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´╗┐Title: The Emancipatrix
Author: Flint, Homer Eon
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 "The Emancipatrix" ***

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THE EMANCIPATRIX

by
HOMER EON FLINT

New York


[Illustrated title: 'The Emancipatrix' in script, over a
background of a bee silhouetted against a full moon on the
horizon.]



I

THE MENTAL EXPEDITION


The doctor closed the door behind him, crossed to the table, silently
offered the geologist a cigar, and waited until smoke was issuing from
it. Then he said:

"Well," bluntly, "what's come between you and your wife, Van?"

The geologist showed no surprise. Instead, he frowned severely at the
end of his cigar, and carefully seated himself on the corner of the
table. When he spoke there was a certain rigor in his voice, which told
the doctor that his friend was holding himself tightly in rein.

"It really began when the four of us got together to investigate
Capellette, two months ago." Van Emmon was a thorough man in important
matters. "Maybe I ought to say that both Billie and I were as much
interested as either you or Smith; she often says that even the tour of
Mercury and Venus was less wonderful.

"What is more, we are both just as eager to continue the investigations.
We still have all kinds of faith in the Venusian formula; we want to
'visit' as many more worlds as the science of telepathy will permit. It
isn't that either of us has lost interest."

The doctor rather liked the geologist's scientific way of stating the
case, even though it meant hearing things he already knew. Kinney
watched and waited and listened intently.

"You remember, of course, what sort of a man I got in touch with. Powart
was easily the greatest Capellan of them all; a magnificent intellect,
which I still think was intended to have ruled the rest. I haven't
backed down from my original position."

"Van! You still believe," incredulously, "in a government of the sort he
contemplated?"

Van Emmon nodded aggressively. "All that we learned merely strengthens
my conviction. Remember what sort of people the working classes of
Capellette were? Smith's 'agent' was typical--a helpless nincompoop, not
fit to govern himself!" The geologist strove to keep his patience.

"However," remarked Kinney, "the chap whose mind I used was no fool."

"Nor was Billie's agent, the woman surgeon," agreed Van Emmon, "even if
she did prefer 'the Devolutionist' to Powart. But you'll have to admit,
doc, that the vast majority of the Capellans were incompetents; the rest
were exceptions."

The doctor spoke after a brief pause. "And--that's what is wrong, Van?"

"Yes," grimly. "Billie can't help but rejoice that things turned out the
way they did. She is sure that the workers, now that they've been
separated from the ruling class, will proceed to make a perfect paradise
out of their land." He could not repress a certain amount of sarcasm.
"As well expect a bunch of monkeys to build a steam engine!

"Well," after a little hesitation, "as I said before, doc, I've no
reason to change my mind. You may talk all you like about it--I can't
agree to such ideas. The only way to get results on that planet is for
the upper classes to continue to govern."

"And this is what you two have--quarreled about?"

Van Emmon nodded sorrowfully. He lit another cigar absent-mindedly and
cleared his throat twice before going on: "My fault, I guess. I've been
so darned positive about everything I've said, I've probably caused
Billie to sympathize with her friends more solidly than she would
otherwise."

"But just because you've championed the autocrats so heartily--"

"I'm afraid so!" The geologist was plainly relieved to have stated the
case in full. He leaned forward in his eagerness to be understood. He
told the doctor things that were altogether too personal to be included
in this account.

Meanwhile, out in the doctor's study, Smith had made no move whatever to
interrogate the geologist's young wife. Instead, the engineer simply
remained standing after Billie had sat down, and gave her only an
occasional hurried glance. Shortly the silence got on her nerves; and--
such was her nature, as contrasted with Van Emmon's--whereas he had
stated causes first, she went straight to effects.

"Well," explosively, "Van and I have split!"

Smith was seldom surprised at anything. This time was no exception. He
merely murmured "Sorry" under his breath; and Billie rushed on, her
pent-up feelings eager to escape.

"We haven't mentioned Capellette for weeks, Smith! We don't dare! If we
did, there'd be such a rumpus that we--we'd separate!" Something came up
into her throat which had to be choked back before she could go on.
Then--

"I don't know why it is, but every time the subject is brought up Van
makes me so WILD!" She controlled herself with a tremendous effort. "He
blames me, of course, because of what I did to help the Devolutionist.
But I can't be blamed for sympathizing with the under dog, can I? I've
always preferred justice to policy, any time. Justice first, I say! And
I think we've seen--there on Capellette--how utterly impossible it is
for any such system as theirs to last indefinitely."

But before she could follow up her point the door opened and the doctor
returned with her husband. Kinney did not allow any tension to develop;
instead, he said briskly:

"There's only a couple of hours remaining between now and dinner time; I
move we get busy." He glanced about the room, to see if all was in
place. The four chairs, each with its legs tipped with glass; the four
footstools, similarly insulated from the floor; the electrical circuit
running from the odd group of machinery in the corner, and connecting
four pair of brass bracelets--all were ready for use. He motioned the
others to the chairs in which they had already accomplished marvels in
the way of mental traveling.

"Now," he remarked, as he began to fit the bracelets to his wrists, an
example which the rest straightway followed; "now, we want to make sure
that we all have the same purpose in mind. Last time, we were simply
looking for four people, such as had view-points similar to our own. To-
day, our object is to locate, somewhere among the planets attached to
one of the innumerable sun-stars of the universe, one on which the
conditions are decidedly different from anything we have known before."

Billie and Van Emmon, their affair temporarily forgotten, listened
eagerly.

"As I recall it," Smith calmly observed, "we agreed that this attempt
would be to locate a new kind of--well, near-human. Isn't that right?"

The doctor nodded. "Nothing more or less"--speaking very distinctly--
"than a creature as superior as we are, but NOT IN HUMAN FORM."

Smith tried hard not to share the thrill. He had been reading biology
the previous week. "I may as well protest, first as last, that I don't
see how human intelligence can ever be developed outside the human form.
Not--possibly!"

Van Emmon also was skeptical, but his wife declared the idea merely
unusual, not impossible. "Is there any particular reason against it?"
she demanded of the doctor.

"I will say this much," cautiously. "Given certain conditions, and
inevitably the human form will most certainly become the supreme
creature, superior to all the others.

"However, suppose the planetary conditions are entirely different. I
conceive it entirely possible for one of the other animals to forge
ahead of the man-ape; quite possible, Smith," as the engineer started to
object, "if only the conditions are different ENOUGH.

"At any rate, we shall soon find out. I have been reading further in the
library the Venusians gave us, and I assure you that I've found some
astonishing things." He fingered one of the diminutive volumes. "There
is one planet in particular whose name I have forgotten, where all
animal life has disappeared entirely. There are none but vegetable forms
on the land, and all of them are the rankest sort of weeds. They have
literally choked off everything else!

"And the highest form of life there is a weed; a hideous monstrosity,
shaped something like an octopus, and capable of the most horrible--" He
stopped abruptly, remembering that one of his hearers was a woman.
"Never mind about that now."

He indicated another of the little books. "I think we will do well to
investigate a planet which the Venusians call 'Sanus.' It belongs to the
tremendous planetary family of the giant star Arcturus. I haven't read
any details at all; I didn't want to know more than you. We can proceed
with our discoveries on an equal footing."

"But," objected Smith, recalling the previous methods, "how are we to
put our minds in touch with any of theirs, unless we know enough about
them to imagine their view-points?"

"Our knowledge of their planet's name and location," replied the doctor,
"makes it easier for us. All we have to do is to go into the telepathic
state, via the Venusian formula; then, at the same time, each must
concentrate upon some definite mental quality, some particular
characteristic of his own mind, which he or she wishes to find on Sanus.
It makes no difference what it may be; all you have to do is, exert your
imaginations a little."

There was a pause, broken by Smith: "We ought to tell each other what we
have in mind, so that we don't conflict."

"Yes. For my part," said the doctor, "I'd like to get in touch with a
being who is mildly rebellious; not a violent radical, but a
philosophical revolutionist. I don't care what sort of a creature he,
she, or it may be, so long as the mind is in revolt against whatever
injustice may exist."

"Then I," stated Smith, "will stick to the idea of service. Nobody was
surprised that the engineer should make such a choice; he was, first,
last, and all the time, essentially a useful man."

Van Emmon was not ready with his choice. Instead: "You say, doc, that
you know nothing further about Sanus than what you've already told us?"

"I was about to mention that. The Venusians say that conditions are
reversed from what we found on Capellette. Instead of Sanus being ruled
by a small body of autocrats, it is--ruled by the working class!"

"Under the circumstances," said Van, "I'll take something different from
what I got last time. No imperiousness this trip." He smiled grimly.
"There was a time when I used to take orders. Suppose you call my choice
'subordinacy.'"

"How very noble of you!" gibed Billie. "My idea is supremacy, and plenty
of it! I want to get in touch with the man higher up--the worker who is
boss of the whole works!" She flashed a single glance at her husband,
then threw herself back in her chair. "Go ahead!"

And before two minutes were up, the power of concerted thought, aided by
a common objective and the special electrical circuit which joined them,
had projected the minds of the four across the infinite depths of space.
The vast distance which separated their bodies from Sanus was
annihilated, literally as quick as thought.

Neither of the four stirred. To all appearances they were fast asleep.
The room was quite still; only the clock ticked dully on the wall. Down-
stairs, the doctor's wife kept watch over the house.

The greatest marvel in creation, the human mind, was exploring the
unknown.



II

ALMOST HUMAN


Of course, the four still had the ability to communicate with each other
while in the trance state; they had developed this power to a fair
degree while investigating Capellette. However, each was so deeply
interested in what he or she was seeing during the first hour of their
Sanusian experiences that neither thought to discuss the matter until
afterward.

When the doctor first made connection with the eyes of his agent, he
instinctively concluded that he, at least, had got in touch with a being
more or less like himself. The whole thing was so natural; he was
surveying a sunny, brush-covered landscape from eyes whose height from
the ground, and other details, were decidedly those of a human.

For a moment there was comparative silence. Then his unknown agent
swiftly raised something--a hand, presumably--to a mouth, and gave out a
piercing cry. Whereupon the doctor learned something that jarred him a
trifle. His agent was--a woman!

He had time to congratulate himself upon the fact that he was (1) a
doctor, (2) a married man, (3) the father of a daughter or two, before
his agent repeated her cry. Almost immediately it was answered by
another exactly like it, from an unseen point not far away. The Sanusian
plainly chuckled to herself with satisfaction.

A moment later there came, rather faintly, two more calls, each from a
different direction in the dun-colored brush. Still without moving from
the spot, the doctor's agent replied two or three times, meanwhile
watching her surroundings very closely. Within half a minute the first
of her friends came in sight.

It was a young woman. At a distance of about twenty yards she appeared
to be about five feet tall and sturdily built. She was dressed in a
single garment, made of the skin of some yellow, short-haired animal. It
may have been a lion cub. Around her waist was a strip of hide, which
served as a belt, and held a small, stone-headed tomahawk. One shoulder
and both legs were left quite bare, revealing a complexion so deeply
tanned that the doctor instantly thought: "Spanish!"

In a way, the girl's face gave the same impression. Large, dark-brown
eyes, full lips and a healthy glow beneath her tan, all made it possible
for her to pass as a Spaniard. However, there was nothing in the least
coquettish about her; she had a remarkably independent manner, and a
gaze as frank and direct as it was pure and untroubled.

In one hand she carried a branch from some large-leafed shrub. The eyes
which Kinney was using became fixed upon this branch; and even as the
newcomer cried out in joyous response to the other's greeting, her
expression changed and she turned and fled, laughing, as the doctor's
agent darted toward her. She did not get away, and immediately the two
were struggling over the possession of the branch.

In the midst of the tussle another figure made its appearance.

"Look out! Here comes Dulnop" [Footnote: It made no difference whatever
as to what language was used. The telepathic process employed enabled
the investigators to know all that their agents' subconscious minds took
in. The brains of the four automatically translated these thought-images
into their own language. However, this method did not enable them to
learn what their agents were thinking, but only what they said, heard,
and saw.] cried Kinney's agent; at the same time she made a special
effort, and succeeded in breaking off a good half of the branch.

Instantly she darted to one side, where she calmly began to pluck some
small, hard-shelled nuts from the branch, and proceeded to crack them,
with entire ease, using a set of teeth which must have been absolutely
perfect.

She gave the latest comer only a glance or two. He--for it certainly was
a man--was nearly a half a foot taller than the girl already described;
but he was plainly not much older or younger, and in build and color
much the same. He was clothed neither more nor less than she, the only
difference being that some leopard-like animal had contributed the
material. In his belt was tucked a primitive stone hammer, also a stone
knife. His face was longer than hers, his eyes darker; but he was
manifestly still very boyish. Dulnop, they had called him.

"Hail, Cunora!" he called to the girl who had brought the nuts; then, to
her who was watching: "Rolla! Where got ye the nuts?"

Rolla didn't answer; she couldn't use her mouth just then; it was too
full of nuts. She merely nodded in the direction of Cunora.

"Give me some, Cunora!"

The younger girl gave no reply, but backed away from him as he
approached; her eyes sparkled mischievously and the doctor thought,
somewhat affectionately. Dulnop made a sudden darting move toward her
branch, and she as swiftly whirled in her tracks, so that he missed.
However, he instantly changed his mind and grasped the girl instead.
Like a flash he drew her to him and kissed her noisily.

Next second he was staggering backward under the weight of her hard
brown fist. "Do that again, and I'll have the hair out of thy head!" the
girl screamed, her face flaming. Yet Kinney saw that the man was
laughing joyously even as he rubbed the spot where her blow had landed,
while the expression of her eyes quite belied what she had said.

Not until then did the doctor's agent say anything. When she spoke it
was in a deep, contralto voice which gave the impression of riper years
than either of the other two. Afterward Kinney learned that Rolla was
nearly ten years their senior, a somewhat more lithe specimen of the
same type, clad in the skin of what was once a magnificent goat. She
carried only a single small knife in her belt. As seen reflected in
pools of water, her complexion was slightly paler and her whole
expression a little less self-assertive and distinctively philosophical.
To those who admire serious, thoughtful women of regular feature and
different manner, Rolla would have seemed downright beautiful.

"Dulnop," said she, with a laugh in her voice, "ye will do well to seek
the nut tree, first as last." She nonchalantly crushed another shell in
her mouth. "Neither Cunora nor I can spare good food to a kiss-hungry
lout like thee!"

He only laughed again and made as though to come toward her. She stood
ready to dodge, chuckling excitedly, and he evidently gave it up as a
bad job. "Tell me whence cameth the nuts, Cunora!" he begged; but the
girl pretended to be cross, and shut her mouth as firmly as its contents
would allow.

Next moment there was a shout from the thicket, together with a crashing
sound; and shortly the fourth Sanusian appeared. He was by far the
larger; but his size was a matter of width rather than of height. An
artist would have picked him as a model for Ajax himself. His muscles
fairly strained the huge lion's skin in which he was clad, and he had
twice the weight of Dulnop within the same height. Also, to the doctor's
eye, he was nearer Rolla's age.

His face was strong and handsome in a somewhat fierce, relentless way;
his complexion darker than the rest. He carried a huge club, such as
must have weighed all of forty pounds, while his belt was jammed full of
stone weapons. The doctor classed him and the younger girl together
because of their vigor and independence, while Dulnop and Rolla seemed
to have dispositions very similar in their comparative gentleness and
restraint.

"Hail, all of ye!" shouted this latest arrival in a booming baritone. He
strode forward with scarcely a glance at the two younger people; his
gaze was fixed upon Rolla, his expression unmistakable. The woman
quietly turned upon Dulnop and Cunora.

"Look!" she exclaimed, pointing to a spot back of them. "See the curious
bird!" They wheeled instantly, with the unquestioning faith of two
children; and before they had brought their gazes back again, the big
man had seized Rolla, crushed her to his breast and kissed her
passionately. She responded just as warmly, pushing him away only in
order to avoid being seen by the others. They showed only an innocent
disappointment at having missed seeing the "curious bird."

"A simple-minded people, basically good-humored," was the way the doctor
summed the matter up when reporting what he had seen. However, it was
not so easy to analyze certain things that were said during the time the
four Sanusians spent in each other's company. For one thing--

"Did They give thee permission to go?" Rolla was asked by the big man.
His name, it seemed, was Corrus.

"Yes, Corrus. They seemed to think it a good idea for us to take a
little recreation to-day. I suppose ye left thy herd with thy brother?"

He nodded; and the doctor was left to wonder whom "They" might be. Were
They a small group of humans, whose function was to superintend? Or were
They, as the books from Venus seemed to indicate, another type of
creature, entirely different from the humans, and yet, because of the
peculiar Sanusian conditions, superior to the humans?

"They have decided to move their city a little farther away from the
forest," Rolla overheard Dulnop telling Cunora; which was the first
indication that the planet boasted such a thing as a city. Otherwise,
things appeared to be in a primitive, rather than a civilized condition.

These four skin-clad savages seemed to be enjoying an aboriginal picnic.
For lunch, they munched on various fruits and nuts picked up en route,
together with handfuls of some wheat-like cereal which the big man had
brought in a goatskin. From time to time they scared out various animals
from the brush, chasing the creatures after the fashion of dogs and
children. Whenever they came to a stream, invariably all four splashed
through it, shouting and laughing with delight.

However, there were but two of these streams, and both of them quite
small. Their banks indicated that either the season was very far
advanced, or else that the streams were at one time vastly larger.

"A rather significant fact," the doctor afterward commented.

Nevertheless, the most impressive thing about all that the doctor
learned that day was the strange manner in which the excursion came to
an end. The quartet was at that moment climbing a small hill, apparently
on the edge of an extensive range of mountains. An occasional tree,
something like an oak, broke the monotony of the brush at this point,
and yet it was not until Rolla was quite at the top of the knoll that
Kinney could see surrounding country with any degree of clearness. Even
then he learned little.

The hill was placed on one edge of a valley about forty miles in width.
A good part of it was covered with dusty vegetation, presumably wild;
but the rest was plainly under cultivation. There were large green
areas, such as argued grain fields; elsewhere were what looked like
orchards and vineyards, some of which were in full bloom--refuting the
notion that the season was a late one. Nowhere was there a spot of land
which might be called barren.

Rolla and her three friends stood taking this in, keeping a rather
curious silence meanwhile. At length Cunora gave a deep sigh, which was
almost instantly reproduced by all the rest. Corrus followed his own
sigh with a frank curse.

"By the great god Mownoth!" he swore fiercely. "It be a shame that we
cannot come hence a great deal oftener! Methinks They could allow it!"

"They care not for our longings," spoke Cunora, her eyes flashing as
angrily as his. "They give us enough freedom to make us work the better
--no more! All They care for is thy herd and my crops!"

"And for the labor," reminded the big man, "of such brains as Rolla's
and Dulnop's. It be not right that They should drive us so!"

"Aye," agreed the younger man, with much less enthusiasm. "However, what
can ye do about it, Corrus?"

The big man's face flushed, and he all but snarled. "I tell ye what I
can do! I, and ye as well, if ye but will! I can--"

He stopped, one hand upraised in mighty emphasis, and a sudden and
startling change came over him. Downright fear drove the anger from his
face; his massive body suddenly relaxed, and all his power and vigor
seemed to crumble and wilt. His hands shook; his mouth trembled. At the
same time the two women shrank from him, each giving an inarticulate cry
of alarm and distress. Dulnop gave no sound, but the anger which had
left the herdsman seemed to have come to him; the youngster's eyes
flared and his breast heaved. His gaze was fixed upon Corrus's neck,
where the sweat of fear already glistened.

Suddenly the big man dropped his head, as though in surrender. He gasped
and found voice; this time a voice as shaky and docile as it had been
strong and dominant a moment before.

"Very well," he spoke abjectly. "Very well. I--shall do as you wish." He
seemed to be talking to thin air. "We--will go home at once."

And instantly all four turned about, and in perfect silence took the
back trail.



III

WORLD OF MAMMOTHS


Immediately upon going into tele-consciousness Smith became aware of a
decided change in his surroundings. The interior of the study had been
darkened with drawn shades; now he was using eyes that were exposed to
the most intense sunlight. The first sight that he got, in fact, was
directed toward the sky; and he noted with an engineer's keen interest
that the color of the sky was blue, slightly tinged with orange. This,
he knew, meant that the atmosphere of Sanus contained at least one
chemical element which is lacking on the earth.

For a minute or two the sky remained entirely clear. There were no
clouds whatever; neither did any form of winged life make its
appearance. So Smith took note of sounds.

Presumably his agent--whoever or whatever it might be--was located in
some sort of aircraft; for an extremely loud and steady buzzing,
suggesting a powerful engine, filled the engineer's borrowed ears. Try
as he might, however, he could not identify the sound exactly. It was
more like an engine than anything else, except that the separate sounds
which comprised the buzz occurred infinitely close together. Smith
concluded that the machine was some highly developed rotary affair,
working at perhaps six or eight thousand revolutions a minute--three or
four times as fast as an ordinary engine.

Meanwhile his agent continued to stare into the sky. Shortly something
arrived in the field of vision; a blurred speck, far to one side. It
approached leisurely, with the unknown agent watching steadfastly. It
still remained blurred, however; for a long time the engineer knew as
little about its actual form as he knew about his mysterious agent.

Then, like a flash, the vision cleared. All the blurring disappeared
instantly, and the form of a buzzard was disclosed. It was almost
directly overhead, about a quarter of a mile distant, and soaring in a
wide spiral. No sound whatever came from it. Smith's agent made no move
of any kind, but continued to watch.

Shortly the buzzard "banked" for a sharper turn; and the engineer saw,
by the perspective of its apparent speed, that the aircraft whose use he
was enjoying was likewise on the move. Apparently it was flying in a
straight line, keeping the sun--an object vastly too brilliant to
examine--on the right.

The buzzard went out of sight. Once more the clear sky was all that
could be seen; that, and the continual roar of the engine, were all that
Smith actually knew. He became impatient for his agent to look
elsewhere; it might be that the craft contained other specimens of the
unknown creatures. But there was no change in the vigilant watch which
was being kept upon the sky.

Suddenly the engineer became exceedingly alert. He had noticed something
new--something so highly different from anything he had expected to
learn that it was some minutes before he could believe it true.

His borrowed eyes had no eyelids! At least, if they did, they were never
used. Not once did they flicker in the slightest; not once did they
blink or wink, much less close themselves for a momentary rest from the
sun's glare. They remained as stonily staring as the eyes of a marble
statue.

Then something startling happened. With the most sickening suddenness
the aircraft came to an abrupt halt. Smith's senses swam with the jolt
of it. All about him was a confused jumble of blurred figures and forms;
it was infinitely worse than his first ride in a hoist. In a moment,
however, he was able to examine things fairly well.

The aircraft had come to a stop in the middle of what looked like a cane
brake. On all sides rose yellowish-green shafts, bearing leaves
characteristic of the maize family. Smith knew little about cane, yet
felt sure that these specimens were a trifle large. "Possibly due to
difference in gravitation," he thought.

However, he could not tell much about the spot on which the machine had
landed. For a moment it was motionless; the engine had been stopped, and
all was silent except for the gentle rustling of the cane in the field.
The unknown operator did not change his position in the slightest. Then
the craft began to move over the surface, in a jerky lurching fashion
which indicated a very rough piece of ground. At the same time a queer,
leathery squeaking came to the engineer's borrowed ears; he concluded
that the machine was being sorely strained by the motion. At the time he
was puzzled to account for the motion itself. Either there was another
occupant of the craft, who had climbed out and was now pushing the thing
along the ground, or else some form of silent mechanism was operating
the wheels upon which, presumably, the craft was mounted. Shortly the
motion stopped altogether.

It was then that Smith noticed something he had so far ignored because
he knew his own dinner hour was approaching. His agent was hungry, like
himself. He noticed it because, just then, he received a very definite
impression of the opposite feeling; the agent was eating lunch of some
sort, and enjoying it. There was no doubt about this. All that Smith
could do was to wish, for the hundredth time, that he could look around
a little and see what was being eaten, and how.

The meal occupied several minutes. Not once did the strange occupant of
that machine relax his stony stare at the sky, and Smith tried to forget
how hungry he was by estimating the extent of his vision. He decided
that the angle subtended about a hundred and sixty degrees, or almost
half a circle; and he further concluded that if his agent possessed a
nose, it was a pretty trifling affair, too small to be noticed. It was
obvious, too, that the fellow's mouth was located much lower in the face
than normal. He ate without showing a single particle of food, and did
it very quietly.

At length hunger was satisfied. There was complete stillness and silence
for a moment, then another short lurching journey through the cane; and
next, with an abruptness that made the engineer's senses swim again, the
fellow once more took to the air. The speed with which he "got away" was
enough to make a motorcyclist, doing his best, seem to stand still.

It took time for Smith to regain his balance. When he did, the same
unbroken expanse of sky once more met his gaze; but it was not long
until, out of the corners of those unblinking eyes, he could make out
bleary forms which shortly resolved themselves into mountain tops. It
was odd, the way things suddenly flashed into full view. One second they
would be blurred and unrecognizable; the next, sharply outlined and
distinct as anything the engineer had ever seen. Yet, there seemed to be
no change in the focus of those eyes. It wasn't as though they were
telescopic, either. Not until long afterward did Smith understand the
meaning of this.

The mountains grew higher and nearer. Before long it seemed as though
the aircraft was entering some sort of a canon. Its sides were only
sparsely covered with vegetation, and all of it was quite brown, as
though the season were autumn. For the most part the surface was of
broken rock and boulders.

Within a space of three or four minutes the engineer counted not less
than ten buzzards. The unknown operator of the machine, however, paid no
attention to them, but continued his extraordinary watch of the heavens.
Smith began to wonder if the chap were not seated in an air-tight,
sound-proof chamber, deep in the hull of some great aerial cruiser, with
his eyes glued fast to a periscope. "Maybe a sky patrol," thought the
man of the earth; "a cop on the lookout for aerial smugglers, like as
not."

And then came another of those terrifying stops. This time, as soon as
he could collect his senses, the engineer saw that the machine had
landed approximately in the middle of the canon, and presumably among
the boulders in its bottom. For all about it were the tops of gigantic
rocks, most of them worn smooth from water action. And, as soon as the
engine stopped, Smith plainly heard the roar of water right at hand. He
could not see it, however. Why in the name of wonder didn't the fellow
look down, for a change?

The craft began to move. This time its motion was smoother arguing an
even surface. However, it had not gone far before, to the engineer's
astonishment, it began to move straight down a slope so steep that no
mechanism with which Smith was familiar could possibly have clung to it.
As this happened, his adopted eyes told him that the craft was located
upon one of those enormous boulders, in the center of a stream of such
absolute immensity that he fairly gasped. The thing was--colossal!

And yet it was true. The unseen machine deliberately moved along until
it was actually clinging, not to the top, but to the side of the rock.
The water appeared to be about five yards beneath, to the right. To the
left was the sky, while the center of that strange vision was now upon a
similar boulder seemingly a quarter of a mile distant, farther out in
the stream. But the fellow at the periscope didn't change position one
whit!

It was so unreal. Smith deliberately ignored everything else and watched
again for indications of eyelids. He saw not one flicker, but noticed a
certain tiny come-and-go, the merest sort of vibration, which indicated
the agent's heart-action. Apparently it beat more than twice as fast as
Smith's.

But it relieved him to know that his agent was at least a genuine living
being. For a moment he had fancied something utterly repellent to him.
Suppose this Sanusian were not any form of natural creature at all, but
some sort of supermachine, capable of functioning like an organism? The
thought made the engineer shudder as no morgue could.

Presently the queer craft approached the water closely enough, and at
such an angle, that Smith looked eagerly for a reflection. However, the
water was exceedingly rough, and only a confused brownish blur could be
made out. Once he caught a queer sound above the noise of the water; a
shrill hiss, with a harsh whine at the end. "Just like some kind of
suction apparatus," as he later described it.

And then, with that peculiar sound fresh in his ears, came the crowning
shock of the whole experience. Floating toward the boulder, but some
distance away, was what looked like a black seed. Next moment the vision
flashed clear, as usual, and the engineer saw that the object was really
a beetle; and in a second it was so near that Smith's own body, back on
the earth, involuntarily shrank back into the recesses of his chair.

For that beetle was an enormity in the most unlimited sense of the word.
It was infinitely larger than any beetle the engineer had ever seen--
infinitely! It was as large as a good-sized horse!

But before Smith could get over his amazement there was a rush and a
swirl in the water behind the insect. Spray was dashed over the rock, a
huge form showed itself indistinctly beneath the waves, and next instant
the borrowed eyes were showing the engineer, so clearly as to be
undeniable, the most astounding sight he had ever seen.

A fish of mountainous size leaped from the water, snapped the beetle
into its mouth, and disappeared from sight. In a flash it had come and
gone, leaving the engineer fairly gasping and likewise wondering how he
could possibly expect anybody to believe him if he told the bald truth
of what he had seen.

For he simply could not have invented anything half as incredible. The
fish simply could not be described with ordinary language. IT WAS AS
LARGE AS THE LARGEST LOCOMOTIVE.



IV

THE GOLD-MINER


As for Van Emmon, his experience will have to be classed with Smith's.
That is to say, he soon came to feel that his agent was not what is
commonly called human. It was all too different. However, he found
himself enjoying a field of view which was a decided improvement upon
Smith's. Instead of a range which began and ended just above the
horizon, his agent possessed the power of looking almost straight ahead.

This told the geologist that his unsuspecting Sanusian was located in an
aircraft much like the other. The same tremendous noise of the engine,
the same inexplicable wing action, together with the same total lack of
the usual indications of human occupancy, all argued that the two men
had hit upon the same type of agent. In Van Emmon's case, however, he
could occasionally glimpse two loose parts of the machine, flapping and
swaying oddly from time to time within the range of the observer, and at
the front. Nothing was done about it. Van Emmon came to the same
conclusion as Smith; the operator was looking into something like a
periscope. Perhaps he himself did not do the driving.

From what the geologist could see of the country below, it was quite
certainly cultivated. In no other way could the even rows and uniform
growth be explained; even though Van Emmon could not say whether the
vegetation were tree, shrub, or plant, it was certainly the work of man
--or something mightily like man.

Shortly he experienced an abrupt downward dive, such as upset his senses
somewhat. When he recovered, he had time for only the swiftest glance at
what, he thought rather vaguely, was a great green-clad mountain. Then
his agent brought the craft to one of those nerve-racking stops; once
more came a swimming of the brain, and then the geologist saw something
that challenged his understanding.

The craft had landed on the rim of a deep pit, or what would have been
called a pit if it had not been so extraordinary. Mainly the strangeness
was a matter of color; the slope was of a brilliant orange, and
seemingly covered with frost, for it sparkled so brightly in the sun as
to actually hurt the eyes. In fact, the geologist's first thought was "A
glacier," although he could not conceive of ice or snow of that tint.

Running down the sides of the pit were a number of dark-brown streaks,
about a yard wide; Van Emmon could make them out, more or less clearly,
on the other side of the pit as well. From the irregular way in which
the walls were formed, he quickly decided that the pit was a natural
one. The streaks, he thought, might have been due to lava flow.

His agent proceeded to drive straight over the rim and down the slope
into the pit. His engine was quite stopped; like Smith, the geologist
wondered just how the craft's wheels were operated. Next he was holding
his breath as the machine reached so steep a point in the slope that,
most surely, no brakes could hold it. Simultaneously he heard the hiss
and whine which seemed to indicate the suction device.

"It was a whole lot like going down into a placer mine," the geologist
afterward said; and in view of what next met his eyes, he was justified
in his guess.

Down crept the machine until it was "standing on its nose." The sun was
shining almost straight down into the slope, and Van Emmon forgot his
uneasiness about the craft in his interest in what he saw.

The bottom of the pit was perhaps twenty feet in diameter, and roughly
hemispherical. Standing up from its bottom were half a dozen slim
formations, like idealized stalagmites; they were made of some
semitransparent rock, apparently, the tint being a reddish yellow.
Finally, perched on the top of each of these was a stone; and
surrounding these six "landmarks," as Van Emmon called them, was the
most prodigious display of wealth imaginable.

For the whole queer place was simply sprinkled with gold. Gold--gold
everywhere; large nuggets of it, as big as one's fist! Not embedded in
rock, not scattered through sand, but lying LOOSE upon the surface of
that unbelievable orange snow! It was overwhelming.

The mysterious Sanusian lost no time. Operating some unseen machinery,
he caused three shovel-like devices to project from the front of his
machine; and these instantly proceeded, so swiftly that Van Emmon could
not possibly watch their action, to pick up nuggets and stow them away
out of sight in what must have been compartments in the hull. All this
was done without any sound beyond the occasional thud of a nugget
dropped in the scramble.

Suddenly the Sanusian wheeled his machine about and started hurriedly up
the slope. Van Emmon judged that the chap had been frightened by
something, for he took flight as soon as he reached the top of the pit.
And--he left half a million in gold behind him!

This new flight had not lasted two minutes before the geologist began to
note other objects in the air. There were birds, so distant that he
could not identify them; one came near enough, however, for him to
conclude that it was a hawk. But he did not hold to this conclusion very
long.

The thing that changed his mind was another aircraft. It approached from
behind, making even more noise than the other, and proceeded to draw
abreast of it. From time to time Van Emmon's agent turned his mysterious
periscope so as to take it all in, and the geologist was able to watch
his fill. Whereupon he became converted to a new idea:

The birds that Smith and he had seen had not been birds at all, but
aircraft built in imitation of them.

For this new arrival had been made in almost perfect imitation of a bee!
It was very close to an exact reproduction. For one exception, it did
not have the hairy appearance so characteristic of bees; the body and
"legs" were smooth, and shiny. (Later, Van Emmon saw machines which went
so far as even to imitate the hairs.) Also, instead of trying to
duplicate the two compound eyes which are found, one on each side of a
bee's head, a perfectly round representation of a single eye was built,
like a conning tower, toward the front of the bow. Presumably, the
observer sat or stood within this "head."

But otherwise it was wonderfully like a drone bee. Van Emmon was
strongly reminded of what he had once viewed under a powerful lens. The
fragile semitransparent wings, the misshapen legs, and even the jointed
body with its scale-like segments, all were carefully duplicated on a
large scale. Imagine a bee thirty feet long!

At first the geologist was puzzled to find that it carried a pair of
many-jointed antennae. He could not see how any intelligent being would
make use of them; they were continually waving about, much as bees wave
theirs. Evidently these were the loose objects he had already noted.
"Now," he wondered, "why in thunder did the builders go to so much
trouble for the sake of mere realism?"

Then he saw that the antennae served a very real purpose. There was no
doubt about it; they were wireless antennae!

For presently the newcomer, who so far had not shown himself at any
point on his machine, sent out a message which was read as quickly as it
was received by Van Emmon's agent, and as unconsciously translated:

"Number Eight Hundred Four, you are wanted on Plot Seventeen."

Whereupon Van Emmon's unknown assistant replied at once:

"Very well, Superior."

It was done by means of an extremely faint humming device, reminding the
geologist of certain wireless apparata he had heard. Not a word was
actually spoken by either Sanusian.

Van Emmon kept a close watch upon the conning tower on the other
machine. The sun was shining upon it in such a fashion that its gleam
made inspection very difficult. Once he fancied that he could make out a
short, compact figure within the "eye"; but he could not be sure. The
glass, or whatever it was, reflected everything within range.

Was the airman a quadruped? Did he sit or stand upright, like a man? Or
did he use all four limbs, animal-fashion? Van Emmon had to admit that
he could not tell; no wonder he didn't guess the truth.

Shortly after receiving the summons, the geologist's agent changed his
direction slightly; and within ten minutes the machine was passing over
a large grain field. On the far edge was a row of trees, and it was
toward this that the Sanusian proceeded to volplane, presently coming to
another nausea-producing stop. Once more Van Emmon was temporarily
helpless.

When he could look again, he saw that the machine had landed upon a
steep slope, this time with its nose pointing upward. Far above was what
looked like a cave, with a growth of some queer, black grass on its
upper rim. The craft commenced to move upward, over a smooth, dark tan
surface.

In half a minute the machine had reached the top of the slope, and the
geologist looked eagerly for what might lie within the cave. He was
disappointed; it was not a cave at all. Instead, another brown slope, or
rather a bulging precipice, occupied this depression.

Van Emmon looked closer. At the bottom of this bulge was a queer fringe
of the same kind of grass that showed on top of it. Van Emmon looked
from one to the other, and all of a sudden the thing dawned upon him.

This stupendous affair was no mountainside; it was neither more nor less
than the head of a colossal statue! A mammoth edition of the Goddess of
Liberty; and the aircraft had presumed to alight upon its cheek!

The machine clung there, motionless, for some time, quite as though the
airman knew that Van Emmon would like to look a long while. He gazed
from side to side as far as he could see, making out a small section of
the nose, also the huge curves of a dust-covered ear. It was wonderfully
life-like.

Next second came the earthquake. The whole statue rocked and swayed; Van
Emmon looked to see the machine thrown off. From the base of the
monument came a single terrific sound, a veritable roar, as though the
thing was being wrenched from the heart of the earth. From somewhere on
top came a spurt of water that splashed just beside the craft.

Then came the most terrible thing. Without the slightest warning the
statue's great eye opened! Opened wide, revealing a prodigious pupil
which simply blazed with wrath!

The statue was alive!

Next second the Sanusian shot into the air. A moment and Van Emmon was
able to look again, and as it happened, the craft was now circling the
amazing thing it had just quit, so that the geologist could truthfully
say that he was dead sure of what he saw.

He was justified in wanting to be absolutely sure. Resting on the solid
earth was a human head, about fifty yards wide and proportionately as
tall. It was alive; but IT WAS ONLY THE HEAD, NOTHING MORE.



V

THE SUPER-RACE


It will be remembered that Billie wanted to get in touch with a creature
having the characteristic which she had said she admired: supremacy--"A
worker who is the boss!" Bearing this in mind, her experience will
explain itself, dumfounding though it was.

Her first sight of the Sanusian world was from the front of a large
building. The former architect was not able to inspect it minutely; but
she afterwards said that it impressed her as being entirely plain, and
almost a perfect cube. Its walls were white and quite without ornament;
there was only one entrance, an extremely low and broad, flat archway,
extending across one whole side. The structure was about a hundred yards
each way. In front was a terrace, seemingly paved with enormous slabs of
stone; it covered a good many acres.

Presumably Billie's agent had just brought her machine from the
building, for, within a few seconds, she took flight in the same abrupt
fashion which had so badly upset Smith and Van Emmon. When Billie was
able to look closely, she found herself gazing down upon a Sanusian
city.

It was a tremendous affair. As the flying-machine mounted higher, Billie
continually revised her guesses; finally she concluded that London
itself was not as large. Nevertheless her astonishment was mainly
directed at the character, not the number of the buildings.

They were all alike! Every one was a duplicate of that she had first
seen: cube-shaped, plain finished, flat of wall and roof. Even in color
they were alike; in time the four came to call the place the "White
City." However, the buildings were arranged quite without any visible
system. And they were vastly puzzled, later on in their studies, to find
every other Sanusian city precisely the same as this one.

However, there was one thing which distinguished each building from the
rest. It was located on the roof; a large black hieroglyphic, set in a
square black border, which Billie first thought to be all alike. Whether
it meant a name or a number, there was no way to tell.[Footnote: Since
writing the above, further investigations have proved that these
Sanusian house-labels are all numbers.]

Billie turned her attention to her agent. She seemed to belong to the
same type as Smith's and Van Emmon's; otherwise she was certainly much
more active, much more interested in her surroundings, and possessed of
a far more powerful machine. She was continually changing her direction;
and Billie soon congratulated herself upon her luck. Beyond a doubt,
this party was no mere slave to orders; it was she who gave the orders.

Before one minute had passed she was approached by a Sanusian in a big,
clumsy looking machine. Although built on the bee plan, it possessed an
observation tower right on top of its "head." (The four afterward
established that this was the sort of a machine that Smith's agent had
operated.) The occupant approached to within a respectful distance from
Billie's borrowed eyes, and proceeded to hum the following through his
antennae:

"Supreme, I have been ordered to report for Number Four."

"Proceed."

"The case of insubordinancy which occurred in Section Eighty-five has
been disposed of."

"Number Four made an example of her?"

"Yes, Supreme."

"Whereupon the operator flew away, having not only kept his body totally
out of sight all the while, but having failed by the slightest token to
indicate, by his manner of communicating that he had the slightest
particle of personal interest in his report. For that matter, neither
did Supreme."

Scarcely had this colloquy ended than another subordinate approached.
This one used a large and very fine machine. She reported:

"If Supreme will come with me to the spot, it will be easier to decide
upon this case."

Immediately the two set off without another word; and after perhaps four
minutes of the speediest travel Billie had known outside the doctor's
sky-car, they descended to within a somewhat short distance from the
ground. Here they hovered, and Billie saw that they were stopped above
some bills at the foot of a low mountain range.

Next moment she made out the figures of four humans on top of a knoll
just below. A little nearer, and the architect was looking, from the
air, down upon the same scene which the doctor was then witnessing
through the eyes of Rolla, the older of the two Sanusian women. Billie
could make out the powerful physique of Corrus, the slighter figure of
Dulnop, the small but vigorous form of Cunora, and Rolla's slender,
graceful, capable body. But at that moment the other flier began to say
to Supreme:

"The big man is a tender of cattle, Supreme; and he owes his peculiar
aptitude to the fact that his parents, for twenty generations back, were
engaged in similar work. The same may be said for the younger of the two
women; she is small, but we owe much of the excellence of our crops to
her energy and skill.

"As for the other woman," indicating Rolla, "she is a soil-tester, and
very expert. Her studies and experiments have greatly improved our
product. The same may be said in lesser degree of the youth, who is
engaged in similar work."

"Then," coolly commented the Sanusian whose eyes and ears Billie
enjoyed; "then your line of action is clear enough. You will see to it
that the big man marries the sturdy young girl, of course; their
offspring should give us a generation of rare outdoor ability. Similarly
the young man and the older woman, despite their difference in ages,
shall marry for the sake of improving the breed of soil-testers."

"Quite so, Supreme. There is one slight difficulty, however, such as
caused me to summon you."

"Name the difficulty."

The Sanusian hesitated only a trifle with her reply: "It is, Supreme,
that the big man and the older woman have seen fit to fall in love with
one another, while the same is true of the youth and the girl."

"This should not have been allowed!"

"I admit it, Supreme; my force has somehow overlooked their case,
heretofore. What is your will?"

The commandant answered instantly: "Put an immediate end to their
desires!"

"It shall be done!"

At that moment there was a stir on the ground. In fact, this was the
instant when Corrus began his vehement outcry against the tyranny of
"They." The two in the air came closer; whereupon Billie discovered that
Supreme did not understand the language of the humans below. [Footnote:
The humans did not realize this fact, however; they assumed that "They"
always understood.] Yet the herdsman's tones were unmistakably angry.

"You will descend," commented Supreme evenly, "and warn the big man not
to repeat such outbreaks."

Immediately Supreme's lieutenant darted down, and was lost to view. The
commandant glanced interestedly here and there about the landscape,
returning her gaze to Corrus just as the man stopped in mid-speech.
Billie was no less astonished than the doctor to see the herdsman's
expression change as it did; one second it was that of righteous
indignation, the next, of the most abject subservience.

Nevertheless, Billie could see no cause whatever for it; neither did she
hear anything. The other flier remained out of sight. All that the
architect could guess was that the operator had "got the drop" on Corrus
in some manner which was clear only to those involved. Badly puzzled,
Billie watched the four humans hurry away, their manner all but
slinking.

A moment later still another aircraft came up, and its operator
reported. As before, Billie could make out not a single detail of the
occupant herself. She, too, wanted the commandant's personal attention;
and shortly Billie was looking down upon a scene which she had good
reason to remember all the rest of her life.

In the middle of a large field, where some light green plant was just
beginning to sprout, a group of about a dozen humans was at work
cultivating. Billie had time to note that they were doing the work in
the most primitive fashion, employing the rudest of tools, all quite in
keeping with their bare heads and limbs and their skin-clad bodies.
About half were women.

Slightly at one side, however, stood a man who was not so busy. To put
it plainly, he was loafing, with the handle of his improvised mattock
supporting his weight. Clearly the two up in the air were concerned only
with him.

"He has been warned three times, Supreme," said the one who had reported
the case.

"Three? Then make an example of him!"

"It shall be done, Supreme!"

The lieutenant disappeared. Again the commandant glanced at this, that,
and the other thing before concentrating upon what happened below. Then
Billie saw the man straighten up suddenly in his tracks, and with
remarkable speed, considering his former laziness, he whirled about,
dodged, and clapped a hand upon his thigh.

Next second he raised an exultant cry. Billie could not understand what
he said; but she noted that the others in the group echoed the man's
exultation, and started to crowd toward him, shouting and gesticulating
in savage delight. Then something else happened so sudden and so
dreadful that the woman who was watching from the earth was turned
almost sick.

Like a flash Supreme dropped, headlong, toward the group of humans. In
two seconds the distance was covered, and in the last fifth of a second
Billie saw the key to the whole mystery.

In that last instant the man who before had seemed of ordinary size, was
magnified to the dimensions of a colossus. Instead of being under six
feet, he appeared to be near a hundred yards in height; but Billie
scarcely realized this till later, it all happened so quickly. There was
an outcry from the group, and then the commandant's aircraft crashed
into the man's HAND; a hand so huge that the very wrinkles in its skin
were like so many gulleys; even in that final flash Billie saw all this.

Simultaneously with the landing there was a loud pop, while Billie's
senses reeled with the stunning suddenness of the impact. Next second
the machine had darted to a safe distance, and Billie could see the man
gnawing frantically at the back of his hand. Too late; his hand went
stiff, and his arm twitched spasmodically. The fellow made a step or two
forward, then swayed where he stood, his whole body rigid and strained.
An expression of the utmost terror was upon his face; he could not utter
a sound, although his companions shrieked in horror. Another second and
the man fell flat, twitching convulsively; and in a moment or two it was
all over. He was dead!

And then the truth burst upon the watcher. In fact, it seemed to come to
all four at the same time, probably by reason of their mental
connections. Neither of them could claim that he or she had previously
guessed a tenth of its whole, ghastly nature.

The "cane" which Smith had seen had not been cane at all; it had been
grass. The "beetle" in the stream had not been the giant thing he had
visualized it; neither had that fish been the size he had thought.

Van Emmon's "gold mine" had not been a pit in any sense of the word; it
had been the inside of the blossom of a very simple, poppy-like flower.
The "nuggets" had been not mineral, but pollen. As for the incredible
thing which Van Emmon had seen on the ground; that living statue; that
head without a body--the body had been buried out of sight beneath the
soil; and the man had been an ordinary human, being punished in this
manner for misconduct.

Instead of being aircraft built in imitation of insects, the machines
had been constructed by nature herself, and there had been nothing
unusual in their size. No; they were the real thing, differing only
slightly from what might have been found anywhere upon the earth.

In short, it had all been simply a matter of view-point. The supreme
creature of Sanus was, not the human, but the bee. A poisonous bee,
superior to every other form of Sanusian life! What was more--

"The damned things are not only supreme; THE HUMANS ARE THEIR SLAVES!"



VI

IMPOSSIBLE, BUT--


The four looked at each other blankly. Not that either was at a loss for
words; each was ready to burst. But the thing was so utterly beyond
their wildest conceptions, so tremendously different in every way, it
left them all a little unwilling to commit themselves.

"Well," said Smith finally, "as I said in the first place, I can't see
how any other than the human form became supreme. As I understand
biology--"

"What gets me," interrupted Van Emmon; "what gets me is, WHY the humans
have allowed such an infernal thing to happen!"

Billie smiled somewhat sardonically. "I thought," she remarked,
cuttingly, "that you were always in sympathy with the upper dog, Mr. Van
Emmon!"

"I am!" hotly. Then, with the memory of what he had just seen rushing
back upon him: "I mean, I was until I saw--saw that--" He stopped,
flushing deeply; and before he could collect himself Smith had broken in
again:

"I just happened to remember, doc; didn't you say that the Venusians, in
those books of yours, say that Sanus is ruled by the workers?"

"Just what I was wondering about," from Van Emmon. "The humans seem to
do all the work, and the bees the bossing!"

The doctor expected this. "The Venusians had our view-point--the view-
point of people on the earth, when they said that the workers rule. We
consider the bee as a great worker, don't we? 'As busy as a bee' you
know. None of the so-called lower animals show greater industry."

"You don't mean to say," demanded Smith, "that these Sanusian bees owe
their position to the fact that they are, or were, such great workers?"

Before the doctor could reply, Van Emmon broke in. It seemed as though
his mind refused to get past this particular point. "Now, why the
dickens have the humans allowed the bees to dominate them? Why?"

"We'll have to go at this a little more systematically," remarked
Kinney, "if we want to understand the situation.

"In the first place, suppose we note a thing or two about conditions as
we find them here on the earth. We, the humans, are accustomed to rank
ourselves far above the rest. It is taken for granted.

"Now, note this: the human supremacy was not always taken for granted."
He paused to let it sink in. "Not always. There was a time in
prehistoric days when man ranked no higher than others. I feel sure of
this," he insisted, seeing that Smith was opposed to the idea; "and I
think I know just what occurred to make man supreme."

"What?" from Billie.

"Never mind now. I rather imagine we shall learn more on this score as
we go on with our work.

"At any rate, we may be sure of this: whatever it was that caused man to
become supreme on the earth, that condition is lacking on Sanus!"

Van Emmon did not agree to this. "The condition may be there, doc, but
there is some other factor which overbalances it; a factor such as is--
well, more favorable to the bees."

The doctor looked around the circle. "What do you think? 'A factor more
favorable to the bees.' Shall we let it go at that?" There was no
remark, even from Smith; and the doctor went on:

"Coming back to the bees, then, we note that they are remarkable for
several points of great value. First, as we have seen, they are very
industrious by nature. Second, all bees possess wings and on that count
alone they are far superior to humans.

"Third--and to me, the most important--the bees possess a remarkable
combination of community life and specialization. Of course, when you
come to analyze these two points, you see that they really belong to one
another. The bees we know, for instance, are either queens, whose only
function is to fertilize the eggs; or workers, who are unsexed females,
and whose sole occupations are the collecting of honey, the building of
hives, and the care of the young.

"Now," speaking carefully, "apparently these Sanusian bees have
developed something that is not unknown to certain forms of earth's
insect life. I mean, a soldier type. A kind of bee which specializes on
fighting!"

Van Emmon was listening closely, yet he had got another idea: "Perhaps
this soldier type is simply the plain worker bee, all gone to sting! It
may be that these bees have given up labor altogether!"

"Still," muttered Smith, under his breath, "all this doesn't solve the
real problem. Why aren't the HUMANS supreme?" For once he became
emphatic. "That's what gets me! Why aren't the humans the rulers, doc?"

Kinney waited until he felt sure the others were depending upon him.
"Smith, the humans on Sanus are not supreme now because they were NEVER
supreme."

Smith looked blank. "I don't get that."

"Don't you? Look here: you'll admit that success begets success, won't
you?"

"Success begets success? Sure! 'Nothing succeeds like success.'"

"Well, isn't that merely another way of saying that the consciousness of
superiority will lead to further conquests? We humans are thoroughly
conscious of our supremacy; if we weren't we'd never attempt the things
we do!"

Van Emmon saw the point. "In other words, the humans on the earth never
BEGAN to show their superiority until something--something big, happened
to demonstrate their ability!"

"Exactly!" cried Kinney. "Our prehistoric ancestors would never have
handed down such a tremendous ambition to you and me if they, at that
time, had not been able to point to some definite feat and say, 'That
proves I'm a bigger man than a horse,' for example."

"Of course," reflected Billie, aloud; "of course, there were other
factors."

"Yes; but they don't alter the case. Originally the human was only
slightly different from the apes he associated with. There was perhaps
only one slight point of superiority; today there are millions of such
points. Man is infinitely superior, now, and it's all because he was
slightly superior, then."

"Suppose we grant that," remarked the geologist. "What then? Does that
explain why the bees have made good on Sanus?"

"To a large degree. Some time in the past the Sanusian bee discovered
that he possessed a certain power which enabled him to force his will
upon other creatures. This power was his poisonous sting. He found that,
when he got his fellows together and formed a swarm, they could attack
any animal in such large numbers as to make it helpless."

"Any creature?"

"Yes; even reptiles, scales or no scales. They'd attack the eyes."

"But that doesn't explain how the bees ever began to make humans work
for them," objected Van Emmon.

The doctor thought for a few minutes. "Let's see. Suppose we assume that
a certain human once happened to be in the neighborhood of a hive, just
when it was attacked by a drove of ants. Ants are great lovers of honey,
you know. Suppose the man stepped among the ants and was bitten.
Naturally he would trample them to death, and smash with his hands all
that he couldn't trample. Now, what's to prevent the bees from seeing
how easily the man had dealt with the ants? A man would be far more
efficient, destroying ants, than a bee; just as a horse is more
efficient, dragging a load, than a man. And yet we know that the horse
was domesticated, here on the earth, simply because the humans saw his
possibilities; the horse could do a certain thing more efficiently than
a human.

"You notice," the doctor went on, with great care, "that everything I've
assumed is natural enough: the combination of an ant attack and the
man's approach, occurring at the same time. Suppose we add a third
factor: that the bees, even while fighting the ants, also started to
attack the man; but that he chanced to turn his attention to the ants
FIRST. So that the bees let him alone!

"We know what remarkable things bees are, when it comes to telling one
another what they know. Is there any reason why such an experience--all
natural enough--shouldn't demonstrate to them that they, by merely
threatening a man, could compel him to kill ants for them?"

Billie was dubious for a moment; then agreed that the man, also, might
notice that the bees failed to sting him as long as he continued to
destroy their other enemies. If so, it was quite conceivable that, bit
by bit, the bees had found other and more positive ways of securing the
aid of men through threatening to sting. "Even to cultivating flowers
for their benefit," she conceded. "It's quite possible."

Smith had been thinking of something else. "I always understood that a
bee's stinging apparatus is good for only one attack. Doesn't it always
remain behind after stinging?"

"Yes," from the doctor, quietly. "That is true. The sting has tiny barbs
on its tip, and these cause it to remain in the wound. The sting is
actually torn away from the bee when it flies away. It never grows
another. That is why, in fact, the bee never stings except as a last
resort, when it thinks it's a question of self-defense."

"Just what I thought!" chuckled Smith. "A bee is helpless without its
sting! If so, how can you account for anything like a soldier bee?"

The doctor returned his gaze with perfect equanimity. He looked at Van
Emmon and Billie; they, too, seemed to think that the engineer had found
a real flaw in Kinney's reasoning. The doctor dropped his eyes, and
searched his mind thoroughly for the best words. He removed his
bracelets while he was thinking; the others did the same. All four got
to their feet and stretched, silently but thoroughly. Not until they
were ready to quit the study did the doctor make reply.

"Smith, I don't need to remind you that it's the little things that
count. It's too old a saying. In this case it happens to be the greatest
truth we have found today.

"Smith"--speaking with the utmost care--"what we have just said about
the bee's sting is all true; but only with regard to the bees on the
earth. It is only on the earth, so far as we know positively, that the
bee is averse to stinging, for fear of losing his sting.

"There is only one way to account for the soldier bee. Its sting has no
barbs!"

"No barbs?"

"Why no? If the poison is virulent enough, the barbs wouldn't be
necessary, would they? Friends, the Sanusian bee is the supreme creature
on its planet; it is superior to all the other insects, all the birds,
all the animals; and its supremacy is due solely and entirely to the
fact that there are no barbs on its sting!"



VII

THE MISSING FACTOR


By the time the four once more got together in the doctor's study, each
had had a chance to consider the Sanusian situation pretty thoroughly.
All but Billie were convinced that the humans were deserving people,
whose position was all the more regrettable because due, so far as could
be seen, the insignificant little detail of the barbless sting.

Were these people doomed forever to live their lives for the sake of
insects? Were they always to remain, primitive and uncultured, in
ignorance of, the things that civilization is built upon, obeying the
orders of creatures who were content to eat, reproduce, and die? For
that is all that bees know!

Perhaps it was for the best. Possibly Rolla and her friends were better
off as they were. It might have been that a wise Providence, seeing how
woefully the human animal had missed its privileges on other worlds, had
decided to make man secondary on Sanus. Was that the reason for it all?

All but Billie scouted the idea. To them the affair was a ghastly
perversion of what Nature intended. Van Emmon stated the case in a
manner which showed how strongly he felt about it.

"Those folks will never get anywhere if the bees can help it!" he
charged. "We've got to lend a hand, here, and see that they get a
chance!"

Smith said that, so far as he was concerned, the bees might all be
consigned to hell. "I'm not going to have anything to do with the agent
I had, any more!" he declared. "I'm going to get in touch with that
chap, Dulnop. What is he like, doc?"

Kinney told him, and then Van Emmon asked for details of the herdsman,
Corrus. "No more bees in my young life, either. From now on it's up to
us. What do you think?" turning to his wife, and carefully avoiding any
use of her name.

The architect knew well enough that the rest were wondering how she
would decide. She answered with deliberation:

"I'm going to stay in touch with Supreme!"

"You are!" incredulously, from her husband.

"Yes! I've got a darned sight more sympathy for those bees than for the
humans! The 'fraid-cats!" disgustedly.

"But listen," protested Van Emmon. "We can't stand by and let those
cold-blooded prisoners keep human beings, like ourselves, in rank
slavery! Not much!"

Evidently he thought he needed to explain. "A human is a human, no
matter where we find him! Why, how can those poor devils show what
they're good for if we don't give 'em a chance? That's the only way to
develop people--give 'em a chance to show what's in 'em! Let the best
man win!"

Billie only closed her mouth tighter; and Smith decided to say, "Billie,
you don't need to stand by your guns just because the Sanusian working
class happens to be insects. Besides, we're three to one in favor of the
humans!"

"Oh, well," she condescended, "if you put it that way I'll agree not to
interfere. Only, don't expect me to help you any with your schemes; I'll
just keep an eye on Supreme, that's all."

"Then we're agreed." The doctor put on his bracelets. "Suppose we go
into the trance state for about three minutes--long enough to learn
what's going on to-day."

Shortly Billie again using the eyes and ears of the extraordinarily
capable bee who ruled the rest, once more looked down upon Sanus. She
saw the big "city," which she now knew to be a vast collection of hives,
built by the humans at the command of the bees. At the moment the air
was thick with workers, returning with their loads of honey from the
fields which the humans had been compelled to cultivate. What a
diabolical reversal of the accepted order of things!

The architect had time to note something very typical of the case. On
the outskirts of the city two humans were at work, erecting a new hive.
Having put it together, they proceeded to lift the big box and place it
near those already inhabited. They set it down in what looked like a
good location, but almost immediately took it up again and shifted it a
foot to one side. This was not satisfactory, either; they moved it a few
inches in another direction.

All told, it took a full minute to place that simple affair where it was
wanted; and all the while those two humans behaved as though some one
were shouting directions to them--silent directions, as it were. Billie
knew that a half-dozen soldier bees, surrounding their two heads, were
coolly and unfeelingly driving them where they willed. And when, the
work done, they left the spot, two soldiers went along behind them to
see that they did not loiter.

As for the doctor, he came upon Rolla when the woman was deep in an
experiment. She stood in front of a rude trough, one of perhaps twenty
located within a large, high-walled inclosure. In the trough was a
quantity of earth, through the surface of which some tiny green shoots
were beginning to show.

Rolla inspected the shoots, and then, with her stone knife, she made a
final notch in the wood on the edge of the trough. There were twenty-odd
of these notches; whereas, on other troughs which the doctor had a
chance to see, there were over thirty in many cases, and still no
shoots.

The place, then, was an experimental station. This was proven by Rolla's
next move. She went outside the yard and studied five heaps of soil,
each of a different appearance, also three smaller piles of pulverized
mineral-nitrates, for all that the doctor knew. And before Kinney
severed his connection with the Sanusian, she had begun the task of
mixing up a fresh combination of these ingredients in a new trough. In
the midst of this she heard a sound; and turning about, waved a hand
excitedly toward a distant figure on the far side of a near-by field.

Meanwhile Smith had managed to get in touch with Dulnop. He found the
young man engaged in work which did not, at first, become clear to the
engineer. Then he saw that the chap was simply sorting over big piles of
broken rock, selecting certain fragments which he placed in separate
heaps. Not far away two assistants were pounding these fragments to
powder, using rude pestles, in great, nature-made mortars--"pot-holes,"
from some river-bed.

It was this powder, beyond a doubt, that Rolla was using in her work. To
Smith, Dunlop's task seemed like a ridiculously simple occupation for a
nearly grown man, until he reflected that these aborigines were exactly
like toddling children in intellects.

Van Emmon had no trouble in making connections with Corrus. The herdsman
was in charge of a dozen cows, wild looking creatures which would have
been far too much for the man had they been horned, which they were not.
He handled them by sheer force, using the great club he always carried.
Once while Van Emmon was watching, a cow tried to break away from the
group; but Corrus, with an agility amazing in so short and heavy a man,
dashed after the creature and tapped her lightly on the top of her head.
Dazed and contrite, she followed him meekly back into the herd.

The place was on the edge of a meadow, at the beginning of what looked
like a grain field. Stopping here, Corrus threw a hand to his mouth and
gave a ringing shout. Immediately it was answered, faintly, by another
at a distance; and then Van Emmon made out the form of Rolla among some
huts on the other side of the grain. She beckoned toward the herdsman,
and he took a half-dozen steps toward her.

Just as abruptly he stopped, almost in mid-stride. Simultaneously Van
Emmon heard a loud buzzing in either ear. Coitus was being warned. Like
a flash he dropped his head and muttered: "Very well. I will remember--
next time." And trembling violently he turned back to his cows.

"Well," remarked the geologist, when the four "came out" of their
seance, "the bees seem to have everything their own way. How can we help
the humans best? Hurry up with your idea; I'm getting sick of these
damned poisoners."

The doctor asked if the others had any suggestions. Smith offered this:
why couldn't the humans retire to some cave, or build tight-walled huts,
and thus bar out the bees?

No sooner had he made the remark, however, than the engineer declared
his own plan no good. "These people aren't like us; they couldn't stand
such imprisonment long enough to make their 'strike' worth while."

"Is there any reason," suggested Billie, indifferently, "why they
couldn't weave face nets from some kind of grass, and protect themselves
in that way?"

Smith saw the objection to that, too. "They'd have to protect themselves
all over as well; every inch would have to be covered tightly. From what
I've seen of them I'd say that the arrangement would drive them frantic.
It would be worse than putting clothes on a cat."

"It's a man-sized job we've tackled," commented the doctor. "What Smith
says is true; such people would never stand for any measures which would
restrict their physical freedom. They are simply animals with human
possibilities, nothing more."

He paused, and then added quietly, "By the way, did either of you notice
any mountains just now?"

Smith and Van Emmon both said they had. "Why?"

"Of course, it isn't likely, but--did you see anything like a volcano
anywhere?"

"No," both replied.

"Another thing," Kinney went on. "So far, I've seen nothing that would
indicate lightning, much less the thing itself. Did either of you,"
explicitly, "run across such a thing as a blasted tree?"

They said they had not. Billie hesitated a little with her reply, then
stated that she had noted a tree or two in a state of disintegration,
but none that showed the unmistakable scars due to being struck by
lightning.

"Then we've got the key to the mystery!" declared the doctor. "Remember
how brown and barren everything looks, excepting only where there's
artificial vegetation? Well, putting two and two together, I come to the
conclusion that Sanus differs radically from the earth in this respect.

"The humans have arrived rather late in the planet's history. Or--and
this is more likely--Sanus is somewhat smaller than the earth, and
therefore has cooled off sooner. At any rate, the relationship between
the age of the planet and the age of its human occupancy differs from
what it is on the earth."

"I don't quite see," from Smith, "what that's got to do with it."

"No? Well, go back to the first point: the dried-up appearance of
things. That means, their air and water are both less extensive than
with us, and for that reason there are far fewer clouds; therefore, it
is quite possible that there has been no lightning within the memory of
the humans."

"How so?" demanded the geologist.

"Why, simply because lightning depends upon clouds. Lightning is merely
the etheric electricity, drawn to the earth whenever there is enough
water in the air to promote conductivity."

"Yes," agreed Smith; "but--what of it?"

Kinney went on unheeding. "As for volcanoes--probably the same
explanation accounts for the lack of these also. You know how the earth,
even, is rapidly coming to the end of her 'volcanic period.' Time was
when there were volcanoes almost everywhere on the earth.

"The same is likely true of Sanus as well. The point is," and the doctor
paused significantly, "there have been no volcanic eruptions, and no
lightning discharges within the memory of Sanusian man!"

What was he getting at? The others eyed him closely. Neither Van Emmon
nor Smith could guess what he meant; but Billie, her intuition wide
awake, gave a great jump in her chair.

"I know!" she cried. A flood of light came to her face. "The Sanusians--
no wonder they let the bees put it over on them!

"They haven't got FIRE! They've never had it!"



VIII

FIRE!


From the corner of his eyes Kinney saw Van Emmon turn a gaze of frank
admiration at his wife. It lasted only a second, however; the geologist
remembered, and masked the expression before Billie could detect it.

Smith had been electrified by the idea.

"By George!" he exclaimed two or three times. "Why didn't I think of
that? It's simple as A, B, C now!"

"Why," Van Emmon exulted, "all we've got to do is put the idea of fire
into their heads, and the job is done!" He jumped around in his chair.
"Darn those bees, anyhow!"

"And yet," observed the doctor, "it's not quite as simple as we may
think. Of course it's true that once they have fire, the humans ought to
assert themselves. We'll let that stand without argument."

"Will we?" Smith didn't propose to back down that easy. "Do you mean to
say that fire, and nothing more than fire, can bring about human
ascendency?"

The doctor felt sure. "All the other animals are afraid of fire. Such
exceptions as the moth are really not exceptions at all; the moth is
simply driven so mad by the sight of flame that it commits suicide in
it. Horses sometimes do the same.

"Humans are the ONLY creatures that do not fear fire! Even a tiny baby
will show no fear at the sight of it."

"Which ought to prove," Van Emmon cut in to silence Smith, "that
superiority is due to fire, rather than fire due to superiority, for the
simple reason that a newborn child is very low in the scale of
evolution." Smith decided not to say what he intended to say. Van Emmon
concluded:

"We've just got to give 'em fire! What's the first step?"

"I propose," from the doctor, "that when we get in touch this time we
concentrate on the idea of fire. We've got to give them the notion
first."

"Would you rather," inquired Billie, "that I kept the idea from
Supreme?"

"Thanks," returned her husband, icily, "but you might just as well tell
her, too. It'll make her afraid in advance, all the better!"

The engineer threw himself back in his seat. "I'm with you," said he,
laying aside his argument. The rest followed his example, and presently
were looking upon Sanus again.

All told, this particular session covered a good many hours. The four
kept up a more or less connected mental conversation with each other as
they went along, except, of course, when the events became too exciting.
Mainly they were trying to catch their agents in the proper mood for
receiving telepathic communications, and it proved no easy matter. It
required a state of semi-consciousness, a condition of being neither
awake nor asleep. It was necessary to wait until night had fallen on
that particular part of the planet. [Footnote: It should be mentioned
that the parts of Sanus showed the same condition of bee supremacy and
human servitude. The spot in question was quite typical of the
colonies.]

Van Emmon was the first to get results. Corrus had driven his herd back
from the brook at which they had got their evening drink, and after
seeing them all quietly settled for the night, he lay down on the dried
grass slope of a small hill, and stared up at the sky. Van Emmon had
plenty of time to study the stars as seen from Sanus, and certainly the
case demanded plenty of time.

For he saw a broad band of sky, as broad as the widest part of the Milky
Way, which was neither black nor sparkling with stars, but glowing as
brightly as the full moon! From the eastern horizon to the zenith it
stretched, a great "Silvery Way," as Van Emmon labeled it; and as the
darkness deepened and the night lengthened, the illumination crept on
until the band of light stretched all the way across. Van Emmon racked
his brains to account for the thing.

Then Corrus became drowsy. Van Emmon concentrated with all his might. At
first he overdid the thing; Corrus was not quite drowsy enough, and the
attempt only made him wakeful. Shortly, however, he became exceedingly
sleepy, and the geologist's chance came.

At the end of a few minutes the herdsman sat up, blinking. He looked
around at the dark forms of the cattle, then up at the stars; he was
plainly both puzzled and excited. He remained awake for hours, in fact,
thinking over the strange thing he had seen "in a dream."

Meanwhile Smith was having a similar experience with Dulnop. The young
fellow was, like Corrus, alone at the time; and he, too, was made very
excited and restless by what he saw.

Billie was unable to work upon her bee. Supreme retired to a hive just
before dusk, but remained wide awake and more or less active, feeding
voraciously, for hours upon hours. When she finally did nap, she fell
asleep on such short notice that the architect was taken off her guard.
The bee seemed to all but jump into slumberland.

The doctor also had to wait for Rolla. The woman sat for a long time in
the growing dusk, looming out pensively over the valley. Corrus was
somewhere within a mile or two, and so Kinney was not surprised to see
the herdsman's image dancing, tantalizingly, before Rolla's eyes. She
was thinking of him with all her might.

Presently she shivered with the growing coolness, and went into a rough
hut, which she shared with Cunora. The girl was already asleep on a heap
of freshly gathered brush. Rolla, delightfully free of any need to
prepare for her night's rest--such as locking any doors or cleaning her
teeth--made herself comfortable beside her friend. Two or three yawns,
and the doctor's chance came.

Two minutes later Rolla sat bolt upright, at the same time giving out a
sharp cry of amazement and alarm. Instantly Cunora awoke.

"What is it, Rolla?" terror-stricken.

"Hush!" The older woman got up and went to the opening which served as a
door. There she hung a couple of skins, arranging them carefully so that
no bee might enter. Coming back to Cunora, she brought her voice nearly
to a whisper:

"Cunora, I have had a wonderful dream! Ye must believe me when I say
that it were more than a mere dream; 'twere a message from the great
god, Mownoth, or I be mad!"

"Rolla!" The girl was more anxious than frightened now. "Ye speak
wildly! Quiet thyself, and tell what thou didst see!"

"It were not easy to describe," said Rolla, getting herself under
control. "I dreamed that a man, very pale of face and most curiously
clad, did approach me while I was at work. He smiled and spake kindly,
in a language I could not understand; but I know he meant full well.

"This be the curious thing, Cunora: He picked up a handful of leaves
from the ground and laid them on the trough at my side. Then, from some
place in his garments he produced a tiny stick of white wood, with a tip
made of some dark-red material. This he held before mine eyes, in the
dream; and then spake very reassuringly, as though bidding me not to be
afraid.

"Well he might! Cunora, he took that tiny stick in his hand and moved
the tip along the surface of the trough; and, behold, a miracle!"

"What happened?" breathlessly.

"In the twinkling of an eye, the stick blossomed! Blossomed, Cunora,
before mine eyes! And such a blossom no eye ever beheld before. Its
color was the color of the poppy, but its shape--most amazing! Its shape
continually changed, Cunora; it danced about, and rose and fell; it
flowed, even as water floweth in a stream, but always upward!"

"Rolla!" incredulously. "Ye would not awaken me to tell such nonsense!"

"But it were not nonsense!" insisted Rolla. "This blossom was even as I
say: a living thing, as live as a kitten! And as it bloomed, behold, the
stick was consumed! In a moment or two the man dropped what was left of
it; I stooped--so it seemed--to pick it up; but he stopped me, and set
his foot upon the beautiful thing!"

She sighed, and then hurried on. "Saying something further, also
reassuring, this angel brought forth another of the strange sticks; and
when he had made this one bloom, he touched it to the little pile of
leaves. Behold, a greater miracle, Cunora! The blossoms spread to the
leaves, and caused them to bloom, too!"

Cunora was eyeing her companion pretty sharply. "Ye must take me for a
simple one, to believe such imagining."

Rolla became even more earnest. "Yet it were more than imagining,
Cunora; 'twere too vivid and impressive for only that. As for the
leaves, the blossoming swiftly spread until it covered every bit of the
pile; and I tell thee that the bloom flowed as high as thy hand!
Moreover, after a moment or so, the thing faded and died out, just as
flowers do at the end of the season; all that was left of the leaves was
some black fragments, from which arose a bluish dust, like unto the
cloud that ye and I saw in the sky one day.

"Then the stranger smiled again, and said something of which I cannot
tell the meaning. Once more he performed the miracle, and this time he
contrived to spread the blossom from some leaves to the tip of a large
piece of wood which he took from the ground. 'Twas a wonderful sight!

"Nay, hear me further," as Cunora threw herself, with a grunt of
impatience, back on her bed; "there is a greater wonder to tell.

"Holding this big blooming stick in one hand, he gave me his other; and
it seemed as though I floated through the air by his side. Presently we
came to the place where Corrus's herd lay sleeping. The angel smote one
of the cows with the flat of his hand, so that it got upon its feet; and
straightway the stranger thrust the flowing blossom into its face.

"The cow shrank back, Cunora! 'Twas deadly afraid of that beautiful
flower!"

"That is odd," admitted Cunora. She was getting interested.

"Then he took me by the hand again, and we floated once more through the
air. In a short time we arrived at the city of the masters. [Footnote:
Having no microscopes, the Sanusians could not know that the soldier
bees were unsexed females; hence, "masters."] Before I knew it, he had
me standing before the door of one of their palaces. I hung back, afraid
lest we be discovered and punished; but he smiled again and spake so
reassuringly that I fled not, but watched until the end.

"With his finger he tapped lightly on the front of the palace. None of
the masters heard him at first; so he tapped harder. Presently one of
them appeared, and flew at once before our faces. Had it not been for
the stranger's firm grasp I should have fled.

"The master saw that the stranger was the offender, and buzzed angrily.
Another moment, and the master would surely have returned to the palace
to inform the others; and then the stranger would have been punished
with the Head Out punishment. But instead the angel very deliberately
moved the blooming stick near unto the master; and behold, it was
helpless! Down it fell to the ground, dazed; I could have picked it up,
or killed it, without the slightest danger!

"Another master came out, and another, and another; and for each and all
the flowing blossom was too much! None would come near it wittingly; and
such as the angel approached with it were stricken almost to death.

"When they were all made helpless the angel bade me hold my hand near
the bloom; and I was vastly surprised to feel a great warmth. 'Twas like
the heat of a stone which has stood all day in the sun, only much
greater. Once my finger touched the bloom, and it gave me a sharp pain."

Cunora was studying her friend very closely. "Ye could not have devised
this tale, Rolla. 'Tis too unlikely. Is there more of it?"

"A little. The angel once more took me by the hand, and shortly set me
down again in this hut. Then he said something which seemed to mean,
'With this magic bloom thou shalt be freed from the masters. They fear
it; but ye, and all like ye, do not. Be ye ready to find the blossom
when I bid thee.' With that he disappeared, and I awoke.

"Tell me; do I look mad, to thine eyes?" Rolla was beginning to feel a
little anxious herself.

Cunora got up and led Rolla to the entrance. The glow of "the Silvery
Way" was all the help that the girl's catlike eyesight needed; she
seemed reassured.

"Ye look very strange and excited, Rolla, but not mad. Tell me again
what thou didst see and hear, that I may compare it with what ye have
already told."

Rolla began again; and meanwhile, on the earth, the doctor's companions
telepathically congratulated him on his success. He had put the great
idea into a fertile mind.

Presently they began to look for other minds. It seemed wise to get the
notion into as many Sanusian heads as possible. For some hours this
search proceeded; but in the end, after getting in touch with some forty
or fifty individuals in as many different parts of the planet, they
concluded that they had first hit upon the most advanced specimens that
Sanus afforded; the only ones, in fact, whose intellect were strong
enough to appreciate the value of what they were told. The investigators
were obliged to work with Rolla, Dulnop, and Corrus only; upon these
three depended the success of their unprecedented scheme.

Rolla continued to keep watch upon Supreme; and toward morning--that is,
morning in that particular part of Sanus--the architect was rewarded by
catching the bee in a still drowsy condition. Using the same method
Kinney had chosen, Billie succeeded in giving the soldier bee a very
vivid idea of fire. And judging by the very human way in which the half-
asleep insect tossed about, thrashing her wings and legs and making
incoherent sounds, Billie succeeded admirably. The other bees in the
hive came crowding around, and Supreme had some difficulty in
maintaining her dignity and authority. In the end she confided in the
subordinate next in command:

"I have had a terrible dream. One of our slaves, or a woman much like
one, assaulted me with a new and fearful weapon." She described it more
or less as Rolla had told Cunora. "It was a deadly thing; but how I know
this, I cannot say, except that it was exceedingly hot. So long as the
woman held it in her hand, I dared not go near her.

"See to it that the others know; and if such a thing actually comes into
existence, let me know immediately."

"Very well, Supreme." And the soldier straightway took the tale to
another bee. This told, both proceeded to spread the news, bee-fashion;
so that the entire hive knew of the terror within a few minutes. Inside
an hour every hive in the whole "city" had been informed.

"Give them time now," said the doctor, "and they will tell every bee on
the planet. Suppose we want a couple of weeks before doing anything
further? The more afraid the bees are in advance, the easier for Rolla
and her friends."

Meanwhile Corrus, after a sleepless night with his cattle had driven
them hurriedly back to the huts surrounding the "experimental station."
Here the herdsman turned his herd over to another man, and then strode
over among the huts. Outside one of them--probably Rolla's--he paused
and gazed longingly, then gave a deep sigh and went on. Shortly he
reached another hut in which he found Dulnop.

"I was just going to seek ye!" exclaimed the younger man. "I have seen a
wondrous sight, Corrus!"

Thus the two men came to compare notes, finding that each had learned
practically the same thing. Corrus being denied the right to visit any
woman save Cunora, Dulnop hurried to Rolla and told her what he and the
herdsman had learned. The three testimonies made an unshakable case.

"By the great god Mownoth!" swore Corrus in vast delight when Dulnop had
reported. "We have learned a way to make ourselves free! As free as the
squirrels!"

"Aye," agreed the younger. "We know the method. But--how shall we secure
the means?"

Corrus gave an impatient gesture. "'Twill come in time, Dulnop, just as
the dream came! Meanwhile we must tell every one of our kind, so that
all shall be ready when the day comes to strike!

"Then"--his voice lost its savagery, and became soft and tender--"then,
Dulnop, lad, ye shall have thy Cunora; and as for Rolla and I--"

Corrus turned and walked away, that his friend might not see what was in
his eyes.



IX

FOUND!


It was two weeks to a day when the four on the earth, after having seen
very little of each other in the meanwhile, got together for the purpose
of finishing their "revelation" to the Sanusians.

"Mr. Van Emmon and I," stated Billie coolly, as they put on their
bracelets, "have been trying to decide upon the best way of telling them
how to obtain fire."

Neither Smith nor the doctor showed that he noticed her "Mr. Van Emmon."
Evidently the two were still unreconciled.

"I argue," remarked the geologist, "that the simplest method will be a
chemical one. There's lots of ways to produce fire spontaneously, with
chemicals; and this woman Rolla could do it easily."

Billie indulged in a small, superior smile. "He forgets that all these
chemical methods require PURE chemicals. And you don't find them pure in
the natural state. You've got to have fire to reduce them with."

"What's your proposition, then?" from the doctor.

"Optics!" enthusiastically. She produced a large magnifying-glass from
her pocket. "All we have to do is to show Dulnop--he's something of a
mineralogist--how to grind and polish a piece of crystal into this
shape!"

Van Emmon groaned. "Marvelous! Say, if you knew how infernally hard it
is to find even a small piece of crystal, you'd never propose such a
thing! Why, it would take years--Mrs. Van Emmon!"

Smith also shook his head. "Neither of you has the right idea. The
easiest way, under the circumstances, would be an electrical one."

He paused, frowning hard; then vetoed his own plan. "Thunder; I'm always
speaking first and thinking afterward. I never used to do it,"
accusingly, "until I got in with you folks. Anyhow, electricity won't
do; you've got to have practically pure elements for that, too."

"Guess it's up to you, doc," said Billie. And they all looked
respectfully toward their host.

He laughed. "You three will never learn anything. You'll continue to
think that I'm a regular wonder about these things, but you never notice
that I merely stay still and let you commit yourselves first before I
say anything. All I have to do is select the one idea remaining after
you've disproved the rest. Nothing to it!"

He paused. "I'm afraid we're reduced to the spark method. It would take
too long to procure materials pure enough for any other plan. Friction
is out of the question for such people; they haven't the patience.
Suppose we go ahead on the flint-and-spark basis."

They went at once into the familiar trance state. Nightfall was
approaching on the part of Sanus in which they were interested. Smith
and Van Emmon came upon Dulnop and Corrus as they were talking together.
The herdsman was saying:

"Lad, my heart is heavy this night." Much of his usual vigor was absent.
"When I were passing Cunora's field this day, some of the masters came
and drove me over to her side. I tried to get away, and one threatened
to kill. I fear me, lad, they intend to force us to marry!"

"What!" fiercely, from the younger.

Corrus laid a hand upon his arm. "Nay, Dulnop; fear not. I have no
feeling for thy Cunora; I may marry her, but as for fathering her
children--no!"

"Suppose," through set teeth, "suppose They should threaten to kill
thee?"

"I should rather die, Dulnop, than be untrue to Rolla!"

The younger man bounded to his feet. "Spoken like a man! And I tell
thee, neither shall I have aught to do with Rolla! Rather death than
dishonor!"

Next moment silence fell between them; and then Van Emmon and Smith
noted that both men had been bluffing in what they had said. For,
sitting apart in the growing darkness, each was plainly in terror of the
morrow. Presently Corrus spoke in a low tone:

"All the same, Dulnop, it were well for me and thee if the secret of the
flowing blossom were given us this night. I"--he paused, abashed--"I am
not so sure of myself, Dulnop, when I hear Their accursed buzzing. I
fear--I am afraid I might give in!"

At this Dulnop broke down, and fell to sobbing. Nothing could have told
the investigators so well just how childlike the Sanusians really were.
Corrus had all he could do to hold in himself.

"Mownoth!" he exclaimed, his eyes raised fervently. "If it be thy will
to deliver us, give us the secret this night!"

Meanwhile, in Rolla's hut, a similar scene was going on under the
doctor's projected eye. Cunora lost her nerve, and Rolls came near to
doing the same in her efforts to comfort the other.

"They are heartless things!" Rolla exclaimed with such bitterness as her
nature would permit. "They know not what love is: They with their drones
and their egg-babes! What is family life to Them? Nothing!

"Somehow I feel that Their reign is nearly at an end, Cunora. Perhaps
the great secret shall be given us to-night!"

The girl dried her tears. "Why say ye that, Rolla?"

"Because the time be ripe for it. Are not all our kind looking forward
to it? Are we not all expecting and longing for it? Know we not that we
shall, must, have what we all so earnestly desire?" It was striking, to
hear this bit of modern psychology uttered by this primitive woman. "Let
me hear no more of thy weeping! Ye shall not be made to wed Corrus!"

Nevertheless, at the speaking of her lover's name, the older woman's
lips trembled despite themselves; and she said nothing further beyond a
brief "Sleep well." After which the two women turned in, and shortly
reached the drowsy point.

Thus it happened that Rolla, after a minute or two, once more aroused
Cunora in great excitement, and after securely closing the entrance to
the hut against all comers, proceeded to relate what she had seen. She
finished:

"The seed of the flower can be grown in the heart of rotting wood!" And
for hours afterward the two whispered excitedly in the darkness. It was
hard to have to wait till dawn.

As for Corrus and Dulnop, they even went so far as to search the heaps
of stone in the mineral yards, although neither really expected to find
what they sought.

But the four on the earth, not being able to do anything further until
morning, proceeded to make themselves at home in the doctor's house.
Smith and the doctor slept together, likewise Billie and Mrs. Kinney;
Van Emmon occupied the guest-room in lonely grandeur. When he came down
to breakfast he said he had dreamed that he was Corrus, and that he had
burned himself on a blazing cow.

Again in the trance state, the four found that Rolla and Cunora, after
reaching an understanding with Corrus and Dulnop, had already left their
huts in search of the required stone. Five bees accompanied them. Within
a few minutes however, Corrus and Dulnop set out together in the
opposite direction, as agreed upon; and shortly the guards were
withdrawn. This meant that the holiday was officially sanctioned, so
long as the two couples kept apart; but if they were to join forces
afterward, and be caught in the act, they would be severely punished.
Such was bee efficiency--and sentiment.

The doctor had impressed Rolla with the fact that she would find the
desired stone in a mountainous country. Cunora, however, was for
examining every rock she came to; Rolla was continually passing judgment
upon some specimen.

"Nay," said she, for the hundredth time. "'Tis a very bright stone we
seek, very small and very shiny, like sunlight on the water. I shall
know it when I see it, and I shall see it not until we reach the
mountains."

Soon Cunora's impatience wore off, and the two concentrated upon making
time. By midday they were well into the hills, following the course of a
very dry creek; and now they kept a sharp lookout at every step.

Van Emmon and Smith had similarly impressed Corrus and Dulnop with the
result that there was no loss of time in the beginning. The two men
reached the hills on their side of the valley an hour before the women
reached theirs.

And thus the search began, the strangest search, beyond a doubt, within
the history of the universe. It was not like the work of some of earth's
prehistoric men, who already knew fire and were merely looking up fresh
materials; it was a quest in which an idea, an idea given in a vision,
was the sole driving force. The most curious part of the matter was that
these people were mentally incapable of conceiving that there was
intelligence at work upon them from another world, or even that there
was another world.

"Ye saw the stars last night?" Corrus spoke to Dulnop. "Well, 'tis just
such stars as shall awaken the seed of the flower. Ye shall see!"

Both knew exactly what to look for: the brassy, regularly cut crystals
with the black stripings, such as has led countless men to go through
untold hardships in the belief that they had found gold. In fact, iron
pyrites is often called "fool gold," so deceptive is its glitter.

Yet, it was just the thing for the purpose. Flint they already had,
large quantities of it; practically all their tools, such as axes and
knives, were made of it. Struck against iron pyrites, a larger, fatter,
hotter spark could be obtained than with any other natural combination.

It was Dulnop's luck to see the outcropping. He found the mineral
exposed to plain view, a few feet above the bottom of the ravine the two
were ascending. With a shout of triumph he leaped upon the rock.

"Here, Corrus!" he yelled, dancing like mad. "Here is the gift of the
gods!"

The older man didn't attempt to hide his delight. He grabbed his
companion and hugged him until his ribs began to crack. Then, with a
single blow from his huge club, the herdsman knocked the specimen clear
of the slate in which it was set. Such was their excitement, neither
dreamed of marking the place in any way.

First satisfying themselves that the pyrites really could produce
"stars" from the flint, the two hurried down-stream, in search of the
right kind of wood. In half an hour Corrus came across a dead, worm-
eaten tree, from which he nonchalantly broke off a limb as big as his
leg. The interior was filled with a dry, stringy rot, just the right
thing for making a spark "live."

Then came a real difficulty. It will be better appreciated when the
men's childish nature is borne in mind. Their patience was terribly
strained in their attempts to make the sparks fly into the tinder. Again
and again one of them would throw the rocks angrily to the ground,
fairly snarling with exasperation.

However, the other would immediately take them up and try again. Neither
man had a tenth the deftness that is common to adults on the earth. In
size and strength alone they were men; otherwise--it cannot too often be
repeated--they were mere children. All told, it was over two hours
before the punk began to smolder.

"By Mownoth!" swore the herdsman, staring reverently at the smoke. "We
have done a miracle, Dulnop--ye and I! Be ye sure this is no dream?"

Quite in human fashion, Dulnop seriously reached out and pinched the
herdsman's tremendous arm. Corrus winced, but was too well pleased with
the result to take revenge, although the nature of these men was such as
to call for it.

"It be no dream!" he declared, still awestruck.

"Nay," agreed Dulnop. "And now--to make the flower grow!"

It was Corrus's lungs which really did the work. His prodigious chest
was better than a small pair of bellows, and he blew just as he had been
told in the vision. Presently a small flame appeared in the tinder, and
leaped eagerly upward. Both men jumped back, and for lack of enough air
the flame went out.

"Never mind!" exclaimed Dulnop at Corrus's crestfallen look. "I remember
that we must be ready with leaves, and the like, as soon as the blossom
appears. Blow, ye great windmaker, and I shall feed the flower!"

And thus it came about that two men of Sanus, for the first time in the
history of the planet, looked upon fire itself. And when they had got it
to burning well, each of them stared at his hands, and from his hands to
the little heap of "flowers"; from hands to fire they looked, again and
again; and then gazed at one another in awe.



X

AT HALF COCK


Rolla and Cunora searched for hours. They followed one creek almost to
its very beginning, and then crossed a ridge on the left and came down
another stream. Again and again Cunora found bits of mineral such as
would have deceived any one who had been less accurately impressed than
Rolla. As it afterward turned out, the very accuracy of this impression
was a great error, strange though that may seem.

Finally Rolla glanced up at the sun and sighed. "We will have to give it
up for this day," she told Cunora. "There be just time enough to return
before night." Neither said anything about the half-rations upon which
they would be fed in punishment for running away.

So the two started back, making their way in gloomy silence through the
woods and fields of the valley. Cunora was greatly disappointed, and
soon began to show it as any child would, by maintaining a sullenness
which she broke only when some trifling obstacle, such as a branch, got
in her way. Then she would tear the branch from the tree and fling it as
far as she could, meanwhile screaming with anger. Rolla showed more
control.

It was nearing nightfall when they came within sight of the huts. At a
distance of perhaps half a mile they stopped and stared hard at the
scene ahead of them.

"Hear ye anything, Cunora?" asked the older woman.

The girl's keen ears had caught a sound. "Methinks something hath
aroused our people. I wonder--"

"Cunora!" gasped Rolla excitedly. "Think ye that Corrus and Dulnop have
succeeded in growing the flower?"

They ran nearer. In a moment it was clear that something most certainly
was arousing the people. The village was in an uproar.

"Stay!" cautioned Rolla, catching her friend's arm. "Let us use cunning!
Mayhap there be danger!"

They were quite alone in the fields, which were always deserted at that
hour. Crouching behind a row of bushes, they quickly drew near to the
village, all without being seen. Otherwise, this tale would never be
told.

For Corrus and Dulnop, after having satisfied themselves that the
wondrous flowering flower would live as long as they continued to feed
it, had immediately decided to carry it home. To do so they first tried
building the fire on a large piece of bark. Of course it burned through,
and there had been more delay. Finally Corrus located a piece of slate,
so large that a small fire could be kept up without danger of spilling.

The two men had hurried straight for the village. Not once did either of
them dream what a magnificent spectacle they made; the two skin-clad
aborigines, bearing the thing which was to change them from slaves into
free beings, with all the wonders of civilization to come in its train.
Behind them as they marched, if they but knew it, stalked the principles
of the steam engine, of the printing-press, of scientific agriculture
and mechanical industry in general. Look about the room in which you sit
as you read this; even to the door-knobs every single item depends upon
fire, directly or indirectly. But Corrus and Dulnop were as ignorant of
this as their teeth were devoid of fillings.

Not until then did it occur to the four watchers on the earth that there
was anything premature about the affair. It was Smith who first
observed:

"Say, Van, I never thought to impress Dulnop with any plan for using the
fire. How about you and Corrus?"

"By George!" seriously, from the geologist. And immediately the two set
to work trying to reach their agents' minds.

They failed! Dulnop and Corrus were both too excited, far too wide
awake, to feel even the united efforts of all four on the earth. And the
two Sanusians marched straight into the village without the remotest
idea of how they should act.

"It is a flower!" he shrieked, frantic with joy. "The flower has come!"
the shout was passed along. "Corrus and Dulnop have found the flowering
blossom!"

Within a single minute the two men were surrounded by the whole human
population of the place. For the most part the natives were too awe-
struck to come very near; they were content to stand off and stare at
the marvel, or fall upon their knees and worship it. It was now so dark
that the flames fairly illumined their faces.

Shortly one or two got up courage enough to imitate Dulnop as he "fed
the flower;" and presently there were several little fires burning
merrily upon the ground. As for the aborigines, they let themselves
loose; never before did they shout and dance as they shouted and danced
that night. It was this Rolla and Cunora heard.

Before five minutes had passed, however, a scout awakened Supreme.
Billie could see that the bee was angry at having been disturbed, but
swiftly collected herself as she realized the significance of the
scout's report.

"So they have found the terror," she reflected aloud. "Very well. Arouse
all except the egg-layers and the drones. We can make use of the food-
gatherers as well as the fighters."

The hive was soon awake. Billie was sure that every last bee was greatly
afraid; their agitation was almost pitiful. But such was their
organization and their automatic obedience to orders, there was
infinitely less confusion than might be supposed. Another five minutes
had not passed before not only that hive, but all within the "city" were
emptied; and millions upon millions of desperate bees were under way
toward the village.

Rolla and Cunora knew of it first. They heard the buzzing of that winged
cloud as it passed through the air above their heads; but such was the
bees' intent interest in the village ahead, the two women were not spied
as they hid among the bushes.

By this time twilight was half gone. The firelight lit up the crowd of
humans as they surged and danced about their new deity. For, henceforth,
fire would replace Mownoth as their chief god; it was easy to see that.

Moreover, both Corrus and Dulnop, as primitive people will, had been
irresistibly seized by the spirit of the mob. They threw their burden
down and joined in the frenzy of the dance. Louder and louder they
shouted; faster and faster they capered. Already one or two of their
fellow villagers had dropped, exhausted, to the ground. Never had they
had so good an excuse for dancing themselves to death!

And into this scene came the bees. Not one of them dared go within ten
yards of the flames; for a while, all they did was to watch the humans.
Such was the racket no one noticed the sound of the wings.

"Shall we attack those on the edge of the crowd?" one of Supreme's
lieutenants wanted to know. The commandant considered this with all the
force of what mental experience she had had.

"No," she decided. "We shall wait a little longer. Just now, they are
too jubilant to be frightened; we would have to kill them all, and that
would not be good policy."

Of course, the bee had the pollen crop, nothing more, in mind when she
made her decision; yet it was further justified. There was no let-up in
the rejoicing; if anything, it became more frantic than before. Darkness
fell upon a crowd which was reeling in self-induced mental intoxication.

Rolla and Cunora came a little nearer; and still remaining hidden, saw
that more than half their friends had succumbed. One by one the
remainder dropped out; their forms lay all about what was left of the
fire. The two women could easily see what their friends were blind to:
the bees were simply biding their time.

"Ought we not to rush in and warn them?" whispered Cunora to Rolla.
"Surely the flower hath driven them mad!"

"Hush!" warned the older woman. "Be quiet! Everything depends upon our
silence!"

It was true. Only two of the villagers remained upon their feet, and
shortly one of these staggered and fell in his tracks. The one who was
left was Corrus himself, his immense vitality keeping him going. Then
he, too, after a final whoop of triumph and defiance, absolutely
unconscious of the poison-laden horde that surrounded him, fell
senseless to the earth. Another minute, and the whole crowd was still.

AND THE FIRE HAD GONE OUT.

The bees came closer. Several thousands of them were stricken by smoke
from the embers, and the rest of the swarm took good care to avoid it.
They hovered over the prostrate forms of the aborigines and made sure
that they were unconscious.

"Is there nothing we can do?" whispered Cunora, straining her eyes to
see.

"Nothing, save to watch and wait," returned Rolla, her gaze fixed upon
the dark heap which marked her lover's form. And thus an hour passed,
with the four on the earth quite unable to take a hand in any way.

Then one of the villagers--the first, in fact, who had dropped out of
the dance--stirred and presently awakened. He sat up and looked about
him, dazed and dizzy, for all the world like a drunken man. After a
while he managed to get to his feet.

No sooner had he done this than a dozen bees were upon him. Terror-
stricken, he stood awaiting their commands. They were not long in
coming.

By means of their fearful buzzing, the deadly insects guided him into
the nearest hut, where they indicated that he should pick up one of the
rude hoelike took which was used in the fields. With this in hand, he
was driven to the little piles of smoldering ashes, where the fires had
flickered an hour before.

Hardly knowing what he was doing, but not daring to disobey, the man
proceeded to heap dirt over the embers. Shortly he had every spark of
the fire smothered beneath a mound as high as his knees. Not till then
did any of the others begin to revive.

As fast as they recovered the bees took charge of them. Not a human had
courage enough to make a move of offense; it meant certain death, and
they all knew it only too well. As soon as they were wide awake enough
to know what they were doing, they were forced to search the bodies of
those still asleep.

"We must find the means for growing the flower," said Supreme, evidently
convinced that a seed was a seed, under any circumstances. And presently
they found, tucked away in Corrus's lion-skin, a large chunk of the
pyrites, and a similar piece on Dulnop.

"So these were the discoverers," commented Supreme.

"What is your will in their case?" the subordinate asked.

The commanding bee considered for a long time. Finally she got an idea,
such as bees are known to get once in a great while. It was simply a new
combination--as all ideas are merely new combinations--of two
punishments which were commonly employed by the bees.

As a result, eight of the villagers were compelled to carry the two
fire-finders to a certain spot on the bank of a nearby stream. Here the
two fragments of pyrites were thrown, under orders, into the water; so
that the eight villagers might know just why the whole thing was being
done.

Next the two men, still unconscious, were buried up to their necks.
Their heads, lolling helplessly, were all that was exposed. So it was to
be the Head Out punishment--imprisonment of one day with their bodies
rigidly held by the soil: acute torture to an aborigine. But was this
all?

One of the villagers was driven to the nearest hut, where he was forced
to secure two large stone axes. Bringing these back to the "torture-
place," as the spot was called, the man was compelled to wield one of
the clumsy tools while a companion used the other; and between them they
cut down the tree whose branches had been waving over the prisoners'
heads. Then the villagers were forced to drag the tree away.

All of which occurred in the darkness, and out of sight of Rolla and
Cunora. They could only guess what was going on. Hours passed, and dawn
approached. Not till then did they learn just what had been done.

The villagers, now all awake, were driven by the bees to the place on
the bank of the stream. There, the eight men who had imprisoned the two
discoverers told what had been done with the "magic stones." Each
villager stared at the offenders, and at something which lay on the
ground before them, and in sober silence went straight to his or her
work in the fields.

Presently the huts were deserted. All the people were on duty elsewhere.
Such bees as were not guarding the fields had returned to the hives.
Rolla and Cunora cautiously ventured forth, taking great care to avoid
being seen. They hurried fearfully to the stream.

Before they reached the spot Rolla gave an exclamation and stared
curiously to one side, where the tree had been dragged. Suddenly she
gave a terrible cry and rushed forward, only to drop on her knees and
cover her face with hands that shook as with the palsy. At the same
instant Cunora saw what had been done; and uttering a single piercing
scream, fell fainting to the ground.

Heaped in front of the two prisoners was a large pile of pebbles. There
were thousands upon thousands in the heap. Before each man, at a
distance of a foot, was a large gourdful of water. To the savages, these
told the whole story; these, together with the tree dragged to one side.

Corrus and Dulnop were to be buried in that spot every day for as many
days as there were pebbles in the heap; in other words, until they died.
Every night they would be dug up, and every morning buried afresh. And
to keep them from telling any of the villagers where they had found the
pyrites, they were to be deprived of water all day long. By night their
tongues would be too swollen for speech. For they had been sentenced to
the No Shade torture, as well; their heads would be exposed all day long
to the burning sun itself.



XI

THE EDGE OF THE WORLD


It is significant that Billie, because of her connection with the bee,
Supreme, was spared the sight that the doctor saw from Rolla's point of
view. Otherwise, the geologist's wife might have had a different opinion
of the matter. As it was--

"Corrus and Dulnop," said she as cooly as Supreme herself might have
spoken, "are not the first to suffer because they have discovered
something big."

Whereupon her husband's wrath got beyond his grip. "Not the first! Is
that all you can say?" he demanded hotly. "Why, of all the damnably
cruel, cold-blooded creatures I ever heard of, those infernal bees--"

Van Emmon stopped, unable to go on without blasphemy.

The doctor had got over the horror of what he had seen. "We want to be
fair, Van. Look at this matter from the bees' view-point for awhile.
What were they to do? They had to make sure, as far as possible, that
their supremacy would never be threatened again. Didn't they?"

"Oh, but--damn it all!" cried Van Emmon. "There's a limit somewhere!
Such cruelty as that--no one could conceive of it!"

"As for the bees," flared Billie, "I don't blame 'em! And unless I'm
very much mistaken, the ruling class ANYWHERE, here on the earth or
wherever you investigate, will go the limit to hold the reins, once they
get them!"

The expression on Van Emmon's face was curious to see. There was no fear
there, only a puzzled astonishment. Strange as it may seem, Billie had
told him something that had never occurred to him before. And he
recognized it as truth, as soon as she had said it.

"Just a minute," remarked Smith in his ordinary voice; "just a minute.
You're forgetting that we don't really know whether Rolla and Cunora are
safe. Everything depends upon them now, you know."

In silence the four went back into telepathic connection. Now, of
course, Smith and Van Emmon were practically without agents. The
prisoners could tell them nothing whatever except the tale of increasing
agony as their torture went on. All that Van Emmon and Smith could do
was lend the aid of their mentality to the efforts of the other two, and
for a while had to be content with what Billie, through Supreme, and the
doctor, through Rolla, were able to learn. However, Kinney did suggest
that one of the other two men get in touch with Cunora.

"Good idea," said Smith. "Go to it, Van Emmon."

The geologist stirred uneasily, and avoided his wife's eyes. "I--I'm
afraid not, Smith. Rather think I'd prefer to rest a while. You do it!"

Smith laughed and reddened. "Nothing doing for an old bach like me.
Cunora might--well, you know--go in bathing, for instance. It's all
right for the doctor, of course; but--let me out!"

Meanwhile the two women on Sanus, taking the utmost care, managed to
retreat from the river bank without being discovered. Keeping their eyes
very wide open and their ears strained for the slightest buzz, the two
contrived to pass through the village, out into the fields, and thence,
from cover to cover, into the foothills on that side of the valley where
their lovers had found the pyrites.

"If only we knew which stream they ascended!" lamented Cunora, as they
stood in indecision before a fork in the river.

"But we don't!" Rolla pointed out philosophically. "We must trust to
luck and Mownoth, ye and I."

And despite all the effort the doctor could put forth to the contrary,
the two women picked out the wrong branch. They searched as diligently
as two people possibly could; but somehow the doctor knew, just because
of the wrong choice that had been made, that their search would be
unsuccessful. He thought the matter over for a few moments, and finally
admitted to his three friends:

"I wonder if I haven't been a little silly? Why should I have been so
precious specific in impressing Rolla about the pyrites? Pshaw! Almost
any hard rock will strike sparks from flint!"

"Why, of course!" exploded Van Emmon. "Here--let's get busy and tell
Rolla!"

But it proved astonishingly difficult. The two women were in an
extraordinary condition now. They were continually on the alert. In
fact, the word "alert" scarcely described the state of mind, the keen,
desperate watchfulness which filled every one of their waking hours, and
caused each to remain awake as long as possible; so that they invariably
fell to sleep without warning. They could not be caught in the drowsy
state!

For they knew something about the bees which the four on the earth did
not learn until Billie had overheard Supreme giving some orders.

"Set a guard on that river bank," she told her subordinate, "and
maintain it night and day. If any inferior attempts to recover the magic
stone, deal with him or her in the same manner in which we punished the
finders of the deadly flower."

"It shall be done, Supreme. Is there anything further?"

"Yes. Make quite sure that none of the inferiors are missing."

Shortly afterward the lieutenant reported that one of the huts was
empty.

"Rolla, the soil-tester, and Cunora, the vineyardist, are gone."

"Seek them!" Supreme almost became excited. "They are the lovers of the
men we punished! They would not absent themselves unless they knew
something! Find them, and torture them into revealing the secret! We
must weed out this flowing blossom forever!"

"It shall be done!"

Such methods were well known to Rolla and Cunora. Had not their fellow
villagers, many of them, tried time after time to escape from bondage?
And had they not inevitably been apprehended and driven back, to be
tortured as an example to the rest? It would never do to be caught!

So they made it a practice to travel only during twilight and dawn,
remaining hidden through the day. Invariably one stood watch while the
other slept. The bees were--everywhere!

Upon crossing the range of mountains going down the other side, Cunora
and Rolla began to feel hopeful of two things--first, that their luck
would change, and the wonderful stone be found; and second, that they
would be in no danger from the bees in this new country, which seemed to
be a valley much like the one they had quit. It was all quite new and
strange to them, and in their interest they almost forgot at times that
each had a terrible score to settle when her chance finally came.

Twice they had exceedingly narrow escapes. Always they kept carefully
hid, but on the third day Cunora, advancing cautiously through some
brush, came suddenly upon two bees feeding. She stopped short and held
her breath. Neither saw her, so intent were they upon their honey; yet
Cunora felt certain that each had been warned to watch out for her. This
was true; Billie learned that every bee on the planet had been told. And
so Cunora silently backed away, an inch at a time, until it was safe to
turn and run.

On another occasion Rolla surprised a big drone bee, just as she bent to
take a drink of water from a stream. The insect had been out of her
sight, on the other side of a boulder. It rose with an angry buzz as she
bent down; a few feet away from her it hung in the air, apparently
scrutinizing her to make sure that she was one of the runaways. Her
heart leaped to her mouth. Suppose they were reported!

She made a lightninglike grab at the thing, and very nearly caught it.
Straight up it shot, taken by surprise, and dashed blindly into a ledge
of rock which hung overhead. For a second it floundered, dazed; and that
second was its last. Cunora gave a single bound forward, and with a
vicious swing of a palm-leaf, which she always carried, smashed the bee
flat.

Before they had been free five days they came to an exceedingly serious
conclusion: that it was only a question of time until they were caught.
Sooner or later they must be forced to return; they could not hope to
dodge bees much longer. When Rolla fully realized this she turned
gravely to the younger girl.

"Methinks the time has come for us to make a choice, Cunora. Which shall
it be: live as we have been living for the past four days, with the
certainty of being caught in time or--face the unknown perils on the
edge of the world?"

Cunora dropped the piece of stone she had been inspecting and shivered
with fear. "A dreadful choice ye offer, Rolla! Think of the horrible
beasts we must encounter!"

"Ye mean," corrected the philosophical one--"ye mean, the beasts which
men SAY they have seen. Tell me; hast ever seen such thyself? Many times
hast thou been near the edge, I know."

The girl shook her head. "Nay; not I. Yet these beasts must be, Rolla;
else why should all men tell of them?"

"I note," remarked Rolla thoughtfully, "that each man tells of seeing a
different sort of beast. Perchance they were all but lies."

However, it was Cunora's fear of capture, rather than her faith in
Rolla's reasoning, which drove the girl to the north. For to the north
they traveled, a matter of some two weeks; and not once did they dare
relax their vigilance. Wherever they went, there was vegetation of some
sort, and wherever there was vegetation bees were likely to be found. By
the time the two weeks were over, the women were in a state of near-
hysteria, from the nervous strain of it all. Moreover, both suffered
keenly for want of cereals, to which they were accustomed; they were
heartily tired of such fruits and nuts as they were able to pick up
without exposing themselves.

One morning before daybreak they came to the upper end of a long, narrow
valley--one which paralleled their own, by the way--and as they emerged
from the plain into the foot-hills it was clear that they had reached a
new type of country. There was comparatively little brush; and with
every step the rockiness increased. By dawn they were on the edge of a
plateau; back of them stretched the inhabited country; ahead, a haze-
covered expanse. Nothing but rocks was about them.

"Ye are sure that we had best keep on?" asked Cunora uneasily.

Rolla nodded, slowly but positively. "It is best. Back of us lies
certain capture. Ahead--we know not what; but at least there is a
chance!"

Nevertheless, both hesitated before starting over the plateau. Each
gazed back longingly over the home of their kind; and for a moment
Rolla's resolution plainly faltered. She hesitated; Cunora made a move
as though to return. And at that instant their problem was decided for
them.

A large drone passed within six feet of them. Both heard the buzz, and
whirled about to see the bee darting frantically out of reach. At a safe
distance it paused, as though to make sure of its find, then disappeared
down the valley. They had been located!

"We have no choice now!" cried Rolla, speaking above a whisper for the
first time in weeks. "On, as fast as ye can, Cunora!"

The two sped over the rocks, making pretty good time considering the
loads they carried. Each had a good-sized goatskin full of various dried
fruits and nuts, also a gourd not so full. In fact, it had been some
while since they had had fresh water. Cunora was further weighed down by
some six pounds of dried rabbit meat; the animals had been caught in
snares. Both, however, discarded their palm leaves; they would be of no
further use now.

And thus they fled, knowing that they had, at most, less than a day
before the drone would return with enough soldiers to compel obedience.
For the most part, the surface was rough granite, with very little sign
of erosion. There was almost no water; both women showed intense joy
when they found a tiny pool of it standing in a crevasse. They filled
their gourds as well as their stomachs.

A few steps farther on, and the pair stepped out of the shallow gully in
which they had been walking. Immediately they were exposed to a very
strong and exceedingly cold wind, such as seemed to surprise them in no
way, but compelled both to actually lean against its force. Moreover,
although this pressure was all from the left, it proved exceedingly
difficult to go on. Their legs seemed made of lead, and their breathing
was strangely labored. This, also, appeared to be just what they had
expected.

Presently, however, they found another slight depression the rocks; and
sheltered from the wind, made a little better progress ahead. It was
bitter cold, however; only the violence of their exercise could make
them warm enough to stand it. All in all, the two were considerably over
three hours in making the last mile; they had to stop frequently to
rest. The only compensating thing was their freedom from worry; the bees
would not bother them where the wind was so strong. So long as they
could keep on the move they were safe.

But what made it worse was the steadily increasing difficulty of moving
their legs. For, although the surface continued level, they seemed to be
CLIMBING now, where before they had simply walked. It was just as though
the plateau had changed into a mountain, and they were ascending it;
only, upon looking back, nothing but comparatively flat rock met the
gaze. What made them lean forward so steeply anyhow?

Rolla seemed to think it all very ordinary. She was more concerned about
the wind, to which they had become once more exposed as they reached the
end of the rift. On they pressed, five or six steps at each attempt,
stopping to rest twice the length of time they actually traveled. It was
necessary now to cling to the rock with both hands, and once Cunora lost
her grip, so that she would have been blown to one side, or else have
slipped backward, had not Rolla grasped her heel and held her until she
could get another hand-hold.

"Courage!" gasped Rolla. Perspiration was streaming down her face,
despite the bitter cold of the wind; her hands trembled from the strain
she was undergoing. "Courage, Cunora! It be not much farther!" On they
strove. Always it seemed as though they were working upward as well as
onward, although the continued flatness of the surface argued
obstinately against this. Also, the sun remained in the same position
relative to the rocks; if they were climbing, it should have appeared
overhead. What did it mean?

Finally Rolla saw, about a hundred yards farther on, something which
caused her to shout: "Almost there, Cunora!"

The younger girl could not spare breath enough to reply. They struggled
on in silence.

Now they were down on their hands and knees. Before half the hundred
yards was covered, they were flat on their faces, literally clawing
their way upward and onward. Had the wind increased in violence in
proportion as the way grew harder, they could never have made it,
physical marvels though they were. Only the absolute knowledge that they
dared not return drove them on; that, and the possibility of finding the
precious stone, and of ultimately saving the two men they had left
behind.

The last twenty feet was the most extraordinary effort that any human
had ever been subjected to. They had to take turns in negotiating the
rock; one would creep a few inches on, get a good hold, and brace
herself against the wind, while the other, crawling alongside, used her
as a sort of a crutch. Their fingers were bleeding and their finger-
nails cracked from the rock and cold; the same is equally true of their
toes. Had it been forty feet instead of twenty--

The rocks ended there. Beyond was nothing but sky; even this was not
like what they were used to, but was very nearly black. Two more spurts,
and Rolla threw one hand ahead and caught the edge of the rock. Cunora
dragged herself alongside. The effort brought blood to her nostrils.

They rested a minute or two, then looked at one another in mute inquiry.
Cunora nodded; Rolla took great breath; and they drew themselves to the
edge and looked over.



XII

OUTSIDE INFORMATION


The two women gazed in extreme darkness. The other side of the ridge of
rock was black as night. From side to side the ridge extended, like a
jagged knife edge on a prodigious scale; it seemed infinite in extent.
Behind them--that is, at their feet-lay the stone-covered expanse they
had just traversed; ahead of them there was--nothingness itself.

Cunora shook with fear and cold. "Let us not go on, Rolla!" she
whimpered. "I like not the looks of this void; it may contain all sorts
of beasts. I--I am afraid!" She began to sob convulsively. Rolla peered
into the darkness. Nothing whatever was to be seen. It was as easy to
imagine enemies as friends; easier in fact. What might not the unknown
hold for them?

"We cannot stay here," spoke Rolla, with what energy her condition would
permit. "We could not--hold on. Nor can we return now; They would surely
find us!"

But Cunora's courage, which had never faltered in the face of familiar
dangers, was not equal to the unknown. She wailed: "Rolla! A little way
back--a hollow in the rock! 'Tis big enough to shelter me! I would--
rather stay there than--go on!"

"Ye would rather die there, alone!"

Cunora hid her face. "Let me have half the food! I can go back to the
pool--for water! And maybe," hopefully--"maybe They will give up the
search in time."

"Aye," from Rolla, bitterly. "And in time Dulnop will die, if we do
nothing for him--and for Corrus!"

Cunora fell to sobbing again. "I cannot help it! I am--afraid!"

Rolla scarcely heard. An enormous idea had just occurred to her. She had
told the girl to think of Dulnop and Corrus; but was it not equally true
that they should think of all the other humans, their fellow slaves,
each of whom had suffered nearly as much? Was not the fire equally
precious to them all?

She started to explain this to the girl, then abruptly gave it up. It
was no use; Cunora's mind was not strong enough to take the step. Rolla
fairly gasped as she realized, as no Sanusian had realized before, that
she had been given the responsibility of rescuing A WHOLE RACE.

Fire she must have! And since she could not, dared not, seek it here,
she must try the other side of the world. And she would have to do it--
alone!

"So be it!" she said loudly in a strange voice. "Ye stay here and wait,
Cunora! I go on!"

And for fear her resolution would break down, she immediately crept over
the edge. She clung to the rock as though expecting to be dragged from
it. Instead, as she let her feet down into the blackness, she could feel
solid rock beneath her body, quite the same as she had lain upon a
moment before. It was like descending the opposite side of an incredibly
steep mountain, a mountain made of blackness itself.

The women gave one another a last look. For all they knew, neither would
gaze upon the other again. Next moment, with Cunora's despairing cry
ringing in her ears, Rolla began to crawl backward and downward.

She could plainly see the sun's level rays above her head, irregular
beams of yellowish light; it served slightly to illuminate her
surroundings. Shortly, however, her eyes became accustomed to the
darkness; the stars helped just as they had always helped; and soon she
was moving almost as freely as on the other side.

Once she slipped, and slid down and to one side, for perhaps ten feet.
When she finally grabbed a sharp projecting ledge and stopped, her
vision almost failed from the terrible effort she had put forth. She
could scarcely feel the deep gash that the ledge had made in her finger-
tips.

After perhaps half an hour of hard work among bare rocks exactly like
those she had quit, she stopped for a prolonged rest. As a matter of
course, she stared at the sky; and then came her first discovery.

Once more let it be understood that her view was totally different from
anything that has ever been seen on the earth. To be sure, "up" was over
her head, and "down" was under her feet; nevertheless, she was stretched
full length, face down, on the rock. In other words, it was precisely as
though she were clinging to a cliff. Sky above, sky behind and all
sides; there were stars even under her feet!

But all her life she had been accustomed, at night, to see that broad
band of silver light across the heavens. She had taken it for granted
that, except at two seasons of the year, for short periods, she would
always see "the Silvery Way." But to-night--there was no band! The whole
sky was full of--stars, nothing else!

It will be easier to picture her wonder and uneasiness if she is
compared mentally with a girl of five or six. Easier, too, to appreciate
the fact that she determined to go on anyhow. Mile after mile was
covered in the darkness. Rolla was on the point of absolute exhaustion;
but she dared not sleep until she reached a spot where there was no
danger of falling. It was only after braving the gale for over four
hours in the starlight that Rolla reached a point where she was no
longer half crawling, half creeping, but moved nearly erect. Shortly she
was able to face the way she was going; and by leaning backward was able
to make swift progress. In another half-hour she was walking upright.
Still no explanation of the mystery!

Finding a sheltered spot, she proceeded to make herself comparatively
comfortable on the rock. Automatically, from habit, she proceeded to
keep watch; then she must have remembered that there was now no need for
vigilance. For she lay herself down in the darkness and instantly fell
asleep.

Three hours later--according to the time kept by the watchers on the
earth--Rolla awoke and sat up in great alarm. And small wonder.

It was broad daylight! The sun was well above the horizon; and not only
the Sanusian but the people on the earth were vastly puzzled to note
that it was the western horizon! To all appearances, Rolla had slept a
whole day in that brief three hours.

Shortly her nerves were steady enough for her to look about,
uncomprehendingly, but interestedly, as a child will. There was nothing
but rock to be seen; a more or less level surface, such as she had
toiled over the day before. The day before! She glanced at the sun once
more, and her heart gave a great leap.

The sun was rising--IN THE WEST!

"'Tis a world of contraries," observed Rolla sagely to herself. "Mayhap I
shall find all else upside down."

She ate heartily, and drank deep from her gourd. There was not a cupful
remaining. She eyed it seriously as she got to her feet.

Another look back at that flat expanse of granite, which had so
gradually and so mysteriously changed from precipice to plain, and Rolla
strode on with renewed vigor and interest. Presently she was able to
make out something of a different color in the distance, and soon was
near enough to see some bona-fide bushes; a low, flowerless shrub, it is
true, but at least it was a living thing.

Shortly the undergrowth became dense enough to make it somewhat of an
effort to get through. And before long she was noticing all manner of
small creatures, from bugs to an occasional wandering bird. These last,
especially, uttered an abrupt but cheerful chirp which helped
considerably to raise her spirits. It was all too easy to see, in her
fancy, her lover helpless and suffering in the power of those cold-
blooded, merciless insects.

In an hour or two she reached the head of a small stream. Hurrying down
its banks as rapidly as its undergrowth would permit, Rolla followed its
course as it bent, winding and twisting, in the direction which had
always been north to her, but which the sun plainly labeled "south."
Certainly the sun mounted steadily toward the zenith, passing
successively through the positions corresponding to four, three and two
o'clock, in a manner absolutely baffling.

About noon she came out of the canon into the foothills. Another brief
rest, and from the top of a knoll she found herself looking upon a
valley about the size of the one she called "home." Otherwise, it was
very different. For one thing, it was far better watered; nowhere could
she see the half-dried brownishness so characteristic of her own land.
The whole surface was heavily grown with all manner of vegetation; and
so far as she could see it was all absolutely wild. There was not a sign
of cultivation.

Keeping to the left bank of the river, a much broader affair than any
she had seen before, Rolla made her way for several miles with little
difficulty. Twice she made wide detours through the thicket, and once it
was necessary to swim a short distance; the stream was too deep to wade.
The doctor watched the whole affair, purely as a matter of professional
interest.

"She is a magnificent specimen physically," he said in his impersonal
way, "and she shows none of the defects of the African savages."

And such was his manner, in speaking of his distant "patient," that
Billie took it entirely as a matter of course, without the slightest
self-consciousness because of Van Emmon and Smith.

All this while Rolla had been intent, as before, upon finding some of
the coveted crystals. She had no luck; but presently she discovered
something decidedly worth while--a fallen tree trunk, not too large, and
near enough to the bank to be handled without help. A few minutes later
she was floating at ease, and making decidedly better time.

A half-hour of this--during which she caught glimpses of many animals,
large and small, all of which fled precipitately--and she rounded a
sharp bend in the stream, to be confronted with a sight which must have
been strange indeed to her. Stretching across the river was--a network
of rusty wire, THE REMAINS OF A REINFORCED CONCRETE BRIDGE.

There was no doubt of this. On each bank was a large, moss-grown block
of stone, which the doctor knew could be nothing else than the old
abutments. Seemingly there had been only a single span.

The woman brought the log to the shore, and examined the bridge closely.
Instinctively she felt that the structure argued a high degree of
intelligence, very likely human. A little hesitation, and then she
beached her log, ascended the bank, and looked upon the bridge from
above.

A narrow road met her eyes. Once it might have been twice as wide, but
now the thicket encroached until there was barely room enough, judged
the doctor, for a single vehicle to pass. Its surface was badly broken
up--apparently it had been concrete--and grass grew in every crack.
Nevertheless, it was a bona-fide road.

For the first time in a long while, Rolla was temporarily off her guard.
The doctor was able to impress her with the idea of "Follow this road!"
and to his intense gratification the woman started away from the river
at once.

Soon the novelty of the thing wore off enough for her to concern herself
with fresh food. She discovered plenty of berries, also three kinds of
nuts; all were strange to her, yet she ate them without question, and
suffered nothing as a result, so far as the doctor could see.

The sun was less than an hour from the horizon when the road, after
passing over a slight rise, swung in a wide arc through the woods and
thus unveiled a most extraordinary landscape. It was all the more
incredible because so utterly out of keeping with what Rolla had just
passed through. She had been in the wilderness; now--

A vast city lay before her. Not a hundred yards away stood a low, square
building of some plain, gray stone. Beyond this stretched block upon
block--mile upon mile rather--of bona-fide residences, stores and much
larger buildings. It is true that the whole place was badly overgrown
with all sorts of vegetation; yet, from that slight elevation, there was
no doubt that this place was, or had been, a great metropolis.

Presently it became clear that "had been" was the correct term. Nothing
but wild life appeared. Rolla looked closely for any signs of human
occupancy, but saw none. To all appearances the place was deserted; and
it was just as easy to say that it had been so for ten centuries as for
one.

"There seems no good reason why I should not go farther," commented
Rolla aloud, to boost her courage. "Perchance I shall find the magic
stone in this queer place."

It speaks well for her self-confidence that, despite the total
strangeness of the whole affair--a city was as far out of her line as
aviation to a miner--she went forward with very little hesitation. None
of the wild creatures that scuttled from her sight alarmed her at all;
the only things she looked at closely were such bees as she met. The
insects ignored her altogether, except to keep a respectful distance.
"These masters," observed Rolla with satisfaction, "know nothing of me.
I shall not obey them till they threaten me." But there was no
threatening.

For the most part the buildings were in ruins. Here and there a
structure showed very little damage by the elements. In more than one
case the roof was quite intact. Clearly the materials used were
exceptional, or else the place had not been deserted very long. The
doctor held to the latter opinion, especially after seeing a certain
brown-haired dog running to hide behind a heap of stones.

"It was a dog!" the doctor felt sure. To Rolla, however, the animal was
even more significant. She exclaimed about it in a way which confirmed
the doctor's guess. On she went at a faster rate, plainly excited and
hopeful of seeing something further that she could recognize.

She found it in a hurry. Reaching the end of one block of the ruins, she
turned the corner and started to follow the cross street. Whereupon she
stopped short, to gaze in consternation at a line of something whitish
which stretched from one side of the "street" to the other.

It was a line of human skeletons.

There were perhaps two hundred in the lot, piled one on top of the
other, and forming a low barrier across the pavement. To Rolla the thing
was simply terrible, and totally without explanation. To the people on
the earth, it suggested a formation of troops, shot down in their tracks
and left where they had fallen. The doctor would have given a year of
his life if only Rolla had had the courage to examine the bones; there
might have been bullet-holes, or other evidence of how they had met
their death.

The Sanusian chose rather to back carefully away from the spot. She
walked hurriedly up the street she had just left, and before going
another block came across two skeletons lying right in the middle of the
street. A little farther on, and she began to find skeletons on every
hand. Moreover--and this is especially significant--the buildings in
this locality showed a great many gaps and holes in their walls, such as
might have been made by shell-fire.

This made it easier to understand something else. Every few yards or so
the explorer found a large heap of rust in the gutter, or what had once
been the gutter. These heaps had little or no shape; yet the doctor
fancied he could detect certain resemblances to things he had seen
before, and shortly declared that they were the remains of motors.

"Can't say whether they were aircraft or autos, of course," he added,
"but those things were certainly machines." Later, Rolla paid more
attention to them, and the doctor positively identified them as former
motor-cars.

The sun had gone down. It was still quite light, of course; darkness
would not come for a couple of hours. Rolla munched on what food she
had, and pressed on through the ruins. She saw skeletons and rusted
engines everywhere, and once passed a rounded heap of rust which looked
like nothing so much as a large cannon shell. Had the place been the
scene of a battle?

Just when she had got rather accustomed to the place and was feeling
more or less at her ease, she stopped short. At the same time the doctor
himself fairly jumped in his chair. Somewhere, right near at hand, on
one of the larger structures, a bell began to ring!

It clanged loudly and confidently, giving out perhaps thirty strokes
before it stopped. The stillness which followed was pretty painful. In a
moment, however, it was broken as effectively as any silence can be
broken.

A man's voice sounded within the building.

Immediately it was replied to, more faintly, by several others. Then
came the clatter of some sort of utensils, and sundry other noises which
spoke loudly of humans. Rolla froze in her tracks, and her teeth began
to chatter.

Next moment she got a grip on herself. "What difference doth it make,
whether they be friend or enemy?" she argued severely, for the benefit
of her shaking nerves. "They will give thee food, anyhow. And perchance
they know where liveth the magic stone!"

In the end Rolla's high purpose prevailed over her weak knees, and she
began to look for the entrance to the place. It was partly in ruins--
that is, the upper stories--but the two lower floors seemed, so far as
their interior could be seen through the high, unglazed windows, to be
in good condition. There were no doors on that street.

Going around the corner, however, Rolla saw a high archway at the far
corner of the structure. Approaching near enough to peek in, she saw
that this arch provided an opening into a long corridor, such as might
once have served as a wagon or auto entrance. After a little hesitation
she went in.

She passed a door, a massive thing of solid brassy metal, such as
interested the doctor immensely but only served to confuse the explorer.
A little farther on, and the corridor became pretty dark. She passed
another brass door, and approached the end of the pavement. There was
one more door there; and she noted with excitement that it was open.

She came closer and peered in. The room was fairly well lighted, and
what she saw was clear-cut and unmistakable. In the middle of the room
was a long table, and seated about it, in perfect silence, sat an even
dozen men.



XIII

THE TWELVE


For a minute or two Rolla was not observed. She simply stood and stared,
being neither confident enough to go forward nor scared enough to
retreat. Childlike, she scrutinized the group with great thoroughness.

Their comparatively white faces and hands puzzled her most. Also, she
could not understand the heavy black robes in which all were dressed.
Falling to the floor and reaching far above their necks, such garments
would have been intolerable to the free-limbed Sanusians. To the
watchers on the earth, however, the robes made the group look
marvelously like a company of monks.

Not that there was anything particularly religious about the place or in
their behavior. All twelve seemed to be silent only because they were
voraciously hungry. A meal was spread on the table. Except for the
garments, the twelve might have been so many harvest hands, gathered for
the evening meal in the cook-house. From the white-bearded man who sat
at the head of the table and passed out large helpings of something from
a big pot, to the fair-haired young fellow at the foot, who could
scarcely wait for his share, there was only one thing about them which
might have been labeled pious; and that was their attitude, which could
have been interpreted: "Give us this day our daily bread--and hurry up
about it!"

Apparently Rolla was convinced that these men were thoroughly human, and
as such fairly safe to approach. For she allowed her curiosity to govern
her caution, and proceeded to sidle through the doorway. Half-way
through she caught a whiff of the food, and her sidling changed to
something faster.

At that instant she was seen. A tall, dark-haired chap on the far side
of the table glanced up and gave a sharp, startled exclamation.
Instantly the whole dozen whirled around and with one accord shot to
their feet.

Rolla stopped short.

There was a second's silence; then the white-bearded man, who seemed, to
be the leader of the group, said something peremptory in a deep,
compelling voice. Rolla did not understand.

He repeated it, this time a little less commandingly; and Rolla, after
swallowing desperately, inclined her head in the diffident way she had,
and said:

"Are ye friends or enemies?"

Eleven of the twelve looked puzzled. The dark-haired man, who had been
the first to see her, however, gave a muttered exclamation; then he
cogitated a moment, wet his lips and said something that sounded like:
"What did you say? Say it again!"

Rolla repeated.

The dark-haired man listened intently. Immediately he fell to nodding
with great vigor, and thought deeply again before making another try:
"We are your friends. Whence came ye, and what seek ye?"

Rolla had to listen closely to what he said. The language was
substantially the same as hers; but the verbs were misplaced in the
sentences, the accenting was different, and certain of the vowels were
flatted. After a little, however, the man caught her way of talking and
was able to approximate it quite well, so that she understood him
readily.

"I seek," Rolla replied, "food and rest. I have traveled far and am
weary."

"Ye look it," commented the man. His name, Rolla found out later, was
Somat. "Ye shall have both food and rest. However, whence came ye?"

"From the other side of the world," answered Rolla calmly.

Instantly she noted that the twelve became greatly excited when Somat
translated her statement. She decided to add to the scene.

"I have been away from my people for many days," and she held up one
hand with the five fingers spread out, opening and closing them four
times, to indicate twenty.

"Ye came over the edge of the world!" marveled Somat. "It were a
dangerous thing to do, stranger!"

"Aye," agreed Holla, "but less dangerous than that from which I fled.
However," impatiently, "give me the food ye promised; I can talk after
my stomach be filled."

"Of a surety," replied Somat apologetically. "I were too interested to
remember thy hunger." He spoke a word or two, and one of his companions
brought another stool, also dishes and table utensils.

Whereupon the watchers on the earth got a first-class surprise. Here
they had been looking upon twelve men, living in almost barbaric fashion
amid the ruins of a great city; but the men had been eating from hand-
painted china of the finest quality, and using silverware that was
simply elegant, nothing less! Luxury in the midst of desolation!

Rolla, however, paid little attention to these details. She was scarcely
curious as to the food, which consisted of some sort of vegetable and
meat stew, together with butterless bread, a kind of small-grained corn
on the cob, a yellowish root-vegetable not unlike turnips, and large
quantities of berries. She was too hungry to be particular, and ate
heartily of all that was offered, whether cooked or uncooked. The twelve
almost forgot their own hunger in their interest in the stranger.

It was now pretty dark in the big room. The white-bearded man said
something to the young fellow at the foot of the table, whereupon the
chap got up and stepped to the nearest wall, where he pressed something
with the tip of his finger. Instantly the room was flooded with white
light--from two incandescent bulbs!

Rolla leaped to her feet in amazement, blinking painfully in the
unaccustomed glare.

"What is this?" she demanded, all the more furiously to hide her fear.
"Ye would not trick me with magic; ye, who call yourselves friends!"

Somat interpreted this to the others. Some laughed; others looked
pityingly at her. Somat explained:

"It is nothing, stranger. Be not afraid. We forgot that ye might know
nothing of this 'magic.'" He considered deeply, apparently trying to put
himself in her place. "Know ye not fire?" Of course, she did not know
what he meant. "Then," with an inspiration, "perchance ye have see the
flower, the red flower, ye might call--"

"Aye!" eagerly. "Doth it grow here?"

Somat smiled with satisfaction, and beckoned for her to follow him. He
led the way through a small door into another room, evidently used as a
kitchen. There he pointed to a large range, remarkably like the up-to-
date article known on the earth.

"The flower 'groweth' here," said he, and lifted a lid from the stove.
Up shot the flame.

"Great Mownoth!" shouted Rolla, forgetting all about her hunger. "I have
found it--the precious flower itself!"

Somat humored her childlike view-point. "We have the seed of the flower,
too," said he. He secured a box of matches from a shelf, and showed her
the "little sticks."

"Exactly what the angel showed me!" jubilated Holla. "I have come to the
right place!"

Back she went to her food, her face radiant, and all her lurking
suspicion of the twelve completely gone. From that time on she had
absolute and unquestioning confidence in all that was told her. In her
eyes, the twelve were simply angels or gods who had seen fit to clothe
themselves queerly and act human.

Supper over, she felt immensely tired. All the strain of the past three
weeks had to have its reaction. Like a very tired, sleepy child, she was
led to a room in another part of the building, where she was shown an
ordinary sleeping-cot. She promptly pulled the mattress onto the floor,
where she considered it belonged, and fell fast asleep.

Meanwhile, back on the earth, Van Emmon and Smith had lost no time in
making use of the doctor's description of the twelve. Within a few
minutes they had new agents; Van Emmon used Somat's eyes and ears, while
Smith got in touch with the elderly bearded man at the head of the
table. His name was Deltos.

"A very striking confirmation of the old legends," he was saying through
a big yawn, as Smith made connection. He used a colloquial type of
language, quite different from the lofty, dignified speech of the
Sanusians. "That is, of course, if the woman is telling the truth."

"And I think she is," declared the young fellow at the foot of the
table. "It makes me feel pretty small, to think that none of us ever had
the nerve to make the trip; while she, ignorant as she is, dared it all
and succeeded!"

"You forget, Sorplee," reminded Somat, "that such people are far hardier
than we. The feat is one that requires apelike ability. The only thing
that puzzled me is--why did she do it at all?"

"It will have to remain a puzzle until she awakens," said Deltos, rising
from the table. "Lucky for us, Somat, that you saw fit to study the root
tongues. Otherwise we'd have to converse by signs."

Neither Smith nor Van Emmon learned anything further that night. The
twelve were all very tired, apparently, and went right to bed; a
procedure which was straightway seconded by the four watchers on the
earth. Which brings us in the most ordinary manner to the events of the
next day.

After breakfast all but Somat left the place and disappeared in various
directions; and Rolla noted that the robes were, evidently, worn only at
meal time. Most of the men were now dressed in rough working garments,
similar to what one sees in modern factories. Whimsical sort of gods,
Rolla told herself, but gods just the same.

"Tell me," began Somat, as the woman sat on the floor before him--he
could not get her to use a chair--"tell me, what caused thee to leave
thy side of the world? Did ye arouse the wrath of thy fellow creatures?"

"Nay," answered Rolla, and proceeded to explain, in the wrong order, as
a child might, by relating first the crossing of the ridge, the flight
from the bees, the "masters'" cruel method of dealing with Corrus and
Dulnop, and finally the matter of the fire itself, the real cause of the
whole affair. Somat was intelligent enough to fill in such details as
Rolla omitted.

"Ye did right, and acted like the brave girl ye are!" he exclaimed, when
Rolla had finished. However, he did not fully appreciate what she had
meant by "the winged masters," and not until she pointed out some bees
and asked if, on this part of the planet, such were the rulers of the
humans, that the man grasped the bitter irony of it all.

"What! Those tiny insects rule thy lives!" It took him some time to
comprehend the deadly nature of their stings, and the irresistible power
of concerted effort; but in the end he commented: "Tis not so strange,
now that I think on it. Mayhap life is only a matter of chance, anyway."

Presently he felt that he understood the Sanusian situation. He fell
silent; and Rolla, after waiting as long as her patience would allow,
finally put the question temporarily uppermost in her mind:

"It is true that I have crossed the edge of the world. And yet, I
understand it not at all. Can ye explain the nature of this strange
world we live upon, Somat?" There was infinite respect in the way Rolla
used his name; had she known a word to indicate human infallibility,
such as "your majesty," she would have used it. "There is a saying among
our people that the world be round. How can this be so?"

"Yet it is true," answered Somat, "although ye must know that it be not
round like a fruit or a pebble. No more is it flat, like this,"
indicating the lid of the stove, near which they sat. "Instead, 'tis
shaped thus"--and he took from his finger a plain gold band, like an
ordinary wedding ring--"the world is shaped like that!"

Rolla examined the ring with vast curiosity. She had never seen the like
before, and was quite as much interested in the metal as in the thing it
illustrated. Fortunately the band was so worn that both edges were
nearly sharp, thus corresponding with the knifelike ridge over which she
had crawled.

"Now," Somat went on, "ye and your people live on the inner face of the
world," indicating the surface next his skin, "while I and my kind live
on the outer face. Were it not for the difficulties of making the trip,
we should have found you out ere this."

Rolla sat for a long time with the ring in her hand, pondering the great
fact she had just learned. And meanwhile, back on the earth, four
excited citizens were discussing this latest discovery.

"An annular world!" exclaimed the doctor, his eyes sparkling
delightedly. "It confirms the nebular hypothesis!"

"How so?" Smith wanted to know.

"Because it proves that the process of condensation and concentration,
which produces planets out of the original gases, can take place at
uneven speeds! Instead of concentrating to the globular form, Sanus
cooled too quickly; she concentrated while she was still a ring!"

Smith was struck with another phase of the matter. "Must have a queer
sort of gravitation," he pointed out. "Seems to be the same, inside the
ring or outside. Surely, doc it can't be as powerful as it is here on
the earth?"

"No; not likely."

"Then, why hasn't it made a difference in the inhabitants? Seems to me
the humans would have different structure."

"Not necessarily. Look at it the other way around; consider what an
enormous variety of animal forms we have here, all developed under the
same conditions. The humming-bird and the python, for instance.
Gravitation needn't have anything to do with it."

Billie was thinking mainly of the question of day and night. "The ring
must be inclined at an angle with the sun's rays," she observed. "That
being the case, Sanus has two periods each year when there is continuous
darkness on the inner face; might last a week or two. Do you suppose the
people all hibernate during those seasons?"

But no one had an answer to that.

Van Emmon said he would give all he was worth to explore the Sanusian
mountains long enough to learn their geology. He said that the rocks
ought to produce some new mineral forms, due to the peculiar condition
of strain they would be subjected to.

"I'm not sure," said he thoughtfully, "but I shouldn't be surprised if
there's an enormous amount of carbon there. Maybe diamonds are as
plentiful as coal is here."

At the word "diamonds" Smith glanced covertly at Billie's left hand. But
she had hidden it in the folds of her skirt. Next moment the doctor
warned them to be quiet; Somat and Rolla were talking again.

He was telling her about his world. She learned that his people, who had
never concerned themselves with her side of the planet, had progressed
enormously beyond the Sanusians. Rolla did not understand all that he
told her; but the people on the earth gathered, in one way or another,
that civilization had proceeded about as far as that of the year 1915 in
Europe. All this, while fellow humans only a few thousand miles away,
not only failed to make any progress at all, but lived on, century after
century, the absolute slave of a race of bees!

But it was a fact. The ancient city in which Rolla found herself had
been, only a generation before, a flourishing metropolis, the capital of
a powerful nation. There had been two such nations on that side of the
planet, and the most violent rivalry had existed between them.

"However," Somat told Rolla, "'twas not this rivalry which wrought their
downfall, except indirectly. The last great war between them was
terrible, but not disastrous. Either could have survived that.

"But know you that the ruler of one of the nations, in order to carry on
this war--which was a war of commerce (never mind what that means)--in
order to carry it on was obliged to make great concessions to his
people. In the other nation, the ruler oppressed the workers, instead,
and drove them mad with his cruelty. So that, not long after the end of
the war, there was a great rebellion among the people who had been so
long oppressed, and their government was overthrown."

Back on the earth the four investigators reflected on this in amazement.
The case was wonderfully like that of Russia after the great war.
Perhaps--

"Immediately the other nation forced its soldiers to fight the
victorious rebels. But at home the workers had tasted of power. Many
refused to work at all; and one day, behold, there were two rebellions
instead of one! And within a very short time the whole world was
governed by--the working class!"

So this was what the Venusians had meant when they wrote that Sanus was
ruled by the workers!

"What became of these rebellions?" Rolla asked, little understanding
what it meant, but curious anyhow.

"Devastation!" stated Somat solemnly. He waved a hand, to include all
that lay within the ruined city. "Not altogether because of the workers,
although they were scarcely fit for ruling but because the former rulers
and others of that kind, who liked to oppose their wills upon others,
saw fit to start a fresh rebellion. Conflict followed conflict;
sometimes workers were in power, and sometimes aristocrats. But the
fighting ended not until"--he drew a deep breath--"until there were none
left to fight!"

"Ye mean," demanded Rolla incredulously, "that your people killed
themselves off in this fashion?"

Aye," sorrowfully. "There were a few of us--they called us 'the middle
class'--who urged equality. We wanted a government in which all classes
were represented fairly; what we called a democracy. Once the experiment
was started, but it failed.

"Saw ye the skeletons in the streets?" he went on." 'Twas a dreadful
sight, those last few days. I were but a lad, yet I remember it all too
well." He paused, then broke out fiercely: "I tell ye that I saw brother
slay brother, father slay son, son slay mother, in those last days!

"Lucky am I that I fled, I and my parents! They took me to a mountainous
country, but even there the madness spread, and one day a soldier of the
army killed my father and my mother. He sought me, also, that he might
slay me; but I hid from him beneath a heap of manure. Aye," he gritted
savagely, "I owe my life to a pile of manure!

"These other eleven men all have like tales to tell. Only one woman
survived those awful days. Young Sorplee is her son; his father was a
soldier, whom she herself slew with her own hands. Even she is now dead.

"Well," he finished, after a long pause, "when the madness had spent
itself, we who remained came from our hiding-places to find our world
laid waste. 'Tis now thirty years since Sorplee's mother died, since we
first looked upon these ruins, and we have made barely a beginning. We
have little heart for the work. Of what use is it, with no women to
start the race afresh?"

Rolla started despite herself. Was this the reason why she, despite her
savagery, had been made so welcome?

"Ye have not told me," said she hurriedly, "why ye and the others all
wear such curious garments when ye eat."

Somat was taken off his guard. He had been chuckling to himself at the
woman's childlike mind. Now he had to look apologetic and not a little
sheepish as he made reply:

"The robes are a mere custom. It were started a great many years ago, by
the founders of a--a--" He tried to think of a simpler expression than
"college fraternity." "A clan," he decided. "All of we men were members
of that clan."

"And," pursued Rolla, "will ye give me the magic stone, that I may take
the flowing blossoms back to my people, and release my loved one from
the masters' cruelty?"

The great question was put! Rolla waited in tremulous anxiety for the
answer.

"Aye, stranger!" replied Somat vigorously. "More; ye shall have some of
the little sticks!"

Whereupon Rolla leaped to her feet and danced in sheer delight. Somat
looked on and marveled. Then, abruptly, he got up and marched away. He
had not seen a woman in thirty years; and he was a man of principle.

That night, when the twelve were again seated at the table, Somat
related this conversation with Rolla. Since he used his own language, of
course she did not understand what was said. "And I told her," he
concluded, "how we came to be here; also the reason for the condition of
things. But I doubt if she understood half what I said. We have quite a
problem before us," he added. "What shall we do about it?"

"You mean this woman?" Deltos asked. Rolla was busy with her food. "It
seems to me, brothers, that Providence has miraculously come to our aid.
If we can handle her people rightly the future of the race is assured."

Somat thought it was simple enough. "All we need to do is send this
woman back with a supply of matches, and implicit instructions as to how
best to proceed against the bees. Once released, their friends can make
their way over the edge and settle among us. Let the bees keep their
country."

The two who had seconded him before again showed agreement. Sorplee and
Deltos, however, together with the other seven, were distinctly opposed
to the method.

"Somat," protested Deltos, as though surprised, "you forget that there's
an enormous population over there. Let them come in of their own free
will? Why, they would overrun our country! What would become of us?"

"We'd have to take our chances, replied Somat energetically, "like good
sports! If we can't demonstrate our worth to them, enough to hold their
respect, we'd deserve to be snowed under!"

"Not while I'm alive!" snarled Sorplee. "If they come here, they've got
to give up their wilderness ways, right off! We can't stand savagery!
The safest thing for us, and the best for them, is to make an industrial
army of 'em and set 'em to work!" His enthusiasm was boundless.

"I must say," admitted Deltos, with his usual dignity, "that you have
the right idea, Sorplee. If I had stated it, however, I should have been
more frank about it. The arrangements you propose simply means that we
are to take possession of them!"

"What!" shouted Somat, horrified.

"Why, of course! Make slaves of them! What else?"



XIV

THE SLAVE RAID


Despite all that Somat and his two backers could say, the other nine men
swiftly agreed upon the thing Deltos had proposed. Somat went so far as
to declare that he would warn Rolla; but he was instantly given to
understand that any such move would be disastrous to himself. In the end
he was made to agree not to tell her.

"We aren't going to let you and your idealism spoil our only chance to
save the race!" Sorplee told him pugnaciously; and Somat gave his word.
At first he hoped that the nine might fall out among themselves when it
came to actually enslaving the Sanusians; but he soon concluded that, if
there was any difference of opinion, the aristocratic element would take
charge of half the captives, while Sorplee's friends commandeered the
rest. The outlook was pretty black for Rolla's friends; yet there was
nothing whatever to do about it.

Among the four people on the earth, however, the thing was being
discussed even more hotly. Van Emmon found himself enthusiastically
backing Somat, the liberal-minded one.

"He's got the right idea," declared the geologist. "Let the Sanusians
come over of their own free will! Let the law of competition show what
it can do! Dandy experiment!"

Smith could not help but put in: "Perhaps it's Deltos and Sorplee who
are right, Van. These Sanusians are mere aborigines. They wouldn't
understand democratic methods."

"No?" politely, from the doctor. "Now, from what I've seen of Rolla,
I'll say she's a perfect example of 'live-and-let-live.' Nothing either
subservient or autocratic in her relations with other people. Genuinely
democratic, Smith."

"Meanwhile," remarked Billie, with exaggerated nonchalance, "meanwhile,
what about the bees? Are they going to be permitted to show their
superiority or not?"

Van Emmon took this to be aimed at him. "Of course not! We can't allow a
race of human beings to be dominated forever by insects!

"I say, let's get together and put Rolla wise to what Deltos and Sorplee
are framing up! We can do it, if we concentrate upon the same thought at
the right time!"

Smith did not commit himself. "I don't care much either way," he
decided. "Go ahead if you want to"--meaning Van Emmon and the doctor--"I
don't want to butt in."

"Don't need you," growled the geologist. "Two of us is enough."

"Is that so?" sarcastically, from Billie. "Well, it'll take more than
two of you to get it over to Rolla!"

"What do you mean?" hotly.

"I mean," with deliberation,--"that if you and the doctor try to
interfere I'll break up our circle here!" They stared at her
incredulously. "I sure will! I'm not going to lend my mental influence
for any such purpose!"

"My dear," protested the doctor gently, "you know how it is: the
combined efforts of the four of us is required in order to keep in touch
with Sanus. Surely you would not--"

"Oh, yes, I would!" Billie was earnestness itself. "Mr. Van Emmon was so
good as to blame me for what I did in that Capellette mix-up; now, if
you please, I'm going to see to it that this one, anyhow, works itself
out without our interference!

"Well, I'll be darned!" The geologist looked again, to make sure it was
really his wife who had been talking thus. "I'm mighty glad to know that
you're not intending to warn Supreme, anyhow!"

"Maybe I shall! snapped Billie.

"If you do," stated the doctor quietly, "then I'll break the circle
myself." They looked at him with a renewal of their former respect as he
concluded emphatically: "If you won't help us stop this slave raid,
Billie, then, by George, you'll at least let the bees fight it out on
their own!"

And so the matter stood, so far as the investigators were concerned.
They were to be lookers-on, nothing more.

Meanwhile the survivors of a once great civilization prepared to move in
person against the bees. They did this after Deltos had pointed out the
advantages of such a step.

"If we rout the bees ourselves," said he, "the natives will regard us as
their saviors, and we shall have no trouble with them afterward."

This was sound policy; even Somat had to admit it. He had decided to be
a member of the expedition, for the reason that Rolla flatly refused to
accompany the other men unless he, her special god, went along. His two
liberal-minded friends stayed behind to take care of their belongings in
the ruined city.

The expedition was a simple one. It consisted of a single large auto
truck and trailer, the only items of automotive machinery that the
twelve had been able to reconstruct from the ruins. However, these
served the purpose; they carried large supplies of food, also means for
protection against the bees, together with abundant material for routing
them. A large quantity of crude explosives also was included. The
trailer was large enough to seat everybody; and the ten men of the party
had a good deal of amusement watching Rolla as she tried to get
accustomed to that land of travel. She was glad enough when the end of
the road was reached and the truck began to push its way into the
wilderness, giving her an excuse to walk.

No need to describe the trip in detail. Within three days the truck was
as far as it could go up the rock wall of the "edge." The point selected
was about twenty miles west of where Cunora was hid, and directly
opposite the upper end of her home valley. No attempt was made to go
over the top as Rolla had done; instead, about two miles below the ridge
a crevasse was located in the granite; and by means of some two tons of
powder a narrow opening was made through to the other side. Through it
the men carried their supplies on their backs, transferring everything
to improvised sleds, a hundred pounds to a man.

While this was being done, Rolla hurried east and located Cunora. The
girl was in a pitiful condition from lack of proper food, and
comparative confinement and constant strain. But during Rolla's absence
she had seen none of the bees.

"What are you going to do now?" she asked Rolla, after the explorer had
told her story.

Rolla shrugged her shoulders indifferently. "These gods," she declared
with sublime confidence, "can do no wrong! Whatever they propose must be
for the best! I have done my part; now it is all in the hands of the
Flowing Blossom!"

Not until they reached the head of the valley which had been her home
did Rolla ask Somat as to the plan. He answered:

"Ye and the other woman shall stay here with me, on this hill." He
produced a telescope. "We will watch with this eye-tube. The other nine
men will go ahead and do the work."

"And will they separate?"

"Nay. They intend to conquer this colony first; then, after your people
are freed and safely on the way to my country, the conquerors will
proceed to the next valley, and so on until all are released." He kept
his word not to warn Rolla of the proposed captivity. "In that way the
fear of them will go ahead and make their way easy."

Meanwhile the nine were getting ready for their unprecedented conquest.
They put on heavy leather clothes, also leather caps, gloves and boots.
Around their faces were stiff wire nets, such as annoyed them all
exceedingly and would have maddened Cunora or Rolla. But it meant
safety.

As for weapons, they relied entirely upon fire. Each man carried a
little wood alcohol in a flask, in case it was necessary to burn wet or
green wood. Otherwise, their equipment was matches, with an emergency
set of flint and steel as well. There could be no resisting them.

"We'll wait here till we've seen that you've succeeded," Somat told
Deltos and Sorplee. "Then we'll follow."

The nine left the hills. The hours passed with Rolla and Cunora amusing
themselves at the "eye-tube." They could see the very spot where their
lovers were being punished; but some intervening bushes prevented seeing
the men themselves. The other villagers were at work quite as usual; so
it was plain that, although the bees were invisible, yet they were still
the masters.

Hardly had the nine reached the first low-growing brush before they
encountered some of the bees. None attempted to attack, but turned about
and flew back to report. It was not long before Supreme, and therefore
Billie, knew of the approaching raiders.

"They are doubtless provided with the magic flower," Supreme told her
lieutenants. "You will watch the blossom as it sways in the wind, and
keep always on the windward side of it. In this way you can attack the
inferiors."

The word was passed, bee-fashion, until every soldier and worker in the
colony knew her duty. The stingers were to keep back and watch their
chance, while the workers harassed the attackers. Moreover, with the
hives always uppermost in her mind, Supreme planned to keep the actual
conflict always at a distance from the "city."

It was late in the day when the nine reached the stream in whose bed
rested the pyrites taken from Corrus and Dulnop. This stream, it will be
remembered, flowed not far from the torture-place. Deltos's plan was to
rescue these two men before doing anything else; this, because it would
strengthen the villagers' regard for the conquerors.

The bees seemed to sense this. They met the invaders about three miles
above the village, in an open spot easily seen by the people with the
telescope. And the encounter took place during twilight, just early
enough to be visible from a distance, yet late enough to make the fire
very impressive.

"Remember, it's the smoke as much as the flame," Deltos shouted to the
others. "Just keep your torches on the move, and make as much fuss as
you can!"

Next moment the swarm was upon them. It was like a vast cloud of soot;
only, the buzzing of those millions of wings fairly drowned out every
other sound. The nine had to signal to one another; shouting was
useless.

Within a single minute the ground was covered with bees, either dead or
insensible from the smoke. Yet the others never faltered. At times the
insects battered against the wire netting with such force, and in such
numbers, that the men had to fight them away in order to get enough air.

Supreme watched from above, and kept sending her lieutenants with fresh
divisions to first one man and then another, as he became separated from
the rest. Of course, nobody suffered but the bees. Never before had they
swarmed a creature which did not succumb; but these inferiors with the
queer things over their faces, and the cows' hides over their bodies and
hands, seemed to care not at all. Supreme was puzzled.

"Keep it up," she ordered. "They surely cannot stand it much longer."

"It shall be done!"

And the bees were driven in upon the men, again and again. Always the
torches were kept waving, so that the insects never could tell just
where to attack. Always the men kept moving steadily down-stream; and as
they marched they left in their wake a black path of dead and dying
bees. Half of them had been soldier bees, carrying enough poison in
their stings to destroy a nation. Yet, nine little matches were too much
for them!

Presently the invaders had approached to within a half-mile of the
torture-place. One of Supreme's lieutenants made a suggestion:

"Had we not better destroy the men, rather than let them be rescued?"

The commandant considered this fully. "No," she decided. "To kill them
would merely enrage the other villagers, and perhaps anger them so much
as to make them unmanageable." More than once a human had been driven so
frantic as to utterly disregard orders. "We cannot slay them all."

The bees attacked with unabated fury. Not once did the insects falter;
orders were orders, and always had been. What mattered it if death came
to them, so long as the Hive lived? For that is bee philosophy.

And then, just when it seemed that the wisest thing would be to
withdraw, Supreme got the greatest idea she had ever had. For once she
felt positively enthusiastic. Had she been a human she would have yelled
aloud for sheer joy.

"Attention!" to her subordinates. "We attack no more! Instead, go into
the huts and drive all the inferiors here! Compel them to bring their
tools! Kill all that refuse!"

The lieutenants only dimly grasped the idea. "What shall we do when we
get them here?"

"Do? Drive them against the invaders, of course!"

It was a daring thought. None but a super bee could have conceived it.
Off flew the lieutenants, with Supreme's inspired order humming after
them:

"Call out every bee! And drive every last one of the inferiors to this
spot!"

And thus it came about that, a minute later, the nine looked around to
see the bees making off at top speed. Sorplee raised a cheer.

"Hurrah!" he shouted, and the rest took it up. Neither admitted that he
was vastly relieved; it had been a little nerve-shaking to know that a
single thickness of leather had been all that stood, for an hour,
between him and certain death. The buzzing, too, was demoralizing.

"Now, to release the two men!" reminded Deltos, and led the way to the
torture-place. They found Corrus and Dulnop exactly as the two women had
left them six weeks before, except that their faces were drawn with the
agony of what they had endured. Below the surface of the ground their
bodies had shriveled and whitened with their daily imprisonment. Only
their spirits remained unchanged; they, of all the natives, had known
what it was to feel superior.

For the last time they were dug out and helped to their feet. They could
not stand by themselves, much less run; but it is not likely they would
have fled. Somehow they knew that the strange head-coverings had human
faces be hind them. And scarcely had they been freed before Sorplee,
glancing about, gave an exclamation of delight as he saw a group of
natives running toward them.

"Just what we want!" he exclaimed. "They've seen the scrap, and realize
that we've won!"

Looking around, the nine could see the other groups likewise hurrying
their way. All told, there were a couple of hundred of the villagers,
and all were armed with tools they knew how to use very well.

"Who shall do the honors?" asked Sorplee. "Wish Somat was here, to
explain for us."

"Don't need him," reminded Deltos. "All we've got to do is to show these
two fellows we dug up."

And it was not until the first of the villagers was within twenty yards
that the nine suspected anything. Then they heard the buzzing. Looking
closer, they saw that it was--an attack!

"Stop!" cried Deltos, in swift panic. "We are friends, not enemies!"

It was like talking to the wind. The villagers had their choice of two
fears: either fight the strangers with the magic flower, or--be stung to
death. And no one can blame them for what they chose.

The nine had time enough to snatch knives or hatchets from their belts,
or clubs from the ground. Then, with wild cries of fear, the natives
closed in. They fought as only desperate people can fight, caught
between two fires. And they were two hundred to nine!

In half a minute the first of the invaders was down, his head crushed by
a mattock in the hands of a bee-tormented native. In a single minute all
were gone but two; and a moment later, Deltos alone, because he had
chanced to secure a long club, was alive of all that crew.

For a minute he kept them off by sheer strength. He swung the stick with
such vigor that he fairly cleared a circle for himself. The natives
paused, howling and shrieking, before the final rush.

An inspiration came to Deltos. He tore his cap from his head and his net
from his face.

"Look!" he screamed, above the uproar. "I am a man, like yourselves! Do
not kill!"

Next second he froze in his tracks. The next he was writhing in the
death agony, and the bees were supreme once.

Supreme herself had stung Deltos.



XV

OVERLOOKED


Of the four on the earth, Smith was the first to make any comment. He
had considerable difficulty in throwing his thought to the others;
somehow he felt slightly dazed.

"This is--unbelievable!" he said, and repeated it twice. "To think that
those insects are still the masters!"

"I wish"--Billie's voice shook somewhat--"I wish almost that I had let
you warn Rolla. It might have helped--" She broke off suddenly, intent
upon something Supreme was hearing. "Just listen!"

"Quick!" a lieutenant was humming excitedly to the commandant. "Back to
the hives; give the order, Supreme!"

It was done, and immediately the bees quit the throng of natives and
their victims, rushing at top speed for their precious city. As they
went, Supreme demanded an explanation.

"What is the meaning of this?"

For answer the lieutenant pointed her antennae straight ahead. At first
Supreme could see nothing in the growing darkness; then she saw that
some of the sky was blacker than the rest. Next she caught a faint glow.

"Supreme, the deadly flower has come to the hives!"

It was true! In ten minutes the city was near enough for the commandant
to see it all very clearly. The fire had started on the windward side,
and already had swept through half the hives!

"Quick!" the order was snapped out. "Into the remaining houses, and save
the young!"

She herself led the horde. Straight into the face of the flames they
flew, unquestioningly, unhesitantly. What self, compared with the Hive?

Next moment, like a mammoth billow, the smoke rolled down upon them all.
And thus it came about that the villagers, making their cautious way
toward the bee city, shouted for joy and danced as they had never danced
before, when they saw what had happened.

Not a bee was left alive. Every egg and larva was destroyed; every queen
was burned. And every last soldier and worker had lost her life in the
vain attempt at rescue.

Suddenly one of the villagers, who had been helping to carry Corrus and
Dulnop to the spot, pointed out something on the other side of the fire!
It was Rolla!

"Hail!" she shouted, hysterical with happiness as she ran toward her
people. Cunora was close upon her heels. "Hail to the flowing flower!"

She held up a torch. Down fell the villagers to their knees. Rolla
strode forward and found Corrus, even as Cunora located her Dulnop.

"Hail to the flowing flower!" shouted Rolla again. "And hail to the free
people of this world! A new day cometh for us all! The masters--are no
more!"

The four on the earth looked at each other inquiringly. There was a
heavy silence. The doctor stood it as long as he could, and then said:

"So far as I'm concerned, this ends our investigations." They stared at
him uncomprehendingly; he went on: "I don't see anything to be gained by
this type of study. Here we've investigated the conditions on two
planets pretty thoroughly, and yet we can't agree upon what we've
learned!

"Van still thinks that the upper classes should rule, despite all the
misery we saw on Capellette! And Billie is still convinced that the
working classes, and no others, should govern! This, in the face of what
we've just--seen! Sanus is absolute proof of what must happen when one
class tries to rule; conflict, bloodshed, misery--little else! Besides"
--remembering something, and glancing at his watch--"besides, it's time
for dinner."

He and Smith got to their feet, and in silence quit the room. Billie and
Van Emmon were still fumbling with their bracelets. The two young people
rose from the chairs at the same time and started across the room to put
flip bracelets away. The wire which connected them trailed in between
and caught on the doctor's chair. It brought the two of them up short.

Van Emmon stared at the wire. He gave it a little tug. The chair did not
move. Billie gave an answering jerk, with similar lack of results. Then
they glanced swiftly at one another, and each stepped back enough to
permit lifting the wire over the chair.

"In other words," Van Emmon stammered, with an effort to keep his voice
steady--"in other words, Billie, we both had to give in a little, in
order to get past that chair!"

Then he paused slightly, his heart pounding furiously.

"Yes Van." She dropped the bracelets. "And--as for me--Van, I didn't
really want to see the bees win! I only pretended to--I wanted to make
you--think!"

"Billie! I'll say 'cooperate' if you will!"

"Cooperate!"

He swept her into his arms, and held her so close that she could not see
what had rushed to his eyes. "Speaking of cooperation," he remarked
unsteadily, "reminds me--it takes two to make a kiss!"

They proceeded to experiment.





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