most confused recollections.
The dominating impression was that the fray was awesome, horrible
beyond power of description. He recalled feeding the five remaining
cartridges into the magazine, then clapping on an Atlantean noble's
helmet. With Hero John at his side he joined in an furious headlong
charge of the podoko corps.

Like a vast glittering wedge the gallant Atlantean lancers advanced
under shelter of the blue maxima vapor which, discharged by the
protectons or light infantry, dispelled the scalding steam clouds
launched from the Jarmuthian portable retortii.

"Halor vàn!" Hero John shouted the Atlantean war cry. "Halor vàn!
Come Friend Nelson, this day shall the treacherous swine of Jarmuth
drown in their own blood! Halor vàn!"

Nelson replied nothing. He was too busy drawing a bead on a gorgeously
arrayed enemy officer who appeared to be directing the defence.

Faster and faster rushed the podokos, forty, fifty miles an hour, a
carnate thunderbolt hurled straight at the enemy center. Under a hot
fire of grenades dozens of the lancers fell and once, when a fungus
bomb broke near by, Nelson saw half a dozen Atlanteans tumble from
their saddles, the hideous yellow growths already sprouting from
nostrils, mouth and ears. The turmoil became deafening,
indescribable--like the roar of a crowded subway.

The American had a brief glimpse of a mountainous diplodocus assailed
by half a dozen hissing, shrieking allosauri who, employing jaws and
claws, ripped great, shuddering chucks of flesh from the agonized and
unwieldy monster on whose back the frantic Jarmuthians fought with
terrible ferocity.

       *       *       *       *       *

As agile as grasshoppers, those fierce war dogs ripped and worried
their prey. One of them clung like a bulldog to the doomed diplodocus'
head, though the twenty-foot neck writhed and whirled frantically in
effort to shake it loose. Another allosaurus, whining with eagerness,
actually clambered up the back of an assailed giant only to fall back
under the blast of a retortii mounted in the howdah. Bathed in live
steam, with bones showing through its melting, quivering flesh, the
allosaurus collapsed backwards, but another instantly took its place
and, gaining its goal with a terrific leap, made a shambles of the
howdah, tearing the men in it apart as a lion does an antelope.

Nelson found himself very busy. The charging podokesos were now in the
midst of the Jarmuthian heavy infantry, slashing down at a maze of
yelling, black-bearded, Semitic faces. Once Nelson was nearly
speared, shooting his assailant just as the lance glimmered over his
heart. Again he saw the Atlantean hoplites beaten back amid a
pestilential fog of fungus gas which stretched them in kicking,
loathsome heaps on the dusty plain. The uproar became terrific,
indescribable, as the whistling screams of the allosauri and the
saurean bellows of the diplodoci rose above the shouts of the soldiery
to fill the dust-laden air with a dreadful clamor. The battle now
swayed critically; a feather's weight on either side and one army
would roll back in red, irretrievable ruin. It was the psychological
instant. Nelson sensed it unerringly.

"Look!" shouted Hero John, dashing a rivulet of blood from his eyes,
"there fights the dog-begotten Jereboam himself! Halor vàn! Smite, ye
soldiers of Atlans! Smite!"

Following the line of the outstretched hand. Nelson caught a glimpse
of an enormous, eagle nosed warrior who, clad in gleaming, diamond
studded harness, fought like a paladin of old. Powerful as a dark Ares
the sable browed Jereboam raged among the dismayed Atlantean hoplites,
beating them to earth with terrible ferocity.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a long shot, one he might readily have been forgiven in missing
but with the speed of thought Victor Nelson sprang from his podoko,
dropped on one knee behind a pile of corpses and, uttering a fervent
prayer, fired full at Jereboam's black head.

The nearest combatants drew back momentarily at the unfamiliar thunder
of the report and fell silent while the groans and shrieks of the
wounded rose loud. As a man looking through many thickness of glass,
so Nelson saw Jereboam reel on his splendidly caparisoned podoko,
clasp both hands to his forehead and sink to earth.

Hero Giles, somewhere far in the Atlantean van, saw what transpired
and capitalized it with the inspiration of a genius.

"Jereboam is dead!" he shouted in ringing tones, and flashed his red
stained sword. "Woe to Jarmuth this day! Smite, ye sons of Atlans. Woe
to Jarmuth--Jereboam is fallen!"

And smite hard the reinforced Atlanteans did. Filled with a new
courage they advanced so determinedly that the disconcerted and
dismayed Jarmuthians broke and fled in a disastrous, panic-stricken
rout back over the plain of Poseidon towards the boiling river.

The ground was already carpeted with dead and with abandoned
equipment, when fresh packs of allosauri were loosed on the fleeing
Jarmuthians to wreak havoc indescribable and, ere long, only the
triumphant, panting Atlanteans remained on the field.


CHAPTER VI

There was music and high revelry in the fortress of Cierum that night,
and Victor Nelson, embarrassed and flushed with the extravagant
adoration of all Atlans, sat by the Emperor Altorius' side waiting,
watching for the appearance of a humbled Jarmuthian delegation.

"Never since the world began has there been such a hero in Atlans!"
cried Altorius, his face more Roman than ever. "Prithee tarry amongst
us, Hero Nelson. Thou shalt be as my brother. A marble palace shalt
thou have and twenty wives, each fair as those damsels which thou
hast, by thy might, rescued from the profane altar of the fiend,
Beelzebub!"

"Thanks," laughed Nelson, and drained a goblet of tawny wine. "I'd be
delighted to stay, but the point is--He broke off short, for there
came a sudden tramp of feet at the door of the great hall and there,
just visible above the green crests of the royal guards, he recognized
that pale, drawn face which had haunted him ever since he had returned
to find the abandoned aeroplane.

"Dick!" he shouted. "Dick Alden!"

"Nelson!"

With that same irresistible form which had won a certain November
classic for Harvard, Richard Alden bucked and plunged through a double
rank of startled guards and came running across the marble floor, his
eyes lit with an unspeakable gladness.

"Nelson! Nelson!" he panted. "What in hell are you doing up there?"

"Oh!" replied the aviator with a joyous grin, "just visiting with my
friend, the Emperor."

       *       *       *       *       *

Alden halted, on his handsome features a curious mixture of surprise
and delight. "The Emperor?" he stammered. "You sitting beside an
Emperor?"

"Would it not seem so?" inquired Altorius with a low laugh.

"It would," chuckled Alden. "Victor Nelson, as I remember, always was
a good politician."

"And," thought Nelson, "I'll have to be a damn sight better one to get
us out of Atlans without injuring Altorius' feelings. I don't suppose
he'll ever be able to realize that all the desirable things in the
world don't lie in this valley."

Throngs of brilliantly armored and plumed officers and courtiers, some
of them nursing wounds and bandaged heads, came up to hail the mighty
wanderer who had subdued the might of Jarmuth.

Flushed and pleased, as is any normal man under well-earned praise,
Nelson shook one wiry fist after another, while Alden chatted with the
Emperor. Nobles, officers and courtiers all pressed close to fawn upon
the new hero--but, far back in the council chamber, a group of dark
robed priests were crowded together. Haranguing the priests was a
fierce, white bearded old man who seemed to be arguing violently.

"Hum!" thought the American. "That's at least one outfit that doesn't
like the way I part my hair. Wonder what devilment the priests are
cooking up?"

       *       *       *       *       *

He was not long in finding out, for the black robed arch-priest
suddenly left his group of underlings to boldly make his way forward,
while princes, courtiers and warriors drew respectfully aside and bent
their heads.

"Hail! All conquering Emperor!" The stern old man halted squarely
before Altorius' gem encrusted throne, while Alden checked some remark
to look curiously down upon the hawk-featured arch-priest.

Altorius flushed and the lines about his mouth tightened, from which
Nelson guessed that there was more than a little bad blood between the
spiritual and temporal heads of the empire.

"What wouldst thou, oh Heracles?"

"I would know why the all powerful Wanderer, of whom thou makest so
much, did not rescue Princess Altara?"

The Emperor stiffened. "Her rescue, being impossible of
accomplishment, was not nominated in the agreement," he said coldly.
"The Wanderer has in full carried out his share--and so shall we.
Honored and beloved of Atlans, these great warriors shall abide among
us in peace."

Here Nelson thought it wise to dispel any illusions Altorius might
entertain about their staying in Atlans. "No, oh Splendor: remember,
our agreement was that, should I conquer the Jarmuthian champions,
Alden and I were to be allowed to go free."

"Nay, oh Splendor," fiercely broke in the arch-priest, "permit them
not to go. I tell thee the Princess Altara _must_ be restored to
Atlans! Else,"--a distinct note of threat crept into the old man's
voice--"--else evil days shall fall upon this empire, and the line of
Hudson will wither and fade."

Up sprang Altorius in a towering rage. "Sirrah! Dost dare make threats
to thy liege lord?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Fire flashed from the young Emperor's bright blue eyes, and under
their fierce glare the old man quailed and stepped back with eyes
lowered.

"Altorius keeps his word," the Emperor thundered. "The strangers shall
go, though all the black-robed kites in the realm say me nay. The word
of a Hudsonian prince is as sure as the fire of Pelion. Get thee gone,
rash priest!"

A long moment, the two strangely contracting figures glared at each
other, the young, splendid Emperor and the malevolent, withered old
man.

"The Gods demand their daughter," cried Heracles in parting, "and woe
to him who says them nay!"

With this parting shot, the arch-priest turned and, scarlet faced,
stalked from the council room, while Altorius threw back his head and
roared with laughter.

"Come, oh ye Heroes, ye princes and captains! Come, let us make
festival before these mighty wanderers go their way!"

Roar upon roar of enthusiasm echoed through the marble throne room,
and Nelson would have felt wholly at ease had not that little knot of
priests remained gathered like ill-omened carrion crows about the
door. Muttering among themselves, they were watching him with a
curious intentness that aroused deep misgivings in the American's
mind, and it was with something like a sigh that he joined the
procession forming to proceed to the triumphal feast on which the
wealth and luxury of the whole empire of Atlans had been lavished.

(_To be continued._)

[Illustration: Advertisement.]



The Pirate Planet

_By Charles W. Diffin_

CONCLUSION

CHAPTER XVII

[Illustration: _He shot feet first into the waiting heads._]

[Sidenote: From Earth and sub-Venus converge a titanic offensive of
justice on the unspeakable man-things of Torg.]


The little ship that Captain Blake had thrown with reckless speed
through the skies over Washington, D. C., made history that day in the
records of the earth. None, now, could doubt that here, at last, was
the answer that the world had hoped for until hope had died.
Unbelievable in its field of action, incredible in its wild speed, but
real, nevertheless!--the countries of the earth were frantic in their
acclaim. Only the men who formed the International Board of Defense
failed to join in the enthusiasm. They sat by day and night in earnest
conference on ways and means.

This little ship--so wonderful, and so inadequate! It was only a
promise of what might come. There must be new designs made; men must
learn to dream in new terms and set down their dreams in cold lines
and figures on drafting boards. A cruiser of space must be designed,
to mount heavy guns, carry great loads, absorb the stresses that must
come to such a structure in flight and in battle. And above all, it
must take the thrust of this driving force--new and tremendous--of
which men knew so little as yet. And then many like it must be built.

The fuel must be prepared, and this, alone, meant new and different
machinery, which itself must be designed before the manufacturing
process could begin.

There was work to be done--a world of work!--and so few months in
which to do it. The attack from the distant gun had long since ceased
and the instruments of the astronomers showed the enemy planet
shrinking far off in space. But it would return; there was only a year
for preparation.

       *       *       *       *       *

Captain Blake was assigned to the direction of design. An entire
office building in Washington was vacated for his use, and in a few
hours he rallied a staff of assistants who demanded the entire use of
a telephone system that spread countrywide. And the call went out that
would bring the best brains of the land to the task before them.

The windows of the building shone brightly throughout the nights when
the call was answered, and engineers and draftsmen worked at fever
heat on thrusts and stresses and involved mathematical calculations.
And, while owners of great manufacturing plants waited with
unaccustomed patience for a moment's talk with Blake, the white sheets
on the drafting boards showed growing pictures of braces and struts
and curved plates, of castings for gun mounts, and ammunition hoists.
And the manufacturers were told in no uncertain terms exactly what
part of this experimental ship they would produce, and when it must be
delivered.

"If only we dared go into production," said Blake; "but it is out of
the question. This first ship must demonstrate its efficiency; we must
get the 'bugs' out of our design; correct our errors and be ready with
a production schedule that will work with precision."

Only one phase of this proposed production troubled him; the
manufacture must be handled all over the world. He talked with men
from England and France, from Germany and Italy and a host of other
lands, and he raged inwardly while he tried to drive home to them the
necessity for handling the work in just one way--his way--if results
were to be achieved.

The men of business he could convince, but his chief disquiet came
from those whose thoughts were of what they termed "statesmanship,"
and who seemed more apprehensive of the power that this new weapon
would give the United States of America than they were of the threat
from distant worlds.

From his friends in high quarters came hints of the same friction, but
he knew that the one demand Winslow had laid down was being observed:
the secret of the mysterious fuel would remain with us. Winslow had
shown little confidence in the countries of the old world, and he had
sworn Blake to an agreement that his strange liquids--that new form of
matter and substance--should remain with this country.

       *       *       *       *       *

And swiftly the paper ship grew. The parts were in manufacture, and
arriving at the assembly plant in Ohio. Blake's time was spent there
now, and he caught only snatches of sleep on a cot in his office,
while he worked with the forces of men who succeeded each other to
keep the assembly room going night and day.

There was an enormous hangar that was designed for the assembling of a
giant dirigible; it housed another ship now. Hardly a ship, yet it
began to take form where great girders held the keel that was laid,
and duralumin plates and strong castings were bolted home.

A thousand new problems, and innumerable vexing errors--the "bugs"
that inhere with a new, mechanical job--yet the day came when the ship
was a thing of sleek beauty, and her thousand feet of length enclosed
a maze of latticed struts where ammunition rooms and sleeping
quarters, a chart room and control stations were cleverly interspaced.
And above, where the great shape towered high in the big hangar, were
the lean snouts of cannon, and recesses that held rapid-fire guns and
whole batteries of machine guns for close range.

Rows of great storage batteries were installed, to furnish the first
current for the starting of the ship, till her dynamos that were
driven by the exhaust blast itself could go into action and carry on.
And then--

An armored truck that ground slowly up under heavy guard to deliver
two small flasks of liquid whose tremendous weight must be held in
containers of thick steel, and be hoisted with cranes to their resting
place within the ship. And Captain Blake, with his heart in his throat
through fear of some failure, some slip in their plans--Captain Blake,
of the gaunt, worn frame, and face haggard from sleepless
nights--stood quietly at a control board while the great doors of the
hangar swung open.

       *       *       *       *       *

At the closing of a switch the current from the batteries flowed
through the two liquids, to go on in conductors of heavy copper to a
generator that was heavy and squat and devoid of moving parts. Within
it were electrodes that were castings of copper, and between them the
miracle of regenerated matter was taking place.

What came to them as energy from the cables was transformed to a
tangible thing--a vast bulk of gas, of hydrogen and oxygen that had
once been water, and the pressure of the gas made a roaring inferno of
the exhausts. A spark plug ignited it, and the heat of combustion
added pressure to pressure, while the quivering, invisible live steam
poured forth to change to vaporous clouds that filled the hangar.

The man at the control board stood trembling with knowledge of the
power he had unleashed. He moved a lever to crack open a valve, and
the clouds poured now from beneath the ship, that raised slowly and
smoothly in the air. It hung quietly poised, while the hands that
directed it sent a roaring blast from the great stern exhaust, and the
creation of many minds became a thing of life that moved slowly,
gliding out into the sunlight of the world.

The cheers of crowding men, insane with hysterical emotion at sight of
their work's fulfillment, were lost in the thunder of the ship. The
blunt bow lifted where the sun made dazzling brilliance of her
sweeping curves, and with a blast that thundered from her stern the
first unit of the space forces of the Earth swept upward in an arc of
speed that ended in invisibility. No enveloping air could hold her
now; she was launched in the ocean of space that would be her home.

       *       *       *       *       *

Captain Blake, the following day, sat in Washington before a desk
piled high with telegrams of congratulation. His tired face was
smiling as he replaced a telephone receiver that had spoken words of
confidence and commendation from the President of the United States.
But he pushed the mass of yellow papers aside to resume his
examination of a well-thumbed folder marked: "Production Schedule."
The real work was yet to be done.

It was only two short months later that he sat before the same desk,
with a face that showed no mark of smiles in its haggard lines.

His ship was a success, and was flying continuously, while men of the
air service were trained in its manipulation and gunners received
practice in three-dimensioned range finding and cruiser practice in
the air. Above, in the airless space, they learned to operate the guns
that were controlled from within the air-tight rooms. They were
learning, and the ship performed the miracles that were now taken as
matters of fact.

But production!

Captain Blake rose wearily to attend a conference at the War
Department. He had asked that it be called, and the entire service was
represented when he reached there. He went without preamble or
explanation to the point.

"Mr. Secretary," he said, and faced the Secretary of War, "I have to
report, sir, that we have failed. It is utterly impossible, under
present conditions, to produce a fleet of completed ships.

"You know the reason; I have conferred with you often. It was a
mistake to depend on foreign aid; they have failed us. I do not
criticize them: their ways are their own, and their own problems loom
large to them. The English production of parts has come through, or is
proceeding satisfactorily, but the rest is in hopeless confusion. The
Red menace from Russia is the prime reason, of course. With the Reds
mobilizing their forces, we cannot blame her neighbors for preparing
to defend themselves. But our program!--and the sure invasion that
will come in six short months!--to be fighting among ourselves--it is
damnable!"

       *       *       *       *       *

He paused to stare in wordless misery at the silent gathering before
him. Then--

"I have failed," he blurted out. "I have fallen down on the job. It
was my responsibility to get the cooperation that insured success.
Let me step aside. Is there anyone now who can take up the work and
bring order and results from this chaos of futility?"

He waited long for a reply. It was the Secretary of War who answered
in a quiet voice.

"We must not be too harsh," he said, "in our criticism of our foreign
friends, but neither should we be unfair to Captain Blake. You do
yourself an injustice; there is no one who could have done more than
you. The reason is here." He struck at a paper that he held in his
hand. "Europe is at war. Russia has struck without warning; her troops
are moving and her air force is engaged this minute in an attack upon
Paris. It is a traitor country at home that has defeated us in our war
with another world."

"I think," he added slowly, "there is nothing more that could have
been done: you have made a brave effort. Let us thank you, Captain
Blake, while we can. We will fight, when the time comes, as best we
can; that goes without saying."

A blue and gold figure arose slowly to speak a word for the navy. "It
is evident by Captain Blake's own admission, that the proposed venture
must fail. It has been evident to some of us from the start." It was a
fighter of the old school who was speaking; his voice was that of one
whose vision has dimmed, who sees but the dreams of impractical
visionaries in the newer inventions, and whose reliance for safety is
placed only in the weapons he knows.

"The naval forces of the United States will be ready," he told them,
"and I would ask you to remember that we can still place dependence
upon the ships that float in the water, and the forces who have manned
them since the history of this country began."

       *       *       *       *       *

Captain Blake had sprung to his feet. Again he addressed the Secretary
for War.

"Mr. Secretary," he said, and there was a fighting glint in his eyes,
"I make no reply to this gentleman. His arm of the service will speak
for itself as it has always done. But your own words have given me new
hope and new energy. I ask you, Mr. Secretary, for another chance. The
industrial forces of the United States are behind us to the last man
and the last machine. I have talked with them. I know!

"We have only six months left for a prodigious effort. Shall we make
it? For the safety of our country and the whole world let us attempt
the impossible: go ahead on our own; turn the energy and the mind of
this whole country to the problem.

"The great fleet of the world can never be. Shall we build and launch
the Great Fleet of the United States, and take upon our own shoulders
the burden and responsibility of defense?

"It cannot be done by reasonable standards, but the time is past for
reason. Possible or otherwise, we must do it. We will--if you will
back me in the effort!"

There was a rising discord of excited voices in the room. Men were
leaping to their feet to shake vehement fists in the faces of those
who wagged their heads in protest. The Secretary of War arose to still
the storm. He turned to walk toward the waiting figure of Captain
Blake.

"You can't do it," he said, and gripped the Captain by the hand; "you
can't do it--but you may. This country has seen others who have done
the impossible when the impossible had to be done. It's your job; the
President will confirm my orders. Go to it, Blake!"


CHAPTER XVIII

The wires that bound the two men were removed, and McGuire and Sykes
worked in agony to bring life back to the hands and feet that were
swollen and blue. Then--red guards who forced them to stumble on their
numbed legs, where darting pains made them set their lips tight--a
car that went swiftly through the darkness of a tube to stop finally
in another building--a room with metal walls, one window with a
balcony beyond, high above the ground--a door that clanged behind
them; and the two men, looking one at the other with dismayed and
swollen eyes, knew in their hearts that here, beyond a doubt, was
their last earthly habitation.

They said nothing--there was nothing of hope or comfort to be
said--and they dropped soddenly upon the hard floor, where finally the
heavy breathing and nervous starts of Professor Sykes showed that to
him at least had come the blessed oblivion of exhausted sleep. But
there was no sleep for Lieutenant McGuire.

There was a face that shone too clearly in the dark, and his thoughts
revolved endlessly in words of reproach for his folly in allowing
Althora's love to lead her to share his risk. From the night outside
their window came a ceaseless clatter and hubbub, but to this he was
oblivious.

Only with the coming of morning's soft golden light did McGuire know
the reason for the din and activity that echoed from outside--and the
reason, too, for their being placed in this room.

       *       *       *       *       *

Their lives should end with the sailing of the fleet, and there,
outside their window, were the ships themselves. Ships everywhere, as
far as he could see across the broad level expanse, and an army of men
who scurried like ants--red ones, who worked or directed the others,
and countless blues and yellows who were loading the craft with
enormous cargoes.

"Squawk, damn you!" said Lieutenant McGuire to the distant shrieking
throng; "and I hope they're ready for you when you reach the earth."
But his savage voice carried no conviction. What was there that Earth
could do to meet this overwhelming assault?

"What is it?" asked Sykes. He roused from his sleep to work gingerly
at his aching muscles, then came and stood beside McGuire.

"They have put us here as a final taunt," McGuire told him. "There is
the fleet that is going to make our world into a nice little hell, and
Torg, the beast! has put us here to see it leave. Then we get ours,
and they don't know that we know that."

"Your first way was the best," the scientist observed; "we should have
done it then. We still can."

"What do you mean?" The flyer's voice was dull and lifeless.

Sykes pointed to the little balcony and the hard pavement below.

"Althora," he said, and McGuire winced at the name, "seemed to think
that we were in for some exquisite torture. Here is the way out. It is
a hundred-foot drop; they think we are safe; but they have been
unintentionally kind."

"Yes," his companion agreed, "they don't know that we know of the torture.
We will wait ... and when I am sure that--Althora--is--gone ... when there
is nothing I can do to help--"

"Help?" queried the professor gently. "There is nothing now of help,
nor anyone who can help us. We must face it, my boy; _c'est fini_. Our
little journey is approaching its end."

       *       *       *       *       *

There was no reply, and McGuire stood throughout the day to stare with
eyes of smouldering hatred where the scurrying swarms of living things
made ready to invade and infest the earth.

Food and water was pushed through the doorway, but he ate sparingly of
the odd-colored fruits; the only thing that could hold his thoughts
from the hopeless repetition of unanswerable "whys" was the sight of
the fleet. And every bale and huge drum was tallied mentally as it
passed before his eyes. The ships were being loaded, and with their
sailing--But, no! He must not let himself think of that!

Throughout the day ships came and departed, and one leviathan, ablaze
in scarlet color; sailed in to settle down where great steel arms
enfolded it, not far from the watching men. Scarlet creatures in
authority directed operations, and workmen swarmed about the great
ship. Once McGuire swore softly and viciously under his breath, for he
had seen a figure that could be only that of Torg, and the crowd
saluted with upraised arms as the scarlet figure passed into the
scarlet ship. This, McGuire knew, was the flagship that should carry
Torg himself. Torg and ----. He paled at the thought of the other
name.

The only break in the long day came with the arrival of a squad of
guards, who hustled the two men out into a passageway and drove them
to another room, where certain measurements were taken. The muscular
figures of the two were different from these red ones, but it was a
moment before McGuire realized the sinister significance of the
proceedings. Their breadth of shoulders, the thickness of their
chests--what had these figures to do with their captivity? And then
the flyer saw the measures compared with the dimensions of a steel
cage. Its latticed shape could be endlessly compressed, and within, he
saw, were lancet points that lined the ghastly thing throughout. Long
enough to torture, but not to kill; a thousand delicate blades to
pierce the flesh; and the instrument, it seemed, was of a size that
could enclose the writhing, helpless body of a man.

Other unnameable contrivances about the room took on new significance
with the knowledge that here was the chamber of horrors whose workings
had been seen by Althora in the mind of their captor--horrors of which
she could not speak.

       *       *       *       *       *

McGuire was sick and giddy as the guards led him roughly back to their
prison room. And Professor Sykes, too, required no explanation of what
they had seen.

The guards were many, and resistance was useless, but each man looked
silently at the other's desperate eyes when the metal cords were
twisted again about their wrists, and their hands were tied securely
to metal rings anchored in the wall beside the window.

"And there," said the flyer, "goes our last chance of escape. They
were not as dumb as we thought: they knew how good a leap to the
pavement would look after we had been in there."

"Less than human!" Sykes was quoting the comment of Althora's brother.
"I think Djorn was quite conservative in his statement."

McGuire examined carefully the cords that tied his hands to the wall
beside him. The knots were secure, and the metal ring was smooth and
round. "I didn't know," he said, as he worked and twisted, "but there
might be a cutting edge, but we haven't a chance. No getting rid of
these without a wire cutter or an acetylene torch--and we seem to be
just out of both."

Professor Sykes tried to adopt the other's nonchalant tone. "Careless
of us," he began--then stopped breathless to press his body against
the wall.

"It's there!" he said. "Oh, my God, if I could only get it, it might
work--it might!"

"The battery," he explained to the man beside him, whose assumed
indifference vanished at this suggestion of hope; "--the little
battery that I used on the gun, to fire the explosive. It has an
astounding amperage, and a voltage around three hundred. It's in my
pocket--and I can't reach it!"

"You can't keep a good man licked!" McGuire exulted. "You mean that
the current might melt the wire?"

"Soften it, perhaps, depending upon the resistance." Sykes refused to
share the other's excitement. "But we can't get at it."

"We've got to," was the answer. "Move over this way." The man in khaki
twisted his arms awkwardly to permit him to bend his body to one side,
and beads of sweat stood out on his forehead as the strain forced the
thin bonds into his wrists. But he brought his agonized face against
the other's body, and gripped the fabric of Sykes' coat between his
teeth.

       *       *       *       *       *

The twisting of his head raised the cloth an inch at a time, and
despite Sykes' efforts to hold the garment with his elbow, it slipped
back time and again. McGuire straightened at intervals to draw a
choking breath and ease the strain upon his tortured wrists; then back
again in his desperate contortions to worry at the cloth and pull and
hold--and try again to raise the heavy pocket where a battery made
sagging folds.

He was faint and gasping when finally the cloth was brought where the
scientist's straining fingers could grasp it to writhe and twist in
clumsy efforts that would force the battery's terminals within reach.

"I'll try it on mine," said Sykes. "It may be hot--and you've had your
share." He was holding the flat black thing to bring the copper tips
against the metal about his wrists. McGuire saw the man's lips go
white as a wisp of smoke brought to his nostrils the sickening odor of
burned flesh.

The metal glowed, and the man was writhing in silent self-torture when
at last he threw his weight upon the strands and fell backward to the
floor. He lay for a moment, trembling and quivering--but free. And the
knowledge of that freedom and of the greater torture they would both
escape, gave him strength to rise and work with crippled hands at his
companion's bonds, till McGuire, too, was free--free to forget his own
swollen, bleeding wrists in compassionate regard for the other.

Like an injured animal, Professor Sykes had licked with his tongue at
his wrists, where hot wire had burned deep and white, and he was
trying for forgetfulness an hour later, in examination of the door to
their room.

"What is the idea?" McGuire inquired, when he turned from his
ceaseless contemplation of the fleet. "Not trying to get out, are
you?"

"I am trying to stay in," said Sykes, and looked again at the object
that interested him. "These long bolts," he explained: "top and
bottom; operated from outside, but exposed in here. They come together
when unlocked; five inches apart now. If I had something to hold them
apart--

"You haven't a piece of steel about five inches long, have you?--or
anything to substitute for it? If you have, I can lock this door so
the devils won't come in and surprise us before we can make the jump."

"The battery?" suggested McGuire.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sykes shook his head. "I tried it. Too long, and besides it would
crumble. They operate these with a lever; I saw it outside." He went
on silently with his study of the door and the little gap between
heavy bolts, which, if closed, would mean security from invasion.

"They're about through," McGuire spoke from his post at the window
after some time. "The rush seems to be about over. I imagine they'll
pull out in the morning."

He pointed as Sykes stood beside him. "Those big ones over beyond have
not been touched all day; only some of the crew, I judge, working
around them. And way over you see forty or fifty whaling big ones:
they must have been ready before we came. They have finished on these
nearer by. It looks like a big day for the brutes."

And Professor Sykes led him on to talk more of the preparations he had
seen, and his deductions as to the morrow. It was all too evident what
was really on the lieutenant's mind. It was not the thought of their
own immediate death, but the terrible dread and horror of Althora's
fate, that hammered and hammered in his brain. To speak of anything
else meant a moment's relief.

Sykes pointed to a tall mast that was set in the plaza pavement, some
hundred feet away. Wires swung from it to several points, one of them
ending above their window and entering the building. "What is that?"
he asked, "--some radio device? That ball of metal on the top might be
an aerial." But McGuire had fallen silent again, and stared stonily at
the deadly fighting ships he was powerless to combat.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the morning that followed, there was no uncertainty. This was the
day! And from a balconied window up high in the side of a tall stone
building, two men stood wordless and waiting while they watched the
preparations below.

The open space was a sea of motion like flowing blood, where thousands
of figures in dull red marched in rank after rank to be swallowed in
the mammoth ships that McGuire had noted in the distance. Then other
colors, and swarms of what they took to be women-folk of this wild
race--a medley of color that flowed on and on as if it would never
cease, to fill one after another of the great ships.

"Transports, that's what they are," said McGuire. "I can see now why
they have no steel beaks like the others. They don't need any rams,
nor ports for firing that beastly gas. They are gray, too, while the
fighting ships are striped with red, all except the scarlet one of
Torg's. Those are colonists we are watching, and soldiers to conquer
the Earth where the damned swarm settles."

He stopped to stare at a body of red-clad soldiers, drawn up at
attention. They made a lane, and their arms were raised in the salute
that seemed only for Torg. They stood rigid and motionless; then, from
below the watching men, came one in the full splendor of his scarlet
regalia. The air echoed with the din of his shouted name, but the
bedlam of noise fell on deaf ears for McGuire. He could hear nothing,
and in all the vast kaleidoscope of color he could see only one
object--the white face of a girl who was half led and half carried by
a guard of the red ones, where their Emperor led the way.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a strangled cry that was torn from the flyer's throat--the name
of this girl who was going to the doom she had failed to avoid. Her
life, she had said, was hers to keep only if she willed, but her plans
had failed, and she went faltering and stumbling after a scarlet man
beast.

"Althora!" called the flyer, and the figure of the girl was struggling
with her guards in a frenzy that tore their hands free. She turned to
look toward the sound of the voice, and her face was like that of one
dead as her eyes found the man she loved.

"Tommy," she called: "oh, Tommy, my dear! Good-by!" The words were
ended by the clutch of the scarlet Emperor who turned to seize her.

A clatter came from the door behind them, but Lieutenant McGuire gave
no heed. Only Professor Sykes sprang back from the balcony to seize
and struggle with the moving bolts.

The man on the balcony was hardly less than a maniac as he glared
wildly about, but he was not too unreasoning to see the folly of a
wild leap into the throng below. He could never reach her--never. And
then his eyes fell upon the wire that led from above him to the great
pole in the open plaza. There was shouting from behind where the
executioners were wrestling with the bolts.

"Hold them," the flyer shouted, "just for a minute! For God's sake,
Sykes, keep them back! There's a chance!"

He sprang to the balustrade of the balcony, but he saw as he leaped
where Professor Sykes had raised his leg to force the thickness of his
knee between the bolts whose levers outside were bringing them closer
together.

"Go to it," was the answer. "I can hold them"--a stifled groan--"for
a--minute!" Professor Sykes had found his substitute for five inches
of steel, and the living flesh yielded but slowly to the pressure of
the bolts.

       *       *       *       *       *

McGuire was working frantically at the wire, then held himself in
check while he carefully unwound it from its fastening. There was a
splice, and he worked with bleeding fingers to unfasten the tight
coils. And then the end was free and in his hands. He dropped to the
balcony to pull in the slack, and he wrapped the end about beneath his
arms and twisted it tight, then leaped out into space. No thought of
himself nor of Sykes in this one wild moment, only of Althora in the
grip of those beastly hands.

He was struggling to turn himself in the air as the colored masses of
people seemed sweeping toward him, and he shot as a living pendulum,
feet first, into the waiting heads.

He was on his feet in an instant and tearing at the twisted wire that
held him. About him was clamor and confusion, but beyond the nearer
figures he saw the one who waited, and beside her a thing in scarlet
that shrieked orders to his men.

He flung off one who leaped toward him, and ducked another to dash
through and reach his man. And he neither saw nor felt the creature's
ripping talons as he drove a succession of rights and lefts to the
blood-red face.

The scarlet one went backward under the fusillade of blows; he was
down, a huddle of color upon the pavement, and a horde of paralyzed
soldiers had recovered from their stupefaction and were rushing upon
the flyer. He turned to meet them, but their rush ended as quickly as
it began: only a step or two they came, then stopped, to add their
wild voices to the confusion of ear-splitting shrieks that rose from
all sides.

       *       *       *       *       *

McGuire crouched rigid, tense and waiting, nor did he sense for an
instant that the assault was checked and that the faces of all about
him were turned to the sky. It was the voice of Althora that aroused
him:

"Tommy! Tommy!" she was calling, and now she was at his side, her
arms about him. "What is it, Tommy? Look! Look!" And she too was
gazing aloft. And then, above all other sounds McGuire heard the
roar--

The clouds were golden above with the brilliance of midday--and
against them, hard and sharp of outline, was a shining shape. A cloud
of vapor streamed behind it as it shot down from the clouds, and the
thunder of its coming was like the roar of many cannon.

A ship of the red ones was in the air--a fighting ship, whose stripes
showed red--and it drove at the roaring menace with its steel beak and
a swirling cloud of gas. It seemed that they must crash, when to
McGuire's eyes came the stabbing flash of heavy guns from the shining
shape. A crashing explosion came down to them as the great beak parted
and fell, and the body of the red-striped monster opened in bursting
smoke and flame, tore slowly into fragments and fell swiftly to the
earth.

It struck with a shattering crash some distance away, but one pair of
eyes failed to follow it in its fall. For in the clear air above, with
the golden light of distant clouds upon it, a roaring monster of
silvery sheen had rolled and swept upward to the heights. And it
showed, as it turned, a painted emblem on its bow, a design of
clear-cut color, unbelievably familiar--a circle of blue, and within
it a white star and a bull's eye of red--the mark of the flying
service of the United States!

       *       *       *       *       *

McGuire never knew how he got Althora and himself back to the building
whence he had come. Nor did he see the struggling figures on a
balcony, or the leap and fall of a maimed body, where Professor Sykes,
when the door had yielded, found surcease and oblivion on the pavement
below.

He was to learn that later, but now he had eyes only for a sight that
could be but a dream, an unreal vision of a disordered brain. He held
the slim form of Althora to him in a crushing grip, while he stared,
dry-eyed, above, and his own voice seemed to shout from afar off:
"They're ours!" that voice was screaming in a frenzy of exultation.
"They're our ships! They've come across!"

The fighting fleet of the red man-things of Venus was taking to the
air! The ships rose in a swarm of speeding, darting shapes, and the
great one of Torg was in the lead, climbing in fury toward the
heights.

Far above them the clouds of gold silhouetted a strange sight, and the
air was shaking with the thunder from on high, where, straight and
true, a line of silver ships in the sharp V of battle formation drove
downward in a deadly, swift descent.

And even afar off, the straining eyes of a half-crazed man could see
the markings on their bow--a circle and a star--and the colors of his
own lost fighters of the air.


CHAPTER XIX

The Earth-fleet was a slanting line of swiftness that swept downward
from the clouds. A swarm of craft was rising from below. The
red-striped fighters met the attack first with a cloud of gas.

The scarlet monster--the flagship of Torg, the Emperor--was in the
lead, and they shot with terrific speed across the bows of the
oncoming fleet to leave a whirlwind of deadly vapor as they passed.
McGuire held his breath in an agony of fear as the cloud enveloped the
line of ships, but their bow guns roared staccato crashes in the
thunder of their exhausts as they entered the cloud. And they were
firing from the stern as they emerged, while two falling cylinders of
red and white proved the effectiveness of their fire.

The formation held true as it swept upward and back where the swarming
enemy was waiting. They were outnumbered three to one, McGuire saw,
and his heart sang within him as he watched the sharp, speeding V that
climbed upward to the enemy's level then swung to throw itself like a
lance of light at the massed ships that awaited the attack.

Another cloud of gas!--and a shattered ship!--and again the line
emerged to correct its broken formation and drive once more toward the
circling swarm.

They came to meet them now, the clusters of red-striped fighting
ships, and they tore in from all sides upon the American line, their
hooked beaks gleaming in the sun.

       *       *       *       *       *

And now, at an unseen signal, the formation broke. Each ship fought
for its life, and the stabbing flashes of their guns made ceaseless
jets of light against the smoke and gas clouds that were darkening the
sky.

"A dog-fight!" breathed Lieutenant McGuire; "and what a dog-fight!"
His words were lost in the terrific thunder from above: the roar of
the ships and the dull thuds of the guns engulfed them in a maelstrom
of noise that battered like physical blows on the watchers below. He
swore unconsciously and called down curses upon the enemy as he saw
two fighters meet while the shining beak of a ship of the reds crashed
through the body of an opposing craft.

The red ship dipped at the bow; it backed off with terrific force; and
from the curved beak a ship with the insignia of the red, white and
blue slid downward in a swift fall to the death that waited.

They had fought themselves clear, and the Americans, by what must have
been arrangement or wireless order, went roaring to the heights. There
were some who followed, but the guns of the speeding ships drove them
off. Red-and-white shapes fell swiftly from the clouds where the
fighting had been, and McGuire knew that his fellows had given an
account of themselves in the fighting at close range.

Again the thundering line was sharp and true, and another unswerving
attack was launching itself from above. And again the deadly
formation, with ever-increasing speed, drove into the enemy with
flashing guns, then parted to close with the ones that drove
crushingly upon them, while the sharper clatter of rapid-firing guns
came to shatter the air.

The fighting craft had been rising from their level field in a
succession that seemed endless. They were all in the air now, and only
the great transports remained on the paved field.

       *       *       *       *       *

A red-striped fighter swept downward in retreat, and, from the smoke
clouds, a silvery shape followed in pursuit. It reached the red and
white one with its shells, and the great mass crashed with terrific
impact on the field. Its pursuer must have seen the monsters still on
the ground, and it swung to rake them with a shower of small-caliber
shells.

There were machine-guns rattling as it passed above the thronged
reds--the troops who were huddled in terror in the open court. It tore
on past them--past a figure in khaki who raced forward with the golden
form of a girl within his arms, then released her to wave frantically
as the silver ship shot by.

Unobserved, McGuire and Althora had been, where they stood beside the
buildings: the eyes of their enemies, like their own, were on the
monstrous battle above. But now they had called themselves to the
attention of the reds, and there were some who rushed upon them with
faces livid with rage.

McGuire reached for a weapon from a victim of the machine-gun fire and
prepared to defend himself, but the weapon was never used. He saw the
silvery shape reverse itself in the air; it turned sharply to throw
itself back toward the solitary figure in uniform of their service and
the golden-clad girl beside him.

The flyer raised his weapon, but the jostling swarm that rushed upon
him melted: the ripping fire of machine guns was deafening in his
ears. Their deadly tattoo continued while the great ship sank slowly
to touch and rest its huge bulk upon the pavement. A door in the
ship's curved side opened that the blocky figure of a man might leap
forth.

He was grimy of face, and his uniform was streaked with the smoke and
sweat of battle, but the face beneath the grime, and the hands that
reached to embrace and pound the flyer upon the back, could be only
those of one he had known as his captain--Captain Blake.

"You son-of-a-gun!" the shouting figure was repeating. "You damned
Irish son-of-a-gun! A. W. O. L.--but you can't get away with it! Come
on--get in here! I'm needed up above!"

       *       *       *       *       *

McGuire was struggling to speak from a throat that was suddenly tight
and voiceless. Then--

"Althora," he gasped; "take Althora!" and he motioned toward the girl.
And then he remembered the companion he had left in the room above.
The battle that had flashed so suddenly had blasted from his mind all
other thoughts.

"My God!" he said. "--Sykes! I--must get Sykes!"

He turned to run back to the building, only to stop in consternation
where a huddle of clothing lay beneath the balcony of their prison
room.

It was Sykes--Sykes who had sacrificed himself to make possible the
escape of his friend--and McGuire dropped to his knees to touch the
body that he knew was shattered beyond any hope of life. He raised the
limp burden in his arms and staggered back where more khaki-clad
figures had gathered. Two came quickly out to meet him, and he let
them take the body of his friend.

"_C'est fini!_"--he repeated the words that Sykes had said; "the end
of our little journey!" The arms of Althora were about him as Blake
hurried them into the waiting ship, and the roar of enormous power
marked the rising of this space ship to throw itself again into the
fray.

       *       *       *       *       *

A small room with a dome of shatter-proof glass; a pilot who sat there
to look in all directions, a control-board beneath his hands. Beside
him on his elevated station was room for Captain Blake, and McGuire
and Althora, too. The ship was climbing swiftly. McGuire saw where
flashing shapes circled and roared in a swelling cloud of smoke and
gas.

Blake spoke sharply to an aide: "General orders! All ships climb to
resume formation!"

An enemy ship was before them: it flashed from nowhere to bear down
with terrific speed. The floor beneath them shook with the jarring of
heavy guns, and McGuire saw the advancing shape bursting with puffs of
smoke, while their own ship shot upward with a sickening twist. A
silver ship was falling!--and another!

"Two more of ours gone," said Captain Blake through set teeth. "How
many of them are there, Mac? Tell me what you know: we've got a hell
of a fight on our hands."

"They're all here," McGuire told him, in jerky, breathless speech.
"These are transports on the ground. Their weapons are gas and speed,
and the rams on their beaked ships. There are other weapons--deadlier
ones!--but they haven't got them: they belong to another race. I'll
tell you all that later!"

"Keep them at a distance, Blake," he said. "Make them come to
you--then nail them as they come."

"Right!" was the answer; "that's good dope. We didn't know what they
had; expected some devilish things that could down us before we got
within effective range; had to mix it with them to find out what they
could do, and get in a few solid cracks before they did it.

"How high are we?" He glanced quickly at an instrument. "Ten thousand.
Order all ships to withdraw," he instructed his aide. "Rendezvous at
fifty thousand feet for echelon formation."

       *       *       *       *       *

Another brush with an enemy craft that slipped quickly to one
side--then the smoke clouds were behind them, and a score, of silvery
shapes were climbing in vertical flight for the level at fifty
thousand.

They were fewer now than they had been, and the line that formed
behind the flagship of Blake was shorter than the one that had made
the V which shot down so bravely to engage with an unknown foe.

The enemy was below; an arrangement of mirrors showed this from the
commander's station. They were emerging from the clouds of smoke to
swarm in circling flight through the sky. And now the bow of their own
craft was depressed at an order from Blake, and the others were behind
them as they drove to renew the attack.

"They're ganging up on us again," said Blake. "We'll fool them this
time; we'll just kid them a little."

The flagship swerved before reaching the enemy, and the others
followed in what looked like frightened retreat. Again they were in
the heights, and some few of the enemy were following. Blake led in
another descent.

       *       *       *       *       *

No waiting swarm to greet them now! Blake gave a quick order. The
roaring column shifted position as it fell: the flagship was the apex
of a great V whose arms flung out and backward on either side--a V
formation that curved and twisted through space and thundered upon the
smaller formations that scattered before the blasting guns.

"Our bow guns are the effective weapons," Blake observed; his casual
tone was a sedative to McGuire's tense nerves. "We can use a broadside
only of lighter weight; the kick of the big 'sights' has to be taken
straight back. But we're working, back home, on recoil-absorbing guns:
we'll make fighting ships of these things yet."

He spoke quietly to the pilot to direct their course toward a group
that came sweeping upon them, and the massed fire of the squadron was
squarely into the oncoming beaks that fell beneath them where the
mirrors showed them crashing to the earth.

They were scattered now; the enemy was in wild disorder; and Blake
spoke sharply to his aide.

"Break formation," he ordered; "every ship for itself. Engage the
enemy where they find them; shoot down anything they see; prevent the
enemy reforming!" He was taking quick advantage of the other's
scattered forces, and he scattered his own that he knew could take
care of themselves while they engaged the enemy only by ones or twos
or threes.

"Clear the air of them!" he ordered. "Not one of them must escape!"

The skies were a maze of darting shapes that crossed and recrossed to
make a spider's web of light. Ship drove at ship, to swerve off at the
last, while the air quivered and beat upon them with the explosion of
shells and guns.

"There's our meat!" Blake directed the pilot, and pointed ahead where
a monster in scarlet was swelling into view.

It came swiftly upon them, darting down from above, and McGuire
clutched at the arm of the man beside him to shout: "It's the leader;
the flagship! It's the Emperor--Torg, himself! Give him hell, Blake,
but look out--he's fast!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The ship was upon them like a flash of fire; no time for anything but
dodging, and the pilot threw his craft wildly aside with a swerve that
sent the men sprawling against a stanchion. Then up and back, where
the other had turned to come up from below.

"Fast!" McGuire had said, but the word was inadequate to describe the
speed of the fiery shape.

Another leap in the air, as their pilot swung his controls, and the
red shape brushed past them in a cloud of gas, while the quick-firers
ripped futilely into space where the great ship had been.

"Get your bow guns on him!" Blake roared. The ship beneath them
strained and shuddered with the incredible thunder of the generator
that threw them bodily in the air. The pilot had opened in full force
the ports that blasted their bows aside.

No time to gather new speed; they were motionless as the scarlet
monster came upon them, but they were in position to receive him. The
eight-inch rifles of the forward turret thundered again and again, to
be answered by flashes of flame from the scarlet ship.

McGuire crouched over the bent form of the pilot, whose steady fingers
held the ship's bow straight upon the flashing death that bore down
upon them. Another salvo!--and another!--hits all of them.... Smoke
bursting from ripping plates, and flaming fire more vivid than the
scarlet shape itself!--and the floor beneath McGuire's feet drove
crushingly upward as their pilot pulled a lever to the full.

The great beak flashed beneath--and the mirrors, where McGuire's eyes
were fastened, showed the terrific drive continue down and down, where
a brilliant cylinder that marked the power of Venus tore shriekingly
on to carry an Emperor to his crashing death.

       *       *       *       *       *

The skies were clear of the red-striped ships: only the survivors of
the attacking force showed their silvery shapes as they gathered near
their flagship. There were two that pursued a small group of the
enemy, but they were being outdistanced in the race.

"We have won," said Blake in a tone of wonder that showed how only now
had come a realization of what the victory meant. "We have won, and
the earth--is saved!"

And the voice of McGuire echoed his fervent "Thank God!" while he
gripped the soft hand that clung tightly to his, as if Althora, this
radiant creature of Venus, were timid and abashed among the joyful,
shouting men-folk from another world.

"And now what, Captain?" asked McGuire of his command. "Will you land?
There is an army of reds down there asking for punishment."

Blake had turned away; his hand made grimy smears across his face
where he wiped away the tears that marked a brave man's utter
thankfulness. He covered his emotion with an affectation of
disapproval as he swung back toward McGuire.

"Captain?" he inquired. "Captain? Where do you get that captain
stuff?"

He pointed to an emblem on his uniform, a design that was unfamiliar
to the eyes of McGuire.

"You're talking to an admiral now!--the first admiral of the newest
branch of your country's fighting service--commanding the first fleet
of the Space, ships of the United States of America!" He threw one arm
about the other's shoulders. "We'll have to get busy, Mac," he added,
"and think up a new rank for you.

"And, yes, we are going to land," he continued in his customary tones;
"there may be survivors of our own crashes. But we'll have to count on
you, Mac, to show us around this little new world of yours."

       *       *       *       *       *

There was an army waiting, as McGuire had warned, but it was waiting
to give punishment and not to take it. The vast expanse of the landing
field was swarming with them, and the open country beyond showed
columns of marching troops.

They had learned, too, to take shelter; barricades had been hastily
erected, and the men had shields to protect them from the fire of
small arms.

Their bodies were enclosed in their gas-tight uniforms whose ugly
head-pieces served only to conceal the greater ugliness beneath. They
met the ships as they landed with a showering rain of gas that was
fired from huge projectors.

"Not so good!" Blake was speaking in the safety of his ship. "We have
masks, but great heavens, Mac!--there must be a million of those
brutes. We can spray them with machine-gun fire, but we haven't
ammunition enough to make a dent in them. And we've got to get out and
get to our crashed ships."

He waited for McGuire's suggestions, but it was Althora who replied.

"Wait!" she said imperatively. She seemed to be listening to some
distant word. Then:

"Djorn is coming," she exclaimed, and her eyes were brilliantly
alight. "He says to you"--she pointed to McGuire--"that you were
right, that we must fight like hell sometimes to deserve our
heaven--oh, I told him what you said--and now he is coming with all
his men!"

"What the devil?" asked Blake in amazement. "How does she know?"

"Telepathy," McGuire explained: "she is talking with her brother, the
leader of the real inhabitants of Venus."

He told the wondering man briefly of his experience and of the people
themselves, the real owners of this world.

"But what can they do?" Blake demanded.

And McGuire assured him: "Plenty!"

       *       *       *       *       *

He turned to Althora to ask, "How are they coming? How will they get
here?"

"They are marching underground; they have been coming for two days.
They knew of our being captured, but the people have been slow in
deciding to fight. Djorn dared not tell me of their coming; he feared
he might be too late.

"They will come out of that building," she said, and indicated the
towering structure that had been their prison. "It has the old
connection with the underground world."

"Well, they'd better be good!" said Blake incredulously.

He was still less optimistic when the building before them showed the
coming of a file of men. They poured forth, in orderly fashion and
ranged themselves in single file along the walls.

There must be a thousand, McGuire estimated, and he wondered if the
women, too, were fighting for their own. Then, remembering Althora's
brave insistence, he knew his surmise was correct.

Each one was masked against the gas; their faces were concealed; and
each one held before him a tube of shining metal with a larger bulbous
end that rested in their hands.

"Electronic projectors," the lieutenant whispered. "Keep your eye on
the enemy, Blake; you are going to learn something about war."

The thin line was advancing now and the gas billowed about them as
they came. There were some few who dropped, where masks were
defective, but the line came on, and the slim tubes were before them
in glittering menace.

       *       *       *       *       *

At a distance of a hundred feet from the first of the entrenched enemy
there was a movement along the line, as if the holders of the tubes
had each set a mechanism in operation. And before the eyes of the
Earth-men was a spectacle of horror like nothing in wars they had
known.

The barricades were instantly a roaring furnace; the figures that
leaped from behind them only added to the flames. From the steady rank
of the attackers poured an invisible something before which the hosts
of the enemy fell in huddles of flame. Those nearest were blasted from
sight in a holocaust of horror, and where they had been was a
scattering of embers that smoked and glowed; even the figures of
distant ones stumbled and fell.

The myriad fighters of the army of the red ones, when the attackers
shut off their invisible rays, was a screaming mob that raced wildly
over the open lands beyond.

Althora's hands were covering her eyes, but McGuire and Blake, and the
crowding men about them, stared in awe and utter astonishment at the
devastation that was sweeping this world. An army annihilated before
their eyes! Scores of thousands, there must be, of the dead!

The voice of Blake was husky with horror. "What a choice little bit
out of hell!" he exclaimed. "Mac, did you say they were our friends?
God help us if they're not!"

"They are," said McGuire grimly. "Those are Althora's people who had
forgotten how to fight; they are recapturing something that they lost
some centuries ago. But can they ever destroy the rest of that swarm?
I don't think they have the heart to do it."

"They do not need." It was Althora speaking. "My people are sickened
with the slaughter. But the red ones will go back into the earth, and
we will seal them in!--it is Djorn who tells me--and the world will be
ours forevermore."

       *       *       *       *       *

A matter of two short days, crammed to the uttermost with the
realization of the astounding turn of events--and McGuire and Althora
stood with Blake and Djorn, the ruler, undisputed, of the beautiful
world of Venus. A fleet of great ships was roaring high in air. One
only, the flagship, was waiting where their little group stood.

The bodies of the fallen had been recovered; they were at rest now in
the ships that waited above. McGuire looked about in final wonder at
the sparkling city bathed in a flood of gold. A kindly city
now--beautiful; the terrors it had held were fading from his mind. He
turned to Althora.

"We are going home," he said softly, "you and I."

"Home?" Althora's voice was vibrant with dismay.

"We need you here, friend Mack Guire," the voice of Djorn broke in, in
protest. "You have something that we lack--a force and vision--something
we have lost."

"We will be back," the flyer assured him. "You befriended me: anything
I can do in return--" The grip of his hand completed the sentence.

"But there is a grave to be made on the summit of Mount Lawson," he
added quietly. "I think he would have preferred to lie there--at the
end of his journey--and I must return to the service where I have not
yet been mustered out."

"But you said--you were going home," faltered Althora. "Will that
always be home to you, Tommy?"

"Home, my dear," he whispered in words that reached her only, "is just
where you are." His arm went about her to draw her toward the waiting
ship. "There or here--what matter? We will be content."

Her eyes were misty as they smiled an answer. Within the ship that was
lifting them, they turned to watch a city of opal light grow faintly
luminous in the distance ... an L-shaped continent shrunk to tiny size ...
and the nebulous vapors of the cloudland that enclosed this world folded
softly about.

"We will lead," the voice of Blake was saying to an aide: "same
formation that we used coming over. Give the necessary orders. But,"
he added slowly to himself, "the line will be shorter; there are fewer
of us now."

An astronomical officer laid a chart before the commander. "We are on
the course, sir," he reported.

"Full speed," Blake gave the order, and the thundering generator
answered from the stern. The Space Fleet of America was going home.


(_The End_)



_A meeting Place for Readers of_ Astounding Stories

[Illustration: _The Readers' Corner_]


_"Absurd" to "Superb"_

     Dear Editor:

     Unfortunately, I missed the January number of your very
     excellent magazine, which I consider superior to any of its
     type. I brought seven copies--February to August--with me on
     my vacation, and have so far read the first three from cover
     to cover.

     The February and March numbers were almost above reproach,
     but the April number contained two stories so surprisingly
     poor that I can only conjecture the Editor was ill at that
     time. They were "The Man who was Dead," by Thomas H. Knight
     and "Monsters of Moyen," by Arthur J. Burks. For Mr. Knight
     there is no hope. To him I can only say "Stop trying to
     write and get a job." I am a rapid and omnivorous reader,
     but never have I read a story so utterly bad as his. He gets
     the booby prize.

     Arthur J. Burks, although a master artist in comparison to
     Knight, is pretty poor--terrible, in fact. His style is
     dull, repetitious, and stilted. His melodrama is exaggerated
     to the point of nauseating absurdity. His characters are
     lifeless and unnatural puppets. So much for the faults.

     Among the best Science Fiction stories I have read is "The
     Planet of Dread," by R. F. Starzl in the August number. I
     also very much enjoyed the "Dr. Bird" stories by Capt. Meek,
     and indeed all the others, barring the two I criticized in
     such a helpful, friendly spirit. Leinster and Cummings are
     old favorites of mine.

     I prefer your present cover but disagree with your attitude
     towards reprinting the older works of such authors as George
     Allen England, Serviss and Cummings, which are now
     unobtainable and would, I believe, be received with pleasure
     and applause.

     Congratulations--Joseph S. Stull, 291 Barrington St.,
     Rochester, N. Y.

     P.S. Since I wrote I have read the May and June
     numbers--both perfect. C. D. Willard is a superb
     storyteller.


_Wrong Numbers Still!_

     Dear Editor:

     I agree with the rest of your readers in the good things
     they say about your magazine in "The Readers' Corner." There
     is one story, however, "The Planet of Dread," in your August
     issue, that gives me a rather sickening feeling of disgust.
     The trouble was in the climax. After the hero has wandered
     over quite a portion of the planet Inra, he arrives at some
     mountains where, lo and behold! an unexpected space ship
     drops from the clouds to an unfrequented ledge of rock and
     makes a rescue. After this sensational climax comes an
     equally thrilling anti-climax--the hero is offered three
     years' salary for his story. To accuse the future world of
     doing such a thing is an open insult to our posterity. Ten
     per cent of my high school freshmen took just such an ending
     to their first themes.

     As that story took up about one-seventh of your space and
     your magazine cost twenty cents. I figure you owe your
     readers three cents on that issue. But, due to the fineness
     of the rest of your stories, I am willing to forget your
     debt as far as I am concerned.

     I am happy to see that you are beginning to print articles.
     I read with interest the one about Mechanical Voices for
     Telephone Numbers in your September issue. But can't
     something be done about wrong numbers? The article states
     that a person dialed the number 8561T. Two seconds later the
     loud-speaker spoke up, clearly, in an almost human voice,
     8651T. Wrong number! Must this evil be with us always!

     I am NOT in favor of reprints. You are printing stories
     every month just as good as any of those suggested to you. I
     have read most of those classic scientific stories referred
     to. The best stories along this line have not been written
     yet. Keep your space clear for them. Let us have young blood
     with new ideas. Let our authors eat. Good stories were never
     written on an empty stomach.

     I believe yours is the highest type of the few magazines
     that lay a greater stress on the brains of the hero than on
     his good looks. But, for the sake of one of your ardent
     readers, let that hero use his brains to get himself out of
     whatever he has gotten into. Don't let a space ship swoop
     down from above to rescue him. That type of story reminds me
     a lot of the one where Jonah was rescued from the deep by
     the timely arrival of the friendly whale. By the way,
     there's a suggestion for a reprint. I will admit that it
     would be just about as new to me as some of the others that
     have been suggested in this "Corner."--Richard Lewis, 448
     Marion St., Knoxville, Iowa.


_Not So "Green" in Ireland_

     Dear Editor:

     I suppose it's not often you get a letter from an Irish
     "Paddy," but here's one now. Here in Cork we don't get
     magazines like Astounding Stories regularly, but I got the
     May issue to-day and could not stop until I had devoured it
     from cover to cover. "The Atom Smasher" is a story which I
     have been hunting for for years. When I had finished it, I
     had to sit back and leave out all the breath which I was
     holding in in a prolonged "whew!" If ever I get the luck to
     find another Astounding Stories I'll burn up the pages
     looking for the name Victor Rousseau. Next in order I liked
     "Brigands of the Moon" and "The Jovian Jest." Thought the
     story "Into the Ocean's Depths" an awful fairy tale, but
     otherwise good reading. The painter of the cover design is a
     real artist and I wish to express my appreciation of his
     wonderful rendering of a difficult subject.--Fitz-Gerald
     Grattan, 11 Frankfield Terrace, Summerhill South, Cork,
     Irish Free State.


_Worthy His Evening and Pipe_

     Dear Editor:

     I have read my first copy of Astounding Stories, the
     September.

     The first paragraph in the first part of "A Problem in
     Communication" assured me that I had found a book worthy of
     my evening and pipe.

     Read that paragraph and you will find Dr. Miles Breuer is
     most brilliant in his philosophy and clever in the
     application of that philosophy in his masterpiece of the
     science of communication.--Don L. Schweitzer, 1402 Bancroft
     St., Omaha, Nebr.


_"Taking a Claw Hold"_

     Dear Editor:

     Was just reading the September issue of A. S. and find it
     ranging first among the Science Fiction magazines now
     printed. I'm certain your "Jetta of the Lowlands" is going
     to be a masterpiece of Ray Cummings. He is my favorite
     writer.

     I did not like "Earth, the Marauder." It was too much drawn
     out and very dry. "Brigands of the Moon" was excellent.

     I wish you would print my letter, as I'd like any one, male
     of female, interested in science to write to me. Would you
     kindly oblige me?

     I'm glad to see girls taking interest in your magazine, as
     it shown science is taking a claw hold on everyone--Harold
     BegGell, 29 Stewart St., Washington, N. J.


_This and That_

     Dear Editor:

     In the October issue of Astounding Stories, Mr. Woodrow
     Gelman casts vote No. 1 for reprints. Well, here is vote No.
     2. I intended to reply to all your arguments against
     reprint, but Mr. Gelman has done this very satisfactorily,
     indeed. I only wish to make a few additional comments.

     You say that only one out of a hundred haven't read reprints
     [?]. Fifty out of a hundred would be more correct. Five
     years ago there wasn't a single magazine devoted exclusively
     to Science Fiction. Now there are six of them, more or less.
     These magazines have converted thousands of readers into
     Science Fiction fans. These readers ought to be given a
     chance to read the old masterpieces. Even those who have
     read them would be glad to reread them.

     With the exception of the reprints you have pretty near
     carried out all the readers' wishes. You have put in a
     readers' department, increased Wesso's illustrations, given
     us many interplanetary stories, and given us the stories of
     the leading authors of the day. Surely you can give us
     reprints when the demand for them is so universal. The ones
     I want are those written by Cummings, Merritt, Rousseau and
     Serviss, and I am sure that the rest of the readers want
     them too. If you are still doubtful, the fairest thing to do
     is to conduct a vote among the readers. I hope that you
     will pardon me for being so persistent, but I am sure that
     you are working in the best interests of the readers and
     that you will accede to a great and growing popular demand.

     Now about the latest issue of Astounding Stories. "The
     Invisible Death" is the best novelette you have printed up
     to now. With the exception of Ray Cummings, the best author
     you have is Victor Rousseau. I am glad to see that there is
     another story by Rousseau scheduled for next month. Murray
     Leinster is a close third, and I hope to see more of his
     stories soon. The second part of "Jetta of the Lowlands" was
     better than the first. "Stolen Brains" was also excellent.
     Keep on printing the Dr. Bird stories. I like them very
     much.

     Although the stories were splendid, the cover illustration
     was poor. I believe that this is the worst cover that Wesso
     has ever drawn. The main fault with it is that there is no
     science in it. It would be more appropriate for one of those
     detective magazines. "The Invisible Death" has many other
     interesting scenes from which Wesso could have chosen a more
     fitting subject. However, Wesso is your best artist and you
     ought to keep him.--Michael Forgaris, 157 Fourth St.,
     Passale, N. J.


_"Not Spoiled by ... Editor"_

     Dear Editor:

     There is one advantage that Astounding Stories has over all
     of the other Science Fiction magazines. It does not
     overburden one with an exposition of scientific facts. Too
     often a story is ruined by a lot of dry textbook stuff that
     turns an exciting story into a lecture.

     In Astounding Stories we can soar away on the wings of
     imagination, escaping the humdrum everyday world to new and
     amazing adventures. The hours fly away like the speed of
     light, and upon finishing the book our only regret is that
     we have to wait a whole month before another issue takes us
     aloft again.

     Having unburdened myself thus far, I think it is most
     fitting to comment upon your latest (October) issue. To my
     mind, the stories in order of merit are: "The Invisible
     Death," "Stolen Brains," "Jetta of the Lowlands," "Prisoners
     on the Electron," and "An Extra Man."

     I certainly am glad to see Ray Cummings writing for your
     most excellent magazine. He is and A-1 author.

     It does not make a particle of difference to me about the
     size of the magazine, but I wish you would have smooth edges
     like those of your Five-Novels Monthly.

     Am glad to see that "The Readers' Corner" is enlarged. I
     always turn to this first, even before reading the stories.
     This is a most entertaining department, and I'm glad it is
     not spoiled by any perfunctory remarks from the editor.

     How about publishing Astounding Stories twice a month?--E.
     Anderson, 1765 Southern Blvd., New York City, New York.


_Roses, Daisies and Violets_

     Dear Editor:

     In appreciation of an enjoyable evening of reading--which
     extended, by the way, into the wee, sma' hours of early
     morning--I thought to drop you a few lines, speaking of the
     high regards your magazine. Astounding Stories, has won from
     me through merit alone. Your October number particularly
     fitted into my reading mood last night.

     After the daily grind of newspaper work, it might seem odd
     that relaxation is sought in "more reading"--but it has been
     my experience, and that of many of my co-workers. I find,
     that the relief from the high tension of our trade comes
     from the change in the character of what we read, rather
     than in "something else," such as physical recreation.
     Fiction relaxes where "news" has keyed up.

     And in the Science Fiction of your magazine's stories of
     super-science, I find the keenest periods of mental
     enjoyment through the admirable selection of Astounding
     Stories' mixed adventure, unique travel and prophetic
     science. In this I am not alone--a number of my
     acquaintances have reveled likewise in your magazine at my
     suggestion.

     I have not quite settled in my mind as to whether you have
     trained your writers to exploit this special field of
     magazine fiction, which you occupy so successfully, or, in
     your editorial capacity, have so well selected the stories
     that bear the hallmarks of this peculiar interest that
     appeals so strongly to my leisure hours.

     By whichever road your success has been reached is
     immaterial--Astounding Stories has registered with me in a
     degree which should be flattering to your editorial
     supervision, if I represent, as I think I do, that large
     class of magazine readers who prefer and seek a
     science-coated outlet from the humdrum of every day living
     in mental adventure and travel-thrill reading.

     Have I presented clearly why and how much I like your
     magazine of Astounding Stories!--E. P. Neill, 910 East Ave.,
     Red Wing, Minn.


_"Much Easier to Turn"_

     Dear Editor:

     Once more I am impelled to give a roar. The last few issues
     have been filled with letters from readers who are evidently
     not satisfied with a "different" magazine. If they do not
     like to read "our" magazine then let them quit, but don't
     let a heckling minority spoil a real treat. My particular
     growl this time is directed towards Robert Baldwin and
     others of his ilk, who squawk about the size (i. e. length
     and width) of the mag and the uneven pages. The size is
     perfect (and just because the craze for standardization has
     hit some of the other Science Fiction mags and they have
     gone ga-ga over being an awkward shape, that is no reason
     for your going ahead and spoiling this one) and the uneven
     pages are a relief when reading because it is much easier to
     turn over a leaf when they are of a slightly different
     width.

     However, to take some of the sting off, I must say some of
     the ideas of said Mr. Baldwin are O. K. Enlarge the mag--of
     course you will, as readers increase and sales go up.
     Larger, as he says, "It will be worth the other jitney." Put
     ads in the rear. Have full page illustrations when possible.
     But another thing he is absolutely wrong on. Please do not
     adopt the antique method of continuing a story on page
     umptyump.

     Some of the readers are still yowling for reprints. Well, it
     is true that some reprints would be very acceptable.
     However, as most of the really good old-time tales of
     Science Fiction can be procured in any good sized library,
     why bother to print them and thus decrease the space
     allotted to our new authors, some of whom are even better
     than Wells, Verne, etc., much as I like the old masters.

     By the way, my "enlarge" in the second paragraph means in
     thickness (amount of reading matter), not shape.

     Wesso has always been good, and he seems to be improving,
     though he and others might be still better if they would
     carefully read the descriptions of persons and animals of
     other planets before picturing them. I don't wish to make
     this blurb too long, so will not be specific, but you and
     others probably have seen the same as I, where the
     illustration has not been true to the description.

     It might interest you to know that I have been instrumental
     in getting several new readers for Astounding Stories. Long
     live "our" new mag.--Robert J Hyatt, 1353 Kenyon St., N. W.,
     Washington, D. C.


_Ow! Ow! Ow!_

     Dear Editor:

     I have just looked at "The Reader's Corner" in the October
     issue of Astounding Stories. It disgusted me. What you print
     there--only letters praising your magazine to the skies?--or
     do you occasionally print a brickbat?

     I've bought your magazine each time since it was first
     printed. And many times I've felt like quitting. Why? There
     are a number of reasons.

     First, you print stories that have nothing to do with
     science, such as "The Soul Master." Second, your
     illustrations are poor. They would look better if they were
     full page ones. Wesso is the best artist you have. Gould and
     Sabo are just plain cartoonists, and mighty poor ones at
     that. Third, you print stories that give a weak and
     implausible scientific basis. Diffin, Gee, Leinster and
     several others err in this respect. Fourth, rotten paper--it
     goes to pieces after being handled. Fifth, no editorial or
     science questionnaire.

     Your authors will not starve if you print reprints. Rousseau
     and a lot of others write for other magazines. And reprints
     would occupy such a measly space that they could hardly be
     called down for being printed.

     Your magazine has some good features: a good cover; good
     authors like Breuer, Vincent, Meek, Ernst and Starzl; clear
     type; and handy size.

     If anyone thinks I'm wrong--well my address is given. This
     challenge includes the editor. I sincerely hope you will
     improve your magazine--Edwin C. Magnuson, 1205 E. Ninth St.,
     Duluth, Minn.


_Suggestions_

     Dear Editor:

     I have read your excellent magazine ever since it came out,
     and though it needs a few corrections like the others, A. S.
     is nearly perfect. Why not have your pages evened up, and
     add a department of science on subjects such as Rocket
     Propulsion etc., so the readers could become familiar with
     the mystifying problems stated in the stories? Have the
     advertisements in the back, and don't change your artists as
     their work is satisfactory.

     Robert Baldwin of Illinois has an excellent list of
     suggestions. Why not have a page devoted to the pictures and
     biographies of your writers, and full page illustrations?
     Why not have a space for good reprints and charge a nickel
     more? I am sure it will be appreciated by readers. Why don't
     you put out a Quarterly, twice as thick or containing twice
     as many stories for fifty cents?--A satisfied reader--Hume
     V. Stephani, 37-1/2 Wood St., Auburn, 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!

--_The Editor._


[Illustration: Advertisement.]

       *       *       *       *       *





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Astounding Stories, February, 1931" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home